Children of the Cornfields – Phish and Deer Creek

Deer Creek Amphitheatre (I will not call it by one of the two subsequent corporate monikers) is located in Noblesville, IN, once a small town just northeast of Indianapolis but now fully part of that market due to the never-ending creep of urban sprawl. Once known for being surrounded by vast cornfields and not much else the area is replete with newish subdivisions, shopping malls, and more of the cookie cutter development that exploded upon our major metropolitan areas in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Deer Creek is a venue almost synonymous with Phish and summer tour. Starting in 1995 and continuing through Hiatus, The Break Up, and now here in 3.0 Phish has played this venue on most of the summer tours they have performed including every one from that first single nighter in 1995 through a pair in 2004 and then hitting four of eight here in the time since The Return. Over that time Phish has played twenty-three shows in the venue with Trey also bringing TAB here for three other performances (all during those pesky times when Phish kinda wasn’t a thing). This venue is not just notable for Phish as the Grateful Dead played fourteen shows here between the opening summer for the venue in 1989 and their fateful visit in 1995 when gatecrashers the first night overwhelmed the venue staff, resulting in one of the few show cancellations ever as the Dead were forced to cancel the second night. Keller Williams even wrote a song about that whole thing. Obviously, there are many other bands who have played here but this isn’t a blog about them now is it?

The twenty-three shows Phish has played at Deer Creek have all been part of a Summer Tour. Most visits to the venue have been multi-night stands though in 1995, 2009, and 2016 the band played only the one show. There are two three show stands here (2000, 2003) and all other visits have been two nights apiece. Oddly, even with this venue having the second most shows in ‘modern era’ Phish they have never played a Saturday night show at this venue. Every other day of the week has been played at least three times. That’s kinda weird for such a revered venue in the band’s history.

Here is your www.phishjustjams.com playlist for the Deer Creek Jams. Let’s get to getting…

06.19.1995  The first visit to Deer Creek came about midway through the Summer 1995 tour, a tour that produced some legendary jams and saw the band really coming into their own as a national touring act (and emerging from the very large shadow of the Dead to be honest), not just playing bigger sheds but now playing multi-night weekend stands at some of the more renowned tour stops then popular with regularly touring bands. Of course, this first visit to Deer Creek would only be a single night but having the band step up to the 24,000 seat venue here after playing the much smaller (but still quite loved) Murat Theatre (2,500 capacity) the summer before and the IU Auditorium (3,154 capacity) a bit down the road in Bloomington the previous Fall is a pretty big leap. This is not to say they sold out Deer Creek that first year but it wasn’t exactly empty either. Now, if you were around back then you, like me, probably recall that the Summer of 1995 was a watershed moment for the band in many ways what with our band stepping up to these big time venues, the pronounced influx of new ‘fans’ spilling over from Dead tour, the growth in the music being played, and more. Granted, not all of what was happening was seen as good but in terms of the music you really cannot deny that 1995 Phish is one of the first BIG peaks in the band’s upward trajectory. So it was then that Phish came to the cornfields for their first performance at Deer Creek, the 10th show of the summer tour. Coming out of the gate hot they soar through a Theme opener and then swing through a a couple of tour staples (Poor Heart, Bag) before bringing out Tela for the first time in 32 shows. The first true big highlight comes in the back half of the set as they take Reba for a ride, connecting on a jam that benefits from contributions by all four members of the band. They cap the set with a fun Rift>Cavern>Lope sequence that peaks with one of those Lope jams that made the song great, igniting the crowd and providing that big release we all seem to crave. Trey updates The Lie to be sixteen minutes tonight but it doesn’t make it a true statement. They still take way longer than that to get back to the stage.

The second set starts with a quick Simple to get us moving again which deftly segues into Bowie which is where the meat of this set lies. Now, some will say that the peak for the big time open Bowie jams was in 1994 and they would be correct in a certain sense but if you want to hear the band at perhaps the peak of their open shred psych period you should probably go listen to the big Summer ’95 Bowies which includes this beauty. Typically, Bowies of this era head into dissonant territory from the start but here they hit a more melodic space in the early part of the jam which they use to build a groove (as much as Bowie allows for that) as Trey hints around the mythical MLB jam template. They eventually move on to the more traditional tension building, drawing it out and refusing to resolve it for several minutes as they shift back and forth between the frenzy and quieter sections. As they head for the final peak around the 19 minute mark Trey grabs onto the MLB theme more directly, counterpointing the manic jam the others are playing with the telltale downward run of notes that make up Mind Left Body and using that to add to the tension by extension. He then solos off of this at the Bowie breakdown close and afterwards you find yourself soaked with sweat and spent from the jam they just threw down. That’s 95 Phish to me in a nutshell. Total control and abandon at the same time bringing us to release in ways we never thought possible. The band can be excused then for backing this Bowie up with fun time numbers Mango, Cup (back after 38 shows!), and Sparkle before going back to the jams with a wonderful YEM. A quick Acoustic Army later we are in the Possum closer which gets pretty darned demented on its way down the road. It’s a solid version from a time when Possum was actually a song we looked forward to for its creative, out there jams. A nice ADITL encore later we are out of here. Solid show to start our run through Deer Creek!

08.12.1996  Just one year later Phish came back with the full circus in tow, stopping by for a pair of shows on the short US Tour that led up to their first major festival, The Clifford Ball. These shows happened just after the troubles at Red Rocks (which we discussed previously) and combined with the single night stop at Alpine on the way here comprised the entirety of the Midwest portion of this “tour”. The party starts off with a bouncy Ya Mar opener and then an unexpected but quite welcome second song Melt (!) as they waste no time in getting down to business. This is not a giant open what-the-hell-song-is-this type of jam but it is tight and all about building that psych tension. Trey rides a trill run to the return peak, egging the rest of the band on as it builds, and bringing it home with panache. Next up is a very well executed Esther (40 show gap) which bleeds into a hot, straight forward Chalkdust before they bust out Weigh for the first time in 66 shows. With the pattern now set, they alternate common songs with mini-bustouts for the balance of the set, never really stretching much musically but playing in a very connected manner as they string Ice>DFB (32 shows), Taste, Oh Kee Pa (48 shows), and Suzy together here. As we saw on Fall 1996 this is about what you’d expect from a first set in 1996. Not great but in no way bad either.

The second set starts with a nice Timber Ho! that gets to some of that dark territory they like to inhabit with the song, a space that always feels like it could go on and on but never does. Next up is Sparkle which really seems odd but surprisingly is the most common song for them to play after Timber Ho! opens a second set (okay, it is only three times ever but still that’s more than any other song…). They keep the segues going into Simple and Caspian and then into McGrupp (some great Page piano work here) which leads to a scorcher of a Lope which almost flirts with some Force Theme teasing by Trey but instead goes dissonant shred. A couple of songs later we get another Possum closer and another one worth your listen which isn’t something I’d say about most Possums these days. They encore with Sample which is excusable only because there is another show here tomorrow. Overall, a solid show with a couple of nice highlights but this show lacks anything approaching a centerpiece jam vehicle.

08.13.1996  Night two here is the one you know much better considering it was an official release and all. Following a rousing Divided opener (1:02 pause) with more strong Page piano playing (get used to it!) we get some 1996 debuts for Tube (32 shows) and Tela (35 shows) with both being well played takes on the old school classics. The midset gets a Maze befitting of the year when it (arguably) peaked though that really came in the Fall. The cool down from that hot Maze is FEFY and then it is bluegrass time for another debut for the year in The Old Home Place (40 shows). The end run for the set cranks up the energy with PYITE, a smoking Llama where Trey employs the siren loop to great effect, and a fun singalong for Glide before they head into Slave to wrap it up. At the time this was just the fifth first set closing Slave ever (there are now eleven) and they made it count as Page stays on the piano throughout and Trey lays back a bit which gives Mike some room to shine as well.

Following The Lie and subsequent longer-than-your-addled-head-is-comfortable-with setbreak they come out and start playing a melodic little jam that feels like it could end up being a Dead cover or something but then ends up being Bag which makes you chuckle at that random thought. After Bag they play a spotless version of The Lizards (more of that extra piano sauce from Page) and then bang right into Mike’s to get the Groove going. If you don’t know what a truly massive Mike’s Song can be, please stop reading and start this one up post haste. This is a juggernaut of a jam with a big tension-filled first jam that moves into even nastier places once the second jam begins. Page stays on the piano for the majority of it and Trey is playing possessed as they lay waste to the heads in attendance. This is pretty much the definition of the type of hide-under-your-seat jam that the jaded vets love to lament never occurs anymore. After about 17 minutes Trey drops out into some loop setting and Page moves to the keyboards. Fish rolls along on the toms, pounding the drums as Page leads and eventually the whole band is contributing to the soundscape. Rather than come back to the close they move into Lifeboy (another first for 1996 at 29 shows) and here is where I state that this song really should be the meat of the Mike’s Groove sandwich more often, particularly as resolution to demonic jams like the one that precedes this version.

The Paug that follows is a fun time big dance-y version that sees Trey move over to the mini-kit and then Page takes up the theremin (where have you gone, theremin???), first getting weird but eventually working into Somewhere Over the Rainbow as the rest of the band drops out completely. This leads to the then common acoustic mini-set deal with Waste, Train Song, and Strange Design being the tunes played before an a cappella Adeline. They close the set with Bowie, tonight a lot more contained than the one the year prior but still effective in building up that tension before the release. The show gets the coveted Monkey>Rocky Top encore though it is a bit debatable whether it achieved the level to deserve it if you read that much into this sort of thing. Personally, I think the Mike’s Groove is worthy of the price of admission and everything else is just gravy so I’ll allow it.

08.10.1997  Summer 1997 saw the band again coming here for two nights and again in the US portion of touring following dates in Europe. This time was a bit different, however, as their extended time in Europe both in the Spring and early Summer along with some shifts that had occurred starting around the time they covered Remain in Light for Halloween in 1996  were very influential in the evolution of the band’s sound. Here in the thirteenth show of the US portion of the tour we were now familiarized with this burgeoning ‘cowfunk’ thing (which had been QUITE surprising at the first US show in Virginia Beach for those of us who hadn’t been exposed to any tapes from the Euro tours earlier in the year), wondering how and where it would be implemented into all of these songs that we knew and loved. Well, tonight they get right to the point, opening with Gin and adding a bit of that stank on it as they get loose for a bit while also staying firmly at home within the structure of the song. This was only the sixth (of now 12 ever) time the band opened a show with Gin though perhaps not entirely out of left field since they had done so earlier in the tour out at The Gorge (and before then it had been since 1990!). And while not a wide ranging jam it does set a certain tone for the night. Sparkle comes in out of the Gin ending and then they go right back to the well for a third song Disease. Again, this is ‘contained’ in the sense that it never gets to open jamming but holy crap does this thing cook. Trey is doing that thing where he plays ALL THE NOTES (and flirts with DEG a bit at times) and the rest of the band keeps pace with him, resulting in an explosive run through the song similar to how it went when first becoming a tour staple in 94/95.

They take a deserved breath here with the always welcome Dirt, get a bit funky with CTB, inhale deeply with Billy Breathes, and then go big with a midset Melt that easily birthed a couple hundred mind babies. Play this one loud and proud but avoid doing anything that requires active concentration like driving or doing your taxes because it’ll flip you around a bit. Along with the ‘standard’ odd time signature psych there are bits of the King Crimson song Larks’ Tongue in Aspic, Part 2 woven into the main jam and then when they return to the Melt ending Trey inserts Third Stone From The Sun quotes before the final wrap. It’s a keeper, lemme tell ya. After that everyone in the venue needs a little break and for that Phish provides what will be the last to date Bye Bye Foot, the tender Fish-sung ditty (I’m serious, he actually sings this song straight) that many of the most ardent song chasers still pine for here some 611 shows since it was put on the shelf. I like this song and lyrics are poignant. If you dig this version please do yourself the favor of spinning the Walnut Creek version that preceded this one. After a nice Ginseng Sullivan they close the set with Hood, which feels odd (there are only five such placements out of 371 total performances) but is pretty apt considering this set plays more like a second frame than an opening set. And this isn’t just a lip service run through the song as they build towards a big time soul satisfying peak release before Trey notes that they will be back in “exactly fifteen minutes” repeating the phrase more than once and telling everyone to set their watches as if that will cause us to believe him. Well, who really cares how long it was when you have that set and then get what comes next.

Set two opens up with Cities (here’s some nausea-inducing video for ya), once thought to be gone forever but here getting its resurgence with the advent of cowfunkery. After the verses they drop right into the dank funk as they build a pocket so thick you will be doing deep knee bends involuntarily no matter where you are and yes that includes you over there sitting on the toilet. This first half of the jam is about as close to a dictionary definition of cowfunk as one could put forth. Still in funk mode, Trey starts playing a more direct lead, moving away from funk comping to that Hendrixian style he used so well in 1997. Around the sixteen minute mark the band shifts over to an almost familiar melody and hits on a mode that wasn’t uncommon space for them to inhabit in these lengthy excursions. Some say it is reminiscent of Ramble On (probably not considering that song didn’t debut with Phish until a year later but sure why not) or maybe a Franklin’s Tower jam but both theories are a bit of a stretch to me. The jam growls into more rocking territory and you start to see that they are setting up the move to another song but even still the GTBT power chords come as a bit of a “oh nice!” surprise when they hit. They take the end of this out, chugging into what might be the first/only open jam out of GTBT. They are looking for focus here, throwing out ideas left and right and then Page hops on the theremin and proceeds to take this the direction of weird which is perfectly fine by me. Trey hops on Page’s keyboards, Mike takes up the guitar, and we have ourselves the first Rotation Jam in 50 shows. Eventually Mike bumps Trey off of the keys, Page takes up the bass, and Trey moves to replace Fish on drums but he doesn’t budge at first, leaving Trey standing there awkwardly. He relents though and takes up the guitar and after a bit more roto-jamming they play the first (and last) US version of Rock A William, yet another Fish-sung song but this time one a bit more demented than endearing.

It might be one of the more off the wall set of lyrics they have in the catalog which is saying something. After that everyone goes home to their instruments and they key up the set closing Bowie, hanging in the intro and noodling about building tension in a more subtle way until finally bursting into the song after a full eight plus minutes after the initial bit of high hat hits. This is not a big time energetic rocking take on the song but more of a patient noodle-rama as Trey, Mike, and Page all interweave variously melodic lines around each other’s playing. There are a few parts where it feels like Mike and Trey are teasing other songs that I cannot place. Finally after about fifteen minutes or so they ramp up the tension for the end run. Not everyone’s favorite sort of Bowie, but I like it. A funky Cavern encore later and we are left shaking our heads at the setlist in the lot wondering how they could possibly top this tomorrow. This to me is a great show (one that holds true the Sunday Show axiom too) in a lot of ways and one that really deserves an official release (just in case anyone who can influence that is reading…).

08.11.1997  So does this second night top the one above? Well, no, probably not in any measurable way that we look at these shows but still, there is a lot to like here (here’s the super grainy video). I’ve been pretty open about my love for the Maki>Maze opener pairing so getting one here is a good start. The keyword tonight is “schwag” which for some reason gets a bigger crowd response than some of the more clever ones I’ve heard Trey use so, I don’t know, maybe the Midwestern folk were happy he was finally talking about the quality of weed they were used to back then? Anyway, Maki is really all about that ambient dub outro jamming which this one has a few minutes of before they make the Maze move. If you like your Mazes long and mind scrambling you came to the right place because this one goes to eleven. It isn’t that it veers from structure or anything just that the band connects to throw down a jam that drops jaws along with dropping all the too-spun-too-soon wooks who weren’t prepared for it. Even the dude wooing too closely to the mics on these auds agrees with me here. The set gets a bit song-y from there as they trot out WITS and then the first US versions of Guyute and Guelah on the year before a decent run through the newer song LxL. Trey nails Horn and then we get a Lope closer that takes that tension from the Maze, builds it back up a few times, and then releases quite nicely in that way we like about this song. Trey then messes up the lie by saying they’ll be back in “3… 2… minutes” which I guess could’ve meant 32 minutes but that would be a bit too honest if you ask me.

Second set starts with Timber Ho! similar to the first night in 1996 and again they pack a lot into the nine-ish minutes this song occupies. After Timber Ho! they drop into a couple of the newer numbers, first for a short run through Piper and then for a really well played Vultures (one of those songs I kind of wish they would play more but maybe not because it gives it more weight when it does come out, you know?). I don’t know that you could say this is a jammed version of the song but Trey’s solo alone is worth hearing, especially here in one of the versions before the song was re-worked and had the lyrics “softened” a tad. Four songs in they romp through My Soul and then start up YEM to your surprise as you think it is a bit early in the set for such things. Phish has other ideas though as they take their time here, at times connecting and at times moving apart in a fairly non-standard take on the YEM jam. Now some will say this is not a good YEM while others think it is the best one they’ve ever seen so the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. Interestingly, for as much as you hear about cowfunk taking over Phish in 1997, the only song in this entire show that gets that Trey comping funk breakdown. YEM has always had a bit of the funk on it (Phish funk anyway) but this one gets extended including a move into an effects-laden glitch jam that feels pulled from 1999 and they blow through the move to the B&D to keep going with it until finally coming around to the VJ after about 23 or 24 minutes. With still a wee bit of time left to play they slide Zero in as the closer and then Page gets the spotlight for the Coil closer, wrapping up a second set that is oddly only a few minutes longer than the first set when all is said and done. Call it a case of the Mondays or whatever but after the barn burner that was the previous night’s show it is understandable for them to take a different direction musically on this night. Far from a disappointing show, this one has some if not as many highlights as the one that precedes it.

08.02.1998  A year later Phish was back for another pair of shows, again following a European Tour and in the run up to the now all but traditional end of summer festival. This show starts out in a unique fashion as they open with Roggae for the only time ever. It isn’t the biggest Roggae ever (not to say the song has ever really been more than what it is) but it is a nice, comforting way to ease into an evening with Phish and 23,000+ friends. Next up is Divided (1:08 pause tonight) and Horse>Silent (first ones for 1998) before our first entry in The Summer Of Covers with the Joe Tex ditty You Better Believe It Baby, a nice enough song that pretty much NO ONE knew at the time resulting in the first two version of The Phish Companion (and the setlist info on phish.com) having it incorrectly listed as Too Much of Everything which is a Fabulous Thunderbirds song that while nice in its own way sounds absolutely nothing like the old soul classic linked above. And this was the second (and last) time the song was performed so it wasn’t even a one off song like many covered that tour. A compact but super funky Boogie On gets us back to songs we know by heart (well, maybe not as much at this point since this is only the third one since it was shelved way back in 1988 but still…) and then without skipping a beat they drop into Reba for a visit from our gal. This might not be the best one ever or even from what was a great year for the song but it sure grabbed my attention both live and here again on spinback. A 52 show bustout of Weigh follows and then after a quick BOAF Trey just notes they are “taking a quick break” instead of perpetuating the lie, a nice change here for once.

The second set starts with yet another pretty darn good Possum (it is becoming a bit of a thing here at Deer Creek) though I’m not sure where this Manteca-like jamming is that .net notes. Next up is Ghost which starts out in that wonderfully loopy way with the band settling into that ‘grown up’ cowfunk groove that flourished in 1998. Mike and Page offer up great contributions as Trey rides rhythm for the majority of the first half here until he hits on a repeating phrase and they pick up speed as they head towards what must be a resolution peak. But as was more common back then they never peak it, instead hitting a different groove that eventually drops out into the 61 show bustout of Lifeboy (yay!). Bowie follows this with what starts out as a typical type of noodle jam led by Trey but then when they come back to the end bit Trey inserts teases of Lizards, Divided, and Possum between the Bowie riffs which the crowd really likes a lot.  Mike takes the mic for the debut of the strangely apt but also odd cover of Cole Porter’s I Get A Kick Out Of You, a song only performed one more time by the band which we discussed for the Fall 98 review of 11.09.1998 way back when. After a Cup closer they encore with a nice but shortish Hood (there’s some interesting/unique playing in the intro lead up to the first lyrics) and the fourth ever Bittersweet Motel (a song you had to get used to hearing a bunch that summer considering seven of the seventeen ever versions are from that tour and it is the fourth most played song of the US portion of the tour) sends us off into the night to sleep off our fun until the next one. This show is pretty standard for what you could expect from Summer 1998 with a few big fun jams mixed in with creative setlists and one off covers but it isn’t exactly legendary status Phish.

08.03.1998  The Summer of Covers, as this tour from 1998 is known in some circles of the fanbase, included a lot of headscratcher choices for one-off songs played by the band. But some of them are ones people still want to hear Phish tackle again such as the opener from this second night of Deer Creek. By 1998 The Smashing Pumpkins were kind of on the downswing after massive success first with Siamese Dream and then with  Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Oddly, Phish chose a song of theirs from well before these peaks, debuting the one time cover of Rhinoceros to open the show on this night. Outside of lacking the distorted guitars of Billy Corgan and James Iha this is a pretty faithful take on the song and I think a tune people would go nuts for if they ever decided to break it out again which I doubt they will. The secondary opener tonight is Halley’s, a tune that really came into its own as a jam vehicle in later 1997 but then more fully in 1998 and 1999. This one drops into cowfunk goodness from the drop (you know, that moment where the decision is either jam it or play a different song) as they move through several ideas on their way to the transition to IDK for 43 show bustout of the other Nancy tune in the repertoire. It is a bit surprising that these two songs have only been paired together like this just this one time (with just one IDK, Halley’s ordering having happened with Nancy on board for vocals at 05.14.1998). Even more, since both of these songs have been played a relatively high number of times (Halley’s – 124; IDK – 255) and have both been around since the beginning (don’t mind that little 475 show gap for Halley’s in there that was broken on 03.14.1993) I was expecting they had been played in more than just thirteen shows together but stats are funny, right?

Keeping us on our toes, next up is the 492 show (!) bustout of Ride Captain Ride, a song I definitely never thought I’d hear the band play live but have now caught twice (including this one!). After a fun CTB they open into Moma where Trey takes charge of the jam, soaring with his playing above that BEK groove. After another mini bustout for Strange Design (32 shows) they close with Zero, tonight sans any trace of The Lie. The second set opens with another tune that benefited greatly in terms of jamming during this time period, Gumbo, as they stretch it out with a Manteca-infused dance party that showcases the band’s supreme interconnectedness. Jams like this one are why people now groan whenever songs like Gumbo, Tube, and Halley’s don’t get the treatment. Following Axilla they soar through one of those life-affirming LxLs before turning the set towards the weirder sort of stuff first with Meat then for Fish Fun Time and the 129 show bustout of Bike. After that wraps we get the third of the will-they-or-won’t-they-jam-it Triumvirate in Tube and here the answer is more “no” than “yes” as they tease with the pinner funk breakdown before the final verses. Oh well, can’t jam em all, can ya? (you actually can but that doesn’t mean they will). Interesting to me and perhaps only me is the fact that this is the only show ever where all three of those songs are performed. Another thing that has only happened in this show is a Wedge closer which is something to tell the kids for sure. The encores are Circus?Lope and then we are left waiting for the next year’s pair. Probably the better of the two here in 1998 overall this show is a bit front loaded for jamming as the ‘4th quarter’ runs off into song mode once Fish Fun Time takes over.

07.25.1999  The return to Deer Creek in 1999 made it five years running so by now everyone was all in on the notion that you really shouldn’t miss shows here. To prove the point, Phish came out with intent in mind, opening for the first time ever with Meat before raging one of those demented MFMFs that seem to set the tone for the rest of the night. They never fully close with the Myfe lyric, instead moving into the Siket Disc goodie My Left Toe for what would be the last confirmed performance of the instrumental. I say confirmed because over the years since folks have found bits of this in other jams though there is no real confirmation of that having confirmedly occurred. This bit of ambient serenity evolves into a big time massive bustout in Whipping Post, the Allman Brothers classic that was in steady rotation in the very early days before dropping out to become a Fish Fun Time number played maybe once a year until all but disappearing but for that one version at Alpine on 08.10.1996 which happened to be the show before the pair here that year. This is actually even more of a bustout since Trey takes the lead vocals for the first time since 09.21.1990. Its a rousing version with great appreciation from the crowd but lacking the big time jam that the Allmans might have tacked on to it. They bleed into the start of Makisupa next, hitting the multi-ball with keywords “gooballs, brownies, stink, kind nugs… keef” and then moving into a birthday shoutout for CK5 with lots of fun in there including the 715 show bustout (if you count it) for HBD as Trey give Chris a light solo and sings to him that they are going to get him wasted that night. Fun stuff. After they come back to close Makisupa Chris gives a quick thanks to Trey for all that and then they run through Saw It Again and get funky with an extended groove Boogie On which precedes the Cavern closer.

After the “quick break” they open with BOAF which as it tended to do in 1999 goes big, first for the full ride frenzy of the ‘straight forward’ BOAF jam but then in a more 99-ambience way as they hint back to that first set MLT before cranking out a mini bustout for Walk Away (35 shows). A midset Lope follows which gets something of a groove-based jam instead of the traditional dissonant fracas typical of your favorite old school versions but it is an interesting departure from the norm in that regard. Trey teases Stash for some reason at the outset of that jam but after that they move into that Lope groove and you forget it even happened. They emerge into Suzy after the end of Lope and after the first set of lyrics drop right back into a funky groove jam (with those 99 Trey loops yo) where Page is leading on piano and the rest of the band is following along. The crowd even gets some clapping going at one point as you’d be hard pressed to be able to NOT dance to this one. Listen as Page flirts heavily with Stevie Wonder’s I Wish at the breakdown at 7:45 or so but it is a stretch to say he actually teased it. Deserved of a break, they pull up for Fish Fun Time and tonight that’s the 210 show bustout of Purple Rain which Fish completely botches the lyrics to, eventually just thanking the crowd for supporting his vacuum habit. The closer is fittingly YEM tonight which gets a bit of a Boogie On jam before it is all said and done and then we get a predictable Cup encore which hang on! This one has some extra stank on it! Big time peak and some outro jamming make this one better than your typical Cup encore. I know I have attendance bias here but this show is just plain great Phish. This is the band with full range and capacity bringing it all together. You should spin this show loud and frequently and take Trey’s advice to “take it slow”.

07.26.1999  The second night of this 1999 stop also happened to be the final night of the US Tour as the band headed off to Japan for the first time following this one. There is a bit of a tour ender feel at play here as the band and crowd celebrate everything that led to this point and that shows in the setlist as only one song, a one off debut cover we’ll get to in a bit, is played that was not already performed earlier on this tour. What I’m getting at is that this is a pretty song-heavy show with a few jams sprinkled in not the other way around. Similar to the previous night, they open with a song they’ve never slotted there before, giving Farmhouse its first primary placement (there are now four more including three in the Fall 1999 Tour). BOTT drops next and then they play the rearranged Vultures (differing from the one the year before here slightly both musically and lyrically) before taking it down a few notches for the lovely ballad Sleep. Gumbo gets the mid set stretch with a jam that first starts out in a typical manner, then gets a bit more Trey shred/mass note playing followed by a brief ambient outro that works into NICU. After playing the first Beauty of My Dreams since they played it with Del McCoury and his band at Oswego the previous weekend they head into Gin for what is sure to be a big gooey bliss peak run jam, right? Well… not really. Trey again puts on his guitar god hat, playing long runs of notes as Fish pounds hard in pushing the pace for this one. It never really gets to that typical jam space for Gin in this era but that different take makes it one to hear. After another quieter moment for Mountains in the Mist they rock out Axilla (complete with the Part II closing) which runs into the start of the set closing Stash. Again Trey gets his guitar god on in a pretty straight forward tension building version that delights the crowd.

The second set starts with Wolfman’s and they take this one out for a big ride in the ’99 way, moving effortlessly through phases of cowfunk, ambience, and some guitar led rock over seventeen plus minutes that feel like they fly by much more quickly than that. After a patient slow build but un-jammed Piper (seriously, they don’t even start singing until about halfway through this version) we get a big, soaring Theme where Trey shines brightly in another showcase of his skills. Sticking with the vehicles, next up is Disease, offering hope for one more big jam before the night ends. They rage through the early type I jam as Trey hints at some well known phrasings he tends to fall into with this song but then after bringing it around to the close of the song they alter course towards a feedback-laden soundscape jam. They meander through this space for several minutes until Fish hits the telltale 2001 beat giving us our escape hatch but then Mike comes in with the start to Melt! It isn’t very common to hear Mike direct traffic like this but I like it. The Melt jam is pretty much what you’d expect (listen for some Turning Japanese teases) but this version gets a bit more credit for the speech Trey gives before the end, thanking everyone and praising our scene while mentioning the big time issues (that article is now almost humorous with how dated some of the acts mentioned are) that had occurred just a day or so earlier at the Woodstock ’99 festival. The connection of which he speaks is definitely a big part of why this has all worked for so long. And then as if to stick their tongues out at that mess in upstate New York even more they come out for the encore and debut the (abbreviated) cover of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock (but played in the CSNY way) before swinging through a fun Julius to send everyone home. This show is perhaps not as great as the one preceding it but as Mike In Austin said recently, often the show before the tour ender is the real heater. I definitely agree with that notion but don’t skip this one!

07.10.2000  Summer 2000 brought Phish to Deer Creek for three shows in the middle of the week in June which isn’t exactly headliner routing for such a big venue but necessary to be able to fit in all that other Phish in other places. With the benefit of hindsight we can probably see that the cracks leading to Hiatus were already quite big and one of the contributors was their rigorous touring schedule so it is conceivable that this sort of routing was a factor in all of that. But at this time that was an unknown so let’s just get to the music, eh? First up are CTB and Wilson, combining to give us the dancing bug and fulfill our need to shout out names with 20K+ of our friends. Then after a nice enough Ice they stretch out for one of those “standard good” template Gins that are all over this time period, not doing anything particularly unique but definitely getting the crowd amped up. A mini bustout (28 shows) for Buffalo Bill is the cool down from the Gin and then after MMGAMOIO they start up Melt for what is sure to be a big time version. Well, it is not that. Instead it is a shorter version with not much going on musically. A non-FMS Sparkle and stock Funky Bitch later they arrive at the Bowie closer, running through it cleanly but never really pushing the boundaries too much. Trey plays some very nice runs here but this is a pretty neutered version of the once jam juggernaut.

The second set appears to hold the goods though as from the start things are a bit looser and more open. They hit that sweet dance pocket for the 16+ minute opening Jibboo and then get loopy and electro for the big Sand groove that follows with Page and Trey toying around with various effects over that punishing groove. They keep the same type of tone going for a better-than-advertised-but-still-a-bit-too-contained-for-my-liking Twist and then put together one of the more unique pairings I’ve encountered with Fee>WTU? (the WTU? is a good “oh nice!” surprise out of the ambient outro for Fee). Honestly, it kind of works thematically when you think about the lyrical content of Fee and the message of WTU?. Kind of makes you wonder why they’ve never done it again. Faithful runs through LxL (actually, Trey destroys this one pretty well) and Cup close the set and then the encore is another Lope here in the cornfields, and again Trey slides a Stash tease in there to make sure we are listening. Lope is tied with Possum for most times Stash has been teased in it at six with Wedge right behind at five. Hard hitting analysis, I know. That’s our game here, folks. Anyway, this is a fine enough show but really not one you will spin much of anything from very frequently.

07.11.2000  Ah… a middle night show. The scientists will have to tell us why, but for some reason Phish always seems to find their groove better in the middle night of three show runs than any other night (on average). After a largely “safe” first night Phish got comfortable here, sprinkling in jams, bustouts, and a seguefest second frame for good measure. They start out with that ever-welcome open air sunshine vibe cover tune Ya Mar, stretching it out a tad but never leaving the song behind. They keep the vibe going with a funky Moma and then give us the ol’ third slot bluegrass throwback with Uncle Pen before starting up the four hole first jammer with Drowned. Somewhere along the way this Drowned gets to a super happy bouncy groove that will have you smiling from ear to ear and then they get into a bit of stop/start action before wrapping up and heading into something… familiar but not quite… Hey! That’s Chalkdust Reprise after a 391 show gap!! What the heck?? If you have never heard this super rare tune, do yourself the favor of spinning it because it is just plain fun. And with tongues planted firmly in cheek they back that up with a ripping run through Chalkdust. Next is a very solid version of Theme and then the Cavern closer leaves us waiting for more.

The second set opens with a wonderful 2001 that stretches over twelve minutes before bumping into the start of Disease. This one sticks to the type I template for the most part but in the last few minutes becomes… Moby Dick?!? Heck yeah! “Only” a 172 show gap here but a fun little quote before they head back to close up Disease. Jim comes running in next and after a few minutes of slick groove jamming they amp it up and return to Moby Dick. Then they start into BOTT where Page initiates the move to Moby Dick which the rest of the band follows before they finish BOTT. Then we get Hood which progresses in a lovely manner as most Hoods do (don’t miss the Dog Log phrasing by Page and Mike just before the lyrics. ‘Sup, Smuff!) before they bang into Moby Dick once more at the end. Now they are just playing with us. Fish Fun Time is up next with Terrapin (85 show gap) being the vac ditty tonight (along with Fish being introduced as Russell Crowe) and then in the return HYHU we get more Moby Dick, this time with Trey on drums and Fish on vac. The Zero closer is fine and dandy at this point but you know they aren’t done here so in the wake of the big First Tube encore they again go into Moby Dick and then into Chalkdust Reprise. Trey even banters that if anyone missed anything they should read the book or see the movie just to drive the point home about this set. Similar to many of the seguefests, this is not a cornucopia of jams but a show that is greater than the sum of its parts in how it all comes off. Seek out this one for certain.

07.12.2000  The final night of this final Deer Creek run of Phish 1.0 starts out with some big time bustout love first with a mini one for MFMF (69 show gap) but then the biggie as they trot out The Curtain (With) for the first time in 1,178 shows! This was so unexpected that I doubt anyone saw it coming particularly since it wasn’t like they had shelved The Curtain or anything (it was played earlier on the tour at Star Lake). They had clearly been working on this one as it comes off cleanly, swaying through that slowed down Rift melody as Trey and Page each take turns soloing over the main theme. There are bigger gaps that have been broken in the band’s history but I maintain that this might be one of the more important in the sense that it brought a very much loved (and also quite good) bit of instrumentalism back to the catalog which differs from most bustouts being short songs or oddball ditties rather than fully formed pieces of music (with the biggest example of the other sort probably being FYF). Now warmed and ready to rock they open up Tube into a funky jam where Trey at first hits the keyboard rig before coming in on guitar with a creative melodic line. It isn’t the longest Tube jam ever and it doesn’t get one of those full-stop-reprise jams like the legendary ones from Chula Vista or Hershey or Dayton but it’ll get your body moving for sure. The set takes an odd turn from here though as they string together several fine enough songs for an uninspiring sequence of Heavy Things, Billy Breathes, and Beauty of My Dreams before dropping into Free for what we hope is a biggish version at least. They do get into some interesting space here with Trey playing that backwards-note-eating thing he does so well and then they back it up with a rocking Axilla (including the Part II ending). Page then closes the set with his lovely Coil musings.

The second set starts out raging hot with a fiery type I BOAF followed by an equally blistering run through Piper. The Piper feels like it could’ve kept going but they decided to pull up for a full stop before the first C&P of the year (last one previous was the midset doozy during the overnight set at Big Cypress). Initially they chug through the sped up TH funk but in the final four plus minutes they drop into a more millennial ambient groove space that evolves to be the intro to Caspian. Oddly, they choose Meatstick to close this shortish set with the last few minutes being another Trey speech giving thanks, mentioning this being the sixth straight year of playing the venue, how they will see us here next year (um… yeah… about that, Trey…), and giving a shout out to the thousands of people listening from outside who got left on the wrong side of the fence sans tickets. Good guy, that Trey. Not sure what he was thinking with the Wading encore though. Weird guy, that Trey…

07.21.2003  So following Hiatus Phish came back to conquer America once more. Here at Deer Creek we get another three night run, once again as a Monday-Wednesday visit. These shows fall about midway through that Summer Tour so by now they are fairly comfortable playing again meaning that while the composed stuff is still not solid (when played at all) the jams come often and in many cases from unexpected places. You just never knew what you’d get in 2003. So the show starts out innocently with standard takes on Cites, Jim, Meat (38 show gap, 1st of 2.0), and WITS and then they start into Stash for the first bit of open playing. This one doesn’t depart Stash for very long but in the latter half there’s some interesting work by Trey building tension with phrasing that many might yell out as being DEG teases (it is not). The Old Home Place (63 show gap, first of 2.0) and yet another Vultures (seems to be a thing for this venue – still no wooing though!) follow Stash and then we get a fun four song sequence to end the set with BOAF>Mike’s>H2>Paug. BOAF starts out rocking, making you think it’ll be another scorcher like that one a few years ago and then around the five minute mark they downshift as Trey noodles around for a few minutes before reprising the BOAF theme. Then they drop fully into ambient goo that eventually give us that Mike’s. This Mike’s is very slowed down from the start but that doesn’t stop them from getting crunchy in the jam as Trey uses that 2.0 growl tone to push things along. But it’s the Paug where things go big in this Groove as they run through a fast paced type I jam before treading open waters for a bit (including a tease of Shock the Monkey by Trey) and then closing with a big time, somewhat unusual finish for the song. Not a bad way to cap the set.

They come out of the break with Suzy and then Taste where Trey kind of goes a bit nuts in his solo before reining it in to circle around for the close. Next up is 46 Days for its fifth ever performance which feels weird to write now since it is a tour staple in 3.0 but yeah, it really only had been debuted earlier at that Hampton Run we detailed a few back. This one doesn’t go quite as big but does have a solid 2.0 dirty jam at the onset that moves into a dissonant feedback-filled jam before slowly quieting down to an ambient transition point. They start up Tweezer and everyone is getting excited as they imagine the massive jam to come since this is the first ever Tweezer in this venue but they never really leave the song, instead tinkering around the Tweezer theme first in building and then in bringing it down to where it eventually just peters out as they move into 2001. Yet another quality LxL is next with Trey starting out in a subdued manner before really going for it in a solo that some say includes DEG phrasing (not sold on this one either). The closer is the first GTBT of 2.0 (45 show gap) and then  Cup>Reprise provides the encore on the evening. This is a decent enough show but probably not one you will spin in toto very often.

07.22.2003  For the middle night of this 2003 run the band started out with a somewhat rough run through PYITE prior to first of 2.0 runs through Beauty of My Dreams and Gumbo. Gumbo goes deep and dark almost immediately after the lyrics end, combining that dark meat 2.0 jamming with an old school bouncy happy song for a fun journey only three songs into the set. This is probably not what you expect out of Gumbo but it is a very interesting jam that balances light and dark elements quite nicely which is a pretty good analogy for 2.0 in general now that I think about it. After an energetic run through Divided (1:33 pause tonight) they get the dance music going with a quick Boogie On before heading back to the darkness for Carini. This one feels charged to explode as Trey growls out that uncompressed tone but they rein it back in to close out Carini and then start up Magilla (first of 2.0; 58 show gap). I like this tune but it is a bit of a head-scratching choice after that dark jam. Whatever, man. 2003 was a weird year.

After a Possum closer and the resulting break they come out and open the second set with Melt, once again pushing that light/dark dichotomy as they head off into an extended jam that moves through several phases. First is a wah-drenched type I jam where Trey is searching within the Melt theme followed by a more brooding open jam that departs from the telltale odd time signature of Melt and then finally they increase the pace for a rocking run to the finish except for that bit about never returning to the song and instead making a deft move into Free (to once again counterbalance the dark with light). This Free is compact but peaks out quite nicely after more of that crunchy tone and then we get the midset cool down with… Friday? Oh hell no. This will not stand. And if you want to come at me with defenses for that song I’ve got all day. ALL DAY. You simply do not put that song as the midset cool down for a five song set. Heck, why play it at all? After almost nine endless minutes we get the reprieve as they bring out the first Lizards of 2.0 (36 show gap) and then a biggish WOTC closes the proceedings with much bombast and some extended inbounds jamming. The encores are Bouncin and Frankenstein just to cap that whole light/dark thing. Overall this show is pretty solid if a bit uneven with some of the song choices but there are several good jams to spin so you can excuse some of it. But not that Friday.

07.23.2003  If that second night captures the dichotomy of 2.0’s balance between light and dark the final night here in 2003 captured another facet of shows in the era: the juxtaposition of mind blowing open jams with badly flubbed composed pieces. I’m not normally one to harp on the flubs because musicians are human and all that but in this case I’ll play along a bit. They start out with the fifth ever SASS (with full intro!) which stretches out into an uplifting open jam before giving way to Theme. There’s a bit of clunkiness getting through the composed parts here but then Trey plays a nice solo in the end jam so all is forgiven. The Rift afterwards is pretty rough though as Trey kind of loses his place and doesn’t even play some of his parts as they stumble through this one. In probably the first positive thing I’ll say about Sample on this blog I will admit that playing that next helps them to get their feet under them again (and the subject matter is kind of on the nose what with all the criticism they are always subject to). Next up is the first Sneakin Sally of the year and this one goes into some cowfunk vamping but with that edginess on top as Trey adds creative licks in with the static comping he is doing. They settle into one of those grooves where you find yourself slowly spinning around, taking it all in and watching the dance moves and awed expressions of others as the music fills you up. After a bit they almost suddenly decide to pull the plug for Billy Breathes which is a great song and all but c’mon that groove was thick and dank and all the other cool words your friend started using after seeing his third show in a row that one time. Well, this isn’t the cleanest BB ever but we’ll give it a pass because the song is so lovely. Our last bit of first set jamming comes from Seven Below, one of those songs that seems to always get a little extra something even in being the ‘standard’ take on the song. Maybe I just need to up my expectations for the song. And for good measure there’s a botched Cavern close but they’ve been messing that one up for about ten years at this point so not really too surprising.

The second set kicks off with Disease which from the drop into the jam feels more like a Seven Below jam than a Disease one. They throw in some CYHMK bits along the way and push the tempo up as they hit the home stretch but this is a good example of Phish coming back to something they were enjoying earlier. You don’t hear them do it much anymore since the style template is now so diverse that they tend to keep moving into different types of jams rather than reprising ‘old’ ideas but every once in a while you can catch them doing it. Surprisingly, this one drops down for a rare placement of Coil. They buck the trend here by playing a clean version with a typically nice outro solo with the only real alteration being that Page doesn’t take as long of solo as Trey stays with him for most of it similar to some of the earlier versions of the song. Next up is the always welcome Maki interlude where Trey basically tells a Dad Joke at the expense of Max Creek (it’s baaaaad) and after a brief outro jam they bring back Buffalo Bill for the first time since their last visit here in 2000 (55 shows). Antelope follows with a jam that gets well beyond the Lope theme for a bit before returning for the peak and oh yeah this one is dedicated to “our friend Greg” who everyone assumes to be Antelope Greg who I will not fill space with here in discussing. The fifth ever (of six) Thunderhead is next and again I voice my lament that this song has disappeared which will go unanswered as always. A nice Slave and a Waste encore later this run is a wrap! Again we end up with a decent enough show buoyed by a few very good jams but also grounded by some of that not-so-tight-ness.

06.23.2004  In the final year of 2.0 before The Long Wait Phish played Deer Creek two more times, again dropping a midweek pair on the traveling horde. The first was a Wednesday show a year to the day after their last visit here. After crowd pleasers with Llama and Bouncin they get to the jamming with a third song Gin that stretches out with a long first/type I jam where Mike is really giving the bass the business before they drop into a more subdued groove space for several minutes prior to closing out the song. Solid takes on Ya Mar, Pebbles and Marbles, and Page’s Army Of One (3rd ever at the time) fill the rest of the midset and then they give us the first Melt of 2004 for the set closer. Actually, the P&M was the only song from this set previously played in the year so that statement is a bit simplistic considering this was a somewhat fresh bunch of tunes as that P&M has the only gap less than ten shows (with Melt being the longest at 26). This isn’t as big as the one from the last visit here but there’s some really great Fish and Mike stuff in this jam so listen well, friends.

They bounce into the second set with one of those table setter Halley’s Comets that drops into another song rather than any inkling of a jam with tonight’s answer to the “will they or won’t they” question being C&P. Always one I like to hear this version stays pretty much within the confines of the song (Royalties Jam naming be damned) though they do have some fun playing a bit in the back end before moving into a midset Slave. After that they trot out the second ever version of Nothing which also ends up being the only version they have ever jammed out once they tack on the lovely bit at the end that deftly becomes 46 Days before you even know it. Without jamming that one they then move into another very strong SaSS from this venue, this time sans intro but with a very captivating jam to it before they pull another flawless segue out of their hats on the way to B&R. Yet another solid LxL from here precedes yet another Cavern closer and then a nice but underwhelming Waste encore ends the evening (on stage at least). This is a better than good show, particularly for the time period leading up to The Break Up with some top notch jams and good setlist construction and flow.

06.24.2004  So then the final night of Phish at Deer Creek for what was expected to be, well, ever came and no one really knew what they’d throw down as the swan song to this much beloved venue. They set the tone for the evening by opening with Loving Cup for only the sixth time ever and first time since 04.17.1994, giving everyone the excuse to party hard from the get go (not that anyone needed that permission, mind you). Next up is Cities which delights the crowd but all of a sudden there’s a BOTT where the Cities jam should be (nice transition though) so let the head scratching begin. Vultures gets another solid run here in its fourth time played at the venue (a pretty high percentage for a song that has only been played a total of 38 times) and then following a quick MMGAMOIO they give us the vehicle we have been waiting for with a late set Disease. The jam starts out in a laid back way, grooving through several offered ideas by various band members until they climb the ladder for a fun jam that much like that Cities somehow lands in another song entirely, this time RnR to close the set.

After the break they open up with Tube and instead of just being a set up this one gets the treatment as Fish and Mike in particular give this one the business (the Mike bassline in particular is quite infectious). Next up is another midset Lope here at the Creek and while maybe not as out there as others they have played (even here) it gets wild and dissonant with Trey throwing in some very heavy hints towards a Gypsy Queen jam not too far ahead of the peak drop. After The Wedge they tear through a dark Timber Ho! led by Trey and Fish and then set up the end of set sequence with Caspian>Simple and they head to the WOTC closer. There is a full return to Disease in the jam here as Trey plays that telling trill riff as they finish the unfinished Disease before capping off the WOTC. Good stuff. The encore is Coil which is never a bad thing and but for the small slip up by Trey in the final bit of guitar before the end run this is a nice one. This show is better than it gets credit for and paired with the one before it offered a pretty solid “last run” for the venue. Thankfully, that end was prematurely assumed…

06.19.2009  Five years later Phish returned for their first single night performance at Deer Creek, coincidentally fourteen years to the day following that first visit to the corn. As the band was still in the infancy of 3.0 it is understandable that this show is perhaps not as jam-heavy as many of the ones that preceded it here but that doesn’t mean it is without its highlights. BDT#L opens for its first (and only to date) time ever (this is also the fifth ever performance of the song) and then after running through Bag, LxL, Moma, and WitS (a telling nod to the rain of the day…) they go for the first bit of jamming with Melt. Yeah, so, let’s just say this early into The Return they weren’t exactly capturing the dark beauty of this one. I’m not gonna lie, it is pretty tough to get through this one. They simply just don’t ever connect as Trey throws out a bunch of various ideas but never in step with the rest of the band. Let’s move on… A few more okay songs later (Lawn Boy, Wedge, and STFTFP – 5th ever one of those) they give us a debut with the first performance of the song that gives this blog its name, The Connection. It’s a nice enough ditty with some of those reflective lyrics that people love to quote (you, I’m talking about me) but the really telling thing to me is how good this sounds in comparison to that Melt earlier. I think it says a lot about where the band was at this stage of their re-connection that this song while not a vehicle by any means sounds fresher and more interesting than one of their long-time go to jammers. They follow this with a nice take on Ocelot (4th ever) with Mike voicing approval on the fight bell in the intro and then cap the set with the now resurgent boisterousness of Fluffhead.

After a rain soaked break they come out with the water songs, opening with a fun pairing of ASIHTOS>Drowned. The outro jam for ASIHTOS starts out in theme but then diverges to a more ambient feel with Trey and Page playing some very original stuff that I wish would have gone on for even longer than it did. Drowned also gets a nice outro jam that moves effortlessly into Twist where they again stretch out for a bit with some CYHMK phrasing and then a brief dip into open waters before the second ever Let Me Lie (woo?) takes over. They make up for that move with a solid Tweezer that hits a nice bit of open space before dropping into the ambient transition move for 2001, setting up the Suzy->Possum closing sequence. The encores are Monkey>Reprise which may or may not be “earned” depending on your view. I was not really loving this show on spinback for the first set but that second set is much better than I remembered. It isn’t one you would put on a “top whatever” list even for early 3.0 but there’s some good stuff in there.

08.12.2010  Keeping the every-summer-tour-we-play-Deer-Creek streak alive for one more year, Phish came back in 2010 for a pair, opening with Jim for somehow the first time ever at this venue. They run through a bunch of tour staples over the course of this pretty tame set with the Roggae having a nice little peak and CTB being a first for the year but really there isn’t much to speak of in this set unless you want to complain about all of the time eaten up by the bathroom-bumrush-inducing, set-closing TTE. I’m not here to bash that tune but with not much to hang your hat on leading up to it the placement is worthy of the grumbling from many who attended this show. This isn’t a bad set but outside of a nice, compact Wolfman’s jam and that Roggae there isn’t much to hang your hat on unless you are the type to wade through TTE for that final five minute payoff like I am.

The second set gets a Drowned opener and much like last year’s this one hits some very agreeable jam space after the initial run through the song proper. This section begins around the 9:00 mark and if you are listening closely you may find that this jam has elements that seem to foreshadow the coming of Waiting All Night, a song that won’t debut for another three years at the lightning rod Halloween performance on 10.31.2013. Pretty neat to hear it here. That evolves into the start of Jibboo which is fun but just as they are dropping into what could be a meaty jam they pull off the full segue move into the rare these days second set placement for Gin. After a quick adrenaline shot to the peak jam there they run off a bunch of songs (MFMF, Buffalo Bill>Twist>Horse>Silent) on the way to another rare tune for second sets in 3.0, Melt. On that Buffalo Bill (81 show bustout btw) really quickly, it is a weird stat oddity that this version of the song was the third at this venue in its last five performances. It took me over 25 freaking years to catch this song live and Deer Creek gets it three times in five. What are the odds. So the Melt, while definitely more together than the one from 2009 this Melt isn’t a world beater so it isn’t too big of a surprise when they bail out for a DFB bustout (64 shows). After a pinner but nice Hood and Golgi closer they come out for the encore and Trey picks up the megaphone meaning “ERMAHGERD! THEY’RE DOING THE FEE SONG!!!” which sure, fine, but it had been a full 388 shows since the last Fee with megaphone. Neato. The outro of this becomes NO2 (only the sixth ever at the time) which melts into an 88 show Kung bustout (including Trey playing with the siren button on the megaphone) which bangs into a Fire finale. That’s the kind of encore people will remember. Might not be the greatest show ever but always nice to see the band having a blast and keeping it loose.

08.13.2010  Night two gets going with a Chalkdust opener followed by the first Guelah of the year after a 42 show gap. Get ready for a quick recap of the balance of this set because this is just a long string of decent songs played fine enough. You get the three hole slot bluegrass (MSO), Axilla, Fish on vac for IDK, a short version of WOTC (76 show bustout), a Stash so short you might miss it if not paying attention (okay, it isn’t bad but being that it is only a minute or two longer than the album version it isn’t exactly one you will be rushing to spin), Train Song slides in after a 36 show gap, Numberline is what it is, Ocelot gets a bit whale-y but is fine, Curtis Loew lets the song chasers pad their stats, Wilson gets the chads pumped, and then Possum lets them rock out to close the set. What, you want me to talk about how that’s the second 1st set closing Possum here (along with the four 2nd set closers)? Fine, done.

How about that second set then? Halley’s kicks it off (with the ultra rare San Ho Zay tease in there!) and then they drop into Light (first one since the amazing one from the Greek the week before). It isn’t a set-carrying jam but they get into a really nice syncopated bit of interplay in the last few minutes before Trey introduces the move to 46 Days. If you recall, this was the summer where people were getting really annoyed with the whole “TreyDHD” thing where he would seemingly pull up out of jam potential to move into another song. This set is that in a nutshell. Nothing is played badly by any means, but every time they seem like they are about to go somewhere he comes in and pushes into a new song. Out of 46 Days it becomes Maze which gets a full stop before they play Meatstick and again right as they should at least do a bit of ‘normal’ jamming Trey layers in the start to Mango Song. Then the second longish tune of the set (and carrier of the 4th quarter) comes in with Fluffhead followed by a fun if expected Julius closer. The Contact>Slave encore pairing is a nice nod to the impending overnight drive to Alpine but that’s small consolation for a pretty unremarkable set and show. I’m guessing there won’t be many who can put up a good defense of this show if it wasn’t your first, hit some ‘major’ arbitrary milestone, or happened to coincide with you emptying your stash into your belly.

06.28.2012  For the first time since they started playing here, Phish skipped a year when touring in the summer (2011) and instead came back the next year in the early stages of what would end up being a pretty darn good summer of Phish. This visit while lacking the standard rain storms (which would have been much appreciated at the time) arrived during a major heat wave that raised concerns of major instances of wookdown and the potential for brush fires in the lawn areas of many venues. It was serious stuff, folks. Ever cognizant of their fans, Phish came out with a plan to keep it laid back until the sun had set to cool off the area, throwing us a bunch of bustouts and other gems along the way. First up with the second Birdwatcher ever (ending a 35 show gap and being the only opening slotting of the song ever) which was followed by a very well executed Curtain (With) after a 39 show gap. The jam here is light and breezy and really set the tone for the balance of the set. After the fun of FYF (43 show bustout) they went way back for Old Home Place (103 show gap), filling the bluegrass requirement with one of the more easy going of the grassy tunes they play. Following a solid string of P&M, Weigh, Chalkdust, and Wolfman’s (there’s some nice swagger funk in this one) they busted out (is ‘busted’ the right tense there? wook grammar is tough) Cool It Down after 54 shows on the way to a first set Tweezer (gotta keep us thinking cold thoughts at the very least, right?) that while not wide ranging or exploratory gets right to the point with a compact, Trey-heavy jam before the old school slow down ending. Tela wafts in on the wind from beyond the mountains and then they close the set with a raucous STFTFP as we all then got the chance to cool off for a bit.

Mike’s Song opens the second set and then they go into McGrupp (for the first time out of Mike’s since 10.07.1999) which gets a very interesting jam to it aside from just the normal Page going off on the piano bit as Trey joins him in taking this out. They end up in the start of BOTT which gets its own multi-themed jam that eventually heads into a bit of transition space that in the moment sure felt like it was going to become Psycho Killer which probably would have catapulted this show into instant classic status before they made it HYHU instead for Fish Fun Time. As Fish figured out what to play (including Trey really prodding for Sexual Healing as Fish realized he didn’t remember any of the words) Mike teased IIOHAB and Mike’s Song but then we got Bike. As they then finish up the return HYHU Mike booms into Paug while Trey is still on drums. Fish takes up the guitar, it goes about as well as you could expect with some funny banter by Fish, and then Fish and Trey are both on drums, and finally we get back to where we are all supposed to be for the main/remaining part of the song. This is the sort of thing that back in the day when you got the tapes sans any context you would have no idea what the heck was going on until someone clued you in and you’d be wondering why Trey played so horribly in the Paug intro. After a fine enough Caspian they move into Waves (a more common pairing than I thought with three instances of Caspian preceding Waves as in this case and another three the other way around), taking the boat into its open waters for several minutes of wonderful playing before closing the set with Bug and a punchy if contained Bowie. The Show of Life>Reprise encore is then basically gravy after a fine set like that. This is a better than you realize show particularly considering the overwhelming heat of the day.

06.29.2012  The second night has fireworks of its own starting with the 88 show bustout of Crowd Control but running all throughout the night. The heat had only abated by a few degrees so everyone was still pretty testy, including the security at the gate which might have prompted this bustout. After DaaM they go all the way back to Halloween 1998 for a nifty Sweet Jane bustout (352 shows) reminding us once again just how broad and deep their catalog really is as they nail this well loved classic. Some funny banter about signs follows (remember when that was a “thing”??) before a nice LxL and a standard rocking Possum. Non-staples Mound, our old friend from Fall 96 LOM?, and Mango keep everyone moving and then they go old school with the fun madness of BBFCFM which I will never not like. Strange Design, BOAF, and Halley’s provide more fresh setlist options/placements before the cap the set with a 73 show bustout of WMGGW, a song I know a lot of people really like but personally does nothing for me. Oh well, they can’t all be our favorite songs.

After that inventive first set they dive in headfirst with the Disease second set opener for the first opportunity to really stretch their legs. At the start Trey mimics some of the flourishes Page is playing before taking over to explore a theme of his own. They continue to trade ideas over the course of this fluid jam with Trey getting very close to moving it into Undermind at one stage before switching gears. As you spin around with eyes closed suddenly you realize they have moved into Sand, never seeming to skip a beat along the way. This Sand is all about that Mike as the bass master pushes the pace and pretty well leads the entire thing over the course of its densely packed jam that includes a couple of teases by Trey. At the very end Trey changes keys to make the move to Twist easier and now everyone is getting very excited about this third potential vehicle in a row. Well, that word “potential” is key here because due maybe to some lyric flubs or just plain desire to mix it up Trey gets goofy, playing with the lyrics to “twist them around” by saying various band members’ names in other letter order (you know, like the song’s lyrics mention?). Sensing this isn’t going to go anywhere Trey pushes into Rift instead of a Twist jam which is fine I guess. Better to hit the reset button than to try to beat the computer without all the necessary power ups you missed, right? Then they go into Gin which is definitely not something expected here but neither is the very non-Gin-like jam with its Twist quotes (and more of the letter mixups) and On Broadway tease by Trey. He has clearly put away the jam pants for the night and is just letting it ride. Similar to the end of Twist he rather quickly puts together a nice transition to Fluffhead which pretty much tells you the end of the jamming has come. Following Fluff they end the set with a 41 show bustout of Ride Captain Ride and that Antelope you’ve been expecting for the past two visits here after they played it every year leading up to 2009 at Deer Creek. Still in a bit of a weird mood, they triple encore with Cavern>Sanity, First Tube which while fun is a pretty odd run of tunes for an encore. Having attended only the first night here that one holds preference for me personally what with all the jamming and bustouts but there is a definite appeal to this one as well even if that second set might have left you a bit flat footed were you to be expecting nothing but big jams.

06.26.2016  Okay, so yeah, here we are at the last one for Deer Creek (I’m sure you are sick of reading my blather by now) and yes this is a show that didn’t exactly get people to quit their jobs to head out on tour. But being a completist here I’m gonna do what I do so strap in. Coming back to Deer Creek after the longest gap since the band had started playing here (three whole touring years!!) Phish was also playing this show on the back end of the two nights at Wrigley Field in Chicago following the tour opener earlier that week in St. Paul, MN. Third nights can be tricky for all of us here in 3.0 as we are older and not necessarily wiser when it comes to pacing ourselves. The band sometimes shows this fatigue too and since there was the travel from Chicago to Indianapolis overnight to be factored in the stage was kind of set for this one to not exactly light it up. Layer onto that that some weren’t exactly pleased with how Phish was playing out of the gates to start this tour (like, did they even practice, maaaaannn??) not to mention there being a rain delay and showers throughout the evening and you can tell where this is headed. Honestly, listening back it isn’t as bad as the chicken littles made it out to be but there also isn’t a whole lot to hang your hat on in that first set. You see the MFMF opener and you think “oh yeah, old school darkness!” but that never really happens then there’s a stock KDF, okay but short Camel Walk, odd ASIHTOS>Poor Heart pairing, micro-jammed Tube, sure fine Halley’s>Maze, and Lawn Boy filling up the majority of the first set. Next is the debut of Breath & Burning which is fine but Trey almost apologizes for it in thanking the crowd for letting them try out the new tunes (to say nothing of the lack of positive response for the Miss You debut earlier that weekend following a pretty dank Sand). They close the set a bit more strongly with a run of Saw It Again>Theme>First Tube but it isn’t enough to salvage the going-through-the-motions feel of this one.

They come out a bit hotter for the second set with fun takes on PYITE and BOTT but really it is the midset that holds the value in this one. Light opens up into a very bright jam that I can’t imagine anyone complaining about. Trey latches on to a theme for a bit around the 9:00 mark that feels lifted from an Allmans jam but they move on and eventually drop into some clav-led transition space prior to the move into Golden Age. Always a fun one to hear, this GA doesn’t stretch out much at all after a few rounds of Trey echoplexing as they instead opt to go dance party with a pretty darn good segue into Boogie On. Rather than keep the dancers spinning they take it way down for a Wingsuit>Shade double that really saps the energy out of the place before the (YES AGAIN) Possum closer. The RnR encore then feels tacked on as an afterthought once the set lost its way. I like that midset sequence but could have used a bit more work before they moved to Boogie On. I’m not in charge of those decisions though so I it just ends up being a bit of a shrugger of a night. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another three years to cleanse our palettes from this one.

Tale of the Tapes

Venue:  Deer Creek Music Center (officially, Klipsch Music Center and previously Verizon Wireless Music Center)

No. of Shows:  twenty-three

Intangibles:  This is one of the classic outdoor “sheds” in the national touring circuit and one that already had a good reputation before Phish ever set foot on stage such that some of that mythos (particularly as relates to the Dead) ‘rubbed off’ a bit on the band and the fans’ reception of such. Once an oasis in a vast sea of cornfields, the “vibe” of seeing shows at Deer Creek has always been one of the best in the scene not just for the music the band plays but also for the free wheeling lot scene, late night campground shenanigans, and “can’t miss” reputation that evolved over the years. There really is something indescribable about shows here, something that you kind of have to experience to understand. It is weird because it isn’t a spectacular venue like The Gorge or Red Rocks. It’s an outdoor shed not too unlike so many others around the country but for some reason Phish and their fans have made it a homestead in the Midwest. Now some twenty-two years after the first visit here the area has changed significantly which has impacted the free wheeling nature to a certain degree but it still stands as one of those venues that if Phish comes to play you should probably try to make it there.

Recurring Themes:  Trey loves to banter here, often saying stuff like “enjoy yourselves out there tonight” or “don’t do anything we wouldn’t do” in acknowledgement of the fun to be had camping in the cornfields; Rainstorms while not really discussed above have played integral roles in set timings and even a few big jams like the Drowned from 07.11.2000 or the ASIHTOS>Drowned from 06.19.2009; If you like Run Like an Antelope, this is the venue for you as nine out of twelve visits have one including each visit from the first eight times they came here – and a couple of those have Stash teases in them for some reason; unique openers – in 23 shows they have only repeated the opener twice (MFMF, Ya Mar) and several of those have been first time openers for the song; out of the eight Possums here (tied with Melt for #2 in total times performed) four have been second set closers so that’s a fair bet to make; speaking of Melt, they tend to play the song quite well here which is good considering its relative frequency; another song that they tend to play quite well here is Limb By Limb which has a great batting average in its seven performances; and finally, don’t expect to get a Tweezer here as it took thirteen shows for the first one to drop here and there have only ever been three performances of the song at this venue

Key Jams/Songs:  1995 – Theme, Reba, Lope, Bowie, YEM, Possum; 1996 – Melt, Esther, McGrupp>Lope, Possum, Divided, Slave, Bag (with unique intro), Mike’s>Lifeboy>Paug; 1997 – Disease, Melt, Hood, Cities, Theremin/Rotation Jam, Bowie, Maki>Maze, LxL, Lope, Timber Ho!, Vultures, YEM; 1998 – Roggae, Boogie On, Reba, Possum>Ghost>Lifeboy, Rhinoceros, Halley’s->IDK, Moma, Gumbo, LxL; 1999 – MFMF->MLT->Whipping Post>Maki>HBD>Maki, Boogie On, Boaf->Walk Away>Lope>Suzy, YEM, Cup, Gin, Stash, Wolfmans, Theme, Disease->Melt, Woodstock; 2000 – Gin, Jibboo>Sand, LxL, Drowned->Chalkdust Reprise>Chalkdust, entire 2nd set of 7.11 show plus encore, Curtain (With), Tube, BOAF>Piper, C&P; 2003 – Satsh, Paug, Taste, 46 Days, LxL, Gumbo, Carini, Melt->Free, WOTC, SaSS, Sally, Seven Below, Disease>Coil, Lope; 2004 – Gin, Melt, C&P>Slave, Nothing, SaSS, Disease, Tube>Lope, Tomber Ho!, WOTC; 2009 – ASIHTOS->Drowned>Twist, Tweezer; 2010 – Roggae, Drowned>Jibboo>Gin, entire 1st night encore, Light; 2012 – Curtain (With), Tweezer, McGrupp->BOTT>HYHU>Bike>HYHU>Paug, Waves>Bug, Disease>Sand, Gin; 2016 – um… Light maybe?

PJJ Ratio:  Deer Creek comes in at a surprisingly low 2.13 JPS rating (the average for all venues under consideration in this project is 2.47). With how well loved this venue is in the fanbase I was shocked to find the ratio to be this low. My personal list above is bigger (and I’m going to put together a bit of comparison to the PJJ guys’ offerings when this is all wrapped up) but I understand the choices made as well as why they left off certain ones off.

Deer Creek and Summer Tour were once synonymous as the band visited here on ten straight years (well… years in which they toured that is…). Following that first single night visit in 1995 the band made themselves comfortable for most subsequent stops here, maxing out at three night stands in 2000 and 2003 before ramping down for future routings through the area. There are some straight legendary sets that have been played here but also some pretty forgettable ones which you kind of brush aside because of the sheer amount of music they have performed here in the land of corn. To my ear the good far outweighs the “meh” here (I don’t really think there are any completely bad sets/shows from this venue though others may disagree) so you could pretty easily make a case for this to be considered one of the best venues for Phish in their history. Some of that for me is related to attendance bias since I have managed to scatter s decent amount of visits to Deer Creek over the years but you cannot deny that the band has always played in a very comfortable manner in this shed. The amount of music played doesn’t necessarily push it to the top as there is something to be said for quality over simple quantity but is sure helps make the case for Deer Creek. In the end I am sure that Deer Creek will lose out to another place but here there are more than a few sets that I personally hold dear as some of the best Phish I have witnessed both live and on tape.

6 thoughts on “Children of the Cornfields – Phish and Deer Creek

  1. I’m only a few years into the band and the 2016 summer show was my first live act (right in my backyard, how could I not attend). Thanks for the Deer Creek roundup!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Great write up T3. Lots to take in.. DC definitely didn’t get the best of 3.0, but it is a legendary venue nonetheless.

    I also second the love for Thunderhead! I’m pretty much pro Round Room tunes (sans Friday)

    Liked by 1 person

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