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!

Ain’t Nothing I Would Rather Do – Los Angeles, CA 12.01.1996

Phish — Pauley Pavilion — Los Angeles, CA 12.01.1996

I  Peaches>Poor Heart>Cavern>CTB, Zero, Curtain>Disease, Train Song, Horse>Silent, Sample>Lope

II  Tweezer>Sparkle>Simple->ADITL, Reba, Swept Away>Steep>Reprise, JBG>Slave

E  HTH

 

Close to 400 miles down the road from their prior night’s show in the capital city Phish was in Los Angeles to play a show at the Pauley Pavilion at the University of California Los Angeles. This was the first and only time the band played this venue or any venue related to the university but not nearly the first time they had played in the greater LA region. There’s quite a bit of history to get through here so strap in…

 

The first visit to the LA area was on 04.15.1992 for a show at the Variety Arts Theatre, a historic theatre that is about to begin a new life as home to a megachurch. The show is the typical Spring ’92 tease-heavy, banter-filled affair which benefits from a soundboard having been given out by Paul Languedoc after a fight with the venue management about the band’s open taping policy. It is also the show right before the classic, beloved 04.16.1992 Anaconda Theatre show that everyone had a tape of so there’s that. That summer Phish was back to play three single set opener slots for Santana at the Greek Theatre on 08.13.1992, 08.14.1992, and 08.15.1992. None of these is particularly notable to be frank. Spring 1993 saw the band at the Palace Theatre for their first two night stand on the West Coast, playing shows on 03.17.1993 and 03.18.1993, both nights of which we have covered here previously. They stayed in the area for two more shows on that run, playing first on 03.19.1993 at another Greek Theatre over at the University of the Redlands and then on 03.21.1993 out in Ventura at the Ventura Theater (and again, we have covered these shows here previously). A little over a year later they played their only show ever at the Wiltern Theatre on 05.16.1994 and this show is one you might want to hear for the wild second set that is infused with BBFCFM madness in several places (if nothing else, spin the Lope->BBFCFM->Lope). This is also the show where the band invited Matt Groenig of The Simpsons fame to attend and thus began a fruitful relationship that eventually resulted in the band being on an episode of the show several years later (and yes, of course there is a Simpsons SL signal in this show). That Fall they played the Civic Auditorium over in Santa Monica for the tour ending show on 12.10.1994. Along with the ALO Simple being from this show there is a nice Stash and the first Chalkdust Torture Reprise ever. On 09.29.1995 Phish returned to the Greek Theatre (no, not that one. the first one) and played a relatively jam-lite show that is probably best known for the one time performance of the Aerosmith “classic” Cryin’ (by Fish with vac, naturally). That all brings us up to our show here in 1996 where things seem to be a bit more in the “let’s get down to business and melt some faces” which is something I can always get on board with…

 

The first sign that this may be the case comes in the 144 show bustout of Peaches en Regalia, the well loved Frank Zappa classic from Hot Rats which was once rumored to be something Phish might tackle for a Halloween cover set. This is a great way to get the crowd moving even if a lot of people may not have been familiar with the song or that Phish covered it. Peaches butts up against Poor Heart which goes to Cavern which leads to Cars Trucks Buses and then finally Character Zero for a five pack of energetic, get-the-place-moving tunes before they come up for their first breath of air. That’s a fun start to the show no matter what era you are in but particularly here when they have full command of these songs and know where they want them to go. Trey uses the brief break to thank everyone for coming and to introduce everyone to Peaches en Regalia while also giving a nod to ‘hometown boy’ Frank Zappa. The band then launches into a somewhat Zappa-ian composition of their own, The Curtain, our fifth performance of the table setting tune this tour. As they head to the end those thoughts about “what will they go into next” creep up and your stat brain starts to worry that maybe it’ll be Sample again like in Grand Rapids or maybe Mike’s like Knoxville and Vancouver but probably not because that’s a second set jam vehicle and you begin to spiral down and away from the moment when suddenly you realize they have gone into Down With Disease and everything is okay once more. Trey leads the way in this Disease, staying within the framework of the song but crafting a creative jam that chugs along and flirts with departing the song at points (I swear I hear Trey playing ‘Get Back’ in one section) before coming back around to the old school close to the song. Now we get our first real break of the night as they play Train Song and then The Horse>Silent in the Morning resulting in perhaps the most empty set of fan bladders imaginable at any point in a set. I joke as even the band deserved a bit of a break there after all that high energy playing. Next up is Sample which sure fine whatever and then a set closing Run Like an Antelope to bring us back to that energy once more. This Lope gets a bit crazy in the rush towards the peak followed by a Mike footbell clinic in response and then Trey calls out Norton Charleston Heston instead of Marco Esquandolas before they bring it on home and send us off to the break to go rehydrate and look at the cool pictures of the legendary basketball players who made this place what it is in the concourse area.

 

Now sufficiently awed by unusually large men in really short shorts and their ability to put a leather, air-filled sphere into a metal ring suspended ten feet from the ground you settle in for the second set as the lights drop. Were you near the taper section on this night you might have witnessed a bit of a scrap as the most common aud out there for this show catches a bit of it as the band starts up into Tweezer. But with one big “mellow out, dude!” the fight seems to dissipate or at least be subsumed by the building sound of the band cranking up the heat. Just after our little overheard conversation Trey hits the whistle wah before the verses even start which I take as a good sign of where this might go. Then, as soon as the verses complete Trey scratches out some dissonant tones and we are into the jam, Mike punctuating the start with a few footbell hits along the way. This jam starts out somewhat sparsely with Trey noodling around the Tweezer theme as the others listen to see where he might be taking things. As Trey starts to go out Mike accents with ideas of his own and Page comps along. Trey is controlling the feel here, keeping it dark and dirty as he and Mike play descending lines that drip with evil intensity. He adds some vocal inflection to compliment his playing and shifts into a more pronounced lead which Fish picks up on by playing big rolls and punishing the kit as they hit a percussive section that has a groove but also challenges the listener to keep up. By the ten minute mark they are fully connected in this and Fish starts adding some vocal adlibs of his own. We are still mainly in the Tweezer realm as Trey growls out guitar lines of the sort that always seem to have him mouthing the sound, almost evoking the notes out of the guitar with his facial gyrations. Trey moves to the mini-kit and Page takes over on the synth, playing evil funk as Trey and Fish both pound away. After only a minute or two Trey comes back to the lead to begin the climb towards the old school Tweezer close and right about when they should be starting the slow down ending he plays a repetitive, percussive lead that Fish and Page match as Mike hits the fight bell in time. Fish is throwing in some “huuuuh!” vocal intonations and the band sits in this demonic groove, slowly but surely bringing the whole thing down to a chugging, menacing pace that feels ready to fall apart at any second. As it continues to crawl the band adds in maniacal laughing/yelling and then they bring it to the final roll as Page uses the organ to signal the move into Sparkle. This is an interesting call considering what came before it but Phish loves to pair dark and light so perhaps not overly surprising after all. Now, I’m a charter member of the FMS Seekers Club (that’s Face Melting Sparkle for those who haven’t been following along at home) and while that is somewhat of a long running joke there is something to the desire to hear the band shred the shit out of the end of Sparkle, harmless tune that it is. Tonight Trey is playing the end with nimble fingers and Fish hoots and hollers as they head into the frenetic close that almost gets to where the FMS would be by instead they wrap it up and drop into Simple. Knowing what this song has done already this tour anticipation is high for where they might take things tonight, particularly in the wake of that Tweezer. This Simple starts out rocking pretty hard for the song with Fish adding some more vocal fun and I would love to know what he says around the 1:50 mark or so. When they get to the jam though they stay within Simple as Trey quiets things down with a lovely exploration within the Simple theme. Mike and Page balance this as they enter a blissful space, Trey repeating the same lick over and over until dropping out as Page plays the start to A Day In The Life. Not traditionally a ‘landing pad’ sort of song it works here as they had run through that Simple idea without needing to take it any further. After verses they head into that chaotic build which tonight feels even more ominous, matching the tone of the big Tweezer jam earlier in the set, finally bringing it to a close with that punctuating singular BLAP from Fish.

 

At this stage of the set you could expect a lot of things to happen but I’m not sure I would have bet on Reba starting up in the wake of the front half of this one. But betting on what Phish does is folly anyway as I learned the hard way. Let me tell you, the low you feel after losing your money and all the good drugs on a Phish parlay bet that you were sure was going to happen is about as bad as it can get. Heck, I was so low I couldn’t even afford a grilled cheese on lot. Sure, all’s fine and dandy in the world when you are calling openers and nailing the encores cuz that’s when the nitrous queens are following YOU around and all the jambronis envy your hettiness on tour but once those bets start going the other way you’re just another wook lying face down in the deemster trench with people shaking their heads disapprovingly while they walk on by. I’m telling you, don’t end up like I did. It’s a long road back up from that kind of thing but I stand here today on the other side of that wicked habit, encouraging you to learn from my mistakes in trying to ever predict anything this band will do and having the audacity to think I could profit from such hubris. Which brings us back to Reba. After shaking off the initial surprise at hearing them drop into it as the third potential vehicle of the set you settle in and nerd out to the intricate prog composition and steady yourself for the jam to come. The drop into it is subtle and the jam begins in a somewhat quiet way as Trey feels around and adds in these minimal, descending runs. Page is accenting with creative organ fills but then as Trey shifts into a more major mode to start the ascent to the peak Page moves over to the piano and the two foster a bright run through the progression all while Mike and Fish push the pace. They hit the end well with Fish slamming out crash cymbal hits and pounding on the toms to counter Trey’s lead resulting in some T&R action. There is a slight stumble right before the end but Trey recovers to bring it all home. And in that end they skip the whistling to instead head into Swept Away>Steep. This feels like our first true cool down of the set but after that quick pairing and the big ‘Floydian’ scream ending they erupt into Tweezer Reprise which has you scratching your head about how short this set was. Trick’s on you though because they follow this with a rather boisterous Johnny B Goode and then Slave to the Traffic Light to wrap up the set. This Slave has a bit of extra stank on it as well in the ‘stoplight’ section but then gets beautiful and airy like so many of the good ones do in the back end. Kind of fittingly they come out for the encore and rip through Highway to Hell to put an exclamation point on the evil set they just wove and then we are on our way to Phoenix.

 

I consider this show to be another one of those ‘average great’ shows that they were playing by this time on the tour. Outside of that one little misstep heading to the Reba peak (which didn’t damage anything) they play with the energetic precision we have come to expect but even more than that there is an edge to everything on this night. The Peaches opener was a good starting point and then by the time they hit Disease things are popping off. They ride that energy through the Lope closer and carry it over into the evil intensity of that wonderfully dark Tweezer but don’t stop there. Save for the more subdued selections of Train Song, Horse>Silent, and perhaps Swept Away>Steep everything here is a big time energy swell tune. On an individual basis there might be less total highlights as compares to a show like 11.30.1996 but what we do take away here goes deeper and more to the root of what Phish jamming could be in this era. With that in mind, our takeaways are Tweezer (obv), Simple->ADITL and Reba with the Disease being second tier for the night. I might be convinced to add the Lope to the second tier but let’s just leave it at that. Man, I’m going to miss this tour. I’ve gotten a lot more out of it than I expected and here we are only a scant three shows from it being over. I guess it’s on to the next one then…

What It’s Doing To Me Is Fine – Sacramento, CA 11.30.1996

Phish — ARCO Arena — Sacramento, CA 11.30.1996

I  Jim>PYITE, ATR, Bouncin’, Stash, Fluffhead, OHP, Uncle Pen, Caspian>CDT

II  La Grange, Ice>Glide, Brother, Contact>2001>Timber Ho!>Taste, Funky Bitch, Amazing Grace, Amazing Grace Jam

E  Possum

 

After spending Friday night in the Bay Area Phish headed northeast to the capital for a Saturday night affair at the ARCO Arena in Sacramento. You may know the venue by its current corporate moniker, Sleep Train Arena, which is not to be confused with the Sleep Train Amphitheatre in Chula Vista some 500 miles to the south near San Diego which itself was once the Coors Amphitheatre and Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre at various points in its history. Nor is it to be confused with the original ARCO Arena that was built as the temporary home to the Sacramento Kings when they moved from Kansas City in 1985 and which holds the distinction of being the first NBA arena with corporate naming rights, something that is de rigueur these days. These confusions are part of why I will always call Great Woods, Deer Creek, Pine Knob, and so many other of the “lost” names in our venue lore. But money’s a powerful drug so yeah. Anyway, now subsumed-by-evil-BP-oil-company-named ARCO Arena was the place for this show on 11.30.1996. Let’s check out the history here in Sactown, shall we?

 

I was a bit surprised to find that there are so few Phish shows from this area considering that the ones I know off the top of my head are so ingrained that my natural assumption was that there had to be a lot more but the paucity of playing here is probably due to the relative proximity to the Bay Area so not much we can do about that. Alas, the first visit here was the final opener slot they played on the Santana summer tour on 08.30.1992. This was at the Cal Expo Amphitheater and there were also performances by the Indigo Girls and Los Lobos with Phish playing early in the afternoon for their seven song set. There’s actually a nice Reba and a hard hitting Antelope mixed in with the couple of a cappella tunes and other random choices but the real highlight from this night was when the band along with members of Los Lobos joined in with Santana during the headlining set for a couple of tunes including a take on A Love Supreme and after this show they went into the studio to record what would become Rift. They returned the following Spring for a famed show on 03.22.1993 at the Crest Theatre, performing one of the few ‘Gamehendge’ shows known to have occurred. Naturally, we covered this one previously on the path of that Spring Tour. In 1994 they played just down the road at UC-Davis on 12.02.1994. That one is probably best known as one of the “Cosmic Country Horns” (one of whom factors into the show we are about to review…) shows but you will want to check the Bowie and maybe wow your friends by telling them that this is the show where the A Live One version of Gumbo was played not to mention the Dave Matthews Band opened for Phish that night (along with a few others in that stretch of the tour) all for the bargain price of $18.50! I’m certain they will be mightily impressed. Phish was back at the Cal Expo Amphitheater to headline on 09.27.1995 this time opening a tour (Fall 95 yo!). This isn’t the fully polished fall 95 band we would come to adore and want to kidnap and keep in our dimly lit basement to entertain us and only… um… sorry about that little tangent there. No truth to that, no sir. Totally normal and well adjusted fan right here. So… Cal Expo? Yeah, so they debuted a bunch of songs here with some being staples we have heard a bunch on this Fall 96 Tour: Fog That Surrounds (one of the transitive forms of Taste), CTB, Billy Breathes, HMB, and Keyboard Army. Plus there is the Hood and the Possum which are both worth your time as is the Bowie which may or may not include – depending who you ask – a nod to the passing of Jerry Garcia who graced the Cal Expo stage 25 times with the Grateful Dead in this first show the band had played since he died on 08.09.1995. So while there may not be a vast number of shows played in the greater Sacramento area the ones we have all have their own notoriety, including this (last) one from 1996…

 

The night starts out with Runaway Jim as many nights do (this is surprisingly only our fourth Jim opener of the tour). This is a relatively contained version but the end jam has enough to pique our interest and keep us from walking out the door. I’m joking, of course, because who would ever leave a concert after only one song? Oh right, that guy. And to think, he has been to a couple of Phish shows too. Noob. Well, this Jim probably would have kept his attention what with the Trey Trill on display and all. The Jim heads right into Punch You In The Eye which tonight seems to have a bit of extra stank on it. The band is killing this one so much that Fish inserts some James Brown-isms into the fray, shouting out “Get up offa that thang!” more than once, something the world needs him to do more of now more than ever. We are losing our funky way, people. The fun energy spills over into the end where Mike is pounding on the fightbell and Trey adds some minikit love as the band brings this unique PYITE to a close. For a song that is largely the same thing every time out it is nice to hear them having fun with it. Next up are All Things Reconsidered and Bouncing Around the Room, two songs paired together this way seven times which puts it tied for the most common ATR pairing with The Sloth and Split Open and Melt, oddly enough. The fifth song of the night is Stash which gets some work in the T&R vein but doesn’t really stretch the boundaries too far. It is a bit odd to have this once proud king of jamlandia relegated to a mid first set hors d’oeuvres but thankfully if you stick around into 1997 you get to hear quite the resurgence for the song as the band seemed to find new interest in taking this vehicle out for long walks along the beach and maybe a refreshing pina colada to cool down afterwards. After Stash they give us our first Fluffhead in 21 shows, not exactly a bustout but also a bit longer than one would expect in this timeframe. Heck, the current gap is longer than that and there are several other somewhat lengthy respites for the song including the notable 71 show one broken at The Return on 03.06.2009 but you already knew that. After rocking through a fine version of Fluff Trey brings out now old friend of the band John McEuen, one of the founding members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and all around legendary musician and personality. I say “now” old friend because since this first time playing with Phish JOhn has joined them on stage several times, most notably later this tour in Las Vegas, down at Big Cypress in a few years, and then in 2001 in Burlington for a Clear Path International (an aid organization that seems to have let its website lapse in the past month. oops.) for a 20 minute rendition of the NGDB’s classic Will the Circle Be Unbroken, a song Phish played once on 10.03.1998 at the Farm Aid show that has that wonderful Neil Young sit-in. Tonight they had old school bluegrass in store as Mr. McEuen leant his banjo stylings to performances of The Old Home Place and Uncle Pen in what turns out to be a hometown appearance for him according to Trey. The banjo adds some brightness to the Phish takes on these tunes and John gets his turn to solo in each case which is nice of our band. After the quick bluegrass break we get a predictable Prince Caspian which bleeds into the rocking Chalkdust Torture closer before Trey brings back The Lie once more. Now it is off to setbreak to try to figure out what tonight’s second set of elevation will entail.

 

Following the assuredly longer than fifteen minute break the band comes out and starts up our second second set opening La Grange of the tour. I’m not sure if it is possible to not play this song with fiery abandon but Phish clearly doesn’t know how to tone this one down because this version rages perhaps even harder than the bustout one from Omaha a couple of weeks back now. This is just one of those songs Trey was so good at slaying that if they played it you knew you were going to lose your shit dancing. It isn’t a song they ever took out for an extended jam ride but that’s perfectly okay considering what it is. Next up is It’s Ice and after the normal song progression the jam gets a bit ‘washy’ in a sonic sense as Trey seems to be adding some delay tactics into his playing. They draw out the end and Trey plays what sure sounds to me like another nod to 3rd Stone From The Sun though I have yet to get external confirmation of that internal realization. Maybe you will provide that for me. They finally come back around to the Ice close and then bump it into the start of the tour debut for Glide, last played 34 shows ago at Deer Creek on 08.13.1996 which would be a great show to review were we doing the summer tour here but we are not so there. Following the run through the old school round they get back to the rocking with Brother, somehow our fourth version of the once quite rare song that finally left the shelf for the Ben and Jerry ‘sit-in’ at The Clifford Ball. The next time they would play the song after this night wouldn’t be until the famed Island Tour in April 1998 but on this night that wasn’t a concern as Trey shreds the gnar on the jam. An oddly placed but well played mid-set Contact is up next to appease the nursery rhyme fans (I kid because I love) and then we are off into 2001 to see what new hotness the band has for us here. Foregoing the extended space intro that we got in Portland but still toying around for a bit to set things up the band locksteps into the first section with Trey playing a quite recognizable song bit if you are up on your 60s soul musicians. Fish throws in another “Get Up offa that thang!” like he did in PYITE along with a few other bit of spontaneous vocal involvement and your brain goes “aha! I get it!” as it dawns on you that Trey is playing Super Bad and suddenly your head explodes in wonder about this band yet again. The dance party has started, Phish funk has arrived, and you are lost in the movement of everything around you as they hit the peak. As you dance with abandon, eyes closed and smile as wide as could be you hear a horn in the mix which startles you into looking up to see a tenor sax man up there with the band (assuming you know what a tenor sax looks like, otherwise you probably just stumbled into a thought something like “horn guy! good!” but tenor sax is what most people think of when they see a saxamaphone so I’m sure you were okay there, big guy). Before we discuss the transition I will here again link lawnmemo’s 2001 Project which goes into more detail about the progression we are hearing in these Fall 96 2001s. Now, 1996 you probably might not have had any idea who that horn guy was at the tail end of the 2001 but that’s Peter Apfelbaum who first shared the stage with Phish back at the Cosmic Country Horns pair of shows towards the end of the Fall 1994 tour. Trey, Page, and Fish had played with him in spots in sitting in with Michael Ray’s Cosmic Crewe before then but 12.03.1994 and 12.03.1994 were the first time he was on stage with Phish. Later involvement includes Apfelbaum being a long time member of TAB and also playing with Fish at JMP and Everything Orchestra shows and at least one Mike show. His contributions are evident from the first break as he takes the lead over the band for a few bars. A longer solo is given after that as the band works through the old time cover. After a unique jam on the song where Trey and Peter are playing a bit of tag — note that this is the first time since 10.29.1988 that there was a horn player (Russ Remington on sax) on this song and that one is pretty different from tonight’s take — Trey casually introduces him (this is my favorite picture of him but it is nothing like his appearance when he played with Phish) to the crowd. The majority of the crowd probably still didn’t know who he was and likely had no frame of reference for connecting the dots to his times opening for the Dead in the early 90s as part of The Hieroglyphics Ensemble either but he does hold the distinction of being one of only a few people to ever share both stages which is nice.

 

Without missing a beat they start into a jam of sorts which turns out to be a slowed down intro to Taste, Trey and Peter providing the melody along the way. This leads to another unique jam as they forego the Norwegian Wood/WTU? stuff to toy around in Taste space for a few minutes, resulting in one of my personal favorite versions of the song. It might not be the “best played ever” or anything but it works for me. Apfelbaum stays out for Funky Bitch and here he shines with great fills and nice soloing. Trey plays compliment quite well, of course, and the rest of the band provides the movement for our third captivating, guest aided version of the song this tour. The band steps out front after the end of Taste for a quick a cappella Amazing Grace but upon return to their instruments are joined by both Apfelbaum and McEuen for an instrumental jam on the Grace theme but this time with McEuen on lap slide. It is a lovely way to cap this show and particularly a set like what they had just played. All involved then come back out on stage for a rousing Possum encore that puts an exclamation point on top of it highlighted by Trey and John McEuen trading licks. Folks at this one definitely spoke about it being one of those nights while collecting their things and

 

This will be the end of a high quality sit-it filled show without a lull or bit of drag anywhere. Heck, even the Bouncin’ pops brightly in this show. There are several songs with versions immediately in contention for best of tour status and the setlist sounds fresh even with some that have gotten worked out a fair amount this Fall. I could see this show getting an official release at some point assuming the bad acoustics of the ARCO Arena can be overcome. With the soundboard of this Taste floating around out there and sounding pretty decent (I have used that file for the playlist entry) you have to think it could happen eventually. Maybe the other musicians’ approvals play into it but that’s something for the lawyers. No matter what, this is a solid top to bottom show with the type of creative spark and joyful playing that draws us to this band. There is also a sense of open collaboration here that we don’t always get when other musicians join the band. But these two players are well versed in how to meld with others rather than play on top of them and combining that with Phish’s approach to the songs makes for engaging performance. Purely in terms of a Phish show this is probably not the ‘best’ or most liked one on this tour as there are definitely singular jams and sets that elevate higher but that doesn’t diminish from what happened here. Along with sharing their music with two very different types of musician, one a storied bluegrass and Americana picking legend and the other an avant garde jazz improvisationalist, they have fostered relationships that will bear fruit in the future considering how both of these gentlemen would become ingrained in the mythos of Phish due to their times spent with the band. I’m just gushing at this point so let’s get on to the takeaways which are plentiful tonight. The definite top tier ones include PYITE, Ice, 2001>Timber>Taste, Funky Bitch, the Amazing Grace Jam, and Possum with some solid second tier offerings in The Old Home Place, Uncle Pen, and La Grange. You would do well to listen to the whole show if time permits it. We are in the home stretch now, continuing to follow the lines headed south with only four shows left on this Fall Tour. Next up is our only visit to the famed Pauley Pavilion at UCLA. Drink your Ovaltine and get some rest if you can because these last few don’t let up one bit.

 

You’ll See What I Might have Said – Daly City, CA 11.29.1996

Phish — The Cow Palace — Daly City, CA 11.29.1996

I  Frankenstein, NICU, CTB, Zero>Divided, Gin, LoM?, Maze, Suzy

II  Wilson>Simple->Sparks>Sparkle>Taste>Swept Away>Steep>YEM, Waste>Hood

E  Sample

 

After a night off to celebrate perhaps the most American of all holidays Phish found themselves in the Bay Area to play the venerable Cow Palace, a venue with a long and varied history of sporting events, concerts, political rallies, and most true to its name, rodeos and livestock expositions. Now, we can debate the relative “‘Murican-ness” of Thanksgiving as compares to July 4th and other more overtly patriotic holidays but save for the lack of fireworks and rah-rah flag waving you can’t tell me that a day filled with overeating to a degree unmatched the world over, drunken creativity when it comes to the manner in which a flightless bird is prepared for consumption, the comforting background noise of a series of never-as-competitive-as-anyone-wants-them-to-be football games, awkward introductions and interactions between distant family and the person you thought it would be a good idea to bring into this crazy mess, and the looming threat of a family fight erupting faster than you can say “Uncle Earl is talking about politics and religion again” could be anything but one of the most American things ever American’d. Sure, “as American as apple pie and the Fourth of July” sounds better but that’s really only because we fall for rhymes easily and are wooed by the prospect of warm weather facilitating our need for scantily clad (in weird fashion appropriations of our flag design, of course) drunk people wolfing down hot dogs and crappy yellow “beer” as we hurl illegal fireworks into the sky while trying to slur out the words to our national anthem (or maybe some country song, I dunno, I tend to avoid this type of party these days) and yell obscenities into the ether about how great our mother loving country is and everyone else needs to shut up and just love it or leave it, partner. Actually, now that I write that it does sound pretty freaking ‘Murican… but still. Thanksgiving. Let’s get back on point here. Thanksgiving brings Americans together in ways no other day does and it also provides a wonderfully long weekend which tends to be a good time for those who do not wish to stay at home with the family rehashing old arguments and debating who will next take Aunt Bessie to the restroom can instead venture out for some live music. I know that before the time I had a family of my own I always looked forward to seeing who was playing Thanskgiving Weekend shows in my area. And this Friday night show in Daly City fits that bill perfectly as I imagine in additiona to those then on tour were joined by a significant number of attendees who had circled the date on their calendar (back then we had these things called “paper calendars” which came in a wide variety of sizes and designs that were very useful in planning your life since we weren’t yet permanently attached to our technology) as an wonderful excuse for getting out of the house that night.

 

And being people who had ties to the Bay Area such folk might’ve known already of the long history Phish already had with the region but just in case they did not or perhaps they forgot in the years since, here is a little bit of that history. I’m not going to go through everything here because, frankly, that could be a post in and of itself what with the 19 shows before this one in the area (I’m not including Santa Cruz or Monterey here) led up to this first and only appearance in Daly City. The first visit to the area was for the second ever West Coast show at the DNA Lounge on 03.29.1991 following the famed ‘Dollar Night’ show in Santa Cruz on 03.28.1991. This show and the one a couple of nights later across the bay in Berkeley at the Berkeley Square (now closed, naturally) on 03.31.1991 (an Easter Sunday show, no less) are about what you’d expect from this young band rising through the bar/club scene with lots of teases, banter, and the energetic playing of youthful exuberance. I will note that the Mockingbird here is one of the first with the narration (something I, along with most others, usually attribute as being the ‘Forbin’s Narration’. I’ll fix that going forward…) along with the fun anecdote that the venue’s lack of available power caused them to choose sound over lights resulting in the only light show being the candles that CK5 purchased at a Pier 1 that day. That Fall they played a two show run full of solid playing and fun banter at the Great American Music Hall (10.17.1991 and 10.18.1991) before returning in the Spring of 1992 for the first show at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco on 04.17.1992 (this is a very solid ’92 show with some fun jams in Reba, Bowie->Catapult->Bowie, and Tweezer amongst other goodies) and then the classic 04.18.1992 Palo Alto show that you definitely had a tape of BITD. That Catapult is the debut of the song which is something but go (re)spin the Palo Alto show for old time’s sake. The other notable thing here is that the crew van got broken into during that Warfield show and a lot of the crew’s personal belongings were stolen which is oddly tied to a post show party in Palo Alto where they decided to release to the tape trees the crispy tapes of that other famed show from this run, the 04.16.1992 show from the Anaconda Theatre down in Isla Vista. I guarantee you have heard that one unless you are still living under a noob rock or something. August 1992 had two single set opening performances in support of Santana before the band was back in Spring ’93 for three shows in the region on 03.24.1993 in Santa Rosa and then a pair back at the Warfield on 03.26.1993 and 03.27.1993, all of which we have covered here previously. The single summer performance by Phish in this area in 1993 was the final show of the famed August Run and their first at the Greek Theatre, sharing the bill with J.J. Cale for a wonderful night of music that you should go listen to if you don’t know it already. A three night run at the Warfield on 05.25.1994, 05.26.1994, and 05.27.18994 provided the final run of shows at that venue and the only ones in the Bay Area for the Spring Tour with each show seeming to be better than the one preceding as they opened up the jams in earnest on that last night (definitely check the Tweezer, Melt, Hood, Reba, Bowie, and the debut of Simple from this run). The Fall only saw one show in the area over in San Jose on 12.03.1994 where the highlight is the presence of The Cosmic Country Horns for the entire second set (and DMB opening if you care of such matters). 1995 had only one show here as the band got their first taste of headlining Shoreline Amphitheatre (the prior visit in 1992 was one of those Santana opener slots) on 09.30.1995 where they started out the band/crowd chess match, debuted the cover of ‘Suspicious Minds’, dedicated ‘Blue and Lonesome’ to Jerry Garcia, and generally had a fun time celebrating Trey’s 31st birthday. And that gets us to here in 1996!

 

Here in the 30th show of the tour (woo hoo! stat summary a-comin’!) we are treated to one of only four ever Frankenstein openers. That’s a song to set a mood for sure and one I will never complain to hear them perform considering how rare it is to hear these days with only 11 coming in 3.0. They counterpoint it with a bouncy take on NICU, back after a sixteen show absence which seems long these days but was perfectly normal in that time period (though, to be fair, it is not played as much now as it was in the early stages of the current era). The bounce carries forth into another dance-y Cars Trucks Buses which is followed by a rocking Character Zero that rams right into the start to Divided Sky. After the pause (1:03 tonight) they nail the end sections and jam before giving us our first real opportunity to catch our breath at the close. We haven’t had any big fireworks yet but that’s a pretty solid five song start to the show. Next up is Bathtub Gin, back for the first time since the wonderful version from Kansas City. Tonight’s version feels like it could erupt into something bigger like that KC one or even the famed Rupp Gin from earlier in the tour but that is not in the cards here in the middle of tonight’s first set as instead they jam within the theme. It works here but it sure feels like they could have gone bigger with this one. After another spot on run through the cover of Life on Mars? (the only ballad-ish song of the set) they slide into Maze to get us back to that dancing around flailingly thing. This one hits hard with Trey catching on to the DEG feel for a bit which influences the back half of the jam considerably. It works so well that as you navigate the mental labyrinth evoked by this jam your thoughts wander into questions of why they have only ever added the DEG to Maze one other time besides tonight (as if your mind could come up with that fact in the moment). After the shreddy climb to the end peak they tie it up and then head into Suzy Greenberg for a version that will end this first frame. While pretty much what you expect out of this song Page does get the chance to solo on piano for a bit longer than what seems normal (might have something to do with Trey doing the comping thing here) but then before you know it you are being shuffled into the concourse to support your friend who just can’t deal with the mass of people without you. This is not how you wanted to spend the setbreak but you can’t really put enough words together to protest so here you are wandering the sweaty, packed halls as your buddy guides you to places your mind definitely doesn’t want to travel.

 

After what seems like a lifetime you are returned to your seats, the sight of which bringing comfort to you in ways you never thought possible a mere fifteen minutes ago. That was all just a brief interlude though as the lights drop and the band takes the stage again, starting up our fifth Wilson of the tour to the delight of the white-hatted members of the crowd. The rawk out runs right into the intro to Simple which gives us our first real opportunity for jam in the show considering the tour this song has had. Tonight’s version starts out with a lot of energy as Trey solos over the Simple theme for the first few minutes of the jam but then around the 8:45 mark he shifts into a different rhythm and the band follows as they build into something not quite Simple but also not entirely open. They sit in this space for several minutes with Trey leading the way as they search for the next idea. About a minute from the end things start to break down, particularly the rhythm, and Trey sets a loop while Page plinks around. Trey then plays a couple of familiar notes which the band eventually catches and then we are into the start of Sparks! Well, there’s another bustout for you after a 173 show gap. Oddly enough, this marks the second time in the past two shows that a key element to the 05.07.1994 Bomb factory show has been brought to the stage though Sparks did have that one performance on 10.29.1994 between this show and that night in Dallas. Honestly, this version is pretty sloppy – mostly by Trey – but in the moment none of that matters because being there you would have perhaps finally been able to check off Sparks on your handy dandy Chaser Scorecard that you have conveniently laminated and placed in your back pocket. It is pretty funny that this song which has only ever been played 17 times by the band holds such sway for the bustout chasers but I suppose that is all part of the allure. I mean, I had been chasing Buffalo Bill for a looooooong time up until Magnaball last year and that song has also only ever been played seventeen times so I’m not exactly one to talk here. Sparks then heads into Sparkle (I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE, TREY) which gives way to Taste (now batting 0.566!). Trey alters his path slightly tonight in getting to the peak so there isn’t any Norwegian Wood or even much of the WTU? feel in this one but it hits hard when he gets there all the same when he hits that trill. In the wind down from Taste they move into Swept Away>Steep which offers up a quick breather before they continue the string by starting up You Enjoy Myself. I like this combo as a stepping stone in this slot because it brings everything down to a more subtle space before that scream ending provides a perfect spot for that YEM intro to kick in. Too bad this is the only example, a ‘problem’ we are finding a lot this evening. As we get into the YEM I here voice my wish that some video of this show surface because this is one of the few examples I know of where Trey breaks a string mid-song and they use that as opportunity to just keep playing. Following lovely pre and Nirvana sections they drop into the ‘lyrics’ and then set up a cowfunk jam with Trey comping along to the groove pocket Mike and Fish have going while Page adds flavor. This goes on for a few minutes and then Mike hits the fight bell which seems to alter Trey’s path as he then moves into the lead role in working through the more ‘standard’ part of his turn. The crowd tries to get a clap-along thing going but Trey drops into more sparse playing before catching a different melody at the bottom and building towards the transition peak that drops us into a short D&B section and then the VJ. I’ll just say it, I have no idea where Trey might’ve broken a string in this one because there isn’t any time that I feel like he drops out or anything. Maybe he is just that good that we don’t notice but it isn’t like he breaks strings very often so it is a bit surprising to not be able to pick it up at all. Oh well. The jam here is fun and begs one to dance with the funk beat and all but for my money it isn’t quite of the level we heard in Kansas City a little while back. Next up is a late set Waste that sets up the set closing Harry Hood quite well and is the last of the three Waste/Hood combos on this tour which never happened before and hasn’t since. This Hood is a sleeper. The jam starts out very patiently as they plink through the typical stuff, slowly building up and up and UP. This is old school tension building of the kind we used to get almost nightly in Stash and other such songs though here they don’t fully resolve it to a major peak but instead the energy spills over into the final chorus like a cleansing exhalation. In the close of the song Trey thanks everyone and notes that it is nice to see cows or something and then we are on to the… Hang on. They encored with what now? And people didn’t riot??? WTF, Trey?!? Sample?? Really??? Ugh. Let’s just move on.

 

Hey! Whaddya know, yet another solid if not great show! Solid first set with everything well played but not necessarily notable and then a second set full of highlights. Seems to be a pattern here… There’s no reason to belabor it. This is a good show with some stuff that will make the end-of-tour list or at least be a part of the conversation. As with most of the shows in the last week plus of this tour you can pretty much throw them on and listen through without many thoughts that it might be a good time to skip ahead to the good part. That’s not exactly the highest praise but it isn’t meant as a dig either. So with that our takeaways tonight are Maze, Simple->Sparks, and YEM  with the Hood and Taste being the second tier. I like the Gin for what it is but by comparison I will leave this one out since there is no way it is making the top tier at the end of the tour. Next up will be one of my personal favorite shows from this tour at the old Arco Arena in Sacramento…

 

BUT WAIT! We have stats to recount! This is a round numbered show, after all. So what do we have? The band has now played thirty shows in 20 states across three time zones having hopped right over the mountain states this time. There have been 135 different songs played with 35 of those being one-timers. Taste is out front for most performances with 17 but Character Zero nips at its proverbial heels with 16. After that there is a logjam at number three with six songs having been played 11 times:  CTB, CDT, Sample, Steep, Swept Away, and Waste. Three more songs have double digit appearances at 10: Disease, Theme, and YEM and then from there it gets pretty muddled. CDT (4) and Runaway Jim (3) are the only songs to open more than two shows and likewise Zero (5) and Antelope (3) are the only two songs to close more than two first sets. Second set openers are headed by 2001 (5), Disease (3), and Wilson (3) while closers are even less distinct with Hood (4), HMB (3), and Weekapaug Groove (3) leading the way. Waste (4), Funky Bitch (3), GTBT (3), and Julius (3) are all up front for encore slotting. All of that just shows that even with a pretty tight rotation (86 songs are in a five song rotation or less) predicting set placement isn’t quite as straightforward on this tour. The rest gets to some pretty minute detail so we will leave it at that for now…