A World of Light- Atlanta, GA 10.31.1996

Phish — The Omni — Atlanta, GA 10.31.1996

I  Sanity>HTH>Disease>YEM, Caspian>Reba, Forbin’s>Mockingbird>Zero, SSB

II  Born Under Punches>C&P>The Great Curve, Once in a Lifetime>Houses in Motion->Seen and Not Seen->Listening Wind>The Overload

III  Brother, 2001>Maze, Simple->Swept Away>Steep>JJLC>Suzy

E  Frankenstein


Ah, Halloween. We have dipped our toe into this most holy of high Phish holidays before to break down the band’s performance of The Velvet Underground’s Loaded album but two years before that night — and the last time they had played Halloween before then — the band graced the stage of The Omni for an evening that would perhaps do more to shape the future trajectory of the band than any other single show. That’s a pretty hyperbolic statement to make on the surface but as we go along here I think it will be more clear why I speak so assuredly on this subject. Of course, I tipped my hand a bit on this front with the last show review but that was but that was almost like the preamble before the real speech. The opening band before the main attraction. The fluff… I’ll stop there. I think you get the point.


Phish by this time already had a quite healthy history in Hot ‘Lanta and Georgia in general, having first played in the state way back in February 1990 for a trio of shows supporting Widespread Panic. These shows (The Georgia Theatre in Athens for 02.01.1990 and 02.02.1990 and Atlanta’s Cotton Club — another in the long line of clubs now closed that Phish once played — on 02.03.1990) don’t offer us much considering all are one setters and none of them has a fully known setlist. They continued visiting these two venues later in 1990 and into 1991, playing seven shows alternating between the two rooms starting in Athens with 05.31.1990 opening for the Aquarium Rescue Unit, then 06.01.1990 for a fun one with ARU members sitting in (check out the Antelope and the Col. Hampton’s Ascent>Mockingbird), then 10.18.1990 for an okay one, 10.19.1990 for an odd single setter with two encores, 03.01.1991 for a show most notable for the DEG fun in a few tunes, 03.02.1991 opening for The Grapes (a 90s era ATL-based jam/rock band), and 07.26.1991 for a Giant County Horns tour show that ARU opened (please please check out the YEM and Tweezer from this one if nothing else!). The string was finally broken with their first visit to the Variety Playhouse (though the Athens/Atlanta streak was still intact!) for 07.27.1991, a single set show opening for ARU that marked the end of the famed GCH Tour (and another with a double encore). They returned to the Variety on 11.09.1991 for a show best known for the ‘gospel My Sweet One’ then back to Athens (for the last time ever…) for the fun 11.12.1991 show that has two quite lengthy encores (must be some great cheering going on back then at these shows to ellict all these double encores…). The band’s last visit to the Variety Playhouse came the following Spring on 03.28.1992 for a show best know as the “Flood Show” as they had a quite abbreviated 2nd set where they performed four songs unplugged (three songs and IDK) before giving up. There’s also a Secret Language Instructions and the one time performance of Lullaby of Birdland, both tucked into the first set Bowie. Perhaps wanting to satisfy the fans who had been robbed of their second set in 1992, Phish returned in February 1993 for a three night stand at the Roxy Theater (yup. it’s closed) that really needs no introduction considering there is an official release and everything. Besides, we already covered those amazing shows. All I will say is if you don’t know them already get on it, dude.


Don’t worry, we are almost caught up. I can’t be held responsible for the band playing awesome music in this area so often.


Later in 1993, in the middle of Summer Tour and on the cusp of what is known to be one of the more important months musically for the band’s future development they played at the Masquerade Music Park on 07.31.1993 for a show that has a big Mike’s Song and the last Leprechaun ever (sad). On 04.23.1994 they played the Fox Theater for the first time, bringing out Col. Bruce Hampton and Merl Saunders in a great one that includes debuts of High Heel Sneakers to close the first set and Who by Fire out of YEM (more of a VJ intonation than anything) not to mention an epic Stash. Around this time (04.26.1994) they also visited Purple Dragon Studios for a promo set supporting the Hoist release, a set that is mostly straight forward by that also includes the singular performance of Sun Ra’s Carefree (a song I still long to hear Phish bring to the big stage). That Fall they played the Atlanta Civic Center (10.25.1994) for one of those great Fall 94 shows, this one highlighted by big takes on Melt and Paug, not to mention a slew of teases and some fine segue work throughout. On 06.15.1995 Phish played Lakewood Amphitheatre (a venue that has seen quite a few name changes in the 20 years the band has been playing there…) for the first time, dropping a wildly psychedelic Stash->IDK (one of the first instances of Mike using a power drill that I know of) and the first of the big time Summer ’95 Bowies. Fall 1995 saw another three night run — this time at the Fox — for three more great shows, first on 11.09.1995 for one that has jam highlights all over (Simple>Reba and the Gin are probably the biggies), then 11.10.1995 which continues the jamming trend (Mule, YEM->Crossroads->YEM, Hood), and finally 11.11.1995 which has big Mike’s Groove elements and fun Ya Mar. Keep in mind that these were the first shows following the triumph that was 10.31.1995 and the energy from that night seemed to carry over to this stand. That gets us up to date for this next Halloween show and I appreciate you bearing with me in getting through all of the varied and wonderful history that the band has in The Big Peach (and Athens!).


Now, on to the show!


Oh yeah. One more thing before we get going here. If you don’t already have a copy of this show here are a couple of options for you. Since there is an official release, you can always grab it from LivePhish it or listen on the LP+ app if you have that. You can also stream the release on Spotify. There is also some video out there with an incomplete set I and the full set II (note that there are some large gaps in the video that are filled with iconic Phish imagery but that the audio never falters. oh, and don’t mind the shirtless dude in the first row who gets focused on a lot. he was just feeling IT, maaaaaaan. and the audio cuts out during The Overload which kinda sucks but you should be spinning the soundboard for the audio anyway) though I have yet to find anything of set III. There’s also the streaming resources like phish.in, phishtracks.com, and relisten.net but those will be auds and perhaps not quite up to autidory snuff for your needs.


1996 marked the third consecutive year that Phish would be playing a “musical costume” for its Halloween show and the first year where the band made the choice without any influence by fan voting. This was also the first year that they produced a Phishbill (see here for a doc that includes all of the phishbills up through 2010), a humorous mock up of a Broadway playbill that included some information on the night to come, an essay by Parke Puterbaugh, and some humorous fake ads referencing Phishy themes. It is all a tongue-in-cheek reference to what you would get when seeing a show in New York City or something at the same time shedding some light on the album they would cover. They have since continued this tradition with the Phishbill effectively confirming what the cover album would be for the night — even though many a wook has decried it as a ruse with the confident stance that they just know, man, that Trey is gonna totally do Zeppelin this year cuz the energy from this new tourmaline I scored is just radiating those vibes to me, man. Dig it?


Thankfully for us, we don’t have to sit through the first sets of Halloween shows wondering what the costume might be (I must say, it was a bit distracting wondering about all that 10.31.1995) and we can instead focus entirely on the music at hand. Each of the past two Halloween shows had opened with a nod to the season, first with Frankenstein for the Glens Falls show in 1994 and then with Icculus for the Rosemont Horizon show in 1995. The trend continued here with a Sanity opener (a 43 show bustout) that segues right into a likewise suitable Highway to Hell (41 shows). Nothing like setting the mood with a couple of somewhat unhinged tunes, both which were apparently birthday requests by Brad Sands.. They keep the string going by segueing into Down With Disease, getting the jams going nice and early. Once through the song itself they take the typical Disease jam out for a ride, bringing it to a pocket jam of sorts. Trey and Page flavor this one nicely and even though it is decidedly type I the jam is fresh and novel and could be the best one of the tour to date (it is). Even though he isn’t on stage with them you can almost feel the presence of Karl Perazzo here as the percussive nature of this jam helps to push it forward all while Trey gets his fingers moving and Page gets the boogie going. I am a fan of all of this. The wrap-up then segues right into You Enjoy Myself, a bit of a surprise choice here in song four of the first set. The start is not the cleanest one you will ever hear but once they settle in the nirvana section takes off well. Trey’s solo gets a bit of clap-along-with-Trey to it before the transition to the D&B which tonight is a bit plodding, honestly. If you are into VJs this one is pretty high energy which is always fun in person but can definitely get the heads a scratching upon relisten.


We get our first full stop of the night here and looking back you have to wonder what is in store when a set starts out this big. Phish in this era isn’t exactly known for front loading shows so that points to great things, generally. These thoughts maybe took a back seat when the next song starts up as Prince Caspian isn’t exactly the most loved tune in the canon but they do cap it with one of those soaring, peaky finishes that are typical of the ’96 Caspians. They continue on into the start of Reba, first working cleanly through the entirety of the composed bits. The start of the jam is that patient sort of Reba we beg for with a fantastic build towards the peak. Trey is playing ALLTHENOTES but Mike has just as much to say as they take this one for a thrill ride that begs to be played over and over. After this we get to have a bit of Story Time With Trey as they go into Colonel Forbin’s Ascent>Fly Famous Mockingbird for the first time this tour. The songs are about what you’d expect but the story is topical and humorous as our protagonist encounters the David Byrne rock face on his climb of Mt. Icculus whose big shoulders and dance moves swat the Colonel off into the air, only for him to be caught by the evil, death, killing mockingbird who takes Forbin’s eyes. Nice imagery for the spunions, Trey. I’m sure the trip tents were a bit more full this set break than usual. Now on to closer land we get yet another crunchy Character Zero (our seventh Zero already this tour) and then a nice a cappella take on the Star Spangled Banner as they continue to work on this song in advance of performing it at a Minnesota Timberwolves game in a couple of weeks. This provides an oddly fitting cap to a quite explosive first set and now everyone can continue those conversations they started preshow about the relative merits of covering Talking Heads albums and trying to figure out which song on this album was the one with that one video you used to always see on MTV (remember, this was in the years before MTV forgot what their letters stood for).


Even in knowing what the album to come would be there is definitely a lot of excitement to be had in wondering how Phish would tackle it. Up to this point they had stuck to costumes a bit more in their classic-rock-fed roots as The White Album is a collection of so many wonderful Beatles’ songs and Quadrophenia is bombastic arena rock (with a theme) to the core. But here was an album of music pretty far afield from anything the band had taken on up to this stage with only one Talking Heads song ever having been covered by Phish prior to this night. That song is Cities, a tune we now hold dear as a song the band does well in making it their own (just listen to the original version as compared to one of the more highly lauded recent takes on it from 08.06.2010 in Berkeley). Now, the original versions Phish played were a bit closer to the original tempo and feel for the song (and the Mike Gordon Band versions of it are very true to the roots of the song – here’s one with Trey from 04.04.2014) but here in 1996 that song had long gone to the shelf with but one performance of it on 07.05.1994 (a unique version that benefits from Trey’s nimble fingers in the end solo bits) since it had last been played on 03.01.1989 (an equally unique version in its own right considering the DEG dropped in the middle of it). Anyway, the song was still a few months away from returning to the Phish fold but that landmark show is for another time and a different tour review. The main point is that at this period in phishtory the majority of the fanbase would have no frame of reference for hearing Phish play this band’s songs short of some hissy late generation tapes or word of mouth.


UPDATE/EDIT: Eagle-eyed reader MikeinAustin noted that the band had played another Talking Heads tune prior to this date but I somehow completely forgot that which is odd considering I wrote about it in covering the 03.30.1993 show from Eugene, OR. It is not a complete version, but enough that I should have remembered it. Plus, they have toyed with it since with a VJ on 08.09.1993 in Toronto, ON and quoted in the YEM on 05.23.1994. So yeah. A bit of swiss cheese memory going on for me there. HOWEVER, it still does not change the main point that I was making there above about people not really knowing what to expect with Phish covering the Talking Heads. There may have been a few more people who knew of it occurring though which I think is important to point out. Thanks for catching me on that, MiA. Now back to the review…


The second set begins with the band joined on stage by Karl Perazzo (which we now know was part of the plan with his joining the band in Tallahassee) on percussion, Gary Gazaway on trumpet/flugelhorn/trombone, and old friend Dave “The Truth” Grippo on alto saxaphone. The first track of the album, Born Under Punches, provides everyone with our first dose of the varied stylings this set will offer, combining independent yet interlocking parts from each player into a catchy song that is more than the sum of its parts. Phish plays this one true to form, mimicking the album version well while also sounding like Phish the whole time. This serves as set up for the first big moment of the set as they drop into Crosseyed and Painless, a cover tune that fans have come to know and love quite well. This initial version benefits greatly from Perazzo and Fish putting down an addictive beat that the other players match, creating a groove pocket unlike anything Phish has ever done up to this point in their history. Trey and Mike are practically dancing their are so affected by this groove, all while Page and the horn players adding flavorings on top. They carry this groove forward for several minutes before Karl takes a solo, allowing for the transition directly into The Great Curve. A groove monster in its own right, this song hits hard and fast with Page singing the verses all while the frenetic groove takes off. Trey nails the Adrian Belew lines here and when they hit the big chorus the thing pretty well explodes into this joyous ball of energy. Trey goes off again after the chorus playing the guitar god leads we love all while the pocket beneath seems to pulse and flow in a way that almost feels like it is at risk of flying off the tracks into something wholly different. The energy builds to the finish and we finally have our first chance to catch our breath.


You can tell the band is feeling it when Fish lets out an audible woo/sigh and Trey hops up and down a few times to release some of the pent up energy. Next up is the most famous song on the album, Once in a Lifetime, the song made popular due the re-release of it in conjunction with the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense and its inclusion on the soundtrack for the movie Down and Out in Beverly Hills. Phish’s take is true to the song (and definitely more practiced than the bustout version they recently played as part of the amazing “THANK YOU” encore on 09.06.2015), eventually coming down to a muted transition point. Next up is Houses in Motion which — similar to the opener Born Under Punches — has lyrics that seem to almost counterpoint the groove they lay down underneath. Grippo gets a couple of solo moments here between the verses and Page layers in more effects while Gazaway throws in some echoed trumpet lines in the back half. Trey gets a Tweezer tease in along the way as this jam goes out for a bit before they make a full segue into Seen and Not Seen, a track that gives Mike his chance to take the lead vocals while sitting in a chair on stage as Trey plays his bass. It is pretty funny to see Mike (in marching red shirt and pants) rocking away in a barcalounger while providing the spoken word to accompany the minimalist groove. That’s something I could see happening in a Phish set without it being a costume which makes it even more humorous to see it in this context. All the while Trey paces back and forth behind him in his gold velour shirt doing those knee bends he tends to do during the YEM D&B section. Eventually Trey hops back on the guitar, putting up some extended notes that offer the opportunity for transition to Listening Wind, an atmospheric song that has nature sound effects, haunting yet lovely lyrics sung primarily by Page, and more of that groove. Here in the back half of the album the songs are more ethereal and the grooves a bit less “punishing” perhaps but the more you listen to these “side B” songs the more you can hear the obvious influence they had on the band, just as much as those in the first half. Just listen to the solo Trey takes at the end of Listening Wind which is made up of sustained, somewhat drone-y notes that work with the groove pocket and sound effects to create the vivid image of the words being sung (check out the words if you have never have). As Trey continues to wail away Fish makes his way to the center stage for The Overload, a song with a somewhat menacing tone that takes things into a darker direction. Trey plays similar lines to what he had going in Listening Wind but Mike is lower down and the overall tone is much more menacing than anything else we have heard thus far. Trey sets a whirling loop and Fish adds in some vac as someone (tour bus driver Dominic Placco) comes on stage to bark out “time to get to work” as he points to various band members and eventually they are all playing different “tools” (Trey on skilsaw, Fish on vac, and Mike on that power drill again) that contribute to the cacophony of machine noises being made. If you watch the video you might even catch Col. Bruce Hampton up there on the jackhammer. Page is still on his rig adding to the whirl but this is post modern Phish here as they have tv screens, the nameless worker overlord, and some repeated sound samples adding to the sensory overload (get it?). As the sounds drop out one my one, the band members leave the stage and our costume set is ended.


In the moment it is a wonderful take on a classic album that really deserves your time in its original format as much as here as a cover. This is an important album in the time it was released due to the unique way it melded rock, funk, African polyrhythms, electronic music, sampling, and more in a time when that just wasn’t happening. Brian Eno provided his influence and expertise with other notable guests including Adrian Belew (mentioned previously) and Robert Palmer (yes, that Robert Palmer). While it was not a chart topping record at the time, its influence on music cannot be overstated. Within the context of Phish it stands as a major moment in the band’s history, marking the move from the open psych “precision” to a time where the band focused on creating grooves that allowed for a new way to experiment with their jamming. This is not to say that overnight the band changed completely but from here on out nothing would be quite the same (for better or worse depending who you ask). Heck, even the shows that follow this one on the Fall Tour are mostly still in that 95/96 percussive psych precision phase but as we go forward you will start to get more ‘pocket jams’ and other inklings that this album has laid its influence on the band. And from this night we took one song into the semi-regular rotation as Crosseyed and Painless has now been performed 36 times – with 26 of those coming in 3.0. I personally would love for them to bring The Great Curve back for another dip but as we have seen with every Halloween show played there is usually one and perhaps 1-2 more songs that will get future play from Phish. But short of more songs for the repertoire this costume paid dividends for the band in what they could take from it more than the tracks themselves. Lastly, before we get to the third set I want to give you a link to a quite interesting video from just before the Fall 1998 tour where Phish was interviewed by David Byrne himself for the show that he was the host of, Sessions at West 54th, a PBS series where they would intersperse bits of interview with in studio live performance. This is the raw interview video which includes a lot of stuff not in the final show. There is a section (starting around 25:33 of the raw video) where they discuss Halloween costume albums including the cover of Remain in Light which I think is quite interesting and worthy of your time if you have never checked it out. Knowing that this interview was taped only a couple of weeks prior to their cover of the Velvet Underground’s Loaded (which we have discussed…) adds a bit to me but the salient points here about their intent and takeaways from playing Remain in Light are the main reason for linking this. Enjoy.


Geez, we have a third set to go here? <-Easily something you may have overheard at a show before. Okay, well, let’s get to it then…


So after the pageantry of the costume set we are back to Phish again but as tends to happen we will have some guests as Karl Perazzo sits in for the entirety and the horn players drop in at the end of the set. First up is a brief Feel Like A Stranger tease by Trey (the only ever to my knowledge) before they crank out a fun Brother to get everyone back in the Phish frame of mind. Next they get a bit funky with 2001, offering a taste of what might be to come for this song while still keeping it truer to the Deodato version than some of the extended workouts we will see in coming years. This segues into Maze for yet another quite engaging Fall ’96 version. Trey shreds the crap out of this one and the addition of more percussion only serves to amp this one up more than normal. While perhaps not as big as the one earlier this tour from Pittsburgh, this is a solid take on the straight ahead jammer. Now we have Simple which in three previous performances this tour has proved itself to be one to keep tabs on each and every time. The prior versions had sections of percussive jamming as Trey hopped on the mini-kit for a bit in each one but tonight’s takes it to another level as Fish and Perazzo pound away, allowing Trey to stay at home on the guitar. There is a Mama Told Me Not to Come tease to be found amongst the rhythmic groove here as well. In a show where it becomes difficult to pick out the real peak jams because everything is played well this one stands out. They execute a great move into Steep>Swept Away for the second time this tour, playing that pairing as you know it before seemingly suddenly arriving in the bustout of Jesus Just Left Chicago, last played one year prior during the third set of 10.31.1995. Dave Grippo and Gary Gazaway come out here and add in to the bluesy jam as everyone takes a turn at a solo. This bleeds into Suzy Greenberg, easily one of the most horns-friendly tunes Phish has ever written (personally, I insert the horn lines in my head pretty much every time I hear it). This is a similar pairing as that last Halloween show except for the ADITL they sandwiched in there in 1995 as these two tunes seem to be becoming the de facto post-costume-get-the-horn-section-involved songs for the third set. Tonight’s Suzy goes away from the typical rocking peaky take for a bit as the horn players influence things in a jazzy manner but in the end it is good times Suzy bringing the party home once more. Following the encore break we get the seasonally appropriate Frankenstein to cap this show (a full mirror to last year’s Halloween which opened with Frank), sending everyone out into the night with one last bit of rocking the heck out.


I’ve spent a lot of time (and words) discussing this one so I won’t belabor the point too much further but I think it is pretty obvious how important this show was to the future development of Phish. By no means am I suggesting that they needed this impetus to push them forward as there were no signs of stagnation coming into this night. They were already riding the crest of a peak year (’95) to take on new challenges including their first festival, a well received album, and more. This moment simply provided them with another avenue to explore, one which they have taken and made a part of who they are as a band. Never before had Phish grooved like this. Never before had they mixed musical styles as fluidly as what this new way of playing allowed for. But all through it they are still Phish and sound like no other band in the world. I had a hard time cutting the highlights list for this show down to a respectable size but that’s what you get with a canonical performance. So with that in mind your takeaways are:  Disease, Reba, C&P, The Great Curve, Houses in Motion, Simple, and Suzy with honorable mentions including Forbin>Mockingbird, Born Under Punches, Listening Wind, and perhaps Caspian if we are feeling gracious.


I apologize for this post taking as long as it did but hopefully my words make up for that. I really enjoyed re-spinning this show a few times to make sure I got a lot of the necessary nuance. We will start cruising again here shortly with a couple more Perazzo Phish shows before we head to some seriously crushing Phish in the Midwest portion of the tour. As always, the takeaway tracks are now part of the playlist in the sidebar.


Something’s Got A Hold On Me And I Don’t Know What — Las Vegas, NV 10.31.1998

Phish — Thomas & Mack Center — Las Vegas, NV 10.31.1998

I  Axilla>PYITE>Roggae, BOAF, Sally->CDT>Lawn Boy, Mike’s->Frankie Says>Weekapaug

II Who Loves the Sun, Sweet Jane, RnR, Cool It Down, New Age, Head Held High, Lonesome Cowboy Bill>I Found A Reason, Train Round the Bend, Oh! Sweet Nuthin

III Wolfman’s->Piper>Ghost

E  Monkey>Reprise

There are few days as special in the world of Phish as Halloween. It is a holiday that leans right into the path of so much that draws many of us to this band, what with the juxtaposition of dark and light, the opportunity to fool those around you — as well as to prank the unknowing in a somewhat playful/harmless manner, and the opportunity for some form of story telling or showmanship either by tale, costume, or other manifestation. Phish has made it a somewhat regular thing to capitalize on the potential of Halloween in taking their game to a different level having played shows on Halloween in 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990, and 1991 before really taking things up several notches to something we will get to shortly. Those early Halloween shows leaned on the antics and musical playfulness of the quartet, offering up unique takes on setlist construction not to mention some interesting teases, jams, and cover tunes. These are all fun shows but nothing you are putting on a top whatever list or recognizing as an evolutionary shift in the band’s outlook.

But that all changed in 1994 when they took on the challenge of playing a full three set show where the middle set was a musical costume of a classic album, in this case the wonderful White Album by The Beatles. This was a very important night for several reasons, not the least of which being that they took the time to learn an entire double LP’s worth of new songs (28 tunes if you are counting at home) during the course of a lengthy Fall Tour that saw them in the midst of further developing their already considerable skills at crafting engaging, psychedelic, improvised music. The next year the stakes got higher as they played on the fanbase’s predilection towards debate in teasing several songs over the Fall Tour that were not a part of the eventual Halloween album Quadrophenia, even going so far as to open the ‘costume set’ with a prerecorded bit of the fan favorite choice Thriller as one last ‘trick’ before diving headlong into the arena rock concept album (for what would be my 1st Halloween spent with Phish). That night was a game-changer of sorts as they were only really able to play that album once they had graduated to the large arenas that they were at that point finally popular enough to book and fill consistently and as such they chose a perfect album to mark the occasion. The following year they continued the trend of choosing albums that were influences on the band, playing the one that would begin a major transformation in the sound of the band, Remain in Light by The Talking Heads. Another thing that changed with this performance was the band handing out a “Phishbill” for the first time to fans attending the show as a way to get everyone ready for the set to come as well as to provide some of the band’s reasoning behind playing that album… not to mention some funny fake ads and such. Much can be (and has been) written about what this performance meant for the future sound of the band but we will leave that to others since our focus today is on the next album to come in the Halloween hit parade.

But before we get to that we should also note that in most cases, particularly since they began the album-as-costume phase of their career, the sets surrounding the costume set are filled with some of the highest level of Phish musicianship one could want. I’ll give you a few examples because I tend to do that…

  • 1994:  start with the Simple>Divided if you aren’t into raging Frankensteins to open shows.. the bliss starts in the Simple and the Divided takes off to the stratosphere. Julius goes full hose. Reba is quite possibly one of the best versions of the song ever. Bowie is strong though straight forward, Antelope elevates like it did back then, Harpua has a fun story about the Vibration of Death, and overall the playing here is about what you’d expect from Fall ’94 which is to say top notch.
  • 1995:  another high quality Divided after the only Icculus opener ever and a Harpua with Mike taking story telling duties for a quite memorable one bookend this energetic first frame and then after the theatrics of the costume we have a 40+ minute YEM for the ages, a rambunctious JJLC with fantastic horn work out of The Truth, one of those awesome horn-filled Suzys that make you wish every Suzy had horn accompaniment, and then an encore only Phish could dream up: bluegrass My Generation culminating in instrument destruction and Fish’s kit being blown up.
  • 1996:  Sanity>Highway to Hell opening combo should tell you where things are headed here. The uplift of the soaring Caspian gives way to a Reba that is downright devilish but it is really the third set here that captivates (to say nothing of the costume itself). Karl Perazzo sticks around for the whole third set adding extra sauce onto everything, particularly the groove clinic Simple and the show closing Suzy (with horns again).

So you can see how these three years of Halloween shows have set the fanbase up for some pretty lofty expectations heading into the 1998 — especially with the band having taken 1997 off from Halloween, starting tour about two weeks later in this venue we are discussing today.

Now, I was not at this show as I mentioned in an earlier post so I cannot personally speak to the experience but all of my friends who were as well as everything I have read indicates that this was an off-the-rails-careening-down-the-mountain-shouting-to-the-moon-through-the-open-window kind of night. In a certain sense, everything up to this point had led the band to this place. They had a track record of playing seminal albums quite well on this date, they had begun another sonic evolution, the fanbase was just about as big as it would get, they were hot on the release of a new album, and they had the confidence and swagger of a band that could try and succeed whenever they took the stage. Looking back this was a potential recipe for disaster and I think that may have contributed somewhat to the mixed bag of responses you will get if you poll fans about what they think of this show and also the album that they played.  But we will get to all of that…

The first set kicks off with an energetic combo of Axilla>PYITE to get everyone moving before heading into a relatively downtempo Roggae which shows off the new ambient feel while they work their way through the end jam. Nice version but feels like table setting at best. BOAF offers up a bit more than the version from LA two nights ago but is still firmly within the song structure. Just as you are starting to think this set may just lope along in setting up the costume they start up Sneakin’ Sally for a take that is a far cry from the funky versions of its resurgence starting on the NYE Run of 1997. Here the funk drops out fairly early for an atmospheric jam (with a quick Superbad tease out of Trey) that is definitely headed somewhere that isn’t patently clear until Trey starts to bring the energy up and up towards the full segue into Chalkdust Torture. This provides a rocking lift midset but even this does not have the normal edge that CDT carries, staying somewhat diminished until they head into the lounge act portion of the show for Page’s take on Lawn Boy. After that they crank up Mike’s for what should (and will) inevitably be the set closing suite of songs. Trey kicks in the loops right away after the lyrical portion of Mike’s and the band proceeds in a patient, almost purposefully plodding fashion with a Simple tease along the path before they make a nice transition into Frankie Says. This would be the first of two times Mike’s and Frankie are paired (07.14.2000 Polaris Amphitheatre) and it works, I suppose, though I personally would have liked more out of the Mike’s before they made the move. After that breezy interlude we get the punctuation mark on the set we wanted in an amped up Weekapaug closer that leaves nothing on the table. Trey goes electro in fitting in as many notes as possible to his solo and the crowd heads off to setbreak to try to figure out which songs from the Phishbill will make good jam vehicles.

Which brings us to the meat of the matter. For this costume set the band took on The Velvet Underground’s Loaded album which is in and of itself a controversial choice if you know the history of that band. If you read the linked allmusic summary in the previous sentence you will get the full story but the gist is that when VU made the shift to Atlantic Records they were asked to make an album “loaded with hits” and without the sex and drugs that typified their experience and thus their sound. Due to the politics of the band amongst other factors this album is heavy on Lou Reed with more polish than the “full band” albums that proceeded it. And to top it off, before it was released Lou left the band which pretty well sealed the deal on where they were at that stage. That being said, it is a solid album full of some great tracks and it is really a good entry point to this highly influential band. If you like it I would recommend digging into their back catalog to find the live stuff and other albums that are more in line with the reality that was VU.

In a way though this set up all makes the album choice a good one for Phish to try to play on Halloween. It is not so obscure that there are no tracks that someone who has listened to rock radio or went to college in the past 15 years or so would not be able to recognize at least one, probably Sweet Jane. The music presented here covers several different styles (sounds like a band we know…) and offers a template for further exploration if desired (again…). The subject matter in the lyrics is oddly appropriate when you consider where Lou Reed was mentally when writing these songs and compare that to where Phish is at this stage in their career, riding a peak with a big record contract and fabulous touring success but perhaps not necessarily as content as the surface suggests. And being an album that a sizable portion of their fanbase would not be familiar with it offered the opportunity to stretch outside of their norm a bit while exploring a new sound that felt more akin to this music than to what they had played only three and four years prior. Now, I have put this all into perspective by stating that I had already found VU long before this time, actually right around the time I discovered Phish back in 1990 because high school is a time when many of us start to really explore our options musically. I had always thought that there were songs that Phish should be covering by VU but it just never happened. And with that in mind my happiness in finding out the next day that they had covered this band just raised my opinion of Phish more if that is even possible.

The truth is that they had covered two songs from this album before. The most prevalent was Lonesome Cowboy Bill which popped up three times in the Fish Fun Time slot in 1995 (SEE! That slot still haunts us!!) with Sweet Jane being debuted earlier in 1998 at MPP (08.08.1998) along with another cover of an entirely different sort, Sabotage. Neither of these covers made much of an impression at the time though you have to wonder if playing it only a couple months before this set was any indication of what the album would be that fall. Tough to say considering that Summer 1998 is the Tour of Covers with at least one seeming to debut nightly but it does make you think in that wondering stoner kind of way. But outside of that and those throw away LCB covers this was all new to us.

The set starts out with a straight forward take on Who Loves the Sun?, a playful ditty that wonders about subjects darker than the music implies. Sweet Jane is next and while mostly about what you expect if you know the song Trey does take off for a blissy solo in the back half. Next up is a tune that is now quite familiar to Phish fans, Rock and Roll. Even here in the debut you can tell that this is a song they will enjoy playing as the elements are all there for what will become one of the more reliable cover jam vehicles Phish employs on a regular basis (74 total performances as of this writing). We get more of that electro trilling out of Trey (perhaps that was all setting up to this jam) and some brief full band exploration before they wrap it up nicely in getting to the next tune. That next song is Cool It Down, another tune that has had a bit of staying power considering it has graced six more setlists over the years. The feel here is almost CCR-ish at times, something they would clean up in subsequent performances but overall the performance is fine enough to keep everyone engaged. At this point even if you weren’t familiar with the songs I would think you would have to have liked what you heard but I’m not as jaded as some so maybe if you were expecting them to play Zappa or something you could be standing there with arms folded. Imagine how those guys felt in 2013!

Here in the midset they get a couple of songs to stretch out a bit starting with the aptly titled New Age. They play this true to form at first before elevating to a soaring full band jam. The performance here works on more than one level as they are paying homage to an influential band from their past while also looking ahead with the new sound they are forging on stage. I’m actually kind of surprised that this song has never been played again as it really fits in well with their sound and could be a great vehicle for improvisation if given the opportunity. Oh well. Next up is a punchy take on the rocking though oddly worded Head Held High which gets us to that Lonesome Cowboy Bill we have expected only this time it isn’t framed as an antic as it was three years ago. Here we have a faithful take on the song before they go beyond into a jam that ranges from groove-based rock to the ambient textures they have been developing of late, eventually leading right into a lovely, soft version of I Found A Reason. The ironic Train Round The Bend with its downtrodden lyrics counterpointing the uplifting melody and tone provides the intro to the set closing Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ that feels like it was written for this band to make their own. Listening here it is hard to believe this is the first time that they played the song. It is well executed with a soaring peak and quiet return that brings this set to a close quite nicely. Oddly enough it took until 3.0 for this song to come back with five performances between 2009 and 2013 before it hit the shelf again. And now everyone gets the lights shined on them to figure out what they thought of what went down in that second set and to prepare for what should (will) be a dichotomous set if ever there was one in Phish history.

But before we get to that let’s talk about this costume set which for quite some time was the worst received (overall) costume that the band ever assumed on stage. There are some who are not fans of the Velvet Underground’s music and that would be a perfectly acceptable reason for not preferring this set. And there are others who were not familiar with the band or album and therefore chose to not like it because why like something you don’t already know? I mean, why didn’t they play ::insert album of big band everyone has memorized from their youth here:: ? That would have been perfect! Except it wouldn’t have been perfect. You have to consider why Phish chose each album that they did to understand this I think, but the reality is that as much as the costume set is for the crowd it is also for the band. The White Album is the outlier a bit but it does fit in with the band in a lot of ways what with all of the different types of music on display and the way that they performed it. Quadrophenia is a direct link to that album having influenced them as kids and having the opportunity to play it loud and proud in a big, open arena. Remain In Light was the band adding more tricks to their bag, exploring the quirky polyphonic funk of The Talking Heads while simultaneously pushing their own music to much greater heights as a result. And here we have another formative album from their youth that offered an entirely new template to explore musically. More can be said about the Halloween cover albums to come in 3.0 but that is a long way down the line from this night.

And getting back to that night we have another set to discuss! If you thought that cover set was divisive wait until you start asking people about the Vegas Wolfman’s. To say that this version causes OPINIONS is an understatement. I could go through and give you a breakdown of what happens over this 30+ minute version but I really believe that this is one you need to hear and judge for yourself. Here is the PJJ version so that you can focus on the controversial jam itself. In some camps your take on this type of Phish jamming will either put you in good favor or remove you from it. This is not a jam that you kinda sorta maybe in the right mood like. You are either for deep, dark, hide-under-your-chair, ambient Phish or you are not. There really is no middle ground. Some people hate this type of Phish and point to it as an example of the band headed on the downward spiral that led us to Hiatus and eventually The Break Up. Others, like me, see it as a natural shift in exploring musical themes that they had previously overlooked or avoided for whatever reason. Here you get the band as patient as they ever could be, allowing the ideas to come to them rather than trying to force their ideas upon the music. There are lags and their are moments of true connection, there are a couple of teases (Lifeboy, Makisupa) and there and moments where Fish throws in some vocal tones, and overall it just works considering that it moves forward through several different phases on the path through the darkness. It is really about the best “Halloween” music they have ever played… until you factor in the 2014 album which is something else again that is not up for conversation here. Anyway, your opinion may vary from mine and that is totally fine because this band Phish is not one thing to all people. It is many different things to everyone, evolving to something else again as quickly as you become comfortable with what was the previous norm and for that we are all the better.

Towards the end of that aural adventure they build an uplifting groove before going into Piper and you may be thinking, “okay! here we go! let’s rock this shit!!” and it does in fact rock along quite nicely in the first jam. After the final refrain they follow that pulsating groove for a few minutes before they jump off and head into the start of Ghost. Things start off fine enough here in the first Ghost of the tour (with the last one in a show being a quite happy version at that surprise 10.15.1998 show) as Trey lays down the loops and they head into what seems like it will be a throw down version for the ages. But only a few minutes into the jam things get sparse before it just… ends. No journey, no peak, no resolution. Trey just leaves the stage. And everyone else eventually follows. Don’t believe me? Check out the video. Some will tell you Trey was pissed about how the crowd reacted to the VU set. Others will say he really had to pee and could not wait a second longer. Still others will claim that he was off his head on ::insert substance here:: that night and just lost focus and wandered off. True conspiratorians will watch the interaction between Trey and Mike around the 47:30 mark to point to how Trey had PLANNED IT ALL ALONG! IT WAS A PHALSE PHISH OPERATION!! I KNEW IT! Okay, wait. Let’s all just settle down here. The truth is obviously somewhere in between all of these rumors and theories. If he was really dosed as some suggest, why did he take the time to set all of his loops and grab the glass of water on his way by the back riser? And why does the rest of the band follow along with nary a double take or sideways look? And if he was really coming on that strong how does he play the encore so fluidly only a few minutes later? I think that what is really going on here is that they had a plan to leave this unfinished, perhaps to revisit it elsewhere along the tour (the next Ghost is a really good one a week from now in Chicago but we shall get to that). Musically, he had said what he wanted to in this show. Maybe there are other factors and it is a bit odd to just walk out like that mid song, but it wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last he did something like that. And with that the encores are the fun Monkey>Reprise pairing that caps this run at the Thomas & Mack quite nicely.

I have said a lot here and so I won’t go further into trying to deconstruct this show because I think it is clear where I stand here. I will tell you that for takeaways I would suggest Sally->CDT, Mike’s->Frankie>Paug (particularly the Paug), RnR, New Age, LCB>I Found a Reason, Oh! Sweet Nuthin’, and the entire third set. Yeah, there’s a lot but it is a three setter for Halloween. You should be spinning the entire show anyway. Now we have a night off and then a skip show up in Utah (he he he) before heading to Denver and off to the Midwest…