With The Right Device You Can Make A Pattern Grow – The Venue Project

For a while there has been a smaller project that I have wanted to take on, one that seems to get hinted at and asked about in the various Phish social media circles though I have yet to see a full breakdown of the idea in any one place. It is a notion that flows into many conversations that you hear about the band with broad statements like “they always play hot shows at Deer Creek” or “I cannot wait to get back to the Mothership” or “hands down, Dick’s is the best venue for Phish these days and they always slay it there” and the like being so common as to become part of the band’s folklore. But just how true are those statements?

 

In order to figure out a somewhat reasonable answer to this question I propose to take a look back at the venues where Phish has played most frequently and put together some form of summary/breakdown of the music that the band played to see if there really is a connection between the setting and the music as we often think. This endeavor will require some heavy lifting first in breaking down all of the various names both corporate and otherwise to figure out the correct number of times played at a particular place and then diving in headlong to try to make some sense of the history there. We will go about setting some criteria in a bit but some of the considerations that I am thinking about include:

  • setting a minimum number of times played as a baseline – this will obviously exclude some of the fantastic “one timer” venues and places where they might’ve only played a couple of shows but if we don’t cut it somewhere it will end up being a full history and a highly subjective undertaking at that
  • evaluating the music played – this is about as subjective as it can get but at a certain level all of this is so we will try to look at the relative “quantity of quality” in the performances including possibly using outside resources like PJJ to see how others have “valued” the music therein
  • special venues – while I could be swayed by a persuasive argument (nudge nudge, wink wink) otherwise my inclination is to keep festival settings out of the conversation though to be honest most will not qualify for the minimum number of shows if it ends up where I think it will
  • the venue-specific factors – what about a venue contributes to the whole experience? This could include acoustics, proximity of band to crowd and sightlines, slapback, whether they have good nachos or just that goopy fake cheese bullshit, and the like. While perhaps not as important on the surface, these factors can and do contribute to the overall experience.
  • intangibles – this is the stuff people point to that has no objective basis but has become part of the story. Stuff like the prevailing vibe of the crowd in a room, the hype surrounding the shows and venue itself, how hard a ticket might be to acquire, etc. There is some bleed between these factors and the venue-specific ones.

I’m not really looking to get too granular with it such that the overall intent is lost in the details so obviously the primary focus will be the music played. I think this can be a fun little project before heading into another full tour review and also so that I’m not overlapping my way back posts with the new stuff coming out on Fall Tour in just a few weeks. I’ll have another, more detailed post to set about establishing the criteria and putting together the list of venues in consideration but until then let me know what you think in the comments.

 

What is your pick for Phish’s best played venue throughout their history?

Until You Burst Into Song and Unwind – Priming Up for Fall 1996

1996

 

Seemingly a lost year in the annals of Phishtory according to some,  1996 exists as a year tucked between two of the most highly lauded years in which the band has played shows. But while this year does not perhaps produce the reactions from fans that 1995 or 1997 do the truth is that this is a year full of amazing music and one that deserves more credit for helping to shape the sound of the band for years to come than it has been given. Our focus will be on the Fall Tour from this year but I think it helps a bit to understand what got us there so that we can then see where it takes us in going forward as well so with that in mind I present you with a quite brief (and not in any way seriously vetted) primer on 1996 Phish.

 

Following the triumphant and understandably highly praised Fall 1995 Tour and ensuing New Year’s Run that culminated with a pair of shows at Madison Square Garden – shows that really shouldn’t need any introduction – the band hit the studio to begin laying down the tracks for what would become the album Billy Breathes. This recording time ran over several months between February and June of that year with the band pausing in April for their first ever appearance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (aka JazzFest). This one set show is not necessarily the greatest Phish you will ever here but there is a sit-in by Michael Ray for Cars Trucks Buses (a relationship that has blossomed over the years since Trey first joined the Cosmic Krewe for a show in March 1994), a YEM->Wolfman’s combo that works quite well, a soaring Hood, and a wonderfully tensioned David Bowie that has hints of Caravan throughout. Honestly, some of the best music to be found from Phish’s visit to The Crescent City lies in the sit-ins they did with other bands while there but those are not quite the focus of our time here together, are they?

 

Around this time Trey released the first ‘solo’ project album that any of the band members had produced to date with the free jazz experiment Surrender to the Air. This was a HUGE departure from Phish and as a result the album is not necessarily widely considered a must-have album by the majority of Phish fans but it was a worthy risk to undertake as it opened up a whole different world of musical possibility – even if it did not directly result in any new songs for the Phish canon. But when you bring together an amazing group of musicians including Marshall Allen, Trey, Kofi Burbridge, Oteil Burbridge, Damon Choice, Fish, Bob Gulotti, James Harvey, John Medeski, Michael Ray, and Marc Ribot you can expect some magic to go down. Fans of this music should also check out the two shows they played for the release of the album on 04.01.1996 and 04.02.1996 at the New York Arts Academy. Maybe it isn’t your cup of tea but it is challenging improv that finds some moments of true connection amidst the competing lines of the wonderful players who laid it down.

 

Based on the Doniac Schvice that came out in March of that year we knew that the band had no other plans for the Spring besides that Jazz Fest appearance and they also indicated they would be going to Europe for a tour in July (as well as introducing us all to the wonder that is Assface…). In truth, fans would only have to wait another six weeks before the band hit the stage again, this time in Woodstock, NY while in the area recording at Bearsville Studios, a legendary recording studio where a long list of notable records were laid down over the years and which is now a private residence. This was an unannounced show at the now-closed Joyous Lake club played under the name ‘Third Ball’ with an opening band called ‘Juan Hung Low’. Clearly, the sophomoric humor of our band had not worn off in playing bigger stages of late. That show was a bit of a “back to their roots” bar show highlighting some of the newer songs (Waste and Character Zero were both debuted here) with a loose feel and a generally fun vibe permeating the music. Rumors of this show spread wide and far with high quality recordings coming out quite quickly as well, further amping up fans’ excitement for the summer to come.

 

Looking back it is hard to imagine how we made it all work in prepping for tours considering that it took until the Late Spring Doniac Schvice for us to get the details on the European Tour (and even that had several unconfirmed dates as of pressing) and the US Tour to follow. The biggest  news in there (aside from the brief announcement of the impending launch of phish.com, of course) was that the abbreviated US Tour would lead to Phish’s first ever “official” festival on the grounds of a decommissioned airforce base in Plattsburgh, NY. That news alone made the idea of a brief nine show US Tour more palatable to the masses. But before we get to that, let’s talk about that Euro Tour for a bit. Things did not start out as optimistically as one would have liked considering their first set in Italy was rained out but they were there doing several supporting sets for Santana so that allowed for the band to variously join Carlos on stage over the run as well as to allow for Phish to interact with Carl Perazzo, the percussionist who would play a big role in the tour that we are about to tackle here. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that the Euro Tour was a success on many fronts even if some do not consider there to be a high number of lasting jams to go back to from those shows. I tend to disagree but then I tend to find the good in almost all the Phish I hear. Almost.

 

A few days after returning from Europe (and with the Summer Schvice out to further whip the fervor of the fans for both the Clifford Ball AND our Fall Tour) Phish opened up the tour in gorgeous Park City, UT (oddly enough the second tour in a row that had rain leading into the show…) with Page showing off his new toy the Theremin as they opened with a haunting take on Somewhere Over the Rainbow (which would be quite a mind flipper if that was your first introduction to Phish…) as the stage was framed by the resulting rainbow from the passed storm. This show is okay with not many big highlights but they played a lot of fan favorites cleanly so you really can’t complain about a tour opener like that. Next was the now infamous four show stand at Red Rocks which has some fantastic playing but is most well known for the bad interactions some members of the scene had with the Morrison locals. I’m not going to bother linking the many articles written about this debacle but when you get banned by Red Rocks you know things have gotten a little out of hand. This wasn’t the first sign that the scene had changed (partially since the passing of Jerry but also as the natural expansion occurred when Phish got big over the course of 94-95) but it was the big moment where a lot of people started to recognize the cracks in the armor that had protected our thing from those negative outside influences for longer than it probably deserved.

 

The circus moved on to Alpine Valley and Deer Creek next with the band really starting to catch fire as they worked their way east all while it seemed that more and more fans hopped on the bus headed up to the Northeast. There was one final show in Hershey which ended up being a bit of a sleeper show considering so many people went right from Deer Creek to New York, probably staying on I-90 rather than dipping down into PA via I-80 so as to make the best use of the short amount of time before the festival began. Now, I would argue that the best use of time would have been to go to Hershey but what do I know? I only was able to scheme my way into a four day furlough from the summer camp where I worked on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake to cannonball it up to Plattsburgh for the festival so I can’t speak for those who hit the whole tour or at least the parts between the Midwest and the fest. Anyway, we created one of the lasting memories in the band’s history on that airforce base that weekend and that set the template not just for future Phish festivals but for the evolution of the live music industry in the US as people including the creators of Bonnaroo took that destination camping festival idea and blew it up into the bevy of music fests we now have to enjoy each year. That weekend saw the largest crowd ever (at the time) for Phish as over 70,000 of us congregated in celebration with the music and band as our guide. Along with the summer run that preceded it you can sense that this was the start of a big change in the band considering they had as many fans at that event as would have attended all four of the New Year’s Run shows in 1995 COMBINED. You don’t really go back to playing small theater tours from that.

 

So after The Clifford Ball happened – and I must say that you could do a whole lot worse than to do a little listening project following that US Tour through the festival as it is only 11 shows plus some more treats like the Flatbed Jam – the band headed home (not too far, of course, since they were just across the lake!) to catch their breath and practice a bit for the upcoming Fall Tour. In this time the final details for the Fall Tour came out via another Schvice and fans waited on the release of the album to come (which apparently could have had any of about a hundred different names than what it became…). The Billy Breathes album would end up being released the day prior to the first show of the Fall Tour in Lake Placid, NY and to this day stands as probably the best received album the band has put out. It probably wouldn’t hurt you to give it another listen to get ready for this tour since you will be getting quite familiar with almost all of the songs included on the record.

 

So that is how we got to here, the start of the Fall 1996 Phish Tour. We have 35 shows ahead of us to explore and I think if you have never taken the time to really go through this tour in earnest you may be quite surprised by how great many of these shows really are. It might not include a 20-minute-second-set-opening jam every show and they may have reined in the open psych a tad but there is a lot going on in the playing on this tour, things that will bear fruit not just in these shows but for many years to come in the world of Phish. So aside from a few short site notes below, let’s get down to the matter and crank up the Fall ’96!!

 

As a quick update, I recommend checking out some of the Band History information on phish.com/band which is a lot more in depth (and accurate) than my rough summary above. There are entries for February, April, June, July, October, and November of 1996 along with ones for several other notable times in the band’s history.

 

 

Okay, those site notes. Today, 12.14.2015, the 20th anniversary of the amazing Broome County Arena show from Binghamton, NY, will be the last day that the music player over there to the left will have the Fall 1998 tour highlights available. For this tour I am going to try something a little different by clearing the list and updating it with each show post to include the takeaways as we go along. This should help you to listen along if you feel like just hitting the top notch stuff but I do recommend spinning the full shows whenever possible as I tend to leave out some things because I am, after all, just one fan with opinions that might not agree with your take.

 

If you are still looking for those Fall ’98 gems there is a new section just above that player called “The Takeaways” where you can find download links to the compilations. This section should hopefully grow over time as we cover more and more of the band’s music.

 

Please give me any feedback you can so that I can make all of this easy for everyone. Living in the future is awesome, ain’t it?

Don’t You See Anything That You’d Like To Try?

Fall 98 Takeaways

You see that little spreadsheet above? That’s the tracking for our takeaways from this here Fall 1998 Phish Tour. This is the raw data from the end of each post where I identify what songs are potentially worthy of the highlight reel, based on a highly scientific set of criteria that is all subject to my personal and quite subjective preferences. The songs highlighted in yellow are the ones I throw in as “add ons”. Any time you see a segue notation (> or ->) that denotes that the song following it here is part of the sequence. There ends up being a lot of songs here to work through but this is what we do as scarily obsessive fans. I do not expect that another person’s list would be the same as mine but then they aren’t the guy writing this blog now are they?

 

Over the next few posts I will be taking these “takeaway jams” and categorizing them a bit, perhaps tiering them in some fashion. The goal here is really to revel in the wonderful music, not to offer anything that could be mistaken as ranking art. For simplification and ease of digestion it becomes more expedient to break them into groups but that is more convenience than anything. That said, there are some versions of songs here that are “next level” Phish and as such we will focus on them more than the relatively straight forward or otherwise not srs bns epcot level jams. If you feel that there is anything that I have missed here, leave it in the comments. That way we can all point and laugh at whoever puts forth the proposition that there should be more Wadings in the list (just as an example, of course…).

 

 

You’ve Been By Here Before — The Next Tour To Tackle

I, like many of us, have a long and varied history with the band Phish. I have been privileged to see this band all over the United States in every possible type of setting over the course of twenty-five plus years. I have not seen the band in a foreign country and there are definitely big stretches of shows over that time that I was unable to attend for whatever reason but I feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity to share in the experience of their music as much as I have.

In thinking about what tour to tackle next in reflecting back here I wanted to focus on something that was wholly removed from my personal experience with the music. I also wanted it to be a tour that I have listened to but have not done a deep dive into as far as listening goes so that it would be fresh for me to hear so that I could come in with something of a clean slate. So this would require the tour to be one where I did not attend any shows and where I had not spent a lot of time listening back as compares to some of the more classically highly touted tours in the band’s history. And at the same time I wanted it to be a tour that has musical merit and value within the evolution of the band and their sound which is to say that my decision would factor in some thought about where the band was coming from and where they were headed considering my ability to shine a retrospective light onto the proceedings. Lastly, I wanted this tour to be one that was high on jamming and open jamming in particular since that is, at the core, what Phish does best in my estimation.

As fate would have it, there are a few tours that fit this bill quite swimmingly with one being a tour that I long did not listen to very much because I was unable to catch any shows on — but for what I consider a very good reason. After catching several shows along the Summer 1998 Tour as I finished up grad school work, several friends and I took the Fall to backpack our way around Europe, starting in Madrid and doing a lap around the continent over the course of about four months. People came and went along the way but I personally came back in late November having missed any opportunity to catch Phish that Fall. Don’t fret for me though, as I had an amazing time and capped it by seeing what would be my final full NYE Run of 1.0 at the end of the year. We won’t discuss why I didn’t make it to Big Cypress the year following as that’s a conversation for another day.

So call it burying the lede, but what I am announcing with this post is that my next project will be to detail the show by show goings on of the Phish Fall 1998 Tour.

This tour includes a lot of what we all love about Phish in these twenty-two shows and shows a band on top of their game but still pushing the envelope to get further out. We will have plenty of big jams to dissect, antics to laugh at (or deride if that’s not your thing), new songs, an album release, a Halloween cover costume, the don’t-skip-the-skip-show show of all of them, and much much more. Heck, with this small number of shows perhaps I should just start with the few shows that led up to that tour opener in Los Angeles, as there is a lot to detail in those as well (this includes the Farm Aid set, the surprise show in San Francisco, and the pair of sets at The Bridge School Benefit).

For now though, let’s all get our files in order to start going back to that time when Phish had graduated on to bigger venues and bigger expectations, a time when they seemingly could do no wrong, a time when their sound included all of the elements of what had gotten them here but not a time of stagnancy of any sort. The band and scene had grown to all but peak height and many openly wondered whether it could keep going in this way for much longer. While that sort of thinking would eventually become more of a factor, here in Fall ’98 the wheels were still turning and the Phish Express was chugging along with no signs of apparent wear, tear, or ill repair. So let’s hop on board and listen in to what the band threw down in the middle of those years that many refer to as The Peak, shall we?

Survey Says…

So I realize that I have been deep into the Spring 1993 Tour and that is all fine and dandy if you are into that aspect of Phishtory but there may be more to be had in discussing other shows and tours, for more than one reason. I am completely open to this and wanted to simply finish what I had started with Spring ’93 but there is a natural stopping point upcoming here with the end of the West Coast leg of tour as they took a week or so off in heading to the Midwest (and supposedly appearing at a music award show). In truth, this would offer me the opportunity to get a little distance from ’93 to keep that from getting too stale while also allowing for exploration into some of the evolution and big jamming of later tours. I still plan on finishing out the April and May sections of that Spring ’93 Tour but the diversion into other eras is enticing…

So what say you?

What should be the next tour to take on?

Any specific shows we want to get down and dirty with?

PJJ

Just a quick site update and plug for my new favorite place on these here intrawebz.

Recently, a couple of super phanner brothers put together a website to showcase the fantastic work they have done in focusing on the all killer no filler aspect of Phish that so many of us enjoy so much. This started out as a series of downloadable mixes with all of the jam segments from each tour going all the way back to that Spring 1993 tour I seem to have a thing for to where now you can go to this site and hear all that jam to your heart’s content. Yes I know that sentence is poorly constructed. I’m excited here. Give me a break.

The site is Phish Just Jams and I think you should just go ahead and dive in headfirst. Don’t worry, the jams are deep enough to catch you when you fall. It is pretty straightforward to use so just set the filters for the heart of the sun and go.

And just because I know the three of you who come here regularly (that is probably an exaggeration) are wondering why I bring this up it is that I am going to be peppering in some links to the jams from particular shows using this great resource to help highlight some of the more notable performances we come across going forward. In some cases I will link to the full song from a place like phish.in or phishtracks where appropriate but when discussing the evolution of the band’s musical explorations it is most appropriate to focus on the improvised sections of said music rather than the same composed and lyrical sections we hear over and over again.

Now let’s get to it!