At Least You Won’t Die Wondering — Boise, ID — 09.14.1999

At Least You Won’t Die Wondering — Boise, ID — 09.14.1999

In between the four show Northwest Run that opened Fall Tour and the four in California that would follow Phish stopped off in Idaho for their second ever show in the Gem State, the first since having played here on the Fall 1995 tour, and the last show to date in this oddly shaped kinda of also northwestern state but not usually talked about in that way unless by geographers and who listens to those map people anyway? The point is this was an outlier show that a lot of people didn’t bothering making the side trip for for the sake of about 450 miles of driving. You would think that after the prior Fall and that big time “you snooze you lose” gotcha show on 11.02.1998 folks would’ve gotten the message but alas, such was not the case. It wasn’t nearly as empty as that night but also not exactly a sellout by any means either. Judging from just the setlist you could have possibly have been forgiven for deciding to hang with your friends and recharge in the Bay Area ahead of Shoreline. But you would have been wrong, oh so very wrong…

Phish — Boise State University Pavilion — Boise, ID — 09.14.1999

I Chalkdust, Sloth, Curtain>Waste, Cup>WTU?, Wading>Farmhouse, Nellie Kane, Taste, Rocky Top

II Peaches>Bag>Gumbo, Disease>Frankenstein

E Simple, HMB

Notes Out On Sandpaper

–161 show bustout of Peaches En Regalia

–show has been released officially by LivePhish and it sounds awesome

The Central Theme

Wasting no time to let everyone stretch their quads and get limbered up for the show Phish starts out with the contained rawk of a typically strong Chalkdust Torture. I say typically because this version is pretty “typical” of what the song was in this era, mainly used for the energy boost and as a means of Trey-led shred. This version fits that bill perfectly, getting the place moving and setting the tone for the night to come. The Sloth continues the grimy fun as the first of four straight tour debuts and already you can tell there is some swagger coming from the stage tonight. Being a band that loves to prove everyone wrong you can imagine the backstage conversation around showing once again that people should’ve made the trip. That doesn’t really come to the surface just yet as we have a ways to go but still putting The Curtain in the three hole and ending up with that trio of tunes to open is definitely sending a message. For the maybe like three other people like me who care about this sort of thing, this is the only time those three songs have been played in sequence and only nine times have they ever even been played in the same show.

Maybe you are like me and back before the (With) part of the Curtain suite returned every time the band started up The Curtain you got giddy starting to wonder what song they would drop into immediately following. Maybe you aren’t. And that’s okay. But this is clearly not the place for you if those sorts of things aren’t at least interesting to you cuz it is kind of my schtick I suppose. Anyway, when that Curtain drops into Waste, well, let’s just say that is not the whizz bang jump one expects there. Normally The Curtain leads to something with a punch, perhaps a vehicle or something full of energy. Sure, there are a few ballad drops here and there but that’s not really the “norm” for the song. Who am I kidding though. Phish does what they want when they want. So if we are getting the first Waste of the tour out of Curtain than so be it. This remains the only time that these two songs have been paired thusly and the Waste is perfectly fine as our first breather in the four slot.

Not to worry though as the Loving Cup that follows is a pretty dang fun one. Going back to the Waste choice, the placement of this Cup is not typical either. There are only 25 (out of 137 total) performances of Loving Cup where it is not a set opener, closer, or part of an encore. And some of those are unique such as being part of the Exile set on 10.31.2009. But hey you gotta get the people moving, right? Following this fourth tour debut in a row they bleed into the second What’s The Use? of this young tour, again putting it in the odd-to-me mid-first set slot (though the math shows a little under 1/3 of the time this is a first set song). Sadly, this will be our last chance to wonder at what the use actually might be until next year so enjoy it while you can. Wading>Farmhouse is not a pairing you love to see on a setlist but it kind of works here even though at this stage in the set you have to be wondering if they are going to jam anything tonight at all.

My intel on this show from folks I know in attendance is that after the four shows to start people were just plain worn out even with that off night to make it over here from western Oregon. So maybe the pace of this first set wasn’t helping things. Could it have been purposeful trolling by the band like “hey let’s take it easy on them and let folks mellow out a bit”? I think probably not because you can clearly hear the band is engaged and playing well just not songs that are typically the pick-me-up variety so far. But never fear, the end of set is near! Nellie Kane is the grassy-sing-a-long to wake us up then a tight run through Taste clears the cobwebs even further. The set closes with Rocky Top, another wake-em-up grass tune that gets everyone moving just in time for the break. Classic. On paper this one may have you scratching your head and asking why this show of all those out there has gotten an official release. Yes the playing is solid and most of the tunes are firsts for the tour but there is a decided lack of jamming here. There is, however, a reason that Phish plays two sets every night.

Now I’ve heard stories about people being so tired and unenthused by that first set that they actually left at the break. I’ve never done anything like that and in fact would have been quite happy to camp out in the upper seats sitting if need be rather than risk missing IT which on this night is exactly what would have happened. Before we get too far, here’s video of the second set of this show which I hadn’t seen until recently but which will give you some great context on how this all went down. After a little bit of band convo they roll into the 161 show bustout of Peaches En Regalia, that wonderful Frank Zappa tune that still stands somehow as the lone Zappa tune that Phish has covered (well, except for all of those jams and songs that heavily lean on Zappa-ism-ness-itude). Bustout out of the way, they drop into the first ACDC Bag of the tour for what is assuredly just a secondary opener, right? Hahahahahahahahaha yeah no.

The song itself goes along as it does but after a relatively short “normal jam” where you would expect the rave up to close to arrive the band makes a subtle shift into a Mike-led section. I adore this whole part particularly if you watch Trey on the video as he is just completely wrapped up in what Mike is doing, playing off of the changes Mike makes. Page and Fish are vamping along as Trey stretches out with these searing, moaning notes. They sit in this pocket for several minutes until it feels like it is about to all fall apart into the standard ambient outro business but then Trey’s guitar starts eating notes and you can tell they are far from done here. Now they are searching, waiting for someone to assert with the big move to a new idea. Trey finds a melodic idea that Fish follows and now we are into a new but related section where Trey is still fixated on Mike but now more assertively driving the movement. Trey is soaring now with extended notes that feel so familiar but are wholly unique (a feeling we get a lot with this guy, eh?).

Suddenly, or at least what seems to be quite sudden, the pace and energy has increased and they move into a full-on swagger funk jam. The band is fully connected here in the type of funk that 1999 produces, not the campy/vamp cowfunk of 1997 but something a bit more refined. Page takes the forefront here on the piano as the rest of the band grooves along, eventually moving to organ as Trey heads to set loops and color against Page’s big fills. This section is top tier Phish porn that begs you to get up and start dancing. Trey and Fish orchestrate a couple of stop/starts to mess with everyone as the loop wails away. This is the type of tension building you could expect in this era outside of the typical areas like Stash or Bowie. Trey drops out from vamping along to add soundscape on his keyboard rig while Mike and Fish keep everyone rooted and moving (as much as one can in this kind of musical space).  The effects take over and at this stage it is hard to tell who is producing what sounds. Some may find this sort of jamming boring or pointless which, ok, whatever, I get that viewpoint I guess. Personally I love the ambient soundscape they craft here. It provides the bridge out of where they had gotten without feeling forced or contrived and makes the transition to the next song seamless.

Even if that wasn’t your favorite way to exit that jam your wait is short lived as Gumbo cranks in to the approval of the folks in attendance. The jam goes funk in a hurry with Mike pushing it into Another One Bites The Dust before they settle into a more “traditional” straight up funk jam. Page heads to the clav to accent the dance party as Fish interjects little vocal bits you could miss if you aren’t paying very close attention. The rhythm section drops out for Page and Trey to vamp coming back in at the perfect moment like some DJ’s big moment. The jam screeches to a halt for the shift to the intro for Down With Disease which after all that funk feels like an odd call so late in the set. And here I have to again chuckle at the graphics at this video including the big puffy lettered song titles. Goes to show how far video editing has come over the years I suppose.

Here in the future we have become accustomed to Disease being a set-carrying vehicle most of the time (and oh my gosh does that song open a lot of second sets these days). Back in 1999 you were just as likely to get a compact shredder than for the song to stretch beyond its boundaries. Tonight’s version is the former template, never leaving structure but elevating to a blistering pace and almost blowing the roof off the place with the bouncy energy it brings. Trey is straight up wailing on this one, just slaying the entire jam with note after note of shred. Not content to let that be it we get the first Frankenstein of tour as closer here, showcasing Page’s mastering of the Edgar Winters classic’s big keyboarding (though obviously this was well before he owned the James Brown keytar). Fish gets weird too, interjecting some lyrics from ‘One Of These Days’, one of those Pink Floyd songs it feels like they should have teased more than they have (there is just this one and another quote in the Carini on 08.10.2010). A quick Simple and Hello My Baby make up the encore and that will do it for the evening.

The ACDC Bag is worth the price of admission alone but top to bottom this is a completely solid show. At the end of this run through Fall 1999 I think you will find that this show sits somewhere in the middle but it is a great release that really clued a lot of people in to what this tour is all about. Now go rest up because we have a double header coming next.

Take Your Laser Beams Away

There is a very good chance you know this show already. Even if you have never spun the full show most fans would be hard pressed to not know of the Boise Bag. The funny thing is that for what is known widely as an all-time great show the singular highlights are not exactly overflowing. The ones below are absolutely ones you will want to spin though.

Loving Cup

ACDC Bag>

Gumbo

Down With Disease

Frankly you could skip the Cup but it really is a notch above most of the other versions you will hear. But once you start that Bag just let ‘er rip.

This Happens Once Again

The California portion of the tour starts next with the two-fer from Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountainview. I have touched on this venue (and these shows) before in The Venue Project as it is one that Phish has a solid history with over many years. Get ready for our first sit-ins of the tour, some big time dark jamming, and more. No official releases on these so prep with the aud of your choice.

As Much As Once Before — Portland Meadows — 09.12.1999

As Much As Once Before — Portland Meadows — 09.12.1999

To finish up the first full “weekend” of shows (assuming you, like me, back in this time would have considered a Thursday night part of your weekend because c’mon who did any real work on Fridays in their 20s? Wait. You did?) Phish left the lovely scenic views of the Columbia River Gorge and continued south and west to Portland for their second year in a row playing outdoors at Portland Meadows, the now defunct and deconstructed former racetrack/concert venue/betting parlor/digital casino (don’t worry, gamblers, there is a new poker room and money taking site a few miles away with the same name). That US Summer Tour 1998 opener got an official LivePhish release and I’m here today to tell you that this 1999 show deserves the same treatment. Until that happens, along with the regularly circulating not-quite-great auds out there we do have a very nicely done remaster, done by the formerly quite prolific Kenny Powers (this and many more of his remasters can also be found via www.phishspreadsheet.com in the ‘Remasters’ tab of all places) and if you like videos there is a random upload of the BOTT from this show on youtube though I haven’t been able to locate anything else from this show which is odd… ok let’s get to it!

Phish – Portland Meadows – Portland, OR — 09.12.1999

I First Tube, Poor Heart, Mozambique, Gin, BOTT, MMGAMOIO, Frankie Says, BOAF, Lawn Boy, Possum

II Ghost>Jim>Roggae, 2001>YEM

E Theme

Notes Out On Sandpaper

–first Frankie Says of the year

The Central Theme

Showing that they really really like the song already, Phish opened with First Tube, its first time as opener but already the third performance of the song early on in this tour. It isn’t entirely uncommon for newly minted songs to be played a lot in their earlier tours with the band (like the “Every Venue Gets a Fuego” from Summer 2014 by example) but this might be getting a bit excessive already. Stay tuned I suppose. Poor Heart gets the classic second song bluegrass nod (listen for Trey almost falling into Yakety Sax) and then we are back to the new tunes for the second take on Mozambique by Phish. This one is a bit tighter and definitely shorter but gets us where we need it to… which is the drop into Bathtub Gin. So far this tour the first half of first sets have been pretty tame as the band has strung together mostly warm up songs and a few Limb By Limbs before settling in and opening things up a bit. Well tonight that changes a bit.

Dripping through the composed section and verses, this Gin starts off slowly paced and oozing with Trey and Page comping around the Gin motif. Trey eventually hits on a new riff which the band follows and they begin to stretch into a dance groove. Trey uses singular notes to set up the next move, continuing to move up the register and altering to a new, repetitive riff. He starts to peak it but backs off a bit and instead builds tension by not resolving before adding a drone loop and then soloing off of that. You can still hear the basis of Gin in the back but they are soaring now as Trey throws more ideas into the mix, false-peaking it several more times over the next few minutes and playing repeated riffs that hint to a big time release. Trey’s playing gets faster here as he reprises the Gin theme and drops back down into what feels like the song’s close after only about 12min of playing (and with no true release having been provided). Suddenly he goes back to the quick runs of notes, throwing it to our first peak and repeating that phrase multiple times before again seeming to head to the finish. But hand on, folks, because the gears shift again and now the whole band is rising up as Trey takes full charge and Mike (well, at least what you can hear of him in this mix) starts dropping big notes all over as Trey takes it nuclear to the full peak. Then for what feels like forever (but what is really only like two minutes) Trey is winding down as Mike pounds away and eventually they crawl back to the Gin close, leaving the crowd in post coital disarray, as the last underlying loop that Trey set continues to whirl around.

Now being Phish we all have our personal preferences when it comes to preferred jamming styles and what the “best” versions of songs are. And that is all part of the game. So when I tell you this Gin is easily one of my favorite versions of the fabled tune I say that with no intention of diminishing what others prefer. Just in the context of Gin you can go a few different directions for what you want to hear. Maybe you like the wide openness of The Riverport or the hose-to-the-max awesomeness of The Went Gin or the sideways improvisational wizardry of Winston-Salem 97 or something I haven’t even mentioned. Gin has gone through a lot of phases in its life and 1999 is a particular vintage that I, for one, appreciate greatly. And of that vintage this Portland one is my exact cup of tea. I have lost count how many times I have spun this Gin. But it still isn’t close to getting anywhere near old for me.

As that last loop wound down Fish kicks up the BOTT beat and we are back to first set fun time fare. Nothing too crazy here and soon enough we are into the second bluegrass number, another personal favorite in the cover of Jimmy Dale Gilmore’s My Mind’s Got A Mind Of Its Own. If you didn’t know better it would be easy to think the lyrics of this one were Mike-penned which I suppose works since he sings it. Immediately following we get the year’s first Frankie Says which is a fairly hard turn stylistically away from the shuffle beats of BOTT and the countrified grassiness of MMGAMOIO. Frankie Says gives us our first taste of lysergic intent in this show with some looped out fun in the back end, but not too much because you are still not yet to the uncomfortable setbreak convos and overly bright lights making you regret that doubling. Rest assured Phish knows and will “take care of you” as soon as the break ends. BOAF snaps us back with those infectious breakbeats with Lawn Boy giving us the only true breather of the set ahead of a typically fun Possum closer.

Coming out of the awkwardness that setbreak often seems to be you would be quite right to belt out a few “awwww yeahs!” as the lights drop and Trey sets that telltale loop (you know, the one he never does anymore?) that lets us know Ghost is a coming. I have to say I was pretty surprised to discover that out of the 182 total performances of this vehicle only 17 have been 2nd set openers (and seven of those have come in 3.0). However, in 1999 it was somewhat of a thing as four of the thirteen played are in that slot and frankly all four are well worth your time. And this one? Yeah, this one is a doozy. Go check out the heaps of praise @lawnmemo throws on this Ghost. He gets it. Frankly, I’m not going to be able to improve upon his breakdown. Heck this image alone is worth reading the whole thing.

What I will say is that this jam GOES PLACES. LOTS of places. It starts with the pre-verse loops and never lets up for close to 30 minutes. You get the Phish funk. You get some power rock. You get a big satisfying peak. You get the darkness and weird (BIG TIME). Shit, you even get one of the canonical Trey riffs best known from the 05.22.2000 Ghost for a bit (check the 16min mark here). Over the course of this jam there is something for everyone. But to be clear, this one goes to deep, DEEP psychedelic places that may not be your filet of Phish. For many of us, this is the type of completely connected musical conversation we seek from this band and why getting it is so amazing when it happens – because it doesn’t always happen. This Ghost has sections you can’t NOT dance to and sections where you fear the world is collapsing in on you. It is relentless and magical. And I love every second of it.

By the time they wind down into the warped close of Ghost you are definitely in need of something to bring you back to some semblance of normalcy. Runaway Jim fills that void, chugging along brightly but without much to speak of outside of the normal end solo bits. Roggae gets the breather slot and works well enough in that role. Immediately following Trey cranks up the loops and effects and we are off into outer space once more as the band works towards 2001. This pre-jam part is better than the 2001 itself, honestly, and you will see it tracked as “Spacey Jam” on some tapes (and I have included that part in the playlist from this show). Following the Deodato funk cover You Enjoy Myself starts up and once again the soundscape-building aspect of the then current playing is on display both in the pre-nirvana and main jam segments. After a solid if not top shelf main jam Trey hints at Johnny B Goode as they transition to what ends up being a loop-laden though abbreviated D&B section. As the song often does this closes the set and show. For the encore tonight we get Theme From The Bottom which is very rare in that slot having only encored eight times out of the 164 total performances for the song. That alone is worthwhile but then when you hear Trey reprise one of the main licks that informed the Gin jam (listen at 5:20 in Theme for the first go at it) it takes this one next level even for a compact get-them-on-their-way encore performance. And with that we are on the road again, albeit now with a night off to make the 400+ mile journey east for that outlier before the start of the California/Southwest portion of the tour.

Take Your Laser Beams Away

Here in the 4th night of the tour the band is fully gelling. Fans would be forgiven for being pretty tired at this stage considering they had already driven more than 500 miles for this first weekend of shows. But the payoff is worth it! Along with many other shows this tour you can start it at the opener and let it run and be perfectly happy. But knowing how we fans are, here are the songs I would recommend you spend the most time and energy with from Portland:

Bathtub Gin

Ghost

‘Spacey Jam’ pre-2001

YEM

Theme From The Bottom

I recommend spinning this show top to bottom or at least those highlights above but definitely the Gin and Ghost if nothing else. Me saying more about those two songs would probably cause even fewer people to spend time reading this blog so let’s just say I consider these to be two of my favorite pieces of Phish improv from this whole tour and we are only four shows in so that should tell you something right there.

This Happens Once Again

Next we will hop over to Idaho for that very well known sleeper show stop that added so many miles to the routing for many fans. Hopefully you weren’t one of those who thought better than to do the drive and missed out on one of THOSE nights… Prep yourself with the official release of this classic night from Boise!

Where They Hoped I’d Be — The Gorge — 09.10-11.1999

Where They Hoped I’d Be — The Gorge — 09.10-11.1999

Today we play two! In the interest of moving things along and keeping my sanity, for any multi-show run I will do a single post covering both shows. This will apply to nine venues in total (The Gorge, Shoreline, Nassau, Albany, Cincinnati, CCCC, The Spectrum, Hampton, and of course Big Cypress). The posts will be longer but hey they weren’t exactly short to begin with…

Oh yeah and I covered these two shows a bit when I was doing the Venue Project thing (you know, before The Baker’s Dozen came along and pretty much ended any debate about which venue was the best for Phish*) so if you would like to read that please go here.

*Look I know the sample size is a big part of why MSG takes top billing for many people but the simple fact is when you have played a venue like that as many times as this band has and with as high of a hit rate as those shows seem to have you really are never going to be able to put together a reasonable enough argument that another place is a “better venue” for Phish.

Phish – The Gorge Amphitheatre – George, WA — 09.10.1999

I Farmhouse, First Tube, Twist, Divided, Ginseng, Carini, WTU?>WIGRIC

II Disease>Moma>Piper, Fee, Jibboo, Saw It Again, Melt>Cavern>Bowie

E Coil

Notes Out On Sandpaper

–debuts of Will It Go Round In Circles and Gotta Jibboo

The Central Theme

The first weekend of Fall Tour found Phish at The Gorge, easily one of the favorite venues of fans around the country, particularly those who have been able to make it to that beautiful place (me not yet included). This was the third year in a row that they stopped here, each time for a pair of shows as one does when the comings and goings to the place take as much commitment of time and energy as this one does. This is a ‘bucket list’ type venue and for the most part Phish has played highly regarded shows here, though in some sense it is difficult to separate the music from the experience which may result in an attendance bias amplification effect as a result. But that’s more for the other project. This one is about the music for the most part.

Starting off with a Farmhouse opener is… not exactly the way to prove the point about how awesome shows are here but hey that was a thing in 1999 as four times (including three on this tour) out of the nineteen performances of the song it came in as show opener. That out of the way we get the second ever run at First Tube, tonight a bit beefier and definitely befitting of the shadow opener slotting. Now we get to the fairly-standard-for-the-era run of songs that fill the bulk of this settling-into-the-scene first set. Twist is fun but mostly jamless and then Divided predictably gets the sunset slot. Notable here is that The Pause is quite long as even after Trey signals the return after 1:16 Fish waits another 1:30 before “answering” so you get a full 2:46 of Pause here which is neat. Ginseng Sullivan gets the bluegrass tune nod and then a crunchy yet contained Carini (which along with the Twist earlier has some solid use of the Note Eater 5000 by Trey) precedes the always-a-head-scratcher freestanding first set What’s The Use?. This is only the sixth ever performance of the song and the third standalone first set version (really only the 07.09.1999 version from MPP out of Free fits the ‘cool down’ slot many of us prefer for the song). Perhaps it was a callout for the next song played like “hey, what’s the use, let’s go ahead and debut this bad ass cover song that we really should have played more than just twice because c’mon who doesn’t want to hear this one?” though I am skeptical that was the intent. But hey at least we got the debut of Will It Go Round In Circles as the closer here. File that song in the long list of ones that should have stayed in the rotation. Perhaps even more today than then this song fits the vibe of a Phish show extremely well. The song lives on as a TAB staple though so I guess we can be happy it hasn’t fully disappeared.

After the break they opened with Down With Disease, a song that I’m not sure I could ever tire of though I am certain someone out there feels triggered by that statement so hello to whoever that poor soul might be. Though the song has now become one of the most reliable vehicles for open exploration in the catalog, at this time you really never knew if it would be a big ol’ set-carrying version or one of the tighter, shred-heavy, energy bursts along the way. Tonight is a little bit of both to be fair. But probably more contained than open. Basically, this one isn’t a setlist highlight but it surely doesn’t detract in any way either. While we are here, I will note that this one has the first example of something that if you know me at all you are probably already rolling your eyes about me bringing up here. Yes, my friends, this Disease has a nascent take on The Lick, a roughly 15 note descending phrase usually initiated by Trey that pops up all over the place throughout the years (well, mainly in particular songs like Disease and Gin and Ghost but yeah). This one comes in at 5:05 (aud) and is not the fully formed version it has become but it is there and like most in Diseases it signifies the drop into the jam proper. Consider this your forewarning that we are likely to find more of these as we go along.

Now warmed back up, the set moves along as Disease falls into Moma (nice but nothing too special here) and continues with a Piper that never really gets going before they bail out for the old ending. Fee starts up which at this point was becoming more of a rarity (and in 1999 was always done sans megaphone). This is the 2nd of three versions for the year but that doesn’t mean it would go quietly as the good thing about its rarity in this era was that typically the ending would stretch into harmonic ambient space. Now this one doesn’t go nearly as big as the one from 07.08.1999 in Virginia Beach (that one is the GOAT after all) but for a couple of minutes we do get to close our eyes and smile at the lovely tinkering going on up there on stage. Once Fee ends Trey sets a new loop, one that we now all know and (for the most part) love but here a new thing as they drop into the debut of Gotta Jibboo which up til now had been only heard in the TAB iterations to date. It got a LOT of workout on the May tour, being played in 10/12 shows so if you had any knowledge of those shows you probably knew this one was coming eventually. While fun and bouncy this one never launches and the result is solid but a bit underwhelming with the context of those 14-18min versions from TAB tour. Don’t worry though. More to come with this song a bit later on this tour.

Saw It Again cranks us back to the stuff we all knew, continuing the see saw feel of this set as they move between the shredders and the dance tunes. This leads to Split Open and Melt which is always welcome in the 4th quarter. To be frank, this is not a version you will hear folks singing the praises of but there’s nothing wrong with sitting in that syrupy groove for a while and just looking around for a bit, maaaaan. The pace is relaxed and particularly so once Fish drops down to more subdued playing, letting Trey build layers of sound within the Melt template. There is a lot of potential in this jam that never pays off though as I respin this yet again I guess my main gripe is I want more of it. Sit in that space for 10-15min and you never know what might go down. But here it feels like just as they are starting to get comfortable someone brings the Melt beat back and they start to work towards the close instead. Could be Mike but might have been Fish. Oh well. Buy the ticket take the ride. We don’t get to decide. I will give Trey credit though. He keeps that return going for a couple of minutes instead of cleanly wrapping it up and moving on to Cavern where, as par for course, the lyrics are botched. Still with considerable time to go here the Cavern is a fake out closer and instead they start up Bowie for what many hope will be the defining song of the set.

Well… see.. here’s the thing about Bowie in this time. Sure there are some nicely stretched out versions but we are well past the peak of jamming for this song (I put it as Fall 94 through Summer 95, ymmv). This does not mean good stuff isn’t going on here! Far from it! But let’s not go in thinking this will be some 30min monster. I mean this one is only 21min long (yes aud track times are over 25min bu that’s the encore break crowd noise for the final 4min) so clearly that is laughable! All kidding aside, I do like this Bowie. In true pre-millennial fashion the intro is VERY extended with loops and synths and full soundscape building to be found. Outside of the telltale high hat hits by Fish you would be hard pressed to know this is even Bowie for almost eight full minutes (and that without any teases, secret language, or other shenanigans). In the right (or wrong) headspace this Bowie intro could take you to some pretty weird places. At one point Fish really messes with your head by playing the “clock” sounds from the studio version of Maze (or at least what sounds like them) and then the band all drops out one by one, ostensibly to reset for the start of Bowie itself. Once in the “traditional” jam things get pretty standard though I would stick with it as the entirety of this Bowie is worth the time. Squirming Coil is the encore tonight which is nice enough. I’ll save the takeaways for the end of the post so we can do both shows at once.

Phish – The Gorge Amphitheatre – George, WA — 09.11.1999

I Tube>Funky Bitch>LxL, DST, PYITE, Billy Breathes, Heavy Things, Guyute>Free

II Wolfman’s->Sand, Meatstick->Maze, Caspian>Hood

E Circus

Notes Out On Sandpaper

–debuts of Heavy Things and Sand

The Central Theme

You might want to check out the full video for this show unearthed by the folks doing wonderful work over at PHArchive on YouTube. Really great to see this video circulate. Just be ready for some nausea-inducing optics at the start and frankly throughout the entire thing. Maybe double up that bonine hitter before pressing play. Oh and the bros chatting and looking at lot art at the end are great.

Following what I am certain was yet another crazy fun night and day spent in the campgrounds and by the Columbia River Phish opened up the second night at the Gorge with the high energy triple play of Tube>Funky Bitch>LxL. Tube is super short (even by today’s standards) but gets a quick loop-funk jam and an addictive Trey riff before they head to the Son Seals cover. The pace here is a bit slower than most versions of the Funky Bitch but I assure you no one was complaining at the extended soloing from Page and Trey. Limb By Limb represents the second song repeated so far this tour (First Tube being the first the prior night) and much like that one they seem to have a lot more to say in the second take this run. Not in terms of length as this one is about a minute shorter but it just feels more direct. Maybe I am just latching onto the Trey tease of Long Tall Glasses too much, I don’t know. I love how he just arrives there and goes with it and then his trill section later will bend your knees in a good way. The mid set gets a Dogs Stole Things (already becoming a rarity just three years into its life) and a fiery Punch You In The Eye. I love this song as an opener particularly with the extended intro but even here it rocks hard. I mean what’s not to love about a version that chugs along for over three minutes, building up tension as it goes, before we get to the lyrics?

Now it is time for a cool down and Billy Breathes fills that role nicely. This sets up another TAB-song-making-its-debut for Heavy Things, a song which has become more at home here than with TAB (which is not always the case obviously). I’m certain we all know what to expect with this one so let’s just move along. Now we have Guyute, another repeat already on the tour and one that goes against those complaints about the lack of compositional songs that people love to throw around about this era. But we aren’t here to dwell on that so let’s talk about the set closing Free instead. 1999 is a pretty dang food year for this song even if the jamcharts aren’t overflowing with versions from this year. It is kind of surprising they only played the song 13 times that year considering how much I like em all. The jam extends as Mike drops bombs and Trey gets his glitchy shred on, playing those backwards notes like they are going out of style. This is a filter that got a ton of use in this period and while it comes back from time to time at no point was it ever used as frequently as this era. Trey shoves a bunch of notes together as they work back to the song’s close, leaving the crowd wanting for more as they take setbreak.

Phish hit the stage for the second set with purpose, cranking into Wolfman’s Brother and really stepping on the gas from the get go. I always take it as a god sign when Trey is scat-riffing over his guitar line as they drop into it. The jam starts out as rocking wah funk but shifts through a few phases as they stretch it out. Trey hints at DEG at one point followed by a tension-filled section that counterpoints the deep pocket groove the other three have going. They move out into more pronounced wah funk that drops into big soundscape layering over the groove as Trey futzes with all the pedals at his disposal. Still in Wolfman’s but also some place else entirely, this jam is basically a template example for the power of what 1999 Phish could be, all four members playing with more swagger than a pimp on Shakedown. Almost suddenly the groove drops to ambience, snapping you out of that groove trance as Trey adds some keyboard tinkering to go along with his sustained tones. Trey goes shredster for a bit, sets a loop, and then communicates the change to Mike and Fish who crank into the debut of Sand! If ever there was a TAB song destined for Phish this is IT.

Folks who weren’t up on their setlists were likely looking around for some form of confirmation of what was going on especially since this one stretches over 18min (and still is in the top ten longest versions ever).  This is a slow burn Sand which primarily showcases Trey over the groove of the base song (something Mike would very quickly get away from as I am sure he got bored quickly considering his penchant for not sticking to the same bassline for very long). Here I will borrow from my venue project post to say that “this version is a Trey clinic as Mike lays down the static bassline, Fish rides rhythm alongside, and Page toys with accents and effects. Over the course of this 18” minute version Trey patiently offers up great idea, some which stick and other that don’t take…” As they move through the jam the intensity builds and builds with Trey going full Jimi and doing his I’m-so-amped-I-can’t-jam-stand-still dance the whole time. As debut versions go, this one is up there on the list with a select few songs. Yes, they would go on to play bigger versions even on this tour once the rest of the band caught up with Trey on how to approach it, but there is no denying the power of this original, interstellar dance-a-thon take on the vehicle. Mike even throws out a few fight bell hits in approval afterwards. He knows.

They follow that up with the tour debut of Meatstick, the first since their visit to Japan but here still without the Japanese lyrics we would come to know and love (for some). The outro jam drips directly into Maze which somehow accomplishes being both heavy shred and mellow at the same time (well, at least as far as Maze goes). I suppose that is another facet of 1999 playing as even with the soupiness of the layered sounds there was the ability to blow heads open as they always had. Maze starts with some loops and then gets to business as Trey uses distortion to great effect. Next – and believe me I am as shocked as you are to be saying this – is a very strong Prince Caspian which vacillates between overly tender playing and powerful soloing. And then we get a masterful Harry Hood with that wonderfully dreamy bliss playing followed by a series of false endings. Listen for some backwards note play by Trey in the intro too. When The Circus Comes To Town, a personal favorite cover for Phish in the non-jammed realm, encores tonight and now everyone needs to pack up for the quick turn to get over to Portland for the next night’s show, the fourth in four nights!

Take Your Laser Beams Away

These two shows found the band comfortable and loose with highlight jams popping up all over. Some of these will not make the final rankings but are worth your time if you go picking. The first night feels more like a tour opener than the actual tour opener was with the dips into open space being less pronounced and a decided focus being paid to the song side of things. But then the second night is Phish in their fully comfortable form. This is not unusual for multi-night stops at a venue where one night will be clearly more connected and flowing. While I love some of what we heard in the first two shows it is this third one where we are starting to get a good idea of what this tour will become. It is a good example to give someone who is not up on their 1999 Phish for them to hear the broad range of what the band was doing during this time. But if you do that, let them know this is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg. We got a lot more awesome coming shortly…

Will It Go Round In Circles

Disease

Fee

Melt

Bowie

Tube>

Funky Bitch>

LxL

Free

Wolfman’s->

Sand

Maze

Caspian>

Hood

I recommend checking them all out but please spend time on Bowie, Free, Wolfman’s->Sand, and Hood. Those are the goods. The player in the sidebar has you covered!

This Happens Once Again

Next we will hop over to Oregon for a show I love through and through but one that has not gotten much “official” love. Well, okay the big centerpiece jam is out there now but I’ll continue lobbying for the full show release…

Credit Or Debt — Vancouver, BC — 09.09.1999

Credit Or Debt — Vancouver, BC — 09.09.1999

Phish — GM Place — Vancouver, BC — 09.09.1999

I Mozambique, Axilla>LxL, Horn, Guyute, Chalkdust, BATCS, Stash, IDK, Zero

II BOAF, Ha Ha Ha>Ghost, Inlaw, First Tube, Tweezer, Bug, YEM, HMB

E Sample>Golgi>Reprise

Notes Out On Sandpaper

–debuts of Mozambique, Inlaw Josie Wales (Trey on acoustic), and First Tube

–first performance of Ha Ha Ha in 1999 (don’t worry, these won’t be too big of a thing – I just find it interesting particularly in Fall tours to see what songs are finally getting played for the first time that year)

The Central Theme

First of all, apologies on formatting here. They completely changed the architecture of post building and it is taking me more work than I want to get it to my familiar look and feel. So yeah. Sorry about that. We will get it all figured out.

Following the summer tour’s end in the Midwest in late July and that visit to Japan the week after, Phish arrived in the Pacific Northwest for their first visit to Vancouver since their stop at the Pacific Coliseum on the Fall 1996 Tour. The tour would start indoors here before several outdoor shows taking advantage of the mostly mild late summer/early fall temperatures along the way. But indoor Phish is a thing a lot of us love dearly so getting the tour rolling at a hockey shed (albeit a bigger, newer one than most of those they had laid waste to over the years) adds to the excitement and anticipation. This was the only time Phish has played what is now known as Rogers Center which at the time was just a year old and named GM Place. It also, unfortunately, is the last time the band has played in Vancouver, something they should get to fixing once we are back to seeing shows the way we are used to doing.

Tour openers can be funny things as with a blank slate you really have no idea what to expect. The entirety of the songbook is available and more than any other time the decisions on what to play are at the mercy of whatever Trey and the rest of the band are feeling. Sometimes we get the high energy shot of a well loved classic song but sometimes, like this night, they come out with a song they have never played, setting tone for not just this show but what is to come further along by not falling into the habit of the familiar. While I am certain the majority of fans probably weren’t completely familiar with the song when it dropped you cannot say that Mozambique was the last thing we could expect here. The song was now more than sixteen months old having debuted (as Free Thought – with lyrics! Or maybe it was Third Tube per phish.com?) back in the 8 Foot Fluorescent Tubes show on 04.17.1998 not to mention the five times the song was played on Trey Tour in May. This first Phish version is a tad loose but serves its purpose and shakes the rust for the secondary Axilla opener that truly wakes the room up.

Axilla runs right into the first potential for some musical conversation and Limb By Limb provides it as Trey shines in his first real solo of the tour. This third song stretches a bit as they drop into a tranquil space, Trey soaring and noodling about over the rhythm section ahead of a short but typical Fish ending. Horn then starts up a run of familiar tunes with a chunky but contained Chalkdust and then Guyute proves that the composed tune chops are doing just fine, thank you for asking. Now we get a song that I still wonder about because while I get that it is a nice way to showcase Page on the Hammond Back At The Chicken Shack has never really connected for me. The song is fine enough it just feels like setlist filler. I cannot think of any version that makes me want to spin it more than just on the way through a show. There are only three more versions following this one so apparently the band felt the same way I suppose.

Perhaps the band felt this wasn’t cutting it either because the Stash that ensues is perhaps the best one of the year at least in my estimation. We will get to the other one worth mentioning in a few weeks as overall 1999 is not the strongest year for the song. Fully limbered following LxL and more, the drop here is effortless and reflective of the then current approach to jamming. Instead of the frenzied push/pull of dissonant tension/release this version is a slow burner. Trey uses the wah to great effect in setting the tone as he quietly tinkers around, playing wobbly lines that counterpoint the bevy of ideas Mike throws out. You know that feeling when you get into a hot tub and it feels good but then your friend turns it up and a bit later all of a sudden you are like “holy shit this is fucking hot!”? Well maybe you don’t but I do and that’s exactly the feeling I get from this jam. Trey is bending notes all over the place, building tension in a very different way than we are used to from this song. Some may say he is whaling here but if you consider that a negative thing then maybe this isn’t the type of Phish for your ears. All but unnoticeable for the first part of the jam, Page comes in with textured synth hits as they build up towards the release we all are seeking. Trey isn’t having it though. Instead he runs out a bunch of tightly grouped notes and eases back towards ending Stash, fluffing the crowd and taunting us as they never resolve it.

Fish gets the spotlight for I Didn’t Know following some fan service banter by Trey where he thanks the crowd for welcoming them to Canada and introduces “Vahjonna Fishman” who on this night is sporting a bandana in honor of the sushi place they clearly visited the night before (TOJO!). In the litany of names the man has been called over the years, this is one makes me chuckle more than most though that may just be my teenager sense of humor shining through. Character Zero gets the closer nod (of course) and while pretty standard Trey does bend and extend, building off the tension of the unrequited Stash and releasing all over the crowd ahead of the “quick break” that was likely not as quick as the singer would lead the gullible to believe.

The second set starts with Birds Of A Feather, one of four times the song did that in its thirteen appearances for the year. It is a good choice here though unfortunately unlike many of the massive versions from the summer tour this one stays in the box without much fanfare to note. Now I’m not sure if that is why the next song is Ha Ha Ha but I have a hunch it could be related. Seriously, when 2/3 of the prior six versions stretched well outside the song you have to wonder why this one got cut short. Who knows with this band though? Those confused thoughts are quickly assuaged when the Ghost loops start and the dance party cranks up in earnest. This time period is a good one if you like big Ghost jams especially the heavily layered, looped out, chugging grooves that typify the overall sound of the era. Similar to the Stash this one starts out smoldering and inbounds as Mike leads the way. Trey toys around with several ideas including an all but recognizable descending line and then some brighter let’s-head-to-the-peak phrases which the crowd appreciates greatly. On that note, really nice feedback loop with the crowd on this night in general which I expect is the excitement of first night of tour combined with the friendly nature of the local folk. Just when you think Trey is going to blast into overdrive they downshift, settling into a secondary groove before the patient return to close the song. Yet again, we are left without a big release. But that’s okay.

Trey picks up the acoustic guitar and debuts The Inlaw Josie Wales which had already gotten seven performances in the acoustic solo first sets from the May tour. This lovely tune has lived on in the solo format but we haven’t heard it at a Phish show since Hiatus and honestly I’m okay with that as it really works best as a solo guitar piece in my opinion. Hopping back to the electric Trey and the band drop into the debut of First Tube, another song first heard in that 04.17.1998 show and quickly becoming a staple on the solo side as well. Compared to what the song has become this version feels pretty tame but hey it was a new song to them so that makes sense. This one will be heard from A LOT as we progress to the point where people got sick of its frequency for a while there.

Maybe that First Tube ended the 3rd quarter or perhaps it opened the 4th but either way it sets everyone up for Tweezer. Things start out drippy and languid, that Tweezer funk pulling everyone in. Call it more tension building or whatever but they sit in the pocket for what seems like forever until things go sideways in that wonderful way. There are hints of other big Tweezers from this year in this jam but it is its own thing as well. The groove roils on with Trey and Page throwing out ideas above, reminding you once again that this is exactly why you put in all of the time/money/energy to And remember how they haven’t really payed off most of the jams so far in this show? Well, wait no more! This Tweezer EXPLODES into a glorious peak and that’s not even the end of it all. The denouement drones on for several minutes of pre-millennial space, never returning to Tweezer before finally fizzling out into nothing and the start of Bug.

Some folks groan at the thought of Bug but these 1999 versions really capture the song well. I like to think Bug is something of a late 90s take on the power ballad format that we all knew and loved/hated from the hairbands of the 80s but with the flourish that only Phish could provide. No matter what your feelings are for Bug this one works well in the aftermath of that Tweezer, slowly building up from the murk that brought us here. Still with time to burn in the set, Phish then drops into You Enjoy Myself, here a mostly “standard” version for the time period. Of note, the pre-nirvana section falls into more of that ambient soundscape space as Trey lets his notes linger and moan out ahead of the classic song proper. There is also a bit of groove to be found in the main jam but nothing more than a vamp fest outside of Mike’s playing… but the crowd sure digs it. Hello My Baby gets the mic’d but a cappella closer slot and then we are onto the encore. Nothing special here as it goes Sample>Golgi>Reprise but the fist pumpers were assuredly doing their thing throughout. Now time to pack up for the overnight drive of nearly 300 miles to The Gorge…

Take Your Laser Beams Away

A quick note here that as I did for my Fall 1998 and Fall 1996 tour reviews I will be updating the site’s music player as we go with all of the “takeaway” tunes I note in this section of each post. Most times these will be the songs with the jams but often other notable things like sit-ins, unique versions, or one offs that I feel are worth including. Keep checking the “I Love The Shiny Music” area in the left hand sidebar for updates.

Being a tour opener sometimes the highlights can be sparse and other times they can be plentiful. Tonight we get a decent number of takeaways (and I’m not even including any of the debuts!).

Limb By Limb

Stash

Ghost

Tweezer

YEM

I recommend checking them all out but please spend time on Stash, Ghost, and Tweezer if you have to mind your time. As tour openers go I feel this show is very strong, particularly that second set.

This Happens Once Again

Next up are the pair of shows from The Gorge, the third trip there in as many years and the last visit until 2.0. Get stretched for the long jams!

And You May Ask Yourself

Well, how *DID* we get here?

 

For many fans, 1999 is a heavy, heavy year.

 

Take that line however it works best for you because there are several ways to interpret that and all are true. It may have been your first opportunity to really go big and hit a large run or full tour of shows. It may have been when you started to see the fraying at the edges both on stage and off. Possibly you connected with the layered textures of music you heard and dove deep into introspection or something a bit less… positive. Maybe this was the year when you saw how big it all had become and it caused you to shy away — or perhaps that drew you in more fully. These are but a few of the thousands of perspectives on what Phish was in 1999. So how did it all come to this?

 

By the time Phish got to 1999 they had become the biggest touring entity in all of rock music, something you can read about from far better writers in many other places. If you are here reading this I expect you probably have a good baseline of what got us here so I won’t waste your time on too much of that. Maybe a little though.

 

In the eleven years before this they had played 1036 shows (~94/yr), peaking at 150 way back in 1990 and playing the fewest at 71 just before in 1998. Even before 1998 the trend to play fewer shows had begun, most definitely the direct result of playing larger venues and having fully arrived as a national touring act that charted some songs and albums along the way. Phish had also pioneered the modern festival, setting the blueprint for Bonnaroo and beyond with The Clifford Ball, The Great Went, and Lemonwheel but also even earlier with their homespun events. Fandom thrived on the nascent internet as tapes spread wide and the word of mouth continued to sow wonder in the minds of a generation of seekers. It felt like whatever they could imagine they could pull off which made it quite inviting to the thousands of curious people looking to be there when it went down. Clearly, Phish was a THING now, a fixture of our culture but one that was always left to exist on the fringe of mainstream popularity.

 

Even with that relative obscurity the Phish machine was chugging along and they had more time on their hands due to less time spent on the road. This allowed for more time spent doing non Phish creative things (The Story Of The Ghost had been released just that past Fall) and each member of Phish filled their time in their own fashion. Mike played a couple of shows with Jamie Masefield and Doug Perkins, Page played some very important shows in April (along with Trey), Fish played shows with the two bands he always bounced between (Jazz Mandolin Project and Pork Tornado), and Trey played the first shows of what has now been a 20+ year side band with the core of Russ Lawton and Tony Markellis. Out of the recording sessions for TSOTG came The Siket Disc, released online in July after being edited by Page earlier in the year. All this at a time when they had gotten so big but still they kept creating.

 

And then came Summer Tour. Phish played 20 shows in 13 states (and one in Canada) over 27 days including Camp Oswego, that summer’s festival. Along the way they debuted thirteen songs including a new batch of mostly one off covers, a few of the Siket tunes (MLT, WTU? The Happy Whip And Dung Song), and a couple that would later end up on the Farmhouse album (BOTT, Bug, MITM). As with most tours there were bustouts and big jams and scensters and complainers and antics and setlist trends and a new Trey toy and complaining about the complainers and all that fun stuff. Perhaps this year the complainers had gotten more numerous or at least louder but there were signs that this wasn’t the tightly practiced band of yore. Without going into it all too much I’ll just point out that while the compositions waned in frequency and precision the era of the extended open jam had begun in earnest. And while nailing those intricate compositions is something that brought a lot of us to Phish it is the prospect of the new that keeps bringing us back. 

 

Whatever your thoughts are on the Summer Tour it was over in under a month and before we knew it there would be more shows to catch. But first… after three straight summers playing some shows ahead of the US tour Phish chose this year to make their first visit to Japan for the Fuji Rock Festival. During this trip they played seven sets over three days, not repeating a song and taking several out for long jams. Combining this run with the Summer and layering in all of those side projects before that, you can start to see that things were set up nicely for Phish as they got going for the Fall. The band was connected, in a period of high creativity, and – after a month at home recharging – well rested. Add in some more new songs, Trey’s mini keyboard tinkerings, and the lead up to probably the greatest single achievement in the band’s history and we have a lot to look forward to here.

 

So with that I leave you to do your homework. I’m not saying you have to go spin the whole May ’99 TAB run (but you could if you want) or skim your way through the summer tour (might not be a bad idea…) or really dive deep with Japan 99 (actually…) or even that you should revisit the April Phil & Phriends shows (okay this you should do). But all of those things plus the Siket Disc surely won’t hurt. Knowing we all are pressed for time these days, I do think you may want to run that 09.09.1999 show top to bottom.  Because in a few days we get this bus rolling for real.

 

An Overly Deep Dive into the History and Development of ‘McGrupp and The Watchful Hosemasters’ OR “How I Try to Get More McGrupp Jams Put on PJJ”

Every once in a while it is fun to take a song and really go deep with it, listening to every version that Phish has ever performed in order. Some may find this type of exercise pointless, tiring, ridiculous, boring, or even insane (or more probably a combination of all of the above and more)  but to me it offers a great way to track the development and progression of a song over the years as the band has worked through it and altered its course. There are some songs where this can get old pretty fast, particularly when the variation comes only in the few bars of Type I improv that come out of an otherwise standard performance for the tune but in many cases the song as debuted once upon a time has changed significantly over the course of time, sometimes adding or removing parts and other times becoming something entirely new along the way. One song that has had a fairly intriguing evolution (well, to me at least) is McGrupp And The Watchful Hosemasters (for the sake of brevity following this reference the song will be shown by its shorthand fan name ‘McGrupp‘), a song with a long history, connection to the Gamehendge saga, and just enough performances to make this little exercise worthwhile without becoming tedious.

 

In full disclosure, I will admit that some of my motivation in going down this path was in looking for the song on the wonderful resource that is www.phishjustjams.com I was shocked to discover they had only picked out a minuscule THREE performances of the song for inclusion in the jam files. Now, while the song is definitely not a big, open-jammed juggernaut I maintain that that list needs to be expanded a bit even if they don’t agree (hi, Verno!) with all that I write about the song’s jam and its 114 known performances, not to mention the four versions of the song as Skippy The Wonder Mouse (hereafter referred to as “Skippy”) before the name change and lyrical overwrite. Part of the complication here stems from the PJJ mission statement apparently forbids inclusion of anything pre 1993 and while I respect that and the reasoning behind it I will absolutely be focusing a lot on the progressions made with McGrupp in the years prior to that if for no other reason than 63 of the 114 versions of the song (plus those 4 Skippys!) occurred prior to 1993. To ignore all of that here would kind of defeat the purpose and really conflict my obsessive nature, people.

 

So where to start. Well, the first thing you should do is check out the Song History on phish.net which goes into a lot of the detail about how the song came to be (and check the brief Skippy Song History too since you are visiting .net). You might also want to take a gander at the Jamchart for the song as others have gone down this road before in their own way so if you find my nerdiness to be lacking check out someone else’s! Really cannot say enough about how privileged we are to have phish.net and other resources to help feed these obsessions of ours. Support them however you can!

 

With all of that out of the way let’s dive in! Fair warning, as I haven’t written much of late you can probably expect this one to be lengthy. I have some pent up prose to use here, people.

Continue reading “An Overly Deep Dive into the History and Development of ‘McGrupp and The Watchful Hosemasters’ OR “How I Try to Get More McGrupp Jams Put on PJJ””

Taste – BYE – 1997

Once upon a time, some friends and I started throwing around big questions like “what is the best year ever (BYE) for song X?” this was a few years ago but for many of the entries that answer hasn’t changed. One of the ones I did was for a song I hold near and dear, Taste. While never a set carrying vehicle (well, hang on we will get to THAT) the song has always been one that could take you (me) elsewhere in a hurry as they stretched the boundaries of the song and folded in some interesting recurring themes along the way. Below is what I wrote then with the caveat that it doesn’t call forth the true best ever version of the song from the Baker’s Dozen on 08.02.2017 as that had yet to occur at the time. Even still, that one stellar type II version doesn’t change the reality that the song had its best year in 1997.

 

Enjoy!

 

I humbly submit for my first entry to the “BYE” (Best Year Ever) files that 1997 was the peak year for the largely ‘Type I’ vehicle, Taste.

While this song has remained mainly in the box over the course of its history (including its interluding incarnations as ‘The Fog that Surrounds’ and then ‘The Taste that Surrounds’ before the final arrangement we know as ‘Taste’) the song includes an outro solo that usually involves Trey and Page leading call with alternating solos, generally ending with a peaked guitar charge before the return to the ending run.

The initial incarnation of Taste didn’t ever diverge from form per se and was wholly a first set tune in the ten times it appeared but in the next version (with different lyrics that had Fish out front) that Fall (’95) the band began to work more through the soloing from both Trey and Page for the first eight versions of the tour. Eventually this became “Taste That Surrounds” in a way that merged the two prior versions together and we started to approach what would eventually become the Taste we know today (but not quite yet!). There would be fourteen takes on “Tasty Fog” along the way of Fall ’95 with not much to speak of jamming-wise before it again got slightly re-worked during the Billy Breathes sessions to become the final version we have today.

So that gives us Taste and you could almost say it debuted 07.03.96, sort of, with Carlos and Perazzo joining in because why not. That first one is extended with the sit-in from Carlos due to traded licks from the two guitarists but is a bit loose in all honesty.

10.27.96 is the first occurrence of a Norwegian Wood tease in Taste (which becomes somewhat of a thing for this song at times)

Later on in ’96 Perazzo would be back again during the RiL run (10.29/11.02) which adds some nice flair with the added percussion but these are otherwise typical versions.

11.30.96 has Peter Apfelbaum on tenor sax for a very nice extended version

12.02.96 gets a major peak to close and really hints at where this is headed in ’97

 

which brings us to where I am leading with all of this…

 

Early in 1997 the band headed off to Europe for what would be the first of several defining tours that shaped the sound of the band going forward. This one brought forth several new songs and the seeds to the new sound. During the February run there wasn’t a particular Taste that BLEW UP but they were all nailed and based on the overall playing of the band at the time it was simply a matter of time. This was never a song that would succumb to the cowfunk so it would evolve in another direction: bigger solos and larger peaks.

The song would eventually get played 30 times in 1997 (easily its biggest year) and it shows why. They really were playing it well each time out with some versions hitting the stratosphere like…

06.22.97 Trey leans heavily on Norwegian Wood here (show opener)

07.03.97 big use of the wah effect to great… effect

07.09.97 Page dominates this one

07.22.97 another Page powered one, the storm plays the band

08.03.97 oh so very peaky! wide open west coast version

08.09.97 frenetic is the word I choose here

11.26.97 just go spin this. seriously.

12.30.97 the stellar capper to a year’s worth of Taste.

I skipped some (okay MANY), obviously, as to highlight all would be a bit much. tThe point is that pretty much every time they played the tune in ’97 they struck gold even when just getting from one big jam to another (such as in 02.17.97 Disease->Carini->Taste->Disease).

And so that I do not end things here, the song has had a life after this peak in different ways. The best versions from ’98 stretch things out a bit more while perhaps not reaching the same highs as those in ’97. Good examples are 04.04.98 (Island Tour of course) and 12.28.98.

As one would expect, 1999 things get even more stretched out, leading to versions that topped 12 minutes (for a song that started at 6-7 minutes initially) culminating in an almost Type II take from Rochester on 12.05.99 that deserves a listen for its uniqueness in this manner.

The millennium brought a relaxed feel to this song that took some of the energy out of the bag which kind of deflated it a bit, unfortunately, and to my mind the 2000 versions suffer somewhat as a result. That ‘mellow groove’ doesn’t always match with the feel of a song that has such a syncopated rhythm and it could come off as hit-or-miss at times as a result. The same can be said of the 2003 versions to my ear as well but others may disagree. There are definitely those who will defend the merits of versions such as 02.25.03 with that growly tone.

And as for anything from 3.0, well, there simply are not enough top shelf versions to point to in order to make a case that the song has had any sort of resurgence let alone a peak of any sort. The best version by far is the one from Worcester 06.07.12 with our friend Norwegian Wood rearing its head yet again as part of a masterful segment of music in that set but that alone does not carry enough weight to outshine the greatness the song showed throughout its Best Year Ever in 1997.

I rest my case.

Nothing I Can Say To Make It Stop

So you have probably noticed my lack of posts of late and you may have been wondering what that is all about. Or maybe you haven’t and that is fine too. But it is so and as such I should probably address what is going on with this here blog.

 

In short, I have decided to suspend the #venueproject until further notice. As I got closer to the chronicling of the last few big venues in the band’s history it became clear that this was a fruitless endeavor as the answer was already set even before Phish decided to play seventeen freaking shows in the same year at the one that was already head and shoulders above the rest, Madison Square Garden. Heck, those seventeen shows alone would make MSG almost the most played venue on their own and judging from the quality of the thirteen shows we have already experienced there this year there simply is no argument that could be made for any other venue besides MSG as being the king of all Phishy environs.

 

Will I return to finish up with BGCA, DSGP, SPAC, and MSG? I’d like to think so. Actually, make that yes. I will eventually. But I have other things I’d like to dive into such as more full tour deep dives. I’m very interested lately in the evolution of the band’s sound and jamming styles over the course of a tour and I’d like to investigate that more in depth. So that’s what I’m going to do. More on this after the NYE Run but let’s make 2018 a big year for Phish nerdery!

Tales of the Giant Iguana – Phish and Red Rocks

The first venue to (randomly) come up in our review of the best venues in all of the band’s history is Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, CO, arguably one of the most beautiful venues in the United States. This natural amphitheatre is part of 640 acres of parkland with trails and other sites besides the music venue to entertain those who visit. Opening in 1941, it has since been designated a National Historic Landmark and is characterized by the iconic dual 300+ foot monoliths that project upwards on either side of the venue, providing that amazing sound and allowing for 9,525 people to have a fantastic view of the band on stage as well as the surrounding area including the Denver skyline off in the distance. This is the type of venue that elevates the concert experience not only literally (elevation here is 6,450 feet above sea level) but also spiritually as for reasons that are obvious once you get into this wonderful place both musicians and fans tend to bring their “A” game most of the time. That ‘venue magic’ is evident in many of the shows that Phish has played here and is part of why seeing shows at this venue became a necessity for those able and willing to make the trek across the great divide.

Phish has played Red Rocks a total of thirteen times with the first appearance being a Friday night in the middle of one of the legendary months in the band’s history and the final appearance to date being the capstone show of the four night run in the comeback summer of 2009. In between they have played two night stands in 1994 and 1995 as well as a four night stand on the brief US portion of the summer tour leading up to The Clifford Ball. There have also been several non-Phish visits to this storied venue including five TAB shows, one Mike & Leo Kottke show, a YMSB with Fish show, and one sit-in by Mike during a Gov’t Mule show. But we’re here for the Phish!

Since we are starting a new thing here let’s talk a bit about what this will look like. Rather than give a full recap of every show at a venue I will be listing off each one, cherry-picking notable highlights and identifying the potentially iconic jams that each show birthed. From there we can debate how this stacks up against the other venues on the list.

Before I dive in forthwith, here is a playlist of all of the Red Rocks jams over the years from our friends at www.phishjustjams.com

08.20.1993  Opening with Divided Sky to nod to the rainstorms that passed through the area pre-show is a nice touch but following it with a mythos-building Harpua tale immediately takes this show next level. Trey espouses his adoration for the venue before even getting to the Giant Iguana Red Rocks origin story which is one I highly recommend listening to if you don’t already know it. The rest of the first set progresses as most did in that era with crisp renditions of each song including some solid Page work in Ice,  a nice acoustic Ginseng Sullivan dedicated to Brad Sands, and the final “slow” Wedge before it got shelved and reworked (returning 135 shows later just before another show detailed further down this page). The Antelope to cap the set is a wild psychedelic ride that departs the song for a bit before coming back to the big ending we know and love. The second set is full of highlights including a patient early set Slave, a frenzied and fast-paced Melt, and a YEM->Purple Rain that includes Mimi Fishman joining her son on the vac. This show is not the best from that legendary month but is a great example of what Phish was in this time as they began the move out of the ‘speed jazz’ era.

06.10.1994  The next year Phish returned for a pair of shows, again hitting the weekend with the first night falling on Friday as the second show of the summer tour after opening up in Salt Lake City on Thursday. Even in being only ten months since their last visit here it is clear that this is a different version of this band. The release of Hoist in March coupled with the spring tour supporting that release has brought out a ferocious side to their playing, a style that builds off of the speed jazz of 1993 but now includes the machine gun shred and regular dips into more open, psychedelic waters. This first night only offers us inklings of that as they are getting into this new tour but still has some interesting aspects such as the nod to the Iguana Tale in the intro to The Lizards (a song that almost never includes banter like this), a bunch of teases, an entertaining Fish Fun Time segment for I Wanna Be Like You, and a compact yet powerful Tweezer that resolves nicely into Lifeboy. When looking at this 1994 Red Rocks pair the second night is the one everyone points to (for reasons that will be obvious shortly) but this show also has most of those elements that made 1994 Phish so intoxicating for we fans.

06.11.1994  Now relaxed and comfortable in their surroundings, Phish came out for the second night of the pair with a show that is anything but a “Saturday Night Special”. By that I mean it is not just a rock-it-out jukebox set but instead is often held up as a paragon of what Phish could be in this era. Some have called this a “perfect” Phish show which might be hyperbole but the argument for it is pretty compelling. The first set is all go for broke rock highlighted by a wonderful YEM and a short but peaky Stash to close the set. Then the second frame is more of the same with Antelope and Fluffhead cranking the energy up before they blow the metaphorical roof off in a nasty take on Melt and a Maze that gets strong solos from both Page and Trey. There’s also a 332 show bustout for Frankenstein just for good measure. This may not have as many open jams as fans these days want/expect but it still holds as the type of show that you can give to a friend who doesn’t know the band to provide a glimpse into this world of ours.

06.09.1995  Almost a year to the day Phish came back for their third visit to Red Rocks and second straight year playing two shows. Once again the band was working through newer material, this time working on many of the songs that would end up on Billy Breathes when that album was released more than a year later. Again this show fell in the early part of tour as this pair was preceded by only the tour opener in Boise and one in Salt Lake City ahead of these weekend shows. After a one year gap Divided Sky returns to Red Rocks and the first set includes three of those newer tunes in Strange Design, Theme, and Taste (but not the final version of that song). The set is capped by a quite peaky Antelope and then they come out firing with another second set Melt that goes sideways in that wonderful way. Bowie is the dark vehicle that carries this set in the first version of perhaps the best tour for the song overall. As with 1994 this first night is a bit of setup more than the peak of the pair but being summer 1995 it pops with the energy and swagger that the band had on display throughout that year.

06.10.1995  There’s something to be said for a show that starts out with Trey pointing out his grandfather in the crowd before starting up Makisupa Policeman. It pretty much tells you how comfortable they were in their position as the rising stars of Jamlandia, particularly when that Maki keyword is “4:20. Dank” and the crowd goes wild before they dropped from a soupy outro jam into a power packed Llama. Here again we also get another solid mid first set YEM which evolves into a vocal HYHU segue to Fish Fun Time for the final version of Lonesome Cowboy Bill before it would return on Halloween in 1998. The second set is another rager with a Maze opener and a massive Mike’s Groove that eats up more than 35 minutes from the 22+ minute Mike’s through the CYHMK-tinged Paug. This Mike’s is the sort that 1.0ers are always on about when the younger fans wonder why this song is held so highly by older fans and lives up to the billing in all its dissonant glory. For good measure this set is graced with the debut of ADITL in the encore. Between this show and the second night the prior year you can see why fans at this time had come to regard shows at Red Rocks as can’t miss certainties.

08.04.1996  Following their first “real” tour of Europe in the early part of the summer of 1996 Phish returned to the US for nine shows leading up to the first big end of summer festival at the Clifford Ball in Plattsburgh, NY. Four of these nine shows were at Red Rocks and the hype surrounding them was unparalleled in the fanbase due to several factors including but not limited to the demise of the Grateful Dead, the explosion of Phish in the wake of 1995, and a limited US touring schedule for the summer of 1996. Once again hitting here in the early stages of tour after stopping in Utah first, the band comes out strong and rides the energy of the crowd. You can almost feel it listening back on the tape as the band and fans connect to elevate the music beyond the objective criteria one might set. This first set gets a lot of the fist-pumping anthems with the Chalkdust opener, Guyute, a really high spirited Melt, Sloth, Maze, and the Loving Cup closer. Then after a punchy Bag 2nd set opener they lay down a lovely Reba (just watch out for the super abrupt ending!) and take Bowie out for a ride. Page also breaks out his “new toy” theremin for a brief debut of the Theme from Star Trek in the encore. This show is a fun one for the start of the run, the first non-NYE time four show run at one venue, and an odd first night Sunday show taboot taboot.

08.05.1996  The second night in 1996 feels in retrospect like a Clifford Ball primer show with its solid if unremarkable first set and a second set that showcases a couple of different sides of the band in that time period. It also is a pretty typical show for 1996 in general. Starting out with 2001 (which happened in a show at every Red Rocks run except 1995) the band then goes into what will eventually stand up as the best Disease of the year (even including some of those wonderful ones from that Fall tour). This is an atypical take on the song in this era but moves through several phases (including Trey on minikit) before seguing into a wild Ice that you really should spin as it is pretty unique. They come up for air in Halley’s but dive deep here as well until Page surfaces with Somewhere Over the Rainbow on theremin. Following the oddly placed mini-stage acoustic set (including the debut of Talk… yay?) and the a cappella Amazing Grace they wrap up with another strong Mike’s Groove. This one is perhaps not as lauded as the one from the year prior but still will get you moving and grooving. Another thing of note with this show is that it includes one of the first example of fans actively trying to get the crowd en masse to “interact” with the band on our terms as flyers were handed out in the lots to try to initiate a few new responses by the crowd to what the band was doing, akin to the Secret Language responses that the band had employed for several years by this time. One of these ideas was for fans to sit down during the pause in Divided Sky which apparently worked to enough effect on this night to be noticeable above just a few folks getting winded from the lack of oxygen and needing to catch their breath. That one didn’t stick but one from the next night sure has…

08.06.1996  By the third night of this 1996 run Phish and its fans had pretty well overrun the small town of Morrison. A contributing factor was the large number of ticketless fans who descended (or perhaps ascended if we want to get technical with the altitude here) upon the area and did not exactly cooperate fully with local law enforcement. There are several stories out there about what really went down but the impact would be felt for more than a decade (more on that later). The band clearly knew what was going on as they opened with Makisupa and then altered the keyword to the first set closing Lope to be “21 year old Phish Fan Marco Esquandolas” which is a direct reference to a quote from a local newspaper from an oh so clever fan. In between that Trey threw in a U2 (and 07.25.1988 Icculus that made it to the Electra release of Junta) reference by saying  “This is Red Rocks. This is the Edge,” in the Rift break section (you know, the part right after the “…slipped off the edge” line), and they played a straight but solid Simple along with everything else. The second set is carried by a strong Tweezer that includes a jam on Norwegian Wood (Trey is very much in charge in this Tweezer) but then the set turns towards the more humorous side of the band as they romp through BBFCFM and then nod to the rainy night with Fish Fun Time for Purple Rain. But with the next song, Harry Hood, the fans joined the band to add “Hood!” in response to the standard “Harry!” line in the song, spurred on by that flyer that circulated and forever changing the song once these tapes got out and spread to the wider fanbase. You may love it but I personally long for the days when the song did not include that crowd feedback. Call me crotchety or whatever but that’s one of my few “back in my day!” things with this band so yeah.

08.07.1996  The final night of the four in 1996 continued the trend with another solid first set as they took Stash out for a DEG-tinged jam, thanked a recent medal-winning Olympian in the crowd, and brought out Colorado native Tim O’Brien for a few songs to end the set (all debuts). I still cannot figure out why they didn’t play Nellie Kane with him but whatever. If you like mando-music this is good stuff for you. The second set starts off with a very engaging Jim that somehow morphs into a full Gypsy Queen jam before coming back to Jim and eventually dropping into a crunchy Free where Trey hits the minikit for a bit. Next up is storytime for another iteration of the Iguana tale (that makes three references in four years), a Life On Mars? that was both topical to current events and nodded back to the tale in Forbin>Mockingbird, and eventually a very nice YEM in the latter part of the set. This show is one of those celebration cappers to a solid run where it is as much about the feel in the room as the music they lay down. The scene was in full bloom at these shows and was about to take another major leap forward with the first true Phish-only festival about ten days away. Though no one knew it at the time this would be the last time Phish would/could play this venue for more than a decade as the poor interactions between fans and local officials made it such that the venue “banned” the band for what we could only assume was forever.

07.30.2009  Time has a funny way of softening people’s views on things, of course, so when Phish returned after The Long Wait and started announcing plans for their summer tour there were rumors that perhaps we had all grown up enough to be allowed back to Red Rocks. Those rumors became reality and Phish came back for another four night run in starting up the second leg of the inaugural summer tour of 3.0. It was difficult to figure out what we might get musically but anticipation was high and tickets were as difficult to come by as any perhaps save the reunion shows at Hampton earlier that year. This was a venue that Phish had ostensibly outgrown in the years since their last visit which played into the demand (and is definitely part of why they have not returned here since, preferring the big crowd and easy venue logistics of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park). Nodding to past shows here they opened with Divided Sky, giving everyone the chance to reconnect with this magical place during The Pause. This opening set is pretty safe as they go but the Stash goes out for a walk even with Trey working out some whale tone in there. The second set is anchored by a fun Ghost>Wolfman’s pairing and the second set closing Bowie is a rocking good time but overall this is a pretty tame Phish show. That is understandable considering it is the first show in more than a month following the Leg One closer at Alpine and 2009 was mainly about everyone reconnecting.

07.31.2009  The second night found the band seemingly more in their element as they got to jamming pretty quickly with the third song Gin. Unfortunately, the energy built by the opening threepack of Jim, Chalkdust, and Gin was deflated when they dropped Time Turns Elastic in the four hole, resulting in a mass departure for the restrooms. The weather played a role in this one as well when the band started up Water In The Sky with rain starting to fall and eventually leading to a wild open jam in Melt during the windy downpour that felt in the moment like the band was ‘playing the storm’. After an extended break to wait out the storm they came back with an on-the-nose Drowned that gets to some quiet space before a nice segue into C&P gets the crowd and band bouncing again. As in the first set they don’t capitalize on the energy as they head into the then new Joy before pulling the yo-yo string again to crank into a much appreciated Tweezer. Unfortunately the ripcord is here too as they bail for BDT#L (let me tell you, it is really weird to be writing about these newer songs after so many posts about shows from eighteen or more years ago!). Pulling the string again they run through a raucous Fluffhead->Piper->ADITL segment to end the set and then after the encores we are left wet and weary and eager for more. There are more good moments here that I recalled but this show suffers from the yo-yo effect that disrupts any cohesiveness.

08.01.2009  By the third night of any run both band and crowd are now fully present and that holds true for this show. The second song in is the return of The Curtain (With) which while only having had a gap of 21 shows waited almost five years to be played again after the absolute trainwreck version from The Festival Which Shall Not Be Named. It was particularly fulfilling to see Trey nail this. Mound was a little bustout (83 shows) and then a fun Jibboo preceded Trey joking about the band using only hand signals to indicate what song would be next (something they continued throughout the set), followed by the high energy PYITE, Guyute section before they started up the end run with a punchy Tube that was big on Page with Trey bending his notes to accent the clav. Antelope punches through for another solid Red Rocks version and then the double whammy 2nd set opening pairing of RnR>Disease got the jams going for real. The RnR has some stop/start action and the Disease includes LA Woman teases which is always nice. There’s an Esther bustout here (89 shows) and a quite heavy feeling Dirt which led to a fun Hood that included teases of both Dirt and Free. This show felt like the one where we were all finally comfortable in the surroundings and musically I think that holds true. The music here has been vastly surpassed in the intervening years since The Return but there are some great connected moments to be found in some of these jams.

08.02.2009  For the final night of this 2009 run the band played things very loose, even opening with the first Roses Are Free of the comeback and then playing a spirited if somewhat disjointed set of music from all over their history. The second set is the gem of this run starting from the jammed out Boogie On opener and working through YEM which dove directly into Undermind when Bill Freaking Kreutzmann came out to join Fish on a second kit. Billy K stayed on for the rest of the set which included a Drums segment that segued into Seven Below, a fantastically groovy 2001, and a quite interesting Waves before the Zero closer. A triple encore put the icing on this one and wrapped up the final Red Rocks show to date. Similar to the night before, the band really found connection in this set and unlike many times when a guest sits in did not lose anything for it. It added another chapter to the ever growing shared mythology of Phish and The Dead while allowing for some creative music as well.

So those are the shows and the base synopsis for each night the band has played this venue. What then is the tale of the tape?

Venue:  Red Rocks Amphitheatre

No. of Shows:  thirteen

Intangibles:  unique, beautiful venue in Phish-friendly Colorado with great acoustics. band has long appreciation for the venue. small(er) capacity adds to mystique in it being a hard ticket to get but worth it if you go. added mythos with band getting banned after 1996 run. classic lot scene with multiple lots and entry points.

Recurring Themes:  Trey wove tales of the giant iguana into almost every run in 1.0, adding to it and updating with topical references. Every visit has Antelope, Melt, Coil, and Yem. Rain.

Key Jams/Songs:  1993 – Harpua, Antelope, Slave, Melt, YEM->Purple Rain, slow Wedge; 1994 – Tweezer, YEM, Stash, Melt; 1995 – Antelope, Melt, Bowie, Makisupa->Llama, YEM, Mike’s Groove; 1996 – Melt, Maze, Reba, Bowie, Disease, Ice, Halley’s->SOTR, Mike’s Song, Tweezer, Hood, Stash, Jim->Gypsy Queen->Jim>Free, Forbin’s>Mockingbird, YEM; 2009 – Stash, Ghost>Wolfman’s, Melt, Drowned>C&P, Tweezer, Curtain (With), Tube, RnR>Disease, Hood, Boogie, YEM->Undermind->Drums->Seven Below>2001>Waves

PJJ Ratio:  2.00 (Please see the Shoreline post for details on this)

 

While I have a hard time believing that Red Rocks will win this competition, it is clearly a venue that holds some great history for the band and fans alike. I must admit that I used to live a short five miles from this venue and grew to love it even more with each show (Phish or otherwise) that I saw there. There is something magic in those rocks, something that you cannot fully explain but once you’ve been there you understand. That magic reflects in the experiences people have and in the music that gets played. It is the type of venue that you remember fondly even after the music fades away.

Where this venue ranks in the overall list is still to be determined. For now let’s enjoy the music that was created in the cradle of the Giant Iguana. What is your favorite memory of Phish at Red Rocks?

And We Play Bebop in the Band – Las Vegas, NV 12.06.1996

Phish — The Aladdin Theatre — Las Vegas, NV 12.06.1996

I  Wilson>Peaches>Poor Heart>2001>Llama, YEM, CTB>Disease>Frankenstein

II  Julius, Sparkle>Mike’s>Simple>Hood>Paug, Adeline, GTBT

E  Harpua->Wildwood Weed->Harpua->I Want to Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart->Harpua->Suspicious Minds->Harpua, Suzy

The final show of a tour is something of a culmination, an opportunity to revel in everything that has come before it, and a chance to reflect back on how we have gotten here just a mere month or two since starting out. It is also a grand celebration and the last time to throw down with several thousand of your best friends knowing that you won’t have this opportunity to dance to Phish music for some time after this night. Musically, these shows can either be very fulfilling with jams galore and perhaps a few knowing nods to what developed over the tour or sometimes the last show can be more of a party where the music is secondary to the celebration. Neither one is bad by any means and with the variety of people who attend shows (particularly these days…) what might not work for one fan could be the best possible show for another. But if you add in a destination like, oh, I don’t know, LAS VEGAS to the equation? Well, my friend, you have the ingredients for one of those nights when everything just seems to come together perfectly.

 

This was the first time that Phish had played Las Vegas since… hang on. Wait. This can’t be… They really hadn’t ever played in Las Vegas before this night? Really?? Huh. That just can’t be, can it? It can? Okay, well, um… I guess we will have to move right into talking about the show then.

 

This is weird. I don’t know what to do without a couple hundred words full of links about shows gone by. Just roll with it? Well, if I say so…

 

This show along with being the tour ender and first time in Las Vegas for the band is the singular time they played at the Aladdin Theater, a venue now called the The AXIS (would that Phish could play Bold as Love there but we’re too big for this room now…). It is located in the Planet Hollywood hotel/casino though back in 1996 it was, somewhat obviously, named the Aladdin Resort & Casino. These things change a lot in that town as we know. Future visits to the city that birthed countless bad decisions would be at the much larger Thomas & Mack Center (the home to UNLV basketball amongst other arena-sized events) and lately the MGM Grand Garden Arena but those are for another time. Today we tackle this wonderfully Phishy night that saw the band and fans celebrating the end to another top notch Fall with some of the over-the-top lunacy that only a place like Las Vegas can beckon.

 

Before we get too far, let’s give you a few places to check out this show outside of the somewhat muddy auds on the typical streaming sites. First and foremost is the spotify of the ‘standard edition’ release of the show. I swear the ‘limited edition’ used to be on there but I’m not finding it anymore. You can also purchase the standard release at Dry Goods, naturally. The aforementioned Limited Release came with a DVD with video of the show from the 2001 through the end which is high quality stuff if you can find it as well as a CD called “Road to Vegas” that had several tracks from the tour leading up to that night:  11.09.1996 Melt, 11.03.1996 Tweezer, 11.07.1996 Gin, 11.18.1996 Simple, and 11.30.1996 Amazing Grace>Amazing Grace jam. All of those are things we have highlighted here along the path of this tour. There’s a less-than-awesome rip of the video on YouTube if you want to at least see what is up with all that went down but I would recommend seeking out the higher quality version if you can find it (I once saw it as an On Demand offering on Fios about five years ago which made for a fun surprise viewing).

 

Okay, I think that gets us where we want to be here.

Everybody ready? Show cued up and volume cranked? Let’s do it!

 

The band comes out with purpose, dropping into the crowd-pleasing Gamehendge rocker Wilson to warm up and get the crowd involved from the start. They crank right though this one (the sixth of tour) and drop into the second Peaches en Regalia of the tour (joining the nod to FZ in his hometown of LA a few nights prior). This one is clean and mean as they have clearly been practicing it and leads into Poor Heart for our typical third song first set bluegrass romp. Continuing the string they extend the outro here into a bit of spacey murk where Trey is pulling, Mike is pushing, and Page plinks around on the effects until Fish snaps the beat and we are into 2001! Not a song you expect to here mid first set, from the start there’s a swagger here that has been building over the past few versions this tour. Trey comes in with the Superbad beat, plays some searching lines above the groove. They patiently sit in this pocket until after the five minute mark when they finally get to the first ‘refrain’, dropping back into an infectious funk groove. Trey is plucking out staccato rhythm lines as the dance party goes big time and then after the final ‘refrain’ they go back to some noisy, distorted murk that erupts into Llama. Trey is on point here, shredding the hell out of this fast paced version (Page has a really fast run through his organ solo too) as they tempt the fans to keep up with non-stop action here five songs into the set. After a minuscule stop to allow everyone to catch their breath they start up You Enjoy Myself, yet another oddly placed vehicle here in the middle of the first set. By now you have to be thinking “holy crap, they are really going for it tonight” which might be one of the more obvious notions your expanded head has ever thrown at you at a show. This YEM starts out with beautifully played Pre and Nirvana sections before they swell up towards the collective release and start to the lyrical section and move to the tramps/jam section(s). Once through the tramps Trey starts playing the funk comp chords you will really get to know and love if you dive headlong into the ’97 cowfunk, allowing Page to do his thing on the organ. After a bit Trey shifts to lead, starting way down with sparse runs of notes featuring elongated tones as fish metronomes behind him. They almost get to a stop-start jam but then Mike hits the fight bell and Trey starts his climb, toying around that typical YEM thematic lead before elevating into a rocking full band jam. Trey is laying waste to it while Fish pounds down and just before they hit the inevitable peak Trey lets his guitar fade out with distortion and heads to the minikit. As he and Fish play Rhythm Devils Mike takes charge on bass, keeping this non-stop dance anthem going hard. After a couple of minutes here they head into the VJ which normally I wouldn’t pay too much heed in this space but it is one of my favorites being the “Donuts I Love Donuts” VJ which is catchy and fun and just perfectly phishy all at once.

 

Now we get our first real breather of the night with NOPE! Instead of letting up they go into Cars Trucks Buses for the thirteenth time this tour (tied for third most overall…). This stays close to form with Page taking charge and playing brightly until the move into Down With Disease. Another oft played tune this tour, Disease stays at home within structure but pops with that massive type I energetic feel as Trey trills above the chugging groove pocket. There is benefit in having played this song so much over the course of the tour as this version is clean and nailed in the way that only a song you play frequently can be. It is almost an auto-pilot jam it feels so effortless. After bringing it back around to the traditional Disease close that we so rarely get these days they put an exclamation point on the set with a raucous Frankenstein. Trey gives us The Lie and then it is off to figure out how many hands of blackjack you can get in during the setbreak while concurrently arguing with your friends about how many shows this tour even have second sets as good as that first one was. Honestly, if you saw that setlist for a second frame here in 3.0 you’d be pretty excited to hear it, wouldn’t you? It’s okay. You can admit it. This is a safe place. There there now. It’s going to be aaaaaaallllll right. Now go get me some nachos.

 

You back yet? Okay, so after a lot of high-fiving and caterwauling and whatnot about how fantastic that first set was you settle into your spot for this final set of Phish before the few weeks’ break leading up to the New Year’s Run starting in Philly. You are kind of expecting a big Tweezer here seeing that they played Mike’s the other night and it had been a few since the last Tweezer but once the lights drop all that speculating goes by the wayside as Trey starts in with the recognizable “doo-doo-do-duh” that gives us Julius. I’ve said it before this tour and it holds true here as well: Trey really really can shred the shit out of Julius. This high energy, rollicking second set opener just continues the celebration of the tour they started from note one in the first set and along with the Sparkle that follows fits the bill in getting everyone back into the right headspace to get to the dancing for the remainder of the show. The Sparkle (non-FMS, of course) butts up against the start of our first real vehicle which surprisingly ends up being Mike’s Song considering what we mentioned just above. Thankfully, they were pretty good at jamming this song back then so even though it might not have gone next level like the one from San Diedo or even St. Louis (or Knoxville… or Tallahassee… they are all in the sidebar playlist there…) it gets a bit dark in the jam as Trey toys around the theme with Page and Mike eventually following him as they start to break down out of Mike’s, coming back to it with a repeated “siren” two note phrase by Trey that drips with musical tension. Knowing that the drop into the transition is just waiting to happen. There is no overt move into a second jam tonight as they play in this frenetic space for several minutes, pulsing in and around the Mike’s Song theme before Trey finally brings it up to the major key peak and move into… Simple! Well, of course. This has been the Simple Tour now hasn’t it? Well, for the capstone version of the tour they go for it big time, seemingly picking up where another version of this jam left off. Trey shines in the early, type I section, peeling off beautiful lines. The band connects and drops down to a quieter, slower pace around the seven minute mark with Page’s piano matching Trey in the beauty department. All are involved at this point and it feels like it could slip into nothingness or continue on in this way forever as you hug yourself, swaying with closed eyes and feeling the cool breeze of the air conditioning fans brushing against your face, the ever present smile you brought with you beaming forth like  the best CK5 light show there is. A few minutes of this loveliness later Trey begins to speed up his lead, interjecting new ideas into the groove and the band follows as they begin to build towards some kind of transition or end peak. But then Trey hits on a dirty groove, the band joins him and we are into another phase altogether. This is the true move out of Simple proper but still evokes Simple in some sense. After only a minute or so of this Trey moves again, this time more back to Simple than away but still in a new, fresh direction. Fish changes the beat as we move past the sixteen minute mark and they hit on a percussive groove as it starts to all break down with Page being the one continuing the melody. After one last Trey lead idea that Page matches it is clear this has now run its course, evidenced by Fish adding some soft, all but incomprehensible lyric to it and the band resolves to move on. Fish hits the start of Harry Hood and your smile widens even more (you really are going to have some tired cheeks after this night) as they play in the ‘reggae’ intro. Trey hits a couple of whistle wahs, Mike hits the fight bell and then as they get into the song proper Trey hits some more toys on his mini-kit as we get to the lyrics. Once to the jam this Hood elevates like all the great ones do, first with Page tinkling the electric piano keys in that way that gets all the hairs on your neck standing at attention as Trey patiently works on that slow-build crescendo. Within only a few moments you are right back in that blissful space that Simple begat, feeling all the love there could possibly be flowing down over you in bits of musical joy. Suddenly you notice that as Trey is building again with Mike adding his flair and Page lifting it higher the syncopated groove is intertwining all around you. We are off to the run at the peak now but still a ways to go before getting there so you open your eyes and realize the entire room is just as lost in this as you are, causing you to whoop out in spontaneous joy. They keep building the tension until finally Trey erupts over the rest of the band, taking the reins of this before it spins out of control, and riding it into the glorious end peak resolution this song hangs its hat on. In recognition of a jam well done Mike nails the fight bell a few times and then kicks off the Weekapaug Groove beat as Trey’s final guitar line continues to sustain in the fading distance. At this point it is all almost too much but you came here to get down and getting down is exactly what this Paug will make you do. They set up a funk pocket with Page toying on the organ first and then Trey comes in with an almost-but-not-quite 3rd Stone From The Sun tease but instead kicks it over to Page for a big piano-heavy jam with Fish just pounding away in the back and Mike dropping big behind. Trey sets a loop and joins Fish on percussion for a bit until he soars up over the groove with those tell tale Trey leads. Suddenly he kicks the band into a stop/start jam where everyone is going NUTS somehow divergent but still in the same direction. They bring it all the way down to ‘pin drop’ space (pretty sure you can even hear Fish say “yeah” on the SBDs) before EXPLODING into the final run at the Paug peak. This is pure glory Phish at this point where seemingly everything they do blows the room up and you can hear that the band and crowd know it even on the tape. As they come to a close here you realize you haven’t stopped moving in about seventy minutes so it’s a good thing for you that they come up for air in the wake of this Paug. Here, finally, Phish realizes that they along with the crowd might need a sip of water or at least a few deep breaths so they come to the front of the stage for an un-mic’d Sweet Adeline (which is pretty much not captured on the tapes, of course). Then, to bring this set home they crank into a shreddy Good Times Bad Times, a perfectly fitting capper to a big time night of music. Man, what a set. What a show! Any encore they do here is just gravy, am I right?

 

Heh. Hehehe. HAHAHAHAHA!!

 

Yeah, “gravy”. Sure. That’s all it is…

 

Okay, if you don’t know this about me, I have another little project that I started a bunch of years back that kinda totally completely petered out as I had a lot of other things biding for my time like a new kid, new job, etc. etc. Anyway, I have a now-long-not-updated blog called Me and Harpua where I was going to go through every Harpua ever played to dissect that wonderfully odd second class Gamehendge storytime tune about our pal Jimmy, his cat Poster the Nutbag, and that fat sweaty bulldog Harpua. Suffice it to say, I am a huge fan of the song and I have been lucky enough to have caught it seven times over the years but STILL NOT ONCE in 3.0 dang it! So you can imagine that when I talked to friends who were at this Vegas show and saw it pop up on the setlists at rec.music.phish I was geeked and intrigued to hear what this version entailed. The prior version had been left unfinished at The Clifford Ball due to a bit of a technical malfunction with the stunt they were trying to employ (a story for another time, perhaps…) and while the various versions aren’t tied together in any conceivable way it still was something I and others really wanted to find out about after this show. So when you hear Trey come out and welcome Larry LaLonde and old friend Les Claypool to the stage at the start of the encore and then they sing that oh so wonderful “oom pa pa oom pa pa oom pa paaaaa” intro line to Harpua the squee factor goes to eleven in a hurry. From the start, something here is… different… but unless you know a bit about music you might not realize that it is because they are playing the song in 4/4 time instead of its typical, somewhat odd 7/4 time. The addition of Larry’s jangly guitar is a neat add-on here but it is clear Trey is thrown off in singing to this different beat. They work through that (and honestly, this song is not about hitting every note as much as it is in getting to the story) and then while playing that same Harpua melody Les does his talking jive thing based on an old song called Wildwood Weed by Don Bowman (here’s a take by Jim Stafford). The lyrics fit right in as you will see and kind of set the mood for all that we don’t yet know is to come. They pop right back into Harpua at the start of storytime and Trey gets to the telling, beginning to weave the tale of the next chapter in the world of our pal Jimmy. I won’t go into full detail here as if you aren’t familiar it really is a story that deserves your time but the main gist is that Jimmy is on his way to Las Vegas and things go sideways as they tend to do for him. As the tale progresses Jimmy sets camp for the night and he and Poster end up singing (nay, yodeling!) a song by the campfire which cues some folks to come out to help the band play that song, I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart, a classic country yodeling yarn by Patsy Montana. Tonight it is performed by The Yodeling Cowgirls (naturally) with Phish, Larry, Les, and our newish friend John McEuen helping them out. After that fun interlude Trey gets back to the story and Jimmy’s journey to Vegas, resulting in him running into a pack of Elvii. So as one would expect, three Elvis impersonators come to the stage and along with Fish decked out in his own Elvis cape which we last saw on 10.29.1996 back in Tallahassee. Trey goes to Fish’s kit and we get Suspicious Minds because what else would they play here, this one a particularly memorable version – particularly considering it still stands as the last time they have played it to date. This stands to be a battle between “Jimmy” (i.e. Fish) and the other Elvii to allow him to enter the city, which he does, and then Trey continues on with his tale of Jimmy’s quest to make a lot of money in Vegas only to have our antagonist show up, moving the story on to the fight and resolution phase. After finishing this up they pop right into Suzy Greenberg and EVERYONE comes back to the stage for the party. So that’s Phish, Larry LaLonde, Les Claypool, John McEuen, the Elvii, the Yodeling Cowgirls (dancing), and just for good measure the actor Courtney Gains who you might know from Children of the Corn or another classic 80s flick hops on Trey’s minikit as well. The Suzy stretches out and then at some point on of the Elvii starts interjecting Suzie Q, the Credence Clearwater Revival tune, and the band catches on and they play that out until the big finish. Yes, that is the end to the show, finally, and what an ending it is. There are some pretty memorable encores that this band has played over the years but very few can match this one. And just like that the show and tour are over and all that is left is the hugging and reveling in what just went down before scattering off into the harsh light of the Las Vegas night.

 

I know that as soon as I write this someone will have an opposing view but for my money there really isn’t a tour ending show that can top this one. It has a bit of everything that we love about Phish from the tight, energetic playing to the open jamming to the antics to the mythos and storytelling and more. The band is in celebration mode but not in a fashion that detracts from the music which is as good as you could want in this context. Both sets and the encore are worthy of your time and energy in the listening, giving us a good summary of where this tour has come from and brought us to in the end. There are five songs in this show that were played way back in the opener from Lake Placid and every one has so much more to offer than those versions from just under two months ago. More than that, the jams in this show pull together a lot of the ideas that have been percolating over that time, none more so than this Simple. Some will make the quite reasonable argument that the Memphis Simple from 11.18.1996 is the top version of the tour but this Vegas one feels like they are writing the end of tour essay on “How Simple Grew Up During Fall Tour 1996” that no one bothered to assign them. The Hood has a similar feel as does the Down with Disease where all of these are perhaps not the best singular version of each song from the tour but do quite well in representing the Fall 1996 vibe and sound. I’ll have more to say about that vibe/sound in the summary posts to follow. For now let’s get to the takeaways from this night which are many. The first tier are 2001, YEM, Disease, Julius, the whole Mike’s>Simple>Hood>Paug sequence, and the entirety of the encore suite Harpua->Wildwood Weed->Harpua->I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart->Harpua->Suspicious Minds->Harpua->Suzy. Second tier? Well, let’s just say that everything worth plucking out here is top notch and you really should just spin the whole thing since the songs I left out there are all worthy of second tier status at worst. Call this fluffing, sure, but note that this is not a show I attended so there’s no attendance bias at play so that’s just me finding this show to be so very very good. This tour has provided us with a quite lengthy list of potential top notch takeaways to get through and this show doesn’t happen without all that brought us here. I love this show and have spun it probably as much as any other show  Phish has played. It is a great one to give people who like to say 1996 is the lull between 1995 and 1997 as it has a lot of the elements that make those two years so great all in one place. So if you haven’t been listening along while reading or are perhaps not familiar with this show, go do yourself a favor and spin this one loud. You will not be disappointed.