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.

Where Palm Trees Dipped – San Diego, CA 12.04.1996

Phish — Sports Arena — San Diego, CA 12.04.1996

I  MFMF, CDT, Horn, Uncle Pen, Timber Ho!>Sample, Train Song, Guyute, Zero, Lizards, Bowie

II  Ha Ha Ha>Mike’s>Caspian>Sparkle>PYITE, LoM?, Reba, Lawn Boy, Paug

E  JJLC

 

After their one night in Arizona Phish returned to California for two nights, one technically being considered an “off night” followed by a show in San Diego. The off night was spent singing the Star Spangled Banner for the LA Lakers vs. Seattle Supersonics game that Trey mentioned in introducing their performance of the song back in Seattle on 11.27.1996. That game, played at the Great Western Forum was one by the home team 110 to 106 over the eventual division champion Supersonics in that rookie year for Kobe Bryant and the first season that Shaquille O’Neal played for the Lakers. Then after that off day fun Phish went a little further south to play their fifth ever show in the San Diego area. The first visit to the area was kind of delayed by about two years if you were one to pore over the details of the old Phish Newsletters as there was a “TBA San Diego Area” date for April 14, 1992 listed in the March/April 1992 version. Thankfully the drought ended on 05.14.1994 at Montezuma Hall on the campus of San Diego State University surely quelling the concerns of those far Southern Californians and the masses of transplanted trustafarian surfer types who contributed to the sustained growth of the region in that time period. The show is a fun one with a nice Reba, a Mike’s that gets a bit dirty and shreddy, and just the all-around solid play of the time period. The wait for the band’s return would not be long after that as they came back to play a two night run at Spreckels Theatre on 12.07.1994 and 12.08.1994. The first night might jog your memory a bit as it includes the version of YEM from A Live One but do also check out the Melt because that one is fantastic and the Jim gets a little Gypsy Queen love. The second night goes deeper with a Maki->Maze opener, a wildly funky Simple->Catapult->Simple->Lizards (yes, I said funky about a ’94 show), a crazed Possum, a big beautiful Reba, and a frenzied Bowie being the highlights. A little less than a year later they played at the Summer Pops stage at the Embarcadero Center on 09.28.1995, the second show on that Fall ’95 Tour and one that is well played if pretty short on the jams… not unlike the tour opener we just got from St. Paul. The next visit would be for this show sitting on the other end of a Fall Tour which was played as the second to last show of the tour. But you already knew that.

 

For the third time this tour and the fifth in 1996 as a whole Phish opens the show with My Friend, My Friend. This is the third show opening version of the tour (which I always seem to over explain so we’ll forego that today) and one that goes as you would expect in leading up to that evil peak. Next they run through the shred clinic of Chalkdust Torture which gives us a bit of double opener energy as Trey slays this tight version. They pull up a bit for an early Horn (which I feel usually gets played in the back half of a first set after the first potential vehicle but that could just be me projecting that) that is played finely enough before we get the bluegrass song for the set in Uncle Pen. After Pen they start into Timber Ho! to give us our first real taste of the jam on the night. As with pretty much every Timber Ho! this one stays within the song and doesn’t stretch for too long but Trey does twist things a bit in his solo before the final verse/refrain, giving us a bit of dark jam jerky to gnaw on as we wait for the main courses to come. Unfortunately, they go from this to Sample and then follow that with Train Song, kind of killing the darker vibe they had been setting with the bulk of the songs up to this point. A rocking take on the Guyute suite brings us back a bit and satisfies the howling fist pumpers who almost have their heads pop off when they crunch into Character Zero after that Guyute. You have to admit that playing the song as much as they did on this tour wasn’t a bad thing for the song because by this point they are straight crushing it with Trey toying around all over the fretboard and the rest of the band keeping stride. After the rock out Trey starts up our fifth Lizards of the tour which they run through quite well before Fish hits the tell tale intro to a set closing David Bowie. As with most of the Bowies on this tour this one burns hot and deep, coming in under the radar but laying waste to all it touches. It isn’t a massive one but it churns and roils with tension building goodness and pays off with a satisfying peak before Trey slips in The Lie before leaving the stage.

 

You fill the setbreak time by wandering around this old venue, learning about how it once was supposed to host the GOP National Convention (1972) only to have the GOP move their thing to Miami with short notice (kinda not surprised there), played home base for several middling sports league teams (like ABA and WHL franchises), and hosted the numerous music luminaries who have graced the stage of the venue over the years. The venue has now succumbed to the Naming Rights Bingo game like so many others but still trucks on as a viable option for tours to come (but let’s not kid ourselves; Phish ain’t coming back here unless they somehow start doing very big tours again and that’s a pipe dream). Before you know it your friends shuttle you back to your spot and the lights drop and the band cranks into the second Ha Ha Ha of the tour. In your head you are wondering why this song now because the song is often the telling finger-to-the-side-of-the-nose winking nod to something tongue in cheek they have done before this but then you remember they opened Hampton with it and just give into the quick run through this to wait and see what they drop into in its wake. That would be Mike’s Song which is never not welcome to most of us, particular back in this era of extended open jams and fully developed second jams in the song. From the drop out of the lyrics Trey is in charge, playing around the Mike’s theme as the rest of the band builds up the chunking groove. Trey shifts to some funk rhythm chords and adds in the wah as Page comps on the organ. After a minute or so of this dance party music Trey re-initiates his lead and gets into some staccato-like playing before taking things to a higher plane. He moves back and forth between these two modes for a bit before we hit the power chords that signal the move either into the second jam or out into the next song. Second jam it is tonight! Trey goes low and menacing and starts setting loops as he moves over to the mini-kit for a bit of double drums action with Fish. He keeps the loops gong as he moves back to the guitar, playing these big wah’d out lines and feeling around the groove pocket as Fish goes nuts on the kit. At about the 13:00 mark they shift modes again and Trey is in lead in the higher end again, noodling towards the end bit which they kind of slam into rather than taking their time. This is one of those big, dark, groovy Mike’s jams that implores you to dance, never fully leaving Mike’s but also something different at the same time. It’s a definite keeper. Next up is one of only two ever times Prince Caspian has followed Mike’s song (the other being 07.29.2014) and while largely what you’d expect they do seem to draw out the ‘plinky’ section towards the end before the big jarring chord shift. I guess that is something of note. After a quick run through Sparkle they keep moving with Punch You In The Eye. Trey yells out some kind of affirmation and then Fish adds in another bit of ‘Get Up Offa That Thang’ like he did a few shows ago. They nail this one with Trey hitting everything cleanly in the Landlady section before moving on to our sixth Life On Mars? of the tour. After running through four solid if un-jammed tunes they start up Reba, working through the composed section effortlessly. The jam starts out quiet and in a patient way with Trey tinkering around and Page mirroring him as Mike throws in some creative ideas of his own. Now, the .net Reba doc calls this one “thoroughly average” which I suppose is true in some sense (don’t get me started on the overly complicated rating system employed there) as they stay in form the whole way but if that is the average then I’m happy to just ask for average Rebas in the future. I would have been quite satisfied with this one live, particularly as this relatively late stage in the show. Fish hits the telltale run to wrap it up and then they stop on a dime sans whistling for Trey to give a bit of banter/thanks to the caterers  since they wouldn’t be joining them in Las Vegas for the tour closer. Two of them get to dance on stage with Trey (!!!) while Page croons out Lawn Boy and then we are off into the Weekapaug Groove closer you knew was coming. Trey starts out with heavy wah before they even hit the first recognizable bit of the song and then we are off into happy fun dance party land. Trey takes a creative approach to the main riff, altering it slightly as he solos and plays ALL THE NOTES. He seems to pull up a bit towards the end, first giving thanks to the crowd and then blowing up the final peak but I assure you no one would have been complaining at that stage. When they come back out for the encore Trey has more thanks to give and then they lope into Jesus Just Left Chicago (mike giving a *ting* of approval right at the start), still the last time the song has been used as an encore in its 80 appearances. Page lights this one up and then Trey tears the place down as the band closes out yet another quite fine show in the end run of this tour.

 

Here we have another example of the big Fall 1996 sound they have developed over the course of this tour with pretty close to all of their various styles on display from tight shred and intricate composition to open groove jamming and smile-inducing dance party anthems. The band is so connected at this stage that it really doesn’t matter what they play because everything comes off the way it feels like it should and the creative ideas they are sharing never feel forced or out of place. I admittedly was only truly familiar with the Mike’s Song from this show before going back to spin it after so many years but I was happily surprised at the overall high quality of it (and having an available soundboard in circulation sure doesn’t hurt). Mike’s and JJLC are the clear tier one takeaways with Reba and Bowie coming in just under that but don’t mistake the lack of takeaways for a lack of quality. I’m pretty much just saving up for that tour ender at this point ::wink wink:: So one show to go now and chances are it won’t get posted until next week what with new Phish competing for ear time and the holiday weekend upcoming. Plus this one will be a biggie considering the bigness of what goes down there (he says without wanting to drop any massive spoilers). But fear not because I’m not losing steam here, just making sure I give this last one its rightful due before we get to the recappin’, jam rankin’, and movin’ on to the next project thing…

 

Thanks as always for following along…

 

With Meaningless Excitement – Phoenix, AZ 12.02.1996

Phish — America West Arena — Phoenix, AZ 12.02.1996

I  Rocky Top>Bag, Bouncin’, YEM, IDK, Theme, Gumbo, Julius

II  Ya Mar, Divided, Wolfman’s>Taste>Free, Mule, Hood, Adeline

E  Fire

 

Now flying fast in the final week of the tour Phish moved on to Phoenix, AZ for their fourth show in as many days. If you are keeping track at home that is over 850 miles of travel with no off days for the longer slogs. Not their craziest routing ever (heck, it even make sense geographically) but that’s a lot of miles for the band, crew, and fans alike. Personally, had I been on this leg of the tour I would have filled my time with looking back at the setlists gone by from the Valley of the Sun which are a bit fewer than I would have expected but still bring some punch with them. The first visit to the area was on 10.23.1991 for a show at Chuy’s in Tempe (of course it is now closed, what would you expect?. It is about as average of a setlist from that time period as you could expect as the average song gap is only 2.04 shows, something that looks weird even just seeing it on paper – and notably only four songs have gaps longer than 2 shows in Destiny Unbound (4 shows and somewhat ironic considering how long the gap would get after a performance a few weeks later on 11.15.1991 in Charlottesville, VA), Mango Song (7 shows), Possum (3 shows), and Take the A Train (6 shows) with many songs even having been played at the prior show a few days earlier on 10.19.1991 out in Santa Cruz. That’s not the sort of gap Phish shows have. This is not a show I have heard as it isn’t exactly the most widely traded show ever (if at all…) and it is probably best remembered as being the first time Brad Sands worked (in a volunteer capacity) for the band, starting a long and fruitful relationship with the band. The following Spring they returned to Tempe to play on 04.13.1992 at After the Goldrush (another Mill Avenue venue now long gone). There’s some fun teasing here including the then quite popular Smells Like Teen Spirit in a few places not to mention Secret Language and the other loose, fun stuff you got in those bar band goes big type of shows. This is another show that benefits from the up front Mike in the mix similar to other shows on that run. On 03.16.1993 they moved up to the larger Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix which we covered here almost a year ago. Even if you go back to that I’ll reiterate my recommendation that you spin the Tweezer->Sweet Emotion->Tweezer->Gin (this was the first of the three Sweet Emotion jams that also includes The Bomb Factory and the Seattle show from earlier in this Fall 1996 tour) and perhaps the Esther>SL Instructions>Esther if only because it is the last known time they have done that and I am pretty sure it will never happen again unless they rediscover their love for that some time soon and then feel the need to bring us back up to speed. But don’t hold your breath there. Spring of 1994 brought the band to Hayden Square back over in Tempe for one on 05.13.1994 that sees our first big time jamming in the Phoenix area. The Ice is menacing, Stash goes sideways a bit, Slave is a beaut, there’s a fun second set Melt, McGrupp has some extra sauce, and then YEM is a tease-filled beast that even gets a little MLB tease action. Later in the year on 12.09.1994 the band was at the Mesa Amphitheatre in Mesa (obviously) to play an outdoor show in December which is something you just don’t normally get to do when you are a band from Vermont. This show has jams a plenty including the wonderful “Force Theme” Lope that also gets the alternate “suck the deer shit from this side of the hole” lyrics but then it is the Slave-like Tweezer jam that takes this show to the next level. Please go listen to that. Finally, on 10.11.1995 Phish was in Chandler at the Compto Terrace Amphitheater which was demolished in 2010. This show has an atypical Divided, a bluesy Possum that borrows from ‘You Don’t Love Me’ and has some other teases like DEG and JBG, a rocking Gin, a big Mike’s that ends up in McGrupp and a few other fun segues like the move from Paug to Llama. Oh, and there’s that tease-y Suzy withthe segue into the 197 show bustout of Crossroads which is nice too. Now on to our regularly scheduled program…

 

Phish opens the show in a way that has only ever happened three times and at the time of this show only once previously waaaaaaaay back on 05.02.1991. Yup, that’s a Rocky Top opener which is not exactly where we are used to hearing this cover tune considering that 110 of the 195 performances have been encores. And because I know you care about this level of minutiae, the break down for the song is 110 encore slottings, 40 second setters (2 being openers), 38 first setters, and 7 third set playings (one opener). That’s probably more than has been written about that song on a Phish blog perhaps ever though I haven’t exactly fact checked that statement. Rocky Top butts up into ACDC Bag for a bit of a double opener pairing. This Bag stretches a bit as previous versions have with Trey drawing out the end solo but never leaving the known structure of the song’s progression. That sort of thing is about a year away (insert winky emoticon here). After Bouncin’ ‘Round the Room for a bit we get a bit of a surprise in our third first set You Enjoy Myself of the tour (joining MSG and Halloween). Honestly, I forgot we were up to three already so maybe the surprise is all mine. This unexpected (to me!) treat is fairly straight forward in terms of the jamming as they don’t take it to funklandia tonight. That’s not to say there isn’t any there there though because Trey rips through his solo and then the D&B section gets raucous with Trey on the mini-kit for some extra percussion love to accompany Mike’s bass aerobics. It’s a fun version that won’t make the end of tour list but definitely worked in the context of this set. From the VJ they head into I Didn’t Know complete with intro to “The one and only little, round, donut, Tasmanian devil, beast boy himself…” along with more fun digs at Fish before the vac solo. Next up is another solid Theme From The Bottom and then a romp through Gumbo sans Mapleleaf Rag ending which seems to have only been a two-time thing, sadly. The set wraps up with a fun Julius where Trey gets his guitar god on for a bit and we are left with yet another ‘fifteen minute’ lie to stew about until the lights drop once more.

 

As the lights drop, were you in the vicinity of the tapers you would have heard an odd chant by a small group of fans who thought that shouting out “Poster Nutbag!” in unison would somehow influence the band to play Harpua. They were incorrect in that and the band starts up Ya Mar instead. This carries over the fun vibe that they fostered in the first set and ends up being a pretty captivating version. With Page and Trey both taking meaningful solos this one ends up on the longer side of the Ya Mar graph (excepting the few jammed departures into open waters). It is about as strong a version that stays fully in bounds as you could want and just shows how well they are playing here at the tail end of this tour. Next up is Divided Sky (1:13 pause tonight and apologies for that crappy video if you happen to click it because it is clearly an upper deck side stage pull) which gets a bit of extra sauce in the post-pause jam as Fish is going nuts on the kit behind Trey’s lead. Wolfman’s Brother gets its seventh performance of the tour next, a stat that surprises me as I would have said it had definitely been played more frequently than that. This one is short but peppy with Fish’s beats adding flair to the piano Page plays and then we head right into the start of our tour staple, Taste. I expect that if you are not the biggest fan of Taste that this tour hasn’t been your favorite considering the song has a 1.74 gap rating (or a strong 0.576 batting average if you choose to look at the stats that way) having been played now 19 times in just 33 shows. That’s like YEM in the early days or something. Unfortunately for you, oh Taste Hater, they are playing the song quite well as they head into the end of the year and on to what I believe to be the best year for the song, 1997. Tonight’s is pure Trey on display as he beckons the song to go higher and higher with big runs of notes, eventually peaking the song and bringing it back around to the close with flawless ease. They don’t come up for air and drop into Free for what you hope might be the open, set-carrying jam we have been waiting for here but instead it is a well played though somewhat unadventurous run through the song with Trey spending most of his time over on the mini-kit and playing with his guitar loops to add to the percussive jam as Page leads the way, eventually settling into the return for the last volley of lyrics. There is video out there of this Free which is mislabeled as 12.29.1996 so you get a good chance to see the mini-kit fun if you haven’t watched any vides from this tour yet. After a rote Scent Of A Mule they kick into what is assuredly the set closing Harry Hood, raising hopes for something that might take this set and show above the largely ‘okay’ level so far. There is a brief whistle wah and some other mini-kit effects by Trey before the first run through the lyrics and then the jam starts out in a subdued manner as Trey noodles around the Hood theme. They hit a serene space, floating through the jam to where it almost feels like it might just whisper away into nothing. They push through and Trey raises up towards the peak, not hitting the crazy sustain like Omaha or anything but instead riding the lead and paying off this longer than expected version. Not content to end it there they sing a quick Sweet Adeline a cappella closer and then come back for the encore with a ripping cover of Fire to send the elated off into the night.

 

Considering where we are at this stage of tour this very jam-lite show is a bit of a head scratcher. As expected it is all quite well played and the band is clearly connected and connecting with the crowd but they don’t even bother with any song that in this era could/would go further out. There are a couple of interesting setlist calls like that mid first set YEM but this would not have been a show many people would be talking about to their friends when asked what they liked from the tour. Granted, this is the fourth show in as many nights and we have already covered the travel involved so perhaps they just weren’t feeling it to go deep. You could say that they are keeping things “safe” here but I’m not so sure that is what this is as much as just what they were feeling on this night. Were this your first show it would be a good introduction to the band without putting you in any uncomfortable spots. The setlist, while not having anything we haven’t already heard this tour — in fact just three songs here have ‘only’ been played three times (Rocky Top, IDK, Adeline) — still feels fresh due to some atypical placements. And I could once again go on about energy and whatnot but I think you get the picture. For a Monday show on the backside of four in a row there really shouldn’t be much complaint here. Takeaways are a bit light, naturally, but we do get that strong Ya Mar, Taste, and Hood for the first tier with the Divided and Free being solid second teamers. Two shows to go here and while I didn’t hit my arbitrary goal of finishing up this tour prior to the new summer tour starting we will be there soon enough. Next stop, San Diego!