Phish — GM Place — Vancouver, BC — 09.09.1999
I Mozambique, Axilla>LxL, Horn, Guyute, Chalkdust, BATCS, Stash, IDK, Zero
II BOAF, Ha Ha Ha>Ghost, Inlaw, First Tube, Tweezer, Bug, YEM, HMB
Notes Out On Sandpaper
–debuts of Mozambique, Inlaw Josie Wales (Trey on acoustic), and First Tube
–first performance of Ha Ha Ha in 1999 (don’t worry, these won’t be too big of a thing – I just find it interesting particularly in Fall tours to see what songs are finally getting played for the first time that year)
The Central Theme
First of all, apologies on formatting here. They completely changed the architecture of post building and it is taking me more work than I want to get it to my familiar look and feel. So yeah. Sorry about that. We will get it all figured out.
Following the summer tour’s end in the Midwest in late July and that visit to Japan the week after, Phish arrived in the Pacific Northwest for their first visit to Vancouver since their stop at the Pacific Coliseum on the Fall 1996 Tour. The tour would start indoors here before several outdoor shows taking advantage of the mostly mild late summer/early fall temperatures along the way. But indoor Phish is a thing a lot of us love dearly so getting the tour rolling at a hockey shed (albeit a bigger, newer one than most of those they had laid waste to over the years) adds to the excitement and anticipation. This was the only time Phish has played what is now known as Rogers Center which at the time was just a year old and named GM Place. It also, unfortunately, is the last time the band has played in Vancouver, something they should get to fixing once we are back to seeing shows the way we are used to doing.
Tour openers can be funny things as with a blank slate you really have no idea what to expect. The entirety of the songbook is available and more than any other time the decisions on what to play are at the mercy of whatever Trey and the rest of the band are feeling. Sometimes we get the high energy shot of a well loved classic song but sometimes, like this night, they come out with a song they have never played, setting tone for not just this show but what is to come further along by not falling into the habit of the familiar. While I am certain the majority of fans probably weren’t completely familiar with the song when it dropped you cannot say that Mozambique was the last thing we could expect here. The song was now more than sixteen months old having debuted (as Free Thought – with lyrics! Or maybe it was Third Tube per phish.com?) back in the 8 Foot Fluorescent Tubes show on 04.17.1998 not to mention the five times the song was played on Trey Tour in May. This first Phish version is a tad loose but serves its purpose and shakes the rust for the secondary Axilla opener that truly wakes the room up.
Axilla runs right into the first potential for some musical conversation and Limb By Limb provides it as Trey shines in his first real solo of the tour. This third song stretches a bit as they drop into a tranquil space, Trey soaring and noodling about over the rhythm section ahead of a short but typical Fish ending. Horn then starts up a run of familiar tunes with a chunky but contained Chalkdust and then Guyute proves that the composed tune chops are doing just fine, thank you for asking. Now we get a song that I still wonder about because while I get that it is a nice way to showcase Page on the Hammond Back At The Chicken Shack has never really connected for me. The song is fine enough it just feels like setlist filler. I cannot think of any version that makes me want to spin it more than just on the way through a show. There are only three more versions following this one so apparently the band felt the same way I suppose.
Perhaps the band felt this wasn’t cutting it either because the Stash that ensues is perhaps the best one of the year at least in my estimation. We will get to the other one worth mentioning in a few weeks as overall 1999 is not the strongest year for the song. Fully limbered following LxL and more, the drop here is effortless and reflective of the then current approach to jamming. Instead of the frenzied push/pull of dissonant tension/release this version is a slow burner. Trey uses the wah to great effect in setting the tone as he quietly tinkers around, playing wobbly lines that counterpoint the bevy of ideas Mike throws out. You know that feeling when you get into a hot tub and it feels good but then your friend turns it up and a bit later all of a sudden you are like “holy shit this is fucking hot!”? Well maybe you don’t but I do and that’s exactly the feeling I get from this jam. Trey is bending notes all over the place, building tension in a very different way than we are used to from this song. Some may say he is whaling here but if you consider that a negative thing then maybe this isn’t the type of Phish for your ears. All but unnoticeable for the first part of the jam, Page comes in with textured synth hits as they build up towards the release we all are seeking. Trey isn’t having it though. Instead he runs out a bunch of tightly grouped notes and eases back towards ending Stash, fluffing the crowd and taunting us as they never resolve it.
Fish gets the spotlight for I Didn’t Know following some fan service banter by Trey where he thanks the crowd for welcoming them to Canada and introduces “Vahjonna Fishman” who on this night is sporting a bandana in honor of the sushi place they clearly visited the night before (TOJO!). In the litany of names the man has been called over the years, this is one makes me chuckle more than most though that may just be my teenager sense of humor shining through. Character Zero gets the closer nod (of course) and while pretty standard Trey does bend and extend, building off the tension of the unrequited Stash and releasing all over the crowd ahead of the “quick break” that was likely not as quick as the singer would lead the gullible to believe.
The second set starts with Birds Of A Feather, one of four times the song did that in its thirteen appearances for the year. It is a good choice here though unfortunately unlike many of the massive versions from the summer tour this one stays in the box without much fanfare to note. Now I’m not sure if that is why the next song is Ha Ha Ha but I have a hunch it could be related. Seriously, when 2/3 of the prior six versions stretched well outside the song you have to wonder why this one got cut short. Who knows with this band though? Those confused thoughts are quickly assuaged when the Ghost loops start and the dance party cranks up in earnest. This time period is a good one if you like big Ghost jams especially the heavily layered, looped out, chugging grooves that typify the overall sound of the era. Similar to the Stash this one starts out smoldering and inbounds as Mike leads the way. Trey toys around with several ideas including an all but recognizable descending line and then some brighter let’s-head-to-the-peak phrases which the crowd appreciates greatly. On that note, really nice feedback loop with the crowd on this night in general which I expect is the excitement of first night of tour combined with the friendly nature of the local folk. Just when you think Trey is going to blast into overdrive they downshift, settling into a secondary groove before the patient return to close the song. Yet again, we are left without a big release. But that’s okay.
Trey picks up the acoustic guitar and debuts The Inlaw Josie Wales which had already gotten seven performances in the acoustic solo first sets from the May tour. This lovely tune has lived on in the solo format but we haven’t heard it at a Phish show since Hiatus and honestly I’m okay with that as it really works best as a solo guitar piece in my opinion. Hopping back to the electric Trey and the band drop into the debut of First Tube, another song first heard in that 04.17.1998 show and quickly becoming a staple on the solo side as well. Compared to what the song has become this version feels pretty tame but hey it was a new song to them so that makes sense. This one will be heard from A LOT as we progress to the point where people got sick of its frequency for a while there.
Maybe that First Tube ended the 3rd quarter or perhaps it opened the 4th but either way it sets everyone up for Tweezer. Things start out drippy and languid, that Tweezer funk pulling everyone in. Call it more tension building or whatever but they sit in the pocket for what seems like forever until things go sideways in that wonderful way. There are hints of other big Tweezers from this year in this jam but it is its own thing as well. The groove roils on with Trey and Page throwing out ideas above, reminding you once again that this is exactly why you put in all of the time/money/energy to And remember how they haven’t really payed off most of the jams so far in this show? Well, wait no more! This Tweezer EXPLODES into a glorious peak and that’s not even the end of it all. The denouement drones on for several minutes of pre-millennial space, never returning to Tweezer before finally fizzling out into nothing and the start of Bug.
Some folks groan at the thought of Bug but these 1999 versions really capture the song well. I like to think Bug is something of a late 90s take on the power ballad format that we all knew and loved/hated from the hairbands of the 80s but with the flourish that only Phish could provide. No matter what your feelings are for Bug this one works well in the aftermath of that Tweezer, slowly building up from the murk that brought us here. Still with time to burn in the set, Phish then drops into You Enjoy Myself, here a mostly “standard” version for the time period. Of note, the pre-nirvana section falls into more of that ambient soundscape space as Trey lets his notes linger and moan out ahead of the classic song proper. There is also a bit of groove to be found in the main jam but nothing more than a vamp fest outside of Mike’s playing… but the crowd sure digs it. Hello My Baby gets the mic’d but a cappella closer slot and then we are onto the encore. Nothing special here as it goes Sample>Golgi>Reprise but the fist pumpers were assuredly doing their thing throughout. Now time to pack up for the overnight drive of nearly 300 miles to The Gorge…
Take Your Laser Beams Away
A quick note here that as I did for my Fall 1998 and Fall 1996 tour reviews I will be updating the site’s music player as we go with all of the “takeaway” tunes I note in this section of each post. Most times these will be the songs with the jams but often other notable things like sit-ins, unique versions, or one offs that I feel are worth including. Keep checking the “I Love The Shiny Music” area in the left hand sidebar for updates.
Being a tour opener sometimes the highlights can be sparse and other times they can be plentiful. Tonight we get a decent number of takeaways (and I’m not even including any of the debuts!).
Limb By Limb
I recommend checking them all out but please spend time on Stash, Ghost, and Tweezer if you have to mind your time. As tour openers go I feel this show is very strong, particularly that second set.
This Happens Once Again
Next up are the pair of shows from The Gorge, the third trip there in as many years and the last visit until 2.0. Get stretched for the long jams!