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…

Ribbons of Euphoria – Seattle, WA 11.27.1996

Phish — Key Arena — Seattle, WA 11.27.1996

I  Julius>MFMF, Ya Mar, CDT, Sloth, Uncle Pen, Free>Theme, Bold As Love

II  Disease->JJLC>Mule, Tweezer->Sweet Emotion->Disease, SSB, Fire

E  Waste>Reprise

 

After an oddly placed two night break to get from Portland back up to Seattle probably mainly attributable to Monday and Tuesday being two of the least frequently attended nights for live music or even lack of venue availability the band hit the stage once again on Thanksgiving Eve. Generally a night where you might’ve gone out to visit the local watering hole to see old friends from high school since you are all home for once, this night offered the opportunity for a different sort of communal gathering as Phish played the Key Arena for the first time ever. This was, of course, not the first time the band had played Seattle with seven prior shows going down in the Emerald City (not to be confused with the locale in The Wizard of Oz). The first visit here was on 10.11.1991 at The Backstage, a venue which closed in 1997. There aren’t any full tapes in circulation for this one even though what does circulate is a soundboard but the unique take on Bowie survives (see if you can figure out what song the jam is based on without cheating) and the YEM VJ is topical to the goings on of that day in referencing the ‘pubic hair in your coke’ bit from the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court confirmation hearings, specifically the testimony of one Anita Hill (look it up, junior. it was a big deal back then. and get off my lawn while you’re at it.) About six months later on 04.23.1992 they played The Oz Nightclub (clever…) for a show heavy on the teases and banter typical of those bar band days. Trey starts Tweezer in the wrong key which is always fun too but it does nothing to diminish a fun if somewhat slow version of the song. 1993 saw two shows in Seattle, first for the West Coast Leg ending 04.05.1993 show at the HUB Ballroom which we have previously covered and then on 08.25.1993 at the Paramount Theatre. The April show has some solid jams being that it came some 47 shows into that tour, most notably the Stash, Tweezer, and YEM. The August show is full of highlights including a big time open Stash, a shreddy Possum, a very unique Paul and Silas with vocal jamming, and a YEM that gets Baby Gramps up on stage during the VJ as they work their way into his song Nothin’ But A Nothin’. It is also the show that started the trend of the band giving homage to Mr. Hendrix in his hometown as they played Bold As Love here for the first time in the encore. Spring of 1994 saw the band come back to yet another new venue, this time playing the Moore Theatre on 05.21.1994. Aside from some funny pre-Hood banter and a bunch of tease-laden songs there isn’t much of note in this one even if it is hot like a Spring ’94 show should be (and it has another Bold As Love…). In Fall 1995 they played a two night run (10.02.1995 and 10.03.1995) at the Seattle Center Arena which is now known as Mercer Arena. In the first show along with Trey introducing the Chess Match dealio to the tune of Night Moves there is a wonderful sequence in the second set of Simple>Keyboard Army, Slave that I recommend you check out. The Simple devolves into something of a proto-ambient jam which provides a great starting point for Keyboard Army and then the Slave is a meandering, patient wade through the song’s progression with Fish even adding some vac to the jam. The next night isn’t really big on highlights but it is a solid Fall ’95 show and there is the second to last Faht ever here and a solid Hood taboot taboot. And that catches us up to dive into this show above…

 

Phish comes out hopping on this night, opening with a fiery Julius that sees Trey doing work in limbering up for the evening’s proceedings. The room now moving, they drop into My Friend My Friend for the first time in fifteen shows, altering the mood from the sunny vibe of Julius to the darker tone of MFMF. This alteration occurs again when they start up Ya Mar to follow MFMF. Trey plinks his way through his solo before giving way to Mike’s island scat business to close this one up. Bringing out the rawk, the band blasts through a tight version of Chalkdust Torture where Trey takes charge with an arena-filling solo. Keeping it crunchy they head into The Sloth next for a bit of the grimy side of Gamehendge. Then after a quick run through our second Uncle Pen of the tour Trey cranks into yet another late first set Free. Okay, sure, two of the nine Frees this tour have been second setters, but the majority are all here in the latter stages of firsts sets. This one from Seattle hits the mold of what they have been doing with it this tour, giving Page and Mike room to get a bit weird while Fish and Trey lay down that percussive beat. Trey adds in some guitar effects and loops along the way before they come back to the final refrain. Now, here the .net setlist notes a “>” from Free into Theme From the Bottom but if that exists I must have the wrong tape because they clearly wind Free down and the crowd cheers before they take a quick pause to start up Theme. Goes to show never trust a setlist. Tape don’t lie. None of that matters, of course, as the music is what makes it all go and this Theme lives up to that ideal. Trey takes a slightly different approach to the jam here, not exactly opening it up but definitely not following the same progression that we typically get with this song. It is nice to hear them comfortable enough to toy around with the song in this manner and before you know it they hit that familiar peak to end the song. And then we get a bit of a bustout (67 shows) in honor of Jimi Hendrix’s birthday with Bold As Love which is perhaps my personal favorite of the “straight up” covers that the band plays relatively consistently. By “straight up” I mean that they do not open it up for exploration like Crosseyed and Painless or Rock and Roll just to give two examples. And while they might not be able to fully achieve the quadrophonic swirl that the album version of the song gives the listener (I tried to find a youtube of the album version of the song but that seems to not exist and the only live version on there sounds worse than an eighth generation Dead tape that needs pitch correction amongst other issues) it always gets me where I want to be with the evocative lyrics and that end solo that Trey (usually) nails.  I chalk up my undying love for this set closer/encore tune to the confluence of me diving fully into Phish life right about the time I was taking deeper dives into Jimi’s catalog as well which resulted in me having a couple of pretty awesome experiences with the song at shows in the ’93 time range. But enough about me. This one caps yet another fun first set (and makes it it the third time in the past five shows in Seattle that they have played the song) and then Trey throws in a little nod to Jimi’s birthday and place of birth being Seattle before the band leaves the stage for the break.

 

Over the break you may have been wondering what else the band had up their collective metaphorical sleeves for this second set what with the table setting the first frame offered up. Sure, there are no big jams in that set but since when have we been expecting that on this tour? The fact that they eschewed the ballads and just went out and ripped up everything they played bodes well for this set and throwing in a nod/bustout to Jimi just ups the ante. Sometimes that results in unfulfilled expectations and other times not. On this night the latter holds sway against the former as we shall soon see.

 

As the band returns to the stage Trey and Mike set a couple of loop delays and Mike starts that familiar deep cyclone of bass goodness (even adding a fight bell for good measure) tipping us off that Down With Disease is imminent. Sure enough they burst into the song and run through the verses and early jam energetically, continuing the mood they set up in the first set. After a few minutes it is clear they are not going to rush through this one – it is after all only the fourth second set Disease of the ten played so far this tour – and Trey settles into playing elongated lines around the Disease framework. At around 7:15 in Trey adds some wah and is comping with speed in a manner that sounds like something Jimi would do as he waits for the next shift in the music idea put forth by one of the band members. This settles into a groove pocket that is still largely Disease but also getting further and further from the song proper. Now close to ten minutes in you might think they will wrap this up soon considering pretty much every version from this year has been somewhere between 7 to 12 minutes in duration. But not this one. Trey is playing over the rest of the band who seem to all but drop out for a bit until Mike adds in a familiar bassline that Trey catches on to in turn. We are oh so close to having this jam move into Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ territory before Trey takes the lead out into a completely open jam space. Around 14:30 he moves on again, repeating a riff that the rest of the band then complements and at this stage you would be forgiven if you turned to your buddy and asked “YO WHAT SONG IS THIS??” because we are out into the open water now. I’m not one to really put too much to the length of a jam/song in determining its worth because I think there are definitely examples of jams that suffer for the searching (as there are also those that end way too soon) but it is very notable that this version has not eclipsed any Disease from 1996 in length with the wonderful Clifford Ball version being the only one even close in timing. As we move towards the 18 minute mark things seem to be breaking down but really it feels more akin to the open psych jams of ’95 than to something losing steam. Mike comes through the murk with a steady bassline and then Page toys a bit in a way that is almost asking the others “okay, what now?” as Trey hits the minikit for a bit. Unlike many of these percussive jams this one builds as Page and Mike lead the way and Trey throws in the effects to match the Fish beat (which has been relentless throughout this jam – part of why I love this one as a workout jam). Trey adds to this with some delay tactics on the guitar, looping that scratchy electro tone as the soundscape tumbles forward. Then almost out of the aether that they have constructed you hear Trey play the telling melodic introduction to Jesus Just Left Chicago, an interesting choice as the come down to the aural madness we just experienced. At the least it offers us some firm ground upon which to stand with its easy bluesy shuffle and definitive solo sections (though if they were really giving props to Jimi I’d have loved to see them tackle Red House or another of his more straight ahead blues covers even if that is just revisionist wishful thinking). Page shines bright on the piano here in the first solo slot and then Trey takes his turn after the second round of verse, opting for a laid back and sparse solo of the sort that causes the spun to arch back almost too far in acting out the notes in their dance. He pushes through to the peak and then after the final verse/refrain we are on to Scent of a Mule for that whole thing.

 

Yeah yeah, I know, I’m seemingly always harping on the placement of Mule and I get why it was there in these days but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. It isn’t a bad version here by any means – in fact, the first ‘jam’ is a wonderfully frenetic thing and Trey has a pretty interesting scat/solo thing in his turn – but it is definitely not the high point of the set (which is a very good thing). Perhaps sensing they need to take the set to another level Trey starts up Tweezer once we have been we are reminded of the elegance and brightness of here. The pace is slow in getting through the lyrics but once they hit that drop into the jam (Mike fight belling us in) Trey plays a descending line and then we are off and running. There’s a swagger to this jam as Trey flirts around the Tweezer theme while adding some extra distortion to his tone. This is all ‘type I’ if you have to label it but the swampy, bluesy feel of it adds that dirty grit that gets everyone seriously tearing it up. Around the ten minute mark Trey shifts his intent a bit to a very familiar riff and it quickly becomes clear they are moving into Sweet Emotion for a massive bustout of the Aerosmith song which had not graced the Phish stage since the famed Bomb Factory show on 05.07.1994. As a seasoned fan, you already know that one, of course. Trey moves out of Sweet Emotion after a few rounds of the title refrain and suddenly we are back in Disease! They patiently build it up to the end peak we had assumed wasn’t happening tonight considering the departure for JJLC earlier in the set but here it is as you and the rest of the crowd lose yourselves in the hooting and hollering that they came full circle here (enterprising fans have come to call this section the “Diseezer” which is a pretty good portmanteau as they go in phishlandia). And I’d just like to point out that when you combine the two sections of Disease in this set you get what was then the second longest Disease ever behind only the massive 12.12.1995 version from Providence and even without that end section close in length to the big time 06.26.1995 version from SPAC which came out of a similarly large Free. And then Trey closes the Disease out by playing the main riff to Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’ which just further cements in your head that they are on top of every single little thing here and, man, Trey, get out of my head dude cuz I really can’t take much more of this shit, man. Seriously. Too much. Sensing your unease the band huddles up at the front of the stage and Trey banters a bit about the next song coming, mentioning their upcoming pre-Lakers game performance of the Star Spangled Banner – a game which will feature the then local Supersonics no less. Now your mind is totally blown as you listen to the patriotic a cappella song. With one more little intro nod to Jimi the band then cranks into the set closing cover of Fire (this being the other Jimi cover the band keeps at the ready). Following the brief encore break you are “treated” to the only Waste>Reprise ever (which works pretty well, honestly) and then it is off to gather yourself to figure out how in hell you will be able to look presentable at your mom’s cousin Arleen’s house tomorrow for Thanksgiving. Good luck with that, spunion, we’ll chat about that hilarious familial trainwreck preshow in Daly City…

 

Phish has a tendency to play some pretty hot shows on the eve of Turkey Day and this is no exception. The first set is a rocking good time that sets the tone for the evening and then that second set just doesn’t let up. The only ballad-y song is in the first encore slot and even that is Waste with its trilling end solo by Trey so it isn’t like they broke into an acoustic mini-set there. There’s not much of a throw away tune in this show within the context of this tour which is a good indication of their intent on the evening. For takeaways the obvious are the Disease and the Tweezer->Sweet Emotion->Disease and for the second tier I’ll add in the Theme though honestly you could probably add more if you are so inclined. I’m just starting to realize I have been a bit liberal this tour and if I want to get the end playlist to something manageable I need to be a bit more discerning. Okay then. Enjoy that turkey break and we will be back from the Cow Palace before you know it!

That Time Then and Once Again -Portland, OR 11.24.1996

Phish — Memorial Coliseum — Portland, OR 11.24.1996

I  Poor Heart>Bag>ATR, Bouncin’>Reba, Zero, Strange Design>Taste, IDK, Sample, Lope

II  2001>Sparkle>Bowie, ADITL>YEM, Cup>Suzy

E  Ginseng>Cavern

 

First and foremost, apologies for the gap in posting of late. I had a couple of trips – both work related and not – in the past few weeks that made getting a show post up not possible. But we are back and I’m looking to get through the end of this tour before the new one starts, assuming life doesn’t throw me more junk pitches. Now on with the show…

 

Leaving Vancouver and headed south, Phish traveled the 300 plus miles to Portland, OR for their third Sunday night show of the tour thus far. There would be a two day break following this one to make the harrowing journey back north to Seattle for the Wednesday night pre-Thanksgiving Jimi Hendrix birthday bash but that’s our next one to tackle after our visit to Oregon. Alas, we have no information on how the border crossing back into the US went as they headed down south for this one so we will just have to fill our time with looking at the bevy or solid shows the band played here previously.

 

By 1996 the band had a strong history with this city and Oregon in general having played Portland nine times before this night and Oregon a total of sixteen. The first visit here on 04.05.1991 was at Starry Night which is now the Roseland Theatre. It is a typically fun affair from that bar band time period with nothing major on the jam front but listen to The Lizards for some fun banter by Trey and maybe the Hood which is interesting for the time period. That Fall they returned to the same venue (now with its new name) for a show on 10.12.1991 that is most notable for the Artis the Spoon Man sit-in in the second set for several songs. If you don’t know that name, he is a self-proclaimed “living myth” based in the Seattle area who plays “avante-garde percussion” and is best remembered for the song he did with Soundgarden which is appropriately named Spoonman. If you were of a formative age in the 90s you definitely heard it. A lot. That October show is a bit light musically but did have a double encore after the spoon goings on had ended if you like that sort of thing. The singular show the band played in Portland in 1992 was on 04.24.1992 (I’ll forgo the continued venting about routing here but let’s just say that going Eugene>Seattle>Portland>Olympia doesn’t make much sense geographically) and here we get our first glimpses into the jam side of things in these shows. Check out an early extended Stash, a unique Mike’s, a VJ’d/On Broadway’d Paug that segues well into Mango, and a crazy shred Llama amongst all the teases and more from this one. Spring 1993 saw the band in town for a pair of shows at the Roseland (their last ones in this venue) on 03.31.1993 and 04.01.1993, both of which we have covered here previously. The first night has a nice Reba, the roots of the ‘Axilla II’ ending in the Ice jam, and a tease-filled Hood along with a fun Harpua story and a bunch of solid Trey banter including him professing his love for Bonnie Raitt (pretty sure that’s what he said). The next day was a full one for the band, first with a public appearance at the Ancient Forests Benefit that also included performances by Neil Young, David Crosby, Carole King, the Heart sisters, and Kenny Loggins and then for the show that night at the Roseland. This is an April Fools’ Day show so that plays into a lot of what goes down including the ‘trick’ in the Fish Fun Time segment that deserves to be heard. That August they played the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on 08.26.1993, throwing down a jam-filled show that pleases from the opening Jim through the end. Definitely check out the Reba, Melt, Hood, Bowie, and JLLC but you should probably just go ahead and spin the whole thing if you can including the nod back to the 4.1 show in the Guelah pause. That was also the second to last show of the tour before they took a long break to record Hoist that Fall before returning for a very strong NYE Run that you may have heard once or twice. The following Spring the band was back, this time playing the Civic Auditorium on 05.23.1994. It might not be a world beater show but it is typically strong in being average for that tour with a lovely Reba, big time Lope, and a YEM that harkens back to the Eugene Weekapaug from about a year prior with a Psycho Killer tinged VJ (this one also has some great Page piano and that thematic riff out of Trey in the start of his part in the jam). And finally on 10.05.1995 Phish played the oh-so-boxy Memorial Coliseum for the first time (coincidentally, their first visit matches up with the Trailblazers moving to their new home in another venue) with an early tour show that is pretty okay if a bit light on big highlights. I highly recommend the Forbin’s Narration though as Trey gets a bit metaphysical instead of just giving us another imaginative story and the Bowie is a good one too. Not a bad bit of lead up to our show here for this town and I’m not even throwing in some of the classic ones from Salem and Eugene.

 

The show starts with our second Poor Heart opener of the tour which drops right into ACDC Bag for one of only six such pairings. This Bag has a bit of extension in the end jam as Trey plays with some effects to compliment the ‘normal’ progression which is nice. They run this into our third All Things Reconsidered of the tour which currently sits at a 646 show gap since it was last played in February 1997. That’s too long, Phish. After a squee-inducing Bouncin’ Around The Room they head into Reba for our first toe dip in the jam pool on the evening. Trey climbs the ladder in a quite quickly paced version of the song and meets the band at the peak for a quite satisfying release in a version that really surprised me with how much I liked it considering I have never heard anyone laud this version before (which is honestly not unexpected with so many solid Rebas living under the radar). Next up is yet another Character Zero which is a bit oddly placed in the midset but that doesn’t impact the playing as Trey flexes his “I can play like Jimi” muscles. Maybe that’s foreshadowing or maybe it is just that he has gotten there with this song after playing it fifteen times in the twenty-eight shows from this tour but either way this is the type of Zero I want to hear. Page takes the forefront for Strange Design before our sixteenth Taste of tour starts up which while a tad sloppy in the return to the end has a good bit of Trey in the jam. I Didn’t Know comes in for only the second time this tour (kinda shocking considering how many times it was played back in that 93 timeframe) and along with typical humorous banter about Fish’s nom de plume for the evening (Norton Charleston Heston) Trey quotes the Beatles tune ‘Because” in introducing Mr. Heston. Then we get Sample’d before a particularly rocking and shreddy Run Like an Antelope caps the set in fine fashion. The breakdown section has a bit of tinkling around before they get to rye-rye-rocco-ing and again we get the Norton Charleston Heston nod and then before you know it we are out in the concourse once more trying to slake our thirst with a cool beverage as we laugh about yet another “fifteen minute break” comment out of Trey.

 

That first set is about what we expect at this stage on the tour with a couple of solid jams, overall great playing, and more of that energy thing though I have to say the song choices are getting a bit predictable here. Save for that one time performance of Midnight on the Highway last night we haven’t had a tour debut since Omaha and the gap charting looks more like a middling NL team’s starters’ ERAs than anything. That might not be the easiest analogy to unravel. However, we have seen time and again this tour that a jam-lite first set doesn’t usually carry over to the second frame so there is some good hope to be had in getting yourself mentally prepped for this one. And this one actually did get a good Reba and an engaging Lope so it’s already beating par with the real meat still to come.

 

The band returns for the second set and starts out by building  a familiar soundscape, clearly working towards the drop into 2001 but in no rush to get there. Trey and Page play with effects as Mike cements the bottom end and notes approval on the fight bell and before you know it this intro section has gone on longer than most versions of this song ever have with the recent exceptions of the Atlanta and Memphis performances of the song. No longer just a table setter for big vehicles this song is evolving on a nightly basis into a vehicle in its own right. This is apparent in how they are tackling the song one this tour, one night focusing on building to the release ‘refrain’ section, another night stretching out the intro to create an atmospheric jam before moving into the song proper. The version before this one from Memphis leads to this one and this one will allow for even more when we hear it again in a few shows. This will all go even bigger in 1997 and beyond but the seeds that were planted when this tour started are already starting to sprout and the template is taking root in changing the band’s approach to the song. Oddly or perhaps not all things reconsidered, they pull up into Sparkle instead of dropping into something bigger. This might signify the band’s acknowledgement of the growing import of this song as vehicle and not just the warm up it had always been or it could just be Trey just wanted to shred through this Rift number. No telling with him sometimes. With the energy in the room now approaching feverish levels Fish kicks into the start of David Bowie as fan hopes go even higher in anticipation of more of the type of jamming this song got back in Kansas City. The fans thinking such thoughts are often not rewarded as the band tends to not follow that predictable a path but tonight they would have opportunity to smile as from the drop out after the lyrics we are right back in the depths for another directed journey. This is another one that has not seen the praise it deserves even if it isn’t a mind flipper in the vein of the massive ones from 94/95. There is a type of groove jamming going on here that the band didn’t have at their disposal for those monsters which provides the base upon which the jam succeeds. This isn’t wah funk groove like YEM is exhibiting or even the percussive groove of the Simples we have heard but something that has a bit of both along with an edginess, a darker thing. It doesn’t even stray too far from the main Bowie theme too much but you can just as easily get lost in it all the same. It is mildly hypnotic such that when the return to the Bowie close comes you might finally open your eyes and shake the jamwebs out of your noggin to remind yourself of where you are. Somewhat fittingly they play A Day In The Life next, offering up another solid take on the odd tale by the Beatles.

 

This is our cool down song, I suppose, because next up is You Enjoy Myself to fill the latter half big jam slot. After lovely Pre and Nirvana sections they work through the ‘lyrical’ section with Mike giving some fight bell approval along the way and then hit the jam, first for the Page-led organ section. Mike gives us more fight bell and Trey adds in the whistle wah and other effects as he hops on the mini-kit for a bit. They patiently work through a percussive jam here and then Trey moves back over to the guitar to take his turn in front. Trey takes his time here, building to a peak that he sustains and allows to fade out into the transition to the D&B section which results in a fairly low key bit of Mike-led groove. They move out of this fairly quickly into a faster paced VJ which feels more in line with the lysergically intense versions of the song from 94/95 than here in the pre-funk days. In a way this YEM is a good example of what 1996 was all about as they had full control of their ability to work through compositions while adding in interesting, multi-layered jams. There may not be the wild, open exploration of other years here but it all works well as a whole, combining their instrumental mastery with the fresh creativity of new jam forms still emerging. This YEM may not be quite as captivating as the one from Kansas City but that’s a tough one to overtake, honestly. The set then finishes up with a double closer pairing of Loving Cup and Suzy Greenberg, both bringing the energy but otherwise not really notable in any way. The encores proceed similarly as we get a Ginseng Sullivan>Cavern pairing that does well to send everyone off into the Portland night on a high if not particularly unique note.

 

This show is pretty clearly a reconnection with what they had been working towards in the latter half of the Midwest leg of the tour before the move west seemed to slightly derail that mode. The energy is there as always but there is also a great patience to how the jams are developing as evidenced by the 2001 and Bowie.  This first set crackles with energy and is the type of set you could hand to a friend unfamiliar with the band to give them a taste of what the band is about without potentially scaring them off with some big second set open vehicles. If you had to pick a ‘stereotypical’ type of show from this year (and tour) this Portland one would be a could choice and I say that with no implied negativity. If nothing else it is the sort of show along a tour that makes you beg for more as the band seems to be about ready to burst into bigger things. And at the end isn’t that really all we could hope for? Your takeaways tonight are Reba, 2001, Bowie, YEM with Bag and Zero being the second tier. Next up is a pre-Thanksgiving stop back north in Seattle for a raging hot show before we make the turn south towards California and the final week of the Fall Tour.

And The Stars Are All Aglow – Vancouver, BC 11.23.1996

Phish — Pacific Coliseum — Vancouver, BC 11.23.1996

I  CDT, Guelah, CTB, Divided, PYITE, Midnight on the Highway, Melt, Rift, Funky Bitch

II  The Curtain>Mike’s->Simple->Makisupa>Axilla>Paug->Catapult, Waste, Grace, Hood

E  GTBT

 

After shaking off the rust in Spokane following their brief break to travel west Phish hopped the border into Canada for a Saturday night stop in British Columbia. This would be the fifth time the band would play in Vansterdam and the first/only playing the spacious Pacific Coliseum after the previous shows in smaller venues that we will get to shortly. This night is part of the weird “out and back” routing they almost always seem to employ in the Pacific Northwest with Seattle as the hub and the other stops as the various spokes to that metaphorical wheel. I get it to a certain extent as there wouldn’t be another venue to hit up here but it makes less sense later as they pass through Seattle to get to Portland before coming back up again to finish off with a Seattle show. It doesn’t always happen but it has enough times that people notice it and the only reason that could possibly make sense for adding all that mileage to the tour routing is venue availability which I suppose is about the most sensible reason you could think of in that regard. It is somewhat unavoidable with that in mind but still frustrating for those looking to string together a run of shows in the region. I guess the side benefit is you get more time in the car to spin tapes and connect with friends?

 

The first visit to Vancouver happened during our old friend Spring 1993 Tour on 04.03.1993 at the 86th Street Music Hall, coming just one show before the break between the two big legs (and being a prime example of the odd routing thing…). Check out the Stash, Reba, and YEM here for sure and add in the Melt and JJLC if you are feeling the 93 vibe. Tons of fun banter in that one too. They returned four months later during THAT month for a show at the Commodore Ballroom on 08.24.1993. As is expected from that tour you should spin the whole thing because it is replete with teases and great jams but if you are being choosy please do yourself a favor and spin Ice (with its ‘I Feel the Earth Move’ jam), Melt (with the DEG jam and ‘Long Tall Glasses’ teases), Mike’s (with the heavy metal shred), Paug (cuz ’93 Paugs were where a lot of the most open music happened in a show), and Lope (an ‘O Canada’ tease and the mind bending dissonance of those old Lopes). You will be happy with those choices. Oh, and the reparte between Trey and Fish in trading names in the Fish Fun Time section is pretty funny. Might be one of the more degrading/humorous nicknames for Fish Trey ever coined. The next Spring they came back again to play at the Vogue Theater on 05.22.1994 for what looks on paper to be a rather tame affair in comparison to some of the shows that surround it. It is better than that, of course, but perhaps not a mind blowing show. It holds the distinction of having the only Demand opener ever which is nice and there’s some fun banter about ‘Whoomp There It Is’ in Glide and Monkey but outside of the Tweezer (which feels at times like part of the Bomb Factory version from two weeks earlier) there might not be a whole lot here for the jam chasers. For their fourth visit to the city Phish played yet another venue, this time the Orpheum Theatre on 10.06.1995. There’s a nice Reba in the first set and another quality Tweezer (this one goes pretty deep – Mike has a big role in that) but otherwise this is a fairly early in the tour show where they are still taking their time getting warmed up as the tour has close to 50 shows remaining at this point. And so based on this history it is not unexpected that upon returning to the area in 1996 they would grace yet another room, something that has now held true for every time they have played Vancouver – including three years later in 1999.

 

Seemingly out of the grasp of weather’s cold grip they start the night with a rocking, raging, and fitting Chalkdust Torture that features Trey prominently. This is the type of Chalkdust opener we were brought up on, big on the energetic shred but otherwise straight forward. Guelah Papyrus slots into its familiar number two role tonight and then we get a boisterous Cars Trucks Buses where Page goes off on the piano for a bit giving this one a bit of spark before wrapping up.Next up is Divided Sky (1:10 pause tonight), soaring forth with a clean version that keeps the energy headed upwards, almost as if their intent is to see how much higher than can take things. This is further punctuated by the Punch You In The Eye that follows as here five songs in there has been little letup in the party excepting perhaps the slower vibe of that Guelah (though I’d argue that that song is not a lull like a ballad or some acoustic thing). By 1996 PYITE had fully replaced The Landlady after the two songs had battled for setlist inclusion in 1993 and 1994 which results in clean, ripping takes on this fan loved song (I love this tune as an opener and/or energy boost but I’m definitely in the “play Landlady” camp too). Now we finally get a bit of a breather as Trey first banters about the late night, extended border crossing over into Canada which resulted in this picture

nov_96_4h-150x150

The story of that photo –  which Trey briefly references in introducing the next song – is that they had a pretty lengthy border crossing delay as the tour bus was searched high and low by the guards for… stuff. This gave the band enough time for Mike to teach them a fitting road song, Midnight On The Highway, which slots in here as the midset breather/bathroom break tune. It is a grassy number written by old friend Tim O’Brien (who first joined Phish on stage at Red Rocks on 08.07.1996) for Hot Rize. This is but one of a few Tim/Hot Rize numbers Phish has played over the years with Nellie Kane being the most notable (and only non-one-timer). Here’s the memorable Sandy Kane from Worcester 2012 to remind you of that fun night. Mike had performed a couple of times right before this tour around Burlington with Doug Perkins and Gordon Stone so it was fresh for him, making for a nice interlude for us. The song itself is a traveler’s lament about being away from his love, something that fits in well with the life of a musician. I kind of wish this one was more than just a one-off performance as I could see it being a good bluegrass slot tune. Alas, that was not to be so let’s get back to the show. Following our border crossing interlude the band cranks into Split Open and Melt, bringing us back into the energetic jamming they had going prior to that little respite. They stay within the Melt framework as Trey solos above the theme and Mike pushes the groove itself, eventually bringing it back around to the close. A well played Rift keeps the energy going and then they cap the set with probably the best Funky Bitch of the tour so far that doesn’t include a guest harmonica soloist or a three way percussion blowout. After his solo and the final refrain Trey sits back and comps with some of that proto-funk vibe as Page creates big organ swirls (not a euphemism) pushing this a bit away from its typically bluesy root jam into something a bit different. Just when you think they will bring it back around and take it even higher Fish blaps and Trey trots out the 15 Minute Lie and we are off to setbreak to catch our breath and rest our bones a bit after all that dancing.

 

After the huddle up with your buds to talk about how fun that set was (woo! we’re back to the energetic first sets!) you settle in to see what they have in store for the second frame. First up is that wonderful harbinger of jams to come, The Curtain, getting a faithful and true rendition that lives up to its reputation of setting the table well. I don’t need to go into the whole (With) thing here as that was but a figment here in 1996 so the focus is on the tune as we knew it then was typically in providing set up for a vehicle. Most times that was the case but there are also 11 Samples to follow Curtain in its 119 performances (behind #1 Tweezer at 17) which is just plain wrong. Thankfully, tonight is not one of those but instead something with some meat to it as they drop into Mike’s Song. This version gets pretty heavy in a hurry as they opt for a crunchy Type I version, leaving behind any thoughts of a big, groovy 2nd jam like we’ve seen more than once on this tour. Trey stays up front in this jam, trying out several different lead lines as Page comps behind on the organ and Fish pounds out the big beat. This isn’t quite Machine Gun Trey but he’s working it out all the same. Right about where this might drop down into the second jam with the siren loops and big Mike tone Trey moves into Simple, giving us a seamless segue into the most reliable vehicle we’ve had this tour. As with the Mike’s they keep things mainly linear and again Trey is out front leading the charge. There’s no move to the mini-kit in this one so it doesn’t open up in the way most of these Simples have. They drop into a section that could go out into an ambient bridge space but as that is starting to materialize Trey plays the intro comp for Makisupa Policeman, our third of the tour. The keyword tonight is more of a retelling of the previous night’s encounter as Trey says “woke up in the morning, border guard in my bunk. He took his fucking dog on the bus and he found my… dank.” This elicits some awkward cheers out of the crowd (I mean, who really wants to cheer about a guy getting searched on the side of the highway?) and then they stretch it out for one of those comforting, ambient Maki jams. Trey adds a few appropriately placed whistle wahs and Mike hits the fight bell as well as we get a little precursor to the ambient fun of 1998 and beyond along with the vocal repartee that comes in the final round of lyrics. Trey then plays that grating, old psych transition line and BAM we are into Axilla. Tonight’s version has the ‘modern’ ending to the song (i.e. no ambient goo) and then we get Weekapaug Groove which should have been obvious to you. The first part of this jam is all peaky Paug stuff, leading you to believe this will be a straight forward rocking Paug but then Trey draws out a line in setting a loop that he then wah comps over and the band shifts into a dance groove. Page hops on on the toys to add flavor here and Trey comps in a way that makes you think they are heading into Llama while also being wholly unique. I wish they had stuck with this for longer because I think it could have really erupted into a major blowout peak jam but instead Trey messes around with the lead melody and Page adds in a bit and with Fish still ostensibly playing the Paug line Mike comes in and croons the Catapult lyrics over the beat. It is one of the more unique moves into Catapult that you will hear which begs the question as to why one might be seeking those out. Page plays the Catapult melody as Mike punctuates Fish’s beat with fight bell hits and Trey tinkers on the mini-kit as this peters out into a bit of an underwhelming close. And then we get Waste. Yippee. No biggie, we were due for a break by now and there are definitely much worse things they could have dropped here so we’ll just sway with an arm on the shoulder of the total stranger next to us as they cringe in horror about the crazed weirdo hanging on them (hey, at least they’ll have a good story to tell their normals after the show) as you hold that lighter aloft while belting out that one line that really speaks to your soul, man. Oddly enough, that line is not the one everyone else sees as the key one so your hug buddy starts to make the move to remove himself from your uncomfortably sweaty grasp and sensing that you hold on even more tightly as the band builds to the coda. Finally, as Trey wraps up the end solo your new best friend (your mind, not his) sees his opportunity and takes it, running off to the bathrooms as you try to start a conversation about how much that song means to you and your crew. It’s like your theme song or something you start to explain, only to finally open your eyes to find him no longer there and the band moving out front to do an a cappella Amazing Grace.

 

The band moves back to their typical places and you scan the local area to see if your pal has returned but who are you kidding, he and his girlfriend aren’t coming back to this spot again after that. Dude had to go to the merch stand to buy a new shirt since you got him pretty well saturated there and let’s face it you aren’t exactly the cleanest gent on tour by this point so that friendship has sailed, brother. But with the trademark Fish hits signaling its start, Harry Hood begins and you forget about all of this, losing yourself in the patient move through the song out into the open embrace of the resulting jam. They are working as one here, building it up organically with somewhat disparate ideas gelling into the whole. Page compliments Trey’s lead while Fish and Mike push the tempo as they arrive at the final peak to the delight of the masses, paying off this Hood in a similarly satisfying yet wholly different way than the one from Omaha a few shows ago. In the end swirl Trey gives some thanks and then we are on to the encore for a well deserved Good Times Bad Times rock out (with a little dedication to the numerous road crew folks who make their home in Vancouver) before everyone departs to begin figuring out how to stash all those BC headies to keep them safe on the return through the border crossing into the US of A.

 

This is by no means a legendary show or even one that you will hear people call out as one of the best from this tour. Heck, there really isn’t one, big, centerpiece takeaway jam to laud as it is one of those ones that is a bit more than the sum of its parts. It is a very good show in comparison to the one that precedes it and it is clear they have now shaken off the apparent rust from the trip West (or at least caught up on some sleep even though that seems doubtful what with the border fun) and feels like one that is setting up bigger things to come (it is). There’s also some very engaging jams here as our takeaways are Melt, the whole Mike’s Groove (sure, the Axilla is a short one but we’ll just let it ride as it works in context) and the Hood with the bonus Midnight on the Highway for the one off beaut it is. There’s some of that Saturday Night Special energy thing going on here but not in a negative way like the jams suffer as a result and there’s definitely no jukebox feel to the sets like you get with the 3.0 SNSs. It is just your average solid Phish show all over which is in no way a dig of any kind. It is a fun spin and I recommend listening to the whole thing like maybe if you are stuck in a car traveling between the various Northwest tour stops they never seem to route in the same way each time? Now on to Rip City for one of our few Sunday night shows of Fall ’96…

Slipping on the Friction Slide – Spokane, WA 11.22.1996

Phish — Spokane Arena — Spokane, WA  11.22.1996

I  Ice>Jim, Wolfman’s, Taste, Ginseng>Sample, FEFY, Train Song, Stash, Cavern

II  Disease>Caspian>Maze, Billy Breathes>Swept Away>Steep>Zero, Theme, Slave, HMB

E  Julius 

 

If ever you have driven across this great country of ours you know that there are certain legs that are nothing but monotonous slogs through areas of annoyingly stark beauty as you make your way to the next burst of population density upon the landscape. These are the times you get lost in thought staring out of misty windows as the highway ticks by and the music you have on provides the soundtrack for the swirl of ideas that arise and pass through your mind as the rain pitter-patters its ambient beat to accompany the tunes. Drives like these were once something I had a lot of experience with and where I got my most devoted Phish and Dead tape listening in without the pesky interventions of life messing with that solitude. While I have not personally completed the lengthy drive that Phish and the seriously die-hard fans on the Fall ’96 Tour did in getting from Kansas City to Spokane I have a pretty good idea of how that went for them what with it being some 1,550 miles in mid-November through some of the most open and empty country this great land has to offer. On the surface the mileage doesn’t seem too daunting since you effectively had a bit of two days to make the trip (even if you stayed in KC for some BBQ before heading out the morning after the 11.19 show) but when you layer in the weather that was going down around then I can imagine it made for some white knuckled miles in Montana and Idaho. I’m sure everyone was all hopped up on White Crosses and No Doz so obviously it was all okay, right?

 

Once in Spokane, you and the band had a bit of time to recuperate before the show on 11.22, seeing the sights in the Lilac City and discussing their singular previous visit here just over a year prior. For as many times as the band had been in the region for shows going back all the way to Spring 1991 (we will cover that more when we come back from Vancouver in a few they had only visited this eastern part of the state on 10.07.1995 for a show at the Spokane Opera House. Hey look! Newsies is playing there! Why didn’t anyone tell me??? The venue is part of the larger performing arts center that is a legacy of the World’s Fair of 1974 held in Spokane (who knew?) and by all accounts appears to be a nice place to see a show. Being in the early middle part of that epic Fall ’95 Tour this Spokane show has some great stuff but isn’t in the top tier of shows from that run mainly due to being up against some truly legendary shows. Definitely check out the Melt and Hood (especially the Hood!) and maybe the Possum if you like the DEG-like jamming style that one used to get or perhaps It’s Ice with a lovely demonic bit of jammery. Now on to the larger Spokane Arena and the last one they’ve played in this town…

 

First we need to set the stage for this show, as I think it is very relevant both in terms of song choices and band intent which I’ll get to as we go. Any time you have a tour – a national tour at that – which occurs in a season with potentially fluctuating weather you have the potential of your shows being impacted in some way. Thankfully for us Phish has had very very few actual show cancellations in their history but that doesn’t mean we haven’t seen weather play a role in the proceedings. Just a few examples include the snowstorm surrounding the 02.12.1993 show, another snowstorm for the 12.09.1995 Albany, NY show, the wicked rain and lightning that hit during the first set of 07.22.1997 in Raleigh, the Ames show on 11.14.1996 from earlier this tour, the deluge that hit at the end of the first set for Alpharetta, GA on 06.05.2011 (resulting in a two set version of Mound), and the rain soaked first set from 07.12.2013 at Jones Beach – but one of the rain soaked shows that venue has seen. I am only scratching the surface with those examples as there are plenty of others (like the rain storm at the end of the first set of 07.31.2009 where the band ‘played the storm’ in the Melt jam and blew my mind in the process or any of the other vividly explosive sets where the weather matched the band) but it serves to set us up for this night in Spokane.

 

Your ‘typical’ mid-November weather in Spokane gives you temps in the 40s with a better than not chance of some form of precipitation at some point in the day which generally means some rain which is pretty much par for the course if you are of the Northwestern persuasion. By the time you get to the last week or two of the month the temps have begun to fall and that daily precipitation continues and sometimes that results in what went down during the time Phish visited Spokanistan that Fall of 1996. Starting on the same day that Phish dealt with significant weather in Iowa (11.14) the Spokane area some form of frozen precipitation every day up to and including the night of their show on 11.22 when it had grown into a full blown ice storm outside the venue. This was more than just a snow storm like what we got on 12.27.2010 (though calling that fun “just a snow storm” is really putting it mildly) but the impact on the show was similar in some ways and quite different in others. That Worcester NYE Run show has a few songs and lyrical references to the weather (It’s Ice, Mound, Seven Below, “take care of your boots” lyric alteration in Cavern) as well as a couple of hot jams, most notably the Seven Below>WTU? mashed up jam and that Roggae. Admittedly, the most notable jam of that pair of shows would come the following night in the Plinko Hood that had everyone in a tizzy for a bit there though we weren’t exactly complaining about the first night at the time. In contrast, as we will see, this Spokane show had the referential aspect and some good energy but did not really elevate musically for one reason or another.

 

In an almost too obvious move, the band starts out the night with It’s Ice, giving the nod to the weather right from the start and setting the tone for the show. This is the first and only time they have opened a show with the song as it isn’t exactly the type of number they drop in getting things rolling so it definitely comes as a surprise here. Note that there are only two 2nd set opening versions of the song as well: 12.06.1991 which is probably most notable for having 1 of 3 versions of “Wait” the seminal song about waiting – though I dig the Christmas Lawn Boy – and 07.12.1996 from the Melkweg with the neat little ‘crowd chord jam’ into the butchered NICU and other loose Dutch stuff. That show has always seemed odd to me with the three sets where each one is shorter than the one preceding but that’s not really relevant here. Not that I’ve bothered to establish any sort criteria for relevance of course. Ice bleeds into Jim which has a nice bit of MIke-led lope to it (not Lope though) and now we’ve all warmed into the room shedding off the moist chill. Yeah, I wrote moist. Moist. Moist. See? It loses meaning/power after a while. It doesn’t have to be a word that makes you uncomfortable. Moist. Trey’s solo is engaging and the crowd is on board now as they bring it home in a satisfying manner. Wolfman’s Brother starts up and you get the punctuated version of the song they played at this point which just delayed the inevitable Taste which is now batting .577 and you are glad you picked it up in the draft this time as Trey builds that familiar run up to the peak. You have to admit that after fifteen performances of it they know how to work this one. Trey banters for a bit first talking travel and weather and then introducing Ginseng Sullivan as a Tim O’Brien song which it is not. I’ll never complain about the grassy tunes like this one. Yeah, it is a weird appropriation of the genre but dang it if they aren’t fun to belt out and get down to live. Sample in a Jar then an interesting placement for Fast Enough For You and Train Song which has you wondering where that Jim and Taste stuff went. Trey plays the opening run for Stash and you have ideas of a lift for this set with this set up vehicle for the closer to come. This is pure tension build with a slow burn start that builds with Page really adding a lot behind Trey’s lead to each of the false peaks and now you are synced back up with the music. Fish pushes it to the final peak and as they play the final return you have one of those ‘well that was more than I expected there’ kind of thoughts which is cut off by the punch into the Cavern closer. After the bullshit “15 minute” propaganda Trey corrects his earlier error about the Norman Blake penned ‘Ginseng Sullivan’ and then the lights pop on and the head scratching thoughts kick up as you try to decide what to think about this set.

 

Perhaps it is the comparison to the hot first sets we’ve been hearing the past few shows or maybe it is all about song choice but something just doesn’t work for me with this one. I really think that starting out with Ice didn’t do them any favors in getting things warmed up quickly as while topical it really isn’t the kind of energy you expect them to come out of the gates with — kinda like opening with The Line but not nearly that bad. That’s an exaggeration, of course, because I cannot think of any worse opener than The Line but the point stands. Really it is about the song choices and flow though. After that Ice opener we have a nice Jim>Wolf>Taste section before the grassy tune gives us a sidestep that starts the bathroom runs in earnest. The next three songs do nothing to bring things back up (go ahead and try to tell me Sample is a good call here. I dare you) so by the time we get to Stash you are looking for a save instead of more fire which causes you to overanalyze it and probably think less of it than it was in the moment. And then to cap it off they close with Cavern, a song I have a personal “thing” with considering how that song has followed me over the years to the point where I really can’t appreciate it all by now. Look, as always I’m not criticizing the playing here because it really is all quite well performed but this set just falls flat for me. I don’t want to take anything away from anyone who was there or anything so we’ll just move on to see if things get better in the second set…

 

Promisingly, the set starts off with Down with Disease, a song that has been very reliable if not exploratory on this tour. Tonight’s version is similar to some of the recent first set ones we have heard in that it really feels like we are about to tumble into a big open jam out of this song, something that had only happened a few times up to this point – most notably for the 11.12.1994 one that includes Have Mercy, the 06.26.1995 SPAC one that paired with Free for about 40 minutes of pure Summer ’95 mindfuck psych, the 12.12.1995 Providence one that goes far off the deep end like a ’94 Bowie, and the 08.05.1996 Red Rocks version that is funked up and gets Trey over to the mini-kit for a spell. That doesn’t happen here but when they settle into the percussive groove you could be forgiven for thinking that is coming only to have Trey stay on lead. This is a pure shred Disease that rises to the peak and gets a bit of the full ending return before they pull up into Prince Caspian. Yeah, so, okay, sure, I guess this works here but it really feels a bit early in the set to already be cooling things down. Trey goes power ballad guitar god on it but it is still the Caspian we expect here. They drop down in the end and transition to the Maze intro which piques your interest for what is to come and the Maze pays off as is should here in a quite solid year for the song. And then they go slow once more, putting together a mid-set sequence of Billy Breathes>Swept Away>Steep that just drains all of the goodwill energy built back up by the evil Maze shred. That sequence is how they appear on the album and this is the only time they ever got played live in that order but outside of that there’s not much to mention with this except that never again have those three songs been in the same show, surprisingly. Maybe not considering the low number of performances of each tune but still. Oh, and since Swept Away>Steep debuted this tour it is also the only tour where it happened that they were all played in the same show with four shows having them (I’ll let you figure out which if you really care that much). Again we are in the position of needing a pick-me-up after that slow jam session and they bang right into Character Zero in the wake of Steep, pumping up the room with a fist-pumping take on the tune. Zero is followed by Theme which has a very clean, super peaky jam that gets the grins going again and maybe even elicits a few WOOHOOs out of your most boisterous show buddy before coming down to the close. Next we get a pretty apt Slave to the Traffic Light what with the drive and all and you start gathering your thoughts about getting ready to head back out into reality. But first the Slave takes you on that meandering journey, providing some closed-eyes bliss time as they search around the build. This could be a fitting closer for the night but instead they do Hello My Baby a cappella to wrap it up. After the end set break they come back out and as he starts up Julius Trey again gives thanks for their good time in Spokane, doing a fun little quote of the J.J. Cale song that Eric clapton made famous ‘Cocaine’ (okay, one of  the J.J. Cale songs Clapton made famous) to say “if you wanna get down, get down on the ground, Spo-Kane” before ripping into the fun Julius encore that sends everyone off to fight the cold and ice with a bit more pep in their step.

 

If it isn’t abundantly clear by now, this is not my favorite show of the tour. The playing is all at a high level as you’d expect by this time on the tour but I just can’t connect with this one. You can’t say they were worn out from too many shows since this comes after two nights off (which might play a role…) and I don’t think the cross country travel is a factor so we have to “blame” it on song choice/placement. After a few shows where there are sets with no lulls at all to have significant sections of both of these sets devoted to material that is much less engaging musically than what we all come for (well, the people I relate most directly with, I suppose). Seriously, look at that setlist and tell me it gets you excited to hear the show. I always say ‘don’t judge a show by the setlist’ but there’s only so much you can do when you get Sample, FEFY (admittedly, Trey gets real emotive in the end solo but still), Train Song, Cavern, Billy, Swept Away, Steep, yet another Zero and Taste, etc. You may love one or more of those songs but let’s not go having them ALL crammed into our sets now, okay? I get the need for shorter, more composed songs but this is a bit much. It isn’t like they were taking a breather for a bit after some crazy 20+ minute dive into the abyss. I could keep going but I’m already being redundant here. So let’s move to the takeaways which tonight are the Theme for top tier and Stash and Disease on the second rung. Now let’s put this one in the rearview and head north of the border for something a bit hotter…

The Time this Life Had Shined – Kansas City, MO 11.19.1996

Phish — Municipal Auditorium — Kansas City, MO 11.19.1996

I  Ya Mar, Bag>Foam, Theme, Mound, Stash, Fee>Taste, Cup

II  Bowie, ADITL>Gin->VoL->YEM, SSB, Fire

E  Coil

 

Leaving Memphis and starting what will eventually be a quite long journey northwest, Phish stopped in Kansas City for the final show of the Midwest Leg of this Fall 1996 Tour. As luck and round numbers would have it, this marks the 25th show of the tour so we’ll have our standard every-five-shows statistical update at the end of this post. For now, let’s go through the shows past for this Midwestern regional hub…

 

I’m going to cheat a little bit here by including a show that is about 35 miles west of the Kansas City area in the college town of Lawrence. This date, 04.01.1992, was the first time the band had played in Kansas (after their first two shows in Missouri preceded as they made their way west via St. Louis and Columbia) and being April Fool’s Day they had a few tricks up their sleeves as Fish wore a blue dress accented by a feather boa and the Bowie included a bunch of SL and a Landlady tease. Outside of the rare double encore proceedings this one is otherwise mainly the type of fare one would expect from the days in the move from big bars to small theaters. The return to the region would come just over a year following on 04.13.1993 at the Memorial Hall in Kansas City, KS. This was the first of three times playing the historic theater/concert hall/professional wrestling house built in 1925 and it is full of what you’d expect from Spring ’93 (assuming you either have your own baseline or followed along as we went through the shows on the first leg of that tour… which ended about a week before this one). The Forbin narration is interesting and leads into a really well played Mockingbird but the main draw is the teases in Mike’s, the CYHMK jam in Paug (it rips hard), and other tease fun in a tightly played affair. Phish returned to this room later that year during the August run, playing a well regarded show on 08.17.1993. Along with Fish wearing the Zero Man costume for this one you have a really interesting Divided Sky (I know), some fun with teases, an extended jam in YEM that quotes Ob-La-Di-Ob-La-Da (seriously, Beatles, you couldn’t picked a better title for that song simply so that I don’t have to write it all out), and a Bowie I implore you to spin. It goes out in a hurry and never lets up, hinting more at where Bowie was headed in 94/95 than in calling back to where it had come from. About ten months later they were back again for the third time at this venue, playing on 06.13.1994 on the heels of the wonderful Red Rocks run and mere days before we would get the legendary OJ Show in Milwaukee. Don’t skip this one for those just yet though as there is a really fun second set Reba and an uber peaked Slave that will hold your attention if nothing else from this one does (it will). And finally, on 10.19.1995 Phish for the first time played the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, MO making the move from one KC to the other in search of a larger room. Along with some Trey banter about the Chess Match there are some fun setlist choices here (like a Frankenstein 2nd set opener) and one of those big, gnarly Fall ’95 Mike’s Grooves (including the return of I Am Hydrogen after 34 shows on the bench – a time when five Mike’s Grooves had been played – which is certainly not the biggest gap for the song but kinda notable I guess). The next time the band would return to the Kansas City area would be just over a year later in the same venue as that Fall ’95 visit, playing the show we are here to discuss.

 

Before we get to that, there is full show video of this one so cue it up and let’s roll…

Set I

Set II

 

 

The night starts out with a fun warm up Ya Mar, giving everyone in the hall the chance to shake out the cold and get to moving. They back this up with the “double opener” energy of ACDC Bag, taking it for a brief ride that punches up the heat in the end as Trey starts to feel it, building a nifty segue into Foam as he goes. This is a really inspired version of Foam (and surprisingly only the second one this tour), a song that always seems to surprise me when I hear it live. I never really go in looking for it and it isn’t like I have heard too many versions or anything but it is just one of those songs that sneaks up on ya as coming off so much better than I expect pretty much every time. Enough about me. They nail this Foam with Trey hitting the delicate parts cleanly and then a little added extra mustard to it in the end pseudo improv part gets the crowd woohooing and whatnot. Staying in the major vein they head into Theme from the Bottom where Trey crafts a slowly building walk to the peak, one that explodes out before dissolving into the slow burn ending. After a quick run through the oddly timed Mound (the next time Phish fans get the timing right on the intro clapping will probably be the first) the band heads into Stash and by now the tone has been quite clearly set for the proceedings. Notice anything missing from the setlist up there? Yeah, there’s nothing in there that you could consider a ballad unless Fee somehow fits that bill for you. With the benefit of having that setlist up front you have to know where things are headed here even if the jam charts and show reviews don’t pamp this show much. The Stash is pretty well in the box but has some nice T&R to it. It works here because they don’t rush things and allow the release to come naturally, something that doesn’t always happen when they are trying to cram a bunch of songs into a set. Next we get that somewhat cool down Fee (with the megaphone, naturally) and that then gives way to Taste for what seems like the umpteenth time this tour. Simmer down, tour boy, it is only the 14th time they’ve played it so that means you have 11 full shows where they haven’t trotted it out. And really, unless you were on this whole tour (or significant portions of it) or just don’t like the song like some people I know (WILLOWED!!!) it is hard to complain about Taste. I tend to like it a bit more than other folk (I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned my deep dive into the BYE for Taste a while ago…) plus it was really starting to get good here now that the final arrangement was set. Tonight’s has a fun ‘Third Stone from the Sun’ tease as they head into the jam (about 4:05 in depending on the source) which Trey takes charge of with the normal evocative phrasing that makes you wonder if he’s teasing something but no he’s just doing that Taste thing. They wrap up the set with the second Loving Cup of the tour — I can admit I kind of got sick of that song on Spring 93 and then throughout the first part of 3.0, right? RIGHT??? — which here feels like something of an exclamation point on the set, something the crowd catches on to at the thumb-on-nose “bad guitar” line. It is a good way to wrap up this set, rocking us into the break with the sustained energy of a set that for lack of segues still felt quite connected. That’s probably a factor of there being no “lulls” of any sort combined with the solid playing all the way through too. I may have had similar comments on the Grand Rapids show but it stands. This is not something you would necessarily expect considering everyone involved generally needs a few minutes to catch their breath and slower tempo songs are a good way to rest for musicians in between the faster stuff so it is a tad surprising to see it happen here more than once in the past week or so of shows, particularly when that all go vibe carries over into the second set…

 

…which tonight starts out with David Bowie, something that is not exactly a common occurrence. Of the 473 Bowies played only 40 have opened sets (there’s an additional five encores of the song) and of those 12 have opened shows, 25 have opened second sets, and 3 have opened third sets. Being the tension and release juggernaut that it is one typically expects the song to show up at the end of a set to put an exclamation point on the proceedings rather than to set the tone. And tone setting is definitely what this Bowie from Kansas City is all about as the jam doesn’t really depart too far from the Bowie structure over its 18+ minutes so much as flirts around that possibility which is not how most Bowies go. Heck, even the intro doesn’t follow the normal template as the “tik-a tik-a tika tik-a” Fish intro is relatively subdued as Trey sets a loop or two and they toy around with some soundscape before slamming into the composed/lyrics section. The jam is a patient run through familiar territory, one that includes all four band members in lockstep with each other and where it feels like it could go any of a number of directions all at once. It is the type of music that lends itself to one getting lost in the abandonment of thought, feeling it all while not actively focusing on any one part. Instead of peeling off big lead lines Trey opts for sustained notes to compliment Page and Mike which all feels like it is headed for a massive release peak. There is some of that here but honestly the return to the end is a bit surprising in that “oh hang on they are wrapping it up” kind of way rather than as a culmination of what came before. They are leaving a lot on the table here, teasing us with a small bit of release but holding on to the true moment for a time later in the set when they have us in the palm of their hand. As if to punctuate this almost as soon as the Bowie ends they are into the next song (though there is no segue here), playing the Beatles’ cover A Day in the Life. This song is itself a dichotomy between tension and release but of a different variety than Bowie what with the dissonant, swelling crescendo of the beginning and end framed around the mundane goings on of mediocrity outline in Paul McCartney’s lyrics. It fits with the Bowie in adding to the overall T&R feel of this set and two songs in we are cruising along as we continue to climb that hill. The end of ADITL bumps into the start of Bathtub Gin and after what we got in Lexington a couple of weeks earlier hopes are high for another journey like that one. Even before the lyrics Trey is toying around, playing a few chords that are probably just a variation on the Gin phrasing but sure sound like they are plucked from another song that I really am kicking myself in not being able to recognize. The early part of the jam works within the Gin framework, building things up in a way that in later 1.0 would end up being one of those prototypical bliss releases but here they settle into a pocket where Trey is pulling at sustained leads as the rest of the band gets the groove going. Trey is working his way upwards, adding to the tension as Fish goes off and Page pounds away. Here I refer you to the previously linked video for this set as you can just tell Trey is feeling it, particularly as they get to a false peak that ends up dropping into a different groove entirely. Trey sets up the percussive groove pocket we’ve come to know on this tour and Page shifts from comping to leading on the piano. Trey is working over the wah pedal as he plays rhythm and they settle into a dance groove with Page moving around his various tools to lead on top. With Page in front Trey moves over to the mini-kit, giving him room  and providing space for Fish to push the beat forward as well. Page comes back to the piano with some Gin-like fills and then matches up with the pocket and the band has come down to a quieter space that is no less captivating than what preceded. Mike his the fight bell, Page adds some little phatty, Trey directs traffic, and then right when it feels like this thing might peter out Trey is back on guitar as the whole band latches on to what sure feels like they are heading into our old friend The Real Me after that last came out of Gin on 12.29.1995. This is brief, however, as Trey plays the tell tale ending for Gin wrapping up our fun excursion there and falling into transitional space.

 

Here you might think they’ll play that Caspian that you know is due or some other cool down tune but instead Trey comes to the mike to banter a a bit, first making sure everyone knows what the Vibration of Life is and then dedicating it to Bob Neumann, who along with being the Audio Crew Chief was also the man responsible for the somewhat iconic speakerboxes they use for their show setup. After a quick flirtation with the 7.5bps of the VoL (yep, Trey said 7bps the other night and 7.5bps tonight… get your fake stories straight, Trza!) Trey opens into You Enjoy Myself. As they move through one those tingle-inducing pre and Nirvana sections you can tell they are setting us up but it isn’t really clear where this might all head just yet. Again, I’ll tell you that this song is greatly aided by viewing the video and that’s the last time I’m telling ya so listen up, hippie! The tramps section is the typical fun stuff and then when they hop off Mike is all over the fight bell as Trey comps to Page’s organ leads. Trey is bouncing all over the place here, playing the type of funk rhythm you’d expect from Fall ’97. Suddenly Fish BLAPs the groove to a stop and we are into a big time stop/start funk jam! This goes on for several rounds with Trey and Mike putting in fight bell and mini-kit trigger fills (whistle wah, others) before Page gets a turn on the phatty in one of the returns. Trey is dancing to the music at this point, almost doing a Chuck Berry duck walk as he goes, even picking up the megaphone to add a sound effect to one of the stops (the siren thing all megaphones have). They are all having a blast with this, playing loose and free as the crowd boogies hard and then Trey moves to the lead role, ripping off big lines to accent the funk pocket. They come back to another stop with Mike taking a subdued bass lead which just counterbalances the next turn Trey takes in bringing it to a soaring shred peak before he sets it into a loop and moves over to the mini-kit again as Mike plays with a familiar melody. Trey catches on and starts a vocal chorus of Groove is in the Heart, the club track that made Deee-Lite a mainstream success back in  1990 (and which was buoyed by Bootsy Collins on bass and Maceo Parker on horn). If you dig their stuff I recommend checking out Sampladelic Relics & Dancefloor Oddities, the mid-90s compilation and remix project of a lot of their stuff. It isn’t purely their sound since there is another DJ involved who has a bit more of the D&B thing going (and apologies for the mid-90s brand of “techno” you will be subjected to if you aren’t familiar with that whole business) but still worthwhile if you like their style or have a disturbing obsession with Lady Miss Kier which is completely understandable. I know I was a big fan of her vibe back in the day. Or you could spin World Clique, the album that spawned Groove is in the Heart in the first place if you want the true representation of their sound… Anyway, the band is grooving and singing and Mike and Fish are into the D&B section now as Trey does his dancing thing while rocking the mini-kit and Fish is keeping the GIITH vocal going, eventually moving into something more like wooing along the the music. Mike gets a couple more minutes of focus in the D&B, playing a pretty extended solo and then we are off into the VJ which almost comes as relief in capping this fantastic version of YEM. There’s a bit more GIITH here but it goes plaid as it typically does eventually. A pretty well deserved respite is next for the a cappella take on the Star Spangled Banner, with a nod that they’ll be performing it “for Shaw on December 3rd” which is the date when they will perform the SSB before the Lakers v. Supersonics at the Fabulous Forum (a venue the band plays here in 3.0…), and then after a little “thanks for coming out” we are on to a fitting Fire closer. Preceding the encore Trey banters a bit about the SSB and then that this is the last show of the run before their long trek westward to Spokane, thanking everyone and then starting up a really nice Squirming Coil to send us off into the night. I’ve always been a fan of the Coil encore as a way to cool things down as we all reenter reality and this version accomplishes that.

 

This is a show that surprised me. I knew about the Gin and the YEM but was surprised at how cohesive the whole thing feels. The first set is all really solid table setting with that energy thing I tend to mention and some interesting jams – particularly Stash and Taste but everything seems to cook here – but the second set is something else entirely. The Bowie is a slow burner that grows on you the more you spin it and it completely undersold in the wider Phish community. That is probably due to comparison with some quite impressive musical feats they have performed with the song but still a bit surprising once you hear it. The Gin is not quite to Rupp level but still a wonderful journey through multiple phases and then the YEM just takes the set and elevates it to funk dance party in ways we now almost expect but back them would not have seen coming. Yes, there are other big, funky versions of the song that precede this one (and Groove is in the Heart had been teased a few times prior as well) but something is different here. This is cowfunk Phish in its infancy and we all know where that goes. The show works as a great cap of the Midwest run, almost offering up a summary of where they have gotten to musically so far this tour what with the varied playing styles on display (sans ballads, of course…). It also points forward to more great music to come in the final week plus of shows, not to mention as we look forward at the coming evolution of the band. Time and again on this tour we keep finding the seeds of that change already being sown well before the supposed jumping off point in Europe a few months on and this show has a lot of that to show. I consider this show to be a hidden gem showcasing what Fall ’96 is all about, one that doesn’t get the publicity of other nights but that holds up well against all but perhaps the toppest of top shows on this tour – and others. That’s not to say this is a top of the heap all time show but in terms of sleeper picks you could do well to surprise your headiest of friends with this one. Your takeaways tonight are Bowie, Gin->VoL->Yem for the first tier and Taste, Stash for the second tier so I’m not being overly gracious here, I think. Now on to the western climes and a visit to the lovely Pacific Northwest…

 

 

I was a tad bit excited to get this post up and forgot to include the Stats section I mentioned way up top there! So here ya go…

 

25 shows into this tour, we have a pretty good idea of what the normal rotation is. Two songs stand out above the fray as being the most often played as Taste (14) and Character Zero (13) continue to battle it out for the title. The next closest are four songs sitting at 9 appearances each (CTB, CDT, Swept Away, and Steep) and then eight more songs are knotted at 8 (Disease, Free, Caspian, Sample, Stash Theme, Waste, and YEM). After that the events are quite jumbled with 23 songs being played six or seven times each. Overall we have 131 unique songs played with 36 being one-timers. The openers/closers/encores game is still pretty varied with CDT and Jim being the only two songs opening more than two shows at three apiece. As one would expect, Zero holds the first set closer slot title at 5 with no other song closer than two times. Second set openers are also pretty lumped together with only 2001 having more than a pair at 4 times. Show closers and encores are even less of a clear picture as Weekapaug has 3 show closers and four songs sit at 2 (Bowie, Hood, HMB, and Reprise) while over in encores Waste and Funky Bitch are tied at the top with 3 times each. With five Mike’s Grooves we still don’t have an I Am Hydrogen to speak of but that is probably the biggest “missing” song at this stage. The bulk of the debuts so far this tour were (obviously) part of the Halloween Remain In Light set but we also have Swept Away, Steep, the Star Spangled Banner, Mean Mr. Mustard, and We’re An American Band. That’s really about it on the statistical front at this stage unless you really go deep into the nitty gritty at which point you say “haven’t you already done that” and I wink and put a finger to my nose knowingly and then we share a guffaw before the music cues and the credits roll.

 

And It Sings A Pretty Tune – Memphis, TN 11.18.1996

Phish — Mid-South Coliseum — Memphis, TN 11.18.1996

I  CTB, Timber Ho!, Poor Heart>Taste, Billy Breathes, CDT, Guelah, Ginseng, Reba, Zero

II  2001>Simple->Swept Away>Steep>Mule, Tweezer, HMB, Reprise>Llama

E  Waste, JBG

 

Following their fun Saturday night in Omaha Phish took a night off to make the backwards trek to Memphis. I mean, seriously, look at this tour routing for the first 24 shows that make up the first two legs* of this tour:

96 first leg routing

Follow the letters there for the routing if it isn’t clear to you. There are at least five (if not more) points on the tour where you have to travel through a city they have already played or will play later on the tour in order to get to the next show — and there are a couple more on the West Coast run to come. That all contributes to why the East/Midwest portions of this tour cover over 8,200 miles of travel which is a lot to put on that beat up microbus you have been slinging grilled cheese out of this fall. I know a lot of it has to do with juggling venue schedules, fitting in days off for the band and crew along the way, hitting the days of the week that are traditionally good ticket sales nights, and more to make it work but that’s a brutal route no matter how you slice it. This Memphis show ends up being an “out and back” trip where you have to pass through Kansas City after leaving Omaha to get there, only to return the following night for that last show of the Midwest leg (which also occurred earlier on tour down in Florida). I don’t envy the job of the person who had/has to do all of this and I’m sure they stress about it royally when putting it all in place so I won’t criticize too heavily but yeah, not exactly cutting greenhouse emissions with this one.

 

*I haven’t really looked at this tour in terms of legs too much because the longest gaps between show dates are each two days but with that in mind if you had to break this tour down to find the break points it would be as follows:

Leg One — October 16th through November 3rd — 14 shows — 3,900+ miles

Lake Placid, NY – State College, PA – Pittsburgh, PA – Buffalo, NY – New York, NY (2 shows) – Hartford, CT – Hampton, VA – Charlotte, NC – North Charleston, SC – Atlanta, GA – Tallahassee, FL – West Palm Beach, FL – Gainesville, FL

Leg Two — November 6th through November 18th — 11 shows — 3,700+ miles

Knoxville, TN – Lexington, KY – Champaign, IL – Auburn Hills, MI – Grand Rapids, MI – Minneapolis, MN – Ames, IA – St. Louis, MO – Omaha, NE – Memphis, TN – Kansas City, MO

Leg Three — November 22nd through December 6th — 10 shows — 3,200+ miles

Spokane, WA – Vancouver, BC – Portland, OR – Seattle, WA – Daly City, CA – Sacramento, CA – Los Angeles, CA – Phoenix, AZ – San Diego, CA – Las Vegas, NV

On paper it’s a pretty cool looking tour until you factor in all that mileage — and keep in mind that back then you didn’t have the number of people financially capable of using flights to make this work (not that there are really that many people these days doing full tours by plane/rental car but there’s enough). Adding in the travel between the different legs gets you to just about 13,000 miles traveled for this tour in which case I really hope you weren’t driving your mom’s leased minivan or something because you just blew through your annual mileage allotment over the course of less than two months. As a frame of reference, the entirety of the Fall ’98 Tour covered only about 5,000 miles over 22 shows which is obviously shorter (by 13 shows) and benefits from better scheduling due to the multi-night stops in Las Vegas, Chicago, Hampton, and Worcester. Outside of a few tour stops that got two night stands on various summer and fall tours (e.g. Deer Creek, Hampton) I am pretty sure that is the first tour that is specifically set up with multiple multi-night stands anchored around weekends. I’m not about to go and map the mileage for every tour they have done but someone probably has or will since we tend to do stuff like that. I’m sure the findings would be quite illuminating.

 

And so to Memphis. Phish has a pretty strong history with Tennessee in general having now played 25 shows here (good for a tie at #19 overall). As far back as Spring 1991 they visited Memphis, stopping here for their third show in the state on that run through the south on their way west at the New Daisy Theatre on 03.06.1991 for a single setter with ARU opening and for which no known recordings exist. It would be another 3+ years before they came back to Blues City, this time playing the Orpheum Theatre on 10.12.1994 and dropping a few nice jams like that dark Melt and one of those oh-so-94 Bowies not to mention debuting Beaumont Rag as part of that evening’s bluegrass mini-set. Eight months later on 06.14.1995 they were back in town at the Mud Island Amphitheatre (a coll little amphitheater on an island in the Mississippi River) for a show most famously known for the monster Tweezer in the 2nd set which stands to this day as the longest ever performed. There’s also a nice version of ‘Don’t You Want to Go?’, a cover of The Meditation Singers classic which was performed five times that year before going to the “Where Are They Now” files. Might be nice to hear that one some time again… That’s it for the history lesson today. In case you are wondering why I do these, part of it is my personal fascination with the minutiae of setlist construction, part of it is  knowing that for a long time Trey used information about prior performances in a city to help with deciding to play the next time, and also because it is a good way to find some hidden gem jams that one might not have otherwise discovered. I tend to listen to the ‘highlights’ from the past shows in the area as I write some sections of these reviews while playing the show itself when going through the meat of the breakdown and even though I’ve heard many of these shows or at least bits of them before it is always fun to find something that is new to me. Plus it will eventually allow me to just refer back to my old posts once we’ve covered the entire geography because I’m sure I’ll go that far…

 

The first song of the show is almost a forefinger-to-the-nose knowing nod to the travelers’ plight as they bounce into Cars Trucks Buses for the ninth time this tour (and second opening slot after the tour opening version in Lake Placid). The energetic song has a bit more of that “washboard” effect we heard last time out but is otherwise about what you’d expect from the song and then we are off into Timber Ho! which is always a nice one to hear this early in the show. Never a full vehicle the song is more like a mood setter, giving us a bit of dark jamming in a tight little package, a take that is fairly divergent from its roots when sung by such folk as Josh White or Odetta. It is definitely a song Phish has taken and made their own and which has become a crowd favorite in the 82 performances of the song to date. Surprisingly, 24 of these have come in 3.0 which I suppose makes sense considering we are now in our seventh year of that iteration and by percentage it works. Well, tonight’s version is a good representation of what Phish did/does with the tune, adding to the building energy and allowing Trey to show off his nimble fingers in the end jam. After romping through Poor Heart they drop into Taste and even though this song is currently being played more than every other show this version does not feel stale or overdone. It has a lot of the WTU? feel in the outro jam and peaks nicely in capping our first-four-songs-get-the-room-moving section of the show. Billy Breathes offers the opportunity for a rest and midset bathroom break but then they hit is hard once more with a raging Chalkdust Torture that Trey takes over and annihilates the thing. This is one of those great type I versions like they used to do with this song before it became the vehicle for exploration it has become these days. Both types have their place, I believe, and you could do a lot worse than to rock out to this one at high volume. The cool down from this is a late set Guelah Papyrus which tonight has a bit more of the percussive playfulness by the guys as Trey throws in some ‘whistle wahs’ and Mike hits the fight bell during the intro. The rest is typical Guelah but it is all nice and relaxed. Next is an interesting placement for Ginseng Sullivan,putting the grassy cover this late in the set but it works in picking up some steam before they head out for the late set Reba you have been pining for since the last one back in Minneapolis. Things proceed as they do with this Reba in getting to the jam which is has a very serene, patient feel as Page accents Trey with the electric organ and Trey slowly builds towards the end peak. You won’t see this version on any of those “teh best evar!” lists but it has a feel that is reminiscent of the Clifford Ball Reba or another of those day-time-festy-set Rebas. Closing in on the peak Trey holds a trilling note for a bit that makes you think he might try to beat his Omaha Hood held note record but it is all just serving the flow of this one as he works through the ebb and flow of the song. Almost suddenly they stop on a dime in closing up Reba and now time for the set to close the band rocks into Character Zero, allowing the song to continue its ongoing battle with Taste as the most oft played tune of the tour. Interestingly, this is the second of three straight Reba, Zero pairings on this tour, something that has happened only six times ever. So Zero crushes which it should considering their familiarity with it at this point as Trey takes the lead guitar player role to heart here in giving homage to Hendrix with the distorted playing throughout his solo. In the end Trey mentions they will be back after a “fifteen minute break” which is a lie, of course, as we know but he also slips in something like “and we get our shit together” which seems like an odd comment to make here after what sure felt like a pretty solid first set. I am probably mishearing that though so let me know what you think that lying liar said there.

 

The setbreak goes as one would expect as you walk the halls of a venue that — unknown to you at this time — would close about ten years later due to the sustained operating losses that are typical of these largish civically owned and operated but underutilized structures in middling to troubled municipalities. Heck, even the venue that essentially replaced this one, The Pyramid, is now a freaking Bass Pro Shops after the two venues coexisted in the area for several years. Now there is the FedEx Forum which is home to the city’s NBA franchise and the University of Memphis basketball team after taking that from The Pyramid where Phish played a quite good show on 09.29.1999 perhaps best known for the legendary 2001 that went down that night. That’s all future talk at this point though so unless the head you are on this night in Fall 96 is really quite something you probably didn’t have any of that flying through your noggin as you navigated the pitfalls of another oh so bright, oh so crowded venue between sets. But maybe there was something to that headful because when the band takes the stage they start up 2001, blowing your mind about how everything is connected and that maybe Trey really can hear your thoughts cuz how else would he know to play that song in that moment? Dude, this is getting weird.

 

In all honesty, you might not have recognized that it was 2001 they were playing right away considering that the band noodles around for about three and a half minutes before Fish even kicks in with the beat. That alone is a new path for the song but we are just getting started. At around five minutes in Page finally plays the tell tale organ line as Trey continues to play around the song without actually diving in. This playfulness continues up until the seven minute mark where after some scratching leads Trey finally plays the main melody, adding in some looped effects as well. Now we are into the dance party as they go through the song and flow through into the groove jam. Trey patiently comps along as Page works the organ setting a template that we will grow to love in the wake of this landmark version. After one more run through the 2001 “verses” they hit that final peak to move on into the inevitable segue that this song always invites. Before we get to that next song let’s take a minute to recognize a few things here. We have started to hear some signs from 2001 on this tour that perhaps they are doing more with it but outside of the fun groove pocket they hit when Perazzo was there on Halloween the song at this stage was still mainly an energetic kickoff to bigger and jammier things. I recommend reading LawnMemo’s great 2001 series and the one on 1996 in particular as it is relevant to this performance. And while you are there definitely dive into his fantastic Daily Ghost series but don’t forget to come back! Here we get a version of the song that is patient in a way the song never had been previously, clocks in at close to double the length of any prior version, and adds a swagger to the playing that we hadn’t yet experienced. I pointed out a tipping point of sorts for the band in finding the groove pocket jamming style back in the PerazzoPhish part of this tour and here is another example of the importance of this tour in the grand scheme of the band’s development. There really is no denying that for 2001 everything should be referred to in relation to this version in the sense of “was that one before 11.18.1996 or after?”

 

How then does a band follow up the then longest and most exploratory version of a song you’ve been playing for years? If you are Phish the answer is to drop into the jam vehicle that has been most reliable on this tour, Simple, and not just that but also take it for its biggest adventure of the tour. Right from the start of the jam you can tell they are feeling comfortable here. After a bit of the normal type I soaring stuff Trey moves to the mini-kit and Page takes the forefront on the baby grand as Mike *tings* the fightbell and Trey adds whistle wah and other effects to the percussive, syncopated groove. After a few minutes of setting the tone in this fashion Trey goes back to the guitar, adding to the unique beat. Eventually he is adding in elongated, singular notes that reach up and scratch at the sky all while Page and the rhythm section follow along. Fish adds in something I’m not sure I’ve ever heard him do for a Simple jam, pretty much wooing along in key like some spunion might as they peak during this section (I am certain there were those in the audience that night who thought that was all just part of the goings on in their head). The jam winds down to quiet resolution in acknowledgement of the jam having run its course without need to try to extend it further. Trey throws in a couple of laser loops as if to drive that point home — which in 99 or so would have probably kicked us into a massive Sand jam but that’s getting way ahead of ourselves — and then we get the denouement in the form of Swept Away>Steep. This has been one of the more reliable landing pads on this tour having happened now nine times and three of those out of pretty darn good Simple jams. Our collective breath now caught you have to think they will head back out again for some more jam aaaaaaaaand we get Mule’d. Okay, we’ve covered our feelings on this and normally I wouldn’t spend much time here as a result but this one has another interjection from Fish that honestly makes me laugh every time I hear it. Right after the “sound of a breeding Holstein” line he braaps out a noise that I’m sure he felt was evocative of that imagery — and it makes me laugh every time. The Mule then goes how it does until we hit the Trey section where he adds to the theme he has been building with the song this tour by scatting along to the notes he plays, eventually with the crowd clapping along to the oddly paced jamlet. It is kinda neat actually. Then we get the Page, klezmer close and Mule is in the rearview mirror. Somewhat surprisingly they start into Tweezer next giving us hopes of a third big vehicle for this already pretty satisfying set. From the start of the jam Trey is up front, offering one of those chugging lead lines you know is just going to explode when — hey wait! is that? Holy crap! El Buho!!! We have Gary Gazaway up on stage joining in for this Tweezer jam, making him the second member of the extended Halloween band to grace the Phish stage this tour. The jam stays in a familiar place from here with Trey and Gary trading a bit before we get to the old slow down ending. This isn’t the biggest Tweezer jam ever (or even of this tour) and it really feels like it could have gone way out if Trey had let loose with the Hose instead of El Buho coming out but it really isn’t the worst way to have someone sit in either.

 

After Trey introduces Gary to the crowd he sticks around for Hello My Baby, a song I would have never thought could use instrumental accompaniment. Before the final refrain they give him space to take a little solo which is nice and still has me wracking me bring to figure out whether there is another example of an instrumentalist joining in for an a cappella tune. Sure, there have been a few Amazing Grace jams which have other musicians (including that one with Johnny ‘Bagpipes’ Johnston from 10.20.19995 that we mentioned in the Ames write-up) but those are generally after the band has done the a cappella thing first. No matter what, this is the only time something like this ever happened with Hello My Baby which is neatorific. Oddly enough they then start into Reprise which makes you think the set is closing but you don’t worry so much because Mike is dropping bombs and El Buho is blowing horn and you rock the fuck out and all is good with the world. It gets even better when they head into Llama from there, giving us a bit more time with Gary not to mention a pretty rare set closing combo. In fact, the only other time they have closed a set with Reprise>Llama was 12.31.1998. Following the encore break we have one of those Wastes that get the whole place hugging and holding lighters aloft. Back in that time we didn’t have these new-fangled smartphone things to provide light and other distraction at shows, whippersnapper, we had actual fire because people still smoked indoors quite regularly and the fire marshal didn’t think much of the potential hazards that come from several thousand people holding open flames up. We also didn’t have these glowstick war things you kids are always trying to get started because the technology was such that if you threw the glowsticks we could get you could brain someone and end up with a big ‘oops’ to explain to that person’s mother when she had to sit up all night watching for signs of a concussion along with babysitting her freaking out addle-headed baby who keeps yelling to her to watch out for the next volley of “hurt lasers” lobbed by the infidels. Bah! Get off my GA floor! After the sing/sway-along El Buho comes back out for one more tune which you have to figure will be some horn friendly funfest buuuuuuut ends up being Johnny B. Goode. Wonderful.

 

This show is just another along the upward path that this tour is taking as they finish up the Midwest leg. This first set has a bit more meat to it than many of the other ones of late what with that nice Taste, shreddy CDT, and the lovely Reba making it one of the more engaging first sets of this tour. The second set is actually a little less complete due to that Mule throwing off the flow a bit (on relisten. in venue I am certain most would have loved it and considered it a highlight) and the El Buho sit-in taking the Tweezer in a direction that the jamhounds assuredly point to as an example of why they don’t like sit-ins but I like how this one flows. Sure, it isn’t a perfect set by any means but the intent and energy are there and when they want to they take it out. The highlights from this show are really good and there really aren’t any ‘bad’ moments per se which I guess elevates this show even more as a result. In the end the show if best known for two things — both of which I agree with — so there’s no need to fluff it to anything more than it is which is to say that this is a solid show that you should spin if you never have because it might surprise you in how good it is. Our takeaways here are CDT, Reba, and 2001>Simple with the Mule, Tweezer and Reprise>Llama holding second tier interest due to the El Buho sit-in and the uniqueness of the Mule. I thought about including the HMB but that isn’t really a highlight as much as an “oh, neat” and the Taste we will leave off because the next one is probably better and has a nifty tease I just discovered the other day. Is that a lot of songs from this show? I guess, but it’s not like I need to be picky here. They are all worth it for this level of scrubbing. The real fun will come at the end of this tour when we get to figure out the real gems… One more show before the long drive west!