Phish — The Aladdin Theatre — Las Vegas, NV 12.06.1996
I Wilson>Peaches>Poor Heart>2001>Llama, YEM, CTB>Disease>Frankenstein
II Julius, Sparkle>Mike’s>Simple>Hood>Paug, Adeline, GTBT
E Harpua->Wildwood Weed->Harpua->I Want to Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart->Harpua->Suspicious Minds->Harpua, Suzy
The final show of a tour is something of a culmination, an opportunity to revel in everything that has come before it, and a chance to reflect back on how we have gotten here just a mere month or two since starting out. It is also a grand celebration and the last time to throw down with several thousand of your best friends knowing that you won’t have this opportunity to dance to Phish music for some time after this night. Musically, these shows can either be very fulfilling with jams galore and perhaps a few knowing nods to what developed over the tour or sometimes the last show can be more of a party where the music is secondary to the celebration. Neither one is bad by any means and with the variety of people who attend shows (particularly these days…) what might not work for one fan could be the best possible show for another. But if you add in a destination like, oh, I don’t know, LAS VEGAS to the equation? Well, my friend, you have the ingredients for one of those nights when everything just seems to come together perfectly.
This was the first time that Phish had played Las Vegas since… hang on. Wait. This can’t be… They really hadn’t ever played in Las Vegas before this night? Really?? Huh. That just can’t be, can it? It can? Okay, well, um… I guess we will have to move right into talking about the show then.
This is weird. I don’t know what to do without a couple hundred words full of links about shows gone by. Just roll with it? Well, if I say so…
This show along with being the tour ender and first time in Las Vegas for the band is the singular time they played at the Aladdin Theater, a venue now called the The AXIS (would that Phish could play Bold as Love there but we’re too big for this room now…). It is located in the Planet Hollywood hotel/casino though back in 1996 it was, somewhat obviously, named the Aladdin Resort & Casino. These things change a lot in that town as we know. Future visits to the city that birthed countless bad decisions would be at the much larger Thomas & Mack Center (the home to UNLV basketball amongst other arena-sized events) and lately the MGM Grand Garden Arena but those are for another time. Today we tackle this wonderfully Phishy night that saw the band and fans celebrating the end to another top notch Fall with some of the over-the-top lunacy that only a place like Las Vegas can beckon.
Before we get too far, let’s give you a few places to check out this show outside of the somewhat muddy auds on the typical streaming sites. First and foremost is the spotify of the ‘standard edition’ release of the show. I swear the ‘limited edition’ used to be on there but I’m not finding it anymore. You can also purchase the standard release at Dry Goods, naturally. The aforementioned Limited Release came with a DVD with video of the show from the 2001 through the end which is high quality stuff if you can find it as well as a CD called “Road to Vegas” that had several tracks from the tour leading up to that night: 11.09.1996 Melt, 11.03.1996 Tweezer, 11.07.1996 Gin, 11.18.1996 Simple, and 11.30.1996 Amazing Grace>Amazing Grace jam. All of those are things we have highlighted here along the path of this tour. There’s a less-than-awesome rip of the video on YouTube if you want to at least see what is up with all that went down but I would recommend seeking out the higher quality version if you can find it (I once saw it as an On Demand offering on Fios about five years ago which made for a fun surprise viewing).
Okay, I think that gets us where we want to be here.
Everybody ready? Show cued up and volume cranked? Let’s do it!
The band comes out with purpose, dropping into the crowd-pleasing Gamehendge rocker Wilson to warm up and get the crowd involved from the start. They crank right though this one (the sixth of tour) and drop into the second Peaches en Regalia of the tour (joining the nod to FZ in his hometown of LA a few nights prior). This one is clean and mean as they have clearly been practicing it and leads into Poor Heart for our typical third song first set bluegrass romp. Continuing the string they extend the outro here into a bit of spacey murk where Trey is pulling, Mike is pushing, and Page plinks around on the effects until Fish snaps the beat and we are into 2001! Not a song you expect to here mid first set, from the start there’s a swagger here that has been building over the past few versions this tour. Trey comes in with the Superbad beat, plays some searching lines above the groove. They patiently sit in this pocket until after the five minute mark when they finally get to the first ‘refrain’, dropping back into an infectious funk groove. Trey is plucking out staccato rhythm lines as the dance party goes big time and then after the final ‘refrain’ they go back to some noisy, distorted murk that erupts into Llama. Trey is on point here, shredding the hell out of this fast paced version (Page has a really fast run through his organ solo too) as they tempt the fans to keep up with non-stop action here five songs into the set. After a minuscule stop to allow everyone to catch their breath they start up You Enjoy Myself, yet another oddly placed vehicle here in the middle of the first set. By now you have to be thinking “holy crap, they are really going for it tonight” which might be one of the more obvious notions your expanded head has ever thrown at you at a show. This YEM starts out with beautifully played Pre and Nirvana sections before they swell up towards the collective release and start to the lyrical section and move to the tramps/jam section(s). Once through the tramps Trey starts playing the funk comp chords you will really get to know and love if you dive headlong into the ’97 cowfunk, allowing Page to do his thing on the organ. After a bit Trey shifts to lead, starting way down with sparse runs of notes featuring elongated tones as fish metronomes behind him. They almost get to a stop-start jam but then Mike hits the fight bell and Trey starts his climb, toying around that typical YEM thematic lead before elevating into a rocking full band jam. Trey is laying waste to it while Fish pounds down and just before they hit the inevitable peak Trey lets his guitar fade out with distortion and heads to the minikit. As he and Fish play Rhythm Devils Mike takes charge on bass, keeping this non-stop dance anthem going hard. After a couple of minutes here they head into the VJ which normally I wouldn’t pay too much heed in this space but it is one of my favorites being the “Donuts I Love Donuts” VJ which is catchy and fun and just perfectly phishy all at once.
Now we get our first real breather of the night with NOPE! Instead of letting up they go into Cars Trucks Buses for the thirteenth time this tour (tied for third most overall…). This stays close to form with Page taking charge and playing brightly until the move into Down With Disease. Another oft played tune this tour, Disease stays at home within structure but pops with that massive type I energetic feel as Trey trills above the chugging groove pocket. There is benefit in having played this song so much over the course of the tour as this version is clean and nailed in the way that only a song you play frequently can be. It is almost an auto-pilot jam it feels so effortless. After bringing it back around to the traditional Disease close that we so rarely get these days they put an exclamation point on the set with a raucous Frankenstein. Trey gives us The Lie and then it is off to figure out how many hands of blackjack you can get in during the setbreak while concurrently arguing with your friends about how many shows this tour even have second sets as good as that first one was. Honestly, if you saw that setlist for a second frame here in 3.0 you’d be pretty excited to hear it, wouldn’t you? It’s okay. You can admit it. This is a safe place. There there now. It’s going to be aaaaaaallllll right. Now go get me some nachos.
You back yet? Okay, so after a lot of high-fiving and caterwauling and whatnot about how fantastic that first set was you settle into your spot for this final set of Phish before the few weeks’ break leading up to the New Year’s Run starting in Philly. You are kind of expecting a big Tweezer here seeing that they played Mike’s the other night and it had been a few since the last Tweezer but once the lights drop all that speculating goes by the wayside as Trey starts in with the recognizable “doo-doo-do-duh” that gives us Julius. I’ve said it before this tour and it holds true here as well: Trey really really can shred the shit out of Julius. This high energy, rollicking second set opener just continues the celebration of the tour they started from note one in the first set and along with the Sparkle that follows fits the bill in getting everyone back into the right headspace to get to the dancing for the remainder of the show. The Sparkle (non-FMS, of course) butts up against the start of our first real vehicle which surprisingly ends up being Mike’s Song considering what we mentioned just above. Thankfully, they were pretty good at jamming this song back then so even though it might not have gone next level like the one from San Diedo or even St. Louis (or Knoxville… or Tallahassee… they are all in the sidebar playlist there…) it gets a bit dark in the jam as Trey toys around the theme with Page and Mike eventually following him as they start to break down out of Mike’s, coming back to it with a repeated “siren” two note phrase by Trey that drips with musical tension. Knowing that the drop into the transition is just waiting to happen. There is no overt move into a second jam tonight as they play in this frenetic space for several minutes, pulsing in and around the Mike’s Song theme before Trey finally brings it up to the major key peak and move into… Simple! Well, of course. This has been the Simple Tour now hasn’t it? Well, for the capstone version of the tour they go for it big time, seemingly picking up where another version of this jam left off. Trey shines in the early, type I section, peeling off beautiful lines. The band connects and drops down to a quieter, slower pace around the seven minute mark with Page’s piano matching Trey in the beauty department. All are involved at this point and it feels like it could slip into nothingness or continue on in this way forever as you hug yourself, swaying with closed eyes and feeling the cool breeze of the air conditioning fans brushing against your face, the ever present smile you brought with you beaming forth like the best CK5 light show there is. A few minutes of this loveliness later Trey begins to speed up his lead, interjecting new ideas into the groove and the band follows as they begin to build towards some kind of transition or end peak. But then Trey hits on a dirty groove, the band joins him and we are into another phase altogether. This is the true move out of Simple proper but still evokes Simple in some sense. After only a minute or so of this Trey moves again, this time more back to Simple than away but still in a new, fresh direction. Fish changes the beat as we move past the sixteen minute mark and they hit on a percussive groove as it starts to all break down with Page being the one continuing the melody. After one last Trey lead idea that Page matches it is clear this has now run its course, evidenced by Fish adding some soft, all but incomprehensible lyric to it and the band resolves to move on. Fish hits the start of Harry Hood and your smile widens even more (you really are going to have some tired cheeks after this night) as they play in the ‘reggae’ intro. Trey hits a couple of whistle wahs, Mike hits the fight bell and then as they get into the song proper Trey hits some more toys on his mini-kit as we get to the lyrics. Once to the jam this Hood elevates like all the great ones do, first with Page tinkling the electric piano keys in that way that gets all the hairs on your neck standing at attention as Trey patiently works on that slow-build crescendo. Within only a few moments you are right back in that blissful space that Simple begat, feeling all the love there could possibly be flowing down over you in bits of musical joy. Suddenly you notice that as Trey is building again with Mike adding his flair and Page lifting it higher the syncopated groove is intertwining all around you. We are off to the run at the peak now but still a ways to go before getting there so you open your eyes and realize the entire room is just as lost in this as you are, causing you to whoop out in spontaneous joy. They keep building the tension until finally Trey erupts over the rest of the band, taking the reins of this before it spins out of control, and riding it into the glorious end peak resolution this song hangs its hat on. In recognition of a jam well done Mike nails the fight bell a few times and then kicks off the Weekapaug Groove beat as Trey’s final guitar line continues to sustain in the fading distance. At this point it is all almost too much but you came here to get down and getting down is exactly what this Paug will make you do. They set up a funk pocket with Page toying on the organ first and then Trey comes in with an almost-but-not-quite 3rd Stone From The Sun tease but instead kicks it over to Page for a big piano-heavy jam with Fish just pounding away in the back and Mike dropping big behind. Trey sets a loop and joins Fish on percussion for a bit until he soars up over the groove with those tell tale Trey leads. Suddenly he kicks the band into a stop/start jam where everyone is going NUTS somehow divergent but still in the same direction. They bring it all the way down to ‘pin drop’ space (pretty sure you can even hear Fish say “yeah” on the SBDs) before EXPLODING into the final run at the Paug peak. This is pure glory Phish at this point where seemingly everything they do blows the room up and you can hear that the band and crowd know it even on the tape. As they come to a close here you realize you haven’t stopped moving in about seventy minutes so it’s a good thing for you that they come up for air in the wake of this Paug. Here, finally, Phish realizes that they along with the crowd might need a sip of water or at least a few deep breaths so they come to the front of the stage for an un-mic’d Sweet Adeline (which is pretty much not captured on the tapes, of course). Then, to bring this set home they crank into a shreddy Good Times Bad Times, a perfectly fitting capper to a big time night of music. Man, what a set. What a show! Any encore they do here is just gravy, am I right?
Heh. Hehehe. HAHAHAHAHA!!
Yeah, “gravy”. Sure. That’s all it is…
Okay, if you don’t know this about me, I have another little project that I started a bunch of years back that kinda totally completely petered out as I had a lot of other things biding for my time like a new kid, new job, etc. etc. Anyway, I have a now-long-not-updated blog called Me and Harpua where I was going to go through every Harpua ever played to dissect that wonderfully odd second class Gamehendge storytime tune about our pal Jimmy, his cat Poster the Nutbag, and that fat sweaty bulldog Harpua. Suffice it to say, I am a huge fan of the song and I have been lucky enough to have caught it seven times over the years but STILL NOT ONCE in 3.0 dang it! So you can imagine that when I talked to friends who were at this Vegas show and saw it pop up on the setlists at rec.music.phish I was geeked and intrigued to hear what this version entailed. The prior version had been left unfinished at The Clifford Ball due to a bit of a technical malfunction with the stunt they were trying to employ (a story for another time, perhaps…) and while the various versions aren’t tied together in any conceivable way it still was something I and others really wanted to find out about after this show. So when you hear Trey come out and welcome Larry LaLonde and old friend Les Claypool to the stage at the start of the encore and then they sing that oh so wonderful “oom pa pa oom pa pa oom pa paaaaa” intro line to Harpua the squee factor goes to eleven in a hurry. From the start, something here is… different… but unless you know a bit about music you might not realize that it is because they are playing the song in 4/4 time instead of its typical, somewhat odd 7/4 time. The addition of Larry’s jangly guitar is a neat add-on here but it is clear Trey is thrown off in singing to this different beat. They work through that (and honestly, this song is not about hitting every note as much as it is in getting to the story) and then while playing that same Harpua melody Les does his talking jive thing based on an old song called Wildwood Weed by Don Bowman (here’s a take by Jim Stafford). The lyrics fit right in as you will see and kind of set the mood for all that we don’t yet know is to come. They pop right back into Harpua at the start of storytime and Trey gets to the telling, beginning to weave the tale of the next chapter in the world of our pal Jimmy. I won’t go into full detail here as if you aren’t familiar it really is a story that deserves your time but the main gist is that Jimmy is on his way to Las Vegas and things go sideways as they tend to do for him. As the tale progresses Jimmy sets camp for the night and he and Poster end up singing (nay, yodeling!) a song by the campfire which cues some folks to come out to help the band play that song, I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart, a classic country yodeling yarn by Patsy Montana. Tonight it is performed by The Yodeling Cowgirls (naturally) with Phish, Larry, Les, and our newish friend John McEuen helping them out. After that fun interlude Trey gets back to the story and Jimmy’s journey to Vegas, resulting in him running into a pack of Elvii. So as one would expect, three Elvis impersonators come to the stage and along with Fish decked out in his own Elvis cape which we last saw on 10.29.1996 back in Tallahassee. Trey goes to Fish’s kit and we get Suspicious Minds because what else would they play here, this one a particularly memorable version – particularly considering it still stands as the last time they have played it to date. This stands to be a battle between “Jimmy” (i.e. Fish) and the other Elvii to allow him to enter the city, which he does, and then Trey continues on with his tale of Jimmy’s quest to make a lot of money in Vegas only to have our antagonist show up, moving the story on to the fight and resolution phase. After finishing this up they pop right into Suzy Greenberg and EVERYONE comes back to the stage for the party. So that’s Phish, Larry LaLonde, Les Claypool, John McEuen, the Elvii, the Yodeling Cowgirls (dancing), and just for good measure the actor Courtney Gains who you might know from Children of the Corn or another classic 80s flick hops on Trey’s minikit as well. The Suzy stretches out and then at some point on of the Elvii starts interjecting Suzie Q, the Credence Clearwater Revival tune, and the band catches on and they play that out until the big finish. Yes, that is the end to the show, finally, and what an ending it is. There are some pretty memorable encores that this band has played over the years but very few can match this one. And just like that the show and tour are over and all that is left is the hugging and reveling in what just went down before scattering off into the harsh light of the Las Vegas night.
I know that as soon as I write this someone will have an opposing view but for my money there really isn’t a tour ending show that can top this one. It has a bit of everything that we love about Phish from the tight, energetic playing to the open jamming to the antics to the mythos and storytelling and more. The band is in celebration mode but not in a fashion that detracts from the music which is as good as you could want in this context. Both sets and the encore are worthy of your time and energy in the listening, giving us a good summary of where this tour has come from and brought us to in the end. There are five songs in this show that were played way back in the opener from Lake Placid and every one has so much more to offer than those versions from just under two months ago. More than that, the jams in this show pull together a lot of the ideas that have been percolating over that time, none more so than this Simple. Some will make the quite reasonable argument that the Memphis Simple from 11.18.1996 is the top version of the tour but this Vegas one feels like they are writing the end of tour essay on “How Simple Grew Up During Fall Tour 1996” that no one bothered to assign them. The Hood has a similar feel as does the Down with Disease where all of these are perhaps not the best singular version of each song from the tour but do quite well in representing the Fall 1996 vibe and sound. I’ll have more to say about that vibe/sound in the summary posts to follow. For now let’s get to the takeaways from this night which are many. The first tier are 2001, YEM, Disease, Julius, the whole Mike’s>Simple>Hood>Paug sequence, and the entirety of the encore suite Harpua->Wildwood Weed->Harpua->I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart->Harpua->Suspicious Minds->Harpua->Suzy. Second tier? Well, let’s just say that everything worth plucking out here is top notch and you really should just spin the whole thing since the songs I left out there are all worthy of second tier status at worst. Call this fluffing, sure, but note that this is not a show I attended so there’s no attendance bias at play so that’s just me finding this show to be so very very good. This tour has provided us with a quite lengthy list of potential top notch takeaways to get through and this show doesn’t happen without all that brought us here. I love this show and have spun it probably as much as any other show Phish has played. It is a great one to give people who like to say 1996 is the lull between 1995 and 1997 as it has a lot of the elements that make those two years so great all in one place. So if you haven’t been listening along while reading or are perhaps not familiar with this show, go do yourself a favor and spin this one loud. You will not be disappointed.