Until You Burst Into Song and Unwind – Priming Up for Fall 1996

1996

 

Seemingly a lost year in the annals of Phishtory according to some,  1996 exists as a year tucked between two of the most highly lauded years in which the band has played shows. But while this year does not perhaps produce the reactions from fans that 1995 or 1997 do the truth is that this is a year full of amazing music and one that deserves more credit for helping to shape the sound of the band for years to come than it has been given. Our focus will be on the Fall Tour from this year but I think it helps a bit to understand what got us there so that we can then see where it takes us in going forward as well so with that in mind I present you with a quite brief (and not in any way seriously vetted) primer on 1996 Phish.

 

Following the triumphant and understandably highly praised Fall 1995 Tour and ensuing New Year’s Run that culminated with a pair of shows at Madison Square Garden – shows that really shouldn’t need any introduction – the band hit the studio to begin laying down the tracks for what would become the album Billy Breathes. This recording time ran over several months between February and June of that year with the band pausing in April for their first ever appearance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (aka JazzFest). This one set show is not necessarily the greatest Phish you will ever here but there is a sit-in by Michael Ray for Cars Trucks Buses (a relationship that has blossomed over the years since Trey first joined the Cosmic Krewe for a show in March 1994), a YEM->Wolfman’s combo that works quite well, a soaring Hood, and a wonderfully tensioned David Bowie that has hints of Caravan throughout. Honestly, some of the best music to be found from Phish’s visit to The Crescent City lies in the sit-ins they did with other bands while there but those are not quite the focus of our time here together, are they?

 

Around this time Trey released the first ‘solo’ project album that any of the band members had produced to date with the free jazz experiment Surrender to the Air. This was a HUGE departure from Phish and as a result the album is not necessarily widely considered a must-have album by the majority of Phish fans but it was a worthy risk to undertake as it opened up a whole different world of musical possibility – even if it did not directly result in any new songs for the Phish canon. But when you bring together an amazing group of musicians including Marshall Allen, Trey, Kofi Burbridge, Oteil Burbridge, Damon Choice, Fish, Bob Gulotti, James Harvey, John Medeski, Michael Ray, and Marc Ribot you can expect some magic to go down. Fans of this music should also check out the two shows they played for the release of the album on 04.01.1996 and 04.02.1996 at the New York Arts Academy. Maybe it isn’t your cup of tea but it is challenging improv that finds some moments of true connection amidst the competing lines of the wonderful players who laid it down.

 

Based on the Doniac Schvice that came out in March of that year we knew that the band had no other plans for the Spring besides that Jazz Fest appearance and they also indicated they would be going to Europe for a tour in July (as well as introducing us all to the wonder that is Assface…). In truth, fans would only have to wait another six weeks before the band hit the stage again, this time in Woodstock, NY while in the area recording at Bearsville Studios, a legendary recording studio where a long list of notable records were laid down over the years and which is now a private residence. This was an unannounced show at the now-closed Joyous Lake club played under the name ‘Third Ball’ with an opening band called ‘Juan Hung Low’. Clearly, the sophomoric humor of our band had not worn off in playing bigger stages of late. That show was a bit of a “back to their roots” bar show highlighting some of the newer songs (Waste and Character Zero were both debuted here) with a loose feel and a generally fun vibe permeating the music. Rumors of this show spread wide and far with high quality recordings coming out quite quickly as well, further amping up fans’ excitement for the summer to come.

 

Looking back it is hard to imagine how we made it all work in prepping for tours considering that it took until the Late Spring Doniac Schvice for us to get the details on the European Tour (and even that had several unconfirmed dates as of pressing) and the US Tour to follow. The biggest  news in there (aside from the brief announcement of the impending launch of phish.com, of course) was that the abbreviated US Tour would lead to Phish’s first ever “official” festival on the grounds of a decommissioned airforce base in Plattsburgh, NY. That news alone made the idea of a brief nine show US Tour more palatable to the masses. But before we get to that, let’s talk about that Euro Tour for a bit. Things did not start out as optimistically as one would have liked considering their first set in Italy was rained out but they were there doing several supporting sets for Santana so that allowed for the band to variously join Carlos on stage over the run as well as to allow for Phish to interact with Carl Perazzo, the percussionist who would play a big role in the tour that we are about to tackle here. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that the Euro Tour was a success on many fronts even if some do not consider there to be a high number of lasting jams to go back to from those shows. I tend to disagree but then I tend to find the good in almost all the Phish I hear. Almost.

 

A few days after returning from Europe (and with the Summer Schvice out to further whip the fervor of the fans for both the Clifford Ball AND our Fall Tour) Phish opened up the tour in gorgeous Park City, UT (oddly enough the second tour in a row that had rain leading into the show…) with Page showing off his new toy the Theremin as they opened with a haunting take on Somewhere Over the Rainbow (which would be quite a mind flipper if that was your first introduction to Phish…) as the stage was framed by the resulting rainbow from the passed storm. This show is okay with not many big highlights but they played a lot of fan favorites cleanly so you really can’t complain about a tour opener like that. Next was the now infamous four show stand at Red Rocks which has some fantastic playing but is most well known for the bad interactions some members of the scene had with the Morrison locals. I’m not going to bother linking the many articles written about this debacle but when you get banned by Red Rocks you know things have gotten a little out of hand. This wasn’t the first sign that the scene had changed (partially since the passing of Jerry but also as the natural expansion occurred when Phish got big over the course of 94-95) but it was the big moment where a lot of people started to recognize the cracks in the armor that had protected our thing from those negative outside influences for longer than it probably deserved.

 

The circus moved on to Alpine Valley and Deer Creek next with the band really starting to catch fire as they worked their way east all while it seemed that more and more fans hopped on the bus headed up to the Northeast. There was one final show in Hershey which ended up being a bit of a sleeper show considering so many people went right from Deer Creek to New York, probably staying on I-90 rather than dipping down into PA via I-80 so as to make the best use of the short amount of time before the festival began. Now, I would argue that the best use of time would have been to go to Hershey but what do I know? I only was able to scheme my way into a four day furlough from the summer camp where I worked on the Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake to cannonball it up to Plattsburgh for the festival so I can’t speak for those who hit the whole tour or at least the parts between the Midwest and the fest. Anyway, we created one of the lasting memories in the band’s history on that airforce base that weekend and that set the template not just for future Phish festivals but for the evolution of the live music industry in the US as people including the creators of Bonnaroo took that destination camping festival idea and blew it up into the bevy of music fests we now have to enjoy each year. That weekend saw the largest crowd ever (at the time) for Phish as over 70,000 of us congregated in celebration with the music and band as our guide. Along with the summer run that preceded it you can sense that this was the start of a big change in the band considering they had as many fans at that event as would have attended all four of the New Year’s Run shows in 1995 COMBINED. You don’t really go back to playing small theater tours from that.

 

So after The Clifford Ball happened – and I must say that you could do a whole lot worse than to do a little listening project following that US Tour through the festival as it is only 11 shows plus some more treats like the Flatbed Jam – the band headed home (not too far, of course, since they were just across the lake!) to catch their breath and practice a bit for the upcoming Fall Tour. In this time the final details for the Fall Tour came out via another Schvice and fans waited on the release of the album to come (which apparently could have had any of about a hundred different names than what it became…). The Billy Breathes album would end up being released the day prior to the first show of the Fall Tour in Lake Placid, NY and to this day stands as probably the best received album the band has put out. It probably wouldn’t hurt you to give it another listen to get ready for this tour since you will be getting quite familiar with almost all of the songs included on the record.

 

So that is how we got to here, the start of the Fall 1996 Phish Tour. We have 35 shows ahead of us to explore and I think if you have never taken the time to really go through this tour in earnest you may be quite surprised by how great many of these shows really are. It might not include a 20-minute-second-set-opening jam every show and they may have reined in the open psych a tad but there is a lot going on in the playing on this tour, things that will bear fruit not just in these shows but for many years to come in the world of Phish. So aside from a few short site notes below, let’s get down to the matter and crank up the Fall ’96!!

 

As a quick update, I recommend checking out some of the Band History information on phish.com/band which is a lot more in depth (and accurate) than my rough summary above. There are entries for February, April, June, July, October, and November of 1996 along with ones for several other notable times in the band’s history.

 

 

Okay, those site notes. Today, 12.14.2015, the 20th anniversary of the amazing Broome County Arena show from Binghamton, NY, will be the last day that the music player over there to the left will have the Fall 1998 tour highlights available. For this tour I am going to try something a little different by clearing the list and updating it with each show post to include the takeaways as we go along. This should help you to listen along if you feel like just hitting the top notch stuff but I do recommend spinning the full shows whenever possible as I tend to leave out some things because I am, after all, just one fan with opinions that might not agree with your take.

 

If you are still looking for those Fall ’98 gems there is a new section just above that player called “The Takeaways” where you can find download links to the compilations. This section should hopefully grow over time as we cover more and more of the band’s music.

 

Please give me any feedback you can so that I can make all of this easy for everyone. Living in the future is awesome, ain’t it?

Don’t You See Anything That You’d Like To Try?

Fall 98 Takeaways

You see that little spreadsheet above? That’s the tracking for our takeaways from this here Fall 1998 Phish Tour. This is the raw data from the end of each post where I identify what songs are potentially worthy of the highlight reel, based on a highly scientific set of criteria that is all subject to my personal and quite subjective preferences. The songs highlighted in yellow are the ones I throw in as “add ons”. Any time you see a segue notation (> or ->) that denotes that the song following it here is part of the sequence. There ends up being a lot of songs here to work through but this is what we do as scarily obsessive fans. I do not expect that another person’s list would be the same as mine but then they aren’t the guy writing this blog now are they?

 

Over the next few posts I will be taking these “takeaway jams” and categorizing them a bit, perhaps tiering them in some fashion. The goal here is really to revel in the wonderful music, not to offer anything that could be mistaken as ranking art. For simplification and ease of digestion it becomes more expedient to break them into groups but that is more convenience than anything. That said, there are some versions of songs here that are “next level” Phish and as such we will focus on them more than the relatively straight forward or otherwise not srs bns epcot level jams. If you feel that there is anything that I have missed here, leave it in the comments. That way we can all point and laugh at whoever puts forth the proposition that there should be more Wadings in the list (just as an example, of course…).

 

 

You’ve Been By Here Before — The Next Tour To Tackle

I, like many of us, have a long and varied history with the band Phish. I have been privileged to see this band all over the United States in every possible type of setting over the course of twenty-five plus years. I have not seen the band in a foreign country and there are definitely big stretches of shows over that time that I was unable to attend for whatever reason but I feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity to share in the experience of their music as much as I have.

In thinking about what tour to tackle next in reflecting back here I wanted to focus on something that was wholly removed from my personal experience with the music. I also wanted it to be a tour that I have listened to but have not done a deep dive into as far as listening goes so that it would be fresh for me to hear so that I could come in with something of a clean slate. So this would require the tour to be one where I did not attend any shows and where I had not spent a lot of time listening back as compares to some of the more classically highly touted tours in the band’s history. And at the same time I wanted it to be a tour that has musical merit and value within the evolution of the band and their sound which is to say that my decision would factor in some thought about where the band was coming from and where they were headed considering my ability to shine a retrospective light onto the proceedings. Lastly, I wanted this tour to be one that was high on jamming and open jamming in particular since that is, at the core, what Phish does best in my estimation.

As fate would have it, there are a few tours that fit this bill quite swimmingly with one being a tour that I long did not listen to very much because I was unable to catch any shows on — but for what I consider a very good reason. After catching several shows along the Summer 1998 Tour as I finished up grad school work, several friends and I took the Fall to backpack our way around Europe, starting in Madrid and doing a lap around the continent over the course of about four months. People came and went along the way but I personally came back in late November having missed any opportunity to catch Phish that Fall. Don’t fret for me though, as I had an amazing time and capped it by seeing what would be my final full NYE Run of 1.0 at the end of the year. We won’t discuss why I didn’t make it to Big Cypress the year following as that’s a conversation for another day.

So call it burying the lede, but what I am announcing with this post is that my next project will be to detail the show by show goings on of the Phish Fall 1998 Tour.

This tour includes a lot of what we all love about Phish in these twenty-two shows and shows a band on top of their game but still pushing the envelope to get further out. We will have plenty of big jams to dissect, antics to laugh at (or deride if that’s not your thing), new songs, an album release, a Halloween cover costume, the don’t-skip-the-skip-show show of all of them, and much much more. Heck, with this small number of shows perhaps I should just start with the few shows that led up to that tour opener in Los Angeles, as there is a lot to detail in those as well (this includes the Farm Aid set, the surprise show in San Francisco, and the pair of sets at The Bridge School Benefit).

For now though, let’s all get our files in order to start going back to that time when Phish had graduated on to bigger venues and bigger expectations, a time when they seemingly could do no wrong, a time when their sound included all of the elements of what had gotten them here but not a time of stagnancy of any sort. The band and scene had grown to all but peak height and many openly wondered whether it could keep going in this way for much longer. While that sort of thinking would eventually become more of a factor, here in Fall ’98 the wheels were still turning and the Phish Express was chugging along with no signs of apparent wear, tear, or ill repair. So let’s hop on board and listen in to what the band threw down in the middle of those years that many refer to as The Peak, shall we?

We’ll Help You Party Down – Portland, OR 03.31.1993

Phish — Roseland Theater — Portland, OR 03.31.1993

I  Jim, Foam, Sparkle, Melt>Mound, PYITE, Sample, Reba, IDK, Bowie

II  Lengthwise->Maze, Bouncin’, Uncle Pen, Hood, BBJ, Ice, YEM, Harpua, CDT

E  Bag, Adeline

Further up I-5 and on the following evening from their stop in Eugene the band was in Portland for the start of a two show stand at the Roseland Theater (nee Starry Night before an ownership change in 1991) and their fourth of five total times playing the venue (the last would be the following evening). This one comes off like the hot, sweaty affair it assuredly was as the playing is loose and free throughout both sets. Sure, there’s some feedback to be dealt with on this tape but there’s also some fun jams, a bunch of teases, and a couple of other little oddities to cover with this one so let’s get down to the nitty gritty.

Things get off to a good start with another solid Jim jammer, as they are continuing to be patient with this one, letting Mike and Fish play a bit after the drop before the full band comes in for the rousing finish. We are still in the sandbox on this one but the inklings are forming. Next we get an energetic Foam and then Sparkle before they drop into Melt. While this version stays mainly true to form it is a very energetic, up tempo version that’ll make you yearn for the precision of years gone by. A manageable Mound, a punchy PYITE, and a suitable Sample get us through the midsection of the set before our girl Reba pops in for a quite lovely version that is oddly undervalued in everything I have seen about this show. The composed section is pretty well nailed and then the jam is just one of those beautiful uplifting hose peakery sections with Trey throwing out all sorts of ideas along the way. Maybe I’m overselling it, but maybe not. You decide. Then in IDK we have Madonna on the washboard for a slightly different take than the trombone stuff before they kick off a set-closing Bowie that is also fairly under the radar when looking at this show. You have the standard SL in the intro (AFD, Simpson’s) and then they just take us on a patient journey through the Bowie world, departing around 7:00 with some clever leading from Trey that carries through to the end which resolves in fine fashion. This is definitely a Trey Clinic Bowie if you are into that sort of thing which you should be if you are listening to ’93 Phish cuz that’s kinda a big part of the deal back then.

After the break they come out with a tune that isn’t new exactly but that had never yet been played as a set opener. Fish starts up Lengthwise and by the time he gets to the last couple of rounds the crowd is right there with him, allowing for a perfect segue right into that song’s album brother Maze. It is interesting that this pairing had yet to occur before this show considering their placement on the then recently released album but here we are. And from here it would become a more common thing, as of the fourteen times the song has been played since 03.31.1993 Maze has followed in eight of those. Additionally, eight of those fourteen have been to kick off a set or encore and six of those headed right into Maze. So the Maze. Right. This one is just another fiery shred heaven version with Trey really out front for most of the jam and then we are off to happy time with Bouncin. A quick stop for Uncle Pen and then the first jam highlight of the second set is upon us as Hood starts up (if you are counting at home that is quite the high number of Fish-started tunes on this evening). This Hood starts out with some SL (Simpson’s) and then once they hit the jam they throw in a couple of teases (Odd Couple, Pink Panther) before bringing it all back for a nice finish. Not the biggest version ever but nice and clean and sticks the landing. Next there’s a quick BBJ before we have what seems to be a standard Ice but wait! I read in a couple of places that this one had an ending that one would know from another (future) song but until I listened to both I thought it was probably a stretch. So go cue up Axilla II and listen to the coda/outro and then come back to this Ice, focusing on the part at the end right before they go into YEM. Yup. It’s there. You might have to DL the show because some of the streaming sites elide some of the end bits on some of these tracks – which is relevant to some funny banter later on in this show too, but we’ll get to that. So yeah, that’s a neat little thing. Then we have YEM and for this one Trey rides rhythm for the majority of the jam, allowing Page to shine on the organ for the bulk if it before he comes in strong at the end right before a quick D&B that precedes the VJ. And looking back, that is clearly one of those sentences that taken out of context would make absolutely no sense to the uninformed reader. But I digress. Next we have our second Harpua of the tour and this one is a nice “I remember…” story that harkens back to his times in Gamehedge, some mention of submarines (the roots of TTE, perhaps?!?!) and eventually gets to Jimmy watching Beverly Hills Cop (cue the Axel F tease – definitely a nod back to the 03.28.1993 show where it popped up in the soundcheck and again in the Antelope) before Trey tells him to turn it off so he can get his Stones on with a little ‘She’s So Cold’ quote before they come back to the fight and bring it all home. Throw on a rocking CDT closer for good measure and your set is complete. Your encores are Bag and Adeline tonight and along with the Bag being a rare treat at this stage Trey tells a funny thing between songs about how one of his heroes Bonnie Raitt is playing in town that night and how he has a crush on her. Ginger love knows no bounds, for sure… Adeline gets a dedication to Nina as she lost and had found her ID which Trey returns to her from the stage. Nice Guy Trey helping out!

So what’s the tale of the tape here? This is another one that I can’t rightly recommend you go spin top to bottom because there’s a lot of stuff that just doesn’t really do much. But when they hit here they hit well. And with that in mind I’ll say check out the Melt, Reba, Bowie, Hood, YEM, and Harpua (if you are into the whole story time Trey thing). If you haven’t noticed by now, I’m finding more nuggets to share in these shows as we progress through the tour. Sure, many are of the same song time and again but overall the fact that the level of playing and cohesion has improved is easily evident and I’m just reflecting that as well. It’s a win-win for all of us!

Next up is the second night from this venue from an April Fool’s Day gone by where rumor and speculation led to some typically phishy humor.

As a site news note, once I hit the end of the West Coast run on this Spring ’93 tour I’m going to shift to something a bit more recent. That’s four more shows if you are keeping track at home. Not gonna spoil which tour just yet though…

PJJ

Just a quick site update and plug for my new favorite place on these here intrawebz.

Recently, a couple of super phanner brothers put together a website to showcase the fantastic work they have done in focusing on the all killer no filler aspect of Phish that so many of us enjoy so much. This started out as a series of downloadable mixes with all of the jam segments from each tour going all the way back to that Spring 1993 tour I seem to have a thing for to where now you can go to this site and hear all that jam to your heart’s content. Yes I know that sentence is poorly constructed. I’m excited here. Give me a break.

The site is Phish Just Jams and I think you should just go ahead and dive in headfirst. Don’t worry, the jams are deep enough to catch you when you fall. It is pretty straightforward to use so just set the filters for the heart of the sun and go.

And just because I know the three of you who come here regularly (that is probably an exaggeration) are wondering why I bring this up it is that I am going to be peppering in some links to the jams from particular shows using this great resource to help highlight some of the more notable performances we come across going forward. In some cases I will link to the full song from a place like phish.in or phishtracks where appropriate but when discussing the evolution of the band’s musical explorations it is most appropriate to focus on the improvised sections of said music rather than the same composed and lyrical sections we hear over and over again.

Now let’s get to it!

I Can Smell the Colors…

Okay, just messing around with the format a bit to see if this is easier on the eyes than the ‘whiteboard’ look previously. For some reason I’ve always associated purple tones with Phish. So what do you think? Too much or not enough?

And with that in mind let’s just go ahead and link the Purple Dragon Studios tape. You know the one, right? April 26th, 1994? Radio show appearance where they dropped the only Sun Ra tune they have ever played? No?

Well, you should know it…

Phish — Purple Dragon Studios — Atlanta, GA 04.26.1994

I  Sample, Bouncin’, Maze, DWD>Fluffhead, Carefree

It is about what you’d expect from an in studio performance in 1994. Somewhat restrained but the edges show where it could go. From Maze on this is a highly worthwhile listen, particularly that Carefree. I’m still waiting for that song to pop up for real in a show…