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!

Come On Dudes Let’s Get IT On – Omaha, NE 11.16.1996

Phish — Civic Auditorium — Omaha, NE 11.16.1996

I  Poor Heart>Disease, Guyute, Gumbo, Rift, Free, Old Home Place, Bowie, Lawn Boy>Sparkle>Frankenstein

II  La Grange>Jim->VoL->Kung->Catapult, Axilla>Hood>Suzy, Amazing Grace

E  We’re an American Band

 

After getting tricksy and jamming hard in St. Louis on Friday night Phish traveled another 400+ miles for their Saturday night stop in Omaha, NE visiting the largest city in the Cornhusker state for the first (and only) time. This marked the band’s sixth in a row with some form of performance starting with the Monday night show in Grand Rapids and including the pre-game performance of the Star Spangled Banner for the Minnesota Timberwolves game on Tuesday before four straight nights of shows capped by this one in the other Gateway to the West. Seriously, when you have two regional capital cities that are less than 500 miles apart trying to promote themselves with the same moniker it induces some head scratching on the part of those of us who perhaps aren’t as hip to the history of westward expansion and the role that crossing big rivers plays in that. That confusion aside, in the past week they have covered over 1,600 miles of travel through the Midwest to make their total over the tour more than 7,100 miles which would take a hell of a lot of grilled cheese sold in order to cover your gas money not to mention tickets, food, lodging, and whatnot. I sure hope you had a better fiscal plan than relying on your grilled cheese margins for covering those expenses. Somehow you made it here though and with the cold weather just amplifying along the path you are really hoping for another hot show to keep the chill at bay for perhaps one more day

 

Sheerly by the virtue of the low number of times that the band has played in this state, Nebraska might have an argument for being one of the best places to see Phish (statistically) so you have that going for you coming in. I say that with some confidence knowing that prior to this night there had only been one show in the state over in the capital and home to the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. If for some reason you don’t already know that show from 10.21.1995 you should probably pause here and go ahead and spin that because it is very much worth your time. I mean, there are only three shows where they have ever opened with Reprise of which this is one and the other two are 11.09.1995 which is quite stellar and 06.19.2010 which is… um, well, it is a fun show that has both a Reprise opener and encore? Yeah, okay, it isn’t exactly the best show ever but they were really having fun with the Reprise thing after the double encore of it in Hartford and then opening SPAC with it for the third performance of the song in a row and then Trey teasing it in there before they capped the show with it as well (in what could go down as one of the more obvious calls in band history if you follow the setlists closely each tour). But yeah that Lincoln show (at yet another now defunct venue, the Civic Auditorium) has some heat in the lead up to Halloween on that epic tour. Big time Bowie, really fun YEM, a beaut of a Hood, one of those real purty Rebas, teases all over the place, a return to Reprise out of a shreddy GTBT to close the first set, and just a solid top to bottom show all around. Go ahead and spin that (there’s even an official archival release available on LivePhish) and come back. We will be here when you are all caught up.

 

::checks imaginary wristwatch::

::stares longingly out of window::

 

… hmmm… I wonder if they are coming back. Can someone do one of those facesnaptwitogram things all the kids are on about and see whether we just lost everybody to Fall ’95? I really shouldn’t be promoting other shows as highly as I do. The guys in Marketing are really gonna lay into me again and I just don’t need that kind of stress right now, man. It’s just that, wait what’s that? We’re good to go? Really? My producer is giving me the sign to keep it rolling so we won’t try to stretch this out any further. Okay, let’s do this!

 

The festivities on this evening begin with Poor Heart (while we don’t have full show video of this one I’ll sprinkle in what I have found on YT), that witty ditty about stolen tapedecks which has been a setlist staple forever. I was a bit surprised to find out, however, that in all of its 294 performances the song has only ever opened 13 shows (and 9 second sets) which really feels quite low. Now, granted, the song often comes in at the #2 or #3 slot as a secondary punch in the opening combo but this is still a lot less than I would have guessed. It gets weirder still since three of those openers happened in single set opener slots during the Summer ’92 run when they were opening for Santana and another is a Santana opener from Summer’ 96 so the number of full Phish shows that have Poor Heart openers is then only nine. Looking at those shows there really isn’t much to point to in terms of cohesiveness except perhaps that (leaving out the single setters) they did it three times each in 1995 and 1996, haven’t opened a show with Poor Heart since 09.21.1999, played Bowie in 7 of the 9 shows, and that’s it. There’s nothing else to really link these shows. And I have now spent way more time on this than anyone really should and it is keeping us from the show here so let’s just keep it moving. Poor Heart gives way to Down with Disease and tonight we have another fiery first set version that starts off with a little double tap *ting* by Mike in the intro and then takes off for a screaming bit of shred that really kicks the set into gear. Riding that wave they then head into Guyute, our second of the tour, and pretty well nail the big composed rocker. I always feel like there is more that I should be saying about this tune but outside of the end peak part it really doesn’t do much for me personally. I know there are those who chase it or whatever and I am probably a bit jaded on it having seen it way too much at its peak but there’s just no there there for me. I’d rather they spent that 10+ minutes on something a bit less… I dunno… predictable? Eh, whatever, it is perfectly fine prawg rawk so yeah. Oh well, I guess we can now say I’ve discussed it and move on. Next up is Gumbo, our fourth fun, dancy, energetic tune to start the set and just as in Grand Rapids this one gets the Maple Leaf Rag ending which is nice. Keeping their collective feet on the proverbial pedal the band cranks into Rift for a run through the, um, Rift number and then drops into Free yet again for the eighth time in 23 shows. That’s not a complaint by any means as they have settled into a satisfyingly dirty mode of jamming this song on this tour. Tonight’s version gets some Trey mini-kit fill action including the whistle wah in the big, swirling build and pays off in a fist-pumping manner for all the dudes in the front row.

 

And then in the wake of Free we finally get a bit of a respite from all of that rocking Phish as they trot out The Old Home Place for our second grassy tune of the night. This allows the full-bladdered folk to run off to do their business and then a few minutes later they drop right back into the bigger stuff with what will be the anchor of the set in David Bowie (Part I, Part II). The intro to this Bowie is a bit different than normal with Trey playing bent, almost twangy notes to accent the high hat and then when they get to the kick it is on. Fitting the mode of these first sets (and for this song in general in this time period) this Bowie is mainly of the type I variety though in the first half of the jam Trey keeps it low key and opts to explore around the Bowie theme in building all of that wonderful tension we look for in this song. There is a great deal of patience shown here as unlike in a version you might here nowadays they really give this one room to become more than just a run to the peak. I mention “nowadays” because here in 3.0 Bowie is a neutered form of its former self, never going as deep as it once did when it was one of THE biggest of vehicles but even still not even touching some of the latter day 1.0 and even a few in 2.0 ones that get into some type II exploration. I’m not saying this Omaha Bowie is an all-timer or anything but even in a relatively tame version there is more to be found here than in most of the 3.0 Bowies with the notable exceptions of the one that came in the wake of the Disease Supreme on 06.03.2011 and perhaps 12.28.2012 which are coincidentally the only 3.0 versions to eclipse 15 minutes…  Now we finally get the first real breather of the set as Page comes out to croon Lawn Boy which then gives way to a non-FMS Sparkle (obviously). After that they romp through a spot on cover of Frankenstein (I have an irrational love for this song) to cap this fun if not phenomenal first set, sending the faithful to the break with yet another LIE about being back in about fifteen minutes. At this point I am surprised we believe anything they say what with how much they push this deceitful agenda on their adoring fans.

 

Steaming about this seemingly tongue in cheek comment by Trey you storm out to the concourse to get some fresh air, fume a bit, and maybe stretch the legs before the band decides to come back whenever that happens. As you do you hear passing conversations about other great events that have gone down here at the (now closed) Civic Auditorium like that Elvis show in ’77 which was one of his last or that epic Vice Presidential debate between Bentson and Quayle from 1988 which birthed the famous “Senator, you’re no Jack Kennedy” line (found around the 59:00 mark in that video) or the 07.05.1978 and 10.21.1973 Dead shows that went down here. I’m sure there are other highlights at this venue but I am not getting in the habit of noting Hootie and the Blowfish shows so we’ll just nip that in the bud right now, mister. Eventually you make it back to your spot and get ready for what should be another hot set if the past few after Ames are any indication of direction (pro tip: never make assumptions about future Phish sets based on the relative performance of previous sets as this can go wrong in several ways). The lights go down and you start to get yourself ‘right’ as the band starts into our first La Grange since the prior year’s New Year’s Run (56 shows) and from the get you can tell Trey is going to tear this one up. That assumption is correct as there are no signs of rust on this bluesy rocker, a song now residing in the “Where are they now” files since it petered out of rotation in late 1.0 and has only been played once in 3.0 on 07.08.2012. Wrapping this up they bring out Runaway Jim, working through the verses and then heading out into a focused jam that sticks to the main theme of the song while also forging some new ground. After searching a bit they land in a fast paced groove that allows Trey to toy around on top, offering up staccato lines and such that lean towards something a bit in the Hendrix-ish way but still not quite there (though we will soon enough). There is a funkiness going on here as well as this groove punches on before they drop into a less structured phase that sets up the transition space.

 

After a minute or so of effects Trey comes to the mic and asks Fish to drop out on the drums allowing him to introduce the bustout of the Vibration of Life (148 shows), a ‘song’ most common in 1994 but also found in 1992, 1993, and here in 1996. If you aren’t familiar with it the performance can be either confusing or eye-opening in that holy-crap-these-hippies-are-weird way but I was always a fan of it if nothing else but for looking around to see the confused looks on the unknowing faces surrounding – perhaps due to having caught almost a third of the 22 total performances of it. The song typically showed up in the middle of or as the resolution to something else, most frequently in the middle of YEM but also oddly in the middle of Mockingbird and a couple of times in Bowie intros. While seemingly serious about resetting ones energy and stuff the VoL is really more joke than anything (just spin the 10.31.1994 version in the middle of Harpua if you have any doubt) what with it’s reference to “seven beats per second” that basic math will tell you is 420 beats per minute, stoner boy. Some will say this song is a waste of precious second set potential jam time but I argue that it is an example of when they are feeling loose and comfortable on stage which opens things up to any sort of possibility musically. It is in the vein of stuff like Catapult, Faht, Kung, and the other stuff that those not ‘in on the joke’ would have no frame of reference for in coming to a show for the first time since those ones don’t hit the setlist of the type of tape one would give to a newbie to prime them for a first time Phishing trip. So when they drop this bustout then follow it with one of those really wild Kungs (pretty sure there is a *ting* in there somewhere too) and then take that into Catapult that really sets a tone as to where their heads are on the evening — and also probably threw more than a few spunions upside down and sideways in the wake of that Jim jam. Then, as if to put an exclamation point on it even further they go from Catapult right into a raging Axilla that devolves into the Axilla II ending where the band throws in bits of Kung, shout outs to Lee Fordham and the rest of the Light Crew, and more madness as Trey riffs off of the “don’t shine that thing in my face” bit from Axilla II. With one last “Leeeeeee Fordham” that every time I hear it sounds to me like he is saying “Riiiiiiicola” out of one of those lozenge commercials they turn on a dime and drop into the intro the Harry Hood. Just go ahead and cue that video up as it is worth it and adds to the context of the performance greatly.

 

Perhaps you already know this version of the song based on the reputation it has deservedly gotten over the years but please indulge me here. This Hood encapsulates a lot about what we look for in Phish in one tidy 15+ minute segment from a show. Starting with the canonic ‘reggae’ intro the band is loose as Fish and Trey throw in more Lee Fordham nods and Mike accents with numerous *tings* of the fight bell. Moving to the lyrics Trey replaces the “Harry” line with “LEE!” as Fish answers with “FORDHAM!” (in my opinion, a much better exchange than the annoying call and response we cannot seem to outgrow that started at Red Rocks ’96 based on a fan flier). A faithful and true run through the composed section mellows the mood a bit and then we are off into the build towards the jam. The band and crowd are rising together here, all but willing this thing to explode even before we get to the last “Thank you Mr. Hoooooooood”. The band moves into the jam with a quiet feel and a ton of patience as Trey assumes his prototypical staring-out-into-the-yonder-that-actually-is-the-ceiling-of-the-venue pose, leading with delicate lines as Page adds color on the electric piano. The move along here for a few minutes in building the beautiful climb towards the peak we all know is coming and the pace quickens as Trey noodles around. As you whirl around with eyes closed and smiling that uncontrollable grin this song tends to evoke Trey stops searching and holds a note (innocently at first) as the rest of the band continues to jam. After about 30 seconds he is playing at pulling the note out of his guitar and soon he is using his pick hand to egg on the crowd as the other three are just going nuts all while that note sustains. The crowd catches wind and adds to the energy as Trey head bangs and pumps his fist in response to the jam Fish, Mike, and Page are throwing down and by about the two minute mark of this you start wondering how long they can go with this. The anticipation continues to build as Trey holds the note for another minute, finally coming back into the lead after more than three minutes. The crowd erupts in response and then the four continue to jam with Trey shredding on top of the ordered cacophony of major key rage they have constructed. By the time they come back for the end refrain you can sense that everyone has been waiting to exhale and step down from your tippy toes, offering up that release we all sought. Not willing to provide any break for the weary they come out of the end swirl by punching into Suzy Greenberg to the elation of the crowd. This Suzy has more Lee Fordham fun, a La Grange tease by Trey in the first break before Page’s organ bit, and then an Axilla tease by Trey in the next break before Page’s piano solo. It is the sort that caps a hot set with the callbacks to earlier goings down. It sure feels like this will be the set closer but then the band pops out front for a little a cappella to send everyone off into the night, busting out Amazing Grace for the first time this tour since they last played it to encore the first night of the Clifford Ball. Heading then to the encore there are a ton of songs they could potentially play here so you have to wonder what is up when they count off and wait for Fish to get it going. But when he does he starts into one of those oh-so-familiar classic rock intros that were the soundtrack of our collective FM radio youth, knocking the beat and cowbell of the Grand Funk Railroad rocker We’re An American Band a song that is obviously a debut for the band on this night. With its raucous tone and referential lyrics (you know, that whole verse about Omaha and the Saturday night thing?) it is a perfect choice to send everyone out into the night on another high note. And after that almost fully segued, scorching hot second set (save for the Amazing Grace) I know I would have been skipping and hooting and hollering as we made our way out into the cold night. The energy that comes from that kind of experience can stay with you for a while which is obviously a part of why we do this time and again — and it might benefit you if your next move was to get into the car to start the trek down to Memphis for the show two nights later.

 

Judging from the past two shows, we have hit another upward swing on this tour as the band is gelling something fierce and really connecting with the crowd as well. Sure, the first sets are still (and will continue to be) largely energy/song-based affairs but that’s not unexpected in any era. But carrying that energy forward into the more open waters of these second sets is something that this band does so well — and that makes the belly flop in Ames all the more telling as an outlier. With a dozen more shows to come on this tour and the entire West Coast swing still waiting things are heading to another peak with this show pushing the potential higher as we go. Considering that as I mentioned above this was their sixth night of some form of performance in a row it speaks to their interest and intent for there to be not a single misstep here. This show is one of those that combines all of the things that make Phish who they are: execution, energy, connection, humor, hijinx, open jamming, bustouts, covers, and more. I know that the ‘weird’ setlist inclusions in that mid second set might not turn on the newbiest of newbs but as a snapshot of this band tonight’s show is a pretty strong option for one to give to a friend who asks you what this band is all about. They may not get IT at first but once they hear other shows and then come back to this one they will thank you and perhaps say something like “yeah, now I understand why you gave me that tape” assuming you still give your friends cassettes which would be weird because your friend would probably look at you funny and throw it back in your face because who even has a tape deck anymore besides that one dude who always seems to have good drugs but who still drives a beat up 80s Subaru that is definitely being held together by the stickers that cover about 90% of the once painted rear end that screams to cops “please pull me over” and what was I talking about? Eh, you probably got the point there. Your takeaways from this one are the Hood, Jim, and Bowie for the first tier and then the La Grange and We’re an American Band for the second. I would say throw in the VoL->Kung->Catapult->Axilla section too but let’s keep those to ourselves and besides you are spinning that whole second set through anyway so who cares what I put on that player on the sidebar. Rest up now because this tour is on fire pretty much from here on out and Memphis has some seriously big guns and a fun sit-in coming up next.

Always Shouts Out Something Obscene – St. Louis, MO 11.15.1996

Phish — Kiel Center — St. Louis, MO 11.15.1996

I  Wilson>Divided, Bouncin’, Zero, PYITE>Caspian, Ginseng, Train Song, CDT, Taste>Cavern

II  Makisupa->Maze, McGrupp>Melt, TMWSIY>Avenu Malkenu, MMGAMOIO>Mike’s, Monkey>Mean Mr. Mustard>Paug

E  Funky Bitch

 

After getting the heck out of central Iowa quite quickly Phish headed southeast towards their Friday night date in St. Louis to play a large arena show here for the first time ever. By this time the band already had a very strong history with the Gateway to the West as they had been coming here practically every year since they played three in the area in 1992. The first visit was to the now closed (shocker) Mississippi Nights on 03.30.1992 playing a fun, banter-filled show with the obligatory teases and SL not to mention Trey dedicating BBFCFM to Brett Hull and mentioning that they had put the entire St. Louis Blues hockey team on the guest list (no idea if any of them showed up but one of Trey’s childhood friends, Roger Holloway of “just like Roger he’s a crazy little kid” fame was definitely there based on banter). This show also has a Tweezer inflected by one of personal favorite classic rock cover tunes ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’ (originally by Status Quo but give me the Camper Van Beethoven version any day) and the rare Fish Fun Time sandwich of HYHU preceding and Cold as Ice bookending it. Later that summer on 08.02.1992 they played a single set as opener for Santana at Riverport Amphitheatre, the venue they have played more than any other in Missouri (and kind of important in phishtory what with that kinda awesome Gin that went down 07.29.1998…). They capped the year in this market on 12.04.1992 back at Mississippi Nights (for the final time that Phish would perform there) with a show big on SL and high energy rocking, most notably in the Possum from that second set – check out the fun Forbin tale here as well. Returning in 1993 they had graduated to the larger American Theater, one of those great, old vaudeville houses of the early 20th century that is, you guessed it, now closed. There were two shows here with the first taking place on 04.14.1993 and if you haven’t ever heard this one I highly recommend you check it out. There are some really interesting setlist calls here like Stash->Kung->Stash, some acoustic Kung-Horse madness, and YEM->Spooky->YEM (calling back to the YEM from Gunnison about a month prior) and the white hot playing that typifies that second leg of Spring ’93. There’s a fun Harpua story here and tons of teases as well if that is your bag. Oh, and Trey’s friend Roger was back again this time getting up on stage to ask his girlfriend to marry him (she said yes) prompting the band to play ACDC Bag in his honor afterwards. That summer they hit this venue in full stride of that August run, dropping a show on 08.16.1993 that was for quite some time considered to be pretty legendary what with the big jams in Possum, Reba, Foam, Melt, Mike’s, Ice, and Paug along with everything else that goes down here (including a Sparkle with a unique little intro jam that, sadly, does not result in the FMS). Clearly, this was a venue they enjoyed playing. Continuing to grow in popularity, when Phish returned in 1995 they had moved up to the Fabulous Fox Theatre for their show on 11.23.1994 dropping a show best known for the beautiful Tweezer and the YEM->VoL->YEM they threw down in the second set. For 1995 their sole visit would be back at Riverport Amphitheatre, this time headlining for a full show on 06.13.1995. This show perhaps suffers in comparison to the shows that surround it considering that they stopped here between the great pair at Red Rocks and the one that follows which just happens to include The Mud Island Tweezer but it does have a really nice Reba and the “jazz version” of Golgi, according to Trey. Based on the information above it is pretty clear the band has done well here but whether that is due to a great crowd, stops generally coming mid-tour once they have hit their stride, or some other less obvious reason remains a mystery.

 

That gets us up to speed in advance of our show here tonight, their only time playing the Kiel Center. Before I get going, note that there is full video of both sets out there for this one:

set one

set two

So feel free to watch/listen along as you read as if that is physically possible. It is worth it to witness Mike’s purple shirt and sparkly pants and Trey showing off the guns with the sleeveless t-shirt along with the fun had at the end of the second set which we will get to in due time.

 

Seemingly brushing the prior night’s performance off almost immediately the band comes out with a rocking Wilson, getting the crowd engaged from the start with the call/response we all love to hate these days. This drops into Divided Sky, something they have done 15 times – and six times to open a show. Just because I was curious I discovered that the only song to more frequently come out of Wilson is actually pretty surprising considering it is a now rare cover: Peaches en Regalia (18 times). Anyway, the Divided here is soaring, clean, and ripping (pause is 1:15 tonight) and does nothing to lower the energy in the room as a result. After bounding through Bouncin’ Around the Room and rocking out Character Zero Trey kicks into PYITE, making this five straight crowd-pleasing tunes to start the set. After pretty well nailing the entirety of Punch they end up in Prince Caspian, giving us another of the sort of version you could expect from the song in this era. It isn’t bad, it just doesn’t really do much but sap the energy out of the room for a few minutes. Which I guess many would say is bad… Well, they ramp right back up for the bluegrass slot with Ginseng Sullivan tonight, getting the sing-a-long going before really bringing the set to a momentum-ending point by playing yet another Train Song. Okay, fine, whatever, you probably needed to pee by now anyway if you didn’t take the opportunity during Caspian so no biggie. As generally happens they follow this ballad with something a bit more fiery which tonight is Chalkdust Torture. This one is the classic type I rager. Next up in the penultimate slot for the set is Taste and while I do like this song I am kinda getting tired of it by now. This makes 12 appearances for the song in 22 shows with only one other song anywhere near that total as Zero also sits at 12, setting up the competition to see which song will be crowned as most-shoved-down-our-earholes this tour. I shouldn’t complain because at least they haven’t overplayed something far worse as the end jam is always smile-inducing for me. This runs into the set closing Cavern (yay) and we are off to wander the halls of this NHL team venue, pondering the meaning of the “fifteen minute break”.

 

Now, that first set doesn’t look like anything overly special and realistically it is not in comparison to some of the real juggernauts over the years but even just listening to it in relation to that Ames show you can tell things are different somehow. The crowd has something to do with it but it may have had more to do with the ‘trick’ the band was about to pull which you can partially figure out from the setlist above. Trey has a bit of a tell in that way, often being a bit more giddy or musically involved when things are afoot, be it an overt trick to be played or simply things that unfold as the set progresses. This is easy to say in retrospect particularly in going through a whole tour where you see the patterns that emerge but in the moment it is definitely not something that you will expect that the crowd will notice outright. So with the crowd being none the wiser Phish came back out to start the second set and immediately dropped into Makisupa Policeman (key word: “stink kind”) you had to know that something was up at the very least. As if to give away the end, Trey at first sets a loop that is quite similar to the Maze intro before the high hat which could easily have caused some to be expecting that song to open instead of the Maki they jump into instead. The song has been played 96 times and only 16 of those have been set openers with seven of those being 2nd set openers so you could excuse someone for making that sort of assumption. Go ahead and look at the stats on that as it is a pretty reliable indicator of a hot set to come. They drop into a fun little jam here with Trey adding some mini-kit fills (whistle wah and the water drip one) and Mike playing the bassline of what sure sounds like Dog Log while Page toys around for a bit before setting up the transition for a full segue to Maze (interestingly, of the 7 times that pairing has happened 5 are set openers). Par for the course, this Maze rips hard with Page taking his time on the organ before Trey takes it to the stratosphere at the peak. Next up is McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters, one of favorites of the Gamehendge suite primarily due to that end Page section which tonight does not disappoint. After that bit of ivory tickling they head out into Split Open and Melt, giving us our second vehicle already in this set. While this Melt doesn’t turn sideways into a full type II jam Trey does lead his way through some directed searching around the Melt theme which results in a dirty jam that while linear pays off quite nicely.

 

After those two shredders Trey gets a bit tender by starting up TMWSIY, pairing it with its partner Avenu Malkenu as one would expect. What one might not expect though is that instead of returning to the ManWho theme after that Yiddish Funk they start up My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own. You may be saying “so what” and that is a perfectly valid response but we here at LIMR Enterprises pride ourselves on bringing you the nittiest and grittiest of useless facts about this band so here goes. Every time Avenu Malkenu has been played it has been preceded by ManWho (that’s 76 performances) and these two songs have never not been played together (i.e. in the same show). Traditionally, we expect the band to return to ManWho after Avenu Malkenu but the data suggests that this might not always be a wise assumption to make. In 20 of its 79 performances Avenu Malkenu has not returned to ManWho though in one case (11.28.1992) after playing Maze they went back to ManWho to close that open door. It is notable that in most cases where they do not return to it the set in question ends up being quite memorable though considering this could also be said for many of the sets in which the full sandwich happens that’s not exactly a hard and fast Phish Rule to make money betting parlays on (there are Phish parlay betting lines, right?). Tonight marks the only time they go into MMGAMOIO instead as with its relative infrequency the only two songs to have had it occur for them are Bag (2 times) and Mike’s Song (3). All that to say that it is still a bit surprising to hear when they do go elsewhere — and I say this as someone who has managed to catch four instances of this in the 11 times I’ve seen them play these songs. Well, whatever it all means they play MMGAMOIO (37 shows since the previous one) to give us a bluegrass tune in each set (thanks, guys) before heading on into the Mike’s Song you kind of figure would be coming by now if you have been paying attention to the setlist. After the lyrics they head into the first jam and out come the tramps (something I thought was done by this point but I guess my memory on that is a bit foggy). I’ve read things that say that this is a short or even uninspired first jam to which my response is “have you ever tried improvising live music while bouncing a synchronized choreography on mini trampolines?” and I have yet to have anyone be able to answer yes to that query. Of course, I haven’t exactly asked very many people either…

 

Trey and Mike hop down from the tramps to move into the real meat of this jam as Kuroda fills the stage with smoke as was par for the lighting course for this jam in this time period. The overarching feel here is not too dissimilar from the main jam template they have established on this tour as they get into a chugging, guitar-driven jam. Typically as these jams have progressed we have seen Trey hop over to the mini-kit to give room to Page and Mike but tonight he stays on lead, going big all while Mike drops big bombs in counterpoint. This jam is a classic take on the second jam, erupting into a noisy back end (Mike voices approval with at least two *tings* of the fight bell) that never comes back to the ‘traditional’ Mike’s finish but instead kind of abruptly resolves into nothingness. This is the peak jam of the show and the third worthwhile one this set. After a quick breath Trey starts into another mini-bustout as we get the first Sleeping Monkey of the tour (25 shows) which continues the motif we have going thus far. If you were watching the video you might have noticed that when they came out to remove the tramps at the end of that Mike’s jam a piece of paper is placed in front of Trey’s monitor which ends up being important in paying off the trick they have been building all night. The band starts into a familiar melody that might not be easy to pick up at the start as Trey banters about thanks from “myself, Mike, Moses over there, Mr. McConnell… oh, and Mimi” before noting that the set has been “brought to you by the letter ‘M‘ and the number ‘420’” which is a fun reference to Sesame Street as well as nodding back to the set which began with their ‘weed tune’ and started the run of songs with M featured in the title somehow. Without knowing their internal shorthand for each song which probably belies it even more you can still see the pattern they have put together. As the yawn of realization washes over you they start into that familiar-ish song with Trey taking a peek at the lyric sheet he was brought to stay on track as they debut the Beatles’ tune Mean Mr. Mustard! The crowd loves it but even more so when from stage left a crouched over, hobbling, draped in cape man makes his way to the stage, in time with the song’s “such a mean old man” chorus (if this were pro wrestling and we had some context you could argue this to be the entrance music to the ‘heel’ with the crowd screeching and gasping and shouting out “oh mah gawd! they are playing his music!! here he comes!! EEEEEEEEKKK!!!). And who should that mean old man be but the band’s old friend and once frequent collaborator (both musically and in prankiness) John Popper. He throws off the cape to reveal his trademark tactical harmonica vest as the crowd erupts in recognition and at that moment the band jumps into the Weekapaug Groove you figure is coming but can’t really expect based on this whole ‘M‘ thing they have working this set.

 

Now, there are a couple of schools of thought when it comes to sit-ins with Phish. We have covered this a bit in the past but in general the dynamic of having additional people on stage with Phish doesn’t always work particularly when the sitter-in is a “lead” type player who needs to be in front of whatever is going down. This often causes fans to make sweeping declarations about never wanting anyone to sit in with the band — except for horns, of course, because who doesn’t like what horn accompaniment can add to the mix? Then you have the folk who say ‘bring it on’ in any form as that is the root of this collaborative, improvisational thing the band has fostered over the years. Or you could have that friend who doesn’t opine but takes the ‘wait and see’ approach before either effusing praise or crapping on whoever deigned to sully their religious experience with the band. I can see the logic of these varied viewpoints and I personally probably sit more with the last person there except for that last bit because in the end while I may have a transformative experience at a show I’m not laying blame on a guest musician if I personally do not make that connection on a particular evening. Which brings us to Mr. Popper.

 

Being that both Phish and Blues Traveler came up in the same period of time, in the same general circle of musicians, and even with some members having grown up together at the same prep schools it makes sense that there would be a connection between the two bands. Recently there have been some anecdotes to come out about the ever-going prank war between the two bands as Mr. Popper has a new book out to promote. Personally, my favorite one is this from the ’93 H.O.R.D.E. Tour:

The set-closer on July 27th was You Enjoy Myself and it featured many special guests joining Phish onstage, including Chan Kinchla from Blues Traveler, Dave Matthews and members of his band and members of Colonel Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit. During the traditional “mini-trampoline” section of YEM, a true to life dummy of John Popper (complete with his trademark hat and harmonica vest) was lowered in a wheelchair (Popper was confined to a wheelchair that whole summer due to a motorcycle wreck) from the ceiling toward a giant trampoline while Popper jammed along offstage. The joke, based on Popper’s grand personage, was that the cable holding the chair and dummy “broke” and the effigy of Popper crashed through the trampoline and thunked onto the stage. The musicians onstage then shocked the audience by attacking “Popper” as the harmonica wailed on.

or perhaps the time on the ’92 H.O.R.D.E. tour when he came out to jump on the tramps during YEM and proceeded to bust through it on first hop resulting with him leaving the stage dejectedly, though some would contend that this was not a prank so much as a result of his size at that time being too much for the springs to bear. But the roots of their collaboration on more than just humor as members of both bands have shared the stage with each other on numerous occasions. I’m not going to go through all of the times Popper has joined Phish (as an aside, if you don’t know that Ritz Power Jam show from Spring ’93 I am a big fan and promoter of it and will now refer you to the post I wrote about the Roseland shows which include a Popper sit-in as well) but suffice it to say he has brought his harmonica stylings to the Phish stage a lot. A person’s appreciation for his sit-ins is, I believe, directly related to your tolerance for his brand of mouth harp playing which can be either fascinating or unbelievably grating depending on the ear of the listener and because within only a few notes it is plainly clear who is playing harmonica when he is involved… for better or worse. Realistically, the majority of his appearances with Phish are for tunes that are pretty straight forward blues/rock template songs (the most common are Funky Bitch, JJLC, Fire, and GTBT) which means that you don’t have to think much about where it is headed or worry that he will be able to keep up. Heck, Trey even pulled a section out of the old arrangement for Reba and added some of Popper’s lyrics for a song called Don’t Get Me Wrong that they played together three times in 1990 before it disappeared… forever!

 

So when Popper threw off that cape you had to be wondering what we were in for here, particularly with that Paug just hanging out there waiting to be played. Surprisingly, he hops right on and crushes his solo in the first section of Paug, getting the crowd amped with the first run to the peak and setting the tone for this jam. He and Trey size each other up musically as they move through this one and unlike some sit-ins his playing never gets in the way but rather adds to it. After some hugs and such everyone departs the stage for the encore break and you know Popper is coming back out, which he does, and then we have a not surprising at all take on Funky Bitch. This song lends itself well to this sort of sit-in where both Popper and Trey and take their big solos and in watching the video you even get to see them slap fives during one of the verse sections in acknowledgement of how good it all comes off. Sure, neither of these hit the jam heights of the Mike’s earlier on but they are big time crowd pleasing rockers and sometimes that is what you need to cap a really great show on a Friday night in the middle of America.

 

I’ll be honest, I never had a lot of love for this show prior to spinning it a few times in getting this write-up put together. I guess I had brushed over all of the great playing here for the gimmick without realizing just how solid this one is throughout. And the contrast to the preceding show is so striking you almost have to laugh and wonder why they sandbagged that one so badly (though we covered that already…). Honestly, I had a bit of a hard time picking out the takeaways here in the end because pretty well everything is nailed. In terms of pure highlights I guess I have to narrow it down to Maki->Maze, Mike’s, Mean Mr. Mustard>Paug, and Funky Bitch for the first tier with McGrupp coming in as the second tier option. I could probably add the Melt as well but considering that there have been better versions already this tour we’ll leave it off. I definitely recommend spinning this show and watching the video if you have the opportunity because after the little lull there earlier this week the band has caught fire once more… and it really only gets better from here!

 

Like the Sound of a Breeding Holstein – Ames, Ia 11.14.1996

Phish — Hilton Coliseum — Ames, IA 11.14.1996

I  Bag>Uncle Pen, Wolfman’s>CTB, Free, ATR, Gin, Talk, Julius

II  Llama, Sample, Taste, Swept Away>Steep>Mule, Life on Mars?, Demand>Lope>ADITL

E  Stash, Hello My Baby

 

After their extended stay in Minneapolis Phish did that thing where they follow the lines headed south — and I mean like due south because Ames is the first town of any consequence that you hit when driving south on I-35 out of Minneapolis, with apologies to Owatonna, Albert Lea and the home of the Music Man Mason City, IA of course. You may think that is but a throw away nod to the regional geography found via bored internetting but seriously do you know who wrote The Music Man? A dude named Willson, that’s who. I mean, sure, the spelling is a little different but that’s just a little convenient don’t you think? Don’t answer that. I’m a bit overly caffeinated today.

 

So Iowa. Not exactly the most frequently played state in the band’s history but they have been here for a few shows dating back to the second leg of Spring 1993. And if you really know your band history you will say, “well, obviously they have some history with this state what with Trey’s grandparent’s having lived here DUH!” which would not only make you sound like a total creep for knowing waaaay too much about the band’s family genealogy but also is just plain rude, sir, and we would appreciate it if you phrased it a little more nicely so as to not alienate those who might be a little touchy about that type of retort. That show was at The IMU Ballroom at the University of Iowa in Iowa City on 04.12.1993. Three shows into that second leg, this one is a hot affair with a smoking Stash, a massive bustout of Satin Doll after 418 shows, two more bustouts in Tube (73 shows) and Highway to Hell (185 shows), a lot of that tease fun typical of that tour (like the brief hints of ‘Woody Woodpecker’ Trey puts into his trilling solo in Reba), and a YEM that includes a big Gumbo quote and a fun Mike-initiated jam on ‘Honky Tonk Women’ out of the B&D section. Be sure to check out the Trey banter at the start of Satin Doll because you get a lot of the family history of Trey who explains why they busted the song out. The short story is that Trey’s great grand father went to the University of Iowa (class of 1908 woo!), going on to become the first dentist in Iowa to use nitrous oxide (eliciting a cheer from the wook faithful). His daughter, Trey’s grandmother, would later go dancing at the very venue Phish was playing that night where she met his eventual grandfather, leading to the old school jazzy dance tune being played (as crooned by Page, of course). This is one of those shows you may never have heard before but that has a lot to be found within which might be obvious when you consider they double encored it. The next year they played about 110 miles to the west in Des Moines at the Civic Center on 06.14.1994, just a couple shows removed from their landmark performances at Red Rocks that year. There’s a great YEM here with a jam on ‘On Broadway’ not to mention all of that big time energetic jamming that typified Summer ’94. Oh, and be sure to listen to the quite interesting Guelah>Adeline>DDLJ>Guelah in the (you guessed it) second slot of the first set – just know that the Addy is un-mic’d so unless you have a phenomenal copy it will sound like silence after the Asse Festival for a bit before they do the little Digi Delay Loopin’ that bends back into The Fly section. Fall 1995 saw the band back in the state again, this time back east in Cedar Rapids at the Five Seasons Arena on 10.20.1995. As Fall ’95 shows go this one is a bit tame but you could do worse than to spin a show from arguably one of their best tours ever and besides there is an Amazing Grace jam with electric bagpipe accompaniment by Johnny ‘Bagpipes’ Johnston, naturally (because who else BUT him?).

 

All of that led to another show in Iowa in Fall ’96, this time for the first time in Ames, home of Iowa State University (and a pretty darn good barbeque place in Hickory Park Restaurant Co. if I do say so myself). That makes four different cities in four years something which would end here as since this show they have only played Iowa once time more, back here again at the House that Hotel Money Built (not its real byline) on 10.01.1999. In all honesty I wish we were discussing that show because it is the more interesting of the two ever played here what with that big Gin (I’m a sucker for the ’99 brand of Gin) and the fun Gumbo jam in the midst of a raging second set that included Antelope, Fluffhead, and Slave as juggernaut energy jams. Alas, that show is almost three years on from what we have here.

 

Why am I prefacing this show in such a blase way? Well, for context you should know that this show was played in the midst of one of those wonderfully epic Midwest ice storms that can be quite bad for your health if you find yourself caught outside while they are happening. That effectively kills the lot scene which definitely has an impact on the energy level of the crowd for some pretty plainly obvious reasons. Add to that the fact that the band and crew had a show about 380 miles to the southeast to travel to overnight through that weather, causing the show to end somewhat earlier than most. Don’t believe me on that? The set lengths tell the story as here we have two sets that clock in under and hour — and that includes the encore for the second set — for a paltry total of two hours and six minutes of stage time. Using our trusty geekiness with a little help from a basic spreadsheet we know the average show length of this tour to be 150.57 minutes which is just over two and a half hours for the mathematically challenged. Even if you take out the two shows in excess of three hours (Atlanta Halloween at 3 hours and 41 minutes; Las Vegas tour closer at 3 hours and 11 minutes) the average is at two hours and twenty-seven minutes which means that this show is 21 minutes shorter than the average on the tour. Now, you might not think that is very much to take out of a show but it could be up to three or four shorter songs or a couple of decent jams, to say nothing of a potential 20+ minute aural feast. I am pretty convinced that the setbreak here was also a lot shorter but I didn’t attend and no one has produced that information to my knowledge. I guess the reason I bring all of this up is to help provide context as to why I’m not going to spend much time on the actual music here as it is less interesting in total than a similarly-lengthed show from 1992 or 1993 where at least then they were in the midst of working on big changes to their music and overall sound. With that wonderful lead in we might as well get to getting…

 

The show starts out positively enough with a rocking ACDC Bag that has promise before dropping into the mini-bustout and tour debut of Uncle Pen. This pairing kind of sets up the tone of the night where they seem to be keeping things energetic, light, and dancer/singer-along friendly by mixing up genres and opting for shorter numbers light on big improvisational acrobatics. This continues with an almost funky if they had let it continue Wolfman’s Brother which segues into the reliable punchiness of the Page-penned Cars Trucks Buses, giving us our fourth different style in as many songs. The CTB has one of the more interesting bits of this set as there is what sounds to be a washboard accompaniment (by Fish?) in the early part though I have yet to be able to confirm that independently or via video (because none exists that I know of for this show). Anyway, that bit is brief and after closing up CTB they head into Free for what will be probably the most engaging piece of music of the set. While still pretty contained in comparison to what we expect from the song these days the jam gets quite percussive with Trey adding that dark, fractured lead line that feels more machine-like than musical while also adding in a couple of fills from his mini-kit. During the drum intro to the All Things Reconsidered that follows Free Trey gives his expected nod to family history with Iowa before they run through the composed piece quite nicely. Next up is our next sign of promise for the set as Trey goes into the first Bathtub Gin since that pretty okay one from Lexington a week ago. But as generally happens when a song goes big in one show the next performance of it is not nearly as memorable. This is not a dig on this version as it is the longest song of this set and definitely is a fun bit of type I jamming but it never goes anywhere new even with Trey hinting at a possible dive into DEG at one point and eventually wraps up in a standard fashion. After a quick take on Talk (thankfully for me the last one we will get this tour — I’ve probably said why before but let’s not go there now) they wrap up the set with a punchy Julius that speaks to everything I have said leading here which is that while quite raging (and including a quick run through the Buried Alive lick at 4:43) is not exactly the song we look to to find the highlight of a set. And with that we have finished up the first set having heard an art rock/idiom romp, classic bluegrass cover, white boy funk ditty, fun instrumental driving song, dirty rock anthem, fun proggy composed number, avenue for jam potential disguised as a nod to Gershwin, throw away acoustic ballad thing, and rocking swing dance tune all in under 55 minutes. If nothing else I guess you could say that this is a jukebox set that captures the many sides of Phish which is correct in one sense but leaves out a whole lot in telling that tale. As a first set it is largely harmless and isn’t really too different from of the similarly banal first sets we have been subjected to here in 3.0 but here in Fall ’96 it is even less adventurous than pretty much all of the other first sets that don’t look that great on paper. Worse things can be said about this band for sure — and clearly have — but in terms of intent you have to give them credit for at least playing this one well if not so uniquely.

 

When they come back out for the second set (and note that Trey just says they’ll take a quick break and not the standard “fifteen minute break” that really means about 30 minutes or so) you have to be thinking “okay, obviously they are taking us deep here after THAT” and you get the raging frenzy of Llama to help you along. That’s a good way to keep things up after that break but they quickly lose me with Sample in a Jar, though admittedly I am probably not the target audience for that song at this point. They are keeping the genre-hopping going here as the next tune is the oft-played Taste, tonight staying pretty close to the album version of the song while as always incorporating bits of the Norwegian Wood/WTU? melodic bits that always seem to pop up in that song. It is cleanly played and well received but again not necessarily anything new. Next up is the popular Fall ’96 pair Swept Away>Steep here in its 3 show out of the last four. This has been a solid precursor to some solid jams so far this tour buuuuuut tonight we get Scent of a Mule in its wake which while perhaps a fun song in the moment that has the lovely coda lines is not exactly the song the most of us are seeking for the meat of our second set. Trey does do the vocal scat thing to accompany his guitar but that’s still a pretty linear thing in terms of Phish jamming. Now pretty well half way into the set you have to be scratching your head a bit about how things are progressing and they head into another spot on take on Life On Mars? which is nice. Still not a jam though ::insert winky dude:: . They follow this up with another bustout for Demand (64 shows), that somewhat dark Hoist track which in pretty much all of its meager 15 performances has been a good lead-in to bigger things particularly considering how it was positioned on the album ahead of that Melt jam from 04.21.1993 which we know was a major touchpoint for the evolution of that jam template. Tonight in what ended up being its last performance until 3.0 it precedes Run Like an Antelope (the second such pairing) which does come off well in that energetic way but is pretty rote as Lopes goes in all honesty. It’s fun but at under 12 minutes is sits in the lower half of Lope lengths which is not an absolute indicator of quality, of course but here definitely speaks to the fact that they were not exactly looking to stretch things out. You do get a little taste of that almost-but-not-really washboard tone thing right before the “rye rye, rocco” section though. That said, it isn’t like this is the closer even though Lope does fit that role more often than not as they go into the set closing A Day In The Life cover. As with LOM? this is well played but not the kind of cover that has anything of a jam and we are off to the encore after another jukebox set (which this time goes rage rocker, pop rock single attempt, syncopated pocket rocker, moody art rock pairing, oddball Mike tune with band hijinx, Bowie cover, neato bustout, Phish anthem, Beatles cover). Interestingly enough, after those two sets of largely uninspiring if well played songs they come out and encore with Stash of all songs for only the second time ever (11.01.1991 being the other) perhaps as a bit of a “hey, yeah, we know that wasn’t the biggest set ever so here’s a Stash to take you into the night.” And that is a nice gesture because I doubt anyone thought that would happen but in terms of execution this one is (again) light on the jam opting for some brief T&R building (which almost feels pulled from some James Bond movie soundtrack for a bit) before coming back to the close. After the quick a cappella for Hello My Baby we are on the road again to find less icy pastures on a Friday in Omaha.

 

Yeah, I wasn’t too kind up there perhaps because I have a certain set of expectations for this tour in the back half but I stand by it. This is quite frankly a pretty boring show to discuss. The odd thing is that nothing here is botched or otherwise played poorly, they just don’t go anywhere with the songs they played. I’ve read one review on .net that indicates it might have something to do with it being a crowd largely made up of less experienced fans and factoring in the weather woes on top of that you have the band playing a basic, safe type of show that pleases everyone (except me, I guess) and gets them on the bus at a reasonable hour after the load out. That’s all well and good but this is a band that is known for playing big time shows in skip towns and dropping flaming hot sets when the weather is at its worst. I subscribe more to the idea that this is a band a bit weary from the road seeing the opportunity to play it by the book and get on the road, something that is in their long history actually quite atypical. So in that sense this is Phish being Phish, doing the thing you don’t expect them to do (just to stretch that to the furthest conclusion we can muster, of course). At first I thought I might not have any takeaways from this show but I think that Julius merits mention and the CTB is interesting enough for second tier along with the Demand because how often do you even get to hear that one? Besides, I’m a bit weary of including the same songs over and over so let’s mix it up a tad. With that I will say no more about this show as there are much MUCH better things coming that should sustain our interest ::wink wink::

Drown Beneath the Undertow – Minneapolis, MN 11.13.1996

Phish — Target Center — Minneapolis, MN 11.13.1996

I  Disease, Bouncin’, Ice, Ya Mar, Taste, Train Song, Reba, Zero, Adeline

II  2001>Suzy>Caspian>YEM, Theme, Golgi

E  GTBT

 

After their night in Western Michigan Phish and their following traveled up to Minneapolis for a two night stay in the Twin Cities region. The first night did not have a Phish show but that didn’t mean the band didn’t perform as they debuted their rendition of the Star Spangled Banner to a professional sports crowd for the first time at the NBA game between the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Portland Trailblazers. This was the first of two such performances along the path of this Fall Tour with the other one coming a few weeks later in Los Angeles for a game between the LA Lakers and the Seattle Supersonics. Considering that the T’Wolves finished the year with a losing 40-42 record and were swept in their first round playoff series with the Houston Rockets the fact that they won this game could have something to do with that epic performance of our national anthem. Or it could just be an early season tilt against a decent Blazers team still finding their legs in the first couple of weeks of the season. Either way, that right there is your reason why Phish didn’t play a show in Chicago (unless you fly, you pretty much have to drive through Chicago to get from Grand Rapids to Minneapolis unless you are into long drives that take you far afield from the shortest possible path) leading up to the one we are here to discuss.

 

Heading into this show Phish already had a long history with Minnesota and the greater Twin Cities region in particular. The first confirmed visit to the area was on 11.06.1990 at The Cabooze (quite the punny bar name, that one) for a show that has no known recordings yet does have a full setlist. I say ‘confirmed’ because there was a show listed in the Update for 04.01.1990 but it would appear that this show did not occur based on what little information we have from .com. The next visit would be for the surprisingly well known 04.11.1991 show from The Cave (America’s oldest student-run pub in the basement of a residence hall on campus) at Carleton College about 35 miles as the mockingbird flies south of downtown Minneapolis. The main reason people know this show, of course is that it contains the only confirmed telling of The Prison Joke by Fish during the encore proceedings (the only other telling is by a fan in 1993 when Fish refused to tell it) but you should check out the Reba too while you are there. It really isn’t a very good joke but somehow it gained legendary status for a time. Supposedly, this show was meant to occur at The Cabooze but thankfully for us it was moved as we might not have tapes of it if it had gone as originally scheduled. That Fall they fit two shows in Minnesota in first back at The Cabooze for 10.05.1991 where again we get no setlist and obviously no recordings (perhaps they did not allow recording there?) and then at the Cochran Lounge at Macalester College in St. Paul on 10.06.1991. If you are at all a fan of stage banter, this is a great show for you. There are some pretty hilarious bits here and the music is fun Phish so go ahead and spin that one. 1992 saw two shows at First Avenue in Minneapolis, the venue made famous by Prince as it was used in the film Purple Rain. The first of these was 04.29.1992 where Trey gave a nod to the Purple One with a tease of Raspberry Beret in Weekapaug Groove and also includes one of only ten ever Secret Language Instructions. That Fall they returned in the last week of Fall Tour for a fun show on 12.07.1992 that has a quite unique take on Reba, one of the early (funny) Vibration of Life performances (something we will hear from soon enough on this Fall 96 tour), and a few other gems to be unearthed (like that Bowie!). While 1993 only had one show here it marked another uptick in the band’s draw as they graduated to the State Theatre, another of those wonderfully ornate old school theaters that the band frequented in this era. This 04.09.1993 show is the first show of the final leg of that Spring Tour (I reviewed the first leg already with this leg coming… eventually) and is big on teases, secret language, and other Spring 93 type stuff. Fourteen months later they again played the State Theatre on 06.16.1994, dropping a quite solid yet perhaps under-loved show (perhaps due to being on the eve of a quite famous show?) big on the jams and fun as Trey even trolled Timer (ZZYZX, the man behind this wonderful resource) by dedicating Amazing Grace to him by saying, “This next song is very long. Dave this one is for you it’s a long song.” The next visit to the area would be just down the street at the slightly larger but still ornate Orpheum Theatre on 11.26.1994 where they dropped one of THE big Bowies, a 37+ minute monster that still stands as the longest one ever played. This show also has the Slave that appears on A Live One (don’t mind those song titles in the preview pane; none of those tracks are from the Clifford Ball which didn’t happen until 1996 and this album is from 1994). And the final shown of the eleven that precede our 1996 show was on 10.25.1995 at the St. Paul Civic Center which was torn down in 1998 to make way for the venue where Phish will open its upcoming Summer 2016 tour after a sixteen year absence from playing this once oft frequented area. That 1995 show is another heater with a big time second set Reba and a Mike’s->Breathe jam (three years before they would eventually cover DSOTM) that you should just go ahead and spin. After our show here (their first at the Target Center) Phish would not return to the Twin Cities until playing in Fall 1999 and then again along the path of the pre-Hiatus tour in Fall 2000 before that long gap I mentioned above. But that’s for another day as here over 1,000 words in I should probably get to the show itself, eh?

 

Here in the 20th show of the tour (I’ll update the geek stats at the end as always for this multiple of five show) Phish opened with Down with Disease for the first time this tour, something they have only done nineteen times in 252 performances of the song. Granted, these days it has become a reliable second set opener so that stat isn’t too surprising but at the time it was only the third time they had opened a show with it and only the ninth time it had opened a set at all. Considering that this was the 75th appearance for the song overall that is fairly rare. This one rips as the majority of these Fall ’96 ones do while also having a patient feel to it that is more akin to latter day versions where they go out from the song into deeper, type II waters. The jam begs to get stretched out tonight but instead comes back to the traditional ending allowing the band to head into Bouncin’. After that, with the crowd sufficiently warmed up, they drop into It’s Ice, playing it pretty straight with a brief bit of Page-led improv in the back half. This isn’t the best Ice from this tour but it is a more typical type of take on the song than not while also being played pretty cleanly. That sounds like a dig but I guess I’m just saying this is your average sort of Ice for Fall ’96. The next dance number on the card is Ya Mar, keeping with the vibrant feel of the songs played tonight. Not much to discuss here as it is a fun but average take on the song that would become so much more in late 1997 and beyond. Afterwards Trey takes a moment to welcome everyone and nod to their previous night’s performance of the Star Spangle Banner before starting up a playful version of Taste. They are still working on how to really stretch out the jam here but the WTU? elements are present as are the hints of Norwegian Wood as Trey works through his soaring solo. As with the Disease this feels like it could go further but instead they wrap up and take it down a few notches for Train Song. The acoustic number comes off well as always and then our gal Reba stops by for a lovely musical conversation. The jam here progresses as most do with Trey leading the way through with meaningful leads that trill brightly. The whole band catches this building wave which abruptly stops on a dime for the whistling, leaving us with a bit of unrequited love for our girl who seemed to run off too quickly. Trey uses this to capitalize on the energy built there by punctuating it with the follow up Character Zero. They are really rocking this tune out at this point in tour with Trey taking big, Hendrixian style leads that add punch to this most-oft played song of the tour. Thinking the set has concluded you start to make your way to the concourse to rehydrate and maybe grab some food or something (if you didn’t already do so as Zero cranked up) only to quickly turn around when they pop out to the front of the stage to give us one of my favorite of the a cappella tunes in Sweet Adeline. After that warm bit of singalong fun we do get that setbreak, giving you the opportunity to finally get that foot long hot dog your mind convinced you was required eating somewhere in the middle of the set.

 

After giving yourself a hard time for the regret you now feel about your choice of setbreak sustenance you realize it won’t matter since you’ll just dance it off anyway and by then the lights go down and you forget about it anyway. There are a few moments of confusion, however, as the band starts up with a sonic wall of sound not too different from what the first set began as in getting to that Disease opener. Most will recognize that this is the old way they brought on 2001 with the similarity to Disease not to unlike the ‘which song is this” moment that many experience when the band starts up either Maze or David Bowie. For 2001 this doesn’t last too long as they get to the meat of the matter and play the faithful cover of the Deodato version of the song that we would expect. They drop right into the start of Suzy Greenberg from there, seeming to indicate that this set will be one of those fun yet probably jam-light shows that are really awesome to attend if you like that thing called dancing but perhaps not the most engaging shows to respin after the fact. Well, that assumption would be quite wrong as instead of closing up Suzy after the final refrain we have a Fish “blap” and then they head out in search of deeper, funkier waters. Now, this jam is not like the heavy wah funk of the Tweezer from Grand Rapids two nights previous as there is a much more percussive feel to it but Trey does hop on the mini-kit for a bit to give Page and Mike a bit of space before coming back to offer up some more rocking leads as they chug along for over eleven minutes. This jam fits the main template for the percussive jams we have gotten accustomed to this tour though typically this style has come out of Simple, Mike’s, and other more jam-friendly songs. It is refreshing to hear them work things out on a song that doesn’t generally get this kind of treatment. I’m a fan of this jam but in all honesty it is pretty “in form” for the jamming style they employed for the majority of this tour with the only difference really being the song placement. Again, this is not a dig just an acknowledgement of where we are at this stage on tour. Towards the end they allow the music to lose form a bit, signalling a transition to (what else) Prince Caspian, yet another of the more frequently played songs from this run. Nothing too special to report from this Fuckerpants as it mainly serves as a landing pad after the big Suzy jam but they keep the string going by heading right into You Enjoy Myself in its wake. While this YEM isn’t as big and boisterous as some of the other YEMs on this tour (it really is a much better tour for this song than I had remembered) Page gets the funk train going with that wobbly moog tone as they hit the jam and then Trey takes time in crafting a big solo as Fish goes positively nuts in back. Fish continues to romp as Mike takes over for Trey in the B&D section for a nice bit of that before they head into what is actually a pretty engaging VJ if you are into that sort of thing. Even if you aren’t it is only a few minutes long and then we have a late set Theme from the Bottom. They work through this one nicely, peaking it in that satisfying way that good Themes get but not really breaking any new ground along the way. An energetic Golgi Apparatus follows as our second set closer and then following a raucous Good Times Bad Times we are on our way to points further south and even more Midwestern-y if that is at all possible (it is).

 

This show took me a while to write about because I had a difficult time figuring out what exactly to say about it. It follows our pattern of solid, engaging, and energetic first sets followed by second sets where the jam highlights really go down. However, the song choices are all pretty safe here as outside of Adeline, Golgi, and GTBT every song has been played at least four times this tour (I don’t count the “Jam” out of Suzy as a separate song since it is logically tied to that song’s performance). Yet even with this average looking setlist there are clearly moments to be found that elevate this show to be better than just another one to check off the list. That Suzy jam feels so fresh because of its placement as well as how it combines most of what we have been building to up to now on tour. You would also be hard pressed to find much in the way of a botched segment of the music here as the band is a well oiled machine here 20 shows into their journey across the country. So where does that leave us? I can’t quite put my finger on why this one leaves me wanting for words. I was there which usually makes me quite effervescent in my effusiveness about a show but I’m not feeling it so much on (multiple) replays. It is for this reason that my takeaways from this show are somewhat light with the Suzy being the only sure-fire entry and the Reba taking “sure, why not” honors tonight. I feel like I need to keep saying that this is not a dig at this show or the performance in any way but that’s the gist of it for me. I am just having a hard time finding anything highly remarkable to discuss about this one which I know will probably bring down the comments from those who had great memories of this show (and probably that Suzy jam too). This could totally be a “me” thing so please let me know what I am missing with this show. Just don’t expect me to go through the roof for the next show which is one I can easily explain away for what did or realistically did not go down there but that’s for the next time. So bring it on, my friends, I’d like to be proven wrong…

 

 

As for the stats, here is where we stand now 20 shows into this 35 show tour:

  • 121 songs have been played with 39 being ‘one timers’
  • Character Zero is alone in first place with 11 performances. Taste is right behind with 10 performances and then there is a big log jam for third place with CTB, CDT, Disease, Caspian, Sample, Steep, Swept Away, Theme, Waste, and YEM all tied at 7.
  • Oddly, the most frequently played days of the week are Saturday (okay, sure, fine…) and Wednesday (?)
  • The 20 shows have been played at 19 different venues in 19 different cities in 13 different states. Only MSG where they played a midweek pair in the first week of tour has more than one show.
  • CDT and Jim are tied with three show opening slottings each. MFMF is the only other tune to have been repeated as a first set opener.
  • Character Zero is clearly in first place for first set closers with 4. Bowie, Lope, and Sample each have closed two first sets.
  • 2nd set openers are a bit more widespread with 3 2001 openers, and 2 openers for Suzy, Timber Ho!, and Wilson.
  • But second set closers are the most broad here with five songs tied for first at 2 playings:  Bowie, Hood, Hello My Baby, Reprise, and Paug.
  • There have been four Mike’s Grooves but not a single I Am Hydrogen
  • Six songs have only ever been played during these 20 shows, all of them from the Remain in Light set: Born Under Punches, Houses in Motion, Listening Wind, Seen and Not Seen, The Great Curve, and The Overload
  • 11 songs have been debuted so far this tour including all of Remain in Light as well as Swept Away, Steep, and the Star Spangled Banner

That’s probably enough for now…

Remember to Check on the Sausage – Grand Rapids, MI 11.11.1996

Phish — Van Andel Arena — Grand Rapids, MI 11.11.1996

I  CDT, Guelah, CTB, Bag, Sparkle>Brother, Theme, Axilla>Jim

II  Timber Ho>Divided, Gumbo, Curtain>Sample>Tweezer, Swept Away>Steep>Maze, Contact, Slave

E  Waste, Cavern

 

Following their Saturday night affair in eastern Michigan Phish rested for a night before the arduous 150 mile trek across the state to play in Grand Rapids for the first time in two years. They had played down the road in Kalamazoo on the Fall 95 tour (which we will get to in a bit) so this 1996 stop followed the pattern of playing Kalamazoo and grand Rapids in alternating order. The first visit to this wonderful, craft beer-filled part of the world was on 12.10.1992 at the old Kalamazoo State Theatre, one of those venerable old venues that can be found throughout the country. This show is a good example of where they were in the early theater days with that tight, rocking jam style that was starting to evolve into the speed jazz of 1993. There is an interesting YEM here with some rotating duet action but otherwise it is pretty much just one of those solid shows that was a fun time live (it was) without any lasting takeaway value. The next year they played Grand Rapids for the first time at the Eastbrook Theatre (possibly called Club Eastbrook at that stage but now it is definitely The Orbit Room), an old timey single screen cinema that was once split to make two not great rooms before being repurposed for music and other events. Phish played here on 08.11.1993 and you can guess what I will say here considering what I always say when we get to talking August ’93 Phish: GO SPIN THIS SHOW!!! It has a debut (Ginseng Sullivan), teases, tons of SL, and a bunch of those high quality jams we laud from this month including an open Jim, a MFMF with vocal jam, a purely nasty Stash, a Mike’s that quote Peter Gabriel, and a Lope that jams on the Simpsons signal if you can believe that. I’m starting to think I might have to just go ahead and do the August ’93 tour reviews at some point with how much I talk those shows up… Anyway, continuing the pattern they returned to Kalamazoo the following Spring, again at the State Theatre on 06.19.1994. This one is a fine example of 1994 with a menacing Stash, tension overload in Lope and a wonderful Reba>Makisupa that deserves your attention. That Fall they were back to Grand Rapids – this time at DeVos Hall – for one of those classic Fall ’94 shows on 11.14.1994. If you like dark jams this one is all for you from the evil outro in the opening MFMF to the hose-filled shred of Maze to one of the biggest, baddest of all the famed ’94 Bowies and on. It’s a raging fun show. We had a blast. And finally, on 10.27.1995 Phish played Kalamazoo (for the last time) at Wings Stadium which is home to the aptly named Kalamazoo Wings of the ECHL. This is just another white hot rager in the lead up to Halloween that year but check out the Bowie and Simple for jams and a bunch of setlist rarities (well, now, that is…) including Taste That Surrounds (that period was confusing for this song), Suspicious Minds, Keyboard Army, DFB, and Life on Mars? Okay, that gets us caught up so let’s get regulating, regulators.

 

This was the last show to fit the alternating pattern with Kalamazoo as the only show after this in Western Michigan was back here on 11.11.1998 which we have covered previously. Van Andel Arena is quite similar to Wings Stadium in look and feel (inside anyway as Wings is quite uniquely shaped) as it too is the home ice for a hockey team, the Grand Rapids Griffins of the AHL. Now, I’m just going to get this out of the way right up front: I was on the floor for this show camped out within arm’s reach of the rail in front of Page. Anyone except for the routine rail riders who do it every single show who claims that such visual proximity to the band will not have an influence of your enjoyment and subsequent recollection of the show is either lying to you to keep you from coming down front or stands there with eyes closed the entire time and really should go ahead and give way to those who would better benefit from such awesome sight lines. So yeah. Get ready for the fluffing! Oh, and feel free to follow along for at least the first set with this video though I warn you the sound on it is less than desirable and the camera person wasn’t exactly committed to a stable image or even clearing the shoulder of the person in front of him which is why you won’t be graced with more shots of my head, sadly.

 

The show starts with a fiery Chalkdust Torture that is all in bounds and not too dissimilar from the one in Lexington a few nights earlier while setting the tone for the evening as Trey takes a few laps around the fretboard. The good old Guelah Papyrus second song first set slot holds true tonight. Mike comes in early tonight with the fight bell as he and Trey draw out the intro a bit with the whistle wah fight bell combo. All good fun. Cars Trucks Buses follows this up making this the second show of the tour with this trio to open the show. The first time was 10.29.1996 in Tallahassee and it will pop up one more time later on in Vancouver on 11.23.1996. Closing this up they quickly drop into an on point ACDC Bag, frothing the fervor of the crowd even more along the way. I can tell you that I shared a moment with Page in this one as we locked eyes for what seemed like an eternity, him pounding away on the piano and me belting out the idiom-filled lines to the song as time stood still and we mentally made plans to go get a sandwich, maybe a cup of coffee or something after the show. Alas, I waited and waited but he never showed up and instead I scarfed down some horrible Taco Bell while trying to not nod off during the horrific blizzard as we started the long trek around the Great Lakes to get up to the Twin Cities for the show two nights later. He may have left me wanting but I will never forget that night, Page…

 

Um… so where was I? Right. Bag. So maybe as a nod to the moment Page and I shared or something they followed ACDC Bag with Sparkle, putting up a decent if not exactly FMS take on the song. This drops right into Brother, a tune that never seems to disappoint. For a song only ever played 58 times it sure showed up frequently in 1996, first having been busted out for the Ben & Jerry aided version at The Clifford Ball, with five total performances in this year (four of which come along this Fall Tour). Incidentally, the vast majority of those 58 performances came prior to its long wait on the bench as 43 of the performances came between its debut on 09.25.1991 and its final show before the 258 show gap on 08.02.1993 (which was itself a bustout after 143 shows). Anyway, that Brother rips and sets us up nicely for the Theme From The Bottom that follows. This Theme is pretty standard but they nail the transition to the jam and Trey does that shredding the peak thing we all seem to love so much. Our second Axilla of the tour pops in next and here we do not have those pesky guitar problems so they rock it out and finish it off with the Axilla II ending again before dropping into a set closing Runaway Jim. Having been mainly a first set opener so far this tour, getting a bit of that Jim jammery to finish things off is a nice change. They keep it at home, not going big time or anything but finishing a quite energetic set on a strong note. Now we have another opportunity to time Trey on his fifteen minute call for setbreak, knowing full well that this is a fool’s errand.

 

During the break the conversation you had was surely about how hot they are playing tonight as when you look back at that setlist you can’t help but notice that the only dip in the energy would have come from, what, Guelah? I mean, sure, the tempo is slower but with the fun they displayed there in doing the dance and playing around with their various toys it never felt like the energy waned at all. It’s the type of set that won’t get mentioned too much outside of this show review because nothing really stands out on its own but as a whole you could do a heck of a lot worse in putting together a fun as hell bunch of songs to get to to there. As you and your friends pore over this the lights drop – hey, maybe it really was  a fifteen minute break! (it wasn’t) – and you get yourself right to get down to business for the second set. For the second time this tour they open with Timber (Jerry) which teases us with its oh-too-short middle jam (we are still more than a year away from the lengthy versions scattered through 1997) before they come back to the final verse and refrain. Trey drops into the opening for Divided Sky, making this the first of a few repeats from our visit to Auburn Hills two nights ago. Perhaps it had something to do with the unbelievable double rainbow we saw along the drive here that afternoon? I cannot be certain but the weather was quite stormy those few days in Michigan so it isn’t too big of a stretch to make that assumption. The interesting thing about these two Divideds is that musically they are quite similar. Yes, I know the bulk of the song is composed but the pauses are the same length (1:02) and Trey’s solo is very similar to my ears. The only noticeable difference is that they drop our first Secret Language in the pause, bringing out the All Fall Down signal to the confusion of the vast majority of people in the room. I recall hitting the deck and realizing no one else around me was doing the same and kinda slowly standing back up with feelings of eyes on me all around. That signal really never caught on, did it? Every time I’ve been at a show where they played it I only see a small handful of people actually act on it. I always have wanted that one to get the whole floor to drop just to see what the venue staff would do as a result. Oh well, I guess we are just too cool to pull off that big of a coordinated joke.

 

After working through Divided Sky Phish graces us with the second Gumbo of the tour, getting the dance vibe going in earnest once again. The notable thing here is Page’s end piano solo includes a quote of Maple Leaf Rag, that ragtime number written by Scott Joplin that probably reminds you of The Entertainer or the classic film The Sting (starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford amongst many others). It is a neat little nod and fits quite well in the context of Gumbo. Next up is The Curtain, that wonderful composed lead-in to impending jam vehicles like, um, Sample in a Jar? WTF? C’mon, Trey. That’s not cool at all. Hang on. They have played Curtain>Sample 11 times??? Geez, man, that’s not where we want Curtain to lead! Thankfully, after that head-shake-worthy move we do get that vehicle we expected in the form of Tweezer (video here!), our fifth of the tour. Pretty well right from the start you can tell this one is going places as once they hit the drop into the jam, Kuroda colors the stage blue, Trey drops into some funk rhythm comping, Mike hits the fight bell, and then Trey adds in our friend the whistle wah. They fall into this groove quite nicely and it becomes a bit of a stop/start jam with Trey adding in the whistle wah as Mike leads the jam. Watch that video and you can see how much Trey is enjoying this groove jam thing with that grin you know so well beaming off his face as he bobs his head and comps along. This is cowfunk before we knew that was even a thing! Before you know it, Kuroda is punctuating the whistle wahs with his lighting and the crowd joins in as well, something that works a lot better than the dreaded woos that a certain Tweezer from northern California in 2013 brought (back) into the scene. Eventually Trey doesn’t even have to hit the whistle wah trigger as Fish and the crowd are laying it down so that he can get in on the action with some more varied fills on the guitar. Page brings in the wobbly tone (which he also inserted between verses earlier) then moves to the organ as this groove matures, all with Mike still driving the bus in the lead role. Trey moves over to the mini-kit to let this groove continue to breathe. Mike notes his approval by inserting some more fight bell action in time with the beat Fish and Trey are laying down while still leading the way. Trey moves back to the guitar and immediately takes charge, pushing us away from the groove and into a more traditional Tweezer-type jam, soaring to the eventual old school slow down Tweezer ending. I know I have Show Attendance Bias with this one but this is a seriously funky Tweezer. It is yet another example of the sound changing right in front of our eyes on this tour and a jam I could listen to on a loop. Here it sounds so fresh — because it is. The video really helps to show how much they just got down and into it from the drop. It isn’t a version you hear people point to very often when discussing the roots of cowfunk (what, you don’t have those conversations with your friends? PFFFT!) but damn if it doesn’t fit the mold. I need a smoke.

 

Sensing the need for a bit of a breather Phish plays Swept Away>Steep for the second time in as many shows and putting that pair in a six-way tie for third on the list of most played songs this tour at seven appearances (and all of those other songs were also played this show: CDT, CTB, Waste, and Sample – way to keep it fresh, Trey!). After this quick slow down they drop right into Maze, playing another fiery version heavy on the shred but perhaps not quite as big as the one a couple of nights ago in Champaign. Now in the latter part of the set, the band starts up Contact for what will surely be the start of the end proceedings. This road song is a clear nod to the impending almost 600 mile drive to come around the lakes and up to Minneapolis (I am still not sure why they didn’t have a Chicago area show on that off night but whatever) and it gets paired up with the other typical road song, Slave to the Traffic Light, in capping this set. Now, you are probably saying to yourself, “hey, I bet that isn’t too uncommon for them to play those songs together like that” but you would be wrong, mister. This is the first time they ever did it! And they have only done it once since on 08.13.2010 at Deer Creek where it served as the encore before a similarly northwesterly cannonball run up to Alpine Valley for the next night’s show (note that there is only one Slave, Contact ever which occurred way back on 02.18.1989 in Newmarket, NH). Considering these two songs have been around since 1988 (Contact) and 1984 (Slave) it is even more surprising that there are only 19 shows where both songs appear (I’ll let you find that list if you really are that interested in such minutiae…). The pairing is fun but not exactly revelatory stuff and then we are starting to gather our marbles and coats and such while we wait for the encore to start. Tonight gives us, thankfully, the only ever Waste, Cavern encore pairing (they are late first set buddies for 02.16.1997). Look, those are both fine enough songs I guess (I won’t bring up my Cavern issues right now but let’s just say the song follows me, okay?) but paired together for the encore just ain’t what this cosmonaut is looking for in an encore. I know encores can be as much about cooling down a hot crowd as giving us a big exclamation point to send us out the door so I’ll just leave at that.

 

And how are we feeling about this show? It pretty well fits the mold of Fall ’96 so far with a strong if not jammy first frame followed by a nicely flowing second set that has at least one big takeaway jam to it. The band is truly connected at this point of the tour and you can tell they are feeling good about where things are headed as they dip their proverbial toes into the groove jam waters. This Tweezer is another of the formative jams leading to the big changes in 1997 but the balance of the show is firmly in the mode that we have been hearing up until now: super tight band communication, big time energy, and some bits of percussive jamming. And here’s to more of this formula going forward because it is working for the band. Your takeaways tonight are Divided (I had to include one of the past two as they are both quite good) and Tweezer with Gumbo being the add-in for the fun ragtime teasery. Rest up and be careful on that drive over to Minnesota, fans, cuz there’s more weather brewing. And as my wife likes to shout to the cars leaving the lots while we unwind after shows, “don’t pass them, let them pass you!” I know. It doesn’t make sense to me either…

With Your Past and Your Future Precisely Divided – Auburn Hills, MI 11.09.1996

Phish — The Palace of Auburn Hills — Auburn Hills, MI 11.09.1996

I  Buried Alive>Poor Heart, Sloth, Divided, Horn, Tube, Talk, Melt, Lizards, Zero

II  Bowie, ADITL, YEM, Taste, Swept Away>Steep>Hood

E  Julius

 

After their single night stop in south central Illinois Phish traveled to the suburban Detroit area for their second time playing at the Palace of Auburn Hills, home to the Detroit Pistons of the NBA. By the time Fall 1996 came around the band were no strangers to the state of Michigan, having played 17 shows in The Mitten (good for #14 overall). Most of these seventeen shows were in cities and towns west of the Detroit Metro area which makes sense considering the large Phish-friendly populations at Michigan State (2 shows), University of Michigan (5 shows), and in western Michigan (5 shows – which we will get to for our next show’s post). So at this point they had really only played a small handful of shows in this region, first at St. Andrew’s Hall in Detroit on 05.06.1992 which includes a lovely Reba and the 449 show bustout of Shaggy Dog emerging out of a fun YEM for a unique a cappella version of the rarity. A couple months later on 07.30.1992 Phish played the Meadowbrook Music Festival (which is actually a venue not a festival in case you are confused as I was) in Rochester Hills just to the east of Auburn Hills as part of their tour opening for Santana. The Phish set is pretty unremarkable but the whole band did join Santana that night for several songs which is nice. The next year saw them return to the same place, this time in a headlining capacity in the middle of that August ’93 run I keep referencing. Being seasoned Phish folk I know you already have that 08.12.1993 show memorized but just in case you do not please do yourself the favor of checking out this quite legendary show. There are teases, tons of Secret Language, a great Reba, a big time Melt, and a Landlady/Tweezer mashup that you really need to hear. The next summer on 06.23.1994 they played the Phoenix Plaza Theatre in Pontiac just to the west of Auburn Hills which along with one of those fantastic ’94 Melts has a bustout of NICU and the second ever Silent in the Morning without The Horse leading into it. And then the final time they played this area prior to our show up above was their first time at the Palace on 10.28.1995, dropping a solid if not epic show along the path towards Halloween. With all of the big shows that surround it it is easy to see why this one is skimmed over but if you give it a listen you will be pleased in doing so. And with that we are caught up on our regional review and can get into the meat of the matter for this second ever show at the Palace.

 

Tonight starts with one of my favorite mood-setting openers, Buried Alive, which they romp through energetically before dropping into Poor Heart. Of its 148 performances, 86 times the song has opened a set and thirty-one times Poor Heart has been its partner (though four of those were not set openers). It is one of the more common pairings for Buried Alive and somehow works in having two very different yet both high energy songs start things off. The energy stays WAY up as they rock through The Sloth and then head into Divided Sky for our first long form song of the evening. This one is played quite well (1:02 for the pause tonight, timers) and elicits many a “woo” from the fans surrounding the tapers, something you will need to get used to for this show considering this continues pretty well throughout the show. Next up is the first Horn of the tour which comes off cleanly before a punchy run through Tube (by sign request based on the Trey banter that follows). Trey then straps on the acoustic for our fourth Talk of the tour which gives us a good breather before the Split Open and Melt that follows. This Melt is pretty linear, never really straying too far from the prominent theme but it is a fun one that punches hard in getting back to the close. Next up is The Lizards which mainly does what you expect from the song though there is a brief bit of playfulness by Page in the first part of the song as he uses a wobbly, liquid tone to accompany the main melody Trey is playing. After giving us our second dose of Gamehendgery for the set we get the Character Zero closer you should have seen coming a mile away considering this is the tenth one in just eighteen shows and they kinda really like playing it this tour. Now you are left to wander the cavernous halls of this quite large venue, trying to put this first set into the context of the tour as a whole, muttering to yourself as passersby give you a wide berth. Eventually it will hit you and you sprint back to your seats to find your friends and enlighten them about what you just discovered only to have them make fun of you because as soon as you start talking you forgot it all in one of those moments of lysergic confusion that we have all experienced. Maybe another lap around the venue will trigger your memory…

 

Yeah nope. Instead you will get to spend this next set head tripping over that lost notion… which is not always the best thing when they start out with a jam vehicle like David Bowie. Now, this is not a total mindfunker like some Bowies but it does offer up some space for exploration (both musical and introspective). The prevailing mode is in building tension here as it sure feels like it could take a hard turn into the aether at several points but instead they stay at home in crafting a percussive groove that builds to a nice payoff at the peak. You won’t hear this one on any best of lists but as a set opener it certainly gets things going quite well. This is followed by A Day In The Life which once through to the frenetic crossover section actually matches the Bowie energy, almost nodding back to that Bowie in how they approach it. Matching the first set, they continue to build the energy by going long form with You Enjoy Myself, our sixth of the tour which puts it in a tie for third place with 12 other songs. The early part of this one is fairly typical with lovely pre-Nirvana and Nirvana sections but we are here to talk about the jams, yo.

 

So remember last time when I voiced my concern about not being able to figure out who plays the ‘whistle wah’ tone in that Simple and elsewhere? Yeah, well, I now have VIDEO PROOF that it is in fact Trey! I KNEW IT! It is definitely a pad he hits on his mini-kit rig that triggers it and you can see/hear that plainly around the 8:35 mark of that video right there. Even better, this is the start to the really fun part of the YEM as with Trey adding in the whistle wah fill and Mike hitting the fight bell you can tell they are ready to go. So they funk through the Trey-led section getting a dance party going and then Trey moves over fully to the mini-kit for the D&B section which includes some fantastic Mike along with all that percussive power. This is yet another good/great YEM, perhaps not to the level of the one from Lexington a couple of nights ago but still one that begs you to move. After the typically hilariously ridiculous VJ Phish plays Taste (which is 2nd in times played so far this tour at 9). This one is pretty clean with a solid payoff jam but nothing too major to write home about. While not a segue, they do drop right into Swept Away>Steep which is becoming a nice counterpoint cool down here on this tour, seeming to arrive right around when it would be a good time to change it up a bit after some more energetic jamming. So far we have seen it come out of Simple (2 times), Mike’s (2), and Fluffhead prior to this one emerging from Taste, all examples that support my premise (::pats self on back::). Even better, this leads into Harry Hood in a combo that works even better than it looks on paper. Something about the tone and flow of Swept Away>Steep really matches well with Hood. This is a classic run-for-the-peak Fall ’96 type of Hood – and I say that with all the due respect for such versions. If you were looking for an openly jammed Hood in this era people would have called you crazy and told you to take another lap around the venue. This Hood does exactly what it is meant to, building towards the big time release we all signed up for. You signed up for that, right? Well, even if you didn’t you are getting it, mister, and you will like it! Oh, Trey throws a Steep tease in there for good measure if you want to listen for that. And with that another very engaging second set has come to a close and all that is left is the swinging Julius encore to yet again send us off into the night wagging fingers and do-do-doing off into the night.

 

On first glance and even listen this show doesn’t really seem to be that great. And in the grand scheme of Phish history it is not “great” in comparison but there is a lot to like here. Sure, the first set is largely anchored by Divided and only has that shortish Melt as the other jam but everything is played with fire and zest. Similarly, the second set doesn’t exactly contain a murderer’s row of massive jams but it all works so well together. This is one of the hundreds of shows that benefit from setlist construction which at this time was still one of Trey’s primary pastimes. Sure, the pure takeaways are few (I’m going with YEM and Hood tonight) but as with pretty much every Phish show you’ve ever been to you would have had a blast in the moment (yes, I know there are exceptions both for personal and other reasons). Putting this show into some kind of larger context works on some levels (it is the exact midpoint of the tour with 17 shows on either side which is something I guess and you could make an argument that with the recent RiL performance and all that opened up to the band everything from here on out is looking forward in the band’s development rather than being just more of the same…) but sometimes when we try to find meaning in every single moment we lose our ability to enjoy our time in the present. Which I guess might be why I am doing this almost twenty years after the fact… So let’s just say this is a fun Saturday night in the middle of tour -and let’s not forget the fourth show in as many nights – and move on west to Grand Rapids and the rest of the Midwest portion of the tour.

And I Know I Play A Bad Guitar – Champaign, IL 11.08.1996

Phish — Assembly Hall, University of Illinois — Champaign, IL 11.08.1996

I  Jim, Axilla>ATR>Mound, Disease>Caspian, Reba, Golgi, Lope

II  2001>Maze, Bouncin’>Simple, Cup, Mike’s, SSB, Paug

E  Theme

 

Leaving The South behind after their stellar night in Lexington (though really, is Kentucky the South? or perhaps the lower Midwest? West Appalachia? Sure, it is south of the Ohio River – not that that is a designation point or anything – but it borders four Midwest states and but three southern states. I’m pretty sure they eventually sided with the Union in the Civil War too… maybe I should just accept it and move on? yes? okay!) Phish descended upon the college town of Champaign, IL for a one night stop as Assembly Hall, the on campus multi-use venue most associated with the Fighting Illini basketball team. This would be the band’s second visit to Assembly Hall and third visit to Champaign altogether as they first played here waaaaaay back on 10.03.1991 at Mabel’s. Check out the unusual Coil ending as they segue to Tweezer. The next time they came back to town was 10.22.1995 for their first show at Assembly Hall, supposedly the 1000th show in band history (according to some resources). Check out the Possum->Catapult and Tweezer->Makisupa if nothing else here. So the next visit would be our show here on Fall 96 Tour, one full of gusto and highlights as they began their assault of the Midwest.

 

Things start out in a familiar way with the fifth Runaway Jim of the tour – also the third Jim opener already, making it the most common opener in these seventeen shows. Actually, before we even get to that Trey drops a bit of the “whistle wah” tone (that’s the name I’m going with until someone can give me something better) we were introduced to in the Lexington Weigh and YEM. While it doesn’t show up in the Jim it will be all over the place throughout this night. So the Jim is nice enough with Trey playing a bit of staccato/plinko lead to accompany Mike and Fish’s punchy rhythm but they wrap it up after a few minutes and move into the tour debut of Axilla. At this point it had been 170 shows since the last one and it shows a tad even if some of the issues here are with Trey’s guitar more than anything (another thing we will come back to here). It is still good to hear this song though and I always appreciated when they used the Axilla II ending as they do here. This allows them to slide right into another bustout, All Things Reconsidered, our friend from Spring 93 which hadn’t been played in 108 shows at this point. The faithful rendition drops right into a funky but straight forward Mound and then we get our first real meat of the evening as they start up Down With Disease. While firmly an in the box first set type version, Trey goes off in that wonderful way, shredding big until they drop down to transition into a decent enough Prince Caspian. Following our date with Fuckerpants they visit our gal Reba to the delight of all in attendance (I know I was psyched). After the composed section as they are heading into the jam Trey pulls out a couple more whistle wahs and Mike punctuates with the fight bell though admittedly this could have been Fish’s bell he used to have since I really can’t recall right now when the *tings* by Mike started popping up. This is the type of Reba that just begs you to groove along with it as Trey takes his time in building to the end peak and all involved do their share to elevate this one to that smile-inducing realm the most satisfying ones do. After a quick and rocking Golgi Apparatus they head into the set closing Run Like an Antelope, punctuating the set with the classic mind bending burst of energy that jam entails. It is pretty well straight forward stuff but rocks the heck out in getting everyone pumped for the “fifteen minute break” to come. So we sit there with our stopwatches, fully expecting the lights to drop when that minute hand clicks over after fifteen extremely long minutes before it dawns on our addled heads that perhaps it would not really be fifteen minutes.

 

Now a bit more grounded after a swig of a friend’s coke (or pepsi, no idea what the served there then)  and perhaps a smoke if that was your thing back then (it was pretty common, after all) the lights do finally drop. Possibly knowing that we all wanted to get down from the get down in this one they drop into 2001, giving us a brief taste of what is to come with this song in coming months as they start to really stretch it into the groove monster it was for a few years there. Still, it serves its purpose here in waking us up from setbreak slumber and before you know it they are into a rip roaring Maze. Quite simply, Trey shreds the shit out of this one with Page having a bit of fun in his solo as well. This isn’t quite to the level of that Pittsburgh Maze earlier in the tour but there’s nothing to complain about here either. They counterpoint this with Bouncin’ Around The Room providing the happy music in the wake of the deep dark Maze that preceded it. Next up we get the jam highlight you came here for, one of those big time Fall 96 Simples that they write poems about. They do that, right? After working through the song and standard first solo Trey drops over to the mini-kit, adding pop to the backing rhythm for Page’s piano stylings. Trey is adding effects with his pedals and such, giving us a little whistle wah and more. Hey wait one second…  Now I am not so sure who initiates the whistle wah as when it comes up in the video (see the link a bit further down) Trey is on the mini-kit and doesn’t appear to make a move towards a pedal or anything but there it is – and Page is going nuts on the piano right then so I’m fairly certain it wasn’t him either. Dagnabit, that’s a world-view-altering question I need answered now. So anyone want to tell me who DOES play the whistle wah tone???

 

Now back to the jam… Page runs the show in this first part of the jam, first on the piano and then the Moog and electric organ all while Fish, Mike, and Trey add varied sounds to the mix. Trey then starts up some elongated, almost dissonant lines on the guitar as Page moves to a more percussive mode of playing which eventually evolves into Trey taking the reins to lead out into a high powered section  of guitar-led rawk. This section feels like it should head up to a massive peak but then you can tell something isn’t quite right with Trey’s playing as he seems to go in and out a bit as they move into a different space. I can tell you that he was literally kicking an amp up there, somewhat faux angrily playing at wanting to destroy the thing in frustration. You can see all of that in the last two minutes or so of this video (I know the quality is crappy but think about the source and the intervening years of tape degradation involved, mister 4K vid snob) of this wonderful jam which also shows off that it was Gold Shirt Night for Trey yet again that night. The thing about it is that Trey really does still pull off some nice stuff here which makes you wonder what could have been had he not been fighting with his rig there.

 

Right as they finish up the Simple Trey banters a little about how “you have to kick it sometimes, you know?” and then they head right into Loving Cup with fingers pressed firmly against the side of their noses. The “bad guitar” line definitely held a bit more weight and humor after all that. And while this isn’t exactly an epic Cup like, oh, I don’t know, the one from Indio in 2009 Trey does shred this with a bit more gusto than what is typical for the song. Now back on it, they start into Mike’s Song for what will clearly be the set closing Groove. They dive quickly into the chugging first jam with Trey accenting it with more wah’d out fills than we’ve heard from him in this song up to this point. They don’t sit here very long though as after only a couple of minutes we move into second jam territory with Trey hopping on the mini-kit for a bit to let Page play around as his sustain loop drones on behind. There are several whistle wahs here to accompany the percussion which may be indicative of it really being Trey who hits it, though I still don’t have video proof of that… yet. Anyway, they bring things down to a very sparse place, giving the crowd the chance to offer some positive feedback before they stop altogether and walk out front to get into a cappella mode. Trey give a little banter of thanks and about this being practice for their upcoming performance before the upcoming Minnesota Timberwolves game (adding in the jibe “those of you who have a tv”). Obviously, this gives us the Star Spangled Banner (an interesting Mike’s Groove filler to be certain) and then they return to their respective places to start up Weekapaug Groove. But something isn’t seemingly going right here as Mike is playing those big intros notes without anything really coming out of his amps until all of a sudden ALL THE NOTES come out at once in this wild cacophony of Paug noise. I’m pretty certain he forgot to turn off his delay pedal or something but whatever. It was a wild effect live and somewhat holds up on tape. Now we are off into the feel good vibes of Paug for a rocking close to the set. All told that’s a really fun setlist and it comes off quite well upon relisten as well. The encore tonight is Theme from the Bottom (after a whistle wah at the start to keep that going) and while nice and soaring — I will not comment on the clapping some fans did here (or in the Reba…) — it stays at home and the next thing you know we are filing out to head to the lots and figure out how long we need to screw around there before one of us is brave enough to take the wheel for the  almost 400 mile drive up and over to Auburn Hills. Thankfully for me, my family lived along that path so we had a stopping point for the night and to recharge before the next night’s fun but for a lot of people that would have been yet another in a long line of potentially harrowing drives on the highways and byways of this great nation.

 

Upon reflection, this show is one of those ones that is perhaps a bit better than it looks on paper — even if it looks pretty good there! Taking the equipment issues Trey experienced out of the equation (and honestly, they really aren’t too noticeable on tape anyway) you have a first set with a couple of bustouts, a few nice jams, and some great energy throughout. When your one ‘slow song’ for the set is a power ballad like Caspian that bodes well. Then they really amp things up for a second set that has no lulls unless you aren’t a fan of patriotic a cappella tunes. This is just an overall solid Friday night of fun in a college town which can lead to some pretty memorable evenings, quite frankly. Your highlights here are Reba, Maze, and Simple with second tier entry being Mike’s Song. I’d spin this whole show if I was you but if not you could also check out Disease, Lope, and perhaps Theme and have yourself a nifty playlist of highlights. Now we are on to the Michigan portion of the tour before that night off date with NBA destiny.

We’re All In The Bathtub Now – Lexington, KY 11.07.1996

Phish — Rupp Arena — Lexington, KY 11.07.1996

I  CDT, Weigh>Rift>Guelah, Stash, Waste, Guyute, Free>Tela, Zero

II  Suzy>Gin->HYHU>Bike>HYHU, YEM

E  Frankenstein

 

Every once in a while there will come a point on a tour when the band has “one of  those nights”. For many bands, this might have a negative connotation, as “one of those nights” could mean the lead singer is off his ‘meds’ again (or back on them…), the musicians are actively fighting each other on stage (possibly related to the meds thing), the PA or other gear didn’t cooperate, or they run up against an unruly crowd that really just wants to tear shit apart and has no time for whatever drivel is being poured into their ear holes. For Phish, “one of those nights” usually refers to a show we now treat as canon be it for seamlessly strung together segues, massive bustouts, or big time legendary jams that are known as much by their phish portmanteau or venue moniker as any other way of denoting them. These often take place in ‘skip show’ locales or on odd nights of the week or in other seemingly innocent circumstances as the band has made a habit of not really coming up really big when the fans expect it but then smacking us upside the head with a total smoke show somewhere else just to keep us honest. It can be annoying trying to figure out where the real heaters will drop but I suppose that’s why the adage of the ‘next show is the best show’ rings so true… With all this in mind, it was then that on Thursday, November 7th, 1996 the band came to Lexington, Kentucky for the first (and final) time and by the time they left the stage one of those nights had happened once more.

 

But before we get to the music from this night we need to do our thing about reflecting back. If this is a feature you really aren’t into then you are in luck because along with this singular performance in Lexington the band has only ever visited Kentucky four other times (to play a show, of course. I know not of whether they have ever vacationed there or otherwise passed through the Bluegrass State). All four of those visits were to Louisville with the first being on 04.16.1993 at the McCauley Theatre. Note that while all Phish literature refers to the theatre by this name it is really the Brown Theatre that the band had played considering that the original Macauley’s Theatre was razed in 1925 which is also the timing of when the Brown Theatre opened. The confusion lies in the fact that after renovations in 1971 and a sale to the Louisville Board of Education that theater was renamed Macauley’s Theatre which persisted until a new infusion of funds and acquisition by the Louisville Fund for the Arts in 1997 with the re-christening of the venue as the W.L.Lyons Brown Theatre when it reopened in 1998. Waaaaaaay more than you cared to know about that but this is a venue with two pretty solid Phish shows having occurred inside so there.

 

That first one sits in an interesting period of Phish’s upward trajectory, being part of the second leg of the Spring ’93 tour when they were fully into breaking new ‘speed jazz’ ground in their jamming style which shows up clearly in the Weekapaug Groove. There’s a bunch of teases, some banter, and a fun Free Bird-tinged Gumbo in the encore. Listen in Mike’s for a bit of what would become Simple less than a year from this show. About four months later Phish was back here during that fantastic month of August ’93 to drop a classic show on 08.15.1993 that you should really spin straight through but just in case you cannot do that please do check out the fantastic Stash, Tweezer, and Hood from this show (check out the wild Mockingbird story and performance too if you can). A little more than a year later Phish returned at the larger Palace Theatre, playing a show on 10.10.1994  which is best known for the quite type II Tweezer but also has a banjo sit-in by Steve Cooley and more of the solid greatness of Fall ’94. Then on 10.29.1995 they played Louisville for the final time at the now gone Louisville Gardens arena for a pre-Halloween show full of wonderfully dark jamming and the playfulness of a band on top of their game and messing with everyone’s heads in the lead up to the big night up in Chicago a couple of nights later. Listen for ‘Beat It’ teases and check out a big time Melt, a demonic Bowie, a quite fun Ice->Kung->Ice, and the only performance of Shaggy Dog between the bustout after 450 shows on 05.06.1992 until it came back 574 shows after this night on 06.22.2012. And that’s it for Kentucky! Now on to the last time they have played here…

 

Here in the sixteenth show of the tour the band is firing on all cylinders and from the opening notes of Chalkdust Torture you can tell they are raring to go. They run through this one quickly, rocking it out and getting everyone moving as the song tends to do. They follow this with the tour debut (something we will see more of tonight) of Weigh, playing it pretty straight though if you listen closely you might catch a bit of Trey using his wah pedal in a way you don’t normally get with this song. This will be important later. This segues into a ripping version of Rift which then goes right into Guelah Papyrus. The execution here is a tad sloppy but works out in the end and then we get our first jam potential on the night with Stash. There is nothing revealing here but the T&R build is fine enough in getting through. Continuing to vacillate the pace with song choices (similar to the prior night’s show) we get Waste for the first (and only) true ballad of the show. Now headed back from the bathrooms you get to hear the telltale intro to the tour debut of Guyute giving you the chance to either dive in and throw down with the other pig heads or maybe walk a bit and grab a snack if you and your head will allow it. This is played well if predictably and then we get the bombast of Free to keep the rocking going. As with Stash this is fine enough but no new ground is covered and then we are into Tela for yet another tour debut. Trey really goes off in the end solo here, nailing all those notes in bringing it to its satisfying peak. A crunchy yet contained Character Zero wraps things up for the first set and now you and your friends start to wonder what big jam highlight you might get in the second set. I mean, the last few shows had pretty average first sets coupled with some major second set jams so you had to think the pattern would hold… right?

 

I won’t just leave that question hanging. With the benefit of hindsight, if you saw that second set list above these days you’d be screaming and hollering and tweeting and anything else you could to express your whatthefuckery about it until you got your hands on the tapes to hear it yourself. Excepting the rare mechanical-issue-shortened set, they simply did not play four song sets back in this era (I don’t count HYHU, yo.) – not that they do much of it now either. Yeah, there’s stuff like the Fleezer set but that and the few others like it were considered to be so rare as to not be something you would ever see again. Heck, even the Tahoe Tweezer set with its 36 minute Tweezer has six songs. So when this setlist came out – and remember this is in the time when except for the most widely circulated tapes you had to sometimes wait months to hear a show – people went nuts. I wrote the dang thing down that night and spent pretty much the entirety of the drive to Champaign the next day looking at it and alternately laughing or shaking my head. And the great thing is that it isn’t some gimmicky or overly unapproachable abstract “music” that they play here (no comment on vac solos and their relative abstraction, thank you very much). It isn’t even as if they dove deep hard and fast, heck they opened up with Suzy Greenberg of all songs! But that Suzy gets a bit of extra mustard when Trey hops on the mini-kit for a bit to let Page take an even longer solo, showing that from the start this set is not about keep with the norm.

 

The next song, Bathtub Gin, starts up and you are thinking, “oh, nice… I really like when they play this as a second set vehicle. I hope they have some fun here!” which pretty much becomes quite the understated expectation as we move along. I say that because pretty much as soon as the finish up the lyrics and head into the jam (around the five minute mark of that lovely remaster I linked there) Trey moves away from the Gin theme immediately. Over the next several minutes he will continually come back to Gin to stir the pot but the lead here is melodic and forward-moving as Trey offers up several different ideas over the groove set up by the rest of the band. He soars with Page pounding away on the baby grand, evoking Gin while also being completely new music. At various times his leads seem to hint at a variety of teases (I swear at one point he is playing the melody to Bad Company’s Silver, Blue, and Gold – the “don’t forsake me cuz I love you” bit), none of them necessarily overt, but in the end it is all heading up to the end peak you know is coming sooner rather than later. But you’re wrong! The peak never resolves (this is a good thing) and then Trey moves over to the mini-kit, allowing Page to take charge in the second phase of the jam. He plays around with all of his toys, offering up a pastiche of various keyboard sounds as Mike offers up his own ideas to counterpoint Page’s playing. They ride this percussive pocket for several minutes with Page in charge then eventually Trey moves back over to guitar as the band starts to head yet again to the end peak. The band is far afield from Gin at this stage and the jam gets bigger in that way that some of the best ones do, flowing into a rocking section that feels like it could fall right into Reprise at any point. It also feels like it could become 2001 or even the bustout of The Real Me, the one time partner with Gin back on 12.29.1995. Once more they forego the obvious peak to stay in this raging groove and go to what we would now expect to be transtion, dropping down a section first denoted by the odd loops Trey sets. Then he and Page hit on a repeating phrase that has the uneasy feel of a Buried Alive jam of sorts, adding tension to the jam. Even with some cadence changes by Fish Trey persists until finally relenting as Mike leads into an eerie place. You know they are moving on again but it isn’t plainly clear which direction they will go next. Will it be another section in this masterful jam? Maybe the eventual move back to Gin to wrap this up with a bow?

 

No, instead we head to Hold Your Head Up, signalling Fish Fun Time for only the third time this tour (I think my memory is right there). The Fish tune tonight is the tour debut of the Syd Barrett classic Bike, allowing Fish to do his thing while also providing the breather everyone needed after the nearly 35 minute non-stop start to this set. As an aside, I can tell you that by the time they started up Bike I was personally just giggling in awe of what had just happened. The tapes tell the tale but live that was something other worldly to behold. Following Bike Trey gives a little banter about their boy Norton Charleston Heston and then they start up You Enjoy Myself to the delight of the crowd. After that Gin you have to think they will take it a bit easy here and maybe set this up to lead into the eventual set closer. And that is reasonable thinking but remember, this is one of those nights so things like reasonableness aren’t really applicable. The pre-Nirvana build is nailed and all through the Nirvana phase they kill it just adding more to the anticipation of the explosion to come. The crowd senses it too, almost begging the band to get to the “Boy!” line and once they do a full-on dance party breaks out. Trey lets the Phish funk ooze out here, adding some wah’d out accents behind the organ and bass as they work through the Uffizi lines and then once they go to the jam it is a funk jam not like previous versions of the song. After the trampoline section Trey lays back to let Page continue on the organ, opting for sparse rhythm fills that are heavy on the wah pedal. Mike solos here a bit, Page plays a ‘wobbly’ synth line and Trey eventually hits a tone you should start to get used to because we will hear it a bunch from here on out this tour. Listen around the 13:15 mark at the point where they do a little stop/start action and you will hear it. As far as I know this is the first time he has ever done this but from this point forward it pops up in at least one jam in pretty much every show. They ride the groove pocket for a bit more, giving the kids the chance to shake their bones some more and then Trey climbs the mountain, riding a lead line that isn’t too far off from Quantegy (albeit at a faster pace here) if you recall that odd ditty from his first solo album which would come out a couple of years from this night. That doesn’t last long though as he takes the lead to the peak but rather than going full to it and dropping out for the D&B he comes back to a chugging riff, allowing Mike and Fish to come in more organically as he eventually drops out. This D&B is pure gravy to the point where the crowd starts clapping along, giving Mike time to get out there for a bit after riding the groove pretty much all night. Eventually we get the obligatory VJ (it’s a pretty interesting one, to be honest and the crowd is with the band the entire time) and then they depart, having just dropped a four song set and two jams of 27+ minutes EACH in this wonderful set. I still recall looking at my watch as the VJ started wondering how it got so late so quick. I love that feeling. So they come back out for the encore, tear up Frankenstein, and leave us all there wondering how we will be able to leave the venue much less gather our marbles to hit the road on the path to the next show. Let’s just say we weren’t exactly in a rush to get out of there that night.

 

I think it is pretty clear that this is a show that I consider to be a pretty big night in my personal Phish life. The first set is, admittedly, largely average but not bad by any means. But once you get into that second set you can plainly hear that something is up even from the start. They have some playful banter and then just dive into a set that has but one moment for breath in the hilarity of Fish Fun Time. The Gin that they play here is not the first time they have gone deep with the song – far from it! – but the way they stick with it and never bail after shifting into at least four different phases of the jam is quite important. I believe that this jam doesn’t happen before RiL and certainly without having had Perazzo help them out with getting comfortable in the groove space. At no time does the jam feel rushed or as if they are looking to bail. They simply try out various ideas all while keeping that pocket moving forward. Sure, there are other Gins that I tend to spin more frequently but this is canon. This is a Gin that is so revered it is known by the venue in which it was played. Say “The Rupp Gin” to any fan who knows their Phish and you will immediately get praise and adulation for this piece of music. That’s not to say it has to be your favorite or that it is the “best” (whatever that means) but that it is so iconic as to really need no further introduction than by name. And then in its wake you have an absolute throw down of a YEM, one that gives us a glimpse of the proto-cowfunk already being worked out on stage by the band here just a few shows after their first big adventure in groove on Halloween. That YEM is completely undersold (probably due to the Gin, of course) and really deserves so much more praise than it gets. I have really been looking forward to writing this review since the tour started for me and now that I am here I am even more excited about having had the opportunity to spin this gem again and again to really get to the core of it. This is a wonderful high point in this tour but that takes nothing away from the great stuff we have already heard — and for what is yet to come. So let’s wrap things up by saying that your takeaways are the entire second set on this night (I’m throwing the HYHU>Bike>HYHU in there because it really just fits so well in the context of the set). And let’s revel in the fact that there are still so many great jams to come… starting with the next night in Champaign!

 

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Since I am also posting this on what happens to be an important day in Phishtory (Fish’s birthday) I’d be remiss to not at least mention it. Happy 51st to my partner in February 19th birthdays, Mr. Norton Charleston Heston, Henrietta, the tiny beast boy, Tubbs, Moses DeWitt, the octopus, John Fishman. Here’s to many more for our favorite oddball, mumu-wearing beat monster.