Meet At The Tree! – Phish and Alpine Valley

Alpine Valley Music Theatre is located in East Troy, WI with relative proximity to the Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, and Rockford markets. At one time the venue was part of the same complex as the adjacent Alpine Valley Resort which has golf, skiing, and other amenities but the two properties have since been split in terms of ownership with Live Nation now having control of the music venue. Considering the surrounding topography, it makes sense that this venue is known for the large hill that provides the slope of the venue with the lawn area even having a few notable trees that have become de facto meeting spots. The relatively steep grade of the hill here can prove challenging for those not sure of foot, be that of natural or induced variety. Since its opening in 1977 Alpine Valley has been a standard stop for large touring acts due to its large capacity and regionality with music acts of all genres gracing the stage of this 37,000+ seat venue over the past 40 years. Along with being one of the venues where The Grateful Dead played regularly (20 shows between 1980 and their ban following the 1989 shows) Alpine Valley is perhaps best known for the tragic helicopter crash on August 27th, 1990 that took the life of Stevie Ray Vaughn and four others including members of Eric Clapton’s management group when it crashed into the ski slope adjacent to the venue due to low visibility from fog in the area. With the rise of more local venues and the increase in festival touring in recent years Alpine Valley has struggled to attract the acts it once did resulting in the recent announcement that there will be no concert season at Alpine Valley in 2017. Since first appearing here in 1996 (at the time the largest crowd that Phish had ever performed for — until The Clifford Ball a week later, of course) Phish has played seventeen concerts on the hill including shows in eight consecutive summer tours from 1996 through 2009. In each visit from 2003 onward Phish has performed a pair of shows at each visit to this venue.

 

Every show that Phish has performed at Alpine Valley has been a standard two set show. All five shows prior to Hiatus were single night stops while all the twelve since have been pairs of shows spread over six different visits with the last shows to date having been in 2015. Every show here has occurred on a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday with Saturday being the clear leader at eleven shows. Coincidentally, the last show here occurred one day short of nineteen years to the day following the first performance.

 

Here is your www.phishjustjams.com playlist for the Alpine Valley Jams.

 

Because we here at Lost In My Reflection love you all so much we are adding a couple of features to this post that should stick around unless the torches, pitchforks and stone throwing starts up again. For one, I’ll be listing each show’s setlist along with providing the link so that you can reference it as you read. Just know that I am not putting in all of the notes with teases and banter notes and stupid shit like “Disease was unfinished” or “Reba did not have whistling” or “Trey sang through the megaphone”. Second is a smaller change but one that should help with the overall readability of the site as I’ll be adding a ‘fold’ (just below!) since I write a lot of words and it can be off putting to see the massively long post in one fell swoop. Let me know if these help your enjoyment of my site and please keep the feedback coming!

The Shows…

08.10.1996

I  MFMF, Poor Heart>Bag>Fee*>Reba**, IDK, Horse>Silent, Rift>Gin

II  Wilson>Disease>Mule, Free, Fluffhead, HYHU>Whipping Post>HYHU, Hood>ADITL

E  Contact>Fire

Phish first visited Alpine Valley during the Summer 1996 Tour hot on the heels of the problems at Red Rocks and a mere three shows prior to the wonderful Clifford Ball festivities. I’ve read unsubstantiated comments in several places that this show was at the time the largest crowd ever to see Phish, a record that if true only lasted about a week what with that whole Ball thingy. Fully warmed up after those preceding US shows not to mention the earlier European Tour primarily supporting Santana but also with a few headlining gigs scattered in the band comes in hot, opening with MFMF and riding that energy with Poor Heart and a hot version of Bag before bringing it down a tad for Fee. They never take a full stop though and our gal Reba pops in for a version that is pretty dang top notch run through the song with a patient feel that could be plucked out of a day time festy set or something not unlike the one that would come just a few shows later in Plattsburgh. The midset gets IDK, Horse>Silent, and a banging Rift before a slightly longer than average for the time Gin brings us to the Cavern closer. A fairly safe set overall, but that Reba will have you soaring for a bit.

They take advantage of the crowd size for the Wilson second set opener and then break out another festy-sized jam for Disease, here with a few minutes of open break down (Trey on minikit, natch) that was fairly typical for later 1996 versions. This leads to Mule and then a rocking but shortish Free and now we are on to Fish Fun Time which on this night results in the 285 show bustout of Whipping Post. It’s the crazy kind of fun that fish Fun Time can be but musically probably not a version you’ll put on that mixtape you’ve been constructing for your sweetheart. Once all are back to their rightful stage places they play a stunningly beautiful Hood with Page and Trey providing the interplay in the way to the peak run. ADITL caps the set and then they nod to the continued journey across the country after this one night stop by encoring with Contact They back that up with Fire and then everyone is off to the lots to yell and scream at the clueless attendants who have mucked the whole business up (this will be a theme here). There’s a bit of a Saturday Night Special with this one but it also fits in with the mode of Summer 1996 where each set would have 1-2 big/solid jams and everything else would be played well and with purpose. But just wait until next year…

 

08.09.1997

I  Theme, PYITE, Ghost->Taste, DST, Reba, Lawn Boy>Crossroads

II  Wilson>Foam, Mike’s->Ain’t Love Funny->Simple->Swept Away>Steep> Mule, Slave>Paug

E  Circus, Rocky Top

A full year later (to the day, no less) Phish returned to Alpine for another singular Saturday night show before heading to Indiana for some of that hot Deer Creek action.  Once again they were swinging back east following some shows out west though this time they had a few more under their belt before arriving in East Troy. The result is a show that is on par with the legendary one from the next night in Indiana and one that arguably has even more big time jams than that one. This is evident from the start as after a nifty Tears of A Clown tease they start up Theme, only the sixth ever show opening version and last one until 05.28.2011 (there has been one other since as well on 10.19.2016 in Nashville). The band connects to soar through this version and then keeps the energy up with a spot on run through PYITE. Now the real fireworks start as they drop a Ghost so full of cowfunk it should be used as an example of the form to future generations. The band moves into a less funky but still open bit of transition space and make the full segue move to Taste in the aftermath. This is one of the big Tastes from its strongest year, involving something more of a full band jam rather than just the Trey lead to the end peak. NOw definitely deserving of a break they play that odd ditty that populated many a 1997 setlist, Dogs Stole Things as 20 of the 36 total performances of the song fell in that year of its debut. They head right back to the jamming with another strong first set Reba, one so good it was released as part of Live Bait Volume 11. Just go spin it. You’ll dig it. This is followed by a Lawn Boy and then the bustout of the Robert Johnson classic Crossroads (127 show gap) which ends the set in fine fashion. As a quick note on that song I do find it quite intriguing that in the year best known as the birth of cowfunk the band trotted out a lot of really good blues/rock tunes along the way including a third of the total versions of this song they have ever played. Neat.

Just like last year they open the second set with Wilson, just begging the massive crowd to sing along. Foam gets the two slot and much like the previous one from The Gorge on 08.03.1997 this one gets a wonderful bit of interplay by Page and Trey as they work through the jam. For a song that never really strays far from form this version really takes it to a new level. Next up is a swanky, funk-laden Mike’s Song that doesn’t go super big but definitely gives you a good window into what they were doing with the song at the time. There’s no second jam but the first more than does the job. They drop into a minimal space with Trey’s loops wailing as he toys around on the guitar and the others dabble around before they drop into what would be the only ever domestic performance of the J.J. Cale classic Ain’t Love Funny. I love this tune and really wish it had stayed in rotation for more than the three times they played it in 97 but I don’t get to make those decisions. Instead of the outro jam that this song go in Europe they segue into Simple and then after a melodic type I jam on to Steep>Swept Away before ending the string with a playful Mule. They set up the end set proceedings with a patiently built Slave and then slam home with the big Paug closer you already wrote down in your book. There’s some CYHMK teasing in here and a big Trey solo before he thanks everyone for coming and wraps it up. Then after the Circus, Rocky Top encores they are off again to play Deer Creek, a pairing that would be a long standing tradition in these big touring years. There’s a lot to love in this show as the band is clearly enjoying themselves and playing freely. I’m a big fan of this show and I think it gets overlooked a bit due to so many great ones from this tour.

 

08.01.1998

I  Ramble On>Mike’s->Esther>Paug, Guyute, Fikus, BOAF, Lawn Boy>Funky Bitch

II  Piper>Wilson>2001->Magilla>2001>Tweezer>Fluffhead, B&R>Albuquerque>Chalkdust, Frankenstein

E  Been Caught Stealing>Reprise

Another August, another visit from Phish on a Saturday before heading to Deer Creek. This 1998 show starts out with a very well received debut of Led Zeppelin’s Ramble On, a tune everyone in the crowd picks up on pretty quickly because we were all in high school once and definitely blasted this on our car radio while driving way too fast down country fields lined with cornfields late on some summer night as you revel in your perceived freedom. In the moment it was a total shocker debut and even in being a tad shaky in the execution set the tone for the evening by amping the oversized crowd to great heights.  Not backing away from this swell the band starts into Mike’s, working through a fun if somewhat uneventful version of the song before nailing the segue to the 139 show bustout of perhaps one of the more twisted songs in their catalog, Esther. They finish up the Groove with a strong run through Paug that sees all members of the band contributing well to push it higher. Still not convinced that we are rocking out quite enough just yet they put Guyute in the mid set slot which means tons of dudes fist pumping and yelling out the weird lyrics about that ugly pig. Now we finally get a breather with the third ever (of five) version of Fikus, the oddly worded Mike-penned song that came and went in 1998 with no further appearances. A quick and punchy run through BOAF gets the energy going again and then for the second year in a row Lawn Boy leads to the set closer which tonight is Funky Bitch.

After the break they open with the quick shot energy of Piper and then head into Wilson, making this three straight second sets at this venue with Wilson in the lead off slots. This drops to 2001 which is peppered with playful Trey riffs as they get the dance party moving and shaking. This one feels set up to go on for quite a while like the one from earlier in the tour at The Gorge (longest evah yo!) but instead Trey steps in with the Magilla riff, triggering the 69 show bustout of the old Page tune that was on the A Picture of Nectar album. They snap through this jazzy number, quickly tease back to 2001 and then slam into the Tweezer intro, giving us our first real opportunity for big jamming in this set (and show to be honest). This one lives up to billing as over the course of about eighteen minutes the band puts together a brilliant, multi-phased jam. All four are on point here as the start out but Trey shines brightest, spewing The Hose all over the faithful in some kind of weird musical bukkake money shot that you have clearly been a willing recipient of if you follow the band enough to be reading obscure blogs like mine. Oddly gross metaphors aside, this is fantastic Tweezer that you should spin loudly with eyes closed, head tilted skyward, and smiling mouth slightly agape in order to replicate the full effect. I should probably move on now. Tweezer resolves into Fluffhead which comes in hot backed by the massive energy of the crowd reacting to their heroes on the stage. It isn’t much different from most Fluffs you’ve heard but on the heels of that Tweezer it works quite well. Then we get to finally slow down for a couple as they run through Brian and Robert and Neil Young’s Albuquerque, here the second ever version of one of the few songs from the Summer of Covers to stay in (almost) regular rotation. The band caps the set with an energetic combo of Chalkdust>Frankenstein and at this point you are probably fine with what ever they decide to do as encore considering all the big Saturday Night fun they’ve offered up so far. So when they come out and debut the Jane’s Addiction song Been Caught Stealing (I’ve always liked that video for some reason) no one should be surprised at the dancing mayhem that results. It’s as loose as you’d expect considering no one in Phish can come close to pulling off Perry Ferrell’s vocal stylings but no one cares, particularly when they back that up with the Reprise that was looming. For a while (well, about a year it would turn out) I thought this was the best encore I’d see outside of that amazing one capping 12.30.1997 but stick around cuz that notion was to be pretty short lived. No matter where this encore ranks this is another very good show from this venue, further solidifying its place as one of the ones you just had to catch Phish in the late 90s.

 

07.24.1999

I  Guyute, Fluffhead->TMWSIY>AM>TMWSIY->Wedge, Zero

II  Tweezer->Catapult->Mango>Happy Whip and Dung Song>Waste>Chalkdust

E  Glide, Camel Walk, Alumni>Reprise

For the fourth straight summer Phish returned to Alpine Valley for a single night show preceding the Deer Creek stop and for the fourth year in a row Phish threw down a show to remember. First up is Guyute, opening a show for just the second time ever and first since 11.30.1997 (it has only happened two more times since and never since 07.08.2003). The pig rock gets things going nicely and then they double shot the energetic rock composition factor by going into Fluffhead for its third performance here in just four years. Being 1999 and not content to simply string together a bunch of rockers on this night the band stretches Fluffhead out into a 32+ minute opus where the first half is the main song and the second half is an extended groove jam fully fitting of the ’99 sound’ moniker. While some fans do not appreciate this sort of Phish as much the open creativity of it is undeniable and unparalleled as outside of a couple of versions where the end jam is a tad extended there is no other example of the band pushing this song so far beyond its boundaries. Add this to the list if you don’t already know its majesty. After several phases the band lands in TMWSIY>AM>TMWSIY for the first time in 35 shows. Similar to the Fluff, in the wake of this one they again forge an outro jam, this one a bit more ambient/airy and arriving in The Wedge which works fine enough in leading to the Zero closer. That’s quite the first set there…

When the band came back it was anyone’s guess how they’d top that first set and I suppose you could say they didn’t if you are that sort of person (here’s the 2nd set vid). But never ones to shy away from the opportunity to cause conversation amongst fans, Phish opens with Tweezer, setting the direction for how this one might go. This probably isn’t quite as big of a Tweezer as most you’ll here even from that year but it gets to a very similar, loopy, drone-y jam space as a quite famous one that I personally adore, the 12.16.1999 one from Raleigh, NC. And in that space Mike hits the fight bell twice nd after a few more crunchy minutes he and Trey sing the lyrics to Catapult over the theme they have going before going back to the ambient goo. They move into Mango Song out of this, stumbling through the song (like, seriously, this is a really botched version) but then landing in a bouncy, upbeat jam where Trey finds his mojo again after that trainwreck composed part. For those counting at home that makes three places in this show where some will put in “jam” as a song they are playing as if that tells us anything. It is a very inconsistently applied term considering that there are literally thousands of instances where you could say they are playing a jam rather than a specific song (to say nothing of the whole “No Royalties Jam” era of LivePhish naming conventions). There are only 77 instances of the word being inserted into a setlist (well, a setlist that counts “for stats purposes” anyway) and of those three come in this show. So I guess that’s telling in its own way or something. Anyway, towards the end of this largely Mango Song “jam” it starts to sound like it is breaking down but somehow they emerge into the debut and still only performance of The Happy Whip and Dung Song from the Siket Disc which wouldn’t be released until more than a year later. I will say that while not anything we could have possibly known at the time, this move was very well received in the pav where I was. It is very much in the vein of the later 90s jam stylings but also evocative of the earlier tension-based jams of the early 90s, bringing both together in a unique manner. The insanity dies down for Waste, our only real cool down song of the whole show, and then they finish up with a big Chalkdust that has some stop/start jamming, big Trey guitar god stuff, and a washed out white noise phase before they bring it home to the close (and one last effects-filled noisescape . So then the encore starts (and I remember this quite vividly) and it’s Glide which was a 61 show bustout and everyone’s all like “oh nice!” and then they play Camel Walk which was a 62 show bustout and everyone’s like “sweet! noice!!” and you are thinking that’ll be it so you start making the walk up that ridiculous hill to get out of the venue because you know that all that’s left is the Reprise. And then? Well, then they start up Alumni Blues and people are straight flipping out (me included as this was my first Alumni) and everyone’s all “holy shit!! what the hell is happening right now??!?!” because this is a 324 show bustout and a goodly portion of this crowd probably never thought they’d get this tune live ever. Well, we did. And instead of doing LTJP in the middle they give it a little extra mustard in the jam before giving us that big Reprise to send everyone off into the night with massive grins and lots to discuss. Fucking Phish, maaaaaan. What a show.

 

07.08.2000

I  PYITE>NICU>My Soul, Poor Heart, Wolfman’s, First Tube, Llama, Guyute, Lope

II  Heavy Things>Piper->RnR, Tweezer->Walk Away, Twist, Horse>Silent, Possum

E  Suzy>Reprise

In the Summer of 2000 Phish returned for what would prove to be the final visit of 1.0 to Alpine Valley, once again on a Saturday night and once again preceding the Deer Creek stop. Wasting no time to get to the rocking, the band cranks in with a snappy PYITE>NICU>My Soul triple play opener. There’s a great energy to the playing on display here as the crowd starts that positive feedback loop with energetic response to the songs played. After racing through Poor Heart they ease back for a compact bit of Wolfman’s funk full of the millennial sound as Trey plays a ton of note bursts in line with the pocket jam. A biggish midset First Tube and a fun Llama keep the energy up as does the Guyute that follows but it is the set closing Lope that really takes the place to the stars with the race to the peak. Looking back at the setlist after this first set concludes one might wonder where the jams are but you’d also find that this is pretty much a set full of high energy crowd pleasers and that is about perfect for the large Saturday night crowd.

 

It is odd then that the second set get Heavy Things as its opener, one of only three times that this has occurred, considering every song leading to this one has been of the rocking big time energy variety. After that shrug of an opener they get right back to it though with a frenzied type I Piper that never lets up once they get going. While perhaps not as ‘creative’ as an open jam might be this sort of Piper holds its own appeal as something akin to a repeated musical mantra played at a breakneck pace. About half way through they settle down a tad into a more groove-based jam though still at a fast pace, allowing more space for Trey and Mike to play off each other’s runs than when the band is in full cacophony mode. It kind of suddenly ends as they move into an uneventful RnR that mainly serves to bridge between Piper and the Tweezer that follows. Much like the Piper this Tweezer stays at home in the song but holy crap does Trey tear one off here. He carries this over through a full segue to Walk Away which gets a little extra sauce but not too much because this is a Saturday after all. A brief Twist and Horse>Silent get us to the rollicking blues shuffle of Possum which will close the set as if you weren’t already expecting that. Notably, as they finish this Possum tells the crowd “we’ll see you next year” which while under normal circumstances would be nothing special here in the final months of 1.0 if comes as a bit of surprise. Granted, they wouldn’t announce Hiatus until the end of the Vegas shows at the end of September but seeing as they must have begun conversations about Hiatus by this time it does make one wonder a tad. Suzy>Reprise is the encore pairing (making that three straight years with a Reprise sending us to the lots though seeing that this was the first Suzy in 26 shows is a tad surprising) and that’s a pretty fitting encore for this night of rocking out. I really think this show would be a good one to give to a friend new to the band as the energy is high and the playing is solid but there aren’t any of the WTF antics or big open jams that might scare off the uninitiated.

 

07.18.2003

I  Axilla>Rift, Gin->Mango, Roggae, Discern, IDK>Dust In The Wind>IDK, Bowie

II  Disease->Catapult, Bug, Secret Smile, Two Versions of Me, Twist>Zero

E  Hood

Following Hiatus and on their first tour of real length Phish returned to Alpine Valley for the sixth straight year (of years in which they toured) and this time they settled in for a pair starting with their first time playing on a Friday night. Tonight they open with Axilla, the only time the song has been played here, and back it up with a pretty decent run through Rift (not something you can say of many Rifts in that time period). A straight forward but smile-inducing Gin slides into the three slot and then without returning to the song’s end they play Mango Song which tonight unfortunately does not include the cool extended jamming we heard hear in 1999. They save the jamming for the next song it seems as this Roggae has so much extra stank on it you might say this is the angry man’s take on the song. Trey storms in with big frenzied runs of notes and then gets that uncompressed crunchy tone going for the big peak run. Let’s just say this is NOT the smiling bliss run that this song typically gets. Next up is the now-seemingly-forgotten, four times ever played relic of 2.0 Discern, a song with a brooding nature and a wah-heavy middle jam. I’d love to hear this one come back but perhaps it is too closely connected with the dark times that seem to have kept a few songs from returning. Now is where the set really gets fun (if you are into this sort of thing) as they ‘pay off’ the winner from the prior night’s show in Bonner Springs, KS who correctly called in the tease they had played that night to Mike’s Hotline by debuting a “cover” (listen and you’ll understand why that is in quotes) of the Kansas classic Dust In The Wind in the middle of IDK. Along with the humorous banter and such the interesting thing here (to me anyway) is that Page and Mike are playing Dog Log while this is going on. After they finish up IDK they close the set with a not too shabby Bowie that gets more of that uncompressed goodness out of Trey as they build up the T&R peak. That’s really just an appetizer compared to the filling jams to come though.

 

As they get set to start the second set Trey tosses out a little “let’s go!” tease of the Jimi Hendrix take on the Earl King tune Come On (Part 1) and then Mike drops the hammer for the start of Disease. Over the course of the next twenty minutes or so the band puts together a classically 2.0 take on the song, first with some big type I rocking, then through a few phases that seem to hint at other songs but instead allow for the deep dive into open waters. Sure, Trey teases San Ho Zay (he NEVER does that!) and maybe even Psycho Killer but really they are just trying out ideas to see what might stick. They drop into a groove jam with Fish dropping hot breakbeats and Page accenting Trey’s lead, somehow stumbling into phrasing that allows for Mike and Trey to sing Catapult over the groove. Following a big take on the power ballad Bug they bring it down for the midset with Secret Smile and Two Versions of Me, songs that while nice enough are not exactly the two you want in the middle of a big second set. The defense of them, of course, is that they are bookended by some seriously top level 2.0 Phish. The back side of that bookending starts with a version of Twist that offers a wide open jam that is a perfect example of the “oxy jam” motif that some decry and others pine for here fourteen years later. This is dark Phish, the type that makes you wonder if anything will ever be okay again but then the familiar licks of the Twist return come in and you find out that the world has not in fact stopped spinning over the course of last ten minutes or so. Then they close the set with a majorly crunchy run through Zero which includes an almost hidden San Ho Zay tease (hard to catch with all that uncompressed awesome). For good measure they encore with Hood and after the drop open up almost immediately into a type II excursion that leaves Hood well behind for several minutes before coming back around for the crowd-pleasing, soul-satisfying peak run. It’s a wonderful exclamation point on a largely unheralded show. Just another example of how well the band has played here over the years. And there’s still more to talk about! Yay!

 

07.19.2003

I  Sample, Reba, Wilson, SaSS, Maze, Driver, NICU>Ya Mar, Rocky Top, Lawn Boy, Julius

II  Piper>RnR->Seven Below->Caspian>YEM

E  Wading

Night two (set one vid; set two vid)from 2003 kicks off with Sample to the delight of no one I know and then thankfully they bring out our gal Reba to calm the nerves of those jilted by that opener choice. It’s a nice enough version but nothing too special so we’ll move on to the Wilson that follows where they stretch out the end jam bit a tad with some fun hard rocking stuff. The band then interludes with a full version of SaSS before cranking it up again for a driving run through Maze. Trey fills up the concession and restroom lines with a touching take on Driver and then we get the famed “Leo Trio” for the first time ever! Okay, so maybe famed is a bit of a stretch but it was (and remains) the only time they’ve ever played NICU, Ya Mar, and Rocky Top in succession. If you are confused about why that would be special, all three of those songs commonly have Trey handing the solo baton off to Page with the imperative to “Play it Leo!” to the delight of the crowd and probably Page though I have no confirmation of that. Still in the spotlight, Page comes out to croon Lawn Boy and then they finish off the set with a lively take on Julius. Be sure to listen for the ultra rare San Ho Zay tease.

 

Following the break Phish opened with a full-on assault to the senses version of Piper, one of the big ones from a summer that enjoyed several stellar performances of the song about worms, storms, words, and stuff. I like to think this one is akin to a mid-90s set carrying Bowie or Tweezer where the band’s full array of improv is on display as they move through various ideas seamlessly, trying each one on for size to see if anything sticks. There’s a lot of the big 2.0 sound in this version including that ever present looped drone, Trey’s alternating moves between washed out and big crunchy guitar, Mike’s ever moving thumping pocket, Fish’s creative rhythms, and Page’s pino comping and various effects complimenting it all. This is definitely NOT everyone’s favorite type of Phish and it sits firmly in the “oxy” style of jamming that some crave while others wish never happened. But it did happen and the result is a sonically engaging jam that pulsates and throbs with the the type of vacillating energy that befits the naming convention. Towards the end Trey hits on Reprise, folding that idea into the mass of sound but then before you know it they have moved on and a couple of minutes later we arrive in Rock and Roll. Now we see the Velvet Underground as a potential vehicle, one that has produced several top flight jams in 3.0 but even in the latter days of 2.0 this was more of a energy reset (the big time versions at IT and the 20th Anniversary show notwithstanding, of course) than a song that could define a set. Tonight it fits that mold, particularly in following that Piper. After a short jam Trey puts together a perfect segue to Seven Below, another song that generally didn’t elevate to massive heights but always seemed to have a bit of the dark edginess that many associate with Phish in this era. They noodle around a bit in this one before another full segue brings us to Caspian. Say what you want about Fuckerpants, this one has a big time rock god ending out of Trey and then they start into YEM for what will be the capstone on this five song set. Trey lets Fish set up the beat for the start of the jam, eventually coming in with that telltale phrase we got so accustomed to in 95 or so with the big YEMs as they patiently get this thing going. They spend several minutes exploring the pocket that forms with no one really in any hurry to move on, allowing the groove to get quieter and more sparse until Fish triggers a move to a more dynamic section where Trey matches Fish with percussive riffs as the band climbs the ladder together. There is a mini-peak here and then they shift to the VJ with no D&B tonight before one of those uncommon head scratcher Wading encores (8 out of 90 times played) as everyone heads off to make the now familiar late night drive to Noblesville. Hard to say which of these two shows is “better” but there’s a lot to like here, particularly in the second set.

 

06.25.2004

I  Julius>Roses>Bag>Glide, Anything But Me, Bowie, Wolfman’s, Golgi

II  Seven Below->Buffalo Bill>Lawn Boy>Mike’s>H2>Paug, YEM>2001->YEM

E  Sample

The “early” summer portion of the 2004 final tour ended here at Alpine which for the first time was the tour stop to follow Deer Creek instead of preceding it. As with 2003 this visit was for two shows with the first being a Friday night affair. THe band opens up with a loose, fun run through Julius before busting out Roses are Free for the first time in 60 shows and at the end there’s a few moments of will-they-or-won’t-they-jam-it tension before they move on to Bag. The Bag is pretty standard and then we get a decent enough run through Glide (itself a 56 show bustout) which is easy to say considering the next version would be the “final” absolute trainwreck take on the song at The Festival Which Shall Not Be Named. After a bathroom break for Anything But Me they rock through a straightforward Bowie and then drop into Wolfman’s for what will be the highlight of the set. The jam here starts out with some seriously chunky funk that they explore for several minutes before downshifting to what sounds like it might become an ambient soundscape jam but instead moves into type II guitar-led improv of the style very commonly employed in 2.0. This is pretty open for a first set jam and goes far enough afield that the return to the Wolfman’s ending is almost jarring in a “oh right! this is the song we were in!” kind of way. This is followed by Golgi which closes this average-ish set.

 

The average-ish-ness stopped after setbreak, however, as out of the gates they go big with a massive version of Seven Below, a song that never seemed to disappoint in 2.0. This might not be as grand as the version that preceded it but they take it for quite the ride (the longest ever, in fact), staying with the Seven Below groove for the most part but adding in a lot of extra elements on their way to a satisfying conclusion and full segue to Buffalo Bill. That Buffalo Bill (along with the Golgi and the Lawn Boy to come) is a debut for the year though otherwise only notable due to being a relative rarity from the band. Lawn Boy follows with Page even taking time while out front crooning to sign an autograph and then they dive into Mike’s Groove with a ‘traditional’ sequence of it as H2 fills the middle. The Mike’s is okay but somewhat “safe” but then they trot out more of that chunky funk that we heard during the Wolfman’s earlier in the show before they come around to the big finish. Now in the latter part of the set they head into YEM where you expect it to get big like last year but instead of any sort of real jam here they slide into a quick run through 2001 before coming back to YEM for the VJ and end of set. Encoring with Sample doesn’t exactly elevate this one but there isn’t anything ‘bad’ about this show and with a few quality jams it deserves at least a spin.

 

06.26.2004

I  Access Me>SaSS, Stash, Moma, Divided, Wilson>Funky Bitch>Zero

II  Boogie->Ghost>Free, Friday>Piper>Hood

E  Possum

Night two for the 2004 visit begins with a debut for Access Me, the quirky Mike relationship ditty that has seen most of its performances here in 3.0 (four of five with this night’s version being the only one prior to The Breakup). This butts up to an intro-less run through SaSS and then they stretch out a bit with a mostly contained but tension-filled Stash. After a quick bit of dancing for Moma they drop Divided, somehow the first time they had ever played the song here (there are now two more from 3.0 dates). The pause is a short one at 1:06 and the song is also relatively short but fits its role well enough. This is followed by an end of set sequence of Wilson>Funky Bitch>Zero, all big energy tunes that benefit from the large crowd (resulting in the fifth Wilson in nine shows played here). None of these is particularly notable but does provide a fun run for the end of the set.

 

The second set takes on a much jammier feel right from the start though as they bounce through Boogie On and stretch it out with a rollicking guitar-led jam that somehow eventually arrives in Ghost. It isn’t the best segue ever but that is quickly forgotten as they head out into another bit of jamming, this time beginning with open textures before settling into a high octane groove. This chugs and builds for several minutes before they eventually shift down and head into Free where we get even more jamming, this time of the dark meat variety as they crunch through the extended Free jam. Finally stopping for a quick breath they give everyone the opportunity to relieve themselves and perhaps rehydrate as they trot out a tune not exactly beloved by many in Friday. There’s nothing wrong with this version except that it is Friday. Thankfully that only last about eight minutes (making it easily the shortest song of this set) and then they slow build into Piper. The jam that follows is at times disconnected and dissonant but serves to amp up the proceedings quite nicely after the Friday deflation. Fish appears to be driving the bus for large sections of this jam as Trey and the others follow his ever-changing beat but pay attention to Mike if you can because he is playing some very interesting lines in this one. It all almost falls apart but they settle into a catchy groove in the final minute or so, one that you hope might keep going but instead Fish signals the start to Hood and we are into the end of set proceedings. This Hood is a decent run to the peak with no extra curricular activities involved and then the Possum encore gets its standard bluesy rock peak that delights the Saturday night crowd. Both are average-good performances but lack the jamming of the songs that lead up to them in this set. And those earlier highlights are definitely the strength of this show which starts out pretty tamely before getting to some solid jamming in this the final set of the first leg of the final tour of 2.0.

 

 

06.20.2009

I  PYITE, Jim, Stash, Ya Mar, Gin, KDF, Train Song, Farmhouse, Sparkle, Lope

II  Waves>Sample, Maze, Makisupa, Ghost->Lizards, YEM->NICU>Caspian>Waste, Fire

E  Zero

In the year of The Return Phish again graced the stage of Alpine Valley, giving us another pair of shows and making this the eighth straight year in which Phish had tour where they played this venue (similar to Deer Creek in that regard but one year short since that venue was first played in 1995). This run continued the newer trend of Alpine following Deer Creek with these shows being the final two of the first leg of that summer’s tour schedule. The first show reads (and plays) about how you might expect for a band still finding their legs after so long away as there are very few risks taken and all but one or two songs had been played more than once already since The Return. Just looking at the first set on paper you might think that’s a fun one and it isn’t bad exactly but there’s no there there. Keep in mind, of course, that these are the last two shows of an early Summer run that included sixteen shows over twenty-two days, something they might’ve done regularly in the early 90s but a bit heavy for a quartet of aging men just getting back to it all. So the music…

 

The PYITE opener and Jim that follows go by uneventfully and then the Stash pops up getting us thinking they might be ready to stretch it out. Nope. There is very little effort to even build the telltale tension that makes this song work before they close it up and go for the summer time vibe with Ya Mar. Gin offers a glimmer but gets pulled back even more quickly than Stash. Then KDF gets another “single-lengthed” version like the first ones they dropped at Jones Beach and they take a breather for Train Song and Farmhouse before starting the end set run. That includes the quick rush through Sparkle and one of those standard first set closing Antelopes that were easy to set your watch by in 2009 with the only notable thing being that Trey said “bid you to have any hibachi?” instead of the normal line. Not exactly a heavy hitting first set, folks.

 

After the break is where the jams must lie then, right? Yeah… So, opening the second set with Waves sounds good and looks nice but when you head into Sample instead of doing anything with that vehicle it tells a lot about how this night will progress. Somehow the Whale shows up in the third song Maze and then Trey gets meta with the Makisupa lyrics by referencing his part legal troubles and need to talk to his probation officer. A midset Ghost offers promise that doesn’t pay off as they instead move into a run through The Lizards. Then things get really odd as after the composed part of YEM they segue into NICU instead of doing any jamming (well, a brief Trey led bit forced the move but there is no D&B or VJ at all). This gives way to Caspian>Waste and then they close with the only song that hadn’t already been played that year, Fire, which while fun isn’t exactly the song you want to hang your hat on when pumping up a show. Not surprisingly they encore with Zero and I’m just going to move on so as to not go off into a negative degression here. Don’t waste your time with this show.

 

06.21.2009

I  Brother, Wolfman’s, Funky Bitch>Divided, Joy, BOTT, Taste, Poor Heart, Horse>Silent, TMWSIY>AM>TMWSIY, TTE

II  C&P->Disease>Bug>Piper>Wading, Boogie, Slave

E  Grind, Frankenstein

This show has a couple of things going for it that the first night didn’t, namely being the final show of the tour leg and also falling on Father’s Day. Now, Father’s Day was never a “thing” for Phish until these early 3.0 tours where the tradition began to play Brother and to bring up various generations of family members of the band. This show started that with a Brother opener (first Brother since IT 45 shows earlier on 08.02.2003) that saw the band have a bathtub on stage full of their children, all who got named after the song’s close. Pretty cute stuff. Following a fun but straight forward Wolfman’s Trey feeds the Sign Carrier fire by pointing out a guy in the crowd who had been wielding a Funky Bitch sign for the past couple of nights. If only that guy had the wherewithal to make a sign for a song that was a tad more rare. Okay, sure, fine, it hadn’t been played since the last visit to Alpine in 2004 but still. C’mon, dude. Funky Bitch had been played close to 150 times at this stage. It doesn’t need a sign to get played! Okay, got that out of my system. What’s next? Oh great. Another Divided (1:02 pause tonight). It’s fine, it’s fine. Geez. Just kidding around. After that we get Joy (I will never speak ill of this song for personal reasons but I completely understand the lack of excitement for it being played) and then the songs take full root with runs through BOTT, Taste, Poor Heart, and Horse>Silent all being about as stock as you could imagine. The highlight of the set is probably then the 64 show bustout of the TMWSIY>AM>TMWSIY suite but that precedes everyone’s favorite song to hate TTE so yeah. If you are a fan of TTE this one is pretty okay but it won’t convert you if not.

 

I’m not entirely certain what changed during this setbreak (maybe they got the kids all snugged up and off to bed?) but the band came out with a much different approach to the playing. Crosseyed and Painless is always a good way to start (first one since Deer Creek 06.23.2004 27 shows and five years earlier) and they let this one breathe nicely, taking the song out for a fun type I ride. Sure, there’s some cringe-y whale tones out of Trey at times but they bring it up to an almost-peak that delights the crowd and then drop into the familiar early 3.0 transitional ambient space which eventually becomes Disease. Surprisingly, this is the only time the two songs have been paired (with one instance of Disease->C&P on 06.24.2010). This Disease is a bit of a whale’d mess making it hard to see past the wobbly whining tones that probably make for a great conversation underwater but not so much in a concert setting. The final few minutes do settle into a nice bit of quieter interplay but Trey borks a few notes in there too before they move on to Bug. Piper follows and from the start they show they want to run with this one as Page takes charge and pushes the band forward. Trey tosses in a CYHMK tease and Fish counters with break beats as they build and build before settling into a groove space that allows Trey to solo above Mike and Fish’s ever moving rhythm. They get to some stop/start flavorings that today would probably result in a full-on Woo jam but thankfully that hadn’t caught on yet so instead Trey just goes back to the bent notes he was employing. Fish and Mike are the real stars of this high energy jam but don’t discount the contributions of Trey and Page. Eventually they slide back into ambient transition and that gives us Wading. Gee, thanks. Boogie On follows that and then the expected Slave closer nods to the two weeks break everyone has to make the trek out to Colorado for the return to Red Rocks and the start of the second leg of summer tour. The encores offer more playful fun with Grind and a Frankenstein that escalated the ‘arms race’ what with Trey donning a five-necked guitar to match Mike’s flame bass and Page’s keytar stylings. While night two holds a lot more value than night one, collectively this pair represents the clear low point in Phish’s visits to Alpine. Understandable considering the timing and such but still frustrating if you happen to be catching these shows and not others.

 

08.14.2010

I  Tube>Oh Kee Pa>Suzy, Funky Bitch>Reba, FYF, Alaska, BOTT, Taste>Circus, Lawn Boy, Sparkle, Gumbo>Lope

II Sloth, Disease->WTU?>Mule, Mike’s>Dirt>Sally>Paug, Bug

E  Mighty Quinn

The next year brought Phish’s annual visit to Alpine up to nine straight years in which they had toured but this time for a pair towards the tail end of the second leg of the summer and again following Deer Creek instead of preceding it. The first night kicks off with a bunch of crowd pleasing tunes as they string together Tube>Oh Kee Pa>Suzy and then Funky Bitch before giving us the first taste of jambrosia with our gal Reba stopping by for a slap and tickle. Oh what a difference a year makes. This is still a fairly ‘tame’ Reba but the level of the band’s playing has improved by leaps and bounds over where they were in 2009. Trey is still fine tuning his use of The Whale but it accents here rather than detracts. They follow with the second modern era Fuck Your Face after its totally unexpected return in Charlotte earlier in the summer with Alaska sending folks to the restrooms in droves after that song chaser’s check mark is filled. BOTT follows with a catchy bit of jamming, all in bounds but of the sort that’ll have all the bros high fiving and woo-hooing as they stub each other down into the pav and into your hard earned seats. You wanted to share your space with a sweaty over-served dude, right? The set moves along with uneventful runs through Taste, Circus, Lawn Boy, Sparkle, and Gumbo get us to the set closing Antelope which is mainly notable for the lyric change to “Marco Benevento”. Nothing in there is bad but it isn’t the most exciting first set Phish you’ll ever hear either.

 

Following the break the band came out with The Sloth, giving it only it’s seventh ever second set opening slotting (of nineteen total set opening placements in its 169 performances). Mike bounds into Disease next and here we get a largely straight forward jam but one that has some hints of the Oysterhead tune Little Faces by Page of all people as they set up what ends up being a quite well executed transition to WTU?. Trey starts right into Mule (somehow a 68 show bustout here) in the wind down from WTU? and then the set goes into cruise control, not unlike the tail end of the first set. I’m sure it was a ton of fun live but there’s not much to the sequence of Mike’s>Dirt>Sally>Paug with a Bug set closer and Quinn encore that’ll have you spinning this one over and over. A lot of people really love the Disease->WTU? from this show and they should because that segue is great but even that pair doesn’t elevate much beyond that. And if you are hanging your hat on that for calling this show some form of epic, well, I’ve got more than a few unheralded shows for you to spin that’ll put this one in the ground.

 

08.15.2010

I  Tweezer, Bag, On Your Way Down, Divided, STFTFP, WITS>Moma>Farmhouse, Bowie

II  Ghost>Theme>BBFCFM, YEM>Piper>2001>WMGGW, Zero

E  Oh Sweet Nuthin’>Cavern>Joy>Reprise

Night two from this visit to Alpine starts off in an auspicious manner as they open with Tweezer for the seventh time ever (there are now nine such placements for the song), putting this show in pretty lofty company considering some of the other times they have done that. That list begins with 11.17.1997 (a pretty okay show I’ve been told), continues with 11.26.1997 (another kinda decent outing), then gets to 04.04.1998 (um… Island Tour, anyone??), followed by 09.18.1999 (are you sensing a pattern yet?), downshifts a tad for 12.10.1999 (but still a quite solid night of Phish), and then concludes with a show we’ve touched on here before from 01.03.2003 (where the jams are aplenty). Now, that’s some pretty lofty company to keep up with so we won’t get the expectations too high here seeing as this is a show in 2010 and not in one of those peak era years but those in attendance we had an idea of how rare this opener was might’ve felt IT move ifyouknowwhatImean… I’d love to say it was a massive mind-bending Tweezer but it is not, instead staying in bounds the whole way as they get everyone up and moving. They double that energy up with Bag in the two hole and then trot out the rarely played Little Feat classic On Your Way Down (yes I am aware that this is an Allen Toussaint song but the Phish performance is closer to the Little Feat arrangement so we’re going to go with that) after a 37 show gap. I’m a tad surprised at the flat reaction by the crowd for that one but I suppose it isn’t a song most would know considering 13 of the now 22 times it has been played were in 1988 and 1989. Divided (1:13 pause) kicks off the second half of this tame first set before they run through STFTFP, WITS (yes, the crowd cheers for the Everglades line), a stock but fun Moma that is oddly paired with Farmhouse, and finally the type of short Bowie to which we have become accustomed here in 3.0. In case you hadn’t noticed, that makes three straight sets here that aren’t exactly lighting it up musically and I’m not even counting the pair of shows from the prior year which are light on the spark as well.

 

On paper the second set holds promise and the opening Ghost shows that off a bit even as they predictably hit the glory peak after a brief bit of jamming within the song. This leads to a decent enough Theme (paired with Ghost that makes two straight songs with the now-standard-for-each-song slight fumble at the bridge transition) which is followed by a boisterous run through BBFCFM. YEM follows somewhat surprisingly (it really didn’t feel like this show had warranted a mid set YEM but here we are) and while contained there is at least a bit of Trey jamming before the move to the D&B and VJ. Next up is a type I Piper where Trey teases the theme from Close Encounters of the Third Kind (you know, this musical bit) and then a quick 2001 before the 49 show bustout of WMGGW. Zero closes what feels like a short set but then they make up for that brevity with a four song encore sequence of Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ (38 show bustout), Cavern, Joy (oddly placed and elicited some boos from the jaded gentry but whatever), and finally the Reprise we all knew was coming. Look, I’ll just say it. I have no idea why these shows were chosen for a DVD set. This doesn’t mean the band played poorly just that these shows aren’t quite up to the level one would expect for an official release like that. Oh well. At least there are more to come!

 

06.30.2012

I  My Soul, Daniel Saw The Stone, Bag>Moma>Jim, Let It Loose, Reba, KDF>Sloth, Ocelot>Poor Heart, Circus>Timber Ho!>Oh Kee Pa>Suzy

II  BDT#L>Carini>Wilson>Golden Age->2001>RnR>Steam>Piper>Mighty Quinn, Hood>Zero

E  GTBT

After skipping Alpine for the first summer touring season since 1995 in 2011, Phish returned for another pair on the hill to end the Midwest portion of the tour before the the end run of shows around the Fourth of July holiday back east. The first night starts off with another song that seems to have a very good track record for opening shows, My Soul, which as a song isn’t lighting up the request line but one that does have a opened more than its fair share of really good shows. Shows so good you know them by the date alone like 11.23.1997 (come for the best BEK ever, stay for the massive Disease->Low Rider->Disease, and lose yourself in the phenomenal Gin), 11.07.1998 (big set carrying Mike’s Groove sandwich in the first and then one of those epic four song 2nd sets they used to write stories about), 07.04.1999 (fun time Ya Mar, trance-like Bowie, great Ghost->Slave pairing, the debut of WTU?, and a couple of ‘dress up’ numbers for the holiday including the 2nd encore Star Spangled Banner), 05.22.2000 (you know this show for the much loved Ghost but there’s a lot to love in this one),  10.20.2010 (Guyutica! and more!), and 01.01.2011 (a fantastic post NYE gem full of top notch jamming). The other three (02.21.1997, this one, and 08.03.2014) are a step below but still hold up in the conversation. Honestly, this show is probably the laggard amongst the My Soul opening concerts Phish has played. But that’s not a slight as much as a comparison. After My Soul they bustout Daniel Saw The Stone after 40 shows and rage through a fun Bag>Moma>Jim sequence before giving us one of the few versions of Let It Loose outside of its debut in the Exile On Main Street costume set from 10.31.2009 at Indio. A solid if short visit from our gal Reba takes up the mid set jam space before the set turns fully over to songs as they pair up KDF>Sloth and Ocelot>Poor Heart before running the set out with Circus>Timber Ho!>Oh Kee Pa>Suzy. These are all well received and well played with the Timber Ho! having the most interesting bits in its micro jam. A decent if overall uneventful first set.

 

Following the break they open with a quick run through BDT#L before getting a bit more evil for Carini and Wilson, once again taking advantage of the large crowd for the call and response bit. The highlight of the set and show comes next as they drop into a serious bit of Phish funk in Golden Age->2001. They keep the string going with a suitably rocking take on RnR and then get down with the only 2012 performance of Steam. Trey steers the band into Piper which like the songs before it gets a compact, in bounds jam that feels like it could have stretched out much longer before they move on to Quinn. The end of set sequence is a short Hood and then a tease filled Zero closer with the encore being a punchy GTBT in a surprising one song encore (we have gotten a bit used to the multi-song encores here…). As a first night, there is a lot of table setting here as the band is getting comfortable with their surroundings once again, playing well but not really taking many risks along the way but there isn’t a whole lot of meat on the bone for us to gnaw on and suck the marrow out of, just to give you a lovely mental image.

 

07.01.2012

I  Soul Shakedown Party, Lonesome Cowboy Bill, Vultures, Jibboo, Dirt, ASIHTOS, Access Me, Meat, Frankenstein, Fee, Maze, Coil

II  C&P>No Quarter>Light>Ghost->BOTT>Farmhouse, 46 Days, Heavy Things>Joy, Julius

E  Meatstick

From the start this show has a bit more ‘oomph’ to it, considering it gets a SSP opener, something pretty rare considering there have only ever been ten performances of the song (this was number eight). When performed the song is likely an opener as six of those ten have been 1st set openers and another has opened a 2nd set. Actually, even before the SSP there’s a notable tease as Trey plays the Chalkdust Reprise lick, hinting at a song they hadn’t played in over 400 shows at this time (and one that still sits on the bench. This is followed by another rarity, Lonesome Cowboy Bill, here played for the first time in 40 shows and as the seventh of eight times ever performed. Then they triple that up with a slightly more frequently played but still pretty rare performance of Vultures, here the 33rd ever and what will be the only version of the song in 2012. If you haven’t noticed by now, Phish plays pretty varied setlists at this venue which we will touch on in more detail below in the “Recurring Themes” section. They finally get out of that mode with a loopy Jibboo which along with the Maze later on is one of only two songs in this set played within the last ten shows. That’s a bit rare for 3.0 shows. Dirt (25 show gap), a quick ASIHTOS (32 shows), Access Me (41 shows, only the fifth ever and last to date), Meat (28 shows), and Frankenstein (back after 53 shows) push that average gap rating up further and continue the pattern of fresh setlists here but for the jam chasers the show really starts with the next tune. Fee, while typically a sing along number that generally is more notable for whether Trey picks up the megaphone or not more than anything tonight gets a long outro jam, something that happens only about once every eleven times the song gets played (though admittedly a bit more frequently than that now than back in the late 80s or early 90s when the song was more frequently played. No matter what the odds, this version goes places, maaaan. The band comfortably works into a smile-inducing jam that’ll make you wonder why they don’t go here more frequently, stretching the end out for several minutes before resolving into the high hat intro to Maze, Fee’s most common dance partner with 21 times that the songs have been paired thusly (the next closest number for songs following Fee is 11 which has a three way tie between Llama, Divided, and Melt). The set then ends with another old school tune as Page gets the spotlight for the Coil set closer.

 

After the much longer than fifteen minute break the band opens the second set with high energy Crosseyed and Painless, exploring the song for a bit before dropping into a quieter bit of space that allows Page to kick into No Quarter, one of the more faithful to the original covers in the band’s repertoire. The darkness of this song is counterpointed by the Light that follows where Mike interjects bits of Frankie Says in a jam that never fully takes off but does hit on some interesting space at times. Light gives way to Ghost which goes out in a hurry as all are sharing various ideas, resulting in a compact but highly improvisational version of the song. As you nod to the groove, note the C&P teases, and hope that this will continue for a while suddenly you realize they have made the move to BOTT which, sure, okay, but gimme more of that Ghost goodness, yo! Next up in the string is Farmhouse which surprisingly gets better than typical stylings by all. I’m not kidding. This is a real live pretty darned good Farmhouse. Then they crank into a raging 46 Days that doesn’t stretch out too far but has some serious balls to it, delighting the crowd as Trey puts on his guitar god shoes and lays waste to the song. Now in the end run for this set they ease up for Heavy Things>Joy and then close with your average good swinging Julius. The encore is Meatstick and Trey has some fun bantering about using abbreviations, calling back to “H. Things” and “C.E. & Painless” before changing the lyrics to “T. F. the Meatstick” in the chorus. Funny guy. This is definitely the ‘better’ of the pair from 2012 but still lacks the big time centerpiece jam(s) that one might look for in unearthing a hidden gem of a show. But don’t worry, we can keep looking…

 

08.08.2015

I  NMINML, STFTFP, Poor Heart, Julius, Frankie Says>Maze, Mercury, Reba, Possum

II  Disease>Halley’s->Twist>Light>WTU?>Fuego>BDT#L>Slave

E  Meatstick>Zero

It took another three years for Phish to come back to Alpine, squeezing in a pair at the end of the Midwest run but shockingly not adjacent to any shows at Deer Creek which was skipped on this tour as they instead played the venue the next year, even if that show wasn’t much to write home about (yikes, that’s a bit of a run-on sentence there, eh?). The show opens with the then new NMINML (5th ever version), the bouncy sometimes vehicle that just implores, nay compels you to dance to its funky mutron’d goodness. This show opening version serves its purpose well but before they take it too far they come up and move on to STFTFP. Poor Heart gets the third song bluegrass slot and then following a swanky Julius we get that Frankie Says Mike hinted at the last time they played here (full disclosure: it was played two times in the intervening shows) before they peel off a bit of the shred for Maze (listen for Page teasing a bit of the Mission Impossible theme as he starts his lead). The second ever version of Mercury is next and here you can start to hear the potential this song will hold as a vehicle, assuming the band continues to push forward with this song. Next up is our gal Reba and tonight she is of the patient variety as Trey noodles around the theme, toying at the peak run for several minutes before paying it off nicely. Then a typically fun set closing Possum gets us to the break to go grab a beer or a brat or some cheese or something else stereotypically Wisconsian (Wisconsinian? Wisconsiniteish? Packer Fan Friendly? What’s the right word here, Cheeseheads?).

 

As seconds sets often do, this one kicks off with Disease, starting a run of all but nonstop playing that will continue through the closer. After a few minutes of working in the Disease theme they head off into open space, sharing ideas freely to see what might catch. Instead of grabbing one and riding it they flow through several notions without fully flushing them out, content instead to meander about in this loose space. It is ethereal music somewhat evocative of the ambient texturing they explored in depth in 98/99 but with a bit more maturity in the journey. Almost abruptly Mike starts up the “deep boop ba ba ba chinga” bit and we are in Halley’s. As with a lot of stuff starting that summer Trey implements the echoplex to great effect, accenting the funky rhythms Mike and Fish are laying down as Page lays waste on the clav. You might say he was ‘clav-ing for dollars’ as the kids are wont to do. Just as you are starting to really get into this though they pull off a full segue to Twist which tonight is pretty well jamless except for a bit of echo’d lead by Trey before they come back around for the close. Next up is Light which similar to Disease lacks a central theme to its everlasting spoof. Trey does hint at that Mountain Jam-ish mode he has toyed with off and on over the past few tours but really this jam serves mainly to set up the return of WTU? after a 30 show gap. If you listen to the last few minutes of the Light you can hear it coming particularly if you are listening for it. A spirited run through Fuego is next, complete with Trey doing the backwards-note-eating trick we all love so much. BDT#L is in the closer set up slot, predictably giving us more than we expect out of it in the end jam. Slave provides a nice closer to this set before the Meatstick>Zero encore sends everyone off to deal with the typically horrid parking lot management here. This show is what I’d call average great in that there is nothing that stands out on its own but as a whole there is a lot to like about what the band brought to the stage. This is a good show to play for the uninitiated.

 

 

08.09.2015

I  VLF, Forbin’s>Mockingbird, B&R, Saw It Again, Esther, Weigh, Sloth, Sanity>Melt

II  Lope>Carini>Waves->Tweezer>Dirt>Mike’s>Blaze On>Paug>Reprise

E  Contact>Frankenstein

And now for the last entry in the Alpine Valley files. Keeping with the pattern of varied openers here, tonight we get the second ever performance of The Very Long Fuse, one of the wonderful tunes to come out of the 10.31.2014 Thrilling Chilling Costume set. This is a song I’d like to hear them play more frequently as I think there is a lot they could do with it given a bit more room to breath. Tonight’s version comes 20 shows after its debut which we will see makes it one of the three songs played in this set with the shortest gaps, harkening back to the first set from 07.01.2012 which had a lot of bustouts as well. Next we get the 57 show bustouts of Forbin>Mockingbird and Trey even gives us some storytime for the first time in 3.0 unless my memory is incorrect on that. The story is less about Gamehendge as it is Trey talking about his walks around the venue that morning (he even mentions the trees! woooooooooooo!!), culminating in the funny anecdote about a bird shitting on his head which gave him the idea to play Mockingbird that night. Neato. Just don’t groan at his attempted joke about the ‘second shitter’. After a 23 show bustout of Brian & Robert and a 20 show bustout for Saw It Again we get to the real bustouts as Esther (75 shows), Weigh (78 shows), and The Sloth (92 shows) really crank up the gap rating. Then the set ends with a 22 show bustout of Sanity (with a VLF quote in there) into a relatively short 14 show bustout of Melt which aside from some mildly interesting dissonant T&R jamming isn’t one you’ll spin very often.

 

Coming out after the break they open with a song that might have you wondering if it is the end of a set considering Antelope has only ever opened a mere seven second sets in its 452 performances (and but three first sets!). This was the first second set opening Lope since 08.11.2004 but not the last as there have been two (09.02.2016, 10.22.2016) since. Maybe it’ll become a thing. That Lope starts off another non-stop second set as Carini comes in the wake, mostly staying in bounds but getting a tad out there on the way to Waves. After a few minutes of tinkering in Waves land Trey triggers the mutron and pulls off a full segue into Tweezer with the ‘new’ effect engaged. It’s a pretty move. From the drop into the jam Trey is all over the mutron and echoplex, adding even more stank to the already funky jam they are developing. They sit in a comfortable groove space with Mike voicing approval on the fight bell and all contributing as they slowly move towards building up to a peak. Trey hits on a catchy melodic riff and they carry that up, building the bliss but never fully paying it off as they end up in Dirt as the landing pad instead. Next up is Mike’s and HOLY CRAP THERE’S A SECOND JAM IN THIS ONE!!! Sorry. Mike’s 2nd jams get me all aflutter considering how rare they are these days. I’m getting ahead of myself. So Mike’s. The first jam has more of that echoplex/mutron fun and feels like it is going to wrap up way too soon as Trey signals the end bit but instead they head back out! They start by riding the palpable energy feedback from the crowd and then shift to a breakdown section that elicits the woos as Trey shows off the tricks he learned at Dead Camp earlier in the year. The last minute or so is basically the setup to Blaze On, another new tune on that tour with this being the sixth ever. Tonight’s take is fiery but contained as they jam in theme before wrapping it up to get to Paug where even in the intro the woo birds are out in force, chiming in at every half rest Mike gives them. And after this rocking version you might think the set will end BUT NO instead they throw the Reprise you thought was going to be in the encore here as closer. You’ll get the Contact, Frankenstein encores tonight and like it, friend. I have to say, this show was much better than I had recalled when I listened back to it again. It really shows how connected the band was playing at this stage and still getting better as we all looked ahead to the wonder that would be Magnaball. I’d recommend this second set to anyone who has a bit of driving to do and wants to be up and alert for it. This is that sort of Phish.

 

Tale of The Tapes

Venue:  Alpine Valley Music Theatre

Number of Shows:  Seventeen

Intangibles:  With a larger than typical capacity for an outdoor “shed” amphitheatre this venue brings with it boisterous crowds, something the band seems to feed off; the slope of the hill on the lawn is such that one feels like they are constantly about to tumble into the pav and onto the stage; the cops here suck. like royally blow chunks. there are way too many stories of people getting pinched here for stupid stuff like public drinking or speeding all so the locals can make their quotas (exaggerating, perhaps, but there is history here); the surrounding area is quite lovely and the adjacent resort offers a welcome alternative to the typical discomfort of following the band for long stretches, allowing one to relax in comfort within a short distance of the venue if one is not already enjoying one of the many nearby lake areas; most importantly, Phish really seems to love playing here which shows in the music they have performed over the years

Recurring Themes:  Setlists for shows here are fairly varied with no songs played more than seven times in the eleven years in which the band has performed at Alpine Valley (83 songs have only ever been played once here); the most common songs seen are Character Zero and Piper (7 times each) followed by Reba and Wilson (6 times); there has been only one repeat first set opener (PYITE in 2000 and night one of 2009) so you can expect something different each time out; Phish tends to play multi-song encores here with several including debuts or massive bustouts; Phish has never played several ‘common’ songs at Alpine including Bouncin, MSO, DaaM, and Buried Alive; while it has only been played here four times, it feels like Frankenstein gets played at Alpine a lot which may be due to it being a 1st set closer, 2nd set closer, and two time encore; in a similar fashion Zero is always a closer or encore here with two 1st set, three 2nd set, and 2 encore slottings while Reprise has been encore in four of its five performances here (the other being a 2nd set closer); the varied setlists allows for some sizable bustouts which is reflected in the gap ratings for this venue which are high for the number of shows played here, resulting in an average gap for this venue of 13.83 which without backup I am confident in saying is well above average

Key Jams/Songs:  1996 — Reba, Gin, Disease, Hood; 1997 — Theme, Ghost->Taste, Reba, Crossroads, Foam, Ain’t Love Funny, Slave, Paug; 1998 — Ramble On>Mike’s->Esther>Paug, 2001->Magilla>Tweezer, Been Caught Stealing; 1999 — Fluffhead, Man Who Jam->Wedge, Tweezer->Catapult->Tweezer>Mango->Happy Whip and Dung Song, Chalkdust; 2000 — Piper->RnR, Tweezer->Walk Away; 2003 — Roggae, IDK>Dust In The Wind>IDK, Disease->Catapult, Twist, Hood, Wilson, Piper, Caspian, YEM; 2004 — Wolfman’s, Seven Below->Buffalo Bill, Paug, Boogie On->Ghost>Free, Piper; 2009 — Ghost, C&P>Disease>Piper; 2010 — Disease->WTU?, Ghost>Theme; 2012 — Timber Ho!, Golden Age->2001, Fee, C&P>No Quarter>Light>Ghost->BOTT>Farmhouse; 2015 — Reba, Disease>Halley’s, Light>WTU?, VLF, Forbin’s>Mockingbird, Waves->Tweezer, Mike’s

PJJ Ratio:  Alpine Valley has a slightly higher than average 2.59 JPS rating (the average for all venues under consideration in this project is 2.47). It would be much higher were it not for the four shows in 2009/2010 that don’t offer up too much in the jam arena

 

Alpine Valley and Phish go together very well similar to their relationship with Deer Creek. For many years it was known that if the band was playing here you should get to the show though in the early part of 3.0 that did not really hold true, unfortunately. But recent shows at this venue have rekindled the flame as the jams, fresh setlists, and overall comfort of both band and crowd. Let’s just hope that the ownership there gets things figured out to reopen the venue in the near future otherwise we may be left with the high quality pair of shows from 2015 as the last from this venerable amphitheatre, once the largest outdoor venue of its kind in the country. I do not think that Alpine Valley will end up at the top of the rankings for these venues but with so much great music made here over the years it is hard to argue against it being one of the top tier places to see Phish over the course of their history.

One thought on “Meet At The Tree! – Phish and Alpine Valley

  1. Great writeup. Lots to comment on, but as a funny note (or dumb thought depending on point of view) you write relatively long essays then abbreviate things like “Very Long Fuse” to VLF or Antelope to Lope. I assume to avoid having to type so much. 😉

    Like

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