Wide Open Views and That Laid Back Sound – Phish and The Gorge

The next venue for us to visit is another outdoor beauty, The Gorge Amphitheatre in George, WA. This is a much larger venue than Red Rocks with a 27,500 person capacity, making it more of a hallowed venue due to location and the band’s reputation to throw down great shows here instead of for it being a difficult ticket to see the band. Situated in the amazing Columbia River Gorge about 130 miles west of Spokane and some 150 miles east of Seattle, The Gorge was originally supposed to be a vineyard before eventually becoming the storied concert venue it is today. Those who have been know that few places can match the grandeur of the overlooking view one gets of the river valley that acts as a natural backdrop to the band playing, a backdrop that included an “open” back to the stage for many years until the venue added a black screen behind the stage to assist in the projection of lights and other visuals. The beauty of the area owes itself to the Missoula Floods which occurred at the end of the last Ice Age, carving the walls of the valley that had been forming for millennia into the form that we mainly see today. It is a place that seems to inspire a unique mode of playing for Phish, a mellow mood of sorts that comes through clearly even on the tapes of shows from here. Being the destination venue that it is the band has always played at least two shows here which also contributes to that relaxed feel as the crowd and band are able to settle into their surroundings and enjoy being away from reality for a bit. In a way, this gives shows here a bit of a festy vibe or at least more of one than your typical two show stand at [insert corporate name here] amphitheater.

It wasn’t until the Summer Tour in 1997 that Phish first played The Gorge but since then they have landed in George eight times with each visit being a pair of shows. Some quick math tells that totals sixteen shows. To date, no member of Phish has played at The Gorge without the rest of the band, unlike most of the venues we find in this project.

Here is your www.phishjustjams.com playlist for The Gorge Jams.

08.02.1997  By the time Phish arrived at The Gorge in 1997 they were well into the US portion of the tour and about to make their way back east for the first of the Limestone, ME festivals, The Great Went. From the first notes of this one you can tell they are taking everything in here and playing with the laid back feel that will come to typify shows from this venue. The band opened with a solid Theme From the Bottom in a strong year for the song, hit the Ginseng for the 2nd song bluegrass slot, and then dive into the then new vehicle Ghost. There are others that soar more highly than this one but it has the swagger and groove that any good version should particularly once Trey hits on the Who-Knows-on-speed theme in the back half. After playing another of the new tunes (Dogs Stole Things) they played the first of the sunset Divideds that will become the norm for this venue as the years go by, building a lovely jam out of the reflective moment that is The Pause. The funk returns in a stretched out Wolfman’s (one of those songs that really took off once the funk entered the equation) and then they capped the set with a plodding Melt where Trey repeats a riff for much of the jam before exploding into a flurry of notes in the return to the song’s form. The second set starts off with a bit of a nod to the last time they had been in the region for the Fall 96 show we talked about here previously as they go big in Disease->Tweezer->JBG and almost get to the same type of Diseezer motif with the tease of Disease in the tail end of the Tweezer jam before the move to JBG. The other notable highlight here is the “lights out” Hood encore where Trey asks CK5 to turn off the lights so they can enjoy the “outdoor vibe”. This is a solid show for their first night ever at The Gorge.

08.03.1997  On the second night Phish came out hot from the start, opening with a punchy Gin that drops into an inventive Foam that goes well beyond the norm for the song. Next is the debut and one time performance of Samson Variation before the set turns song-y and towards the bluesy side of things. Twist->JJLC is an interesting combo with the Twist being a bit more rocking blues than normal and the JJLC carrying that vibe forward. They keep this feel going with the swinging Julius second set opener before a short but sweet Simple and a peaky Fluffhead. The singular performance of Lifeboy is next leading to a fantastic, peaked out Taste that really is the highlight of this set before they fill the end run with typical crowd pleasing fare. For a Sunday show this one feels a bit odd in that it is a tad all over the place and somewhat out of the mode that the Summer 97 shows went. It isn’t an off night by any means but it isn’t exactly peak Phish either.

07.16.1998 The next year the band returned but this time at the start of the US portion of the Summer Tour having only played the famed Portland Meadows show on American soil prior to this one. The first set is a pretty mellow affair as Phish goes, starting with a Coil opener (at the time the fourth ever Coil opener – there has been one other since in Telluride on 08.10.2010) to perhaps reference the sunset (do I need to point out the lyrical reference? I’m going with no). A third song Stash is a bit underrated as they do some nice T&R construction but it is the Reba that really sets the tone for the set in earnest. If you didn’t already know where I’m going here, this is a subdued, let’s-all-take-a-look-around type of Reba jam in the “mellow” vein that permeates this venue. Page’s organ fills accent Trey’s wah’d out comping carry us through until they shift into a higher gear with Mike pushing the pace until all fade out except for Fish as they drop into the transition to FEFY. They back that up with Circus which while fitting the vibe makes for a pretty low key back half of the set. They punch up the Antelope closer though and come back after the break with another 2nd set opening Julius to get everyone moving. A swanky Moma follows before a short Piper and Axilla lead to Bowie which is somehow kind of mellow even with its typically frenzied end tension. The band then cranks into a Tube that gets a funky ambient outro jam before giving way to the Slave closer. I’m not sure how to take the Sample encore here but we have another night at the venue so no harm no foul. The vibe in this show is a bit overwhelming in its mellowness, particularly in the first set but the highs are quite good.

07.17.1998  Often when Phish plays more than one night at a venue it can take a set or three to really get into the groove there and this can be compounded further when they are in the early stages of the tour. Well, my friends, this second show in the 1998 run at The Gorge is where they hit their stride bigtime. As a sign of the impending awesome to come the band opened with Makisupa, one of only seven confirmed times the song has opened a show (two of those were mentioned in the Red Rocks post). This is still the last time that they have opened with it. After a short loopy ambient jam they play the fun summertime vibe number Ya Mar, drawing out the end with a breezy jam that begs you to smile. The Gumbo that follows is Manteca funk (which is fairly common with the 98 Gumbos) before Trey finishes it up with a nice bit of soloing. Now it is time for the annual Divided Sky sunset performance and this one is no slouch as after The Pause they go big time. Divided is kind of one of those songs you might not go looking for at a show but always seems to deliver. That might just be my old school way of thinking but I can’t say I’ve ever heard anyone talk ill of the song. And if they did about this version I might have to question their motivations… ANYWAY after a breather for Waste>MMGAMOIO they close strong with My Soul. Now, you should probably already know this second set but just in case you don’t please do yourself the favor of cuing that up and cranking it. It only has one of the biggest (and the longest!) 2001s ever, a huge Mike’s Song with a second jam that eventually goes somewhat ambient, replacing the need for a filler tune and punching right into Weekapaug Groove. This one has it all what with the Mike-led funk, full quote of Taste by Trey in the middle, and a powerful end jam that never resolves back to the lyrics but instead slams into the Zero closer. Yup, that’s a four song set, friends. All killer no filler style too. The PYITE>Rocky Top is just gravy in the encore, quite frankly. This is to me the best show the band has played at The Gorge and it is a crime that there has yet to be an official release from it. We should start a petition.

09.10.1999  For their third visit here Phish was again coming in at the early stage of the Fall Tour having just started out on 9.9.99 (numbers are cool!) up in British Columbia. I’m not a huge fan of a Farmhouse opener so I guess it is good that four of the seven times they have done it were in 1999 but that one from this past summer scares me that they might think it is a good idea again. Thankfully it didn’t set the tone for the show though as First Tube cranks in with the “secondary” opener slot. This set is more typical of what we have come to expect from first sets in latter day Phish with a couple of non-jammed vehicles (Twist, Carini), the expected sunset Divided, a bluegrass tune, a head scratcher with the oddly placed WTU?, and then a fun debut closer (Will It Go Round In Circles which unfortunately only got one more performance a couple of weeks later in Tucson on 09.21.1999. The second set opening Disease is one of the contained, shreddy type I versions and then the set gets a bit uneven as they play a standard Moma and a seemingly truncated Piper leading up to a megaphone-less Fee (with outro jam!) that bleeds into the loopy debut of Gotta Jibboo (for Phish, of course. It had already been around for TAB at this point). The evil energy of Saw It Again picks the pace up but then they go into mellow mode for a downright slow Melt. It isn’t bad, it just doesn’t really go anywhere. The same can be said for the Bowie closer which takes almost ten minutes to get through the intro and that is without any teases, SL, or other antics adding to the time. It just has that overly patient let’s-get-ambient-no-matter-what feel and thus never really feels like it can top out. Capping it with a Coil encore doesn’t alter the mood here and we are out into the night kind of wondering what happened there. Truthfully this is more the norm for Fall 99 shows than the outlier but in comparison to some of the other shows we have heard here the difference in “intent” (god, I hate using that word in the context of Phish) is quite clear.

09.11.1999  For the Saturday night show of this 1999 pair Phish came out swinging with Tube>Funky Bitch>LxL to get everyone up and moving. Trey has a brief but melodic lead in the Tube Things see-saw a bit from there with DST and Billy Breathes keeping things grounded sandwiched around PYITE and then leading to the set ending Guyute>Free segment. This Free gets pretty crunchy for a bit, stretching past the “normal” length of the song but don’t be fooled by the timing on most pulls of this one as there is at least a minute of post set crowd noise in there. So maybe not quite the fifth longest version ever that it appears to be. Trey gets that glitchy guitar thing going here that is often found in jams from 1999 which is kind of a love it or hate it thing for some fans. Personally, I love it but I am a big fan of that era so there’s that. As with 1997 this second show gets a bit of the Wolfman’s funk but tonight the second set opening version is also tinged with the developing Millennial Sound as they layer washes of sound on top of the groove. This gives way to loops and those play-every-note-in-one-second fills Trey got so comfortable with in that era as they set up the transition to… the Phish debut of Sand! Now a quite familiar vehicle, prior to this night (and tour) the song had only shown up in TAB shows, primarily that May 1999 Tour. 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 several great ideas, some which stick and others that don’t take (that final Jimi-like lead is freaking great before they return to the main Sand riff). This is up there in the pantheon of great debut versions of songs (e.g. The Amsterdam Carini) but really just scratches the surface of where the song could go once the rest of the band caught up with Trey on it. But that doesn’t take anything away from this highly dance-able interstellar version! A run through Meatstick brings us back to earth a bit and then we get a somehow both shreddy and mellow Maze. Then following a real live actually engaging Prince Caspian and then a peaky, blissful Hood closer (with several false endings) before the Circus encore. This is probably the “better” of the two shows from this stand and the second set in particular holds up quite well for enthusiasts of the era.

07.12.2003  Okay, now we are really getting pretty removed from my writing comfort zone as I believe this marks the first 2.0 show that I will have written about more than simply in passing. Bear with me, folks. Well, the band helps out from the start, playing a soaring Taste opener before dipping into the then new material with Mexican Cousin and running through a fine enough Stash, NICU, and Heavy Things. Then we get the debut of Mock Song (only version they would play until the festy-themed bustout at Magnaball in 2015) and Army of One (previously only played at Vida Blue shows earlier that year) before ripping into a demonic, openly jammed Maze closer. It’s one you will want to hear if you are a Maze fan. Just remember that you will in fact get out of the maze and you should be fine. Second set starts out with a chugging type I Piper that swirls and grooves for about fifteen minutes featuring a lot of that gnarly, uncompressed Trey 2.0 tone before dissolving into the debut of Two Versions of Me which almost got backed up with the 2nd ever Secret Smile if you listen closely to the sbds of this one. Thankfully they chose to instead dive into Tweezer (unless you are a big Secret Smile fan in which case I’ll say go listen to 07.15.2003 if you want those two songs paired, sir). Trey plays the melodic part of Free before it kind of falls apart into a loose, dirty return to Tweezer. It isn’t the prettiest finish to Tweezer ever but you get some of that with 2003 Phish. They ease up for DST and WITS but then it is back to the deep end for a late set Ghost! This is a monster of a Ghost which you should go read about in more depth. Let’s just say this is the type of jam that jam chasers point to when decrying the ripcording and other stuff that sometimes creeps into Phish sets. Oh and let’s just go ahead and back that ridiculous dance party Ghost with a solid Bowie closer, mm’kay? So by the time the Frankenstein>Reprise encore hits you are just laughing at the power this band can wield. This was about a week into that summer’s tour so the band was warmed up and pretty well in form so you get a good snapshot of what they laid down in those shows here. 2003 has some positively other worldly jams intermingled with head scratching song choices, particularly with that set of ballad-y numbers they debuted that summer. You take the good with the rest though…

07.13.2003  For the Sunday night capper to this 2003 pair Phish started out with good old Runaway Jim which gets some extension including a bit of almost-but-not-quite Seven Below jamming. They follow this with the third ever Scents And Subtle Sounds (with intro!), playing it pretty straight at least in comparison to some of the massive ones from later this tour (not to mention the epic soundcheck version from before the next show in Utah). After romping through Axilla and Carini and playing the mini bustout for DFB they play what will be the last version of Round Room until its 140 show bustout during the first set of the wonderful 01.01.2011 show and it gets the 2.0 ambient outro jam treatment too which is a nice (one time) treat. Halley’s Comet is next with some Mike on electric bagpipes action in the end before they run through Guyute (also with some Mike electric bagpipery) and then a rousing run through YEM caps the set. The second set starts off fine enough with a rocking Llama and a funky Wolfman’s that dives into the 60 show bustout of JJLC but it is the Seven Below that follows where this set gets its legs. They go super deep in this one, jumping off into the ether such that by about the twelve minute mark you might have one or four of those “what song is this?” moments. At the start of the deepery Trey throws in a Third Stone from the Sun tease and then they proceed to build back up, eventually ending with a quick run through the main theme of the song. It isn’t the most connected Phish you will ever hear but there is a willingness to take the risk that is greatly appreciated. The show finishes strongly with Hood and Chalkdust before a First Tube encore and then we are left to wait for six years until the band would come back here again.

08.07.2009  When Phish returned after The Long Wait there were varying opinions about whether they would be able to recapture the jam magic that had been their currency with the fans for so many years. Heck, I guess you could say there were those who had been saying such things since like 1994 but whatever on all that. There had been hints of it sprinkled throughout the first leg of the Summer Tour that year but it still felt like they were searching for the connection that made it all work so well. After warming up the second leg of the tour with the four shows at Red Rocks and then playing a one off show at Shoreline (which we will get to…) Phish came back to The Gorge for a pair. Maybe it was something about being back in another familiar place but something seemed to click that weekend and the jams started flowing freely. The show opening Disease was a type I surprise considering they had just played a decent open ended one in the middle of the second set at Shoreline but it set the tone for how the evening would go. A fun midset call-and-response jam in Possum between Trey and Page livened up the crowd and offset the “another possum?” thoughts from those who had been keeping track of such stats. During this set they played the first P&M of 3.0 and then in the penultimate slot for the set the first Sally since that same 08.12.2004 show, taking the Robert Palmer cover to type II depths that this song simply doesn’t typically go. It is a quality jam that holds up so check that one out for sure. The Stash that precedes it also takes a noble leap at going sideways but really just stays in the T&R mode for the most part. The second set has an engaging calypso jam in Light before they nail the segue to Taste and then later on there is a Gin that some still hold as the most creative of 3.0 even though it is pretty well drenched in whale tone. Followed by a lovely Hood closer it is quite nice to hear the band willing to take risks again here at a place where that has definitely been their modus operandi.

08.08.2009  For the second night of this pair Phish started out by dusting off Mango Song for the first time in 3.0 and then after a quick Chalkdust debuted the Mike and Leo Kottke tune Middle of the Road which would be played one more time that summer before getting shelved. The rest of the first set is pretty underwhelming as the midset Tweezer never takes off and only the energy of the set closing Zero>Lope pairing makes any waves. The second set starts out quite strong with a loping RnR jam that hints at some FOTM phrasing before peaking and moving into Makisupa which has its own interest considering Trey and Mike switch instruments to give us a different sort jam (that actually kind of works). The set turns song-y from there as they play a standard YEM surrounded by a bunch of setlist fodder and then rock out the encore with GTBT>Reprise. This is definitely the lesser of the two from the 2009 run but has a great highlight in that RnR->Maki sequence.

08.05.2011 Two year on from the last visit Phish returned for another pair at The Gorge to start out the second leg of the summer tour following the one month break after Superball. The first set is basically a warm up the jukebox grouping of songs but the Taste>Roggae pairing here is a beauty that deserves your time. That set tricks us into complacency though as after the break and a set opening BDT#L the band starts up RnR and takes it out into a completely unique space, dropping into dark waters as Page hops on the theremin (something that was well received in the several times he did it in 2011) and Mike throwing in massive bass bomb brown notes. Many thought it was going into FOTM but instead you will get Meatstick and like it. They keep it flowing with a big time Boogie On out of the Meatstick jam and then kind of fizzle to the end of set with some questionable placements for Farmhouse and SoL. This RnR jam was something of a revelation at the time, another step up in the jamming department for the band as they had seemed to plateau a bit in this touring year. But by the time the summer had ended there were several great jams to look back on including the one here that started the run.

08.06.2011  The next night got a bit of the second show slump thing as the first set is mainly a collection of decent songs played reasonably well. The Wolfman’s Brother hints at more to come with some Heartbreaker teases but other than that there’s not much of note in this set. Then they come out hot with a Chalkdust second set opener that butts up against Tweezer which is where the real heat starts to rise. The jam goes from white hot shreddery to spacecamp soundscape and then out to Caspian and eventually a nice Sand before coming back to Tweezer. After a few other solid numbers like BOAF and Golden Age>Reba they cap the set with a tease-filled Lope closer and then a Suzy>Sanity>Reprise encore. This show is honestly a bit flat compared to most from this venue which is not to say it is bad in any way but that it lacks by comparison to some very big brothers.

07.26.2013  Once more, Phish kept to their play-it-every-two-years mode in 3.0, coming back to The Gorge in July 2013 for another pair of Friday/Saturday shows. This first night kind of feels like a Saturday Night Rock Out what with the high energy opening quad of Bag>Timber Ho, Wolfman’s, Funky Bitch and then following a nice Happy Birthday shoutout to CK5 they drop into the fist-pumper-pleasing Wilson. Trey stops during the blat boom pause to talk about wanting everyone to chant “Wilson” at Seahawks games and sports a fan made Wilson “jersey” which would eventually result in it being discussed in an official NFL film segment. The second set starts out with a far ranging C&P that kicks off a set filled with tons of teases and the fun looseness that comes when this band is relaxed and comfortable with their surroundings. Listen for a quite well played Waves, a Mango with a bit of outro jammery and a ‘moon jammed’ Zero closer where the band gets a bit howl-y once CK5 turns down the lights. It may not be the best show ever here but the energy from it comes through loud and clear on the tapes. Oh yeah, there’s a 156 show bustout of Secret Smile here too if you like that sort of thing.

07.27.2013  The second night in 2013 also has a pretty standard first set though it does get one of the four performances of Architect (as opener no less!) and the debut of the Mike tune Say Something along with an 87 show bustout of After Midnight to close in honor of the passing of its writer and one time opener for Phish, J.J. Cale. The second set starts with a short-ish but underrated Disease that segues into a fun Undermind that saw Fish hit the marimba lumina (before that was really a “thing”). Light also has a nice if abbreviated jam and on the whole you really cannot complain about a setlist like this one where aside from some possible jukebox-ing is all songs with great payoff. This show doesn’t have the big highlights of some of the others from The Gorge but is a solid set particularly for Summer 2013 which is viewed by some as a bit of a dip before they ramped things up again that Fall.

07.15.2016  And now we get to this summer’s entry and the final pair of shows at this venue. After a much discussed and somewhat jam-lite East Coast leg of the tour Phish had a few days off to make it west for this pair of shows. The first night had many wondering what band they would get out west so when they opened with Tweezer (even a contained one) you knew they were saying “ok, let’s get back to business” in a way. Shedding the distractions of the early summer (i.e. finishing work on the new album, Bernie, etc.) they played a solid if unremarkable first set including the debut of the now loved humorous Fish tune Ass Handed and the 155 show bustout of Old Home Place (perhaps a nice nod to being back in this great place after a three year absence?). The second set starts with another solid C&P from this venue (with an interestingly placed Under Pressure tease considering the general tenor of the fanbase at this point) and then a subtle yet powerful WTU?. From there things turn into something of a tease fest as the NMINML has heavy C&P quotes, Stash gets both C&P and WTU? teases, Ghost gets full band instrument switching and C&P and NMINML teases, Chalkdust gets C&P, WTU? and NMINML teases, 2001 gets C&P and NMINML quotes, Cavern gets C&P and WTU? teases, and the encore Wilson has some Makisupa in it. It is a fun, flowing set of the sort that works quite well in person but sometimes doesn’t hold up as well on tape even though in this case I’d say the energy and impact of the music works even after the fact. It was a bit of a beacon for some who though the sky was falling and another sign for others who see this as The End Times but somewhere between those two viewpoints is a third where this was yet another awesome night at The Gorge with Phish.

07.16.2016  The second night in 2016 is definitely a bit of a Saturday Night Special with the focus seeming to be on high energy rockers at the expense of big jams. I always love a Buried Alive opener so that’s nice and then there are solid versions of 555 and Sand before a rousing Gin closer. The second set feels like an extension of the first in that there is a lot of good playing going on but very few attempts to stretch anything too far beyond its normal limit. The BOAF is interesting and Wingsuit peaks well and the Mike’s is a different sort of jam than typical for the song but I’m not really here to laud the descending runs Trey plays in farmhouse, you know? This show lacks anything of a major centerpiece jam which (as always) doesn’t mean that those there didn’t have a great time but that it feels like a step backwards after the inventiveness of the prior evening’s show. Thankfully for us every night with Phish gives us something a little different so I guess we will just have to see what that next one from this wonderful venue provides.

Let’s see the tale of the tape for this venerable tour stop…

Venue:  The Gorge Amphitheatre

No. of Shows:  sixteen

Intangibles:  unique, beautiful venue with amazing views of the natural splendor of the Columbia River Gorge and an open, all-GA atmosphere. band seems to enjoy playing here as shows from the eight separate pairs of shows performed. on site camping and other close by amenities make it a relaxing destination for Phish. something about the vibe here always comes off as laid back and relaxed, showing up in the music performed which tends to include patient takes on the songs.

Recurring Themes:  Divided Sky sunset jams (ok, only three times but they are all great), Wolfman’s Brother (only song played seven out of the eight visits), Hood jams often with the “lights out”

Key Jams/Songs:  1997 – Theme, Ghost, Divided, Wolfman’s, Disease->Tweezer, Hood, Gin, Foam, LxL, Julius, Taste; 1998 – Reba>Fefy>Circus, Julius, Moma, Bowie, Tube, Ya Mar, Gumbo, Divided, 2001, Mike’s>Paug; 1999 – Fee>Jibboo, Melt, Free, Wolfman’s->Sand, Meatstick->Maze, Caspian, Hood; 2003 – Taste, Maze, Piper, Tweezer, Ghost, Round Room, Wolfman’s, Seven Below; 2009 – Sally, Light->Taste, Gin>Hood, RnR->Makisupa; 2011 – Taste>Roggae, RnR->Meatstick->Boogie, Tweezer>Caspian>Sand->Tweezer; 2013 – Wolfman’s, C&P, Waves, Mango, Disease->Undermind>Light->Sally; 2016 – C&P>WTU?>NMINML, Ghost->Chalkdust, 555, Gin, BOAF, Wingsuit, Mike’s

PJJ Ratio:  2.50 (please see the Shoreline post for details on this)

This venue presents a pretty solid case for one with a high number of jams per capita. Phish always seems at home when they play here and each run has something we end up discussing for a while afterwards. For my money you cannot beat that second set on 07.17.1998 but having been here eight different times over several eras Phish at The Gorge offers something for everyone.

Tales of the Giant Iguana – Phish and Red Rocks

The first venue to (randomly) come up in our review of the best venues in all of the band’s history is Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, CO, arguably one of the most beautiful venues in the United States. This natural amphitheatre is part of 640 acres of parkland with trails and other sites besides the music venue to entertain those who visit. Opening in 1941, it has since been designated a National Historic Landmark and is characterized by the iconic dual 300+ foot monoliths that project upwards on either side of the venue, providing that amazing sound and allowing for 9,525 people to have a fantastic view of the band on stage as well as the surrounding area including the Denver skyline off in the distance. This is the type of venue that elevates the concert experience not only literally (elevation here is 6,450 feet above sea level) but also spiritually as for reasons that are obvious once you get into this wonderful place both musicians and fans tend to bring their “A” game most of the time. That ‘venue magic’ is evident in many of the shows that Phish has played here and is part of why seeing shows at this venue became a necessity for those able and willing to make the trek across the great divide.

Phish has played Red Rocks a total of thirteen times with the first appearance being a Friday night in the middle of one of the legendary months in the band’s history and the final appearance to date being the capstone show of the four night run in the comeback summer of 2009. In between they have played two night stands in 1994 and 1995 as well as a four night stand on the brief US portion of the summer tour leading up to The Clifford Ball. There have also been several non-Phish visits to this storied venue including five TAB shows, one Mike & Leo Kottke show, a YMSB with Fish show, and one sit-in by Mike during a Gov’t Mule show. But we’re here for the Phish!

Since we are starting a new thing here let’s talk a bit about what this will look like. Rather than give a full recap of every show at a venue I will be listing off each one, cherry-picking notable highlights and identifying the potentially iconic jams that each show birthed. From there we can debate how this stacks up against the other venues on the list.

Before I dive in forthwith, here is a playlist of all of the Red Rocks jams over the years from our friends at www.phishjustjams.com

08.20.1993  Opening with Divided Sky to nod to the rainstorms that passed through the area pre-show is a nice touch but following it with a mythos-building Harpua tale immediately takes this show next level. Trey espouses his adoration for the venue before even getting to the Giant Iguana Red Rocks origin story which is one I highly recommend listening to if you don’t already know it. The rest of the first set progresses as most did in that era with crisp renditions of each song including some solid Page work in Ice,  a nice acoustic Ginseng Sullivan dedicated to Brad Sands, and the final “slow” Wedge before it got shelved and reworked (returning 135 shows later just before another show detailed further down this page). The Antelope to cap the set is a wild psychedelic ride that departs the song for a bit before coming back to the big ending we know and love. The second set is full of highlights including a patient early set Slave, a frenzied and fast-paced Melt, and a YEM->Purple Rain that includes Mimi Fishman joining her son on the vac. This show is not the best from that legendary month but is a great example of what Phish was in this time as they began the move out of the ‘speed jazz’ era.

06.10.1994  The next year Phish returned for a pair of shows, again hitting the weekend with the first night falling on Friday as the second show of the summer tour after opening up in Salt Lake City on Thursday. Even in being only ten months since their last visit here it is clear that this is a different version of this band. The release of Hoist in March coupled with the spring tour supporting that release has brought out a ferocious side to their playing, a style that builds off of the speed jazz of 1993 but now includes the machine gun shred and regular dips into more open, psychedelic waters. This first night only offers us inklings of that as they are getting into this new tour but still has some interesting aspects such as the nod to the Iguana Tale in the intro to The Lizards (a song that almost never includes banter like this), a bunch of teases, an entertaining Fish Fun Time segment for I Wanna Be Like You, and a compact yet powerful Tweezer that resolves nicely into Lifeboy. When looking at this 1994 Red Rocks pair the second night is the one everyone points to (for reasons that will be obvious shortly) but this show also has most of those elements that made 1994 Phish so intoxicating for we fans.

06.11.1994  Now relaxed and comfortable in their surroundings, Phish came out for the second night of the pair with a show that is anything but a “Saturday Night Special”. By that I mean it is not just a rock-it-out jukebox set but instead is often held up as a paragon of what Phish could be in this era. Some have called this a “perfect” Phish show which might be hyperbole but the argument for it is pretty compelling. The first set is all go for broke rock highlighted by a wonderful YEM and a short but peaky Stash to close the set. Then the second frame is more of the same with Antelope and Fluffhead cranking the energy up before they blow the metaphorical roof off in a nasty take on Melt and a Maze that gets strong solos from both Page and Trey. There’s also a 332 show bustout for Frankenstein just for good measure. This may not have as many open jams as fans these days want/expect but it still holds as the type of show that you can give to a friend who doesn’t know the band to provide a glimpse into this world of ours.

06.09.1995  Almost a year to the day Phish came back for their third visit to Red Rocks and second straight year playing two shows. Once again the band was working through newer material, this time working on many of the songs that would end up on Billy Breathes when that album was released more than a year later. Again this show fell in the early part of tour as this pair was preceded by only the tour opener in Boise and one in Salt Lake City ahead of these weekend shows. After a one year gap Divided Sky returns to Red Rocks and the first set includes three of those newer tunes in Strange Design, Theme, and Taste (but not the final version of that song). The set is capped by a quite peaky Antelope and then they come out firing with another second set Melt that goes sideways in that wonderful way. Bowie is the dark vehicle that carries this set in the first version of perhaps the best tour for the song overall. As with 1994 this first night is a bit of setup more than the peak of the pair but being summer 1995 it pops with the energy and swagger that the band had on display throughout that year.

06.10.1995  There’s something to be said for a show that starts out with Trey pointing out his grandfather in the crowd before starting up Makisupa Policeman. It pretty much tells you how comfortable they were in their position as the rising stars of Jamlandia, particularly when that Maki keyword is “4:20. Dank” and the crowd goes wild before they dropped from a soupy outro jam into a power packed Llama. Here again we also get another solid mid first set YEM which evolves into a vocal HYHU segue to Fish Fun Time for the final version of Lonesome Cowboy Bill before it would return on Halloween in 1998. The second set is another rager with a Maze opener and a massive Mike’s Groove that eats up more than 35 minutes from the 22+ minute Mike’s through the CYHMK-tinged Paug. This Mike’s is the sort that 1.0ers are always on about when the younger fans wonder why this song is held so highly by older fans and lives up to the billing in all its dissonant glory. For good measure this set is graced with the debut of ADITL in the encore. Between this show and the second night the prior year you can see why fans at this time had come to regard shows at Red Rocks as can’t miss certainties.

08.04.1996  Following their first “real” tour of Europe in the early part of the summer of 1996 Phish returned to the US for nine shows leading up to the first big end of summer festival at the Clifford Ball in Plattsburgh, NY. Four of these nine shows were at Red Rocks and the hype surrounding them was unparalleled in the fanbase due to several factors including but not limited to the demise of the Grateful Dead, the explosion of Phish in the wake of 1995, and a limited US touring schedule for the summer of 1996. Once again hitting here in the early stages of tour after stopping in Utah first, the band comes out strong and rides the energy of the crowd. You can almost feel it listening back on the tape as the band and fans connect to elevate the music beyond the objective criteria one might set. This first set gets a lot of the fist-pumping anthems with the Chalkdust opener, Guyute, a really high spirited Melt, Sloth, Maze, and the Loving Cup closer. Then after a punchy Bag 2nd set opener they lay down a lovely Reba (just watch out for the super abrupt ending!) and take Bowie out for a ride. Page also breaks out his “new toy” theremin for a brief debut of the Theme from Star Trek in the encore. This show is a fun one for the start of the run, the first non-NYE time four show run at one venue, and an odd first night Sunday show taboot taboot.

08.05.1996  The second night in 1996 feels in retrospect like a Clifford Ball primer show with its solid if unremarkable first set and a second set that showcases a couple of different sides of the band in that time period. It also is a pretty typical show for 1996 in general. Starting out with 2001 (which happened in a show at every Red Rocks run except 1995) the band then goes into what will eventually stand up as the best Disease of the year (even including some of those wonderful ones from that Fall tour). This is an atypical take on the song in this era but moves through several phases (including Trey on minikit) before seguing into a wild Ice that you really should spin as it is pretty unique. They come up for air in Halley’s but dive deep here as well until Page surfaces with Somewhere Over the Rainbow on theremin. Following the oddly placed mini-stage acoustic set (including the debut of Talk… yay?) and the a cappella Amazing Grace they wrap up with another strong Mike’s Groove. This one is perhaps not as lauded as the one from the year prior but still will get you moving and grooving. Another thing of note with this show is that it includes one of the first example of fans actively trying to get the crowd en masse to “interact” with the band on our terms as flyers were handed out in the lots to try to initiate a few new responses by the crowd to what the band was doing, akin to the Secret Language responses that the band had employed for several years by this time. One of these ideas was for fans to sit down during the pause in Divided Sky which apparently worked to enough effect on this night to be noticeable above just a few folks getting winded from the lack of oxygen and needing to catch their breath. That one didn’t stick but one from the next night sure has…

08.06.1996  By the third night of this 1996 run Phish and its fans had pretty well overrun the small town of Morrison. A contributing factor was the large number of ticketless fans who descended (or perhaps ascended if we want to get technical with the altitude here) upon the area and did not exactly cooperate fully with local law enforcement. There are several stories out there about what really went down but the impact would be felt for more than a decade (more on that later). The band clearly knew what was going on as they opened with Makisupa and then altered the keyword to the first set closing Lope to be “21 year old Phish Fan Marco Esquandolas” which is a direct reference to a quote from a local newspaper from an oh so clever fan. In between that Trey threw in a U2 (and 07.25.1988 Icculus that made it to the Electra release of Junta) reference by saying  “This is Red Rocks. This is the Edge,” in the Rift break section (you know, the part right after the “…slipped off the edge” line), and they played a straight but solid Simple along with everything else. The second set is carried by a strong Tweezer that includes a jam on Norwegian Wood (Trey is very much in charge in this Tweezer) but then the set turns towards the more humorous side of the band as they romp through BBFCFM and then nod to the rainy night with Fish Fun Time for Purple Rain. But with the next song, Harry Hood, the fans joined the band to add “Hood!” in response to the standard “Harry!” line in the song, spurred on by that flyer that circulated and forever changing the song once these tapes got out and spread to the wider fanbase. You may love it but I personally long for the days when the song did not include that crowd feedback. Call me crotchety or whatever but that’s one of my few “back in my day!” things with this band so yeah.

08.07.1996  The final night of the four in 1996 continued the trend with another solid first set as they took Stash out for a DEG-tinged jam, thanked a recent medal-winning Olympian in the crowd, and brought out Colorado native Tim O’Brien for a few songs to end the set (all debuts). I still cannot figure out why they didn’t play Nellie Kane with him but whatever. If you like mando-music this is good stuff for you. The second set starts off with a very engaging Jim that somehow morphs into a full Gypsy Queen jam before coming back to Jim and eventually dropping into a crunchy Free where Trey hits the minikit for a bit. Next up is storytime for another iteration of the Iguana tale (that makes three references in four years), a Life On Mars? that was both topical to current events and nodded back to the tale in Forbin>Mockingbird, and eventually a very nice YEM in the latter part of the set. This show is one of those celebration cappers to a solid run where it is as much about the feel in the room as the music they lay down. The scene was in full bloom at these shows and was about to take another major leap forward with the first true Phish-only festival about ten days away. Though no one knew it at the time this would be the last time Phish would/could play this venue for more than a decade as the poor interactions between fans and local officials made it such that the venue “banned” the band for what we could only assume was forever.

07.30.2009  Time has a funny way of softening people’s views on things, of course, so when Phish returned after The Long Wait and started announcing plans for their summer tour there were rumors that perhaps we had all grown up enough to be allowed back to Red Rocks. Those rumors became reality and Phish came back for another four night run in starting up the second leg of the inaugural summer tour of 3.0. It was difficult to figure out what we might get musically but anticipation was high and tickets were as difficult to come by as any perhaps save the reunion shows at Hampton earlier that year. This was a venue that Phish had ostensibly outgrown in the years since their last visit which played into the demand (and is definitely part of why they have not returned here since, preferring the big crowd and easy venue logistics of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park). Nodding to past shows here they opened with Divided Sky, giving everyone the chance to reconnect with this magical place during The Pause. This opening set is pretty safe as they go but the Stash goes out for a walk even with Trey working out some whale tone in there. The second set is anchored by a fun Ghost>Wolfman’s pairing and the second set closing Bowie is a rocking good time but overall this is a pretty tame Phish show. That is understandable considering it is the first show in more than a month following the Leg One closer at Alpine and 2009 was mainly about everyone reconnecting.

07.31.2009  The second night found the band seemingly more in their element as they got to jamming pretty quickly with the third song Gin. Unfortunately, the energy built by the opening threepack of Jim, Chalkdust, and Gin was deflated when they dropped Time Turns Elastic in the four hole, resulting in a mass departure for the restrooms. The weather played a role in this one as well when the band started up Water In The Sky with rain starting to fall and eventually leading to a wild open jam in Melt during the windy downpour that felt in the moment like the band was ‘playing the storm’. After an extended break to wait out the storm they came back with an on-the-nose Drowned that gets to some quiet space before a nice segue into C&P gets the crowd and band bouncing again. As in the first set they don’t capitalize on the energy as they head into the then new Joy before pulling the yo-yo string again to crank into a much appreciated Tweezer. Unfortunately the ripcord is here too as they bail for BDT#L (let me tell you, it is really weird to be writing about these newer songs after so many posts about shows from eighteen or more years ago!). Pulling the string again they run through a raucous Fluffhead->Piper->ADITL segment to end the set and then after the encores we are left wet and weary and eager for more. There are more good moments here that I recalled but this show suffers from the yo-yo effect that disrupts any cohesiveness.

08.01.2009  By the third night of any run both band and crowd are now fully present and that holds true for this show. The second song in is the return of The Curtain (With) which while only having had a gap of 21 shows waited almost five years to be played again after the absolute trainwreck version from The Festival Which Shall Not Be Named. It was particularly fulfilling to see Trey nail this. Mound was a little bustout (83 shows) and then a fun Jibboo preceded Trey joking about the band using only hand signals to indicate what song would be next (something they continued throughout the set), followed by the high energy PYITE, Guyute section before they started up the end run with a punchy Tube that was big on Page with Trey bending his notes to accent the clav. Antelope punches through for another solid Red Rocks version and then the double whammy 2nd set opening pairing of RnR>Disease got the jams going for real. The RnR has some stop/start action and the Disease includes LA Woman teases which is always nice. There’s an Esther bustout here (89 shows) and a quite heavy feeling Dirt which led to a fun Hood that included teases of both Dirt and Free. This show felt like the one where we were all finally comfortable in the surroundings and musically I think that holds true. The music here has been vastly surpassed in the intervening years since The Return but there are some great connected moments to be found in some of these jams.

08.02.2009  For the final night of this 2009 run the band played things very loose, even opening with the first Roses Are Free of the comeback and then playing a spirited if somewhat disjointed set of music from all over their history. The second set is the gem of this run starting from the jammed out Boogie On opener and working through YEM which dove directly into Undermind when Bill Freaking Kreutzmann came out to join Fish on a second kit. Billy K stayed on for the rest of the set which included a Drums segment that segued into Seven Below, a fantastically groovy 2001, and a quite interesting Waves before the Zero closer. A triple encore put the icing on this one and wrapped up the final Red Rocks show to date. Similar to the night before, the band really found connection in this set and unlike many times when a guest sits in did not lose anything for it. It added another chapter to the ever growing shared mythology of Phish and The Dead while allowing for some creative music as well.

So those are the shows and the base synopsis for each night the band has played this venue. What then is the tale of the tape?

Venue:  Red Rocks Amphitheatre

No. of Shows:  thirteen

Intangibles:  unique, beautiful venue in Phish-friendly Colorado with great acoustics. band has long appreciation for the venue. small(er) capacity adds to mystique in it being a hard ticket to get but worth it if you go. added mythos with band getting banned after 1996 run. classic lot scene with multiple lots and entry points.

Recurring Themes:  Trey wove tales of the giant iguana into almost every run in 1.0, adding to it and updating with topical references. Every visit has Antelope, Melt, Coil, and Yem. Rain.

Key Jams/Songs:  1993 – Harpua, Antelope, Slave, Melt, YEM->Purple Rain, slow Wedge; 1994 – Tweezer, YEM, Stash, Melt; 1995 – Antelope, Melt, Bowie, Makisupa->Llama, YEM, Mike’s Groove; 1996 – Melt, Maze, Reba, Bowie, Disease, Ice, Halley’s->SOTR, Mike’s Song, Tweezer, Hood, Stash, Jim->Gypsy Queen->Jim>Free, Forbin’s>Mockingbird, YEM; 2009 – Stash, Ghost>Wolfman’s, Melt, Drowned>C&P, Tweezer, Curtain (With), Tube, RnR>Disease, Hood, Boogie, YEM->Undermind->Drums->Seven Below>2001>Waves

PJJ Ratio:  2.00 (Please see the Shoreline post for details on this)

 

While I have a hard time believing that Red Rocks will win this competition, it is clearly a venue that holds some great history for the band and fans alike. I must admit that I used to live a short five miles from this venue and grew to love it even more with each show (Phish or otherwise) that I saw there. There is something magic in those rocks, something that you cannot fully explain but once you’ve been there you understand. That magic reflects in the experiences people have and in the music that gets played. It is the type of venue that you remember fondly even after the music fades away.

Where this venue ranks in the overall list is still to be determined. For now let’s enjoy the music that was created in the cradle of the Giant Iguana. What is your favorite memory of Phish at Red Rocks?

The Circus Is The Place for Me – Identifying the Top Tier Venues

Now that I have said I’m going to do this Venue Project thing I suppose I should get to finalizing the criteria for inclusion and letting you know where this is all headed. From there we can begin the process of working through each venue’s shows to make this art compete to determine which venue is the BEST PHISH PLACE EVAR!!

 

After a lengthy culling of the setlist files to pull together all of the variously named venues into one list I have a firm grasp on the probably-mostly-but-perhaps-not-entirely accurate number of times that the band has played each venue over the years. With that in hand I need to set some criteria for inclusion of consideration, otherwise I’ll be here listening and ranking for the next few years (if it only takes that long…).

 

  1. Number of Shows Played at Venue – this is the primary criteria of inclusion. While there may be (and are) numerous venues where Phish has played 1, 2, 4, even 6 good-to-great shows that still leaves us with a list of more than 50 venues to work through here. In the interest of keeping this thing manageable as well as to look a bit at the why behind the reasons they keep going back to the same places year after year I have set the minimum confirmed  appearances by Phish at twelve*. I say Phish because there are several venues that have seen TAB, GRAB, or other band member bands play them. This is not about them. C’mon now.
  2. More on the Number of Shows Thing – Any venue that has a significant number of unknown or partial setlists was downgraded due to uncertainty. For this reason you will not see classic venues such as Hunt’s, The Haunt, Gallagher’s, Slade Hall, or even The Front or Nectar’s on the list for consideration. The next numerical will get into more about why these venues and others like them did not make this list. The other “negative” count factor against some venues was the type of performance played as there are those opener sets for Santana and the H.O.R.D.E fest single setters that generally didn’t bring much in the way of actual jamming. The above alone did not disqualify any one venue but it factors into the conversation.
  3. Timing of Performances – We all came to Phish at various points in their career but I think I can safely say that most of us continue to be obsessed with this band because of the music they create each night. This creativity is most evident in the various jamming styles that they employ and how they approach the music. The type of show that gets LEGENDARY status from the fanbase does so due to the playing of the band or perhaps a particularly flowing/unique setlist. With that in mind, I place a lot more weight on the shows that have occurred since August 1993 (though some would probably just start with 1994) as that is generally accepted as one of the big touchpoint moments for Phish in going from a tight, precision-based group of musical weirdos to one that would invent on the fly.

 

*We can debate this all you want. I went back and forth on this number a lot and in the end it is a good number to use for reasons that will become evident as we progress here.

 

So how do those main criteria impact our list? Obviously, the first criteria related to number of Phish shows at the venue is the most integral to how we proceed. As I looked at the list, it became clear that I would have to set the bar somewhat high so as to not be working through this project for more time than it really needs. Before factoring in the secondary criteria the the numbers are big, like 103 venues with four or more shows or 63 venues with six or more. When you get to this level you start to see some of the venues we know and love drop out (like the Rosemont Horizon, Providence Civic Center and more) but when you compare those to places that have seen upwards of 20 shows they simply cannot compete even if every one of those 4-5 shows is one we love. That’s just math, people.

 

Then once one adds in the secondary criteria related to the type of performance played at the venue as well as whether we even have a setlist to validate the number, the potential inclusions for our list shrinks significantly. After eliminating hallowed early venues including The Front (55 shows but 20 lack setlists) and Nectar’s (43 listed, 20 without setlists) and factoring in the two-sets rule (#3 above) we have 30 venues with 7+ shows, 21 venues with 10+ shows, and 15 venues with 12+ shows. Taking a glance at where this puts us, we have:

venuecount

That’s a pretty fun list but also a bit longer than I want to dive into so where do we draw the line? I said twelve shows above and I think that the venues included in that fifteen can reasonably be argued to be the ‘cream of the crop’ when it comes to Phishy venues even if only based on half-remembrances and anecdotal experience. But this is nothing if not a democracy so if there is a valid argument to be made for including the ‘next tier’ (i.e. locations with 10 or more shows) then we can do that. For the time being, however, I’m going forward with the top fifteen on that list above which includes these storied venues:

 

Madison Square Garden in New York City, NY

Deer Creek Music Center in Noblesville, IN (other names for this venue include Verizon Wireless Music Center and the current corporate moniker Klipsch Music Center)

Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, NY

Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, CO

Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, VA

Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts in Mansfield, MA (other names for this venue include Tweeter Center for the Performing Arts, Comcast Center, and the current corporate moniker Xfinity Center)

Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, WI

Worcester Centrum in Worcester, MA (other names for this venue include the Centrum in Worcester, Worcester’s Centrum Centre, and the current corporate moniker DCU Center)

Gorge Amphitheatre in George, WA

Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, MD

Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, CA

Jones Beach Amphitheater in Wantagh, NY

Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, CO

Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, CA

American Airlines Arena in Miami, FL

 

Clicking on any of those venue names will take you to the phish.net page for the venue so that you can see what shows have occurred there to start your homework. I’m going to keep you on your toes as to which venue we will (re)visit first. For now, what I want to know is whether there is a compelling argument to expand the list to some of the ones that just missed the cut here or ones I removed for one reason or another.

 

With The Right Device You Can Make A Pattern Grow – The Venue Project

For a while there has been a smaller project that I have wanted to take on, one that seems to get hinted at and asked about in the various Phish social media circles though I have yet to see a full breakdown of the idea in any one place. It is a notion that flows into many conversations that you hear about the band with broad statements like “they always play hot shows at Deer Creek” or “I cannot wait to get back to the Mothership” or “hands down, Dick’s is the best venue for Phish these days and they always slay it there” and the like being so common as to become part of the band’s folklore. But just how true are those statements?

 

In order to figure out a somewhat reasonable answer to this question I propose to take a look back at the venues where Phish has played most frequently and put together some form of summary/breakdown of the music that the band played to see if there really is a connection between the setting and the music as we often think. This endeavor will require some heavy lifting first in breaking down all of the various names both corporate and otherwise to figure out the correct number of times played at a particular place and then diving in headlong to try to make some sense of the history there. We will go about setting some criteria in a bit but some of the considerations that I am thinking about include:

  • setting a minimum number of times played as a baseline – this will obviously exclude some of the fantastic “one timer” venues and places where they might’ve only played a couple of shows but if we don’t cut it somewhere it will end up being a full history and a highly subjective undertaking at that
  • evaluating the music played – this is about as subjective as it can get but at a certain level all of this is so we will try to look at the relative “quantity of quality” in the performances including possibly using outside resources like PJJ to see how others have “valued” the music therein
  • special venues – while I could be swayed by a persuasive argument (nudge nudge, wink wink) otherwise my inclination is to keep festival settings out of the conversation though to be honest most will not qualify for the minimum number of shows if it ends up where I think it will
  • the venue-specific factors – what about a venue contributes to the whole experience? This could include acoustics, proximity of band to crowd and sightlines, slapback, whether they have good nachos or just that goopy fake cheese bullshit, and the like. While perhaps not as important on the surface, these factors can and do contribute to the overall experience.
  • intangibles – this is the stuff people point to that has no objective basis but has become part of the story. Stuff like the prevailing vibe of the crowd in a room, the hype surrounding the shows and venue itself, how hard a ticket might be to acquire, etc. There is some bleed between these factors and the venue-specific ones.

I’m not really looking to get too granular with it such that the overall intent is lost in the details so obviously the primary focus will be the music played. I think this can be a fun little project before heading into another full tour review and also so that I’m not overlapping my way back posts with the new stuff coming out on Fall Tour in just a few weeks. I’ll have another, more detailed post to set about establishing the criteria and putting together the list of venues in consideration but until then let me know what you think in the comments.

 

What is your pick for Phish’s best played venue throughout their history?

Crossword and Painless

First and foremost I want to thank everyone for reading along as I worked my way through the Fall 1996 Tour. While a lot of this was a personal journey in reconnecting with an important time in my life with Phish it was nice to see that folks were enjoying the reminisce themselves. Over the years this band has given us seemingly countless moments of eternal joy and splendor and it is often rewarding to go back and touch that feeling by recollecting what we can of those times. I have yet to decide what tour I might tackle next but I am enjoying this here three tours in and want to continue. So read along if you so choose; I’ll be here slinging bad prose and questionable takes on this wonderfully strange band that we cannot seem to stop following.

 

Now on to the puzzle!

 

I had never built my own crossword puzzle before but as a person who completes them at an unhealthy level of obsession I felt like it would be a fun thing to try and a neat way to kind of recap this tour review. There are some websites out there that help you build a puzzle without too much heavy lifting, mainly relying on you for the clues/answers with the format and structure being constructed by their program. So as I went along the tour I kept track of things that might make good crossword clues/answers and by the end of it I had a pretty healthy list of stuff to work with in putting it all together. I checked these clues more than once yet somehow seemed to miss a couple of things but based on the submissions I received it appears that my minor mistakes didn’t derail people too much in getting this figured out. Here now I post for you the answer key with the following notes regarding the ones that have been found to be not completely correct or somewhat misleading in some way:

34 Down – Clue says the answer was an encore in 4/5 times played but it was actually only two of the five (Johnny B Good, “JBG” in crossword)

50 Down – The clue is stated correctly but I misspelled the answer as “LEE” when it should be “LEIGH” as the then Lighting Tech’s name is Leigh Fordham which we would all become a lot more familiar with once the song 46 Days was written and performed

76 Across – Clue says the answer was played thrice but it was actually performed eight times (ACDC Bag, “BAG” in crossword)

Clearly, I need to hire a new proofreader because the one I have (me) kinda stinks at it…

 

The Answers!

Fall96AnswerKey.jpg

So how did you do? Admittedly, there are more than a few clues here that aren’t ones you might know off the top of your head without having either read my posts pretty closely or by using outside resources like PhishStats or all of the tracking information on phish.net but that’s totally fine by me as i think that is a part of how we digest Phish in this day and age.

 

I ended up getting seven complete or mostly complete entries for the contest and after checking them all I had three that were complete and 100% correct. From there I used the randomizing services of my in house accounting firm “Twin Two Year Olds, Ltd.” who monitored the proceedings and helped with the picking out of the hat for our winner. And that winner is…

 

Ari Metz! 

 

Congratulations, Ari, you will be receiving an email shortly from LivePhish with the Gift Certificate code for you to use in getting yourself a download.

 

Thanks again for all who submitted entries and for all of you who have been reading along. Let’s enjoy the weekend at Dick’s and then maybe y’all can help me figure out which tour to dive into as we head into the Fall…

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!