As Much As Once Before — Portland Meadows — 09.12.1999

As Much As Once Before — Portland Meadows — 09.12.1999

To finish up the first full “weekend” of shows (assuming you, like me, back in this time would have considered a Thursday night part of your weekend because c’mon who did any real work on Fridays in their 20s? Wait. You did?) Phish left the lovely scenic views of the Columbia River Gorge and continued south and west to Portland for their second year in a row playing outdoors at Portland Meadows, the now defunct and deconstructed former racetrack/concert venue/betting parlor/digital casino (don’t worry, gamblers, there is a new poker room and money taking site a few miles away with the same name). That US Summer Tour 1998 opener got an official LivePhish release and I’m here today to tell you that this 1999 show deserves the same treatment. Until that happens, along with the regularly circulating not-quite-great auds out there we do have a very nicely done remaster, done by the formerly quite prolific Kenny Powers (this and many more of his remasters can also be found via www.phishspreadsheet.com in the ‘Remasters’ tab of all places) and if you like videos there is a random upload of the BOTT from this show on youtube though I haven’t been able to locate anything else from this show which is odd… ok let’s get to it!

Phish – Portland Meadows – Portland, OR — 09.12.1999

I First Tube, Poor Heart, Mozambique, Gin, BOTT, MMGAMOIO, Frankie Says, BOAF, Lawn Boy, Possum

II Ghost>Jim>Roggae, 2001>YEM

E Theme

Notes Out On Sandpaper

–first Frankie Says of the year

The Central Theme

Showing that they really really like the song already, Phish opened with First Tube, its first time as opener but already the third performance of the song early on in this tour. It isn’t entirely uncommon for newly minted songs to be played a lot in their earlier tours with the band (like the “Every Venue Gets a Fuego” from Summer 2014 by example) but this might be getting a bit excessive already. Stay tuned I suppose. Poor Heart gets the classic second song bluegrass nod (listen for Trey almost falling into Yakety Sax) and then we are back to the new tunes for the second take on Mozambique by Phish. This one is a bit tighter and definitely shorter but gets us where we need it to… which is the drop into Bathtub Gin. So far this tour the first half of first sets have been pretty tame as the band has strung together mostly warm up songs and a few Limb By Limbs before settling in and opening things up a bit. Well tonight that changes a bit.

Dripping through the composed section and verses, this Gin starts off slowly paced and oozing with Trey and Page comping around the Gin motif. Trey eventually hits on a new riff which the band follows and they begin to stretch into a dance groove. Trey uses singular notes to set up the next move, continuing to move up the register and altering to a new, repetitive riff. He starts to peak it but backs off a bit and instead builds tension by not resolving before adding a drone loop and then soloing off of that. You can still hear the basis of Gin in the back but they are soaring now as Trey throws more ideas into the mix, false-peaking it several more times over the next few minutes and playing repeated riffs that hint to a big time release. Trey’s playing gets faster here as he reprises the Gin theme and drops back down into what feels like the song’s close after only about 12min of playing (and with no true release having been provided). Suddenly he goes back to the quick runs of notes, throwing it to our first peak and repeating that phrase multiple times before again seeming to head to the finish. But hand on, folks, because the gears shift again and now the whole band is rising up as Trey takes full charge and Mike (well, at least what you can hear of him in this mix) starts dropping big notes all over as Trey takes it nuclear to the full peak. Then for what feels like forever (but what is really only like two minutes) Trey is winding down as Mike pounds away and eventually they crawl back to the Gin close, leaving the crowd in post coital disarray, as the last underlying loop that Trey set continues to whirl around.

Now being Phish we all have our personal preferences when it comes to preferred jamming styles and what the “best” versions of songs are. And that is all part of the game. So when I tell you this Gin is easily one of my favorite versions of the fabled tune I say that with no intention of diminishing what others prefer. Just in the context of Gin you can go a few different directions for what you want to hear. Maybe you like the wide openness of The Riverport or the hose-to-the-max awesomeness of The Went Gin or the sideways improvisational wizardry of Winston-Salem 97 or something I haven’t even mentioned. Gin has gone through a lot of phases in its life and 1999 is a particular vintage that I, for one, appreciate greatly. And of that vintage this Portland one is my exact cup of tea. I have lost count how many times I have spun this Gin. But it still isn’t close to getting anywhere near old for me.

As that last loop wound down Fish kicks up the BOTT beat and we are back to first set fun time fare. Nothing too crazy here and soon enough we are into the second bluegrass number, another personal favorite in the cover of Jimmy Dale Gilmore’s My Mind’s Got A Mind Of Its Own. If you didn’t know better it would be easy to think the lyrics of this one were Mike-penned which I suppose works since he sings it. Immediately following we get the year’s first Frankie Says which is a fairly hard turn stylistically away from the shuffle beats of BOTT and the countrified grassiness of MMGAMOIO. Frankie Says gives us our first taste of lysergic intent in this show with some looped out fun in the back end, but not too much because you are still not yet to the uncomfortable setbreak convos and overly bright lights making you regret that doubling. Rest assured Phish knows and will “take care of you” as soon as the break ends. BOAF snaps us back with those infectious breakbeats with Lawn Boy giving us the only true breather of the set ahead of a typically fun Possum closer.

Coming out of the awkwardness that setbreak often seems to be you would be quite right to belt out a few “awwww yeahs!” as the lights drop and Trey sets that telltale loop (you know, the one he never does anymore?) that lets us know Ghost is a coming. I have to say I was pretty surprised to discover that out of the 182 total performances of this vehicle only 17 have been 2nd set openers (and seven of those have come in 3.0). However, in 1999 it was somewhat of a thing as four of the thirteen played are in that slot and frankly all four are well worth your time. And this one? Yeah, this one is a doozy. Go check out the heaps of praise @lawnmemo throws on this Ghost. He gets it. Frankly, I’m not going to be able to improve upon his breakdown. Heck this image alone is worth reading the whole thing.

What I will say is that this jam GOES PLACES. LOTS of places. It starts with the pre-verse loops and never lets up for close to 30 minutes. You get the Phish funk. You get some power rock. You get a big satisfying peak. You get the darkness and weird (BIG TIME). Shit, you even get one of the canonical Trey riffs best known from the 05.22.2000 Ghost for a bit (check the 16min mark here). Over the course of this jam there is something for everyone. But to be clear, this one goes to deep, DEEP psychedelic places that may not be your filet of Phish. For many of us, this is the type of completely connected musical conversation we seek from this band and why getting it is so amazing when it happens – because it doesn’t always happen. This Ghost has sections you can’t NOT dance to and sections where you fear the world is collapsing in on you. It is relentless and magical. And I love every second of it.

By the time they wind down into the warped close of Ghost you are definitely in need of something to bring you back to some semblance of normalcy. Runaway Jim fills that void, chugging along brightly but without much to speak of outside of the normal end solo bits. Roggae gets the breather slot and works well enough in that role. Immediately following Trey cranks up the loops and effects and we are off into outer space once more as the band works towards 2001. This pre-jam part is better than the 2001 itself, honestly, and you will see it tracked as “Spacey Jam” on some tapes (and I have included that part in the playlist from this show). Following the Deodato funk cover You Enjoy Myself starts up and once again the soundscape-building aspect of the then current playing is on display both in the pre-nirvana and main jam segments. After a solid if not top shelf main jam Trey hints at Johnny B Goode as they transition to what ends up being a loop-laden though abbreviated D&B section. As the song often does this closes the set and show. For the encore tonight we get Theme From The Bottom which is very rare in that slot having only encored eight times out of the 164 total performances for the song. That alone is worthwhile but then when you hear Trey reprise one of the main licks that informed the Gin jam (listen at 5:20 in Theme for the first go at it) it takes this one next level even for a compact get-them-on-their-way encore performance. And with that we are on the road again, albeit now with a night off to make the 400+ mile journey east for that outlier before the start of the California/Southwest portion of the tour.

Take Your Laser Beams Away

Here in the 4th night of the tour the band is fully gelling. Fans would be forgiven for being pretty tired at this stage considering they had already driven more than 500 miles for this first weekend of shows. But the payoff is worth it! Along with many other shows this tour you can start it at the opener and let it run and be perfectly happy. But knowing how we fans are, here are the songs I would recommend you spend the most time and energy with from Portland:

Bathtub Gin

Ghost

‘Spacey Jam’ pre-2001

YEM

Theme From The Bottom

I recommend spinning this show top to bottom or at least those highlights above but definitely the Gin and Ghost if nothing else. Me saying more about those two songs would probably cause even fewer people to spend time reading this blog so let’s just say I consider these to be two of my favorite pieces of Phish improv from this whole tour and we are only four shows in so that should tell you something right there.

This Happens Once Again

Next we will hop over to Idaho for that very well known sleeper show stop that added so many miles to the routing for many fans. Hopefully you weren’t one of those who thought better than to do the drive and missed out on one of THOSE nights… Prep yourself with the official release of this classic night from Boise!

Where They Hoped I’d Be — The Gorge — 09.10-11.1999

Where They Hoped I’d Be — The Gorge — 09.10-11.1999

Today we play two! In the interest of moving things along and keeping my sanity, for any multi-show run I will do a single post covering both shows. This will apply to nine venues in total (The Gorge, Shoreline, Nassau, Albany, Cincinnati, CCCC, The Spectrum, Hampton, and of course Big Cypress). The posts will be longer but hey they weren’t exactly short to begin with…

Oh yeah and I covered these two shows a bit when I was doing the Venue Project thing (you know, before The Baker’s Dozen came along and pretty much ended any debate about which venue was the best for Phish*) so if you would like to read that please go here.

*Look I know the sample size is a big part of why MSG takes top billing for many people but the simple fact is when you have played a venue like that as many times as this band has and with as high of a hit rate as those shows seem to have you really are never going to be able to put together a reasonable enough argument that another place is a “better venue” for Phish.

Phish – The Gorge Amphitheatre – George, WA — 09.10.1999

I Farmhouse, First Tube, Twist, Divided, Ginseng, Carini, WTU?>WIGRIC

II Disease>Moma>Piper, Fee, Jibboo, Saw It Again, Melt>Cavern>Bowie

E Coil

Notes Out On Sandpaper

–debuts of Will It Go Round In Circles and Gotta Jibboo

The Central Theme

The first weekend of Fall Tour found Phish at The Gorge, easily one of the favorite venues of fans around the country, particularly those who have been able to make it to that beautiful place (me not yet included). This was the third year in a row that they stopped here, each time for a pair of shows as one does when the comings and goings to the place take as much commitment of time and energy as this one does. This is a ‘bucket list’ type venue and for the most part Phish has played highly regarded shows here, though in some sense it is difficult to separate the music from the experience which may result in an attendance bias amplification effect as a result. But that’s more for the other project. This one is about the music for the most part.

Starting off with a Farmhouse opener is… not exactly the way to prove the point about how awesome shows are here but hey that was a thing in 1999 as four times (including three on this tour) out of the nineteen performances of the song it came in as show opener. That out of the way we get the second ever run at First Tube, tonight a bit beefier and definitely befitting of the shadow opener slotting. Now we get to the fairly-standard-for-the-era run of songs that fill the bulk of this settling-into-the-scene first set. Twist is fun but mostly jamless and then Divided predictably gets the sunset slot. Notable here is that The Pause is quite long as even after Trey signals the return after 1:16 Fish waits another 1:30 before “answering” so you get a full 2:46 of Pause here which is neat. Ginseng Sullivan gets the bluegrass tune nod and then a crunchy yet contained Carini (which along with the Twist earlier has some solid use of the Note Eater 5000 by Trey) precedes the always-a-head-scratcher freestanding first set What’s The Use?. This is only the sixth ever performance of the song and the third standalone first set version (really only the 07.09.1999 version from MPP out of Free fits the ‘cool down’ slot many of us prefer for the song). Perhaps it was a callout for the next song played like “hey, what’s the use, let’s go ahead and debut this bad ass cover song that we really should have played more than just twice because c’mon who doesn’t want to hear this one?” though I am skeptical that was the intent. But hey at least we got the debut of Will It Go Round In Circles as the closer here. File that song in the long list of ones that should have stayed in the rotation. Perhaps even more today than then this song fits the vibe of a Phish show extremely well. The song lives on as a TAB staple though so I guess we can be happy it hasn’t fully disappeared.

After the break they opened with Down With Disease, a song that I’m not sure I could ever tire of though I am certain someone out there feels triggered by that statement so hello to whoever that poor soul might be. Though the song has now become one of the most reliable vehicles for open exploration in the catalog, at this time you really never knew if it would be a big ol’ set-carrying version or one of the tighter, shred-heavy, energy bursts along the way. Tonight is a little bit of both to be fair. But probably more contained than open. Basically, this one isn’t a setlist highlight but it surely doesn’t detract in any way either. While we are here, I will note that this one has the first example of something that if you know me at all you are probably already rolling your eyes about me bringing up here. Yes, my friends, this Disease has a nascent take on The Lick, a roughly 15 note descending phrase usually initiated by Trey that pops up all over the place throughout the years (well, mainly in particular songs like Disease and Gin and Ghost but yeah). This one comes in at 5:05 (aud) and is not the fully formed version it has become but it is there and like most in Diseases it signifies the drop into the jam proper. Consider this your forewarning that we are likely to find more of these as we go along.

Now warmed back up, the set moves along as Disease falls into Moma (nice but nothing too special here) and continues with a Piper that never really gets going before they bail out for the old ending. Fee starts up which at this point was becoming more of a rarity (and in 1999 was always done sans megaphone). This is the 2nd of three versions for the year but that doesn’t mean it would go quietly as the good thing about its rarity in this era was that typically the ending would stretch into harmonic ambient space. Now this one doesn’t go nearly as big as the one from 07.08.1999 in Virginia Beach (that one is the GOAT after all) but for a couple of minutes we do get to close our eyes and smile at the lovely tinkering going on up there on stage. Once Fee ends Trey sets a new loop, one that we now all know and (for the most part) love but here a new thing as they drop into the debut of Gotta Jibboo which up til now had been only heard in the TAB iterations to date. It got a LOT of workout on the May tour, being played in 10/12 shows so if you had any knowledge of those shows you probably knew this one was coming eventually. While fun and bouncy this one never launches and the result is solid but a bit underwhelming with the context of those 14-18min versions from TAB tour. Don’t worry though. More to come with this song a bit later on this tour.

Saw It Again cranks us back to the stuff we all knew, continuing the see saw feel of this set as they move between the shredders and the dance tunes. This leads to Split Open and Melt which is always welcome in the 4th quarter. To be frank, this is not a version you will hear folks singing the praises of but there’s nothing wrong with sitting in that syrupy groove for a while and just looking around for a bit, maaaaan. The pace is relaxed and particularly so once Fish drops down to more subdued playing, letting Trey build layers of sound within the Melt template. There is a lot of potential in this jam that never pays off though as I respin this yet again I guess my main gripe is I want more of it. Sit in that space for 10-15min and you never know what might go down. But here it feels like just as they are starting to get comfortable someone brings the Melt beat back and they start to work towards the close instead. Could be Mike but might have been Fish. Oh well. Buy the ticket take the ride. We don’t get to decide. I will give Trey credit though. He keeps that return going for a couple of minutes instead of cleanly wrapping it up and moving on to Cavern where, as par for course, the lyrics are botched. Still with considerable time to go here the Cavern is a fake out closer and instead they start up Bowie for what many hope will be the defining song of the set.

Well… see.. here’s the thing about Bowie in this time. Sure there are some nicely stretched out versions but we are well past the peak of jamming for this song (I put it as Fall 94 through Summer 95, ymmv). This does not mean good stuff isn’t going on here! Far from it! But let’s not go in thinking this will be some 30min monster. I mean this one is only 21min long (yes aud track times are over 25min bu that’s the encore break crowd noise for the final 4min) so clearly that is laughable! All kidding aside, I do like this Bowie. In true pre-millennial fashion the intro is VERY extended with loops and synths and full soundscape building to be found. Outside of the telltale high hat hits by Fish you would be hard pressed to know this is even Bowie for almost eight full minutes (and that without any teases, secret language, or other shenanigans). In the right (or wrong) headspace this Bowie intro could take you to some pretty weird places. At one point Fish really messes with your head by playing the “clock” sounds from the studio version of Maze (or at least what sounds like them) and then the band all drops out one by one, ostensibly to reset for the start of Bowie itself. Once in the “traditional” jam things get pretty standard though I would stick with it as the entirety of this Bowie is worth the time. Squirming Coil is the encore tonight which is nice enough. I’ll save the takeaways for the end of the post so we can do both shows at once.

Phish – The Gorge Amphitheatre – George, WA — 09.11.1999

I Tube>Funky Bitch>LxL, DST, PYITE, Billy Breathes, Heavy Things, Guyute>Free

II Wolfman’s->Sand, Meatstick->Maze, Caspian>Hood

E Circus

Notes Out On Sandpaper

–debuts of Heavy Things and Sand

The Central Theme

You might want to check out the full video for this show unearthed by the folks doing wonderful work over at PHArchive on YouTube. Really great to see this video circulate. Just be ready for some nausea-inducing optics at the start and frankly throughout the entire thing. Maybe double up that bonine hitter before pressing play. Oh and the bros chatting and looking at lot art at the end are great.

Following what I am certain was yet another crazy fun night and day spent in the campgrounds and by the Columbia River Phish opened up the second night at the Gorge with the high energy triple play of Tube>Funky Bitch>LxL. Tube is super short (even by today’s standards) but gets a quick loop-funk jam and an addictive Trey riff before they head to the Son Seals cover. The pace here is a bit slower than most versions of the Funky Bitch but I assure you no one was complaining at the extended soloing from Page and Trey. Limb By Limb represents the second song repeated so far this tour (First Tube being the first the prior night) and much like that one they seem to have a lot more to say in the second take this run. Not in terms of length as this one is about a minute shorter but it just feels more direct. Maybe I am just latching onto the Trey tease of Long Tall Glasses too much, I don’t know. I love how he just arrives there and goes with it and then his trill section later will bend your knees in a good way. The mid set gets a Dogs Stole Things (already becoming a rarity just three years into its life) and a fiery Punch You In The Eye. I love this song as an opener particularly with the extended intro but even here it rocks hard. I mean what’s not to love about a version that chugs along for over three minutes, building up tension as it goes, before we get to the lyrics?

Now it is time for a cool down and Billy Breathes fills that role nicely. This sets up another TAB-song-making-its-debut for Heavy Things, a song which has become more at home here than with TAB (which is not always the case obviously). I’m certain we all know what to expect with this one so let’s just move along. Now we have Guyute, another repeat already on the tour and one that goes against those complaints about the lack of compositional songs that people love to throw around about this era. But we aren’t here to dwell on that so let’s talk about the set closing Free instead. 1999 is a pretty dang food year for this song even if the jamcharts aren’t overflowing with versions from this year. It is kind of surprising they only played the song 13 times that year considering how much I like em all. The jam extends as Mike drops bombs and Trey gets his glitchy shred on, playing those backwards notes like they are going out of style. This is a filter that got a ton of use in this period and while it comes back from time to time at no point was it ever used as frequently as this era. Trey shoves a bunch of notes together as they work back to the song’s close, leaving the crowd wanting for more as they take setbreak.

Phish hit the stage for the second set with purpose, cranking into Wolfman’s Brother and really stepping on the gas from the get go. I always take it as a god sign when Trey is scat-riffing over his guitar line as they drop into it. The jam starts out as rocking wah funk but shifts through a few phases as they stretch it out. Trey hints at DEG at one point followed by a tension-filled section that counterpoints the deep pocket groove the other three have going. They move out into more pronounced wah funk that drops into big soundscape layering over the groove as Trey futzes with all the pedals at his disposal. Still in Wolfman’s but also some place else entirely, this jam is basically a template example for the power of what 1999 Phish could be, all four members playing with more swagger than a pimp on Shakedown. Almost suddenly the groove drops to ambience, snapping you out of that groove trance as Trey adds some keyboard tinkering to go along with his sustained tones. Trey goes shredster for a bit, sets a loop, and then communicates the change to Mike and Fish who crank into the debut of Sand! If ever there was a TAB song destined for Phish this is IT.

Folks who weren’t up on their setlists were likely looking around for some form of confirmation of what was going on especially since this one stretches over 18min (and still is in the top ten longest versions ever).  This is a slow burn Sand which primarily showcases Trey over the groove of the base song (something Mike would very quickly get away from as I am sure he got bored quickly considering his penchant for not sticking to the same bassline for very long). Here I will borrow from my venue project post to say that “this version is a Trey clinic as Mike lays down the static bassline, Fish rides rhythm alongside, and Page toys with accents and effects. Over the course of this 18” minute version Trey patiently offers up great idea, some which stick and other that don’t take…” As they move through the jam the intensity builds and builds with Trey going full Jimi and doing his I’m-so-amped-I-can’t-jam-stand-still dance the whole time. As debut versions go, this one is up there on the list with a select few songs. Yes, they would go on to play bigger versions even on this tour once the rest of the band caught up with Trey on how to approach it, but there is no denying the power of this original, interstellar dance-a-thon take on the vehicle. Mike even throws out a few fight bell hits in approval afterwards. He knows.

They follow that up with the tour debut of Meatstick, the first since their visit to Japan but here still without the Japanese lyrics we would come to know and love (for some). The outro jam drips directly into Maze which somehow accomplishes being both heavy shred and mellow at the same time (well, at least as far as Maze goes). I suppose that is another facet of 1999 playing as even with the soupiness of the layered sounds there was the ability to blow heads open as they always had. Maze starts with some loops and then gets to business as Trey uses distortion to great effect. Next – and believe me I am as shocked as you are to be saying this – is a very strong Prince Caspian which vacillates between overly tender playing and powerful soloing. And then we get a masterful Harry Hood with that wonderfully dreamy bliss playing followed by a series of false endings. Listen for some backwards note play by Trey in the intro too. When The Circus Comes To Town, a personal favorite cover for Phish in the non-jammed realm, encores tonight and now everyone needs to pack up for the quick turn to get over to Portland for the next night’s show, the fourth in four nights!

Take Your Laser Beams Away

These two shows found the band comfortable and loose with highlight jams popping up all over. Some of these will not make the final rankings but are worth your time if you go picking. The first night feels more like a tour opener than the actual tour opener was with the dips into open space being less pronounced and a decided focus being paid to the song side of things. But then the second night is Phish in their fully comfortable form. This is not unusual for multi-night stops at a venue where one night will be clearly more connected and flowing. While I love some of what we heard in the first two shows it is this third one where we are starting to get a good idea of what this tour will become. It is a good example to give someone who is not up on their 1999 Phish for them to hear the broad range of what the band was doing during this time. But if you do that, let them know this is but the tip of the proverbial iceberg. We got a lot more awesome coming shortly…

Will It Go Round In Circles

Disease

Fee

Melt

Bowie

Tube>

Funky Bitch>

LxL

Free

Wolfman’s->

Sand

Maze

Caspian>

Hood

I recommend checking them all out but please spend time on Bowie, Free, Wolfman’s->Sand, and Hood. Those are the goods. The player in the sidebar has you covered!

This Happens Once Again

Next we will hop over to Oregon for a show I love through and through but one that has not gotten much “official” love. Well, okay the big centerpiece jam is out there now but I’ll continue lobbying for the full show release…

Credit Or Debt — Vancouver, BC — 09.09.1999

Credit Or Debt — Vancouver, BC — 09.09.1999

Phish — GM Place — Vancouver, BC — 09.09.1999

I Mozambique, Axilla>LxL, Horn, Guyute, Chalkdust, BATCS, Stash, IDK, Zero

II BOAF, Ha Ha Ha>Ghost, Inlaw, First Tube, Tweezer, Bug, YEM, HMB

E Sample>Golgi>Reprise

Notes Out On Sandpaper

–debuts of Mozambique, Inlaw Josie Wales (Trey on acoustic), and First Tube

–first performance of Ha Ha Ha in 1999 (don’t worry, these won’t be too big of a thing – I just find it interesting particularly in Fall tours to see what songs are finally getting played for the first time that year)

The Central Theme

First of all, apologies on formatting here. They completely changed the architecture of post building and it is taking me more work than I want to get it to my familiar look and feel. So yeah. Sorry about that. We will get it all figured out.

Following the summer tour’s end in the Midwest in late July and that visit to Japan the week after, Phish arrived in the Pacific Northwest for their first visit to Vancouver since their stop at the Pacific Coliseum on the Fall 1996 Tour. The tour would start indoors here before several outdoor shows taking advantage of the mostly mild late summer/early fall temperatures along the way. But indoor Phish is a thing a lot of us love dearly so getting the tour rolling at a hockey shed (albeit a bigger, newer one than most of those they had laid waste to over the years) adds to the excitement and anticipation. This was the only time Phish has played what is now known as Rogers Center which at the time was just a year old and named GM Place. It also, unfortunately, is the last time the band has played in Vancouver, something they should get to fixing once we are back to seeing shows the way we are used to doing.

Tour openers can be funny things as with a blank slate you really have no idea what to expect. The entirety of the songbook is available and more than any other time the decisions on what to play are at the mercy of whatever Trey and the rest of the band are feeling. Sometimes we get the high energy shot of a well loved classic song but sometimes, like this night, they come out with a song they have never played, setting tone for not just this show but what is to come further along by not falling into the habit of the familiar. While I am certain the majority of fans probably weren’t completely familiar with the song when it dropped you cannot say that Mozambique was the last thing we could expect here. The song was now more than sixteen months old having debuted (as Free Thought – with lyrics! Or maybe it was Third Tube per phish.com?) back in the 8 Foot Fluorescent Tubes show on 04.17.1998 not to mention the five times the song was played on Trey Tour in May. This first Phish version is a tad loose but serves its purpose and shakes the rust for the secondary Axilla opener that truly wakes the room up.

Axilla runs right into the first potential for some musical conversation and Limb By Limb provides it as Trey shines in his first real solo of the tour. This third song stretches a bit as they drop into a tranquil space, Trey soaring and noodling about over the rhythm section ahead of a short but typical Fish ending. Horn then starts up a run of familiar tunes with a chunky but contained Chalkdust and then Guyute proves that the composed tune chops are doing just fine, thank you for asking. Now we get a song that I still wonder about because while I get that it is a nice way to showcase Page on the Hammond Back At The Chicken Shack has never really connected for me. The song is fine enough it just feels like setlist filler. I cannot think of any version that makes me want to spin it more than just on the way through a show. There are only three more versions following this one so apparently the band felt the same way I suppose.

Perhaps the band felt this wasn’t cutting it either because the Stash that ensues is perhaps the best one of the year at least in my estimation. We will get to the other one worth mentioning in a few weeks as overall 1999 is not the strongest year for the song. Fully limbered following LxL and more, the drop here is effortless and reflective of the then current approach to jamming. Instead of the frenzied push/pull of dissonant tension/release this version is a slow burner. Trey uses the wah to great effect in setting the tone as he quietly tinkers around, playing wobbly lines that counterpoint the bevy of ideas Mike throws out. You know that feeling when you get into a hot tub and it feels good but then your friend turns it up and a bit later all of a sudden you are like “holy shit this is fucking hot!”? Well maybe you don’t but I do and that’s exactly the feeling I get from this jam. Trey is bending notes all over the place, building tension in a very different way than we are used to from this song. Some may say he is whaling here but if you consider that a negative thing then maybe this isn’t the type of Phish for your ears. All but unnoticeable for the first part of the jam, Page comes in with textured synth hits as they build up towards the release we all are seeking. Trey isn’t having it though. Instead he runs out a bunch of tightly grouped notes and eases back towards ending Stash, fluffing the crowd and taunting us as they never resolve it.

Fish gets the spotlight for I Didn’t Know following some fan service banter by Trey where he thanks the crowd for welcoming them to Canada and introduces “Vahjonna Fishman” who on this night is sporting a bandana in honor of the sushi place they clearly visited the night before (TOJO!). In the litany of names the man has been called over the years, this is one makes me chuckle more than most though that may just be my teenager sense of humor shining through. Character Zero gets the closer nod (of course) and while pretty standard Trey does bend and extend, building off the tension of the unrequited Stash and releasing all over the crowd ahead of the “quick break” that was likely not as quick as the singer would lead the gullible to believe.

The second set starts with Birds Of A Feather, one of four times the song did that in its thirteen appearances for the year. It is a good choice here though unfortunately unlike many of the massive versions from the summer tour this one stays in the box without much fanfare to note. Now I’m not sure if that is why the next song is Ha Ha Ha but I have a hunch it could be related. Seriously, when 2/3 of the prior six versions stretched well outside the song you have to wonder why this one got cut short. Who knows with this band though? Those confused thoughts are quickly assuaged when the Ghost loops start and the dance party cranks up in earnest. This time period is a good one if you like big Ghost jams especially the heavily layered, looped out, chugging grooves that typify the overall sound of the era. Similar to the Stash this one starts out smoldering and inbounds as Mike leads the way. Trey toys around with several ideas including an all but recognizable descending line and then some brighter let’s-head-to-the-peak phrases which the crowd appreciates greatly. On that note, really nice feedback loop with the crowd on this night in general which I expect is the excitement of first night of tour combined with the friendly nature of the local folk. Just when you think Trey is going to blast into overdrive they downshift, settling into a secondary groove before the patient return to close the song. Yet again, we are left without a big release. But that’s okay.

Trey picks up the acoustic guitar and debuts The Inlaw Josie Wales which had already gotten seven performances in the acoustic solo first sets from the May tour. This lovely tune has lived on in the solo format but we haven’t heard it at a Phish show since Hiatus and honestly I’m okay with that as it really works best as a solo guitar piece in my opinion. Hopping back to the electric Trey and the band drop into the debut of First Tube, another song first heard in that 04.17.1998 show and quickly becoming a staple on the solo side as well. Compared to what the song has become this version feels pretty tame but hey it was a new song to them so that makes sense. This one will be heard from A LOT as we progress to the point where people got sick of its frequency for a while there.

Maybe that First Tube ended the 3rd quarter or perhaps it opened the 4th but either way it sets everyone up for Tweezer. Things start out drippy and languid, that Tweezer funk pulling everyone in. Call it more tension building or whatever but they sit in the pocket for what seems like forever until things go sideways in that wonderful way. There are hints of other big Tweezers from this year in this jam but it is its own thing as well. The groove roils on with Trey and Page throwing out ideas above, reminding you once again that this is exactly why you put in all of the time/money/energy to And remember how they haven’t really payed off most of the jams so far in this show? Well, wait no more! This Tweezer EXPLODES into a glorious peak and that’s not even the end of it all. The denouement drones on for several minutes of pre-millennial space, never returning to Tweezer before finally fizzling out into nothing and the start of Bug.

Some folks groan at the thought of Bug but these 1999 versions really capture the song well. I like to think Bug is something of a late 90s take on the power ballad format that we all knew and loved/hated from the hairbands of the 80s but with the flourish that only Phish could provide. No matter what your feelings are for Bug this one works well in the aftermath of that Tweezer, slowly building up from the murk that brought us here. Still with time to burn in the set, Phish then drops into You Enjoy Myself, here a mostly “standard” version for the time period. Of note, the pre-nirvana section falls into more of that ambient soundscape space as Trey lets his notes linger and moan out ahead of the classic song proper. There is also a bit of groove to be found in the main jam but nothing more than a vamp fest outside of Mike’s playing… but the crowd sure digs it. Hello My Baby gets the mic’d but a cappella closer slot and then we are onto the encore. Nothing special here as it goes Sample>Golgi>Reprise but the fist pumpers were assuredly doing their thing throughout. Now time to pack up for the overnight drive of nearly 300 miles to The Gorge…

Take Your Laser Beams Away

A quick note here that as I did for my Fall 1998 and Fall 1996 tour reviews I will be updating the site’s music player as we go with all of the “takeaway” tunes I note in this section of each post. Most times these will be the songs with the jams but often other notable things like sit-ins, unique versions, or one offs that I feel are worth including. Keep checking the “I Love The Shiny Music” area in the left hand sidebar for updates.

Being a tour opener sometimes the highlights can be sparse and other times they can be plentiful. Tonight we get a decent number of takeaways (and I’m not even including any of the debuts!).

Limb By Limb

Stash

Ghost

Tweezer

YEM

I recommend checking them all out but please spend time on Stash, Ghost, and Tweezer if you have to mind your time. As tour openers go I feel this show is very strong, particularly that second set.

This Happens Once Again

Next up are the pair of shows from The Gorge, the third trip there in as many years and the last visit until 2.0. Get stretched for the long jams!

And You May Ask Yourself

Well, how *DID* we get here?

 

For many fans, 1999 is a heavy, heavy year.

 

Take that line however it works best for you because there are several ways to interpret that and all are true. It may have been your first opportunity to really go big and hit a large run or full tour of shows. It may have been when you started to see the fraying at the edges both on stage and off. Possibly you connected with the layered textures of music you heard and dove deep into introspection or something a bit less… positive. Maybe this was the year when you saw how big it all had become and it caused you to shy away — or perhaps that drew you in more fully. These are but a few of the thousands of perspectives on what Phish was in 1999. So how did it all come to this?

 

By the time Phish got to 1999 they had become the biggest touring entity in all of rock music, something you can read about from far better writers in many other places. If you are here reading this I expect you probably have a good baseline of what got us here so I won’t waste your time on too much of that. Maybe a little though.

 

In the eleven years before this they had played 1036 shows (~94/yr), peaking at 150 way back in 1990 and playing the fewest at 71 just before in 1998. Even before 1998 the trend to play fewer shows had begun, most definitely the direct result of playing larger venues and having fully arrived as a national touring act that charted some songs and albums along the way. Phish had also pioneered the modern festival, setting the blueprint for Bonnaroo and beyond with The Clifford Ball, The Great Went, and Lemonwheel but also even earlier with their homespun events. Fandom thrived on the nascent internet as tapes spread wide and the word of mouth continued to sow wonder in the minds of a generation of seekers. It felt like whatever they could imagine they could pull off which made it quite inviting to the thousands of curious people looking to be there when it went down. Clearly, Phish was a THING now, a fixture of our culture but one that was always left to exist on the fringe of mainstream popularity.

 

Even with that relative obscurity the Phish machine was chugging along and they had more time on their hands due to less time spent on the road. This allowed for more time spent doing non Phish creative things (The Story Of The Ghost had been released just that past Fall) and each member of Phish filled their time in their own fashion. Mike played a couple of shows with Jamie Masefield and Doug Perkins, Page played some very important shows in April (along with Trey), Fish played shows with the two bands he always bounced between (Jazz Mandolin Project and Pork Tornado), and Trey played the first shows of what has now been a 20+ year side band with the core of Russ Lawton and Tony Markellis. Out of the recording sessions for TSOTG came The Siket Disc, released online in July after being edited by Page earlier in the year. All this at a time when they had gotten so big but still they kept creating.

 

And then came Summer Tour. Phish played 20 shows in 13 states (and one in Canada) over 27 days including Camp Oswego, that summer’s festival. Along the way they debuted thirteen songs including a new batch of mostly one off covers, a few of the Siket tunes (MLT, WTU? The Happy Whip And Dung Song), and a couple that would later end up on the Farmhouse album (BOTT, Bug, MITM). As with most tours there were bustouts and big jams and scensters and complainers and antics and setlist trends and a new Trey toy and complaining about the complainers and all that fun stuff. Perhaps this year the complainers had gotten more numerous or at least louder but there were signs that this wasn’t the tightly practiced band of yore. Without going into it all too much I’ll just point out that while the compositions waned in frequency and precision the era of the extended open jam had begun in earnest. And while nailing those intricate compositions is something that brought a lot of us to Phish it is the prospect of the new that keeps bringing us back. 

 

Whatever your thoughts are on the Summer Tour it was over in under a month and before we knew it there would be more shows to catch. But first… after three straight summers playing some shows ahead of the US tour Phish chose this year to make their first visit to Japan for the Fuji Rock Festival. During this trip they played seven sets over three days, not repeating a song and taking several out for long jams. Combining this run with the Summer and layering in all of those side projects before that, you can start to see that things were set up nicely for Phish as they got going for the Fall. The band was connected, in a period of high creativity, and – after a month at home recharging – well rested. Add in some more new songs, Trey’s mini keyboard tinkerings, and the lead up to probably the greatest single achievement in the band’s history and we have a lot to look forward to here.

 

So with that I leave you to do your homework. I’m not saying you have to go spin the whole May ’99 TAB run (but you could if you want) or skim your way through the summer tour (might not be a bad idea…) or really dive deep with Japan 99 (actually…) or even that you should revisit the April Phil & Phriends shows (okay this you should do). But all of those things plus the Siket Disc surely won’t hurt. Knowing we all are pressed for time these days, I do think you may want to run that 09.09.1999 show top to bottom.  Because in a few days we get this bus rolling for real.

 

Concepts I’ll Ponder

Well it has been FAR TOO LONG since I have spewed thousands of words about Phish here so let’s change that!

 

After some internal – and external – discussion about what I might want to take on for my next deep dive into a Phish Tour gone by I have decided to take on a two leg tour that many love but few discuss in depth. So as to not bury the lede too far I will tell you that this next project is to get comfy with the 40 shows that make up the Fall/Winter tours from 1999.

 

So why this year, this tour, now?

 

Part of that is the simple fact that I have a great appreciation for these shows and know that many others do as well. Excepting those of us who were not able to get on board prior to Hiatus or The Long Wait for any of a hundred different reasons, most people are at least familiar with this era of Phish even if they haven’t spent much time with it. For many this was a time that marked the long, dark descent towards those two events I just mentioned but for many of us this was our early to mid 20s, living (mostly) free and easy in the latter days of the Clinton US, living and breathing the then-exploding jam music scene that Phish helped to foster in the preceding years. But more than anything this is a time in the history of our band that I feel gets a bad rap due to its proximate association with where the scene had gotten at this stage and the later impacts of several factors that quite frankly I will not be focusing on for the most part.

 

My goal here as always is to focus first on the music, particularly the jamming styles and other minutiae. I am not a musician nor am I a historian but I am someone who really fucking loves this band and all that comes with it. So if you are into the dorky, setlist-dissecting, tease-hunting, trend-finding side of Phish fandom you are in the right place. While I was lucky enough to hit eight of the shows I will cover I am by no means going to put my experience forward as anything more than anecdote. Where possible I will add what context I can for what we heard and saw coming from the stage but that is and always will be skewed by my perspective so I welcome any and all to join in and add to the conversation as we proceed.

 

So with that I say get your ears primed, your dancing shoes shined, and your notebooks lined (gimme a break, my rhyming cadence is rusty). There will be a post or two more setting the table for what is to come but soon enough we will begin on our journey from one BC to the other, with stops at all point in between…

Waiting, Calculating – Puzzling Our Visit to Fall 1996

Okay, let’s have some fun and do a little contest thingy. I’m kind of obsessed with crossword puzzles and phish (not necessarily in that order) and I thought it would be fun to bring the two together. Note that there are old threads on .net and other places where fans have made puzzles before so this isn’t exactly new ground being covered, just my take on the idea. All of the clues for this puzzle can be figured out if you have been following along on the Fall 1996 Tour and most even without that.

 

So here’s the contest.

 

  1. Download and print out the Fall96Crossword and clues.
  2. Complete the puzzle.
  3. By the deadline (more on that below), email me your completed puzzle.
  4. I will then pick one winner at random out of all 100% correct entries as the winner

 

The prize for this little game? A gift certificate redeemable at http://www.livephish.com for one Lossless Download of the show of your choice. That’s nearly a $13 retail value! If you want the HD version the upcharge is on you, bub. I’m already giving you the lossless you should be spinning anyway.

 

The deadline for submissions will be August 25th at 11:59pm Eastern Daylight time. That way I can have the winner announced and awarded prior to the next scheduled Phish shows in case that individual wants to grab one of them. Please email your completed entry to me at typeiiijpd at the gmail place.

 

UPDATE: Apparently I cannot spell certain people’s names correctly as the answer for 51 Down is the more common but incorrect spelling of that person’s name. The correct answer would be five letters which won’t fit in that three letter slot so if you think you know it but it will not fit there’s your reason. I have it incorrect. And if it fits for you, well, that probably means you have been spelling it incorrectly all these years.

 

The downloadable versions are linked above but here is the grid and clues for reference

Fall96Crossword

crossword clues text_Page_1

crossword clues text_Page_2

Okay, got all that? Now get to it!!

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

fall 96 takeaways_Page_1fall 96 takeaways_Page_2fall 96 takeaways_Page_3

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

 

Fall 1996 1 (Lake Placid through St. Louis)

Fall 1996 2 (Omaha through Las Vegas)

 

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

 

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

All The Times I Raise My Cup – The Fall 1996 Tour Stats

One of the complete Phish nerd things that I love about this band is how detailed we are able to get in breaking down their tours, shows, sets, songs, and more. To some people this is not something they even think about with Phish as they enjoy the music in the moment and move on to whatever is the next thing along the path of their life. But for some of us the deep dives into the minutiae of bustouts, setlist construction, gap charts, opener/closer/encore trends, and more is exciting in its own way. And with the assistance of wonderful fan-made tools like Phish Stats or My Numberline figuring out how many times you saw them on Mondays, for example, is now so much simpler (note that both of those resources are best used in conjunction with a completed show attendance profile at phish.net). These tools are also great for breaking down the nitty gritty that make up the patterns and trends of the band over the course of a particular tour. Some will tell you that this type of analysis is missing out on the point with Phish but I’d argue that for me it has fostered an even deeper awe and appreciation for what it is that they do. When you consider that the band has now played something like 1,568 shows (give or take) there is wonder to be found in the details of it all. We all know that this is a band that seemingly likes to do the unexpected but the more you get into it the more it becomes clear that there are methods to the seeming madness. It may not be how every fan enjoys their Phish but for me it is another layer to peel back on this weird onion we cannot stop following.

 

So let’s get to gettin’, eh?

 

As mentioned in previous posts, this tour was made up of 35 shows over the course of 51 days. I’ve mentioned the vast distance this tour covered in that time with the band, crew, and touring fans covering a ridiculous 13,000 miles. That’s over 250 miles per day which works out to an average of about four hours of driving for each day of this tour. With only one venue seeing a two night stand (MSG) and a few big long hauls in there (KC to Spokane being the biggest single trek) it is a good thing that gas prices were so low in the U S of A at that time (though it should be noted that by the Fall gas prices were up close to 15% over where they were when the year started). But we don’t worry about the mileage we are putting on the VW bus or Subaru wagon or trusty old mom mobile we borrowed that we rely on to make our way around the country when following this band. It is just a part of the bigger thing, ain’t it? There is no set pattern to what nights the band played along the Fall 1996 path or at least a lot less rhyme and reason to it as we see today with the multi-night stands, 3-4 show weekend runs, and regular off days on the typical midweek lesser-attended nights like Mondays and Tuesdays. Sure, Friday and Saturday each got seven shows to tie for the lead but Wednesday of all nights sits alone in second with six. The majority of the shows occurred in November (19) but that’s more a matter of when the tour dates fell since it started midway through October and only went a few days into December. The shows took place in 21 states and one Canadian province with just over half being in the Eastern time zone. As stated above, New York and MSG is the only repeat venue for the tour – a tour that has fifteen venues unique to it.

 

The band played 707 total songs which means you had to travel about 18 miles for every song performed. I’m really going to run that distance traveled thing into the ground here if I keep this up. Those 707 songs included 141 unique tunes with each song averaging almost five performances for the tour and 34 being singular performances. The tour average for songs played was 20.0 each night which falls somewhere in the middle of the averages for that though higher than the full year average for 1996 (18). In terms of most frequently played songs, we kept track as we went so it isn’t much of a surprise to see Taste (19 shows) and Zero (18) way ahead of the pack here as the next highest played is thirteen for CTB, CDT, and Sample. The Top Ten is rounded out by the five song tie up for sixth place at twelve times: Disease, Sparkle, Steep, Swept Away, and YEM. With three songs having been played eleven times (Caspian, Theme, Waste) and a whopping nine having been played ten times (Bouncin’, Free, Julius, Poor Heart, Reba, Simple, Stash, Suzy, Train Song) that gives us 22 songs that were played ten or more times this tour. That obviously skews the averages for frequency.

 

Openers, closers, and encores were a lot tougher to gauge though as only three songs opened more than two shows: CDT (4), Jim (4), and MFMF (3). Similarly, only four songs closed first sets that often: Zero (5), Lope (4), Bowie (3), and Frankenstein (3). Second sets were not much different either as only three songs opened second sets more than twice: 2001 (5), Disease (3), and Wilson (3); second set closers were also quite scattered with only three over the two time threshold: Hood (4), Paug (4), and HMB (3). For encores, removing the cut up Harpua from Vegas that shows up as number one (I know it is a small glitch but it annoys me that the song count is correct on ihoz and .net for songs like this but not for the opener/closer/encore slotting) there are only five songs that fell here more than twice:  Waste (4), Fire (3), Funky Bitch (3), GTBT (3), and Julius (3). In terms of those weird setlist oddities we have a few including I Am Hydrogen (330 total performances), My Sweet One (242), Landlady (210), Oh Kee Pa (214), and DaaM (147) all NOT appearing the whole tour. Of those songs only Dinner and a Movie has been played in less than 10% of all Phish shows and even that one is pretty close at just under 9.5%. The then recently released Billy Breathes tracks make up the entirety of the ‘overplayed’ list as the band was obviously featuring these new tunes and new arrangements of older ones — with the exception of Free (cuz it just gets played a lot), Talk (thankfully), and Bliss (which has still never been performed live). Thirteen songs played on this tour have at least 50% of their total performances here as the Halloween debut of Remain In Light brought Born Under Punches, Houses in Motion, Listening Wind, Seen and Not Seen, The Great Curve, and The Overload for their only appearances and Once in a Lifetime for what was its singular appearance until the not-quite-nailed-but-greatly-appreciated bustout of it on 09.06.2015 as part of the meaningful “THANK YOU” encore. Others in this group include the singular debut covers of I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart and Wildwood Weed in Vegas, Mean Mr. Mustard during the M Set (and as a hilarious intro for the Jon Popper sit-in), and Midnight on the Highway (the Tim O’Brien cover to nod to their fun with the border patrol in canada) as well as the last time they have played All Along The Watchtower and the first time they would play We’re An American Band. Tied to this ‘50%’ stat there were 16 songs debuted this tour including all of the tracks on  Remain in Light, Swept Away, Steep, The Star Spangled Banner, Mean Mr. Mustard, We’re An American Band, Midnight On The Highway, and those two from Vegas.

 

Even with the relative frequency of some of the songs played this tour there were many notable gaps broken as Phish mixed in bustouts of tunes along the way. The covers of All Along the Watchtower at MSG and Sweet Emotion (jam) in Seattle came in at the top with 227 and 237 shows respectively. Other ones over the 110 show gap mark include Axilla (170) and ATR (107) in Champaign, Sparks (173) in Daly City, Peaches (144) in Los Angeles, the Vibe of Life (148) in Kansas City, and Ginseng Sullivan (103) at MSG. Phish also threw in some more ‘minor’ bustouts along the way with the 50+ show group including JJLC (76) on Halloween, Wedge (70) with Perazzo in Tallahassee, Bold as Love (67) for Jimi’s birthday in Seattle, Catapult (57) and Carolina (64) in North Charleston, Demand (64) as one of the few highlights of that Ames show, and La Grange (56) and Kung (55) as part of that wild second set from Omaha. Not a bad tour for the bustouts unless you compare it to, say, Summer 2016 which was just chock full of some massive ones.

 

Lastly, this tour was a good one for those who like to see people sit in with Phish. That is not necessarily something we expect these days particularly considering the band’s openness about wanting to keep it just the four of them. All told there are XXX shows where at least one person joined the band for a song with a total of XXX songs that have guest musicians lending a hand. Those sit-ins include:

10.22.1996  The Freakapaug, Watchtower – circus dancers and Mimi Fishman adding to the visual element with costumes and improv dancing for a wild Paug and then legends Buddy Miles and Merl Saunders come out for a wonderful All Along the Watchtower

10.23.1996 Entire 2nd set plus encore – Bob Gullotti on a 2nd drum kit

10.29.1996 Entire show – Karl Perazzo debuts on percussion for, well, the entire thing

10.31.1996 Entire 2nd and 3rd sets plus encore – Karl Perazzo on percussion, Dave Grippo on saxaphone, Gary Gazaway (El Buho) on trumpet)

11.02.1996 Entire show – Karl Perazzo continues his Phish run on percussion throughout with the exception of the Adeline closer

11.03.1996 Entire show – Karl Perazzo’s run as the fifth member of the band ends with another full show sit-in

11.15.1996 Paug, Funky Bitch – old friend of the band Jon Popper lends some of his trademarked harmonica to the closer and encore

11.18.1996 Back half of 2nd set plus encore – Gary Gazaway (El Buho) comes back for another go on Tweezer, HMB, Reprise, Llama, and the JBG encore

11.30.1996 Two songs in the 1st and the back half of 2nd set plus encore – John McEuen comes out for a couple of bluegrass numbers in the first set (OHP, Uncle Pen), Peter Apfelbaum joins for Timber Ho!>Taste, and Funky Bitch, and then both play on the Amazing Grace (jam) closer and Possum encore

12.06.1996 Encore – In the midst of a Vegas-sized Harpua tale Les Claypool and Larry LaLonde of Primus, the Yodeling Cowgirls, and several Elvii make this encore one for the ages

I’m certain there are more ways to break down this tour statistically but for our purposes that gets about to the root of it all. I know this isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea when it comes to Phish (let’s just say my wife’s eyes immediately roll into the back of her head when I start in with the stats stuff) but I find it interesting and think that it all helps to paint a better picture of what went down.

 

Next up are our “superlatives” and the list/download of all the final takeaways from this unheralded yet quite fantastic tour. Time to give the calculators and spreadsheets a little rest…

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Fall 1996 Tour – Raw “Tier One” Takeaways

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

 

Fall 1996 Tour – Raw “Tier Two” Takeaways

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

 

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

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

Phish — The Aladdin Theatre — Las Vegas, NV 12.06.1996

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Heh. Hehehe. HAHAHAHAHA!!

 

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

 

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

 

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