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

Phish — Pauley Pavilion — Los Angeles, CA 12.01.1996

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

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

E  HTH

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

What It’s Doing To Me Is Fine – Sacramento, CA 11.30.1996

Phish — ARCO Arena — Sacramento, CA 11.30.1996

I  Jim>PYITE, ATR, Bouncin’, Stash, Fluffhead, OHP, Uncle Pen, Caspian>CDT

II  La Grange, Ice>Glide, Brother, Contact>2001>Timber Ho!>Taste, Funky Bitch, Amazing Grace, Amazing Grace Jam

E  Possum

 

After spending Friday night in the Bay Area Phish headed northeast to the capital for a Saturday night affair at the ARCO Arena in Sacramento. You may know the venue by its current corporate moniker, Sleep Train Arena, which is not to be confused with the Sleep Train Amphitheatre in Chula Vista some 500 miles to the south near San Diego which itself was once the Coors Amphitheatre and Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre at various points in its history. Nor is it to be confused with the original ARCO Arena that was built as the temporary home to the Sacramento Kings when they moved from Kansas City in 1985 and which holds the distinction of being the first NBA arena with corporate naming rights, something that is de rigueur these days. These confusions are part of why I will always call Great Woods, Deer Creek, Pine Knob, and so many other of the “lost” names in our venue lore. But money’s a powerful drug so yeah. Anyway, now subsumed-by-evil-BP-oil-company-named ARCO Arena was the place for this show on 11.30.1996. Let’s check out the history here in Sactown, shall we?

 

I was a bit surprised to find that there are so few Phish shows from this area considering that the ones I know off the top of my head are so ingrained that my natural assumption was that there had to be a lot more but the paucity of playing here is probably due to the relative proximity to the Bay Area so not much we can do about that. Alas, the first visit here was the final opener slot they played on the Santana summer tour on 08.30.1992. This was at the Cal Expo Amphitheater and there were also performances by the Indigo Girls and Los Lobos with Phish playing early in the afternoon for their seven song set. There’s actually a nice Reba and a hard hitting Antelope mixed in with the couple of a cappella tunes and other random choices but the real highlight from this night was when the band along with members of Los Lobos joined in with Santana during the headlining set for a couple of tunes including a take on A Love Supreme and after this show they went into the studio to record what would become Rift. They returned the following Spring for a famed show on 03.22.1993 at the Crest Theatre, performing one of the few ‘Gamehendge’ shows known to have occurred. Naturally, we covered this one previously on the path of that Spring Tour. In 1994 they played just down the road at UC-Davis on 12.02.1994. That one is probably best known as one of the “Cosmic Country Horns” (one of whom factors into the show we are about to review…) shows but you will want to check the Bowie and maybe wow your friends by telling them that this is the show where the A Live One version of Gumbo was played not to mention the Dave Matthews Band opened for Phish that night (along with a few others in that stretch of the tour) all for the bargain price of $18.50! I’m certain they will be mightily impressed. Phish was back at the Cal Expo Amphitheater to headline on 09.27.1995 this time opening a tour (Fall 95 yo!). This isn’t the fully polished fall 95 band we would come to adore and want to kidnap and keep in our dimly lit basement to entertain us and only… um… sorry about that little tangent there. No truth to that, no sir. Totally normal and well adjusted fan right here. So… Cal Expo? Yeah, so they debuted a bunch of songs here with some being staples we have heard a bunch on this Fall 96 Tour: Fog That Surrounds (one of the transitive forms of Taste), CTB, Billy Breathes, HMB, and Keyboard Army. Plus there is the Hood and the Possum which are both worth your time as is the Bowie which may or may not include – depending who you ask – a nod to the passing of Jerry Garcia who graced the Cal Expo stage 25 times with the Grateful Dead in this first show the band had played since he died on 08.09.1995. So while there may not be a vast number of shows played in the greater Sacramento area the ones we have all have their own notoriety, including this (last) one from 1996…

 

The night starts out with Runaway Jim as many nights do (this is surprisingly only our fourth Jim opener of the tour). This is a relatively contained version but the end jam has enough to pique our interest and keep us from walking out the door. I’m joking, of course, because who would ever leave a concert after only one song? Oh right, that guy. And to think, he has been to a couple of Phish shows too. Noob. Well, this Jim probably would have kept his attention what with the Trey Trill on display and all. The Jim heads right into Punch You In The Eye which tonight seems to have a bit of extra stank on it. The band is killing this one so much that Fish inserts some James Brown-isms into the fray, shouting out “Get up offa that thang!” more than once, something the world needs him to do more of now more than ever. We are losing our funky way, people. The fun energy spills over into the end where Mike is pounding on the fightbell and Trey adds some minikit love as the band brings this unique PYITE to a close. For a song that is largely the same thing every time out it is nice to hear them having fun with it. Next up are All Things Reconsidered and Bouncing Around the Room, two songs paired together this way seven times which puts it tied for the most common ATR pairing with The Sloth and Split Open and Melt, oddly enough. The fifth song of the night is Stash which gets some work in the T&R vein but doesn’t really stretch the boundaries too far. It is a bit odd to have this once proud king of jamlandia relegated to a mid first set hors d’oeuvres but thankfully if you stick around into 1997 you get to hear quite the resurgence for the song as the band seemed to find new interest in taking this vehicle out for long walks along the beach and maybe a refreshing pina colada to cool down afterwards. After Stash they give us our first Fluffhead in 21 shows, not exactly a bustout but also a bit longer than one would expect in this timeframe. Heck, the current gap is longer than that and there are several other somewhat lengthy respites for the song including the notable 71 show one broken at The Return on 03.06.2009 but you already knew that. After rocking through a fine version of Fluff Trey brings out now old friend of the band John McEuen, one of the founding members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and all around legendary musician and personality. I say “now” old friend because since this first time playing with Phish JOhn has joined them on stage several times, most notably later this tour in Las Vegas, down at Big Cypress in a few years, and then in 2001 in Burlington for a Clear Path International (an aid organization that seems to have let its website lapse in the past month. oops.) for a 20 minute rendition of the NGDB’s classic Will the Circle Be Unbroken, a song Phish played once on 10.03.1998 at the Farm Aid show that has that wonderful Neil Young sit-in. Tonight they had old school bluegrass in store as Mr. McEuen leant his banjo stylings to performances of The Old Home Place and Uncle Pen in what turns out to be a hometown appearance for him according to Trey. The banjo adds some brightness to the Phish takes on these tunes and John gets his turn to solo in each case which is nice of our band. After the quick bluegrass break we get a predictable Prince Caspian which bleeds into the rocking Chalkdust Torture closer before Trey brings back The Lie once more. Now it is off to setbreak to try to figure out what tonight’s second set of elevation will entail.

 

Following the assuredly longer than fifteen minute break the band comes out and starts up our second second set opening La Grange of the tour. I’m not sure if it is possible to not play this song with fiery abandon but Phish clearly doesn’t know how to tone this one down because this version rages perhaps even harder than the bustout one from Omaha a couple of weeks back now. This is just one of those songs Trey was so good at slaying that if they played it you knew you were going to lose your shit dancing. It isn’t a song they ever took out for an extended jam ride but that’s perfectly okay considering what it is. Next up is It’s Ice and after the normal song progression the jam gets a bit ‘washy’ in a sonic sense as Trey seems to be adding some delay tactics into his playing. They draw out the end and Trey plays what sure sounds to me like another nod to 3rd Stone From The Sun though I have yet to get external confirmation of that internal realization. Maybe you will provide that for me. They finally come back around to the Ice close and then bump it into the start of the tour debut for Glide, last played 34 shows ago at Deer Creek on 08.13.1996 which would be a great show to review were we doing the summer tour here but we are not so there. Following the run through the old school round they get back to the rocking with Brother, somehow our fourth version of the once quite rare song that finally left the shelf for the Ben and Jerry ‘sit-in’ at The Clifford Ball. The next time they would play the song after this night wouldn’t be until the famed Island Tour in April 1998 but on this night that wasn’t a concern as Trey shreds the gnar on the jam. An oddly placed but well played mid-set Contact is up next to appease the nursery rhyme fans (I kid because I love) and then we are off into 2001 to see what new hotness the band has for us here. Foregoing the extended space intro that we got in Portland but still toying around for a bit to set things up the band locksteps into the first section with Trey playing a quite recognizable song bit if you are up on your 60s soul musicians. Fish throws in another “Get Up offa that thang!” like he did in PYITE along with a few other bit of spontaneous vocal involvement and your brain goes “aha! I get it!” as it dawns on you that Trey is playing Super Bad and suddenly your head explodes in wonder about this band yet again. The dance party has started, Phish funk has arrived, and you are lost in the movement of everything around you as they hit the peak. As you dance with abandon, eyes closed and smile as wide as could be you hear a horn in the mix which startles you into looking up to see a tenor sax man up there with the band (assuming you know what a tenor sax looks like, otherwise you probably just stumbled into a thought something like “horn guy! good!” but tenor sax is what most people think of when they see a saxamaphone so I’m sure you were okay there, big guy). Before we discuss the transition I will here again link lawnmemo’s 2001 Project which goes into more detail about the progression we are hearing in these Fall 96 2001s. Now, 1996 you probably might not have had any idea who that horn guy was at the tail end of the 2001 but that’s Peter Apfelbaum who first shared the stage with Phish back at the Cosmic Country Horns pair of shows towards the end of the Fall 1994 tour. Trey, Page, and Fish had played with him in spots in sitting in with Michael Ray’s Cosmic Crewe before then but 12.03.1994 and 12.03.1994 were the first time he was on stage with Phish. Later involvement includes Apfelbaum being a long time member of TAB and also playing with Fish at JMP and Everything Orchestra shows and at least one Mike show. His contributions are evident from the first break as he takes the lead over the band for a few bars. A longer solo is given after that as the band works through the old time cover. After a unique jam on the song where Trey and Peter are playing a bit of tag — note that this is the first time since 10.29.1988 that there was a horn player (Russ Remington on sax) on this song and that one is pretty different from tonight’s take — Trey casually introduces him (this is my favorite picture of him but it is nothing like his appearance when he played with Phish) to the crowd. The majority of the crowd probably still didn’t know who he was and likely had no frame of reference for connecting the dots to his times opening for the Dead in the early 90s as part of The Hieroglyphics Ensemble either but he does hold the distinction of being one of only a few people to ever share both stages which is nice.

 

Without missing a beat they start into a jam of sorts which turns out to be a slowed down intro to Taste, Trey and Peter providing the melody along the way. This leads to another unique jam as they forego the Norwegian Wood/WTU? stuff to toy around in Taste space for a few minutes, resulting in one of my personal favorite versions of the song. It might not be the “best played ever” or anything but it works for me. Apfelbaum stays out for Funky Bitch and here he shines with great fills and nice soloing. Trey plays compliment quite well, of course, and the rest of the band provides the movement for our third captivating, guest aided version of the song this tour. The band steps out front after the end of Taste for a quick a cappella Amazing Grace but upon return to their instruments are joined by both Apfelbaum and McEuen for an instrumental jam on the Grace theme but this time with McEuen on lap slide. It is a lovely way to cap this show and particularly a set like what they had just played. All involved then come back out on stage for a rousing Possum encore that puts an exclamation point on top of it highlighted by Trey and John McEuen trading licks. Folks at this one definitely spoke about it being one of those nights while collecting their things and

 

This will be the end of a high quality sit-it filled show without a lull or bit of drag anywhere. Heck, even the Bouncin’ pops brightly in this show. There are several songs with versions immediately in contention for best of tour status and the setlist sounds fresh even with some that have gotten worked out a fair amount this Fall. I could see this show getting an official release at some point assuming the bad acoustics of the ARCO Arena can be overcome. With the soundboard of this Taste floating around out there and sounding pretty decent (I have used that file for the playlist entry) you have to think it could happen eventually. Maybe the other musicians’ approvals play into it but that’s something for the lawyers. No matter what, this is a solid top to bottom show with the type of creative spark and joyful playing that draws us to this band. There is also a sense of open collaboration here that we don’t always get when other musicians join the band. But these two players are well versed in how to meld with others rather than play on top of them and combining that with Phish’s approach to the songs makes for engaging performance. Purely in terms of a Phish show this is probably not the ‘best’ or most liked one on this tour as there are definitely singular jams and sets that elevate higher but that doesn’t diminish from what happened here. Along with sharing their music with two very different types of musician, one a storied bluegrass and Americana picking legend and the other an avant garde jazz improvisationalist, they have fostered relationships that will bear fruit in the future considering how both of these gentlemen would become ingrained in the mythos of Phish due to their times spent with the band. I’m just gushing at this point so let’s get on to the takeaways which are plentiful tonight. The definite top tier ones include PYITE, Ice, 2001>Timber>Taste, Funky Bitch, the Amazing Grace Jam, and Possum with some solid second tier offerings in The Old Home Place, Uncle Pen, and La Grange. You would do well to listen to the whole show if time permits it. We are in the home stretch now, continuing to follow the lines headed south with only four shows left on this Fall Tour. Next up is our only visit to the famed Pauley Pavilion at UCLA. Drink your Ovaltine and get some rest if you can because these last few don’t let up one bit.

 

You’ll See What I Might have Said – Daly City, CA 11.29.1996

Phish — The Cow Palace — Daly City, CA 11.29.1996

I  Frankenstein, NICU, CTB, Zero>Divided, Gin, LoM?, Maze, Suzy

II  Wilson>Simple->Sparks>Sparkle>Taste>Swept Away>Steep>YEM, Waste>Hood

E  Sample

 

After a night off to celebrate perhaps the most American of all holidays Phish found themselves in the Bay Area to play the venerable Cow Palace, a venue with a long and varied history of sporting events, concerts, political rallies, and most true to its name, rodeos and livestock expositions. Now, we can debate the relative “‘Murican-ness” of Thanksgiving as compares to July 4th and other more overtly patriotic holidays but save for the lack of fireworks and rah-rah flag waving you can’t tell me that a day filled with overeating to a degree unmatched the world over, drunken creativity when it comes to the manner in which a flightless bird is prepared for consumption, the comforting background noise of a series of never-as-competitive-as-anyone-wants-them-to-be football games, awkward introductions and interactions between distant family and the person you thought it would be a good idea to bring into this crazy mess, and the looming threat of a family fight erupting faster than you can say “Uncle Earl is talking about politics and religion again” could be anything but one of the most American things ever American’d. Sure, “as American as apple pie and the Fourth of July” sounds better but that’s really only because we fall for rhymes easily and are wooed by the prospect of warm weather facilitating our need for scantily clad (in weird fashion appropriations of our flag design, of course) drunk people wolfing down hot dogs and crappy yellow “beer” as we hurl illegal fireworks into the sky while trying to slur out the words to our national anthem (or maybe some country song, I dunno, I tend to avoid this type of party these days) and yell obscenities into the ether about how great our mother loving country is and everyone else needs to shut up and just love it or leave it, partner. Actually, now that I write that it does sound pretty freaking ‘Murican… but still. Thanksgiving. Let’s get back on point here. Thanksgiving brings Americans together in ways no other day does and it also provides a wonderfully long weekend which tends to be a good time for those who do not wish to stay at home with the family rehashing old arguments and debating who will next take Aunt Bessie to the restroom can instead venture out for some live music. I know that before the time I had a family of my own I always looked forward to seeing who was playing Thanskgiving Weekend shows in my area. And this Friday night show in Daly City fits that bill perfectly as I imagine in additiona to those then on tour were joined by a significant number of attendees who had circled the date on their calendar (back then we had these things called “paper calendars” which came in a wide variety of sizes and designs that were very useful in planning your life since we weren’t yet permanently attached to our technology) as an wonderful excuse for getting out of the house that night.

 

And being people who had ties to the Bay Area such folk might’ve known already of the long history Phish already had with the region but just in case they did not or perhaps they forgot in the years since, here is a little bit of that history. I’m not going to go through everything here because, frankly, that could be a post in and of itself what with the 19 shows before this one in the area (I’m not including Santa Cruz or Monterey here) led up to this first and only appearance in Daly City. The first visit to the area was for the second ever West Coast show at the DNA Lounge on 03.29.1991 following the famed ‘Dollar Night’ show in Santa Cruz on 03.28.1991. This show and the one a couple of nights later across the bay in Berkeley at the Berkeley Square (now closed, naturally) on 03.31.1991 (an Easter Sunday show, no less) are about what you’d expect from this young band rising through the bar/club scene with lots of teases, banter, and the energetic playing of youthful exuberance. I will note that the Mockingbird here is one of the first with the narration (something I, along with most others, usually attribute as being the ‘Forbin’s Narration’. I’ll fix that going forward…) along with the fun anecdote that the venue’s lack of available power caused them to choose sound over lights resulting in the only light show being the candles that CK5 purchased at a Pier 1 that day. That Fall they played a two show run full of solid playing and fun banter at the Great American Music Hall (10.17.1991 and 10.18.1991) before returning in the Spring of 1992 for the first show at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco on 04.17.1992 (this is a very solid ’92 show with some fun jams in Reba, Bowie->Catapult->Bowie, and Tweezer amongst other goodies) and then the classic 04.18.1992 Palo Alto show that you definitely had a tape of BITD. That Catapult is the debut of the song which is something but go (re)spin the Palo Alto show for old time’s sake. The other notable thing here is that the crew van got broken into during that Warfield show and a lot of the crew’s personal belongings were stolen which is oddly tied to a post show party in Palo Alto where they decided to release to the tape trees the crispy tapes of that other famed show from this run, the 04.16.1992 show from the Anaconda Theatre down in Isla Vista. I guarantee you have heard that one unless you are still living under a noob rock or something. August 1992 had two single set opening performances in support of Santana before the band was back in Spring ’93 for three shows in the region on 03.24.1993 in Santa Rosa and then a pair back at the Warfield on 03.26.1993 and 03.27.1993, all of which we have covered here previously. The single summer performance by Phish in this area in 1993 was the final show of the famed August Run and their first at the Greek Theatre, sharing the bill with J.J. Cale for a wonderful night of music that you should go listen to if you don’t know it already. A three night run at the Warfield on 05.25.1994, 05.26.1994, and 05.27.18994 provided the final run of shows at that venue and the only ones in the Bay Area for the Spring Tour with each show seeming to be better than the one preceding as they opened up the jams in earnest on that last night (definitely check the Tweezer, Melt, Hood, Reba, Bowie, and the debut of Simple from this run). The Fall only saw one show in the area over in San Jose on 12.03.1994 where the highlight is the presence of The Cosmic Country Horns for the entire second set (and DMB opening if you care of such matters). 1995 had only one show here as the band got their first taste of headlining Shoreline Amphitheatre (the prior visit in 1992 was one of those Santana opener slots) on 09.30.1995 where they started out the band/crowd chess match, debuted the cover of ‘Suspicious Minds’, dedicated ‘Blue and Lonesome’ to Jerry Garcia, and generally had a fun time celebrating Trey’s 31st birthday. And that gets us to here in 1996!

 

Here in the 30th show of the tour (woo hoo! stat summary a-comin’!) we are treated to one of only four ever Frankenstein openers. That’s a song to set a mood for sure and one I will never complain to hear them perform considering how rare it is to hear these days with only 11 coming in 3.0. They counterpoint it with a bouncy take on NICU, back after a sixteen show absence which seems long these days but was perfectly normal in that time period (though, to be fair, it is not played as much now as it was in the early stages of the current era). The bounce carries forth into another dance-y Cars Trucks Buses which is followed by a rocking Character Zero that rams right into the start to Divided Sky. After the pause (1:03 tonight) they nail the end sections and jam before giving us our first real opportunity to catch our breath at the close. We haven’t had any big fireworks yet but that’s a pretty solid five song start to the show. Next up is Bathtub Gin, back for the first time since the wonderful version from Kansas City. Tonight’s version feels like it could erupt into something bigger like that KC one or even the famed Rupp Gin from earlier in the tour but that is not in the cards here in the middle of tonight’s first set as instead they jam within the theme. It works here but it sure feels like they could have gone bigger with this one. After another spot on run through the cover of Life on Mars? (the only ballad-ish song of the set) they slide into Maze to get us back to that dancing around flailingly thing. This one hits hard with Trey catching on to the DEG feel for a bit which influences the back half of the jam considerably. It works so well that as you navigate the mental labyrinth evoked by this jam your thoughts wander into questions of why they have only ever added the DEG to Maze one other time besides tonight (as if your mind could come up with that fact in the moment). After the shreddy climb to the end peak they tie it up and then head into Suzy Greenberg for a version that will end this first frame. While pretty much what you expect out of this song Page does get the chance to solo on piano for a bit longer than what seems normal (might have something to do with Trey doing the comping thing here) but then before you know it you are being shuffled into the concourse to support your friend who just can’t deal with the mass of people without you. This is not how you wanted to spend the setbreak but you can’t really put enough words together to protest so here you are wandering the sweaty, packed halls as your buddy guides you to places your mind definitely doesn’t want to travel.

 

After what seems like a lifetime you are returned to your seats, the sight of which bringing comfort to you in ways you never thought possible a mere fifteen minutes ago. That was all just a brief interlude though as the lights drop and the band takes the stage again, starting up our fifth Wilson of the tour to the delight of the white-hatted members of the crowd. The rawk out runs right into the intro to Simple which gives us our first real opportunity for jam in the show considering the tour this song has had. Tonight’s version starts out with a lot of energy as Trey solos over the Simple theme for the first few minutes of the jam but then around the 8:45 mark he shifts into a different rhythm and the band follows as they build into something not quite Simple but also not entirely open. They sit in this space for several minutes with Trey leading the way as they search for the next idea. About a minute from the end things start to break down, particularly the rhythm, and Trey sets a loop while Page plinks around. Trey then plays a couple of familiar notes which the band eventually catches and then we are into the start of Sparks! Well, there’s another bustout for you after a 173 show gap. Oddly enough, this marks the second time in the past two shows that a key element to the 05.07.1994 Bomb factory show has been brought to the stage though Sparks did have that one performance on 10.29.1994 between this show and that night in Dallas. Honestly, this version is pretty sloppy – mostly by Trey – but in the moment none of that matters because being there you would have perhaps finally been able to check off Sparks on your handy dandy Chaser Scorecard that you have conveniently laminated and placed in your back pocket. It is pretty funny that this song which has only ever been played 17 times by the band holds such sway for the bustout chasers but I suppose that is all part of the allure. I mean, I had been chasing Buffalo Bill for a looooooong time up until Magnaball last year and that song has also only ever been played seventeen times so I’m not exactly one to talk here. Sparks then heads into Sparkle (I SEE WHAT YOU DID THERE, TREY) which gives way to Taste (now batting 0.566!). Trey alters his path slightly tonight in getting to the peak so there isn’t any Norwegian Wood or even much of the WTU? feel in this one but it hits hard when he gets there all the same when he hits that trill. In the wind down from Taste they move into Swept Away>Steep which offers up a quick breather before they continue the string by starting up You Enjoy Myself. I like this combo as a stepping stone in this slot because it brings everything down to a more subtle space before that scream ending provides a perfect spot for that YEM intro to kick in. Too bad this is the only example, a ‘problem’ we are finding a lot this evening. As we get into the YEM I here voice my wish that some video of this show surface because this is one of the few examples I know of where Trey breaks a string mid-song and they use that as opportunity to just keep playing. Following lovely pre and Nirvana sections they drop into the ‘lyrics’ and then set up a cowfunk jam with Trey comping along to the groove pocket Mike and Fish have going while Page adds flavor. This goes on for a few minutes and then Mike hits the fight bell which seems to alter Trey’s path as he then moves into the lead role in working through the more ‘standard’ part of his turn. The crowd tries to get a clap-along thing going but Trey drops into more sparse playing before catching a different melody at the bottom and building towards the transition peak that drops us into a short D&B section and then the VJ. I’ll just say it, I have no idea where Trey might’ve broken a string in this one because there isn’t any time that I feel like he drops out or anything. Maybe he is just that good that we don’t notice but it isn’t like he breaks strings very often so it is a bit surprising to not be able to pick it up at all. Oh well. The jam here is fun and begs one to dance with the funk beat and all but for my money it isn’t quite of the level we heard in Kansas City a little while back. Next up is a late set Waste that sets up the set closing Harry Hood quite well and is the last of the three Waste/Hood combos on this tour which never happened before and hasn’t since. This Hood is a sleeper. The jam starts out very patiently as they plink through the typical stuff, slowly building up and up and UP. This is old school tension building of the kind we used to get almost nightly in Stash and other such songs though here they don’t fully resolve it to a major peak but instead the energy spills over into the final chorus like a cleansing exhalation. In the close of the song Trey thanks everyone and notes that it is nice to see cows or something and then we are on to the… Hang on. They encored with what now? And people didn’t riot??? WTF, Trey?!? Sample?? Really??? Ugh. Let’s just move on.

 

Hey! Whaddya know, yet another solid if not great show! Solid first set with everything well played but not necessarily notable and then a second set full of highlights. Seems to be a pattern here… There’s no reason to belabor it. This is a good show with some stuff that will make the end-of-tour list or at least be a part of the conversation. As with most of the shows in the last week plus of this tour you can pretty much throw them on and listen through without many thoughts that it might be a good time to skip ahead to the good part. That’s not exactly the highest praise but it isn’t meant as a dig either. So with that our takeaways tonight are Maze, Simple->Sparks, and YEM  with the Hood and Taste being the second tier. I like the Gin for what it is but by comparison I will leave this one out since there is no way it is making the top tier at the end of the tour. Next up will be one of my personal favorite shows from this tour at the old Arco Arena in Sacramento…

 

BUT WAIT! We have stats to recount! This is a round numbered show, after all. So what do we have? The band has now played thirty shows in 20 states across three time zones having hopped right over the mountain states this time. There have been 135 different songs played with 35 of those being one-timers. Taste is out front for most performances with 17 but Character Zero nips at its proverbial heels with 16. After that there is a logjam at number three with six songs having been played 11 times:  CTB, CDT, Sample, Steep, Swept Away, and Waste. Three more songs have double digit appearances at 10: Disease, Theme, and YEM and then from there it gets pretty muddled. CDT (4) and Runaway Jim (3) are the only songs to open more than two shows and likewise Zero (5) and Antelope (3) are the only two songs to close more than two first sets. Second set openers are headed by 2001 (5), Disease (3), and Wilson (3) while closers are even less distinct with Hood (4), HMB (3), and Weekapaug Groove (3) leading the way. Waste (4), Funky Bitch (3), GTBT (3), and Julius (3) are all up front for encore slotting. All of that just shows that even with a pretty tight rotation (86 songs are in a five song rotation or less) predicting set placement isn’t quite as straightforward on this tour. The rest gets to some pretty minute detail so we will leave it at that for now…

Ribbons of Euphoria – Seattle, WA 11.27.1996

Phish — Key Arena — Seattle, WA 11.27.1996

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

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

E  Waste>Reprise

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

That Time Then and Once Again -Portland, OR 11.24.1996

Phish — Memorial Coliseum — Portland, OR 11.24.1996

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

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

E  Ginseng>Cavern

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

And The Stars Are All Aglow – Vancouver, BC 11.23.1996

Phish — Pacific Coliseum — Vancouver, BC 11.23.1996

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

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

E  GTBT

 

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

 

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

 

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

nov_96_4h-150x150

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Slipping on the Friction Slide – Spokane, WA 11.22.1996

Phish — Spokane Arena — Spokane, WA  11.22.1996

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

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

E  Julius 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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