That Time Then and Once Again -Portland, OR 11.24.1996

Phish — Memorial Coliseum — Portland, OR 11.24.1996

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

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

E  Ginseng>Cavern

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

And The Stars Are All Aglow – Vancouver, BC 11.23.1996

Phish — Pacific Coliseum — Vancouver, BC 11.23.1996

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

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

E  GTBT

 

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

 

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

 

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

nov_96_4h-150x150

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Slipping on the Friction Slide – Spokane, WA 11.22.1996

Phish — Spokane Arena — Spokane, WA  11.22.1996

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

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

E  Julius 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Phish — Municipal Auditorium — Kansas City, MO 11.19.1996

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

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

E  Coil

 

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

 

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

 

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

Set I

Set II

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

And It Sings A Pretty Tune – Memphis, TN 11.18.1996

Phish — Mid-South Coliseum — Memphis, TN 11.18.1996

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

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

E  Waste, JBG

 

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

96 first leg routing

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Phish — Civic Auditorium — Omaha, NE 11.16.1996

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

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

E  We’re an American Band

 

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

 

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

 

::checks imaginary wristwatch::

::stares longingly out of window::

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Phish — Kiel Center — St. Louis, MO 11.15.1996

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

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

E  Funky Bitch

 

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

 

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

set one

set two

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Phish — Hilton Coliseum — Ames, IA 11.14.1996

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

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

E  Stash, Hello My Baby

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Drown Beneath the Undertow – Minneapolis, MN 11.13.1996

Phish — Target Center — Minneapolis, MN 11.13.1996

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

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

E  GTBT

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

That’s probably enough for now…

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

Phish — Van Andel Arena — Grand Rapids, MI 11.11.1996

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

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

E  Waste, Cavern

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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