Hoping to Lighten The Tension – Worcester, MA 11.27.1998

Phish — Worcester Centrum Centre — Worcester, MA 11.27.1998

I  Funky Bitch, Ya Mar, Carini, Jim, Meat>Reba, Old Home Place, DST, Vultures, Circus, BOAF

II  Buried Alive>Wipe Out>CDT->Mirror in the Bathroom->CDT->Dog Log->CDT>Sanity>Buffalo Bill>Mike’s->H2>Weekapaug->Wipe Out->Weekapaug>Paug Reprise>Antelope

E  Wading, Golgi>Wipe Out

 

Ah, Worcester. City of Seven Hills. Wormtown. Heart of the Commonwealth and the City of Dreams. The Woo! We have mentioned how certain cities and venues seem to bring out the best in Phish and our scene and Worcester, MA is right up there with Hampton, New York City, The Gorge, Colorado, Chicago, and more as a place Phish just seems to feel at home. Over the years Phish has played this town 18 times, first back at the Clark University Pub on 01.19.1990. That’s a venue that I am pretty certain does not exist anymore. But from there they take things bigger first with a New Year’s Eve show on 12.31.1991 at the old Worcester Memorial Auditorium which is a really cool building with a storied history. This article gives a glimpse into this now closed venue. I can imagine that those murals would have been fun to check out with Phish as your soundtrack. After that the band didn’t play here for two full years as they again graced a Worcester stage at the famed Centrum (now DCU Center) that has been home to so many great concerts over the years.

 

Phish’s first appearance there on 12.31.1993 is a show that many point to as a tipping point for the band (and a great tape to give people new to the band to give them a clue of what this band is all about). That show got a radio broadcast and their are remastered soundboards in circulation which helped to make this a very widespread and popular recording… though the music itself really tells the tale with stellar versions of Reba, Tweezer, YEM, and Hood (some hold this as their favorite Hood ever) as well as the debut of the jam that would become Down With Disease to celebrate the new year. Since that night Phish has been back to this venue fifteen more times first for a pair of shows on the NYE 1995 Run on 12.28.1995 (home to a fantastic Tweezer and more) and 12.29.1995 (ever hear of The Real Gin? Yeah.) preceding the two epic shows at MSG, three Thanksgiving weekend gems in 1997 (11.28.1997 where the Ghost gets the love but don’t miss the YEM and pretty much the whole 2nd set, 11.29.1997 with the longest jam in band history for Runaway Jim, and 11.30.1997 with the big first set Wolfman’s and the Stash->Free>Jam->Piper), the three big time shows from around Thanksgiving 1998 that we will cover here, a single night on the Winter 2003 Run 02.26.2003 perhaps best known for the solo band tunes featured in the first frame but the jams here are big too, another pair of pre-MSG NYE Run shows in 2010 (12.27.2010 accompanied by an epic blizzard that influenced song choices and 12.28.2010 which begat the magnificent plinko funk Hood), the two Summer 2012 Tour opening shows (06.07.2012 with that amazing Carini->Taste>Ghost>Boogie>If I Could segment to start the 2nd set and 06.08.2012 with the return of the Roses jam, the Sandy Kane jam and more), and a pair of Fall 2013 shows on the path to Atlantic City for Halloween (10.25.2013 with the Waves>Carini and 10.26.2013 with its great 2nd set highlighted by Drowned>Light not to mention the Kenwood Dennard sit-in in the encore). Here’s a jams-only playlist over at our friends www.phishjustjams.com for you to peruse if this Worcester stuff sounds interesting. I didn’t even mention any of the 1998 highlights and already I am like 1,000 words into this write-up without touching a note of the show above. I suppose I should get to that…

 

All of that background sets the stage here for high expectations out of the fanbase. Perhaps that could have been on the band’s minds in kicking off their second Turkey Run of shows in as many years here (and the final run of shows on the tour too) but if it was they sure didn’t show it on stage. Instead we are treated to “one of those shows” where everything seems to come together to produce something bigger than the sum of its highly segmented setlist parts. Just take a look at that setlist up there. Seriously. Check it out. Remind you of anything? Like one of those epic seguefest shows all the setlist geeks are always squealing about? Well here we have one of the biggies in Phish history. This is canon. I’ll do my best to work through everything here but you really need to just spin this show to get an idea of how it all went down.

 

The first set is a bit more traditional, starting off with two covers in Funky Bitch and Ya Mar. The Funky Bitch is fun and gets the crowd into it but the Ya Mar is our first highlight as they add on a cool little jam (with a I Dream of Jeannie tease by Mike along the way). A short Carini is next with a streaker reference and then they kick into Runaway Jim. At this point the crowd is wondering if it will be like the hour long epic from last year. It is not. BUT it does have a nice little Jim Jam at the end which is worth the listen. Our sixth Meat of the tour is next and this one lacks the coda ambient jam but does go right into Reba which is a perfectly acceptable replacement. Reba gets a fight bell *ting* at the drop into the jam and then they build to a predictably good peak. Trey is on point throughout this one with everyone else along for the ride. Nothing revolutionary in this one but definitely a pretty, clean version. A breather for our bluegrass slot tonight brings The Old Home Place in for the first time since the Bridge Benefit shows before this tour then a quick Dogs Stole Things and our first Vultures of the Fall. There’s something about that song that always makes me think it might blow up into a jam but, alas, that has yet to occur. The pre-closer ballad slot gets Los Lobos’ When The Circus Comes and then they bring the set home with a soaring if straight forward Birds of a Feather. Judging from this first set you can tell they came to play but at this stage they have yet to really open it up or give us a hint of what might be to come in the 2nd set. Perhaps better that they saved that surprise…

 

So after braving the horror that used to be the Centrum bathrooms (seriously, there are some legendary stories about how bad it used to be here before the recent renovations helped… somewhat) you settle back in for the second set and they kick into the second Buried Alive of the tour. Always a good one to kick off a set, tonight it drops into a massive bustout (722 shows!) as they head into the surf rock classic Wipeout. That’s the Surfaris version but I might prefer the Beach Boys/Fat Boys take on it. Ah, the 80s where questionable musical collaborations and funny music videos shaped the world for generations to come… In the Phish world the playing of this song was once a band in joke to make fun of a mistake (i.e. a “wipe out” similar to when a surfer loses it while attempting to catch a tube, as they might say. I’m sure you had trouble figuring that out all by yourself). There are several teases of the song noted throughout the years and two times it actually made it to a setlist in 1991. It was a direct reference in the Vibe of Life portion of the Forbin’s narration on 11.17.1994 so when it came up for the first time again here in the early part of this set it was definitely a head scratching move to the fans. After this they crank into Chalkdust Torture which has a bit more Wipeout in it not to mention Mike playing the baseline to another song familiar to those who matured in the 80s, Mirror in the Bathroom, the wonderfully catchy ska radio hit by The Beat (known here in the U S of A as The English Beat because apparently we need more specificity in differentiating between British ska bands and not really memorable late 70s pop rock bands – apologies if you are big on stuff like this but then if you are what the heck are you doing reading a Phish nerd blog??). That Mike tease is foreshadowing because pretty soon thereafter as they jam CDT the band turns on a dime to start up the debut of Mirror in the Bathroom in earnest before heading back to CDT. Again, they jam the CDT theme before dropping into a bluesy space and adding a few lines from Dog Log in for good measure. This bleeds right back into CDT for a few bars and then we dive into Sanity followed by Buffalo Bill (first one in 75 shows) as the segues keep coming. Catch your breath for a sec because we are only half way home.

 

Buffalo Bill (one of my longest sought after tunes that I finally caught at Magnaball this summer!) heads into Mike’s Song and now you are thinking, “okay, here we go! just jam, maaaaaaan!” and they do for a bit with a second jam that goes ambient with some nice effects by Trey and Page, leading to a lovely full segue into the “bustout” of I Am Hydrogen (first in 68 shows so the judges say it counts). This is a nice interlude and then we head right into Weekapaug Groove for a triumphant jam that heads to the mountain top peak (with a Nellie Kane tease by Trey in here) before they pull off a full segue back to Wipe Out and then again back to Weekapaug. Things really start getting interesting here as they go double time in bringing this to the apparent close for the song before diving back in to reprise the song with another full Paug jam. Trey first starts to attack and then backs off to set a sustain note/loop as he and Mike then play leads over that note that pierces through in the background. Things get a bit darker here as the continue in this vein for a few minutes before transitioning out to the Run Like An Antelope closer. This Antelope starts out patiently with a somewhat extended primary jam before rising to that frenetic peak and insanity that make this such a great set closing tune. It isn’t the best or most exploratory version you will ever hear but it is a shreddy Lope so who’s complaining?

 

For the encores it is pretty much gravy at this stage so when they start up Wading in the Velvetta Cheese you just kinda shrug and start to collect your marbles that have someone been scattered all over your section by this set. Admittedly, Trey plays a nice enough solo so you decide to stick around to see if they drop a big energy tune afterwards. You get that with Golgi Apparatus not to mention a final dip into Wipeout so I guess it was worth it. Besides, the Dirty Woo shakedown scene will go long into the night so there’s no rush needed, my friend. The Nitrous Mafia will be waiting for you. Oh, and there is some funny banter between Trey and Fish to be found here if you like that sort of thing.

 

So how did we like this one? This, like most if not all of the other famed “seguefest” shows (such as 02.20.1993, 05.07.1994, 06.22.1994, 07.27.2014, and on) is a highly beloved show in the fanbase. It combines high energy, stop on a dime musical changes, top notch playing, a few nice jams, and all of the intangibles that make IT all part of the experience. Sure, there is no transcendent monster jam but this is a show that is fun to the core without worry about anything but being in the moment with it. The band is arguably at their best when they are the most un-serious, allowing themselves to take chances they might otherwise think better of. The result is that this show stands as the seventh best rated show ever on .net behind such gems as Big Cypress’s Millenium Set, the amazing middle day of this year’s Magnaball Festival, one of the best two set shows ever from Denver ’97, the mountaintop performance that was NYE 1995 at MSG, one of the best 2.0 shows from Nassau Coliseum, and the ridiculous Drum Logos show from the Japan 2000 tour. There is rightfully a LivePhish release of this one (LP06) and the auds out there are great too so do yourself a favor and spin this one top to bottom to find out what all the fuss is about. And if you like the video check out this for the full second set (with sbd audio). Eagle eyed fans will know that in the start to Weekapaug (around the 42:50 mark) Trey has one of his biggest “Poor Sue” moments….  Of course, as we must do, here are your takeaways for the show: Ya Mar, Jim, Reba, perhaps BOAF if you like em shreddy, and the entirety of the second set. Believe me, it is worth the time as it will also help you to make more sense of the rest of this weekend of shows if you hear this one first. Now go get that balloon, wook. You’ve earned it.

There Is Time To Kill Today — West Valley City, UT 11.02.1998

Phish — The E Center — West Valley City, UT 11.02.1998

I  Tube->Drowned->JJLC, Driver, Bittersweet Motel, LxL, Wading>Sample

II  Disease, Mango>Moma, YEM, Harpua>Speak to Me->Breathe>On The Run, Time>GGITS>Money>Us and Them->Any Colour You Like->Brain Damage->Eclipse>Harpua

E  Smells Like Teen Spirit

Clearly we can excuse Phish for effectively taking the night off for this one night stop in Utah as they made their way from Las Vegas to Denver on this tour. Since most of the traveling fanbase skipped this one it makes sense that the band took it easy… hey, wait a minute…

::looks at setlist more closely::

::looks again because that can’t be right::

Um, yeah. So, we might not have covered it here yet but now is a good time to as there are a few axioms in the Phish World that almost always hold true. These include but are not limited to:

  1. One for three; two for five.
  2. Never miss a Sunday show.
  3. No talking during jams.
  4. Glowsticks are cool sometimes but not to be thrown at the band.
  5. Mike needs to be turned up.
  6. Always use the rock test to decide who drives home.
  7. The music is all that matters.
  8. Keep it positive.
  9. Seriously, no talking during jams.
  10. Pass the pre-rolls freely. Everyone will benefit.
  11. Never skip the ‘skip show’!

Some are more guideline than rule but that last one is the biggie as applies to our show up above. In the wake of the two shows in Las Vegas there sat this one that was a bit out of the way for those also hitting Denver considering that they all turned right in Sulphurdale, UT to pick up I-70 and head east rather than continuing on I-15 up to the Salt Lake City area for this show. This proved to be a major blunder on their part and the band made them pay for it in legendary fashion.

Now, if you the fan were really ambitious you would have gotten up there on the off night to catch Trey and Mike joining an ‘open mic’ night at the Dead Goat Saloon, a dive bar that has since closed its doors. More on this as we work through the set here but they played a decent number of tunes to a really really small crowd, from all accounts. It is highly doubtful that audio of that exists but here’s hoping it surfaces some time in the future because we are obsessive and need to hear every single last note any of these guys has ever played.

But had you at least made it to the Phish show the following night in West Valley City you would have been witness to one of the biggest jokes the band has ever played on the fanbase in a venue that holds over 12,000 which was perhaps a third full for that night’s show. This made that night ripe for Phish to do what they tend to in such circumstances when no one expects them to come out and lay waste to the lucky souls who made the commitment to be a part of IT. Examples abound from all over the band’s history including 09.14.1999 (Boise Bag is all I need to say but the subsequent Gumbo and Disease are fantastic as well), 08.14.1996 (Hershey show before The Clifford Ball. Jammed out Wilson opener, awesome Reba, open jamming in Jim, and a Tweezer that’ll get you moving), 10.20.2010 (The Guyutica show! My Soul openers generally mean good things and this is no exception what with the first set shenanigans and the Melt madness in the second)… I could keep going here but that’s how I end up with 4,000 word posts so let’s just say we will all do our homework on sleeper/skip shows and get to gettin’ here.

Obviously, where I am headed here is that this show stands as THE EXAMPLE for why the axiom exists. After playing two big shows that were both very difficult tickets to obtain — and throwing down some transcendent, wonderful music in the process — you had to have thought (these future past perfect* tenses get confusing some times) a breather is coming (particularly in Utah) before they go over to Colorado where they already had a long history of performing and playing quite well. Add on to it that a lot of fans didn’t want to deal with the hassles of potential law enforcement interactions and you have a recipe for an undersold show.

So what does Phish do to not only increase that FOMO (before the term was coined, of course, but a concept that has long been a part of our scene) and also to give back to the fans who did make it to this show? Oh, just throw down a bunch of sick jams and cover another full album (one that was so rumored to be the pick for the ’94 Halloween costume that they actually played the first track over the PA at the start of that costume set to mess with everyone) that they learned THAT DAY while waiting for the show. And that album cover didn’t even start until after they were close to 50 minutes into the second set already. But before we get to all that we have a great first set to discuss. I love when that happens.

These days, if you see Tube on a setlist you can expect it to have a tight little funk jam but to stay somewhere in the six to seven minute range in toto (the longest one of 3.0 is only a shade over seven minutes) but in the latter part of 1.0 and into 2.0 the song got a bit more time to stretch out, particularly in a few highly memorable versions that include the Tube “Reprise” section after the final verse and refrain. This night in Utah the show opening Tube is one of those instances and, to me, stands as one of the best takes on the song they have ever performed (special shout out to a few other notable ones though before we dive in here:  12.07.1997 Dayton, 12.29.1997 MSG, 02.22.2003 Cincinnati, and my personal favorite 09.15.2000 Hershey). The fun part about this one though is that it combines not just the swanky cowfunk of the ’97 sound but the emerging ambient funk that will come to typify Fall ’98. In the first part of the jam Trey starts the loops early and they romp through a highly danceable section with each player adding flourishes where they see fit. After the “napkin” section and final refrain they seem to wrap the song up only to get a Fish BLAP to kick off the reprise section and here things turn sideways in a hurry. The loops are more subdued but still there and Trey goes off on a long lead journey while the band builds the pocket around him. It is highly engaging stuff that seemingly brings together the last two album influences in leading to a bliss jam that is wholly not Tube. In the final minute or so you can tell they are clearly headed somewhere but it isn’t an obvious segue until Trey throws in the power chords over the rest of the band with Page adding the signature piano line for Drowned and we are off into our second jam vehicle just two songs into the show!

This Drowned is a triumphant rocker in the first half before they settle into an upbeat groove with Trey trying out several ideas – none of them ever really catching – while Fish pounds away Moon-like, Page comping along on the piano, and Mike matching Trey with ideas of his own. Eventually they all come together and eventually move into another bit of transition space for what one has to think will be a cool down tune, only to have them emerge into Jesus Just Left Chicago. Typically this song, while rooted in its blues foundation, gets a bit more rocking and almost funky when Phish plays it but tonight they keep it cerulean with Page and Trey trading enthusiastic solos on the organ and guitar, respectively. Coming after those first two jams it kind of is a bit of a cool down tune but at the same time has a great energy of its own.

Now we get that breather section first with a little dedication/anecdote from Trey to mention the prior night’s open mic fun and to thank the staff at the Dead Goat Saloon before playing a pair of songs with Trey on the acoustic, Driver and Bittersweet Motel. There is a bit more banter between those two songs and then they also use the big Freebird-esque ending to close it up. These two songs provide the necessary bathroom break after that 40+ minute three song onslaught to start the show and then we get another shot of energy with a really quite beautiful take on Limb by Limb. It never leaves the main structure of the song but Trey and Page keep it airy and light while Mike and Fish lay down the pocket, resulting in a smile-inducing jam that far outpaces the first LxL on this tour back at the Greek on night one. From here we get a Wading>Sample closing combo that is pretty much what it says on the box and we are off to setbreak where I am certain the conversation would have been around that Tube->Drowned->JJLC segment. At least that’s what my conversation would have included assuming my talk functions were active that night ifyouknowwhatimean.

After the break they come out firing with a fiery hot Disease that stays in bounds but elevates the energy well. The subsequent Mango Song is a well played version of a song (listen to Page in particular here) that is always nice to hear which tonight segues into Moma for our second funk workout of the evening. It is a fun version with a couple of Monkey Man teases but the real highlights of this set are yet to come. They kick into a mid-set YEM and almost immediately depart from form by stretching out the pre-Nirvana section with a captivating ambient soundscape that has all of the YEM elements present while stretching the tune out in building tension for the explosion of prog funk energy to come. The rest of this YEM is well done but largely what you expect out of the song and after that we get a few rare moments of the band collecting themselves in making the next song selection.

Here I should probably tell you that the song to come is a bit of an obsession of mine, as I have long been fascinated by the ever-evolving tale of that spastic dead-eyed hound Harpua and his foil Poster Nutbag, the cat that always dies. Except when he doesn’t but that’s for another time. Any time I see this song on a setlist I know there is a story to be heard that will tickle the imagination and offer up at least a tease of a non-Phish song we all know, often resulting in the crowd or even other band members wanting to keep that song going (such as Fish asking for more “Jimmy” when Trey rips up a bit of Voodoo Chile in the famed 06.17.1994 OJ Show version of Harpua). Add in the fact that they were coming off the run in Vegas where a pretty pretty pretty notable Harpua had gone down a little less than two years prior involving members of Primus, a bunch of Elvii, yodelers, and a wonderful yarn about our man Jimmy’s trip to Sin City and you have the potential for this one to get weird once again. Trey does in fact connect the two stories, after first making a knowing reference to the “E” Center in saying how full of love and warm he feels being there. You can tell he really cracks himself up with that. SO once he gets to the story he speaks perhaps a bit in a self-reflective manner by relating that Jimmy decides to get out of Vegas almost as soon as he gets there because it is just too crazy and he can’t take it so he hitches a ride with a guy to SLC. The guy puts on one of Jimmy’s favorite albums (it is always one of Jimmy’s favorites, isn’t it?) and then the band drops out and over the PA we get the start to Speak to Me! Well, that’s a pretty cool nod, isn’t it? Should be fun to hear them go back into Harpua after this little bit of… hang on. They played the whole song and THEY ARE GOING INTO BREATHE!! At this point, if you were in the crowd you have to be wondering whether they could possibly be going through with this. Normally you get a few bars of the song Trey mentions and then we are back to Harpua for the fight and resolution. NOPE!! Not tonight! Tonight we get the full album cover of Dark Side of the Moon, only one of the most seminal and widely lauded rock albums of the prior twenty-five years (yes, I am generalizing and I know there is a huge segment of people who prefer the older, Syd-influenced Pink Floyd sound – if they like PF at all – but considering that this album stayed on the Billboard Top 200 albums for an ungodly 861 weeks you have to acknowledge the touchpoint that this album was and continues to be).

So here we are with the second full album cover in as many shows, this time one that pretty well everyone in the room would have known — many having wanted this to be the album played on Halloween. Now, I was a huge Pink Floyd in my formative youth, using that band as one of my gateway bands into the world of psychedelic music and for that I will forever have an affinity for their music. And had I been there on this night I would have totally lost my shit and maybe even dropped to my knees with head in hands in awe of this band though that last part might be the result of… other factors. But the reality here is that as amazing as it is that they pulled this off after (as all of the legend around this show indicates) only buying the CD that day and learning it together for that night’s show it is all very down-the-middle stuff in playing the album pretty much straight to form.

Before the pitchforks come out and the torches get lit though let me state that I am not saying there is anything bad in this occurring as I really think this is the master stroke of pranking done by the band on their fanbase. It is a big middle finger to those who were perhaps not thrilled with the Velvet Underground choice for Halloween as well as to those who chose to skip this one-off show for whatever reason. It proves the notion that you are risking missing out on a peak experience every time you choose to not go to a show and once again shows just how in tune with the fanbase this band was and continues to be. But musically? It is pretty average. There are no real jams to speak of and the playing, while typically good Phish, is not anything you haven’t heard before and for that reason I’m not going to do a song-by-song breakdown of the DSOTM portion of the show except to say that if Trey wants to go ahead and drop Any Colour You Like into the middle of a hot jam or even sandwiched into a great set of segued music I am all for it and will woo louder than the Tahoe Tweezer woo brigade to here it go down.

All that said, in comparing it to the sonic landscapes they crafted just one night prior in drawing inspiration from the music of Loaded the performance of DSOTM just doesn’t stack up. I wrote a bit on this in the comment section of the previous post but I’ll lay it out here again because I think it speaks volumes about what both performances meant to the band. The DSOTM set was about doing it because they could but not necessarily about pushing that music forward or making it their own. In contrast, the performance of Loaded is all about putting their imprint on the music and drawing inspiration from the templates Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground set out for them to use as their starting point. Each song therein is something a bit more than just a replaying of the album; it is instead a retelling of it. Further, when you look at the songs on Loaded and which ones have become a part of the ongoing rotation to whatever frequency they tend to play them you have several songs with performances scattered over the years and one that has become a bona fide jam vehicle in Rock and Roll. Cool It Down, Oh! Sweet Nuthin, Lonesome Cowboy Bill, Sweet Jane, and Head Held High have all been performed in the years since 10.31.1998 (the last two only once) and Rock and Roll has graced the stage more than 70 times since. On the other hand, not a single song from DSOTM has been played since that night and the only tune off of that album to have been played prior to that set (excepting the jam on Breathe from St. Paul, MN 10.25.1995) is GGITS which we learned during its debut tour of Spring ’93 was a joke performance in the Fish Fun Time slot. This is quite telling to me because more than just being setlist oddity it speaks to what the band thinks of their relative connection with the music on each album, respectively, and how they wanted to use that music to push their own boundaries. As we will continue to see along this tour the impact of the Loaded set on Phish was definite and significant. The same cannot be said for DSOTM. Again, I am not deriding the performance of DSOTM because as a setlist writing geek fan I definitely love that they did it and would have been floored in the moment had I not been some 5,000 miles away at the time. But the set I will continue to spin of these two is Loaded because I both love the VU tracks and the Phishy spin that the band put on it that night, not to mention the sonic impact it had going forward.

So after that fantastically fun and awe-inspiring run through Dark Side of the Moon they come back for the resolution of Harpua, skipping the fight section since Poster apparently didn’t make the trip out of Gamehendge with Jimmy and Harpua was probably off chasing a heard of multibeasts or something. Oddly enough, this is one of 13 show closing Harpuas of the 60+ times the song has been played, not even including the handful of encores where the song has appeared. Following this one the encore seems like a big afterthought but surprise surprise they break out another debut by playing Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit to send everyone out with an even bigger smile on their pie-eyed faces. Sure, it isn’t the cleanest take ever and Trey flubs the lyrics a tad but it is just another dig at those who skipped this one. If ever anyone asks you to explain what you mean when you say “you just never know what could happen at a show and that’s why we keep going back” you can point to this night as a prime example for why that is our mindset.

So summing up we have some top notch jams for the listen back: Tube, Drowned, JJLC, LxL, YEM, and maybe the Disease if you like ’em compact and coming in hot. Plus if you have never heard it you really do need to listen to the entirety of the Harpua Suite to understand this night. Heaven forbid you skip out on the skip set to end them all…

*yeah, not certain that is a real verb tense but let’s just go with it. it sounds good, right?

Something’s Got A Hold On Me And I Don’t Know What — Las Vegas, NV 10.31.1998

Phish — Thomas & Mack Center — Las Vegas, NV 10.31.1998

I  Axilla>PYITE>Roggae, BOAF, Sally->CDT>Lawn Boy, Mike’s->Frankie Says>Weekapaug

II Who Loves the Sun, Sweet Jane, RnR, Cool It Down, New Age, Head Held High, Lonesome Cowboy Bill>I Found A Reason, Train Round the Bend, Oh! Sweet Nuthin

III Wolfman’s->Piper>Ghost

E  Monkey>Reprise

There are few days as special in the world of Phish as Halloween. It is a holiday that leans right into the path of so much that draws many of us to this band, what with the juxtaposition of dark and light, the opportunity to fool those around you — as well as to prank the unknowing in a somewhat playful/harmless manner, and the opportunity for some form of story telling or showmanship either by tale, costume, or other manifestation. Phish has made it a somewhat regular thing to capitalize on the potential of Halloween in taking their game to a different level having played shows on Halloween in 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990, and 1991 before really taking things up several notches to something we will get to shortly. Those early Halloween shows leaned on the antics and musical playfulness of the quartet, offering up unique takes on setlist construction not to mention some interesting teases, jams, and cover tunes. These are all fun shows but nothing you are putting on a top whatever list or recognizing as an evolutionary shift in the band’s outlook.

But that all changed in 1994 when they took on the challenge of playing a full three set show where the middle set was a musical costume of a classic album, in this case the wonderful White Album by The Beatles. This was a very important night for several reasons, not the least of which being that they took the time to learn an entire double LP’s worth of new songs (28 tunes if you are counting at home) during the course of a lengthy Fall Tour that saw them in the midst of further developing their already considerable skills at crafting engaging, psychedelic, improvised music. The next year the stakes got higher as they played on the fanbase’s predilection towards debate in teasing several songs over the Fall Tour that were not a part of the eventual Halloween album Quadrophenia, even going so far as to open the ‘costume set’ with a prerecorded bit of the fan favorite choice Thriller as one last ‘trick’ before diving headlong into the arena rock concept album (for what would be my 1st Halloween spent with Phish). That night was a game-changer of sorts as they were only really able to play that album once they had graduated to the large arenas that they were at that point finally popular enough to book and fill consistently and as such they chose a perfect album to mark the occasion. The following year they continued the trend of choosing albums that were influences on the band, playing the one that would begin a major transformation in the sound of the band, Remain in Light by The Talking Heads. Another thing that changed with this performance was the band handing out a “Phishbill” for the first time to fans attending the show as a way to get everyone ready for the set to come as well as to provide some of the band’s reasoning behind playing that album… not to mention some funny fake ads and such. Much can be (and has been) written about what this performance meant for the future sound of the band but we will leave that to others since our focus today is on the next album to come in the Halloween hit parade.

But before we get to that we should also note that in most cases, particularly since they began the album-as-costume phase of their career, the sets surrounding the costume set are filled with some of the highest level of Phish musicianship one could want. I’ll give you a few examples because I tend to do that…

  • 1994:  start with the Simple>Divided if you aren’t into raging Frankensteins to open shows.. the bliss starts in the Simple and the Divided takes off to the stratosphere. Julius goes full hose. Reba is quite possibly one of the best versions of the song ever. Bowie is strong though straight forward, Antelope elevates like it did back then, Harpua has a fun story about the Vibration of Death, and overall the playing here is about what you’d expect from Fall ’94 which is to say top notch.
  • 1995:  another high quality Divided after the only Icculus opener ever and a Harpua with Mike taking story telling duties for a quite memorable one bookend this energetic first frame and then after the theatrics of the costume we have a 40+ minute YEM for the ages, a rambunctious JJLC with fantastic horn work out of The Truth, one of those awesome horn-filled Suzys that make you wish every Suzy had horn accompaniment, and then an encore only Phish could dream up: bluegrass My Generation culminating in instrument destruction and Fish’s kit being blown up.
  • 1996:  Sanity>Highway to Hell opening combo should tell you where things are headed here. The uplift of the soaring Caspian gives way to a Reba that is downright devilish but it is really the third set here that captivates (to say nothing of the costume itself). Karl Perazzo sticks around for the whole third set adding extra sauce onto everything, particularly the groove clinic Simple and the show closing Suzy (with horns again).

So you can see how these three years of Halloween shows have set the fanbase up for some pretty lofty expectations heading into the 1998 — especially with the band having taken 1997 off from Halloween, starting tour about two weeks later in this venue we are discussing today.

Now, I was not at this show as I mentioned in an earlier post so I cannot personally speak to the experience but all of my friends who were as well as everything I have read indicates that this was an off-the-rails-careening-down-the-mountain-shouting-to-the-moon-through-the-open-window kind of night. In a certain sense, everything up to this point had led the band to this place. They had a track record of playing seminal albums quite well on this date, they had begun another sonic evolution, the fanbase was just about as big as it would get, they were hot on the release of a new album, and they had the confidence and swagger of a band that could try and succeed whenever they took the stage. Looking back this was a potential recipe for disaster and I think that may have contributed somewhat to the mixed bag of responses you will get if you poll fans about what they think of this show and also the album that they played.  But we will get to all of that…

The first set kicks off with an energetic combo of Axilla>PYITE to get everyone moving before heading into a relatively downtempo Roggae which shows off the new ambient feel while they work their way through the end jam. Nice version but feels like table setting at best. BOAF offers up a bit more than the version from LA two nights ago but is still firmly within the song structure. Just as you are starting to think this set may just lope along in setting up the costume they start up Sneakin’ Sally for a take that is a far cry from the funky versions of its resurgence starting on the NYE Run of 1997. Here the funk drops out fairly early for an atmospheric jam (with a quick Superbad tease out of Trey) that is definitely headed somewhere that isn’t patently clear until Trey starts to bring the energy up and up towards the full segue into Chalkdust Torture. This provides a rocking lift midset but even this does not have the normal edge that CDT carries, staying somewhat diminished until they head into the lounge act portion of the show for Page’s take on Lawn Boy. After that they crank up Mike’s for what should (and will) inevitably be the set closing suite of songs. Trey kicks in the loops right away after the lyrical portion of Mike’s and the band proceeds in a patient, almost purposefully plodding fashion with a Simple tease along the path before they make a nice transition into Frankie Says. This would be the first of two times Mike’s and Frankie are paired (07.14.2000 Polaris Amphitheatre) and it works, I suppose, though I personally would have liked more out of the Mike’s before they made the move. After that breezy interlude we get the punctuation mark on the set we wanted in an amped up Weekapaug closer that leaves nothing on the table. Trey goes electro in fitting in as many notes as possible to his solo and the crowd heads off to setbreak to try to figure out which songs from the Phishbill will make good jam vehicles.

Which brings us to the meat of the matter. For this costume set the band took on The Velvet Underground’s Loaded album which is in and of itself a controversial choice if you know the history of that band. If you read the linked allmusic summary in the previous sentence you will get the full story but the gist is that when VU made the shift to Atlantic Records they were asked to make an album “loaded with hits” and without the sex and drugs that typified their experience and thus their sound. Due to the politics of the band amongst other factors this album is heavy on Lou Reed with more polish than the “full band” albums that proceeded it. And to top it off, before it was released Lou left the band which pretty well sealed the deal on where they were at that stage. That being said, it is a solid album full of some great tracks and it is really a good entry point to this highly influential band. If you like it I would recommend digging into their back catalog to find the live stuff and other albums that are more in line with the reality that was VU.

In a way though this set up all makes the album choice a good one for Phish to try to play on Halloween. It is not so obscure that there are no tracks that someone who has listened to rock radio or went to college in the past 15 years or so would not be able to recognize at least one, probably Sweet Jane. The music presented here covers several different styles (sounds like a band we know…) and offers a template for further exploration if desired (again…). The subject matter in the lyrics is oddly appropriate when you consider where Lou Reed was mentally when writing these songs and compare that to where Phish is at this stage in their career, riding a peak with a big record contract and fabulous touring success but perhaps not necessarily as content as the surface suggests. And being an album that a sizable portion of their fanbase would not be familiar with it offered the opportunity to stretch outside of their norm a bit while exploring a new sound that felt more akin to this music than to what they had played only three and four years prior. Now, I have put this all into perspective by stating that I had already found VU long before this time, actually right around the time I discovered Phish back in 1990 because high school is a time when many of us start to really explore our options musically. I had always thought that there were songs that Phish should be covering by VU but it just never happened. And with that in mind my happiness in finding out the next day that they had covered this band just raised my opinion of Phish more if that is even possible.

The truth is that they had covered two songs from this album before. The most prevalent was Lonesome Cowboy Bill which popped up three times in the Fish Fun Time slot in 1995 (SEE! That slot still haunts us!!) with Sweet Jane being debuted earlier in 1998 at MPP (08.08.1998) along with another cover of an entirely different sort, Sabotage. Neither of these covers made much of an impression at the time though you have to wonder if playing it only a couple months before this set was any indication of what the album would be that fall. Tough to say considering that Summer 1998 is the Tour of Covers with at least one seeming to debut nightly but it does make you think in that wondering stoner kind of way. But outside of that and those throw away LCB covers this was all new to us.

The set starts out with a straight forward take on Who Loves the Sun?, a playful ditty that wonders about subjects darker than the music implies. Sweet Jane is next and while mostly about what you expect if you know the song Trey does take off for a blissy solo in the back half. Next up is a tune that is now quite familiar to Phish fans, Rock and Roll. Even here in the debut you can tell that this is a song they will enjoy playing as the elements are all there for what will become one of the more reliable cover jam vehicles Phish employs on a regular basis (74 total performances as of this writing). We get more of that electro trilling out of Trey (perhaps that was all setting up to this jam) and some brief full band exploration before they wrap it up nicely in getting to the next tune. That next song is Cool It Down, another tune that has had a bit of staying power considering it has graced six more setlists over the years. The feel here is almost CCR-ish at times, something they would clean up in subsequent performances but overall the performance is fine enough to keep everyone engaged. At this point even if you weren’t familiar with the songs I would think you would have to have liked what you heard but I’m not as jaded as some so maybe if you were expecting them to play Zappa or something you could be standing there with arms folded. Imagine how those guys felt in 2013!

Here in the midset they get a couple of songs to stretch out a bit starting with the aptly titled New Age. They play this true to form at first before elevating to a soaring full band jam. The performance here works on more than one level as they are paying homage to an influential band from their past while also looking ahead with the new sound they are forging on stage. I’m actually kind of surprised that this song has never been played again as it really fits in well with their sound and could be a great vehicle for improvisation if given the opportunity. Oh well. Next up is a punchy take on the rocking though oddly worded Head Held High which gets us to that Lonesome Cowboy Bill we have expected only this time it isn’t framed as an antic as it was three years ago. Here we have a faithful take on the song before they go beyond into a jam that ranges from groove-based rock to the ambient textures they have been developing of late, eventually leading right into a lovely, soft version of I Found A Reason. The ironic Train Round The Bend with its downtrodden lyrics counterpointing the uplifting melody and tone provides the intro to the set closing Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ that feels like it was written for this band to make their own. Listening here it is hard to believe this is the first time that they played the song. It is well executed with a soaring peak and quiet return that brings this set to a close quite nicely. Oddly enough it took until 3.0 for this song to come back with five performances between 2009 and 2013 before it hit the shelf again. And now everyone gets the lights shined on them to figure out what they thought of what went down in that second set and to prepare for what should (will) be a dichotomous set if ever there was one in Phish history.

But before we get to that let’s talk about this costume set which for quite some time was the worst received (overall) costume that the band ever assumed on stage. There are some who are not fans of the Velvet Underground’s music and that would be a perfectly acceptable reason for not preferring this set. And there are others who were not familiar with the band or album and therefore chose to not like it because why like something you don’t already know? I mean, why didn’t they play ::insert album of big band everyone has memorized from their youth here:: ? That would have been perfect! Except it wouldn’t have been perfect. You have to consider why Phish chose each album that they did to understand this I think, but the reality is that as much as the costume set is for the crowd it is also for the band. The White Album is the outlier a bit but it does fit in with the band in a lot of ways what with all of the different types of music on display and the way that they performed it. Quadrophenia is a direct link to that album having influenced them as kids and having the opportunity to play it loud and proud in a big, open arena. Remain In Light was the band adding more tricks to their bag, exploring the quirky polyphonic funk of The Talking Heads while simultaneously pushing their own music to much greater heights as a result. And here we have another formative album from their youth that offered an entirely new template to explore musically. More can be said about the Halloween cover albums to come in 3.0 but that is a long way down the line from this night.

And getting back to that night we have another set to discuss! If you thought that cover set was divisive wait until you start asking people about the Vegas Wolfman’s. To say that this version causes OPINIONS is an understatement. I could go through and give you a breakdown of what happens over this 30+ minute version but I really believe that this is one you need to hear and judge for yourself. Here is the PJJ version so that you can focus on the controversial jam itself. In some camps your take on this type of Phish jamming will either put you in good favor or remove you from it. This is not a jam that you kinda sorta maybe in the right mood like. You are either for deep, dark, hide-under-your-chair, ambient Phish or you are not. There really is no middle ground. Some people hate this type of Phish and point to it as an example of the band headed on the downward spiral that led us to Hiatus and eventually The Break Up. Others, like me, see it as a natural shift in exploring musical themes that they had previously overlooked or avoided for whatever reason. Here you get the band as patient as they ever could be, allowing the ideas to come to them rather than trying to force their ideas upon the music. There are lags and their are moments of true connection, there are a couple of teases (Lifeboy, Makisupa) and there and moments where Fish throws in some vocal tones, and overall it just works considering that it moves forward through several different phases on the path through the darkness. It is really about the best “Halloween” music they have ever played… until you factor in the 2014 album which is something else again that is not up for conversation here. Anyway, your opinion may vary from mine and that is totally fine because this band Phish is not one thing to all people. It is many different things to everyone, evolving to something else again as quickly as you become comfortable with what was the previous norm and for that we are all the better.

Towards the end of that aural adventure they build an uplifting groove before going into Piper and you may be thinking, “okay! here we go! let’s rock this shit!!” and it does in fact rock along quite nicely in the first jam. After the final refrain they follow that pulsating groove for a few minutes before they jump off and head into the start of Ghost. Things start off fine enough here in the first Ghost of the tour (with the last one in a show being a quite happy version at that surprise 10.15.1998 show) as Trey lays down the loops and they head into what seems like it will be a throw down version for the ages. But only a few minutes into the jam things get sparse before it just… ends. No journey, no peak, no resolution. Trey just leaves the stage. And everyone else eventually follows. Don’t believe me? Check out the video. Some will tell you Trey was pissed about how the crowd reacted to the VU set. Others will say he really had to pee and could not wait a second longer. Still others will claim that he was off his head on ::insert substance here:: that night and just lost focus and wandered off. True conspiratorians will watch the interaction between Trey and Mike around the 47:30 mark to point to how Trey had PLANNED IT ALL ALONG! IT WAS A PHALSE PHISH OPERATION!! I KNEW IT! Okay, wait. Let’s all just settle down here. The truth is obviously somewhere in between all of these rumors and theories. If he was really dosed as some suggest, why did he take the time to set all of his loops and grab the glass of water on his way by the back riser? And why does the rest of the band follow along with nary a double take or sideways look? And if he was really coming on that strong how does he play the encore so fluidly only a few minutes later? I think that what is really going on here is that they had a plan to leave this unfinished, perhaps to revisit it elsewhere along the tour (the next Ghost is a really good one a week from now in Chicago but we shall get to that). Musically, he had said what he wanted to in this show. Maybe there are other factors and it is a bit odd to just walk out like that mid song, but it wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last he did something like that. And with that the encores are the fun Monkey>Reprise pairing that caps this run at the Thomas & Mack quite nicely.

I have said a lot here and so I won’t go further into trying to deconstruct this show because I think it is clear where I stand here. I will tell you that for takeaways I would suggest Sally->CDT, Mike’s->Frankie>Paug (particularly the Paug), RnR, New Age, LCB>I Found a Reason, Oh! Sweet Nuthin’, and the entire third set. Yeah, there’s a lot but it is a three setter for Halloween. You should be spinning the entire show anyway. Now we have a night off and then a skip show up in Utah (he he he) before heading to Denver and off to the Midwest…

My Temperature Started To Rise — Las Vegas, NV 10.30.1998

Phish — Thomas & Mack Center — Las Vegas, NV 10.30.1998

I  Wilson>Meat>Mule>BATCS>Mule, Long Cool Woman, Antelope, Guelah, Lizards, Cavern

II  Stash->Manteca->Tweezer->NICU>Jam->Caspian>Golgi

E  Driver, Freebird

One night after the tour opener in Los Angeles the caravan had moved northwest along I-15 (or THE I-15 if you are of the west coast persuasion, I suppose) to that ode to human weakness in the desert, Las Vegas, for a pair of shows at the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of UNLV, but a short distance from the main concentration of decadence along The Strip and its surroundings. This was the second time the band had played the venue (and city) and the second Fall Tour in a row to include this stop as they had opened the 1997 Fall Tour in this very place.  The pair of shows they threw down here in 1998 builds off of what began in LA (though really with the ambient set from Lemonwheel if we are being honest…) while diving even further into the deep end with several notable jams. The anticipation and demand were very high for these shows, considering that the second night fell on one of the high holidays in the world of Phish, Halloween. But prior to that night’s surprises we are treated to an opening night that holds its own tricks and treats.

This first set starts out innocently enough with Wilson — as if any set can be considered ‘innocent’ when the first song relays the tale of a despot who enslaved a race of people all due to his desire for a certain book (yes, I am vastly oversimplifying it but you know what I mean) — and this first one of the tour gets a little extra sauce in the Trey solo as he brings out that electro run of notes that popped up several times in the first show of tour. From here they dip into the languid funkiness of Meat for the first time this tour. This bleeds right into something of a different sort entirely as they bring the energy up a few notches for Scent of a Mule. The first half of this goes true to form but once Page enters his solo that typically evolves into the klezmer duel they drop into a quite familiar groove which I would expect that many in the audience did not immediately recognize to be the Phish debut of the Jimmy Smith classic Back At The Chicken Shack. Let’s be honest though, the real lack of recognition in this crowd would come the next night when they came out for the second set’s cover album of one of the seminal bands of the late 60s, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves a tad. This debut proves to be a pretty straight forward take on the funky organ-led track which would be sprinkled into seven more setlists over the next two years before hitting the shelf. After working their way through this they return to the Mule to finish up the klezmer duel and to catch their breath for the first real ‘stop’ in the set considering the songs up until now had all been segued together.

At this point Trey banters with the crowd, stating that “they tell us this is the fifteenth anniversary of our first show” (or something. close enough.) in introducing the next song to be played. Even though future research would prove this statement to be incorrect (the actual first show occurred 12.02.1983, some 30 plus days later) it was a nice way to get a performance of Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress (that title is waaaaaay toooo looooong) out of the band after, oh, only 1,207 shows. They rock their way quite well through the Hollies’ radio-friendly hit from back in 1971 and there is a funny moment at the end as Fish tries to get them to restart it since he enjoyed it so much. The band says no. Next up is a mid-set Antelope which is always nice considering its ubiquity in the first and second set closings slots these days. Tonight’s version has that evolving ’98 sound in spades, first in the initial build where they go away from the song structure for several bars before coming back around to the main theme and layering in that ambient sound. Trey adds some color that directly relates back to last night’s Reba awesomeness as they climb towards the ‘rye rye rocco’ section and the eventual peak of this Lope. This is clearly a concerted musical shift for the band here and something we will be hearing time and again throughout this tour. Lope leads us to our old friend Guelah Papyrus and tonight’s is about as unique as any of the plethora of times they played it back in that Spring ’93 tour which is to say it is not unique at all. A lovely run through Lizards follows this with a decent solo out of Trey before we get our third mostly formulaic tune for the set closing Cavern. At this point, a set break is well deserved considering we have gotten not just a bunch of cannon fodder but some quality jams and hints of where things are headed here both in the short and long term.

After what must have seemed like an endless setbreak (they all feel that way though when you are holding your thoughts in your hands and trying to keep your eyes from eating your toes, don’t they?) the band comes out and tinkles around a tad before — just like last night — dropping into a song that has traditionally been a first set tune. The placement within the set is not the same, but just like Reba Stash has been played many more times in setting the table than in the latter half of the show, having only appeared in the second set (75), third set (2), or encore (2) slots 79 out of 398 total performances. That’s 19.85% for those counting at home and I did remove as many of the ‘sandwich’ double mentions as I could in getting that figure. The Stash from this night is not really the main attraction here as the jam gets to some sparser space fairly quickly, leaving the tension & release for another night’s version. It becomes evident fairly quickly that there is something brewing here and once Trey hints at the melody to Manteca you realize this was coming long before then. The segue is flawless and we get a drone-heavy take on the bustout — 219 shows with the last being part of what many consider their favorite Stash ‘suites’ ever. and who would blame them for thinking that about THIS! — which includes the lyrics before dying down into the ambient drone once more. Trey plays around for a bit here and again we start to hear the next song before it arrives as they stick the landing on yet another perfect segue, this time into Tweezer.

If you are looking for a bombastic Tweezer with a massive blissy peak and a bunch of shred, this will not be the one for you. Nor is it an off-the-reservation-face-melting psychedelic juggernaut. But this is a great version for entirely different reasons. With the benefit of hindsight we can now understand what they were doing here (and in several of these jams we have mentioned from the prior show and the first set tonight) as it builds off of the ambient vibe they are laying down while also pretty well providing the blueprint of what the Halloween set will be, if you know anything about that band’s style and musical execution. I want to save the full discussion of that correlation for the next post where we will cover all of that but I cannot ignore it either. So let’s focus on the other aspects that make this a noteworthy jam. First, they play around the Tweezer theme for a bit in the typical way before Trey lays down a ‘drone’ loop that provides the background for everything to come. With this still in place the band begins adding more and more layers to this soundscape, Page providing dark intonations, Mike pulsating on the bass, Fish offering ideas and colorful fills/crashes, and Trey harkening back with Manteca teases and moving elsewhere with teases of the Joe Tex standard You Better Believe It Baby. That song doesn’t sound like something that would work in this context, but it does and you have to wonder if Trey was making a purposeful nod with the song title (as in “yeah, this is really happening. you better believe it, baby!”) or just riffing on the old soul tune as it happened since we all know he tends to bring things he had been listening to off stage up with him.

This jams proceeds for a bit before Trey changes his direction and gets more melodic hinting at another transition that eventually reveals itself to be (oh, just yet another) wonderful segue into NICU once Trey changes keys to get into the song properly. At this point you start to wonder if these were all planned out or if it occurred organically which would make them pretty much the only organic things in the venue that night, all things reconsidered…  Anyway, they run through the punchy tune in an almost lazy manner and you start to mentally think about what the end set will involve here but then instead of heading to the final “blap” moment Trey keeps the drone tone on, Page adds a bit, and Fish hits the kits a few times before they let the drone take over and then all dive back into the deep end for a few minutes of very very telling music (again with the foreshadowing!). They take this out a bit, with Trey providing melody and Page/Mike the baseline — honestly, at one point or another it feels like it could fully go into about four decidedly different songs (e.g. Norwegian Wood) — but then it gets quite dark and sparse and Trey brings us up into the light of Caspian.

Now, I am not exactly the biggest Fuckerpants out there (well, except for the Magna Tweezerpants, but THAT’S DIFFERENT and you should go spend the 34 plus minutes it takes to be changed by it if’n you aren’t already in the know) but this just works here. Song placement can often cause head scratching worse than a Head and Shoulders commercial but on this night and in this set in particular there is none of that. This is the resolution to the darkness we have had all set. It provides an uplifting exclamation point on what was a set quite unlike most in the past, which is not meant to put an arbitrary value or ranking on it. Trey has a nice solo here above the band and even here you can here the difference in the full sound they are putting out as Fish rides the crash cymbal and Mike has a diminished feel to his playing that somehow adds depth to counterbalance the uplifting notes coming from Trey, not to mention Page as he comps along on the baby grand. From here we have our last segue of the night in arriving to the Golgi closer that offers a happy exclamation point to the set and even though it isn’t really in congruence musically with everything that came before it, the placement is solid and the reference is clear as this was by all accounts a very difficult ticket to procure. Your encores tonight are another Trey-acoustic take on the new tune Driver followed by the hilarious a cappella of Free Bird, one of my personal favorite tongue-in-cheek tunes in the canon.

It is clear already that here two shows into this tour there are simply so many more things to cover than in the old, straight ahead shred days from five plus years prior. I would apologize for my typewritten vomiting of effusive praise but I am not sorry. For as much as I loved the old school Phish with their precision and attack it has also been their ability to evolve seemingly on a nightly basis that has kept me coming back again and again. And I know I am definitely not alone in that regard. So with that I’ll cap this show by saying that this one includes a lot of not-so-subtle hints as to what would occur the night following, both in the costume set and beyond. There is a lot to cover with those three sets so let’s bring this one home by saying if you do not spin this entire show you should at the very least hit the Antelope, Stash->Manteca->Tweezer->NICU>Jam->Caspian and if you want to stretch a bit the Mule>BATCS>Mule and perhaps the Long Cool Woman bustout.

Rest up. Halloween shows have a tendency to propagate my loquacious leanings.

A Lullaby The Breezes Whisper – Sacramento, CA 03.22.1993

Phish – Crest Theatre – Sacramento, CA 03.22.1993

I  CDT, Guelah, Uncle Pen, Stash, Bouncin’, Rift, Weigh>Reba, Sparkle>Bowie

II  Golgi, Ice>Lizards>Tela>Wilson>Bag>Forbin’s>Mockingbird>Sloth>McGrupp, Mike’s>H2>Weekapaug

E  Grace, Fire

The night after Ventura Phish would be well north in the state, some 330 miles up in Sacramento for a Monday night affair that none could expect to go down in phishtory quite in the way that it has. For this night would bring forth a Gamehendge set, the first since 1991 (193 shows) and one of only five full such sets in the band’s history. This is a somewhat debatable number considering our man Trey’s propensity to wax on the topic in that way he does but we’ll just go with it for now because there are much better things about which to argue than the relative number of times Trey has filled an entire set with his narrative fiction. What is definitely true is that there are only two full such Gamehendge sets that follow this one: 06.26.94 (as one half of the famed “GameHoist” show from WV) and 07.08.94 (emerging out of the uber rare NO2 at Great Woods). But this one from Sacramento might be one of the more famous ones due to the ubiquity of the tapes during those formative years for so many fans and how quickly and widely the news of this one spread amongst the heads. It was for this that people often clamored and shouted for that mythical set to be dropped on them only to be once again thwarted.

But before we get to all of that we have a very engaging first set to talk about that gets overshadowed by what went down after the break. The band came out firing, throwing down a fun romp of a CDT that gets the room moving before dropping that second song Guelah they loved to play so much back then. Uncle Pen steps into the third slot tonight before a rocking straight forward Stash surprisingly fills in the four hole. This one is not big on the jamming but high energy and goes with the T&R over the dissonance. The midset segment of Bouncin, Rift, and Weigh is all well played with nothing major to write home about before we get to our girl Reba. This one is nicely done with a bit of a plinko-ish, sparse section in the jam that precedes Trey elevating things towards the end peak. It is a nice alteration of the standard theme for this tune. Next we get a quick Sparkle before the set closing Bowie where Trey throws in some cool phrasing at the start while throwing in several SL cues (Simpsons, Oom Pa Pa, Random Note, All Fall Down) before they devote a lot of energy towards the construction of major T&R in heading to the top of the mountain. Good payoff with that in mind and we are headed to the break still none the wiser for what is coming.

So then the second set starts out innocently enough with Golgi and you are thinking “okay, should be a fun one I guess” before they drop into Ice and you think “yeah, okay, this could work. I wonder how the Mike’s Groove will be tonight…” but then right when they are supposed to go into the jam portion of Ice the band shifts slightly and Trey starts in with the narration over the Ice tempo and it is kinda like when you are watching pro wrestling and everything is going along fine enough but then OH MY GOD IS THAT WILSON’S ENTRANCE MUSIC??? (I think you know what I mean and if you don’t you are clearly not ‘Murican which is fine, of course, but probably has you a little confused right now). And clearly some people there know what is happening right away while it takes others quite some time to figure it out (like, maybe the whole set). I’ll be interested to hear from anyone who was there about the mindset of the crowd. So now we are cruising through the narration and Trey uses this to set up each song along the way including Lizards, Tela, Wilson, Bag, Forbin, Mockingbird, Sloth, and eventually McGrupp. Musically, it is all pretty straight forward as the focus is on imparting the story in toto but really nothing is lost here as it is all well played and moves along quite nicely as they intersperse the narration with the music in the way you would want if you happened to be in the crowd that night. Granted, if you knew nothing of this band and stopped in to check them out and this is what you experienced it might not be the thing that adheres you to them for life – or perhaps it would be – but that is another facet to this whole conversation. The one bit of oddity is that during McGrupp Fish hops on the Madonna washboard to accompany Page during his solo section. Perhaps he was sad he wasn’t getting Fish Fun Time that night. So after they wrap up the GH Suite (with Trey noting there are several other related songs) they start up that Mike’s we knew was coming. This one rocks a bit more than what was typical then which is nice and then after the H2 the Paug picks right back up for a rollicking finish to the set while staying in bounds the whole way. Grace and Fire provide the encores tonight and the crowd is left to discuss what they just experienced as they wander out into the night.

Okay, look, let’s just get this out there right away. There are a couple of different camps on shows like this. If you are in it for the music (i.e. the hetty jamz, yo) then perhaps this isn’t your cup of tea and you think the hype about The Crest Theatre Show make this one highly overrated. I get that and there is no denying this position. On the other hand you have the Gamehendge fanboys who laud this for being a shining example of one of the handful of times they have blessed us with the performance of this mythic performance art and we should all be so lucky to even have the opportunity to spin it again (not to say anything of the wonderful sbd out there in circulation, of course!).This view is also acceptable because let’s face it we are a collection of a wide array of different levels of band nerds and that is just one strata voicing their opinion from the top of Mt. Icculus ( ::insert nasally snort laugh here:: ). And then there are the middling folk who can possibly appreciate it to a certain degree but are maybe left wanting for one reason or another – and that view is perfectly valid as well.

I suppose the point is that this is a perfect show to showcase the wide range of opinion about this band of ours. You have the high energy, on point playing of the first set with a few jams of note followed by something so special and sought after by a certain segment of the crowd that it is still talked about more than 20 years after the last time that it happened. At this stage I’m not going out seeking a Gamehendge set but I do know that if I happen to be in the room when it happens I will be happy as hell to be a part of the experience. Which is not something every fan will say. So in the end I’ll tell you that should spin the Stash, Reba, and Bowie from the first set here along with the second set pretty much from Ice on (though at that point you might as well add in the Golgi because that’s only another 5 minutes of your life, right?).

After a night off the band would be in Santa Rosa for a Wednesday night show which includes the good ol’ Prison Joke, a hot Melt, and a mess of other somewhat messy stuff. Should be interesting to discuss…

And They Just Couldn’t Wait — Atlanta, GA 02.21.1993

Phish — The Roxy Theatre — Atlanta, GA 02.21.1993

I  Suzy>Buried Alive, PYITE, Uncle Pen, Horn>CDT, Esther>DaaM>Bouncin>Antelope

II  Axilla, Curtain>Stash->Manteca->Stash->Lizards, Gin->HYHU>Rosie>HYHU, Coil, BBFCFM

E  Adeline, GTBT->Paul and Silas->Pig in a Pen

How do you follow up one of the better nights (up to that point) in your live musical career? Do you try to top it? Do you just say ‘screw it’ and go out there knowing you cannot live up to the previous show? Or do you do what you do which is to treat each night on stage as the special snowflake that it is with the understanding that the people who came out tonight are not the same crowd as the night prior and it is your job — nay your duty — to do whatever you can to try to melt their faces with the music you play on this night? Rhetorical questions, obviously, but this show points out the challenge of being a touring musician, playing your fifth show in as many nights (not to mention knowing they had to hit the road to make it to Gainesville, FL for the next night) and working as hard as you can to achieve that connection you know is out there just waiting to be found and fostered so that the fans that came to this show get as much out of it as you can give them. On this night, planted firmly in the shadow of the one that preceded it we get a little bit of all of the above as the band brings as much energy and musicality as they can to the proceedings while also clearly fighting the fatigue and ‘hangover’ from the prior few nights’ shows. This is not to say that the show suffers but in reality it is not quite to the level of the two nights that preceded it, hetty jams therein notwithstanding. But let’s get into things to see what went down, shall we?

The first set kicks off with a somewhat rare different intro to Suzy as they harmonize a line a cappella before diving into the song proper. This isn’t the first time (or last) that this would occur (summer 1992 has a few, for example). Trey slips in a Tweezer tease along the way, perhaps reflecting back to the previous night’s epic second set but also hinting they are raring to get after it again. They take this into a quick Buried Alive and then run through a still-pretty-rough-around-the-edges PYITE. Uncle Pen and Horn bring us then to CDT which rages in that way it did in the compact form it maintained in this era and then we are on to Esther. Page toys around with the intro here, adding some ‘reggae’ flavoring while the band banters about him ‘moving his organ’ so that everyone can see what he is doing. After Esther (which includes a Simpsons SL) they roll right into the tour debut of Dinner and a Movie before hitting Bouncin’ on their way to the big Antelope closer. This Lope has a Woody Woodpecker tease and some Secret Language (Random Note) but the real reason to spin it is the push towards taking this one outside the lines with Page adding to the dissonance and everything leading to a well executed peak. Now we are at setbreak and when not comparing this set to the show the night before people were probably starting to realize they should just go ahead and call out from work the next, oh, week or so and go ahead and follow the band down to Florida since the music was so hot. I know I would have had that conversation… at least with myself.

After the break the band comes out firing, ripping through Axilla and The Curtain before kicking off a Stash that will eventually become one of those Stashtecas the kids are always on about. This one is not as fully developed as the one from 11.14.1995 (part of that amazing set) or the one from 10.30.1998 (with the masterful transition both to Manteca and eventually to Tweezer and beyond) but it has its value. You get the typical Stash fare of ’93 in the first half and then they take it down quite low before making the move to Manteca (107 show bustout!) and then eventually bringing it back home for the release from Stash. They then go directly into Lizards after another fine segue and this one is about what you expect out of the Gamehendge tune. Next up is a somewhat rare for the time (heck it is rare now too!) second set Bathtub Gin that actually stretches a bit more than what is typical for the song in this era (remember, this song did not really take off as a potential jam vehicle until August ’93 with the Tampa and the probably-doesn’t-need-to-be-mentioned-because-you-should-already-know-it-by-heart Murat version) before heading directly into HYHU for Fish Fun Time. I’ll stop here for a second to point out that they were definitely trying to replicate something of the previous night with all of the seguery here but it doesn’t pop quite as much as that set perhaps due to the songs involved or the way it is handled, which is not to say it is ‘forced’ but that there is something just missing in the execution (even though the segues themselves are quite good here). Perhaps it was the total reckless abandon with which they attacked those songs the night before, throwing in teases and callbacks to prior songs while also layering them seemingly on top of each other. Really, it is just a matter of trying to compare one subjective thing to another. So we will move on with that. After HYHU we have some typical Fish banter, the second Rosie of the tour, and (after Rosie) Trey mentioning how they don’t want to leave the Roxy to head forward on tour. Aaaawww. Anyway, next is a fine Squirming Coil with Page doing his thing and then a typically fun BBFCFM closer to wrap up the set. After that you’d think we were about headed to the exists with a quick encore but they still have some tricks up their collective sleeves (and mumus) as after the standard a cappella number (Adeline tonight) they bring out another guest, the Reverend Jeff Mosier, who like Mr. Herring was also a member of the ARU family tree with their roots here in Atlanta. This is very notable sit-in as it is the first [known] example of him bringing his bluegrass stylings to the Phish stage but it most certainly would not be the last as we would all grow to know him quite well over the Fall 1994 Tour, specifically the Midwest section where he hopped on the bus and sat in for several tunes in several shows (aside: this is another tour I plan on eventually covering. but we will get to all of that eventually…). The first song they tackled was GTBT, putting a grassy spin on the typically raging rock classic before heading straight into the only repeat song of the three show run, Paul and Silas. This gives way to a direct transition to the Phish debut of Pig in a Pen which caps the night off and sends everyone home to check those finance boxes about that notion they had over setbreak.

As I said, this show is not the one from the previous night but it does have its highlights and takeaways. For respins, I’d recommend the Antelope, Stashteca, Gin->Lizards, and the encores if you are into the grassy side of the band. And with that in mind, if you have never taken the time to check it out, I highly recommend devoting the hour and twenty minutes required to watch the Phish Bluegrass Sessions video which was filmed along the path of the Fall 1994 tour, mostly by Rev. Jeff Mosier himself. Realistically, the biggest takeaway from this show is the introduction is allowed for that to happen at all considering his sit-in here and the background story which places he, Trey, and Mike playing bluegrass tunes backstage after this show for more than an hour to the crew, family members, and other hangers on before they hit the road and followed the lines headed south to Gainesville, FL. This summary isn’t the place to get into the full dissection of how that impacted the band but knowing that this is the probable starting point for it is important. So chalk another one up to the band finding the connection they can on the back end of a big run. And next we will dive into the band’s first ever shows in Florida which include some things that set the stage for the rest of the tour as it progresses further west.

The Resounding Echoes Grow — Atlanta, GA 02.20.1993

Phish — The Roxy Theatre — Atlanta, GA 02.20.1993

I  Golgi, Foam, Sloth, Possum?Weigh>ATR, Divided, Horse>Silent>Fluffhead, Cavern

II  Wilson>Reba>Tweezer->Walk Away->Tweezer>Glide>Mike’s->MMGAMOIO->Mike’s>H2->VoL->Kung->H2>Weekapaug->Have Mercy->Weekapaug->Rock and Roll All Night Jam->Weekapaug, FEFY>BBJ>HYHU>Terrapin>HYHU->Hood, Reprise

E  Sleeping Monkey

You see that setlist up there? That right there is Phish in a nutshell, particularly the Phish that existed in the early to mid 90s traversing the country time and again building the fanbase we have today one show at a time. By this time they were not quite well known but regarded highly enough in certain regions of the country that they could play a three night run more than 1,000 miles from their home base in Vermont to a sold out crowd and drop that show seemingly without any notice that something like this was coming. Sure, the signs are there if you listen closely enough to the earlier shows on the tour as they warmed up and reconnected after the short break between the 1992 New Year’s Run shows and the Spring 1993 Tour that began about a month later. But up to this point in the year they had not broken out this brand of Phish yet, choosing instead to focus on more straight forward shows that highlighted the songs on the recently released Rift album while interspersing older songs and some new music in as well. Maybe this was the “make up” show for the one at the Variety Playhouse from just under a year prior that got abandoned only a few a cappella numbers into the second set when a flood in the venue caused officials to not allow the band to plug in and play. Trey had hinted at that flood during the previous show’s Colonel Forbin’s Ascent narration but here, seemingly, was the payoff since that night was more about celebrating Fish’s birthday and inviting Jimmy Herring to join in for the back half of the second set than it was about making any kind of larger musical statement. So here it would be, the show that would eventually make this three night run legendary and part of the lasting canon of the band’s legacy, a show that was at least partially nodded to as recently as 07.27.2014 at Merriweather Post Pavilion what with that show’s twists, turns, and returns to the overarching theme of Tweezer while also stringing the majority of the music together without much of a break to to speak of once they took the stage for the second set. Rather than effervesce here about what this night means in the larger scheme let’s dive in and take a look at what really makes this show stand the test of time: the music. Because if nothing else it is the music that tells the story and everything else is simply statistical detail.

First set starts off innocently enough with a few warm up numbers in Golgi, Foam, Sloth before Trey seems to wake up a bit for Possum (this is not to say the playing is off before this just that they really get going as of the Possum). This is your typical straight forward rocking Possum and by now four rocking songs into the set the crowd is fully warmed up as is the band. This brings us to the always fun Weigh and a fine ATR before a Divided that is clean, powerful and pretty… like my wife! Horse>Silent gets us to a perfectly serviceable Fluff and Cavern ends the set which all feels like table setting. There’s nothing bad in this set but nothing great either. You just aren’t going to have a legendary set on your hands when Divided and Fluffhead ‘carry’ the weight of the set. But it is a first set which is meant to focus more on songs than jams anyway so there is nothing wrong with calling the set what it is and realizing that it is all done simply to set the stage for what they get into after the break. It feels like they are just getting ready to drop IT all on us and holy shit are they ever.

Strap in, this second set summary may take a while…

So the second set starts off with one of those slow-ish Wilsons where they drop some secret language (Simpsons here) and a tease (Iron Man – this is just the start of much much much more to come in this set) before ratcheting things up to the peak before working towards Reba and this is a keeper version to be sure. The pace is quick, the playing is tight, and Trey slips in some Woody Woodpecker teasing which works perfectly in this jam that also has some inklings of Stash and Lizards mixed in before they go into Tweezer. From here things start to really get nutty as this one has not only a Low Rider jam but some Das EFX teases (seriously. go spin this and then the Tweezer and you will hear it) before going into Walk Away (tour debut and 159 show bustout!) and then back to Tweezer. Then they segue into Glide which has an undercurrent of Tweezer from Trey as they move through Glide before they go into Mike’s Song (while stretching the Gliiiiiiiiiiide out into the Mike’s intro which is nice). At this point I should probably just start another paragraph because shit gets real.

Mike’s starts up and they are having fun with the lyrics, changing it up a bit and then the next thing you know Trey is playing Reba, then they are playing Tweezer, then Lizards, the Wilson “blap boom”, then a bit of Stash, then back to Mike’s before ho hum I guess we’ll just do MMGAMOIO before going back to Mike’s and then why don’t we just move over into H2 now?Oh and by the way we’re going to do the Vibe of Life with some N2O undercurrents and add in Kung too while we are at it, tease Entrance of the Gladiators and NO2 and then maybe we’ll finish up and head to Paug, ok? Oh, you thought we were done having fun here? Now let’s just go ahead and rip into that Paug before executing a great segue into Have Mercy over the Paug groove (ho hum, only 669 shows between appearances there), working back to Paug, getting into a Rock and Roll All Nite jam (complete with a fan on vocals – in costume as Gene Simmons no less), and then returning to Paug to cap that off. Yeah. So let’s just take a little breather here and reflect on what just happened.

Got your wits about you now? Okay, let’s keep going… FEFY>BBJ>Fish Fun for Terrapin ought to do it. Heck they even throw a tease in there as HYHU gets teased in Terrapin (which also includes a lengthy series of band and crew introductions). 20 minutes later give or take and we are on to a wonderfully open Hood that provides a nice punctuation mark on a fantastic set of phish. This one goes to eleven. Then the Reprise closer really seals the deal and Monkey provides the denouement it typically does for such things in the encore.

So I’m going to tell you straight up that if you are not familiar with this show you really need to just go ahead and spin it straight through. I get if the ’93 sound isn’t your thing and you like the big open jams of later years or cowfunk or ambient washes or whale’d out jams or songs about doing lines with basketball players (that’s what that song’s about, right?) but this? This is canonical phish.This is a brand of phish that many of us cut our teeth on. I have joked in the past that this set is what the 07.27.2014 set II wants to be when it grows up and honestly there’s some truth in it. Sure, they were harkening back to this sort of set with that show but this is what that came from and what people talk about when they refer to ‘turn on a dime’ mastery phish. It is tough to say now how much of this set was planned ahead of time and how much happened in the moment but considering the setting and time period my money is on it all being a spontaneous outpouring of everything up to that point from the band. This is a touchpoint show that can be pointed to as one of those moments when it all came together. The wonderful thing is that for some bands this would be their peak, the thing to which they aspire and a show that they would talk about longingly in the future as ‘that time when it all made sense and just worked’ for them as musicians. But this is Phish we are talking about here and this show is exciting not only for the music it provided us but also that it is just one of many false peaks along the path as they continually challenge themselves and alter their course by pushing the boundaries of what their music can be.

I know I have already written a lot here and I don’t want to go on for too long (too late!) but this show epitomizes Phish in so many ways. Here we have evident the full gamut of Phish with their tight playing, high energy, playfulness, antics, mastery of varied forms of music, ability to alter the show based on the mood of the room, and their eagerness at pushing the envelope. This show not only culminates everything that came before it (recall that the better 1992 shows are high on energy, segues, teases, etc. but a bit light on open jamming) while also pointing openly to the future that lay ahead. It is the type of show you give to people who want to be introduced to the band just to show them the possibilities of what Phish can do. By this time I had enough of a baseline with Phish that when the tapes reached me (pretty quickly, I might add. this show hit heavy circulation very quickly) that I could hear what this show meant in the context of where they were as a band at that stage but if this was your first show or the first tape someone handed to you, honestly, how would you react to it? To my mind, this was the type of thing Trey was always referring to when he talked about people coming to their shows and not being ‘in on the joke’. Just imagine having no baseline for this band and having something like this be your entry point. It would be totally polarizing but hopefully if you are in the right frame of mind could catapult you into the world we all inhabit. This is truly the type of tape I would give to a friend to see if they “get it” when they ask what phish is “really” about (back in the day – now that story is different).

And if this type of show isn’t your thing? That’s fine. We all came into the scene at different stages and for that reason perhaps appreciate different aspects of what make the band what they are to us. But even if this isn’t your favorite flavor of Phish you have to realize the significance not only of what this set means musically but also in the larger picture of where they were headed soon after this. The jams would only get bigger and more open from here but the spirit of this show shines forth in other classics that came after it such as 05.07.1994 (Bomb Factory, of course), 06.22.1994 (Columbus, OH), 07.13.1994 (Patterson, NY), 12.01.1994 (Salem, OR), 12.14.1995 (Binghamton, NY), 06.27.2010 (Merriweather Post Pavilion), and the aforementioned 07.27.2014 (also MPP). It would eventually pave the way for the four song set era where sets generally did not have much of a stop if at all in getting through those massive jam vehicles. Now it is yet another tool in the arsenal that they can call on or ‘get to’ when pushing the music forward. And having such a versatile band is one of the things that attracts us to following them, is it not? I mean, who would want to go see basically the same show time and again year after year? That’s just boring.

You have read more than enough on this topic so with that I will end this post. If you do not yet have this show memorized I strongly urge you to get on that homework. There are much worse things you could do with your time than to revel in the jaw-dropping greatness of what still stands as one of the top shows the band has ever played.

The Room Begins to Spin — Atlanta, GA 02.19.1993

Phish — The Roxy Theatre — Atlanta, GA 02.19.1993

I  Cup, Rift, Melt, Fee->Maze, Forbin’s>Mockingbird>Sparkle, MFMF, Poor Heart>Bowie->Moby Dick>Bowie

II  Jim, Ice, Paul & Silas, YEM>Ya Mar, BBJ, Lawn Boy, Funky Bitch, MSO, HYHU>Love You, HYHU, Llama, Grace

E  Bag

Ah, the last (of two) of Fish’s birthday shows… and the first of what would become quite a notable run in the band’s history — one that was eventually released as a high quality boxset for you to enjoy. Incidentally, this would be the first three show run at any single venue by the band since 1990 (not including the three shows at the Greek in August ’92 when they opened for Santana each night) when they did it twice: The Front in Burlington, VT (03.09-11.1990) and The Inferno in Steamboat Springs, CO (04.12-14.1990). Let me just start out by saying that the thirteen shows on the tour that lead up to this run all pretty much pale overall in comparison to what happens here. Sure, there are individual jams that might outpace some of the stuff here (and honestly this first night is probably the weakest in overall jamming considering it was the Fish birthday party and Herring sit-in night) but from the very start you can tell they mean business. Maybe they are finally warmed up, maybe it is the presence of other great musicians in the room, maybe it is Fish’s birthday, or maybe it is something else, but whatever it is they have IT here. So let’s get down to it, shall we?

The first set kicks off with Cup and this is definitely the best version of the song yet with Trey going big with his solo and Page really giving the baby grand the business. This carries over into Rift, the oft played number that hasn’t really clicked much this tour. This is definitely being used as a warm up tune here but Trey is already on fire, totally taking it where he wants without any inklings of borked notes or missed opportunity. Then we get a fast paced Melt that has a lot of Trey out in front, bending notes in ways that hint at where this song is destined to go in a few short months. But the real takeaway here is a lead line Trey adds on the journey back towards the main theme that takes this thing next level. There really is a lot packed into this relatively short version. Fee is next and while ‘normal’ has a nice segue into a positively smoking shredder Maze. Trey is hitting all the notes tonight and this Maze is Trza personified. Then we get a fantastic Forbin narration that starts as a callback to the last time they were in Atlanta and got flooded out of the Variety Playhouse (which may be another reason they are taking it up a notch) but then goes to something else entirely in the way the good Trey stories do before a beaut of a Mockingbird completes the tale (listen for a ‘Charge!’ tease in the Mockingbird). Sparkle and MFMF come in next and then there’s a Poor heart that again showcases just how on point Trey is this night. I can’t believe I’m even calling out Poor Heart but here we are. But now we get to the meat which is the set closing Bowie->Moby Dick>Bowie which starts out with some fun teases (Jingle Jangle Jingle, Happy Birthday, Moby Dick, Happy Trails), birthday shoutouts, and whatnot before heading into the debut of Moby Dick (with vacuum, natch) and then they get into the Bowie itself for a very nice jam and some more Moby Dickery in the wrap up of Bowie. Great capper to that set and we are left wanting more as we head to the setbreak to check out the Spanish Baroque architecture of this old venue.

Second set starts out with a fine example of where Jim is at this stage (which is still about a month from going ‘away from script’) but again Trey is exerting his clear influence on this night. Then we get the fourth Ice to follow Jim on this tour (and it won’t be the last) in a fairly standard version (another tune that didn’t get weird until a bit later). Quick dip in the bluegrass for Paul & Silas and then a midset YEM which is well played but without any major takeways other than “yeah, that was pretty nice”. A fun Ya Mar with Mike babble chanting and a ‘Happy Birthday’ tease is next followed by BBJ (Charge tease) and Lawn Boy with Page noting the presence of his parents in the crowd before we get to Jimmy Herring joining the fray for the remainder of the set. First up is Funky Bitch and Trey and Jimmy trade solos in a fiery version where they seem to be checking each other out a bit. MSO is up next and Jimmy gets a solo before they cut it to bring Fish out for Love You where, along with Fish beginning a joke of introducing Jimmy Herring repeatedly for the rest of the show and another ‘Happy Birthday’ tease, Jimmy gets a solo and Fish is presented with a Flavor Flav style neck clock to help him get to the bus on time as is part of the running bet thing this tour (there is no mention of what the bet is up to at this stage though). There’s also some fun in trying to get Col. Bruce Hampton up on stage but that doesn’t happen so we will just move on then. After all of this fun you get a seriously shredded Llama with Page, Jimmy, and Trey all taking solos before an a cappella Grace closer and then the bustout Bag (84 shows woo!) encore that was apparently a gift for someone else’s birthday who they may have met the night before or something. I don’t know. Go check the show notes on .net or .com for more on that ‘Hack’.

Overall this is clearly one of the better shows they have played on the ’93 tour so far and shows they are hitting stride in fine fashion. As said above, this is not the big jam show if you are looking for that but the playing is sharp, the band is clearly having a great time, the sit-in does not detract from the vibe of the show at all (in fact it probably adds to it), and you can tell they are settling in for bigger things to come from this weekend run. Interestingly enough, outside of YEM there really isn’t a big vehicle in the second set, something that will bear fruit for us in the next show, one that is really where the legend of this run grew and one of those shows that you can point to as a taking off moment for both the band and scene in general. The takeaways here are probably the Melt, Bowie->Moby Dick>Bowie and maybe Llama but this one is more than the sum of its parts. Go spin it for Fish’s sake as he hasn’t gotten a birthday show since this one.

We’d Be Remiss…

…if we didn’t at least mark the occasion of the anniversary today of one of the canonical shows in all of phishtory. Yes, I am stepping outside of the current project to do this but if you cut your teeth on mid-90s tapes then you definitely had this one in your collection. And really, I don’t need to provide much introduction to this one as it is known far and wide simply by the venue within which this one went down on that spring night in Texas. A show with more highlights than a middle aged housewife trying to hold on to her youth. A show that is a touchpoint for the transition from the speed jazz era that evolved in 1993 on to the bigger psych era that emerges in 1994 and extends through 1995 and into that un-loved but quite strong in retrospect transitional year of 1996. And definitely a show that holds up after twenty-one years as being one that you can give to even your most ardent non-Phish detractor “friends” as evidence in fighting the argument you know you have had more than a few times with the ininitiated.

In case you do not have the setlist memorized as I do, I [re]present to you (hopefully not for the first time because, seriously, how could you possibly have missed this one?) that show:

Phish – The Bomb Factory – Dallas, TX 05.07.1994

I  Llama, Horn>Divided, Mound, FEFY>Mule, Melt, If I Could, Suzy

II  Cup>Sparkle>Tweezer->Sparks->Makisupa->Digi Delay Loop Jam->Sweet Emotion Jam->Walk Away->Cannonball Jam->Purple Rain>HYHU Jam->Reprise

E  Grace, Sample

So go spin this classic today by whatever means suit your fancy as it can be found for streaming (most of the streaming sites lack the encores), for download, or get it in its full LivePhish glory (also available on Spotify). And if you choose either of those last options be sure to stick around for the ‘filler’ which includes the phenomenally abstract Funky Bitch->Jam, Yerushalayim Shel Zahav from 11.22.1994 as well as the extended, ‘reggae’ Dog Log from the soundcheck of 05.07.1994.

There’s really nothing more that needs to be said here. Why aren’t you listening already?!?