Interpretations on 12.31.2016, Set III

I’d like to step aside from the Venue Project for a minute to get some of the innumerable thoughts down that have been swimming through my head since walking out of Madison Square Garden after the NYE show a couple of days ago. I have debated with myself about whether I should post this because, well, it could be taken in a few different ways depending on your approach and it definitely opens me up to the type of criticism that tends to divide our scene rather than bring it together. But you know what? I don’t care. If nothing else I want to flush this stuff out so that I can process it, take what I need from it, and move forward. Not sharing that seems to me to be the wrong way to go about starting that course of action.

 

Before I start this I feel like I should make a few disclaimers. First and foremost, I am not musically trained, can barely play an instrument, and do not have the vocabulary to speak to the specifics of the music that Phish plays. I am but a simple fan who has spent countless hours listening to this band and following them around the country to the extent that it is as much a part of my life as anything else I hold dear. This passion is why I write about the band and even without the formal knowledge that would undoubtedly make my posts more worthwhile I am comfortable with where I am in the stratosphere of our scene. What I do have is a background in liberal arts having read, dissected, discussed, and argued many of the great works of Western literature and art with people much more intelligent than I could ever pretend to be. This background and my obsessively analytical way of approaching my takes on Phish are my utility belt and crutch at the same time but at the very least I think that provides a bit of context about how I am looking at the Gag that Phish performed this past New Year’s Eve.

 

Unlike most of my posts, this will not be a full show/run deep dive through the minutiae of the show(s) but instead some thoughts on how I personally interpreted the art that Phish created for us with the spectacle of Petrichor and the set that unfolded in its wake. I am also not looking to turn this into a lit crit piece so outside of quoting some Phish lyrical content I won’t be trying to relate this to any Big Themes in the world of art and literature. Heck, I’m not even going to touch on the visual reference points that to me seem almost obvious (looking at you, Rene Magritte and Giuseppe Maiorana, amongst others…). I’m already making some fairly large leaps and assumptions so no need to dig a deeper hole for those who might deride this.

 

One of the things I often say about Phish shows is that ‘we all attend the same concert but experience a different show’. I state this again here to drive home the point that I have no insider information and no expectation that my words and thoughts on the matter hold any more weight or truth than the perspective of someone else. As much as we try to let go of it all, each time we see the band we bring everything in our lives leading up to that moment with us. It is unavoidable. And at a show our individual experience is shaped by the moments we have with the music, the people around us, and everything else that carves out the memories that we take away from being in that place at that time. All of that contributes to how we engage with the experience and influences our personal reactions to what occurred (or didn’t depending on what set of expectations one has). What may be a life-changing, mind-expanding journey for me might be the worst show ever for someone else and vice versa with many thousand varied experiences falling somewhere in between or around those poles. For me, the truth to be found in seeing shows is a personal one and not something universal that will apply to those around me. Heck, it might not even apply to the folks you shared the experience with directly in the moment. In my mind, that makes it all the more interesting to discuss since by doing so we can learn more about the experience from another perspective.

 

I know that this may simply be a personal reflection that doesn’t resonate with anyone else and reflects only the journey I traveled that night. It is not meant to be seen as anything but that. If you want to read such a thing, please be my guest. I am not looking for validation or hetty points or whatever. We all have times at shows where everything makes sense whether it be in the beauty of a Hood Jam or connecting through dance with a stranger or something else entirely. This is how the set unfolded for me. If it isn’t your bag, so be it.

 

I was lucky enough to be able to attend all four shows on this latest MSG run and experienced each night from the Floor taboot. That alone puts this run into memorable territory for me personally but even further I was sharing it with a bevy of long time and newer friends including my wife, her sister and boyfriend (who I also consider a dear friend), two of my oldest best friends (who are married), and one of my newer friends in Phish not to mention the numerous wonderful individuals I have been lucky enough to meet over the years at shows, on the internet, and in person who all contribute to this wonderful thing we all share. Each night seemed to build on the prior one with themes emerging as we went along including the a cappella openers, second set mashup jam fun, bustouts, and more. By the time we got to New Year’s Eve there was a palpable buzz of anticipation as everyone waited to find out what the band had in store for this year’s big finish to the year. If I wanted to I could probably scratch together a pretty loose argument for a theory on the theme for the entirety of the run but my main goal here is in approaching the Petrichor production (and to an extent the balance of the third set) as that is to me the most overt example of Trey and the rest of the band building an artistic theme from this run.

 

At the start of the third set the stage set up had been augmented not just by length as Trey discussed in setting up the wonderful walkabout by Page and Mike for Lawnboy in the first frame but also by adding a full percussionist’s rig as well as three mike stands for what was assuredly going to be a horn section. There may have been more added but that was about the extent of what was visible to us at the back of the floor. When the musicians all walked out on stage Phish was joined by the TAB horns (James Casey, Jennifer Hartswick, and Natalie Cressman) along with Andres Forero (percussionist, of Hamilton fame) and (unseen until later when Trey pointed him out) Jeff Tanski on keys and other “symphonic” sounds. As the band started into the quiet beginning of the orchestral piece the crowd listened intently, producing a pregnant silence not too dissimilar from the awe we all felt during the Magnaball WTU?. This was different though as the anticipation for how the gag would unfold was building as the band moved through the structured piece into the more upbeat phrasing that first introduces the horns.

 

If you watch the video (and I HIGHLY recommend that you do, many times over) you can see the incredible smile on Trey’s face as this thing that he has worked on for so long is finally unfolding. That smile is evident throughout and really shows how happy Trey was to share this with all of us. They bounce into the first set of lyrics, introducing the main theme conceptually with the repeated phrase of “and the rain came down and washed it all away” as the crowd begins get into the groove being built. The song passes into the ‘pre-storm’ guitar-led segment and sixteen persons dressed in black suits with black bowler hats atop their heads and black masks shrouding their faces walk to the front of stage as Page plays the melodic interlude on the baby grand. In the moment my immediate thought was that these were the ‘no men’ referenced in the song No Man In No Man’s Land. As these ‘no men’ (that really works on many levels) form a line across the stage rain begins to fall, reflecting the lights and cascading as sheets onto the dancers, band, and rail riders alike. The dancers move with the music and take out black umbrellas, coming together to form one protected whole before separating with one dancer having taken off his mask at center stage. He then performs a series of tricks with umbrellas, juggling them and balancing one on his nose as the storm proceeds. He is playing in the rain without a care for the nuisance of being wet, something we all did as children (and that hopefully some of us still continue to do today).

 

The music shifts as Trey plays descending notes that seem to signal alarm and our lone known man is grabbed by the No Men who re-mask him, robbing him of his individuality and returning him to anonymity as one of the No Men grabs his umbrella and breaks it before throwing it aside. Another individual shows herself, flashing her brilliant red hair as she is tossed and accosted by the No Men, eventually being re-masked as well. A third No Man briefly shows his individuality but is quickly subsumed by the group and returned to the normalcy that they endeavor to maintain. The music here is building to the transition point where our next set of lyrics will come in and as this happens the dancers create a pyramid of uniformity around another one who has gone “individual”, flipping him upside down and shaking him before he escapes just as Trey sings the line “and the clouds will open and the seas will rise.” This individual then leads the No Men through a coordinated routine that includes each person “picking him/herself up by the collar” amongst other evocative moves (all while Trey sings and beams that wonderful smile behind them). After Trey sings the “when there’s no more future and no more past we’ll be on our way back home at last” lines the dancers slowly come back together at center stage but this time something is different. While the rain still falls, none of them is engaged in keeping the status quo but rather they are all distracted by a group of white/lit umbrellas that are slowly descending from the ceiling. As these new umbrellas come to rest just above the outstretched hands of the No Men they all shed their masks to reveal their individuality.

 

The band is playing the hopeful main theme now as the white umbrellas rise and fall into various patterns above the dancers. The band begins to sing the refrain “and the rain, and the rain came down” as the dancers leave the stage in a way not too dissimilar from how people passing on a busy city street would pass by each other, almost bothered by the nuisance of interaction. The umbrellas are moving through coordinated orientations, appearing almost as if they were jellyfish swimming and forming shapes such as an infinity symbol or a double helix with an array of colors and other lighting fills highlighting each one in turn as Trey takes the soaring lead and the rest of the band swells. At this point the rain is all but stopped, having accomplished its role of cleansing the No Men of their anonymity. As the song comes to its end the dancers return to the front of stage and we are nearing midnight Trey says “well, it is never too soon to get out of 2016 so…” and begins the countdown (a full 2-3 minutes early) to the expected Auld Lang Syne. The umbrellas are lit as a rainbow now and Trey says “aw, what the fuck!” laughingly acknowledging his early timing as they hit New Year’s and the ceiling (sky?) opens up and drops a massive deluge of balloons and other stuff upon us. It takes a second of recognition but most of the balloons are inflated cats and dogs such that it was literally raining cats and dogs on us. There are even cat/dog noises accompanying the deluge which also includes small foam raindrop-shaped stress ball thingies, confetti, big bouncy balloons, and so much more. By the time they finished up ALS the entire stage and floor area was overflowing such that we were up to our necks in cats, dogs, and whatnot. The No Men – though unmasked – oddly stand motionless with sullen faces but then Trey counts off the start to Suzy and they turn away from the crowd before throwing down their black suits and emerging in bright yellow outfits and with faces beaming, befitting the raucous abandon of the celebratory jam.

 

It is pure mayhem at this stage as they find spaces to dance and the band plays amidst the masses of balloons (with the various techs trying in vain to clear scene). Everyone is acting individually now with the dancers playing around and getting into the spirit of the old anthem about that free spirited gal no man can tame. The band jams along for a bit with the horns and added percussion adding that punch to the song that horns always do with Suzy. As it ends Trey never fully stops playing but starts in with the rhythm line for NMINML and we are off again into another dance party. The dancers and such have departed but the party ain’t over by a long shot. This song choice is very purposeful to me once you start to read into the lyrics:

how far have we fallen, how far can we go?
how far will we fall, if there’s nothing below
you stand on a rock, suspended in air
emblazoned with sunlight keenly aware
that we’ve broken free, something has changed
a tear in the fabric, some tiles rearranged

we are the no men in no man’s land
we are the no men in no man’s land
darkness the one thing we all understand
we are the no men in no man’s land
we are the no men in no man’s land

and the truth will rise above, and fiction fall beneath
although the lies may bite, the truth has all the teeth
you see us as a window, you’re happy that we’re here
exposed to all the elements, while inside all is clear

but if you hold a mirror, and you turn it to one side
the depth you see within at first, will find a place to hide
we are the no men in no man’s land

the loss of all motion, the absence of sound
when there’s no sun to circle around
we are the no men in no man’s land

Something has changed here. No longer are we under the weight of the storm that was 2016. In coming into the new year we are able to shed the “friction” and “lies” that dragged us all down which if you want to take as an overt political statement I’d be hard pressed to argue against. But even on a simpler level this song represents the move from conforming to being ourselves, understanding the darkness but not letting it define us.

 

Petrichor was the metaphor for that personal revelation and Suzy is the example of what freedom can look like (albeit under the guise of a person so different as to be seen as needing professional help). NMINML then punctuates the message of looking inward to become our best outward selves. But it doesn’t stop there. The next tune, Breath & Burning, is one that many probably audibly groaned to hear the band play in that spot but just listen to the lyrics and it fits the theme:

Breath and Burning
We are made of sand
Slowly turning
At the waves command
And what does it matter
If the nightmares all came true?
The black clouds that scattered across
The sky so there’s nothing left we can do
Let’s celebrate while the hurricane
Throws salt and water into the room
The canary died
The healer lied
The yellow fields disappeared too soon
Mid-air voltage blooms and grows
Unstoppable, it’s instant heat
And as sinners plea on bended knee
We’ll be dancing here for days
Breath and Burning
We are made of sand
Slowly turning At the waves command
And what does it matter
That the end’s in sight?
We’re not going gently
We’re gonna rage with Page at the dying of the light!
The sudden unexpected fate
Of sunken ships
Was our future path
Your string of beads did nothing to
Prepare for you what was sure to pass
Shadow wheels in shipping lanes
The angry winds blew straight from hell
And the tortoise pulls his head inside his shell
Breath and Burning
We are made of sand
Slowly turning
At the waves command
And what does it matter?
It’ll be over soon
Our heads on a platter
So lets spin in the light of the moon
We’ve still got the light of the moon
We’ll dance in the light of the moon
Breath and Burning
Breath and Burning
Breath and Burning
Breath and Burning

This song speaks to hope and not allowing the many negative outside factors alter who we are and how we act. At a certain point, you cannot change or influence those around you. But you can change how you approach your interactions with others and more importantly how you approach YOU. As cheesy as the line is, there is hope in the idea: “and what does it matter that the end’s in sight? we’re gonna rage with Page at the dying of the light.” When the shit hits the fan would you rather be complaining about the stench or making the best of a bad situation?

 

At this point I have probably lost most people. I get that and have to reinforce that this is the interpretation that I took from the show in the moment and upon reflection after the fact. Song choice and thematic intent are messy subjects when it comes to Phish because as I mentioned above we are all coming at this from vastly different sets of experience. It is more than likely that this is not the true intention of what Trey was looking to do when crafting this project. But I like to think that he’d be open to this type of investigation. Let’s get back to it. Don’t worry, I’m almost done…

 

After Breath & Burning the band counts off another song with a high groan potential for the fanbase. Tide Turns has always felt like more of a TAB type of tune to most and based on the performances of it and the music it offers I can easily see that argument being made. But here in the context of this set the lyrics take on a slightly different meaning than how I had originally read them when first hearing the song. I have been talking about not losing yourself in the anonymity of conformity in our culture which is mentioned in the first stanza and continued throughout the song:

When you’re lost in the darkness
And the lonliness cuts so deep
When every breath is suffereing
And you’re longing for sleep
You don’t have to be alone
I’ve still got a kind word to spare
I’ve still have an ear to listen
I’ve got time

I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
Yes I will
I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
Till the tide turns…

When the wolf is at your door
And the mirror holds your nightmare
There’s no need to hide your tears
If it’s too much for you to bear
You don’t have to be alone
I’ll still always be here for you
Together we can make it through
We’ve got time, yes we do

I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
Yes I will
I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
Till the tide turns…

You don’t have to be alone
I’ll still always be here for you
Together we can make it through
We’ve got time, yes we do

I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
Yes I will
I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
I’ll wait with you till the tide turns
Till the tide turns…

This is a song about not only finding yourself but of offering connection for those who need it. The message is clear. You do not have to be alone in all of this. Even as we are “slowly turning at the waves’ command” (from B&B) the narrator is offering to be there, offering hope to the individual in this personal struggle. This could apply to so many circumstances in our lives. How many of us have wanted to take that risky step into the unknown but were afraid to do so? How much easier was it to do such a thing when there was someone there to help you, support you, and guide you through that transition? In a sea of No Men we seek connection with individuals, something that our little community fosters but that is less prevalent in the wider world of our culture(s). Perhaps the message is not just to find the support you need but to be the one there to give it when you see the need in others as well because “together we can make it through.”

 

When they started up the next song, 555, along with really being excited that we’d get to hear this song with horns I found myself paying closer attention to the lyrics than I had before:

They’re tyin’ a blindfold cross my eyes
I rest my face down
Skidding on switchbacks near the sides
Gonna try to bust out

Get up, jump out, don’t wait, gotta get away
Hop off, roll down, spring up, live another day

Sprint on cobblestones past the tracks
They kept my money, and my water
Don’t wanna run ‘cuz I want it back
But I know I really ought to

If I don’t break away clean
I might stray from the scene
Make an escape when it arrives:
The 555

They bought my soul for a pile of cash
Everybody else got paid out
They’re closing in I gotta dash
I gotta find a way out

Hop off, roll down, spring up, live another day
Get up, jump out, don’t wait

If I don’t break away clean
I might stray from the scene
Make an escape when it arrives:
The 555

In our context this song speaks to the struggle of breaking free from “them” and weighing the frustration of being able to “break away clean” else one escapes/leaves this “scene” entirely. That is, we often find ourselves struggling to be individuals who still desire to be able fit into a group or community which can cause some to “get up, jump out, don’t wait, gotta get away, hop off, roll down, spring up, live another day” by removing themselves from participation in such community. We constantly push and pull between wanting to be individuals and wanting to be accepted within the greater whole.

 

Interestingly, the next song is not one I would have thought would fit this theme but once I took a closer look at the lyrics it fits perfectly after 555. Up through now we have seen the struggle to brush off the negativity of outside influences with the goal of allowing one to remain an individual followed by songs of hope and connection and then one about struggling with all of that. So when Ocelot started up I thought that perhaps the theme was complete only to find relevance in the words sung:

Ocelot! Ocelot!
Where have you gone?
Morning is over
and noon slouches on

Your stripes could all fade
in the poisonous day
When you see the sunlight
move out of the way

You prance with the beasts
who parade every night
And silently slouch
through the forest by light
Don’t be the only one left on the block
Come hide in the herd
and float with the flock

Ocelot! Ocelot!
Where are you now?
You never listen to me anyhow
You wandered and ambled
you walked, now you run
Knowing you’ll bake
like a snake in the sun
You prance with the beasts
you parade every night
And silently slouch
through the forest twilight

Don’t be the only one left on the block
Come hide in the heard
and float with the flock

You prance with the beasts
you parade every night
And silently slouch
through the forest twilight

Don’t be the only one left on the block
Come hide in the heard
and float with the flock

Ocelot! Ocelot!
Where have you gone?
(Won’t you come out to play?)
Ocelot! Ocelot!
Where have you gone?
(Won’t you come out to play?)
Ocelot! Ocelot!
Where have you gone?
(Won’t you come out to play?)

Hey what do you know? Another song about finding connection but maintaining individuality! Granted, the connection is loosening now and I wouldn’t fault anyone for telling me this one is a stretch. But how many times have you wanted to feel included when you were somehow left out? Sure, it feels great to be your own person but sometimes you want to be able to blend in and “float with the flock”. This song brings that home by pointing out that no matter how bright your individual “spots” are sometimes it is fun to simply “come out and play.”

 

The set then closes with the instrumental shot of energy that is First Tube, a song that may not have any of the overtones that I am connecting here. Then again, perhaps it does. Early versions of the song as performed by that short-lived early incarnation of Trey’s solo projects ‘8 Foot Fluorescent Tubes’ included Heloise Williams repeating the phrase “free thought” over and over. No man is an individual without free thought. Something to ponder. It’s a very loose connection but I think it offers up a closure point for the theme I am looking at here. Plus getting a Phish First Tube with TAB horns was a nice treat even if they didn’t take this (or really any) of the songs too far afield.

 

The idea of catharsis is often bandied about when discussing Phish’s music, particularly singular jams but often when looking at the arc of a particular set or show, for example with a well placed Slave or Hood that caps a deep dive set by bringing us all back into the light. I find it to be an overused term for the most part but I can attest that with this set that I experienced it in the moment. The tale that Trey wove brought forth a lot of emotional weight for me, weight that I was able to purge in the joy of that First Tube closer. Heck, even the Loving Cup encore helped in that regard what with the wonderful feeling that comes from belting out “what a beautiful buzz!!” at the top of your lungs with 19,000 other people. Phish generally ends their sets and shows in a manner that allows for such release. That is perhaps one of the things that many of us chase more than anything: that feeling of being able to lose yourself in the music, letting all the worry and weight of life slide away if even for only a few moments, and connecting with those who surround you. On this night, to me, the message was clear.

 

If you have read this far, I appreciate it. It seems that each year our dissections of Phish’s NYE Gags get more and more divisive as we have more points of comparison to relate them to. Was this set as compelling as the Hourglass NMINML jam from 2015? Musically, no way. I have been fortunate enough to see Phish on NYE several times and each time I know that there is more to what they are doing than a simple collection of songs being played. It is natural for one to want to find connection to the music just as we yearn for connection with other people. We want to be able to relate these experiences to what we know and understand or perhaps to foster questions about that which we do not comprehend. I know that my experience this year and in years past is different from what others got from the show. And I am probably reading more into this than ever intended by Trey and the band. But the very fact that this music can foster such thoughts in us is encouraging because it gives evidence to something that Mike Gordon once wrote to me on a postcard many many years ago after I sent in a letter to the band (the exact substance of which I have long since forgotten).

What you have written is far beyond the realm of a compliment. It’s an indication that the deeper thing – that deeper thing – is happening. Thanx so much.

Mike Gordon (Phish)

Art is defined by interpretation. Without context, real or projected, there is no meaning to it. To me that causes it to lose intrinsic value. We tend to shy away from this sort of perspective on the art that Phish creates or perhaps many of us do not view it in that construct. I am not here to say why that is. All I can do is reflect on what this music did for me and caused me to feel. At the root that is the goal, right? My interpretation is a product of what I observed visually, aurally, and physically along with the concepts I had swirling around my in head looking for external meaning or import. Phish provided the story and for that I thank them. I have found value in the experience that they gave me by way of their art.

 

 

I’ll Show You Mine If You Show Me Yours – My Final Fall 1996 Takeaways

Well, it has been a long and winding road to get here but today we finally get to the wrapping it up bit for our journey through the Phish Fall 1996 Tour. I have really enjoyed this entire thing and have gained an even bigger appreciation than I already had for this tour and year – and let’s face it, I was already a champion for it to begin with. We Phish fans like to throw around superlatives and proclamations about what era/year/tour/show/set/jam/run of notes is TEH BEST EVAR!!!! which gets to a whole ranking of art thing that is really not what I am about. That’s not to say that certain shows or songs don’t have versions that speak to us more directly (or more simply: that get our rocks off as hard). Personally, I find that getting too wrapped up in that way of thinking misses the point  though I understand the desire (need?) to do so. Avoiding all the obstacles that terrorize my view, I will instead give you a bit of where I am with this tour after putting in the considerable amount of time it has taken to get us here today. So without further ado, here are my personal thoughts and takeaways from this wonderfully entertaining run of thirty-five shows numbered here for list purposes but in no way ordered or ranked…

 

  1. While perhaps not as defined as other years, the prevailing sound and feel to 1996 and the Fall Tour in particular is unmistakable. This is a band in full control of their art doing what they do best while also working towards what will be perhaps the biggest evolution in their sound.
  2. If I had to give a name to the style of jamming Phish employs most regularly during this tour it would be “Percussive Groove” which is a term I have thrown into several posts. This type of jamming can but does not always include Trey hopping on the mini-kit.
  3. In this time period Phish was very open to having guests join them on stage, something they have been open about not wanting as much here and now. It doesn’t always work but sometimes it comes together in big ways resulting in unique takes on the music we know and love. And then sometimes it becomes something even more influential…
  4. The impact of Karl Perazzo’s “mini tour” with the band cannot be overstated. That first show in Tallahassee includes what I consider to be the first proto-cowfunk jam in Mike’s Song and by Coral Sky you can hear the excitement in their playing as they toy with this new found groove-based jamming. Obviously the practice and performance of Remain In Light is integral to this similar to how each Halloween album seems to fit with where the band is at that time and where they are headed.
  5. Speaking of Halloween, others have written about how covering the Talking Heads can be argued to be the most important of the costumes Phish has worn over the years in how it changed their sound. I definitely agree with this notion and all you have to do is listen to how this tour progresses to start nodding your head in support of that observation. Heck, they even as much as confirm it when talking to David Byrne himself.
  6. I’m not going to lie, I had a difficult time trimming the takeaways list down into a more manageable yet still pretty large final list. Some of this might be related to my personal preferences but I think it also speaks to just how well the band was playing throughout this tour.
  7. There is a pretty interesting argument to be made that parallels between 1996 and 2016 can be drawn. Huge high point the year prior, perceived slip “backwards” by some/many in the fanbase, notion that work on album has detracted from band’s live performances… which year am I referring to???
  8. Though I am not a ranker I do have some thoughts on end of tour awards. So here goes:
    1. My pick for Jam of the Tour goes to The Rupp Gin (11.07.1996). This multi-phased beast stands the test of time and combines all of the elements of the band in one wide-ranging piece of music.
    2. The song of the Tour is Simple. Each of the ten versions played has something worthwhile to take away (though you will see below that I did not include every one). I am very comfortable saying that this was the best tour for Simple in the band’s history. It really isn’t even close.
    3. Like Simple, a few other songs had notable highs for this tour. Disease, Hood, Reba, Mike’s, Tweezer, and even stuff like Ya Mar have multiple versions that are well worth your time. While the open psych jamming of 1995 is mostly missing on this tour where they take these songs is quite engaging and indicative of the larger points above regarding the band’s development and progression.
    4. The show of the Tour is a bit tougher to unravel. The easy answers are 10.31 (Atlanta) and 12.06 (Las Vegas) but depending on your favorite flavor of Phish I could understand arguments made for others like 11.02 (Coral Sky) or another of the PerazzoPhish shows, 11.07 (Rupp), or possibly even something like 11.15 (Kansas City) or 11.16 (Omaha). In the end you simply cannot deny the three sets of wonderful music they created on 10.31. As much as I laud 12.06 as a personal favorite that Halloween show stands out above the rest.
    5. Best sit-in of the tour is easy due to the PerazzoPhish thing but in terms of best sit-in song performance it has to be the Crosseyed from Coral Sky. I’m choosing that over perhaps one of my favorite one time covers they have ever done, The Great Curve, which should tell you something about what I think of that C&P.
    6. Biggest “holy crap I cannot believe what they just did” moment of the tour is The Note in the Omaha Hood. Just a shade under three minutes of Trey holding the sustain, egging the crowd on while the rest of the band goes off and elevates the thing to a ridiculous energy level. It might not be the objective ‘best’ Hood of the tour in a strong tour for the song but holy hell if you don’t get amped by that I’m not sure what to say.
    7. The runner up to The Note might be the wild ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ YEM from Kansas City. It wasn’t the first time they had done something like that in YEM but the way it develops explodes into that funkified dance party might just make you start laughing uncontrollably.
    8. Best bustout of the tour is All Along The Watchtower with Buddy Miles and Merl Saunders not just for the song but for the great version they played with those esteemed guests. As a reminder, do yourself the favor of watching the backstage videos that have popped up from that night. They are easily found on YouTube.
    9. Funniest on stage thing from the tour is a bit tougher to nail down simply because of the variances in what each person finds humorous. The entirety of the Harpua suite in Vegas tops the list for me but you might prefer the Fish stumbling through Bike in Lexington bit or the Mule->Catapult->Mule zaniness and that is perfectly okay.

Okay, that’s enough of that. Let’s get to the final playlist that you might have espied over there in the sidebar player.

 

I mentioned in my initial post about takeaways that I had pulled 176 tracks out as either ‘tier I’ or ‘tier II’ highlights from all of the shows for the tour. Well, as I started to go back through it I added in two more tracks to the list so it grew to 178. With this list in hand I went back and listened to every song on it again, taking notes along the way and bucketing songs into “yes” “no” and “maybe” for inclusion (or not) in the final list. After the first pass I still had 150+ tracks at either “yes” or “maybe” so I went back and cut it further to the list you will find below which comprises the 109 tracks that I feel are worthy of inclusion.

 

Before moving on I’ll just give the typical disclaimer that given 99 Phish fans there would be 99 different lists because we all listen to the same shows but hear the music differently based on where we come from, how that shapes us as listeners, and where we are in that moment. There should be no judgement of a person’s personal take on the music and no proclamations of certainty with respect to this art as both reactions serve nothing but the selfish aims of the judge and/or proclaimer. Trying to make objective claims about the subjective is fruitless and undermines our ability to find connection with others in discussing this wonderful music. You may not agree with what I value in this art and I may not agree with you but the fact that we are both engaged by it should be the basis for finding ways to engage with each other.

 

Okay, we good? Here’s my list with the scribblings I put for each just so you can see some of how I got to where I am on these.

fall 96 takeaways_Page_1fall 96 takeaways_Page_2fall 96 takeaways_Page_3

It’s a big list, I won’t lie. And there are several songs for which I included multiple versions for one reason or another. But this list to me gives you a good glimpse of what Fall 1996 Phish was all about from the big jams to the sit-ins to the bustouts to the crisply played standard stuff and beyond. If you are interested in listening to this outside of the player on this site I have uploaded it for you to take away yourself. Note please that I have included my spreadsheet of the culling for your referral and potential amusement in getting into my head on this. The two files break down such that PH.Fall96.Final.1.zip has everything through Sat. Louis (and includes the spreadsheet) while PH.Fall96.Final.2.zip has the rest of the tour starting in Omaha. All of the tracks here are mp3 auds from the sources on The Spreadsheet but if you like what you hear and are itching for sbds there are a few shows from this tour available for purchase at www.livephish.com, namely 10.31.1996, 11.02.1996, 11.07.96, and 12.06.1996. If you do grab the mp3 files linked here please note that there are a couple with id tagging errors due to where I pulled them from. This includes the two tracks from 11.03.1996 Gainesville not having any band/album info included and the 11.16.1996 Kansas City tracks being tagged as Nashville, TN for some reason.

 

Fall 1996 1 (Lake Placid through St. Louis)

Fall 1996 2 (Omaha through Las Vegas)

 

So there you have it! I’d love to hear what others took away from this tour so please feel welcome to comment here as I am certain that my musings on this tour are far from the only opinions out there.

 

I have one last Fall 1996 thing to post once I have it ready but that’s for another day. I’ll tease you by saying it is contest with a real live prize and everything but in order to win you will need to know your stuff about this tour. Start studying!

A Taste of Her Creation – The Base Takeaway Lists for Fall 1996

Now that we have finished working through the Fall 1996 Tour in total we can start diving in a bit deeper to pull out the true highlight moments from the shows. As we have gone along I have been adding all of the ‘takeaway’ highlights that I note for each show to the music player in the left sidebar. As the tour progressed that list became quite large, eventually including some 176 tracks or about 180 songs if you were to pull apart the tracks that have more than one song in them as well as to put the ‘jam’ tracks back in with the songs that precede them. Now, I’m a pretty gracious guy but that’s a playlist that is unwieldy even for the most dedicated listener to digest in a reasonable amount of time. I mean, it comes out to something like 35 hours of music for Icculus’ sake! Who could possibly listen to that much Phish? Don’t answer that.

 

Well, I am here to help you wade through the giant morass that I have created. The first step is breaking down the list into more manageable chunks. This says nothing about the relative subjective quality of the music to a particular listener as it is only one fan (me) putting their opinion to it. These are not rankings and they are not value judgments that diminish the in-house experience one may have had. Quite simply, it is just how I have categorized them after listening to each show multiple times and then this list again more than once and putting whatever form of order that I can without getting too persnickety and analytical about the whole thing. I would expect that pretty much every other fan’s list would be at least slightly different but that will lead into the big philosophical discussion we don’t need to have since we are all adults here (kind of) and can understand how this all works (aside:  Heraclitus 4 lyphe yo!). That being said, here’s a couple of (rhetorical) quandaries I pondered while doing this…

  • what makes one ‘type I’ version of a song better than another? Is it the number of notes Trey plays? The interaction with the crowd? Something else more abstract?
  • Is it possible that every single Simple and maybe even Disease from this tour could be included? I mean, is there a point at which too much of a certain type of goodness becomes TOO MUCH?
  • Is there more value in a quick funk vamp jam than in something more old school simply because it is something they hadn’t shown us previously?
  • How the heck do you pick which of all of these wonderful Hoods to include?
  • Does anything that has a sit-in deserve to be included or just the really big stuff?
  • How long of a list is too long?
  • Am I overthinking this?

You know, that kind of stuff. But before we get to that level let’s look at the raw lists which can be listened to over there to the left if you want. Just don’t dilly dally as I will be updating the playlist to be the final ‘top takeaways’ once I have completed that whole thing. You have been warned! These lists are chronological so don’t be coming at me with any of that rankings bullshit. And in case you are wondering, the playlist is chronological with the tier one first followed by any tier two for each night, respectively.

 

Fall 1996 Tour – Raw “Tier One” Takeaways

Song Date Venue City
Down with Disease 10/16/1996 Olympic Center Lake Placid, NY
Simple 10/16/1996 Olympic Center Lake Placid, NY
Scent of a Mule 10/17/1996 Bruce Jordan Center, PSU State College, PA
David Bowie 10/17/1996 Bruce Jordan Center, PSU State College, PA
Maze 10/18/1996 Civic Arena Pittsburgh, PA
You Enjoy Myself 10/18/1996 Civic Arena Pittsburgh, PA
Reba 10/18/1996 Civic Arena Pittsburgh, PA
Down with Disease 10/19/1996 Marine Midland Arena Buffalo, NY
Split Open and Melt 10/19/1996 Marine Midland Arena Buffalo, NY
Reba 10/21/1996 Madison Square Garden New York, NY
Simple 10/21/1996 Madison Square Garden New York, NY
Split Open and Melt 10/22/1996 Madison Square Garden New York, NY
Down with Disease 10/22/1996 Madison Square Garden New York, NY
Weekapaug Groove 10/22/1996 Madison Square Garden New York, NY
All Along the Watchtower 10/22/1996 Madison Square Garden New York, NY
Ya Mar 10/23/1996 Hartford Civic Center Hartford, CT
Tweezer 10/23/1996 Hartford Civic Center Hartford, CT
The Squirming Coil 10/25/1996 Hampton Coliseum Hampton, VA
Harry Hood 10/25/1996 Hampton Coliseum Hampton, VA
Reba 10/26/1996 Charlotte Coliseum Charlotte, NC
It’s Ice 10/26/1996 Charlotte Coliseum Charlotte, NC
Simple 10/26/1996 Charlotte Coliseum Charlotte, NC
Scent of a Mule 10/27/1996 North Charleston Coliseum North Charleston, SC
Catapult 10/27/1996 North Charleston Coliseum North Charleston, SC
Scent of a Mule 10/27/1996 North Charleston Coliseum North Charleston, SC
Split Open and Melt 10/27/1996 North Charleston Coliseum North Charleston, SC
Taste 10/27/1996 North Charleston Coliseum North Charleston, SC
Taste 10/29/1996 Leon County Civic Center Tallahassee, FL
Stash 10/29/1996 Leon County Civic Center Tallahassee, FL
Rift 10/29/1996 Leon County Civic Center Tallahassee, FL
Mike’s Song 10/29/1996 Leon County Civic Center Tallahassee, FL
Down with Disease 10/31/1996 The Omni Atlanta, GA
Reba 10/31/1996 The Omni Atlanta, GA
Crosseyed and Painless 10/31/1996 The Omni Atlanta, GA
The Great Curve 10/31/1996 The Omni Atlanta, GA
Simple 10/31/1996 The Omni Atlanta, GA
Suzy Greenberg 10/31/1996 The Omni Atlanta, GA
Ya Mar 11/2/1996 Coral Sky Ampitheater West Palm Beach, FL
Crosseyed and Painless 11/2/1996 Coral Sky Ampitheater West Palm Beach, FL
Run Like an Antelope 11/2/1996 Coral Sky Ampitheater West Palm Beach, FL
Harry Hood 11/2/1996 Coral Sky Ampitheater West Palm Beach, FL
Divided Sky 11/3/1996 O’Connell Center, UF Gainesville, FL
Tweezer 11/3/1996 O’Connell Center, UF Gainesville, FL
Mike’s Song 11/6/1996 Knoxville Civic Coliseum Knoxville, TN
Jam 11/6/1996 Knoxville Civic Coliseum Knoxville, TN
Suzy Greenberg 11/7/1996 Rupp Arena, UK Lexington, KY
Bathtub Gin 11/7/1996 Rupp Arena, UK Lexington, KY
Hold Your Head Up > Bike > Hold Your Head Up 11/7/1996 Rupp Arena, UK Lexington, KY
You Enjoy Myself 11/7/1996 Rupp Arena, UK Lexington, KY
Reba 11/8/1996 Assembly Hall, UI Champaign, IL
Maze 11/8/1996 Assembly Hall, UI Champaign, IL
Simple 11/8/1996 Assembly Hall, UI Champaign, IL
Mike’s Song 11/8/1996 Assembly Hall, UI Champaign, IL
You Enjoy Myself 11/9/1996 Palace of Auburn Hills Auburn Hills, MI
Harry Hood 11/9/1996 Palace of Auburn Hills Auburn Hills, MI
Divided Sky 11/11/1996 Van Andel Arena Grand Rapids, MI
Tweezer 11/11/1996 Van Andel Arena Grand Rapids, MI
Suzy Greenberg 11/13/1996 Target Center Minneapolis, MN
Julius 11/14/1996 Hilton Coliseum Ames, IA
Makisupa Policeman 11/15/1996 Keil Center St. Louis, MO
Maze 11/15/1996 Keil Center St. Louis, MO
Mike’s Song 11/15/1996 Keil Center St. Louis, MO
Mean Mr. Mustard 11/15/1996 Keil Center St. Louis, MO
Weekapaug Groove 11/15/1996 Keil Center St. Louis, MO
Funky Bitch 11/15/1996 Keil Center St. Louis, MO
David Bowie 11/16/1996 Civic Auditorium Omaha, NE
Runaway Jim 11/16/1996 Civic Auditorium Omaha, NE
Harry Hood 11/16/1996 Civic Auditorium Omaha, NE
Chalk Dust Torture 11/18/1996 Mid-South Coliseum Memphis, TN
Reba 11/18/1996 Mid-South Coliseum Memphis, TN
Also Sprach Zarathustra 11/18/1996 Mid-South Coliseum Memphis, TN
Simple 11/18/1996 Mid-South Coliseum Memphis, TN
Scent of a Mule 11/18/1996 Mid-South Coliseum Memphis, TN
David Bowie 11/19/1996 Municipal Auditorium Kansas City, MO
Bathtub Gin 11/19/1996 Municipal Auditorium Kansas City, MO
The Vibration of Life 11/19/1996 Municipal Auditorium Kansas City, MO
You Enjoy Myself 11/19/1996 Municipal Auditorium Kansas City, MO
Theme From the Bottom 11/22/1996 Spokane Arena Spokane, WA
Split Open and Melt 11/23/1996 Pacifc Coliseum Vancouver, BC
Mike’s Song 11/23/1996 Pacifc Coliseum Vancouver, BC
Simple 11/23/1996 Pacifc Coliseum Vancouver, BC
Axilla 11/23/1996 Pacifc Coliseum Vancouver, BC
Weekapaug Groove 11/23/1996 Pacifc Coliseum Vancouver, BC
Harry Hood 11/23/1996 Pacifc Coliseum Vancouver, BC
Reba 11/24/1996 Memorial Coliseum Portland, OR
Also Sprach Zarathustra 11/24/1996 Memorial Coliseum Portland, OR
David Bowie 11/24/1996 Memorial Coliseum Portland, OR
Character Zero 11/24/1996 Memorial Coliseum Portland, OR
Down with Disease 11/27/1996 Key Arena Seattle, WA
Tweezer > Sweet Emotion 11/27/1996 Key Arena Seattle, WA
Down with Disease 11/27/1996 Key Arena Seattle, WA
Maze 11/29/1996 Cow Palace Daly City, CA
Simple 11/29/1996 Cow Palace Daly City, CA
Sparks 11/29/1996 Cow Palace Daly City, CA
You Enjoy Myself 11/29/1996 Cow Palace Daly City, CA
Punch You In the Eye 11/30/1996 ARCO Arena Sacramento, CA
It’s Ice 11/30/1996 ARCO Arena Sacramento, CA
Also Sprach Zarathustra 11/30/1996 ARCO Arena Sacramento, CA
Timber (Jerry) 11/30/1996 ARCO Arena Sacramento, CA
Taste 11/30/1996 ARCO Arena Sacramento, CA
Funky Bitch 11/30/1996 ARCO Arena Sacramento, CA
Amazing Grace 11/30/1996 ARCO Arena Sacramento, CA
Possum 11/30/1996 ARCO Arena Sacramento, CA
Tweezer 12/1/1996 Pauley Pavilion, UCLA Los Angeles, CA
Simple 12/1/1996 Pauley Pavilion, UCLA Los Angeles, CA
A Day in the Life 12/1/1996 Pauley Pavilion, UCLA Los Angeles, CA
Reba 12/1/1996 Pauley Pavilion, UCLA Los Angeles, CA
Ya Mar 12/2/1996 America West Arena Phoenix, AZ
Taste 12/2/1996 America West Arena Phoenix, AZ
Harry Hood 12/2/1996 America West Arena Phoenix, AZ
Mike’s Song 12/4/1996 Sports Arena San Diego, CA
Jesus Just Left Chicago 12/4/1996 Sports Arena San Diego, CA
Also Sprach Zarathustra 12/6/1996 The Alladian Theatre Las Vegas, NV
You Enjoy Myself 12/6/1996 The Alladian Theatre Las Vegas, NV
Down with Disease 12/6/1996 The Alladian Theatre Las Vegas, NV
Julius 12/6/1996 The Alladian Theatre Las Vegas, NV
Mike’s Song 12/6/1996 The Alladian Theatre Las Vegas, NV
Simple > Jam 12/6/1996 The Alladian Theatre Las Vegas, NV
Harry Hood 12/6/1996 The Alladian Theatre Las Vegas, NV
Weekapaug Groove 12/6/1996 The Alladian Theatre Las Vegas, NV
Harpua > Wildwood Weed > Harpua > I Want To Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart > Harpua 12/6/1996 The Alladian Theatre Las Vegas, NV
Harpua 12/6/1996 The Alladian Theatre Las Vegas, NV
Suzy Greenberg 12/6/1996 The Alladian Theatre Las Vegas, NV

 

Fall 1996 Tour – Raw “Tier Two” Takeaways

Song Date Venue City
Swept Away > Steep 10/16/1996 Olympic Center Lake Placid, NY
Stash 10/18/1996 Civic Arena Pittsburgh, PA
Divided Sky 10/18/1996 Civic Arena Pittsburgh, PA
Harry Hood 10/18/1996 Civic Arena Pittsburgh, PA
Julius 10/18/1996 Civic Arena Pittsburgh, PA
Free 10/19/1996 Marine Midland Arena Buffalo, NY
AC/DC Bag 10/19/1996 Marine Midland Arena Buffalo, NY
Stash 10/21/1996 Madison Square Garden New York, NY
Runaway Jim 10/22/1996 Madison Square Garden New York, NY
Theme From the Bottom 10/23/1996 Hartford Civic Center Hartford, CT
Down with Disease 10/26/1996 Charlotte Coliseum Charlotte, NC
You Enjoy Myself 10/26/1996 Charlotte Coliseum Charlotte, NC
Ya Mar 10/27/1996 North Charleston Coliseum North Charleston, SC
David Bowie 10/29/1996 Leon County Civic Center Tallahassee, FL
Colonel Forbin’s Ascent 10/31/1996 The Omni Atlanta, GA
Fly Famous Mockingbird 10/31/1996 The Omni Atlanta, GA
Born Under Punches (The Heat Goes On) 10/31/1996 The Omni Atlanta, GA
Listening Wind 10/31/1996 The Omni Atlanta, GA
Prince Caspian 10/31/1996 The Omni Atlanta, GA
Julius 11/2/1996 Coral Sky Ampitheater West Palm Beach, FL
Free 11/2/1996 Coral Sky Ampitheater West Palm Beach, FL
Funky Bitch 11/2/1996 Coral Sky Ampitheater West Palm Beach, FL
Possum 11/3/1996 O’Connell Center, UF Gainesville, FL
Split Open and Melt 11/6/1996 Knoxville Civic Coliseum Knoxville, TN
Weekapaug Groove 11/6/1996 Knoxville Civic Coliseum Knoxville, TN
Gumbo 11/11/1996 Van Andel Arena Grand Rapids, MI
Reba 11/13/1996 Target Center Minneapolis, MN
Cars Trucks Buses 11/14/1996 Hilton Coliseum Ames, IA
Demand 11/14/1996 Hilton Coliseum Ames, IA
McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters 11/15/1996 Keil Center St. Louis, MO
La Grange 11/16/1996 Civic Auditorium Omaha, NE
We’re an American Band 11/16/1996 Civic Auditorium Omaha, NE
Tweezer 11/18/1996 Mid-South Coliseum Memphis, TN
Tweezer Reprise 11/18/1996 Mid-South Coliseum Memphis, TN
Llama 11/18/1996 Mid-South Coliseum Memphis, TN
Stash 11/19/1996 Municipal Auditorium Kansas City, MO
Taste 11/19/1996 Municipal Auditorium Kansas City, MO
Stash 11/22/1996 Spokane Arena Spokane, WA
Down with Disease 11/22/1996 Spokane Arena Spokane, WA
Midnight on the Highway 11/23/1996 Pacifc Coliseum Vancouver, BC
You Enjoy Myself 11/24/1996 Memorial Coliseum Portland, OR
AC/DC Bag 11/24/1996 Memorial Coliseum Portland, OR
Theme From the Bottom 11/27/1996 Key Arena Seattle, WA
Harry Hood 11/29/1996 Cow Palace Daly City, CA
Taste 11/29/1996 Cow Palace Daly City, CA
The Old Home Place 11/30/1996 ARCO Arena Sacramento, CA
Uncle Pen 11/30/1996 ARCO Arena Sacramento, CA
La Grange 11/30/1996 ARCO Arena Sacramento, CA
Down with Disease 12/1/1996 Pauley Pavilion, UCLA Los Angeles, CA
Divided Sky 12/2/1996 America West Arena Phoenix, AZ
Free 12/2/1996 America West Arena Phoenix, AZ
David Bowie 12/4/1996 Sports Arena San Diego, CA
Reba 12/4/1996 Sports Arena San Diego, CA

 

SEE??? I told you the lists were massive. I listen to a lot of Phish – I mean A LOT OF PHISH – but even for me that is a tad much. So stay tuned because I’ll have a revised list of just the tippety top highlights for you to take away here in our next posting. Plus we need to go through the end of tour stats too because that is always quite entertaining and educational as well… But for now? Go get ’em, tiger!

And We Play Bebop in the Band – Las Vegas, NV 12.06.1996

Phish — The Aladdin Theatre — Las Vegas, NV 12.06.1996

I  Wilson>Peaches>Poor Heart>2001>Llama, YEM, CTB>Disease>Frankenstein

II  Julius, Sparkle>Mike’s>Simple>Hood>Paug, Adeline, GTBT

E  Harpua->Wildwood Weed->Harpua->I Want to Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart->Harpua->Suspicious Minds->Harpua, Suzy

The final show of a tour is something of a culmination, an opportunity to revel in everything that has come before it, and a chance to reflect back on how we have gotten here just a mere month or two since starting out. It is also a grand celebration and the last time to throw down with several thousand of your best friends knowing that you won’t have this opportunity to dance to Phish music for some time after this night. Musically, these shows can either be very fulfilling with jams galore and perhaps a few knowing nods to what developed over the tour or sometimes the last show can be more of a party where the music is secondary to the celebration. Neither one is bad by any means and with the variety of people who attend shows (particularly these days…) what might not work for one fan could be the best possible show for another. But if you add in a destination like, oh, I don’t know, LAS VEGAS to the equation? Well, my friend, you have the ingredients for one of those nights when everything just seems to come together perfectly.

 

This was the first time that Phish had played Las Vegas since… hang on. Wait. This can’t be… They really hadn’t ever played in Las Vegas before this night? Really?? Huh. That just can’t be, can it? It can? Okay, well, um… I guess we will have to move right into talking about the show then.

 

This is weird. I don’t know what to do without a couple hundred words full of links about shows gone by. Just roll with it? Well, if I say so…

 

This show along with being the tour ender and first time in Las Vegas for the band is the singular time they played at the Aladdin Theater, a venue now called the The AXIS (would that Phish could play Bold as Love there but we’re too big for this room now…). It is located in the Planet Hollywood hotel/casino though back in 1996 it was, somewhat obviously, named the Aladdin Resort & Casino. These things change a lot in that town as we know. Future visits to the city that birthed countless bad decisions would be at the much larger Thomas & Mack Center (the home to UNLV basketball amongst other arena-sized events) and lately the MGM Grand Garden Arena but those are for another time. Today we tackle this wonderfully Phishy night that saw the band and fans celebrating the end to another top notch Fall with some of the over-the-top lunacy that only a place like Las Vegas can beckon.

 

Before we get too far, let’s give you a few places to check out this show outside of the somewhat muddy auds on the typical streaming sites. First and foremost is the spotify of the ‘standard edition’ release of the show. I swear the ‘limited edition’ used to be on there but I’m not finding it anymore. You can also purchase the standard release at Dry Goods, naturally. The aforementioned Limited Release came with a DVD with video of the show from the 2001 through the end which is high quality stuff if you can find it as well as a CD called “Road to Vegas” that had several tracks from the tour leading up to that night:  11.09.1996 Melt, 11.03.1996 Tweezer, 11.07.1996 Gin, 11.18.1996 Simple, and 11.30.1996 Amazing Grace>Amazing Grace jam. All of those are things we have highlighted here along the path of this tour. There’s a less-than-awesome rip of the video on YouTube if you want to at least see what is up with all that went down but I would recommend seeking out the higher quality version if you can find it (I once saw it as an On Demand offering on Fios about five years ago which made for a fun surprise viewing).

 

Okay, I think that gets us where we want to be here.

Everybody ready? Show cued up and volume cranked? Let’s do it!

 

The band comes out with purpose, dropping into the crowd-pleasing Gamehendge rocker Wilson to warm up and get the crowd involved from the start. They crank right though this one (the sixth of tour) and drop into the second Peaches en Regalia of the tour (joining the nod to FZ in his hometown of LA a few nights prior). This one is clean and mean as they have clearly been practicing it and leads into Poor Heart for our typical third song first set bluegrass romp. Continuing the string they extend the outro here into a bit of spacey murk where Trey is pulling, Mike is pushing, and Page plinks around on the effects until Fish snaps the beat and we are into 2001! Not a song you expect to here mid first set, from the start there’s a swagger here that has been building over the past few versions this tour. Trey comes in with the Superbad beat, plays some searching lines above the groove. They patiently sit in this pocket until after the five minute mark when they finally get to the first ‘refrain’, dropping back into an infectious funk groove. Trey is plucking out staccato rhythm lines as the dance party goes big time and then after the final ‘refrain’ they go back to some noisy, distorted murk that erupts into Llama. Trey is on point here, shredding the hell out of this fast paced version (Page has a really fast run through his organ solo too) as they tempt the fans to keep up with non-stop action here five songs into the set. After a minuscule stop to allow everyone to catch their breath they start up You Enjoy Myself, yet another oddly placed vehicle here in the middle of the first set. By now you have to be thinking “holy crap, they are really going for it tonight” which might be one of the more obvious notions your expanded head has ever thrown at you at a show. This YEM starts out with beautifully played Pre and Nirvana sections before they swell up towards the collective release and start to the lyrical section and move to the tramps/jam section(s). Once through the tramps Trey starts playing the funk comp chords you will really get to know and love if you dive headlong into the ’97 cowfunk, allowing Page to do his thing on the organ. After a bit Trey shifts to lead, starting way down with sparse runs of notes featuring elongated tones as fish metronomes behind him. They almost get to a stop-start jam but then Mike hits the fight bell and Trey starts his climb, toying around that typical YEM thematic lead before elevating into a rocking full band jam. Trey is laying waste to it while Fish pounds down and just before they hit the inevitable peak Trey lets his guitar fade out with distortion and heads to the minikit. As he and Fish play Rhythm Devils Mike takes charge on bass, keeping this non-stop dance anthem going hard. After a couple of minutes here they head into the VJ which normally I wouldn’t pay too much heed in this space but it is one of my favorites being the “Donuts I Love Donuts” VJ which is catchy and fun and just perfectly phishy all at once.

 

Now we get our first real breather of the night with NOPE! Instead of letting up they go into Cars Trucks Buses for the thirteenth time this tour (tied for third most overall…). This stays close to form with Page taking charge and playing brightly until the move into Down With Disease. Another oft played tune this tour, Disease stays at home within structure but pops with that massive type I energetic feel as Trey trills above the chugging groove pocket. There is benefit in having played this song so much over the course of the tour as this version is clean and nailed in the way that only a song you play frequently can be. It is almost an auto-pilot jam it feels so effortless. After bringing it back around to the traditional Disease close that we so rarely get these days they put an exclamation point on the set with a raucous Frankenstein. Trey gives us The Lie and then it is off to figure out how many hands of blackjack you can get in during the setbreak while concurrently arguing with your friends about how many shows this tour even have second sets as good as that first one was. Honestly, if you saw that setlist for a second frame here in 3.0 you’d be pretty excited to hear it, wouldn’t you? It’s okay. You can admit it. This is a safe place. There there now. It’s going to be aaaaaaallllll right. Now go get me some nachos.

 

You back yet? Okay, so after a lot of high-fiving and caterwauling and whatnot about how fantastic that first set was you settle into your spot for this final set of Phish before the few weeks’ break leading up to the New Year’s Run starting in Philly. You are kind of expecting a big Tweezer here seeing that they played Mike’s the other night and it had been a few since the last Tweezer but once the lights drop all that speculating goes by the wayside as Trey starts in with the recognizable “doo-doo-do-duh” that gives us Julius. I’ve said it before this tour and it holds true here as well: Trey really really can shred the shit out of Julius. This high energy, rollicking second set opener just continues the celebration of the tour they started from note one in the first set and along with the Sparkle that follows fits the bill in getting everyone back into the right headspace to get to the dancing for the remainder of the show. The Sparkle (non-FMS, of course) butts up against the start of our first real vehicle which surprisingly ends up being Mike’s Song considering what we mentioned just above. Thankfully, they were pretty good at jamming this song back then so even though it might not have gone next level like the one from San Diedo or even St. Louis (or Knoxville… or Tallahassee… they are all in the sidebar playlist there…) it gets a bit dark in the jam as Trey toys around the theme with Page and Mike eventually following him as they start to break down out of Mike’s, coming back to it with a repeated “siren” two note phrase by Trey that drips with musical tension. Knowing that the drop into the transition is just waiting to happen. There is no overt move into a second jam tonight as they play in this frenetic space for several minutes, pulsing in and around the Mike’s Song theme before Trey finally brings it up to the major key peak and move into… Simple! Well, of course. This has been the Simple Tour now hasn’t it? Well, for the capstone version of the tour they go for it big time, seemingly picking up where another version of this jam left off. Trey shines in the early, type I section, peeling off beautiful lines. The band connects and drops down to a quieter, slower pace around the seven minute mark with Page’s piano matching Trey in the beauty department. All are involved at this point and it feels like it could slip into nothingness or continue on in this way forever as you hug yourself, swaying with closed eyes and feeling the cool breeze of the air conditioning fans brushing against your face, the ever present smile you brought with you beaming forth like  the best CK5 light show there is. A few minutes of this loveliness later Trey begins to speed up his lead, interjecting new ideas into the groove and the band follows as they begin to build towards some kind of transition or end peak. But then Trey hits on a dirty groove, the band joins him and we are into another phase altogether. This is the true move out of Simple proper but still evokes Simple in some sense. After only a minute or so of this Trey moves again, this time more back to Simple than away but still in a new, fresh direction. Fish changes the beat as we move past the sixteen minute mark and they hit on a percussive groove as it starts to all break down with Page being the one continuing the melody. After one last Trey lead idea that Page matches it is clear this has now run its course, evidenced by Fish adding some soft, all but incomprehensible lyric to it and the band resolves to move on. Fish hits the start of Harry Hood and your smile widens even more (you really are going to have some tired cheeks after this night) as they play in the ‘reggae’ intro. Trey hits a couple of whistle wahs, Mike hits the fight bell and then as they get into the song proper Trey hits some more toys on his mini-kit as we get to the lyrics. Once to the jam this Hood elevates like all the great ones do, first with Page tinkling the electric piano keys in that way that gets all the hairs on your neck standing at attention as Trey patiently works on that slow-build crescendo. Within only a few moments you are right back in that blissful space that Simple begat, feeling all the love there could possibly be flowing down over you in bits of musical joy. Suddenly you notice that as Trey is building again with Mike adding his flair and Page lifting it higher the syncopated groove is intertwining all around you. We are off to the run at the peak now but still a ways to go before getting there so you open your eyes and realize the entire room is just as lost in this as you are, causing you to whoop out in spontaneous joy. They keep building the tension until finally Trey erupts over the rest of the band, taking the reins of this before it spins out of control, and riding it into the glorious end peak resolution this song hangs its hat on. In recognition of a jam well done Mike nails the fight bell a few times and then kicks off the Weekapaug Groove beat as Trey’s final guitar line continues to sustain in the fading distance. At this point it is all almost too much but you came here to get down and getting down is exactly what this Paug will make you do. They set up a funk pocket with Page toying on the organ first and then Trey comes in with an almost-but-not-quite 3rd Stone From The Sun tease but instead kicks it over to Page for a big piano-heavy jam with Fish just pounding away in the back and Mike dropping big behind. Trey sets a loop and joins Fish on percussion for a bit until he soars up over the groove with those tell tale Trey leads. Suddenly he kicks the band into a stop/start jam where everyone is going NUTS somehow divergent but still in the same direction. They bring it all the way down to ‘pin drop’ space (pretty sure you can even hear Fish say “yeah” on the SBDs) before EXPLODING into the final run at the Paug peak. This is pure glory Phish at this point where seemingly everything they do blows the room up and you can hear that the band and crowd know it even on the tape. As they come to a close here you realize you haven’t stopped moving in about seventy minutes so it’s a good thing for you that they come up for air in the wake of this Paug. Here, finally, Phish realizes that they along with the crowd might need a sip of water or at least a few deep breaths so they come to the front of the stage for an un-mic’d Sweet Adeline (which is pretty much not captured on the tapes, of course). Then, to bring this set home they crank into a shreddy Good Times Bad Times, a perfectly fitting capper to a big time night of music. Man, what a set. What a show! Any encore they do here is just gravy, am I right?

 

Heh. Hehehe. HAHAHAHAHA!!

 

Yeah, “gravy”. Sure. That’s all it is…

 

Okay, if you don’t know this about me, I have another little project that I started a bunch of years back that kinda totally completely petered out as I had a lot of other things biding for my time like a new kid, new job, etc. etc. Anyway, I have a now-long-not-updated blog called Me and Harpua where I was going to go through every Harpua ever played to dissect that wonderfully odd second class Gamehendge storytime tune about our pal Jimmy, his cat Poster the Nutbag, and that fat sweaty bulldog Harpua. Suffice it to say, I am a huge fan of the song and I have been lucky enough to have caught it seven times over the years but STILL NOT ONCE in 3.0 dang it! So you can imagine that when I talked to friends who were at this Vegas show and saw it pop up on the setlists at rec.music.phish I was geeked and intrigued to hear what this version entailed. The prior version had been left unfinished at The Clifford Ball due to a bit of a technical malfunction with the stunt they were trying to employ (a story for another time, perhaps…) and while the various versions aren’t tied together in any conceivable way it still was something I and others really wanted to find out about after this show. So when you hear Trey come out and welcome Larry LaLonde and old friend Les Claypool to the stage at the start of the encore and then they sing that oh so wonderful “oom pa pa oom pa pa oom pa paaaaa” intro line to Harpua the squee factor goes to eleven in a hurry. From the start, something here is… different… but unless you know a bit about music you might not realize that it is because they are playing the song in 4/4 time instead of its typical, somewhat odd 7/4 time. The addition of Larry’s jangly guitar is a neat add-on here but it is clear Trey is thrown off in singing to this different beat. They work through that (and honestly, this song is not about hitting every note as much as it is in getting to the story) and then while playing that same Harpua melody Les does his talking jive thing based on an old song called Wildwood Weed by Don Bowman (here’s a take by Jim Stafford). The lyrics fit right in as you will see and kind of set the mood for all that we don’t yet know is to come. They pop right back into Harpua at the start of storytime and Trey gets to the telling, beginning to weave the tale of the next chapter in the world of our pal Jimmy. I won’t go into full detail here as if you aren’t familiar it really is a story that deserves your time but the main gist is that Jimmy is on his way to Las Vegas and things go sideways as they tend to do for him. As the tale progresses Jimmy sets camp for the night and he and Poster end up singing (nay, yodeling!) a song by the campfire which cues some folks to come out to help the band play that song, I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart, a classic country yodeling yarn by Patsy Montana. Tonight it is performed by The Yodeling Cowgirls (naturally) with Phish, Larry, Les, and our newish friend John McEuen helping them out. After that fun interlude Trey gets back to the story and Jimmy’s journey to Vegas, resulting in him running into a pack of Elvii. So as one would expect, three Elvis impersonators come to the stage and along with Fish decked out in his own Elvis cape which we last saw on 10.29.1996 back in Tallahassee. Trey goes to Fish’s kit and we get Suspicious Minds because what else would they play here, this one a particularly memorable version – particularly considering it still stands as the last time they have played it to date. This stands to be a battle between “Jimmy” (i.e. Fish) and the other Elvii to allow him to enter the city, which he does, and then Trey continues on with his tale of Jimmy’s quest to make a lot of money in Vegas only to have our antagonist show up, moving the story on to the fight and resolution phase. After finishing this up they pop right into Suzy Greenberg and EVERYONE comes back to the stage for the party. So that’s Phish, Larry LaLonde, Les Claypool, John McEuen, the Elvii, the Yodeling Cowgirls (dancing), and just for good measure the actor Courtney Gains who you might know from Children of the Corn or another classic 80s flick hops on Trey’s minikit as well. The Suzy stretches out and then at some point on of the Elvii starts interjecting Suzie Q, the Credence Clearwater Revival tune, and the band catches on and they play that out until the big finish. Yes, that is the end to the show, finally, and what an ending it is. There are some pretty memorable encores that this band has played over the years but very few can match this one. And just like that the show and tour are over and all that is left is the hugging and reveling in what just went down before scattering off into the harsh light of the Las Vegas night.

 

I know that as soon as I write this someone will have an opposing view but for my money there really isn’t a tour ending show that can top this one. It has a bit of everything that we love about Phish from the tight, energetic playing to the open jamming to the antics to the mythos and storytelling and more. The band is in celebration mode but not in a fashion that detracts from the music which is as good as you could want in this context. Both sets and the encore are worthy of your time and energy in the listening, giving us a good summary of where this tour has come from and brought us to in the end. There are five songs in this show that were played way back in the opener from Lake Placid and every one has so much more to offer than those versions from just under two months ago. More than that, the jams in this show pull together a lot of the ideas that have been percolating over that time, none more so than this Simple. Some will make the quite reasonable argument that the Memphis Simple from 11.18.1996 is the top version of the tour but this Vegas one feels like they are writing the end of tour essay on “How Simple Grew Up During Fall Tour 1996” that no one bothered to assign them. The Hood has a similar feel as does the Down with Disease where all of these are perhaps not the best singular version of each song from the tour but do quite well in representing the Fall 1996 vibe and sound. I’ll have more to say about that vibe/sound in the summary posts to follow. For now let’s get to the takeaways from this night which are many. The first tier are 2001, YEM, Disease, Julius, the whole Mike’s>Simple>Hood>Paug sequence, and the entirety of the encore suite Harpua->Wildwood Weed->Harpua->I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart->Harpua->Suspicious Minds->Harpua->Suzy. Second tier? Well, let’s just say that everything worth plucking out here is top notch and you really should just spin the whole thing since the songs I left out there are all worthy of second tier status at worst. Call this fluffing, sure, but note that this is not a show I attended so there’s no attendance bias at play so that’s just me finding this show to be so very very good. This tour has provided us with a quite lengthy list of potential top notch takeaways to get through and this show doesn’t happen without all that brought us here. I love this show and have spun it probably as much as any other show  Phish has played. It is a great one to give people who like to say 1996 is the lull between 1995 and 1997 as it has a lot of the elements that make those two years so great all in one place. So if you haven’t been listening along while reading or are perhaps not familiar with this show, go do yourself a favor and spin this one loud. You will not be disappointed.

Where Palm Trees Dipped – San Diego, CA 12.04.1996

Phish — Sports Arena — San Diego, CA 12.04.1996

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

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

E  JJLC

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Thanks as always for following along…

 

With Meaningless Excitement – Phoenix, AZ 12.02.1996

Phish — America West Arena — Phoenix, AZ 12.02.1996

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

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

E  Fire

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Phish — Pauley Pavilion — Los Angeles, CA 12.01.1996

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

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

E  HTH

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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