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
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…