One of the complete Phish nerd things that I love about this band is how detailed we are able to get in breaking down their tours, shows, sets, songs, and more. To some people this is not something they even think about with Phish as they enjoy the music in the moment and move on to whatever is the next thing along the path of their life. But for some of us the deep dives into the minutiae of bustouts, setlist construction, gap charts, opener/closer/encore trends, and more is exciting in its own way. And with the assistance of wonderful fan-made tools like Phish Stats or My Numberline figuring out how many times you saw them on Mondays, for example, is now so much simpler (note that both of those resources are best used in conjunction with a completed show attendance profile at phish.net). These tools are also great for breaking down the nitty gritty that make up the patterns and trends of the band over the course of a particular tour. Some will tell you that this type of analysis is missing out on the point with Phish but I’d argue that for me it has fostered an even deeper awe and appreciation for what it is that they do. When you consider that the band has now played something like 1,568 shows (give or take) there is wonder to be found in the details of it all. We all know that this is a band that seemingly likes to do the unexpected but the more you get into it the more it becomes clear that there are methods to the seeming madness. It may not be how every fan enjoys their Phish but for me it is another layer to peel back on this weird onion we cannot stop following.
So let’s get to gettin’, eh?
As mentioned in previous posts, this tour was made up of 35 shows over the course of 51 days. I’ve mentioned the vast distance this tour covered in that time with the band, crew, and touring fans covering a ridiculous 13,000 miles. That’s over 250 miles per day which works out to an average of about four hours of driving for each day of this tour. With only one venue seeing a two night stand (MSG) and a few big long hauls in there (KC to Spokane being the biggest single trek) it is a good thing that gas prices were so low in the U S of A at that time (though it should be noted that by the Fall gas prices were up close to 15% over where they were when the year started). But we don’t worry about the mileage we are putting on the VW bus or Subaru wagon or trusty old mom mobile we borrowed that we rely on to make our way around the country when following this band. It is just a part of the bigger thing, ain’t it? There is no set pattern to what nights the band played along the Fall 1996 path or at least a lot less rhyme and reason to it as we see today with the multi-night stands, 3-4 show weekend runs, and regular off days on the typical midweek lesser-attended nights like Mondays and Tuesdays. Sure, Friday and Saturday each got seven shows to tie for the lead but Wednesday of all nights sits alone in second with six. The majority of the shows occurred in November (19) but that’s more a matter of when the tour dates fell since it started midway through October and only went a few days into December. The shows took place in 21 states and one Canadian province with just over half being in the Eastern time zone. As stated above, New York and MSG is the only repeat venue for the tour – a tour that has fifteen venues unique to it.
The band played 707 total songs which means you had to travel about 18 miles for every song performed. I’m really going to run that distance traveled thing into the ground here if I keep this up. Those 707 songs included 141 unique tunes with each song averaging almost five performances for the tour and 34 being singular performances. The tour average for songs played was 20.0 each night which falls somewhere in the middle of the averages for that though higher than the full year average for 1996 (18). In terms of most frequently played songs, we kept track as we went so it isn’t much of a surprise to see Taste (19 shows) and Zero (18) way ahead of the pack here as the next highest played is thirteen for CTB, CDT, and Sample. The Top Ten is rounded out by the five song tie up for sixth place at twelve times: Disease, Sparkle, Steep, Swept Away, and YEM. With three songs having been played eleven times (Caspian, Theme, Waste) and a whopping nine having been played ten times (Bouncin’, Free, Julius, Poor Heart, Reba, Simple, Stash, Suzy, Train Song) that gives us 22 songs that were played ten or more times this tour. That obviously skews the averages for frequency.
Openers, closers, and encores were a lot tougher to gauge though as only three songs opened more than two shows: CDT (4), Jim (4), and MFMF (3). Similarly, only four songs closed first sets that often: Zero (5), Lope (4), Bowie (3), and Frankenstein (3). Second sets were not much different either as only three songs opened second sets more than twice: 2001 (5), Disease (3), and Wilson (3); second set closers were also quite scattered with only three over the two time threshold: Hood (4), Paug (4), and HMB (3). For encores, removing the cut up Harpua from Vegas that shows up as number one (I know it is a small glitch but it annoys me that the song count is correct on ihoz and .net for songs like this but not for the opener/closer/encore slotting) there are only five songs that fell here more than twice: Waste (4), Fire (3), Funky Bitch (3), GTBT (3), and Julius (3). In terms of those weird setlist oddities we have a few including I Am Hydrogen (330 total performances), My Sweet One (242), Landlady (210), Oh Kee Pa (214), and DaaM (147) all NOT appearing the whole tour. Of those songs only Dinner and a Movie has been played in less than 10% of all Phish shows and even that one is pretty close at just under 9.5%. The then recently released Billy Breathes tracks make up the entirety of the ‘overplayed’ list as the band was obviously featuring these new tunes and new arrangements of older ones — with the exception of Free (cuz it just gets played a lot), Talk (thankfully), and Bliss (which has still never been performed live). Thirteen songs played on this tour have at least 50% of their total performances here as the Halloween debut of Remain In Light brought Born Under Punches, Houses in Motion, Listening Wind, Seen and Not Seen, The Great Curve, and The Overload for their only appearances and Once in a Lifetime for what was its singular appearance until the not-quite-nailed-but-greatly-appreciated bustout of it on 09.06.2015 as part of the meaningful “THANK YOU” encore. Others in this group include the singular debut covers of I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart and Wildwood Weed in Vegas, Mean Mr. Mustard during the M Set (and as a hilarious intro for the Jon Popper sit-in), and Midnight on the Highway (the Tim O’Brien cover to nod to their fun with the border patrol in canada) as well as the last time they have played All Along The Watchtower and the first time they would play We’re An American Band. Tied to this ‘50%’ stat there were 16 songs debuted this tour including all of the tracks on Remain in Light, Swept Away, Steep, The Star Spangled Banner, Mean Mr. Mustard, We’re An American Band, Midnight On The Highway, and those two from Vegas.
Even with the relative frequency of some of the songs played this tour there were many notable gaps broken as Phish mixed in bustouts of tunes along the way. The covers of All Along the Watchtower at MSG and Sweet Emotion (jam) in Seattle came in at the top with 227 and 237 shows respectively. Other ones over the 110 show gap mark include Axilla (170) and ATR (107) in Champaign, Sparks (173) in Daly City, Peaches (144) in Los Angeles, the Vibe of Life (148) in Kansas City, and Ginseng Sullivan (103) at MSG. Phish also threw in some more ‘minor’ bustouts along the way with the 50+ show group including JJLC (76) on Halloween, Wedge (70) with Perazzo in Tallahassee, Bold as Love (67) for Jimi’s birthday in Seattle, Catapult (57) and Carolina (64) in North Charleston, Demand (64) as one of the few highlights of that Ames show, and La Grange (56) and Kung (55) as part of that wild second set from Omaha. Not a bad tour for the bustouts unless you compare it to, say, Summer 2016 which was just chock full of some massive ones.
Lastly, this tour was a good one for those who like to see people sit in with Phish. That is not necessarily something we expect these days particularly considering the band’s openness about wanting to keep it just the four of them. All told there are XXX shows where at least one person joined the band for a song with a total of XXX songs that have guest musicians lending a hand. Those sit-ins include:
10.22.1996 The Freakapaug, Watchtower – circus dancers and Mimi Fishman adding to the visual element with costumes and improv dancing for a wild Paug and then legends Buddy Miles and Merl Saunders come out for a wonderful All Along the Watchtower
10.23.1996 Entire 2nd set plus encore – Bob Gullotti on a 2nd drum kit
10.29.1996 Entire show – Karl Perazzo debuts on percussion for, well, the entire thing
10.31.1996 Entire 2nd and 3rd sets plus encore – Karl Perazzo on percussion, Dave Grippo on saxaphone, Gary Gazaway (El Buho) on trumpet)
11.02.1996 Entire show – Karl Perazzo continues his Phish run on percussion throughout with the exception of the Adeline closer
11.03.1996 Entire show – Karl Perazzo’s run as the fifth member of the band ends with another full show sit-in
11.15.1996 Paug, Funky Bitch – old friend of the band Jon Popper lends some of his trademarked harmonica to the closer and encore
11.18.1996 Back half of 2nd set plus encore – Gary Gazaway (El Buho) comes back for another go on Tweezer, HMB, Reprise, Llama, and the JBG encore
11.30.1996 Two songs in the 1st and the back half of 2nd set plus encore – John McEuen comes out for a couple of bluegrass numbers in the first set (OHP, Uncle Pen), Peter Apfelbaum joins for Timber Ho!>Taste, and Funky Bitch, and then both play on the Amazing Grace (jam) closer and Possum encore
12.06.1996 Encore – In the midst of a Vegas-sized Harpua tale Les Claypool and Larry LaLonde of Primus, the Yodeling Cowgirls, and several Elvii make this encore one for the ages
I’m certain there are more ways to break down this tour statistically but for our purposes that gets about to the root of it all. I know this isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea when it comes to Phish (let’s just say my wife’s eyes immediately roll into the back of her head when I start in with the stats stuff) but I find it interesting and think that it all helps to paint a better picture of what went down.
Next up are our “superlatives” and the list/download of all the final takeaways from this unheralded yet quite fantastic tour. Time to give the calculators and spreadsheets a little rest…