Let’s get this 1993 review thing going, shall we?
Phish – Portland Expo – Portland, ME 02.03.1993
I Cup*, Rift, Fee>Llama, Wedge*, Divided, IDK, MFMF, Poor Heart>Guelah, Bowie
II Jim, Ice>Tweezer, Horse>Silent>Sparkle, YEM>Lifeboy, HYHU>Terrapin>BBJ>HYHU, Possum
E Grace*, Reprise
*1st time played
For their first full concert of the year* Phish took the stage in Portland, ME at the Portland Exposition Building, a multi-use facility that is currently the home for the NBA D League “Maine Red Claws” who are affiliated with the Boston Celtics. This would be the first and only appearance by Phish in this venue as they would play the larger Cumberland County Civic Center (now called the Cross Insurance Arena) on subsequent visits to that fair coastal town. Along with being the tour opener, this show holds the distinction of being the first one where Page had the baby grand piano on stage and part of his rig for touring purposes. And with that addition the band wasted no time in letting Page show off his new toy, one that he would use to great success in several songs during this show.
The first set kicks off with Page tinkling around on the baby grand, throwing in a ‘Call to Post’ tease right before dropping the now-oh-so-familiar chords marking the debut of Loving Cup, a tune that has become a staple in the band’s repertoire. The band excitedly runs through this number in a straight to form take on the song that mainly serves to get the band and crowd warmed up and brush off the dust from the layoff. Next they dive into the first tune from the (then) recently released Rift album, playing the title track. Just a bit of forewarning here, the Rift tunes will be in heavy rotation for this Spring tour – as they should be considering this tour is supporting the release of the album… So after a crisp run through of Rift we have Fee>Llama which is an interesting pairing that has only occurred 10 times in the 275 times the band has played Fee. It isn’t uncommon for Fee to be a lead in for a shredder tune or at least something more up tempo. And because I do this sort of thing, here’s the breakdown for the most likely Fee segue partners over the course of phishtory: Maze (21), Rift (11), Divided (11), Llama (10), Antelope (10), ATR (9), Mike’s (9), Possum (8). Looking forward, almost half of those Llama ones happen in ’93 so there’s that to look ahead to here.
After some serious shreddery in that Llama Trey takes a little time to mention the Loving Cup debut and how the band has wanted to play the tune for several years but could (would?) not because Page would only do so if and when he got a real piano on which to play the tune. And then with little fanfare they kick off the next debut of this show and second rift tune played, The Wedge, which in this form is similar but not quite the same as the version we know and love today. Heck, it isn’t even the same as the version on the album! This song started more as a swinging lounge-y number that has a lot of Page to it (which works great with that new piano). A clean take on Divided fills the midset here and then we have Fish hopping out front for some trombone work on IDK. Trey then picks up the acoustic for the MFMF intro and after that quick dark interlude we have Poor Heart>Guelah, two tunes you are going to hear a lot during these shows. Nothing special to report on those except perhaps that the end solo section for Trey in Poor heart is a tad longer than modern versions, something that would also continue throughout this tour. The band then caps the set with the first Bowie of a year full of quality versions, opening up the jam a bit in a way that would grow more as they became more comfortable with stretching this one out to deeper waters. This version is almost foreshadowing in that respect, hinting more at what would become of the song than anything.
After the setbreak the band came back with a fiery Jim that allows Trey to show off a bit in the later half. This song is still a bit away from fully opening up as a jam vehicle (which would begin in earnest later in this tour) but the marks are all there and this one shows a good example of the type of musical density they had in their arsenal back then. Next we have Ice>Tweezer and the segue is really more just coincidental placement than full transition. Ice is pretty standard here but the Tweezer does go off the reservation for a bit with Trey intoning some “water your team, I’m a beehive” over the jam, hinting at more to come in the YEM later in the set. Form here they then play a three song segment of tunes, all from Rift and all pretty straight to the album versions, with the sequence going Horse>Silent>Sparkle. The Horse here (as with pretty well all of the versions in this time frame) has Trey on acoustic, something he will toy with over the course of the tour. Following this we get the second jam vehicle of the set with YEM and for this one they simply do not mess around, getting right to the jam and playing around with some ‘My Girl’ teases and Trey replacing the “wash Uffizi…” line with the aforementioned “beehive” lyrics. I must note though that the crowd gets a little excited and there’s some coordinated clapping happening here so, you know, take that for what it is but understand that back then people didn’t have stuff like “wooing” and “Hood” chants to profess their love back to the band yet. They elevate the jam to great heights before dropping into the B&D section for a bit and adding on a vocal jam that again has the “beehive” from Trey before they eventually get to the “choir” ending that was typical of this time period. This heads almost directly into another debut for Lifeboy – which is notable considering this is the first Hoist tune to hit the stage for the band. This version is a bit loose compared to later versions but still evokes that emotional response you expect from the song. From here we have the standard late second set Fish Fun Time which gets the HYHU brackets (just a note, I won’t typically mention HYHU unless there is something unusual about it) and includes Terrapin (including band/crew intros), the crooning ballad from Syd Barrett that Fish appropriated as far back as 1987, along with BBJ (with Trey telling the crowd what to do and Fish on vac) that includes elements of Terrapin before they head into a HYHU jam to finish it all off. After this interlude we get a quite engaging Possum closer that strays into ‘You Don’t Love Me’ territory before Trey takes over to destroy the end solo as Page adds a new variety of color with the baby grand. And so as to not be seen as an afterthought, the encore includes the debut of Amazing Grace before the expected Reprise sends everyone off into the night.
This is a classic tour opening show complete with a varied setlist, several debuts, an energetic atmosphere from band and crowd alike, and some solid playing out of each player. In a way, this show is a lot of table setting as we are introduced to Page’s new toy and a snapshot of many of the tunes that would become staples for the band on this tour and many that would follow. This show is probably not going to end up on anyone’s “best of” lists but it is a worthwhile listen to get a baseline for where this tour would lead the band musically.
Your takeaways from this show if you are looking to skim the highlights are Loving Cup (hey, it’s the debut!), Wedge (gotta check out the first slow wedge), Bowie, Jim, Tweezer, YEM, and Possum. Not too bad for a tour opener!
*I say full concert because they had an album release party at the Hard Rock Cafe in Boston on 01.28.1993 where they performed Amazing Grace and Fish donated a vac that still hangs on the walls there.