Old School Vibe in a New School Time – Phish and The Worcester Centrum

For our first indoor arena on the Venue Project we come to the wonderful Worcester Centrum, now known by its corporate moniker, The DCU Center. This venue holds sway not just for Phish but also for other music acts going all the way back to the first event here, a concert by none other than Frank Sinatra. Just to name a few, U2 had their first stadium show in the US here back in 1983, the Grateful Dead played twelve shows between 1983 and 1988 (before getting banned…), Boston had a nine night stand drawing over 100,000 big haired fans in 1987, Neil Diamond played a record 21 shows (Phish is closing in at 16!), and Dave Matthews apparently played some legendary pair of shows with Bela Fleck supporting in 1998. No matter what type of recreational past time you enjoy, there’s a good chance you can catch a version of it at the Centrum and musically that holds true as artists (and “artists”) of all kinds have played here over the years. For Phish fans in and around New England this place became one of the can’t miss venues on the touring circuit, usually good for at least a pair of shows in a place where the band played with ease and comfort while the crowd enjoyed the classically ‘dirty’ shakedown lot scene and general orneriness of interacting with the locals. In an effort to be transparent, I live about ten minutes from this venue and therefore hold it quite dearly. Expect fluffing.

 

Phish has played the Worcester Centrum sixteen times with the first show being the grand New Year’s Eve celebration from 12.31.1993 and the last to date being the second night of a pair on the Fall 2013 Tour. After that first time here the band has played at least two nights with the exception of their visit during the whirlwind Winter 2003 run including two highly memorable three night runs here over Thanksgiving weekends in 1997 and 1998.

 

Here is you www.phishjustjams.com playlist for the Worcester Jams. Note that the famed Worcester Jim has entries for both the full thing as well as smaller chunks for each of the different sections of that epic in case you want a more manageable dose there.

 

12.31.1993  When your first time playing a venue is New Year’s Eve, you go big. Add on the fact that this was a band on the rise playing their first big time NYE Run (prior year’s runs were a much smaller affair) and you have the recipe for some serious heat which is exactly what the band brought that night. Coming off a lengthy break after a heavily front loaded year that saw a full, two legged spring tour (half of which we began this here blog by reviewing) followed by a summer with some H.O.R.D.E. sets mixed in with one of the famed months in the band’s history (August as if I have to mention it) Phish had made their way up the East Coast with a four show run that started in Washington, DC before three New England shows in New Haven, CT (their first in the big old Veterans Memorial Coliseum), Portland, ME (their second show here and first full show after a single set H.O.R.D.E. appearance in summer 1992), and here in Worcester culminated the year for the band. For each show of the run the stage was decorated to look like we the crowd were peering into a demented fish tank and that would make a lot more sense the next year when the band released their first – and only- music video ever for the big single off of Hoist, Down with Disease (more on that song in a bit). This is a very highly regarded show in the fanbase, one that many consider canon and for good reason. From the start of the show opening Llama you can hear the energy from both band and fans alike threatening to blow the roof off the room before they even get warmed up. Pretty much everything they play in this show is nailed though obviously some things stand out more than others like the crisp takes on Stash, Reba, and Lope in the 1st set or the raging Tweezer and Peaches tease-filled Ice and Possum from the 2nd set. The context there is that this run was the first set of shows the band had played since the passing of Frank Zappa a few weeks earlier, resulting in numerous Peaches teases throughout the shows as well as the song being played on three out of the four nights (there are other songs that got repeated in the run like Hood and Possum but that was more a factor of the limitations of their catalog at the time than anything). The third set is the template for how Phish would manage New Year’s shows in the future with a post Auld Lang Syne jam celebrating the new year as they open up into a jam-filled run of songs to ring in the proceedings. This night got brand spanking new music with the then unnamed but soon to be well loved Down With Disease jam (just the riffs, no lyrics, ma’am) which gave way to a smoking, tight Melt. The rest of the set is party time Phish culminating with a Hood that has long been a favorite of many a fan with some still considering it their finest pure, straight ahead version of the song ever. It is a perfect cap to this celebration and quite the jam to inaugurate this venue into Phish lore.

12.28.1995  Two years later Phish returned for more of that New Year’s Run goodness, this time playing the first two shows of the now traditional four night run before heading down to MSG for a pair of shows that were kinda pretty amazing. Warming up for that here in Worcester, the band came in hot on the heels of the legendary Fall 1995 Tour which peaked during its final month only a short nine days ahead of these shows. That results in a well polished band plying their trade rather than spending a show or two shaking off the rust. The fruits of that show from the start as they open with Melt for one of only nine times ever in the 312 performances of the song. The rest of the first set is just your typical for the time nailed fare with the fun of the PA going out during Rift being the only true notable somewhat unique feature because, c’mon, having Page sing the iconic “and silence contagious…” line at that moment is almost too convenient, eh? The second set, however, goes left in a hurry as after the Audience Chess Move they open with a dark, punishing Timber Ho! featuring a lot of big time Fish fills that slides into a raging Theme that Trey dominates. After some more evil Phish with Wilson>Buried Alive they drop into Tweezer which is in the vein of many of the classic Summer/Fall ’95 Tweezer jams which is to say that that shit is dark, yo. If you aren’t hip to the Fall ’95 jam template this is a good example of the mindfuckery we got nightly. There’s a bit in here that will be resolved in the next night’s show as Mike “practices” some of what goes down in the Bass Duet jam with his teacher Jim Stinnett but we’ll leave that for the next one down. Eventually this Tweezer morphs into a full segue to IDK where Fish takes up the trombone in the exhale of the set as they drop a late Uncle Pen and then we breathe deep again for a soaring yet also quite dissonant Slave closer. This is the type of show to kick off a NYE Run, Phish. Don’t forget that a few weeks from now…

12.29.1995  Night two on the 1995 run here in Worcester starts with a run of six songs strung together before the band takes a moment to rest. In there we get a compact Disease and one of those Taste That Surrounds that lived in the space between when Fog That Surrounds eventually became Taste. The Stash is really where things get going in earnest as they build tension with a staccato-filled jam that stays at home in the song but comes to a massive peak complete with a nice held note by Trey before they wrap around to the final round of ‘maybe so or maybe not’. The remainder of the set is raucous fun with Fluffhead and Llama before the a cappella Adeline closer cools things down a tad for intermission. Our second set starts with one of seven ever Makisupas, eventually dropping into a feedback-heavy, ambient-ish jam that melts into Page hitting the organ for the start of CTB. After that we get the always welcome second set Gin. This one is a rager from the start as Trey picks his path, navigating through the Gin theme as Page throws in his grand piano stylings. Almost suddenly, at around the 7:50 mark, Trey starts repeating a quick phrase that settles the band into a fast paced groove that Trey starts soloing over delicately. Fish is pounding away here as it evolves away from Gin into a recognizable tune, particularly if you had been around that Fall for, oh I don’t know, a certain Halloween performance? Once Trey plays the tell tale chords it is clear they are playing The Real Me to the delight of the fans. Trey’s worn out vocal cords from the prolonged tour are evident here but this rocks hard before they seamlessly come back to the Gin close which in turn segues right to a solid take on the classic McGrupp. Then, following a fun BBFCFM and as hinted to above Mike’s old bass instructor Jim Stinnett comes out for a bass jam that has some classical elements some may recognize. As the rest of the band rejoins Trey pushes it into La Grange and on to the end of set fun numbers. This show is known for the “Real Gin” but don’t sleep on the Stash and McGrupp here or that bass jam which is a unique sit-in to say the least.

11.28.1997  After skipping a visit in 1996 Phish returned for a Thanksgiving Weekend Run, giving us an excuse to dance off the holiday meal with three heaters in the ol’ sweatbox. A Curtain opener is always a good sign especially when the dance partner is a big time funky YEM. They forego the VJ for IDK and then tear through Maze as they do ahead of the piss break midset Farmhouse. The funk comes back in spades with our now defunct friend BEK (okay, sure, it’s now Moma but that’s not nearly the same is it?) and then the set concludes with one of three ever Theme>Rocky Top combos (a bit of an odd pairing if I do say so myself). This is a quality first set which was kind of the norm that tour but still only a taste of what they were about to throw down. First up is another set opening Timber Ho! which again delights with that dark magic. Next they go for the peaks with LxL which they follow up with a super peaky Slave that lands in Ghost. Now, Fall ’97 is a great tour for Ghost as they had settled into a comfortable way of attacking the jam after its debut that summer and this version is definitely a keeper. It is a clinic in cowfunk with everyone on board, compin’, clavin’, bassin’, and beatin’ into an infectious groove accented by a laser loop track. Trey resets the groove with a common comp phrase he employed back then (Mike’s *ting* shows his approval) and then they take off again as Trey alternates between lead and follow with Mike *ting*ing along as they drop into a sparse section that just begs to blow up for the final peak, which it does as Trey repeats the same, familiar lick over and over with ever increasing intensity and the band swells to the… ugh. really? so much potential for the release here and they drop into Johnny B. Goode. Oi. Not what I would have called there but then again I’m not exactly too handy with the musical creation thing like our friends up on stage, am I? Eh, after that hot set I’m not going to let a rocking fist pumper closer ruin it for me. Fun show, let’s do it again tomorrow.

11.29.1997  The middle night of a three night run that falls over a weekend generally means you get the SNS show here, one with a bunch of fun rockers and type I jams but not much in the way of otherworldly exploration. Well, that’s not where this one goes which should have been evident from the start of the Wedge opener considering it was only the 2nd ever show opening Wedge at the time (Great Went day two being the other) and still one of only five ever. Then there’s a punchy fun romp through Foam before the set slides into song mode for a few bustouts (TMWSIY>AM>TMWSIY after 67 shows and Sloth after 55) and caps with a slow burning, better than you remember Bowie. This is all appetizer though because what goes down next is still unmatched and probably will forever be so within the construct of a ‘traditional’ Phish set. Over the years, Phish has played the song Runaway Jim 377 times with versions ranging from the straight forward road song variety to longer, chugging jam vehicles that stretch well beyond the confines of the song structure (much like Jim’s wanderings…). On this night in Worcester Phish laid down the single longest single song jam ever with a Jim that comes in just a minute or three under the one hour mark. Now, depending on your favorite species of Phish jam this one may lose you in places but there really is something for everyone to be found in the “Jim Symphony” that moves through several distinct sections without ever falling apart. There are several teases, a full-on Paug jam, and more to be found here, enough that it may take repeated listens to fully grasp all that they packed into it. I know a couple of people who had that as their first show and let’s just say they were NOT prepared for that level of immersion into Phish. Perhaps sensing this unease, the band drifts into the start of Strange Design in the wake of The Jim then backed that up with a soul affirming Hood and eventually a mini bustout of Suzy (of all songs!) after 49 shows on the bench. Then for good measure there is a unique triple combo of Buffalo Bill, Moby Dick>Fire including Trey playing on The Song Remains the Same intro for the 435 show bustout in the middle there. This show is justifiably known for The Jim but giving it a full spin might surprise you with how complete it is even with that biggie in the middle.

11.30.1997  For the Sunday show capping this run before the quick turnaround to get down to Philly to sing the national anthem on Monday one could have excused the band if they wanted to play it safe after that big without a net type endeavor the night before. But that’s not what Phish does now is it? Again we get a rare opener with Guyute doing that for the first time ever here (and one of only four all time in 124 performances of the song). A not so standard Funky Bitch keeps em grooving next and then Wolfman’s in the three slot goes plaid in the best way. This is a second set hide-under-your-chair multi-themed thirty minute beast placed a mere twenty-five minutes into the show, well ahead of the schedule most of the trippers had planned for this evening. The jam heads into devilish territory with some Esther and Sanity lyric/music quotes before the band deftly throws a curveball in by seguing to the Elvis Presley classic Love Me, a Mike-sung tune we discussed back on the Fall ’98 tour. This is the last of the seven 1997 versions before it went unplayed until the following Fall and was eventually shelved. So as to not front load this show too much the band drops a hose-filled Stash in the two slot of the second set, taking the song out for a long, enjoyable ride before going unfinished into an arena-sized Free which is to say it rocks hard if not for a very long time. Without ever fully letting up on the sustain Trey then moves into soundscape building as the other players join in to create an ambient jam that feels more at home in 1999 or 2000 than here in the cowfunk days but I guess you gotta start somewhere. It provides a nice bridge to the slow build Piper that follows and something of a respite after that Stash->Free combo. After the expected Lope to close the set we get the one and only performance of Them Changes, the Buddy Miles tune from the album of the same name that also showed up on the Band of Gypsys album from the same year (1970). An interesting one off choice, it would be nice to hear why they played it then and never again.

11.27.1998  A year later the band was back again for another post-Turkey Time three pack of shows, ones that we have covered here previously. The first night is a quite well known show what with it being included in the first set of LivePhish releases. I won’t rehash my previous posts here (too much) but for this show the meat is definitely packed into the second set (even if the song Meat appeared in the first). The Reba and BOAF in the first are highlights but mainly serve to whet our appetite for the Dagwood set to come. If that reference is lost on you, go brush up on your Blondie cartoons a bit and maybe you’ll get it? Anyway, after Buried Alive the band drops a few rounds of Wipeout, the classic surf rock song by the Surfaris (get it???) that should not be confused with the oh-so-80s Beach Boys/Fat Boys joint of the same name. Bits of the 722 show bustout will pepper the set including in the middle of Weekapaug and to cap the Golgi encore but that’s not the only reason this set holds sway in the fanbase. The Chalkdust includes the debut and one time performance of the English Beat’s Mirror in the Bathroom and a return for Dog Log after its last appearance in the wake of The Riverport Gin amongst the frenetic shredding and boisterous energy from the band. Sanity and Buffalo Bill show up after the Chalkdust and then we get an almost-not-quite “traditional” Mike’s Groove since H2 comes back after a 68 show absence. Then following that Wipeout Paug fun they head out into the bliss of the type of ambient jam that Fall 1998 was known for before capping the set with a rousing Lope closer. We’ve talked about the uniqueness of seguefest shows before so I won’t dive back into that but let’s just say that this is definitely a case where the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.

11.28.1998  While this middle night was probably never going to live up to the legend of the one from the year before it holds its own as a solid if not great show that is a good example of what they were accomplishing that tour. The first set is anchored by (again!) the first ever Gumbo opener (only three ever there and the other two are in 3.0) which includes a nice if not extended jam, a compact but dangerous Disease, a crisp run through Foam, and a Melt that breeds hope for the second set to come. On paper this second set doesn’t look like a can’t miss winner but there’s a lot to be found here. The Wolfman’s>Timber Ho! combo has a dark, ambient vibe that Page counterpoints with bright piano fills and the Mule has some unique dueling including Mike putting the viking helmet on as he battles Fish but then the Caspian surprises with the power that the song can hold as Trey takes charge with his end solo. Then there’s a Crossroads bustout (64 shows) before a late set Tweezer that while not as expansive as we might want chugs through some interesting sections before suddenly ending for the Cavern closer. As I said above, this is not a ‘canon’ worthy show but there sure aren’t any low lights to worry about either.

11.29.1998  So then we have the final show of the 1998 Turkey Run which also happened to be the tour closer that Fall. For the third night in a row we have a first time opener, this time the Josh White ditty Paul and Silas complete with alternate lyrics to reference Paul Languedoc’s arrest the night before for not wanting to leave the hotel bar in a timely manner. This first set also has a soaring Theme and a unique LxL->Catapult->Kung>Maze section that delights the bustout junkies and setlist mavens. For the end of set the band welcomes Seth Yacavone (see the post on this show from the Fall ’98 reviews for more detail on him) for his song All The Pain Through the Years and the only ever cover of Layla. Those are fine enough but this isn’t the best sit-in ever even if they were giving some free pub to another Burlington dude. That said, Seth shreds so if you ever get the chance check his band out. In the second set there is a Simple that goes ambient but in a dark and dissonant way instead of the typical blissy bright feel and then peters out to Makisupa where we get more digs at the expense of Paul followed by the typical ambient dub mini-jam the song often gets. The Possum that follows goes fully into Wipeout before coming back and then we get one last airy vehicle with the late set Gin. This is a keeper and one that encapsulates the tour sound well before the band wraps things up with a powerful YEM and move into the encores. It is hard to say that any of the final two shows can live up to the fun and uniqueness of the first night of this run but in terms of open jamming this one is the big dog for the year at Worcester.

02.26.2003  During the post-Hiatus Winter 2003 Run Phish played the Centrum for the third to last show of that tour. After a telling tease of Call to Post at the outset they were off running into YEM for only the 11th ever show opening version of the song (and first since 1997) with the 12th (and last to date) occurring later that year at Shoreline. This is a bombastic version of the classic with the crowd erupting at several points to voice their approval for the return of the band to New England after Hiatus. Then the set takes on a “What I Did on Summer Vacation” vibe (not my line but I like it) as first we get the Mike/Leo Kottke tune Clone (which had you been listening closely was quoted by Trey in the YEM VJ), then later the TAB tune Drifting, Pork Tornado’s Blue Skies, and Vida Blue’s Final Flight with a really uplifting Roggae and big time funky Moma interspersed before a punchy Maze closer. If you aren’t familiar with these side project bands and/or songs, check out the Phish versions which are fun interpretations if perhaps not 100% faithful and then go spin the originals. Sadly none of these has ever graced the Phish stage again but it was a neat thing to hear the band mix these tunes in with some high quality ‘standard’ fare. The second set starts out with a long run through Stash, one that benefits from the 2.0 sound as they drop some gritty funk and Trey gets to some almost plinko space in his staccato playing. Next up is a far reaching Ghost that first meanders and then climbs to a powerful transition to Low Rider (after a mere 214 layoff) before shifting over to Makisupa where the keyword references a fire in the band’s hotel back in Cincy. The outro jam of this then pushes into Ya Mar and from there the set stays in a more song-based mode as they ride the high energy of the room. This is a unique show with the setlist debuts and a great example of the highs that 2.0 Phish could reach.

12.27.2010  It was then another seven and a half years before Phish would return to Worcester, partially due to that whole “breaking up” thing. Here we get the first two nights of the first five night NYE Run in the band’s history with the last three occurring down at MSG after one night off between the venues. This was the first show following the Halloween Little Feat throwdown in Atlantic City so it isn’t exactly surprising that there’s a bit of rustiness to be found here. On top of that, there was a full-on blizzard going down outside and Trey was battling a cold. All that said, this was still another fun night in the Centrum and being the first time the band had played here in 3.0 spirits were high amongst the faithful. The first set is very song heavy with only the lovely Roggae eclipsing the ten minute mark as the band mixed in the 54 show bustout of Cool It Down and the second/final version of the Mike tune What Things Seem mixed in with mainly common fare. The second set starts out promisingly enough with Mike’s which gets a 74 show bustout of Mound in the middle slot (only time that has ever happened) before they bring Paug around (so much for the hope of a set-spanning Groove, dude) and then trot out Farmhouse. Seven Below provides hope and delivers on that to a certain degree when Trey begins adding WTU? phrasing to the jam, eventually ending up there for a unique meshing of the two songs. Honestly, outside of the clever lyric change in Cavern to “take care of your boots” that’s about it for highlights in this one. Oh well, at least there’s more to come.

12.28.2010  Night two on this stop feels a lot more energetic which might be as much about the crowd being more comfortable as the band considering Trey’s voice is not in a good place for singing tonight. The first set gets a couple of bustouts in MMGAMOIO (56 shows) and She Caught the Katy (323 shows) which I still scratch my head about in wondering why that song then. Before we can answer that rhetorical question they blow up the room with a compact but boisterous Wolfman’s and then debut Pigtail which was then promptly shipped off to TAB tour until it came back twice this summer. The set ends with another debut, this time a curious choice due to Trey’s voice issues as the a cappella Birdwatcher (another song heard mostly with TAB after this time) gets its turn. Oh yeah, almost forgot. Trey uses a toy Sarah Palin thing to insert her soundbites into Alaska, amusing himself greatly and throwing a bunch of spunions into a wild head trip. Nice job, Trey. The second set chugs in with standard takes on Carini and BDT#L before an energetic BOTT (with the crutch Streets of Cairo tease thrown in) that segues nicely into LxL. Later in the set we have two more bustouts with Frankie Says (82 shows) and Albuquerque (60 shows) which precede a stunningly beautiful plinko-filled Hood that is the gem of this pair of shows. Listen for Page teasing the wonderful Spanish Harlem along with some other musical nods that may or may not be there depending on who you ask. The Bug closer and Shine A Light encore add some gravitas behind that Hood and we are outta here for the year.

06.07.2012  The Summer 2012 tour got started here in Worcester with a pair of shows that had the fanbase buzzing as the band was coming off a rather underwhelming NYE Run to end 2011 and following a Spring where Trey hit the symphony circuit and Mike did a little Euro run (including headlining Jam in the Dam VI). Hopes weren’t exactly high about the music the band had left us with last so no one really knew what to expect here. Perhaps in response to this, Phish came out with guns blazing, leaving those questions at the curb. It doesn’t hurt when you start the tour with Buried Alive>Jim>Torn & Frayed sequence, going from the old school darkness through a bright and fun Jim jam and onto a song with emotional impact and poignant, relevant lyrics like “the band is a bag of nerves on first nights”. After a few more energetic dance numbers we have a pair of bustouts surrounding Ocelot in the ultra rare Nothing (78 show gap and only six ever performances now) and Beauty of a Broken Heart (91 show gap). Then the set concludes with a somewhat different take on the Possum jam and Rocky Top, giving us little to no hint about what was to come after the break. Things get started with a Carini that goes to bliss territory pretty quickly, opening up into a lush, sway-friendly space where Page is layering in various effects on the keyboards and Mike and Trey are tinkling around, eventually building up to a transition point where Trey moves into Taste, one with a soaring Norwegian Wood tinged jam (I will never tire of how quickly we fans pick up on that sort of tease. You can hear the recognition within a note or two here). This is followed by yet another solid Ghost from this venue which tonight starts out with a patient groove that evolves through several sections before starting to lose steam when Mike takes charge and pushes it into Boogie On. Normally that would probably signal the move into fun time Phish where the jams are an afterthought but tonight they take Boogie out dancing as Trey plays an infectious lead and Mike employs the meatball filter to great effect. The crowd climbs on for the ride as they peak it out more than once before dropping back down to a funk groove and eventually segueing into the 102 show bustout of If I Could. You could excuse them for wrapping it up with a couple of rockers after that but a punchy Quinn, peaky Hood, Cavern, and a bit of Buried Alive reprise are still in store before the predictable Cup encore. This show is a very strong tour opener and definitely one that had us all beaming after the doubts that preceded.

06.08.2012  The second night follows the Worcester tradition of rare openers as Free gets its second ever appearance in the one slot (first one was only three shows prior on 12.29.2011 – and there have now been another four since this one) and then in the three slot fans finally got their wish for another go at jamming out the Ween classic Roses are Free. you know how I said you can hear the tease recognition in that Taste? Well, once the crowd realizes they are stretching out this Roses the place went WILD. This was clearly a conscious effort by the band that pays off for all as they settle into a playful groove where both Trey and Mike bring forward creative ideas before it drops out into Theme. The rest of the set is fine enough, I suppose, but that Roses is where the hat hangs, so to speak. The Julius has a bit of extra stank on it and the Gin peaks well in closing things up which is always appreciated. The second set starts out with a better-than-I-remembered Disease but it’s not one you will see thousand word essays written about any time soon, I would venture. Next up is Sand which doesn’t go too far into the typical jam but instead after a bit of plinko gets one of the more unique full segues ever accomplished by the band as they somehow move from the late 90s groove vehicle into a bluegrass cover in Nellie Kane. Dubbed the “Sandy Kane” by some it deserves a spin or two if only to hear this transition go down. The balance of the set is fine enough with the only Mike’s>Maki>Paug ever and a highly danceable 2001 in the penultimate slot but nothing really elevates in the second set.

10.25.2013  The following year Phish was back for another pair in the week leading up to their Fall Tour ending stop at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. This first set is decent with a nice Wolfman’s and the 109 show bustout of MMGAMOIO (last played here…) being the notable things to take away from it. This is not to say that nothing else is “good” here just that it is the type of good we expect from the band without it ever going past that mark. But the second set is a different story as they open with Waves, giving the song space in the second jam as they bring it up to a swelling peak that crashes into the start of Carini. Sorry about that ‘waves’ imagery there. It was just too easy. Anyway, the Carini is another solid one, this time staying in darker territory than the one from here last year in a more compact version that I felt should have continued longer rather than moving on to Caspian. Oh well. The BDT#L jam after that is nice in the oh-yeah-this-is-why-I-like-this-song way that often hits those who grumble about it being played mid second set and then we have another entry into the Worcester Ghost files. This one is playful and light as they change the lyrics to reference Fish’s son Jack. The jam dies out into Dirt and then after a straight forward Disease they head to end of set proceedings with a Sally>Cavern>Lope sequence. The encores are extended a bit tonight as they fit in four songs including Contact which if you listen to closely enough on the auds you might hear my wife loudly booing (kidding about hearing her, but she is NOT a fan of that song and has definitely booed it at shows… including this one). The first half of this second set is really strong but overall this is a bit of a standard-feeling show.

10.26.2013  The next night is a different story. Maybe it is me but something about this first set just speaks to the combined energy of the band and crowd making it a lot better than perhaps it should have been just looking at it on paper. Nothing here is a big jam highlight but everything pops from the Party Time opener on. There’s something to be said for a set when even in being ten songs long only has one almost slower song with Ride Captain Ride. The second set continues the trend though now with jams aplenty as they first take Drowned to several places including some Oye Como Va type phrasing, a Steam-like part, and a section that really feels a heck of a lot like Jimmy Cliff’s Sitting Here in Limbo. The Light that follows is brilliant as well, shining with melodic delight and hitting a section where Fish interjects “heys” in an obvious nod to the ‘hey hole‘ jam space they hit.Succinct runs through Sand, Theme, and Mike’s lead to the second ever No Quarter in the Groove sandwich slot (which is to say the placement is the second ever, not that it is the second ever performance of the song) as Paug caps the set in rocking fashion. During the Boogie encore someone joins Fish on the kit, eventually taking over for him as Fish moves to the side to watch. That person turns out to be legendary drummer (and Berklee School of Music professor) Kenwood Dennard who many in the Phish scene probably first became aware of from his appearance on the Maceo Parker tour staple album Life On Planet Groove which you probably heard a lot if you spent any time in the lots in the mid 90s. Kenwood stays on the kit for Possum and while I personally like this very different take on the drumline many were not quite so appreciative of it. So much for taking risks. This is definitely the better of the two from 2013 and might be the best of the 3.0 shows overall from this venue considering the deep jams and clear intent to just go for it from the start.

 

And now for the Tale Of The Tape!

Venue:  Worcester Centrum Centre (DCU Center)

No. of Shows:  sixteen

Intangibles:  geographic position draws fans from all over New England and the Tri-State area to the southwest, better acoustics and ease of access than similarly sized venues in Boston appeal to the band and fan alike, venue is one of the classic minor league hockey sheds where Phish made their name – and still has that feel, always has one of the wildest old school lot scenes around

Recurring Themes:  multi-night stands (only two single shows with six multi-nighters including two three-nighters in 97 & 98); unique openers (Funky Bitch is only repeat with several songs opening shows for one of few times ever), bustouts (almost every year there are at least a few minor and often major song bustouts, singular performances of songs (eight songs have been played here and nowhere else: All the Pain Through the Years, Blue Skies, Clone, Drifting, Final Flight, Layla, Mirror in the Bathroom, Them Changes), no Divided Sky or ACDC Bag (neither song has ever been played here), Ghost jams (every version they have played here has merit in some fashion), Possum and Stash (chances are, if you come to Worcester shows you’ll get one as each has been played in all but two of their stops in town)

Key Jams/Songs:  1993 – Stash, Reba, Lope, Tweezer, Ice, Possum, ALS>Disease Jam>Melt, Hood; 1995 – Melt, Timber Ho!>Theme, Tweezer->IDK, Slave, Stash, Gin->Real Me->Gin->McGrupp>BBFCFM>Bass Jam->La Grange; 1997 – YEM->IDK, BEK, Timber Ho!, LxL, Slave, Ghost, Foam, THE Jim, Hood, Funky Bitch, Wolfman’s, Stash->Free; 1998 – Ya Mar, Jim, Reba, entire 2nd Set of 11.27, Gumbo, Disease, Foam, Melt, Wolfman’s>Timber Ho!, Caspian>Crossroads, Tweezer, Theme, LxL->Catapult->Kung, Simple, Possum->Wipeout->Possum, Gin; 2003 – YEM>Clone, Roggae, Moma, Stash, Ghost->Low Rider->Maki->Ya Mar; 2010 – Roggae, Seven Below>WTU?, Wolfman’s, BOTT->LxL, Hood; 2012 – Jim>T&F, Possum, Carini->Taste>Ghost>Boogie>IIC, Hood, Roses are Free, Julius, Gin, Sand->Nellie Kane, 2001; 2013 – Waves>Carini, BDT#L>Ghost, Gin, Drowned>Light, Possum

PJJ Ratio:  Worcester comes in at a lower than expected but still solid 2.56 JPS rating (the average for all venues under consideration in this project is 2.47). Even my hometown bias can’t massage the numbers there.

Worcester has a long history and is rightfully considered one of the classic venues in Phish lore. A lot of that reputation is based on the shows from 1.0/2.0 as some of the sets in 3.0 haven’t exactly been all-timers. This is a place where the band and crowd are clearly comfortable which shows up in the loose feel to the playing and the general rowdiness of the fans both inside the venue and out in the streets that surround. While at the end of this the Centrum is definitely not going to place highly in the overall ranking of these venues it is a place we hold dear as much as for what it represents from the band’s past as what they continue to do when visiting. Some truly canonical stuff has gone down here including NYE 1993, The epic Jim, the Wipeout Set, and the “What I Did On Hiatus” set but that is really just the cream of a banner crop. Long live the Worcester lots!!

 

The House That Bill Built – Phish and Shoreline

In the mid 1980s Bill Graham worked with the city of Mountain View, CA to develop a new outdoor venue to serve the Bay Area live music fanbase. Located in the aptly named Shoreline Park, what resulted is now known as Shoreline Amphitheater, a (now) LiveNation venue that has become a common venue for various artists to visit when coming to this area. With an overall capacity of 22,500 and its large, sprawling lawn area the venue works quite well for Phish as they are able to routinely (almost if not fully) fill it up with eager fans. Add in the subtle architectural design nod to the Dead’s classic Steal Your face logo and you have a venue seemingly built with fans like us in mind. Don’t believe me? Check out this image, brah.

shorelinestealie

I know, right? RIGHT?!?

Phish’s history with this venue stretches back to a time when they were not a big enough draw to play here, instead acting as opener for Santana at their first appearance in the Summer of 1992. Eventually, as the fanbase continued to expand Phish could sell out this place for more than one night which resulted in the relatively high number of shows we can now enjoy from Shoreline. And while the band has played other places in the area over the years they tend to come back here every few years or so which will hopefully continue for many years to come.

Phish has played a total of fourteen times at Shoreline Amphitheatre with a span between the first and last covering some 23 years, a feat that is not matched by very many venues we will look at in this project – if any others at all.

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

08.29.1992 The first time Phish graced the stage at Shoreline they did so as opener for Santana. As such they only had time to play a five song set but managed to show off the brand of high energy speed jazz they were just starting to develop at the time in that 45 minute slot. It is a good example of how tight they were as a band back then, not yet into wide open explorations but instead focused on destroying minds nightly with intricate compositions and positively shredded takes on songs like Maze. That Maze and the YEM with its nod to Santana in an Oye Como Va tease (not to mention an Under Pressure ‘tease’ in the VJ) are the highlights from this brief bit of Phish. The band also sat in with Santana on this night but if there are tapes of it I have yet to find them.

09.30.1995  On their second visit Phish played here for the fourth show of the Fall 1995 Tour that would become legendary over the course of fifty-four performances. These days we are lucky if they play that many shows each year (spoiler alert! they haven’t played even 52 shows in a year since 2000 and never more than 50 in all of 3.0) let alone over the course of 81 days. Between the time they played a single set here in 1992 and this show a LOT had changed in Phishlandia but the root of it all was still founded on the music. The first set is highlighted by the explanation of the Band/Crowd Chess Match (with the music of White Rabbit as background), a fast paced run through Reba, and a typically out there Antelope along with a bunch of set list standards including the first I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome of the year (acoustic of course). The second set starts with a punchy Jim and one of the few performances of Fog That Surrounds, the reworked version of the song Taste which would eventually be turned into the final Taste we know today once they hit the studio for the Billy Breathes sessions. There aren’t any big jams in this set but the Mike’s hits some wonderful dark space before dissolving into Keyboard Army which was thought to have been a relic of Fall 1995 until it was busted out as part of the THANK YOU encore at Dick’s last year. This is a nice change to the normal Mike’s Groove middle part and one I wouldn’t mind hearing them tackle again. Speaking of songs I wouldn’t mind hearing again, after a raucous Weekapaug we get Fish Fun Time for the debut of Suspicious Minds and the lighted cape that went along with it. This is a decent show that’ll clue you in on a bit of what 1995 was but it lacks the big open jams that started to typify the best from that year so stick to the highlights unless you are a completist.

07.31.1997 Summer 1997 covered a lot of mileage even if you don’t count the European leg though why you would do that to yourself I just don’t know. The US portion of the tour started in Virginia and was out here in only a week before again working east towards our first time in Limestone, ME less than a month later. By the time they played this eighth show of the US leg the cowfunk was evident all over the place from the Ghost opener on through the end of show. The patient pocket of the Ghost gives way to a big time rock peak and then segues to a real live jammed Ya Mar (okay, it isn’t quite the IT version or even the Gorge ’98 one but still…). After DST the band works out a blistering LxL and then following a nice Dirt>Maze combo they bustout Glide after 50 shows on the bench. Coming back to the newer numbers they rip through Saw It Again and then cap the set with a big time YEM that has a mesmerizing full band jam that supersedes any need for the D&B section before they head to VJ land and end the set. The second starts out with a random Lynyrd Skynyrd tease (Sweet Home Alabama) before the band starts up a wonderful Jim that chugs along for over 23 minutes. In there you get some straight forward Jim jammery, a quiet blissful section, some power rocking groove, and a prolonged set up to the full segue into Circus. Following solid takes on Vultures and McGrupp they rock out Mike’s Song, pushing the first jam into some rocking funk territory and then bringing it down to a quieter space, eventually ramping back up towards a bit of a forced transition to H2. The ensuing Paug jam covers a lot of ground even with a funk section that feels a bit forced though the end peak is a good payoff for this set. Right before the end peak (with CYHMK phrasing) Trey gives some thanks and nods to Jerry Garcia’s birthday coming up the next day. Then there’s the Cinnamon Girl encore which would be the last time that they have played the song to date, unfortunately. This is a show that probably gets overshadowed by others on that tour so if you, like me, were not as aware of it as others I would recommend you remedy that by spinning it forthwith.

07.19.1998  The next year saw the band play another single show for the summer tour though not the only show here that year as we will discuss in a bit. This one starts out with a funky Moma, a bluegrass slot Beauty of My Dreams cover, effing Sample, and Guyute before the real fireworks start. If Phish still (routinely) played first set Ghosts like the one in this show the world would be a better place full of understanding and compa… okay, maybe not quite that. But this is a damn good Ghost so go spin it. This (and arguably the preceding Guyute) kicks off an end of set sequence that really elevates with LxL peaking then dropping unfinished into Roggae, setting up the second straight first set closing YEM for this venue. This one isn’t quite to the heights of the 1997 version but Mike teases Things That Make You Go Hmmm, something he started to do a lot around this time. Trey rides the wah funk as Mike leads the way in a version that is oh so cowfunky. Phish then came out for the second set by playing a shreddy yet wah’d out Llama and following it up with a Wolfman’s that almost gets to Manteca space. After a quick run through Piper Trey blasts into Tweezer which quickly drops into a sparse funk jam that feels so comfortable and inviting that when they shift into JJLC it would be quite jarring were it not for the laid back feel of that transition. After the blues break we get McGrupp, another song carried over from the last time they played here. The difference tonight is that this one gets a ’98 style jam complete with ambient outro. It starts with Page seeming to go down the Coil end solo route until bringing in the rhythm and melody of McGrupp which the band adds to in coming to the normal end for McGrupp but then instead of going into something new they stay in the idyllic space of this Trey-led section, hinting at McGrupp along the way before putting together a nice segue into the set closing shredder of a Disease before the Possum>Reprise encore. Take this show and the one from the previous year as a pair and you are shown how much changed with the band’s sound in just one year’s time. You can get a similar understanding of that by spinning the Ventura box set as that covers the two shows adjacent to these ones from Shoreline.

10.17.1998  Three months after their summer tour visit Phish was back at Shoreline for two sets as one of the headliners for that year’s Bridge School Benefit Concert organized as always by Neil and Pegi Young. This was an all acoustic affair  and the last fully acoustic sets by Phish until the amazing day set on 11.01.2009 at Festival 8. Being acoustic the vibe is a lot different than a “regular” set of Phish but still has a lot of the elements that make us come back time and again albeit packaged in a slightly more non-phan ears manner. And hey! There’s some great video of the set for you to enjoy too! They get right to it with a Carolina a cappella opener (64 show bustout) before debuting two new songs in Sleep and Never. Sleep is one fans will know from the Farmhouse album as well as the sporadic times it has graced setlists (current gap is 190 shows…) but Never disappeared almost completely before resurfacing a few times on TAB tour over the years and then getting reworked and released on the 2015 Paper Wheels album (and yes, it was included on Trampled By Lambs and Pecked by the Dove but so were a lot of half-formed things…). After a fun take on Possum they went busting out again with I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome (195 shows) and then the big 338 show bustout of their unique (and beloved!) a cappella version of Free Bird. Driver got its debut next and then after a mournful Wading Neil Young FINALLY came out to help with a beautiful version of Hood that segues into the only Phish performance of Neil’s classic Helpless (with Neil on vocals, of course). The highlight of the set is definitely that Hood>Helpless but the uniqueness of this set’s format is something that elevates it all to a higher level. I don’t see Phish ever doing an MTV Unplugged sort of thing (particularly since that show is gone, right? I have no idea. I haven’t watched MTV in years) but this is perhaps the next best thing.

10.18.1998  For the second night at the Bridge School Benefit Phish came out with a similar structure in mind by opening with the a cappella Hello My Baby. Oh wait, here’s the full set video for you first. Anyway, after HMB they serenaded the crowd with Billy Breathes, run through an oddly compelling stripped down version of Piper (about a third of it is the slow build intro we never get anymore), and then played a breezy version of Roggae. The midset gets three well known covers in the Phish world: Loving Cup, Albuquerque, and Old Home Place. Each of these fills a different space in our musical conscience ranging from the fun romp of Cup to the wistfulness of Neil Young’s lyrical tale in Albuquerque to the pining bluegrass of OHP. Changing gears again we get the unique styling of our tale of the ugly pig Guyute (a world debut on acoustic guitar!) which kind of acts as a closer to the Phish-only portion of this set with Brian and Robert being the low key “encore” (stay with me here…) before the guests come out to help the band close the night’s proceedings. First out is Canadian musician Sarah McLachlan who you younger fans may know as much for her tear jerking SPCA tv spots as for her music considering she has faded a bit from the mainstream pop scene though I’d recommend checking out her stuff. She joins on guitar and vocals for the Cat Stevens tune Sad Lisa which was on his highly lauded Tea For The Tillerman album. Neil and Kevin Hearns from the Barenaked Ladies then join in (that’s three Canadian musicians up there now for those keeping count) for a cover of Ian and Sylvia’s folk ballad Four Strong Winds before they all close with a stirring rendition of Bob Dylan and The Band’s I Shall Be Released, capping the night with three debuts that have yet to be played by Phish again. All told this is another quality night of music with Phish even if not what we would expect from our jam heroes. It is a nice change of pace and definitely supports a great cause – and along with their Farm Aid appearance about two weeks prior was probably part of why Neil supposedly asked Phish to be his backing band for a tour, something which obviously never happened but could have been quite amazing indeed.

09.16.1999  The early part of the Fall 1999 tour brought Phish back to Shoreline for a pair of shows. Quite frankly, looking at this first one in comparison to some of the shows that surround it on this tour it is a bit surprising as even with pattern of some odd setlist choices and sometimes shaky play on composed tunes Fall ’99 first sets were typically good for at least one big jam or two. This set lacks any of that really as the focus is on songs with a surprising fourteen played this night. Even more surprising than that though was the massive bustout that came about midway through the set with first performance of Little Feat’s take on Allen Toussaint’s On Your Way Down in 1,006 shows. This song reminds me of old tinny bar room show tapes with Page on the electric piano and Trey shredding the solo while patrons clink glasses and shout their conversations in the background and some of that is here but their performance has more emotion behind it after over ten years gone by. It seems to fit the band better than it did when they were young and still on the way up, you know? The change in the band over time is also quite evident with the set closing Lope which instead of being the frenzied psychedelic shredder of their youth becomes a mellow groove template showcasing the emerging Millennial Sound. That feel permeates the second set from the gooey 2001 opener (not quite the biggest or best from that year, but it gives a good taste of what ’99 2001s were all about) and carries over into the Mike’s Song that follows. There is no shift to second jam in this one as Trey solos above the menacing music the rest of the band pushes the song forward and then they transition to one of the more spacy H2’s you might ever hear. The ensuing Paug starts out white hot with Trey in attack mode before they settle into another murky groove, toying around the Paug theme for several minutes as Trey solos above before they bring it around to the big close. A MitM breather brings us to another solid LxL from this venue and then after the closing Caspian>Julius they came back out for the encore with friend Warren Haynes in tow to help on their cover of Misty Mountain Hop, the second performance of the song that year (of four ever, all in 1999).

09.17.1999  The following night Phish opened up with one of the five ever Phish versions of Trey’s instrumental Mozambique which found a more permanent home on TAB tour after this Fall. I’ve always been a fan of both versions but there is something about the stripped down aspect of the Phish version with Page taking the horn section’s line that really works for me. Too bad it hasn’t come back to the big show. They keep the energy going with Guyute and another slinky first set Ghost before Page croons for Lawn Boy. The rest of the set is fairly standard stuff for the time period including a solid old school double closer pairing of Bowie and Coil. The second starts with a Jim that is good but doesn’t push through to the stratosphere like its older brother from the 1997 show here. A vampy, kind of static second ever Sand is next which dissolves into the slow build intro for Piper. This one starts out with a white hot jam as the band pushes the pace until almost suddenly they drop into a murky space jam full of loops and patient playing. In retrospect it almost feels like they were setting up the impending Roggae with that as the song flows effortlessly out of the wake of the Piper end jam for yet another patient take on the tune. Next up is YEM which has the ’99 vibe flowing big time and then, hang on! Why are there three tramps?!? And is that? IT IS! (Don’t mind the horrible camera work there…) Phil Phreaking Lesh comes out to join the fun, first playing at doing the tramps thing before quickly (and wisely) hopping down and then contributes to an electric jam where Trey is all over but still gives space to the two bass masters as they do bass battle in lieu of the B&D and VJ sections of the song tonight. Phil sticks around for a big bass take on Wolfman’s, one of the songs he played with Trey and Page during those phenomenal Phil and Phriends shows from The Warfield in April of this same year (with recently released full show video of 04.15.1999 and 04.16.1999 AND 04.17.1999 you now have no excuse to be fully up to date on these magical shows even if you didn’t have a good excuse prior). This Wolfman’s is pure ’99 styling with an unresolved jam that peters out into the intro of the classic Cold Rain and Snow that Phil leads on vocals. There’s a bit of the video for that up on the youtubes too but again it isn’t exactly “proshot” stuff. The jam here is fairly linear but gets to some fun peaking and no matter what it is Phil Lesh playing with Phish so yeah. Oh and that’s a debut by the way. And just to cap it off they encore with another debut of a Dead tune, Viola Lee Blues, a song that Trey straight up destroyed with Phil in the spring. Here it gets a solid jam complete with a breakdown section in the middle that is more Phish than Dead before coming back to a more traditional close. This is one of the more successful sit-ins you will hear with Phish and we aren’t done with that sort of thing yet…

10.06.2000  If you were around in 1.0, particularly in the latter stages of it, you had to know that by the time we got to 2000 the edges were fraying in a big way such that in the Spring of that year the band announced they would be going on Hiatus after the Fall Tour. This created a lot of stress for the touring set as they would now not have certainty about where they would be spending their summers, falls, new year’s holidays, and other times of the year as Phish saw fit to tour. The shows along that fall Tour in 200 were therefore some of the tougher tickets of that era and in many cases people were going hard considering these might be the last Phish shows they would ever see. With the context of the looming Hiatus it is a tad surprising that this show is as “light” as it is… or perhaps it isn’t that surprising. Since these are the last four sets Phish would be leaving us with it makes sense that the focus is somewhat on playing a wide selection of songs for all to enjoy rather than just going deep with jams or something. The upside is “yay! moar songz!!” but the downside is that it comes off as a bit of a jukebox show. The first set has a decent Stash and hot versions of Maze and Lope but none of those are top notch keeper versions you will be spinning any time soon. The second set is more of the same, with nothing played poorly or out of place but something a bit missing from the typical flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants openness of the band playing without a net (foreshadowing pun intended). The Disease feels like it could stretch but instead dies out into the (admittedly very much appreciated) second to last ever Spock’s Brain (for now! we can dream!) which is then followed by the last Inlaw Josie Wales to date on the Phish stage (the song lived on with TAB and more recently with Trey’s symphonic gigs in 3.0). The one jam highlight in the midst of all the songs played in this set is a loopy, grooving Sand that provides the dance party many came to join which ends with a scorching peak run by Trey but then the set falls back into song mode once more. I’m a sucker for Bold As Love though so I’ll forgive them since they closed with that Jimi classic. Tonight’s encore holds another surprise similar to the one from the year before as Bobby Short Shorts himself trots out to join Phish for the only time ever! It is a bit head scratching that for one of their supposed final two shows (at the time) they bring out a guest but considering it is an OG member of the Grateful Dead I suppose we can forgive it. First up is Bobby leading on the Marty Robbins classic that he has pretty well made his own over the years, El Paso. Listen for Trey’s playful teasing of Antelope as he is getting in tune with Bobby at the start. Next up is an odd choice with the rocking Chalkdust that seems to confound good ol’ Bobby as he just kind of strums along considering the challenge of keeping pace with one of Phish’s more rocking tunes. They extend the middle type I jam a bit with Bobby there but otherwise it is a fairly straight forward take on the tune. Bobby heads up the singing duties on the verses for the final song, West LA Fadeaway, which to me is another interesting choice considering that was a Jerry sung Dead tune but whatever. Trey has some nice soloing here and then we are off into the night. This show is definitely one where the focus is on playing a lot of songs as if to recap their career a bit up to that point so perhaps not one you will spin often but that sand is fun and the Bobby sit-in is unique at the very least.

10.07.2000  The second night and final show of 1.0 (or the main part of Phase 1 maybe? I guess it depends if you ask Trey or the fans…) feels more like a celebration than a funeral and is probably a better overall representation of what a Phish shows is than the one that preceded it. The opening sequence of First Tube>Mike’s>H2>Paug is perhaps not top shelf worthy stuff but a lot of fun nonetheless. The Mike’s in particular is a fiery little beast even if it doesn’t ever get to a second jam or stray from the song itself. There’s a solid Gin in the back half of the set too which is not surprising considering how strong the Gins of that time were. The second set starts with a fairly straight forward Twist and then Trey hops on the keyboard to glitch the intro build for 2001 which gets to a big dance-a-thon space before peaking out and heading into Tweezer. This final Tweezer of the era stays in the dance party vein like the 2001 before it, providing a solid send off for the song. They shift to a repetivie, rocking electro mode in the back half and it feels like it could go on in this vein for quite some time but instead they go to the old slow ending. Oh well. The balance of the set is fine enough with a T&R filled Bowie in the penultimate slot and then the almost too obvious YEM encore gives everyone a last bit of that Phish crack before the house lights come up and the Stones’ This May Be The Last Time plays as the crowd cheers for the crew and tears and hugs are shared by all. It was a very bittersweet time to be a fan as our one certain thing – that Phish would come to your town and lay waste to all the bad vibes and shit that permeated life outside of those venues – was now uncertain. Hiatus sucked, man. Thankfully it was fairly short lived!

07.09.2003  When Phish came back in 2003 (2.0 yo) we got that New Year’s Run that was more after the new year than before, an early tour in February, and then a Summer Tour that ended with the wonderfully out there IT Festival followed by those 20th Anniversary shows and the Miami New Year’s Run. Shoreline got a pair of shows at the front end of that Summer tour and when the band opened with YEM it was a nifty nod back to how they had closed 1.0 here. This one goes unfinished as they segue into a beautiful but short Simple but the pairing from the outset shows the jamming is here in spades. The five song set closes with a big time type II Gin so yeah. If you are a fan of the wide open jamming potential of 2.0 this is one for you. If you aren’t sure, try it on for size. It’s a big’un. There’s more in the second set too with the center piece Piper being the groove animal before a lovely Twist->SaSS combo and the Mike’s Groove to cap the set. The Paug has a fun jam too if you are up for some funky rock out dancing. Shows from this time period may not be everyone’s cup of tea but you really can’t deny that they were playing loose and open here. There’s some of the sloppiness in the composed stuff but that is easily overshadowed by where they take things here.

07.10.2003  The second night oddly opens up with the second (and final ever for Phish) Spices which segues into Waves and that is really only notable as the other appearance for the song a few days earlier went Waves, Spices. Outside of it being an odd opener choice it fits with the vibe of the times and would be a nice song to hear them tackle once again. Waves gives way to our gal Reba and she packs a lot into a short time frame tonight. Towards the end of the set Moma goes mellow funk, eventually seguing to the Lope closer which caps the six song set. The second set is kind of shockingly jam lite as outside of the DEG fun in Divided (it is a really good version) and an odd start to Free there isn’t much depth here. The closer Disease is a straight forward rocker version and 2.0 jam darlings like Seven Below come in on the short, “single length” end of the timing scale. I suppose it just shows you never really know what you might get with Phish. Like maybe that would be the last time you could see the band play here for another six years…

08.05.2009  Which brings us to 3.0 and the first show back here on the West Coast, sandwiched between the four at Red Rocks and the pair at The Gorge which we have already covered. Expectations were pretty high for this one since it had been so long since Phish had graced the region with their music but seeing how this was still the band ramping back up after so long away it isn’t really a surprise that the show is pretty stock in the grand scheme of things. The first set is anchored by Divided and TTE and gets a rote Bowie closer so nothing special there. They find some space in stretching out Disease, providing the one jam highlight for the night and then later bustout Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ for the first time since its Halloween debut way back on 10.31.1998 (225 show gap) but the Cities->Maze never elevates and the ending Mike’s Groove is straight up average stuff. Call it a factor of the time period or whatever but this show isn’t a real keeper outside of that Disease.

07.24.2015  But wait! Don’t discount the 3.0 performances here out of hand just yet! Just last year, in the beginning stages of what would become a quite memorable tour where the band found some amazing space – and a few new jam tricks and templates – en route to a show that feels like a throwback in its freshness. Okay, sure, fine, opening with The Line isn’t what I mean here but after that the show starts to move in a decidedly upward direction such that by the time we get to the Reba everyone is nodding along and saying “yeah!” a lot and figuring out that just maybe this band knows what they are doing after all. But even with that and the crunchy 46 Days closer one could have been excused for not being fully prepared for the set to come. Starting with the second ever Blaze On the band takes it out for a space walk, stretching beyond the confines of the bouncy tune on their way to a segue into Twist. After some inbounds jamming there they head for the stratosphere, peaking it with a soul cleansing bliss run before coming back down to segue into a captivating Light. Three songs in here we are in rare territory in 3.0 what with everything getting the treatment from the band. There is a breather for Joy next and then they take Hood out for a soaring version before the end set Cavern and obligatory Zero encore. There is a lot going on here in this set as they are just starting to unpack a new sound that overtook this tour in the wake of Trey’s time working with those Dead dudes for the Fare Thee Well shows earlier that summer. The impact is striking, quite frankly. Here we get the new(er) echoplex and mutron influenced stylings by Trey to complement the strong play of Page and Mike and the steady beat of Fish. This set holds up quite well to what was to come later that year (not to mention those that came before at this venue…) while still only being an inkling of where they would take us. It is definitely in the conversation of best shows at this storied venue.

And now, the tale of the tape for this classic tour stop…

Venue:  Shoreline Amphitheater

No. of Shows:  fourteen

Intangibles:  like-minded inspiration and design fits with the Phish scene, all but annual tour stop through the band’s peak years, well located venue serves the greater Bay Area region well, while always a hot ticket this is a venue where you are likely to get shut out due to its size, West Coast vibe permeates.

Recurring Themes:  Mike’s Groove and YEM are most common with six each in nine separate years here. Every show here has had a unique opening song. Ten songs have been debuted and only ever played here (for that one appearance). Overall, thirteen songs have been debuted at this venue. Sit-ins are more common than most venues with three including both shows in 1999 and the first night of 2000.

Key Jams/Songs:  1992 – Maze, YEM; 1995 – Lope, Mike’s>Keyboard Army>Paug; 1997 – Ghost>Ya Mar, LxL, Maze, YEM, Jim, Mike’s, Melt; 1998 – Ghost, LxL, YEM, Llama, Tweezer, McGrupp, Hood>Helpless, Free Bird, Guyute, I Shall Be Released; 1999 – OYWD, Lope, 2001>Mike’s>H2>Paug, Misty Mountain Hop, Ghost, Jim, Sand, Piper, YEM, Wolfman’s>CR&S, Viola Lee; 2000 – Sand, El Paso, West LA Fadeaway, Gin, 2001>Tweezer, YEM; 2003 – Simple, Gin, Piper, Twist->SaSS, Paug, Spices->Waves>Reba, Moma, Divided; 2009 – Disease; 2015 – Reba, Blaze One>Twist>Light, Hood

PJJ Ratio:  I am adding a new qualifier for each venue (check back to the Gorge and Red Rocks posts for the updates there) using our friends over at PJJ’s data to show another person’s perspective for takeaway jams from each venue. This ratio takes the number of jams on their site for each venue divided by the total number of shows played to arrive at a jams per show played ratio. Shoreline comes in at a low 1.50 JPS rating (the average for all venues under consideration in this project is 2.48)

While perhaps a classic venue in many senses this venue lacks overall in comparison to other venues, mainly due to subjective factors and qualifications regarding the music played here. That said, this was a consistent stop on tours throughout the band’s rise and main peak until the band opted for other Bay Area locales that we will be covering soon. There are some wonderful highs from this venue and something great to take away from each night played even if it ends up not “winning” the prize here.

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!

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

Phish — The Aladdin Theatre — Las Vegas, NV 12.06.1996

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Heh. Hehehe. HAHAHAHAHA!!

 

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

 

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

 

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

What It’s Doing To Me Is Fine – Sacramento, CA 11.30.1996

Phish — ARCO Arena — Sacramento, CA 11.30.1996

I  Jim>PYITE, ATR, Bouncin’, Stash, Fluffhead, OHP, Uncle Pen, Caspian>CDT

II  La Grange, Ice>Glide, Brother, Contact>2001>Timber Ho!>Taste, Funky Bitch, Amazing Grace, Amazing Grace Jam

E  Possum

 

After spending Friday night in the Bay Area Phish headed northeast to the capital for a Saturday night affair at the ARCO Arena in Sacramento. You may know the venue by its current corporate moniker, Sleep Train Arena, which is not to be confused with the Sleep Train Amphitheatre in Chula Vista some 500 miles to the south near San Diego which itself was once the Coors Amphitheatre and Cricket Wireless Amphitheatre at various points in its history. Nor is it to be confused with the original ARCO Arena that was built as the temporary home to the Sacramento Kings when they moved from Kansas City in 1985 and which holds the distinction of being the first NBA arena with corporate naming rights, something that is de rigueur these days. These confusions are part of why I will always call Great Woods, Deer Creek, Pine Knob, and so many other of the “lost” names in our venue lore. But money’s a powerful drug so yeah. Anyway, now subsumed-by-evil-BP-oil-company-named ARCO Arena was the place for this show on 11.30.1996. Let’s check out the history here in Sactown, shall we?

 

I was a bit surprised to find that there are so few Phish shows from this area considering that the ones I know off the top of my head are so ingrained that my natural assumption was that there had to be a lot more but the paucity of playing here is probably due to the relative proximity to the Bay Area so not much we can do about that. Alas, the first visit here was the final opener slot they played on the Santana summer tour on 08.30.1992. This was at the Cal Expo Amphitheater and there were also performances by the Indigo Girls and Los Lobos with Phish playing early in the afternoon for their seven song set. There’s actually a nice Reba and a hard hitting Antelope mixed in with the couple of a cappella tunes and other random choices but the real highlight from this night was when the band along with members of Los Lobos joined in with Santana during the headlining set for a couple of tunes including a take on A Love Supreme and after this show they went into the studio to record what would become Rift. They returned the following Spring for a famed show on 03.22.1993 at the Crest Theatre, performing one of the few ‘Gamehendge’ shows known to have occurred. Naturally, we covered this one previously on the path of that Spring Tour. In 1994 they played just down the road at UC-Davis on 12.02.1994. That one is probably best known as one of the “Cosmic Country Horns” (one of whom factors into the show we are about to review…) shows but you will want to check the Bowie and maybe wow your friends by telling them that this is the show where the A Live One version of Gumbo was played not to mention the Dave Matthews Band opened for Phish that night (along with a few others in that stretch of the tour) all for the bargain price of $18.50! I’m certain they will be mightily impressed. Phish was back at the Cal Expo Amphitheater to headline on 09.27.1995 this time opening a tour (Fall 95 yo!). This isn’t the fully polished fall 95 band we would come to adore and want to kidnap and keep in our dimly lit basement to entertain us and only… um… sorry about that little tangent there. No truth to that, no sir. Totally normal and well adjusted fan right here. So… Cal Expo? Yeah, so they debuted a bunch of songs here with some being staples we have heard a bunch on this Fall 96 Tour: Fog That Surrounds (one of the transitive forms of Taste), CTB, Billy Breathes, HMB, and Keyboard Army. Plus there is the Hood and the Possum which are both worth your time as is the Bowie which may or may not include – depending who you ask – a nod to the passing of Jerry Garcia who graced the Cal Expo stage 25 times with the Grateful Dead in this first show the band had played since he died on 08.09.1995. So while there may not be a vast number of shows played in the greater Sacramento area the ones we have all have their own notoriety, including this (last) one from 1996…

 

The night starts out with Runaway Jim as many nights do (this is surprisingly only our fourth Jim opener of the tour). This is a relatively contained version but the end jam has enough to pique our interest and keep us from walking out the door. I’m joking, of course, because who would ever leave a concert after only one song? Oh right, that guy. And to think, he has been to a couple of Phish shows too. Noob. Well, this Jim probably would have kept his attention what with the Trey Trill on display and all. The Jim heads right into Punch You In The Eye which tonight seems to have a bit of extra stank on it. The band is killing this one so much that Fish inserts some James Brown-isms into the fray, shouting out “Get up offa that thang!” more than once, something the world needs him to do more of now more than ever. We are losing our funky way, people. The fun energy spills over into the end where Mike is pounding on the fightbell and Trey adds some minikit love as the band brings this unique PYITE to a close. For a song that is largely the same thing every time out it is nice to hear them having fun with it. Next up are All Things Reconsidered and Bouncing Around the Room, two songs paired together this way seven times which puts it tied for the most common ATR pairing with The Sloth and Split Open and Melt, oddly enough. The fifth song of the night is Stash which gets some work in the T&R vein but doesn’t really stretch the boundaries too far. It is a bit odd to have this once proud king of jamlandia relegated to a mid first set hors d’oeuvres but thankfully if you stick around into 1997 you get to hear quite the resurgence for the song as the band seemed to find new interest in taking this vehicle out for long walks along the beach and maybe a refreshing pina colada to cool down afterwards. After Stash they give us our first Fluffhead in 21 shows, not exactly a bustout but also a bit longer than one would expect in this timeframe. Heck, the current gap is longer than that and there are several other somewhat lengthy respites for the song including the notable 71 show one broken at The Return on 03.06.2009 but you already knew that. After rocking through a fine version of Fluff Trey brings out now old friend of the band John McEuen, one of the founding members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and all around legendary musician and personality. I say “now” old friend because since this first time playing with Phish JOhn has joined them on stage several times, most notably later this tour in Las Vegas, down at Big Cypress in a few years, and then in 2001 in Burlington for a Clear Path International (an aid organization that seems to have let its website lapse in the past month. oops.) for a 20 minute rendition of the NGDB’s classic Will the Circle Be Unbroken, a song Phish played once on 10.03.1998 at the Farm Aid show that has that wonderful Neil Young sit-in. Tonight they had old school bluegrass in store as Mr. McEuen leant his banjo stylings to performances of The Old Home Place and Uncle Pen in what turns out to be a hometown appearance for him according to Trey. The banjo adds some brightness to the Phish takes on these tunes and John gets his turn to solo in each case which is nice of our band. After the quick bluegrass break we get a predictable Prince Caspian which bleeds into the rocking Chalkdust Torture closer before Trey brings back The Lie once more. Now it is off to setbreak to try to figure out what tonight’s second set of elevation will entail.

 

Following the assuredly longer than fifteen minute break the band comes out and starts up our second second set opening La Grange of the tour. I’m not sure if it is possible to not play this song with fiery abandon but Phish clearly doesn’t know how to tone this one down because this version rages perhaps even harder than the bustout one from Omaha a couple of weeks back now. This is just one of those songs Trey was so good at slaying that if they played it you knew you were going to lose your shit dancing. It isn’t a song they ever took out for an extended jam ride but that’s perfectly okay considering what it is. Next up is It’s Ice and after the normal song progression the jam gets a bit ‘washy’ in a sonic sense as Trey seems to be adding some delay tactics into his playing. They draw out the end and Trey plays what sure sounds to me like another nod to 3rd Stone From The Sun though I have yet to get external confirmation of that internal realization. Maybe you will provide that for me. They finally come back around to the Ice close and then bump it into the start of the tour debut for Glide, last played 34 shows ago at Deer Creek on 08.13.1996 which would be a great show to review were we doing the summer tour here but we are not so there. Following the run through the old school round they get back to the rocking with Brother, somehow our fourth version of the once quite rare song that finally left the shelf for the Ben and Jerry ‘sit-in’ at The Clifford Ball. The next time they would play the song after this night wouldn’t be until the famed Island Tour in April 1998 but on this night that wasn’t a concern as Trey shreds the gnar on the jam. An oddly placed but well played mid-set Contact is up next to appease the nursery rhyme fans (I kid because I love) and then we are off into 2001 to see what new hotness the band has for us here. Foregoing the extended space intro that we got in Portland but still toying around for a bit to set things up the band locksteps into the first section with Trey playing a quite recognizable song bit if you are up on your 60s soul musicians. Fish throws in another “Get Up offa that thang!” like he did in PYITE along with a few other bit of spontaneous vocal involvement and your brain goes “aha! I get it!” as it dawns on you that Trey is playing Super Bad and suddenly your head explodes in wonder about this band yet again. The dance party has started, Phish funk has arrived, and you are lost in the movement of everything around you as they hit the peak. As you dance with abandon, eyes closed and smile as wide as could be you hear a horn in the mix which startles you into looking up to see a tenor sax man up there with the band (assuming you know what a tenor sax looks like, otherwise you probably just stumbled into a thought something like “horn guy! good!” but tenor sax is what most people think of when they see a saxamaphone so I’m sure you were okay there, big guy). Before we discuss the transition I will here again link lawnmemo’s 2001 Project which goes into more detail about the progression we are hearing in these Fall 96 2001s. Now, 1996 you probably might not have had any idea who that horn guy was at the tail end of the 2001 but that’s Peter Apfelbaum who first shared the stage with Phish back at the Cosmic Country Horns pair of shows towards the end of the Fall 1994 tour. Trey, Page, and Fish had played with him in spots in sitting in with Michael Ray’s Cosmic Crewe before then but 12.03.1994 and 12.03.1994 were the first time he was on stage with Phish. Later involvement includes Apfelbaum being a long time member of TAB and also playing with Fish at JMP and Everything Orchestra shows and at least one Mike show. His contributions are evident from the first break as he takes the lead over the band for a few bars. A longer solo is given after that as the band works through the old time cover. After a unique jam on the song where Trey and Peter are playing a bit of tag — note that this is the first time since 10.29.1988 that there was a horn player (Russ Remington on sax) on this song and that one is pretty different from tonight’s take — Trey casually introduces him (this is my favorite picture of him but it is nothing like his appearance when he played with Phish) to the crowd. The majority of the crowd probably still didn’t know who he was and likely had no frame of reference for connecting the dots to his times opening for the Dead in the early 90s as part of The Hieroglyphics Ensemble either but he does hold the distinction of being one of only a few people to ever share both stages which is nice.

 

Without missing a beat they start into a jam of sorts which turns out to be a slowed down intro to Taste, Trey and Peter providing the melody along the way. This leads to another unique jam as they forego the Norwegian Wood/WTU? stuff to toy around in Taste space for a few minutes, resulting in one of my personal favorite versions of the song. It might not be the “best played ever” or anything but it works for me. Apfelbaum stays out for Funky Bitch and here he shines with great fills and nice soloing. Trey plays compliment quite well, of course, and the rest of the band provides the movement for our third captivating, guest aided version of the song this tour. The band steps out front after the end of Taste for a quick a cappella Amazing Grace but upon return to their instruments are joined by both Apfelbaum and McEuen for an instrumental jam on the Grace theme but this time with McEuen on lap slide. It is a lovely way to cap this show and particularly a set like what they had just played. All involved then come back out on stage for a rousing Possum encore that puts an exclamation point on top of it highlighted by Trey and John McEuen trading licks. Folks at this one definitely spoke about it being one of those nights while collecting their things and

 

This will be the end of a high quality sit-it filled show without a lull or bit of drag anywhere. Heck, even the Bouncin’ pops brightly in this show. There are several songs with versions immediately in contention for best of tour status and the setlist sounds fresh even with some that have gotten worked out a fair amount this Fall. I could see this show getting an official release at some point assuming the bad acoustics of the ARCO Arena can be overcome. With the soundboard of this Taste floating around out there and sounding pretty decent (I have used that file for the playlist entry) you have to think it could happen eventually. Maybe the other musicians’ approvals play into it but that’s something for the lawyers. No matter what, this is a solid top to bottom show with the type of creative spark and joyful playing that draws us to this band. There is also a sense of open collaboration here that we don’t always get when other musicians join the band. But these two players are well versed in how to meld with others rather than play on top of them and combining that with Phish’s approach to the songs makes for engaging performance. Purely in terms of a Phish show this is probably not the ‘best’ or most liked one on this tour as there are definitely singular jams and sets that elevate higher but that doesn’t diminish from what happened here. Along with sharing their music with two very different types of musician, one a storied bluegrass and Americana picking legend and the other an avant garde jazz improvisationalist, they have fostered relationships that will bear fruit in the future considering how both of these gentlemen would become ingrained in the mythos of Phish due to their times spent with the band. I’m just gushing at this point so let’s get on to the takeaways which are plentiful tonight. The definite top tier ones include PYITE, Ice, 2001>Timber>Taste, Funky Bitch, the Amazing Grace Jam, and Possum with some solid second tier offerings in The Old Home Place, Uncle Pen, and La Grange. You would do well to listen to the whole show if time permits it. We are in the home stretch now, continuing to follow the lines headed south with only four shows left on this Fall Tour. Next up is our only visit to the famed Pauley Pavilion at UCLA. Drink your Ovaltine and get some rest if you can because these last few don’t let up one bit.

 

And It Sings A Pretty Tune – Memphis, TN 11.18.1996

Phish — Mid-South Coliseum — Memphis, TN 11.18.1996

I  CTB, Timber Ho!, Poor Heart>Taste, Billy Breathes, CDT, Guelah, Ginseng, Reba, Zero

II  2001>Simple->Swept Away>Steep>Mule, Tweezer, HMB, Reprise>Llama

E  Waste, JBG

 

Following their fun Saturday night in Omaha Phish took a night off to make the backwards trek to Memphis. I mean, seriously, look at this tour routing for the first 24 shows that make up the first two legs* of this tour:

96 first leg routing

Follow the letters there for the routing if it isn’t clear to you. There are at least five (if not more) points on the tour where you have to travel through a city they have already played or will play later on the tour in order to get to the next show — and there are a couple more on the West Coast run to come. That all contributes to why the East/Midwest portions of this tour cover over 8,200 miles of travel which is a lot to put on that beat up microbus you have been slinging grilled cheese out of this fall. I know a lot of it has to do with juggling venue schedules, fitting in days off for the band and crew along the way, hitting the days of the week that are traditionally good ticket sales nights, and more to make it work but that’s a brutal route no matter how you slice it. This Memphis show ends up being an “out and back” trip where you have to pass through Kansas City after leaving Omaha to get there, only to return the following night for that last show of the Midwest leg (which also occurred earlier on tour down in Florida). I don’t envy the job of the person who had/has to do all of this and I’m sure they stress about it royally when putting it all in place so I won’t criticize too heavily but yeah, not exactly cutting greenhouse emissions with this one.

 

*I haven’t really looked at this tour in terms of legs too much because the longest gaps between show dates are each two days but with that in mind if you had to break this tour down to find the break points it would be as follows:

Leg One — October 16th through November 3rd — 14 shows — 3,900+ miles

Lake Placid, NY – State College, PA – Pittsburgh, PA – Buffalo, NY – New York, NY (2 shows) – Hartford, CT – Hampton, VA – Charlotte, NC – North Charleston, SC – Atlanta, GA – Tallahassee, FL – West Palm Beach, FL – Gainesville, FL

Leg Two — November 6th through November 18th — 11 shows — 3,700+ miles

Knoxville, TN – Lexington, KY – Champaign, IL – Auburn Hills, MI – Grand Rapids, MI – Minneapolis, MN – Ames, IA – St. Louis, MO – Omaha, NE – Memphis, TN – Kansas City, MO

Leg Three — November 22nd through December 6th — 10 shows — 3,200+ miles

Spokane, WA – Vancouver, BC – Portland, OR – Seattle, WA – Daly City, CA – Sacramento, CA – Los Angeles, CA – Phoenix, AZ – San Diego, CA – Las Vegas, NV

On paper it’s a pretty cool looking tour until you factor in all that mileage — and keep in mind that back then you didn’t have the number of people financially capable of using flights to make this work (not that there are really that many people these days doing full tours by plane/rental car but there’s enough). Adding in the travel between the different legs gets you to just about 13,000 miles traveled for this tour in which case I really hope you weren’t driving your mom’s leased minivan or something because you just blew through your annual mileage allotment over the course of less than two months. As a frame of reference, the entirety of the Fall ’98 Tour covered only about 5,000 miles over 22 shows which is obviously shorter (by 13 shows) and benefits from better scheduling due to the multi-night stops in Las Vegas, Chicago, Hampton, and Worcester. Outside of a few tour stops that got two night stands on various summer and fall tours (e.g. Deer Creek, Hampton) I am pretty sure that is the first tour that is specifically set up with multiple multi-night stands anchored around weekends. I’m not about to go and map the mileage for every tour they have done but someone probably has or will since we tend to do stuff like that. I’m sure the findings would be quite illuminating.

 

And so to Memphis. Phish has a pretty strong history with Tennessee in general having now played 25 shows here (good for a tie at #19 overall). As far back as Spring 1991 they visited Memphis, stopping here for their third show in the state on that run through the south on their way west at the New Daisy Theatre on 03.06.1991 for a single setter with ARU opening and for which no known recordings exist. It would be another 3+ years before they came back to Blues City, this time playing the Orpheum Theatre on 10.12.1994 and dropping a few nice jams like that dark Melt and one of those oh-so-94 Bowies not to mention debuting Beaumont Rag as part of that evening’s bluegrass mini-set. Eight months later on 06.14.1995 they were back in town at the Mud Island Amphitheatre (a coll little amphitheater on an island in the Mississippi River) for a show most famously known for the monster Tweezer in the 2nd set which stands to this day as the longest ever performed. There’s also a nice version of ‘Don’t You Want to Go?’, a cover of The Meditation Singers classic which was performed five times that year before going to the “Where Are They Now” files. Might be nice to hear that one some time again… That’s it for the history lesson today. In case you are wondering why I do these, part of it is my personal fascination with the minutiae of setlist construction, part of it is  knowing that for a long time Trey used information about prior performances in a city to help with deciding to play the next time, and also because it is a good way to find some hidden gem jams that one might not have otherwise discovered. I tend to listen to the ‘highlights’ from the past shows in the area as I write some sections of these reviews while playing the show itself when going through the meat of the breakdown and even though I’ve heard many of these shows or at least bits of them before it is always fun to find something that is new to me. Plus it will eventually allow me to just refer back to my old posts once we’ve covered the entire geography because I’m sure I’ll go that far…

 

The first song of the show is almost a forefinger-to-the-nose knowing nod to the travelers’ plight as they bounce into Cars Trucks Buses for the ninth time this tour (and second opening slot after the tour opening version in Lake Placid). The energetic song has a bit more of that “washboard” effect we heard last time out but is otherwise about what you’d expect from the song and then we are off into Timber Ho! which is always a nice one to hear this early in the show. Never a full vehicle the song is more like a mood setter, giving us a bit of dark jamming in a tight little package, a take that is fairly divergent from its roots when sung by such folk as Josh White or Odetta. It is definitely a song Phish has taken and made their own and which has become a crowd favorite in the 82 performances of the song to date. Surprisingly, 24 of these have come in 3.0 which I suppose makes sense considering we are now in our seventh year of that iteration and by percentage it works. Well, tonight’s version is a good representation of what Phish did/does with the tune, adding to the building energy and allowing Trey to show off his nimble fingers in the end jam. After romping through Poor Heart they drop into Taste and even though this song is currently being played more than every other show this version does not feel stale or overdone. It has a lot of the WTU? feel in the outro jam and peaks nicely in capping our first-four-songs-get-the-room-moving section of the show. Billy Breathes offers the opportunity for a rest and midset bathroom break but then they hit is hard once more with a raging Chalkdust Torture that Trey takes over and annihilates the thing. This is one of those great type I versions like they used to do with this song before it became the vehicle for exploration it has become these days. Both types have their place, I believe, and you could do a lot worse than to rock out to this one at high volume. The cool down from this is a late set Guelah Papyrus which tonight has a bit more of the percussive playfulness by the guys as Trey throws in some ‘whistle wahs’ and Mike hits the fight bell during the intro. The rest is typical Guelah but it is all nice and relaxed. Next is an interesting placement for Ginseng Sullivan,putting the grassy cover this late in the set but it works in picking up some steam before they head out for the late set Reba you have been pining for since the last one back in Minneapolis. Things proceed as they do with this Reba in getting to the jam which is has a very serene, patient feel as Page accents Trey with the electric organ and Trey slowly builds towards the end peak. You won’t see this version on any of those “teh best evar!” lists but it has a feel that is reminiscent of the Clifford Ball Reba or another of those day-time-festy-set Rebas. Closing in on the peak Trey holds a trilling note for a bit that makes you think he might try to beat his Omaha Hood held note record but it is all just serving the flow of this one as he works through the ebb and flow of the song. Almost suddenly they stop on a dime in closing up Reba and now time for the set to close the band rocks into Character Zero, allowing the song to continue its ongoing battle with Taste as the most oft played tune of the tour. Interestingly, this is the second of three straight Reba, Zero pairings on this tour, something that has happened only six times ever. So Zero crushes which it should considering their familiarity with it at this point as Trey takes the lead guitar player role to heart here in giving homage to Hendrix with the distorted playing throughout his solo. In the end Trey mentions they will be back after a “fifteen minute break” which is a lie, of course, as we know but he also slips in something like “and we get our shit together” which seems like an odd comment to make here after what sure felt like a pretty solid first set. I am probably mishearing that though so let me know what you think that lying liar said there.

 

The setbreak goes as one would expect as you walk the halls of a venue that — unknown to you at this time — would close about ten years later due to the sustained operating losses that are typical of these largish civically owned and operated but underutilized structures in middling to troubled municipalities. Heck, even the venue that essentially replaced this one, The Pyramid, is now a freaking Bass Pro Shops after the two venues coexisted in the area for several years. Now there is the FedEx Forum which is home to the city’s NBA franchise and the University of Memphis basketball team after taking that from The Pyramid where Phish played a quite good show on 09.29.1999 perhaps best known for the legendary 2001 that went down that night. That’s all future talk at this point though so unless the head you are on this night in Fall 96 is really quite something you probably didn’t have any of that flying through your noggin as you navigated the pitfalls of another oh so bright, oh so crowded venue between sets. But maybe there was something to that headful because when the band takes the stage they start up 2001, blowing your mind about how everything is connected and that maybe Trey really can hear your thoughts cuz how else would he know to play that song in that moment? Dude, this is getting weird.

 

In all honesty, you might not have recognized that it was 2001 they were playing right away considering that the band noodles around for about three and a half minutes before Fish even kicks in with the beat. That alone is a new path for the song but we are just getting started. At around five minutes in Page finally plays the tell tale organ line as Trey continues to play around the song without actually diving in. This playfulness continues up until the seven minute mark where after some scratching leads Trey finally plays the main melody, adding in some looped effects as well. Now we are into the dance party as they go through the song and flow through into the groove jam. Trey patiently comps along as Page works the organ setting a template that we will grow to love in the wake of this landmark version. After one more run through the 2001 “verses” they hit that final peak to move on into the inevitable segue that this song always invites. Before we get to that next song let’s take a minute to recognize a few things here. We have started to hear some signs from 2001 on this tour that perhaps they are doing more with it but outside of the fun groove pocket they hit when Perazzo was there on Halloween the song at this stage was still mainly an energetic kickoff to bigger and jammier things. I recommend reading LawnMemo’s great 2001 series and the one on 1996 in particular as it is relevant to this performance. And while you are there definitely dive into his fantastic Daily Ghost series but don’t forget to come back! Here we get a version of the song that is patient in a way the song never had been previously, clocks in at close to double the length of any prior version, and adds a swagger to the playing that we hadn’t yet experienced. I pointed out a tipping point of sorts for the band in finding the groove pocket jamming style back in the PerazzoPhish part of this tour and here is another example of the importance of this tour in the grand scheme of the band’s development. There really is no denying that for 2001 everything should be referred to in relation to this version in the sense of “was that one before 11.18.1996 or after?”

 

How then does a band follow up the then longest and most exploratory version of a song you’ve been playing for years? If you are Phish the answer is to drop into the jam vehicle that has been most reliable on this tour, Simple, and not just that but also take it for its biggest adventure of the tour. Right from the start of the jam you can tell they are feeling comfortable here. After a bit of the normal type I soaring stuff Trey moves to the mini-kit and Page takes the forefront on the baby grand as Mike *tings* the fightbell and Trey adds whistle wah and other effects to the percussive, syncopated groove. After a few minutes of setting the tone in this fashion Trey goes back to the guitar, adding to the unique beat. Eventually he is adding in elongated, singular notes that reach up and scratch at the sky all while Page and the rhythm section follow along. Fish adds in something I’m not sure I’ve ever heard him do for a Simple jam, pretty much wooing along in key like some spunion might as they peak during this section (I am certain there were those in the audience that night who thought that was all just part of the goings on in their head). The jam winds down to quiet resolution in acknowledgement of the jam having run its course without need to try to extend it further. Trey throws in a couple of laser loops as if to drive that point home — which in 99 or so would have probably kicked us into a massive Sand jam but that’s getting way ahead of ourselves — and then we get the denouement in the form of Swept Away>Steep. This has been one of the more reliable landing pads on this tour having happened now nine times and three of those out of pretty darn good Simple jams. Our collective breath now caught you have to think they will head back out again for some more jam aaaaaaaaand we get Mule’d. Okay, we’ve covered our feelings on this and normally I wouldn’t spend much time here as a result but this one has another interjection from Fish that honestly makes me laugh every time I hear it. Right after the “sound of a breeding Holstein” line he braaps out a noise that I’m sure he felt was evocative of that imagery — and it makes me laugh every time. The Mule then goes how it does until we hit the Trey section where he adds to the theme he has been building with the song this tour by scatting along to the notes he plays, eventually with the crowd clapping along to the oddly paced jamlet. It is kinda neat actually. Then we get the Page, klezmer close and Mule is in the rearview mirror. Somewhat surprisingly they start into Tweezer next giving us hopes of a third big vehicle for this already pretty satisfying set. From the start of the jam Trey is up front, offering one of those chugging lead lines you know is just going to explode when — hey wait! is that? Holy crap! El Buho!!! We have Gary Gazaway up on stage joining in for this Tweezer jam, making him the second member of the extended Halloween band to grace the Phish stage this tour. The jam stays in a familiar place from here with Trey and Gary trading a bit before we get to the old slow down ending. This isn’t the biggest Tweezer jam ever (or even of this tour) and it really feels like it could have gone way out if Trey had let loose with the Hose instead of El Buho coming out but it really isn’t the worst way to have someone sit in either.

 

After Trey introduces Gary to the crowd he sticks around for Hello My Baby, a song I would have never thought could use instrumental accompaniment. Before the final refrain they give him space to take a little solo which is nice and still has me wracking me bring to figure out whether there is another example of an instrumentalist joining in for an a cappella tune. Sure, there have been a few Amazing Grace jams which have other musicians (including that one with Johnny ‘Bagpipes’ Johnston from 10.20.19995 that we mentioned in the Ames write-up) but those are generally after the band has done the a cappella thing first. No matter what, this is the only time something like this ever happened with Hello My Baby which is neatorific. Oddly enough they then start into Reprise which makes you think the set is closing but you don’t worry so much because Mike is dropping bombs and El Buho is blowing horn and you rock the fuck out and all is good with the world. It gets even better when they head into Llama from there, giving us a bit more time with Gary not to mention a pretty rare set closing combo. In fact, the only other time they have closed a set with Reprise>Llama was 12.31.1998. Following the encore break we have one of those Wastes that get the whole place hugging and holding lighters aloft. Back in that time we didn’t have these new-fangled smartphone things to provide light and other distraction at shows, whippersnapper, we had actual fire because people still smoked indoors quite regularly and the fire marshal didn’t think much of the potential hazards that come from several thousand people holding open flames up. We also didn’t have these glowstick war things you kids are always trying to get started because the technology was such that if you threw the glowsticks we could get you could brain someone and end up with a big ‘oops’ to explain to that person’s mother when she had to sit up all night watching for signs of a concussion along with babysitting her freaking out addle-headed baby who keeps yelling to her to watch out for the next volley of “hurt lasers” lobbed by the infidels. Bah! Get off my GA floor! After the sing/sway-along El Buho comes back out for one more tune which you have to figure will be some horn friendly funfest buuuuuuut ends up being Johnny B. Goode. Wonderful.

 

This show is just another along the upward path that this tour is taking as they finish up the Midwest leg. This first set has a bit more meat to it than many of the other ones of late what with that nice Taste, shreddy CDT, and the lovely Reba making it one of the more engaging first sets of this tour. The second set is actually a little less complete due to that Mule throwing off the flow a bit (on relisten. in venue I am certain most would have loved it and considered it a highlight) and the El Buho sit-in taking the Tweezer in a direction that the jamhounds assuredly point to as an example of why they don’t like sit-ins but I like how this one flows. Sure, it isn’t a perfect set by any means but the intent and energy are there and when they want to they take it out. The highlights from this show are really good and there really aren’t any ‘bad’ moments per se which I guess elevates this show even more as a result. In the end the show if best known for two things — both of which I agree with — so there’s no need to fluff it to anything more than it is which is to say that this is a solid show that you should spin if you never have because it might surprise you in how good it is. Our takeaways here are CDT, Reba, and 2001>Simple with the Mule, Tweezer and Reprise>Llama holding second tier interest due to the El Buho sit-in and the uniqueness of the Mule. I thought about including the HMB but that isn’t really a highlight as much as an “oh, neat” and the Taste we will leave off because the next one is probably better and has a nifty tease I just discovered the other day. Is that a lot of songs from this show? I guess, but it’s not like I need to be picky here. They are all worth it for this level of scrubbing. The real fun will come at the end of this tour when we get to figure out the real gems… One more show before the long drive west!

Always Shouts Out Something Obscene – St. Louis, MO 11.15.1996

Phish — Kiel Center — St. Louis, MO 11.15.1996

I  Wilson>Divided, Bouncin’, Zero, PYITE>Caspian, Ginseng, Train Song, CDT, Taste>Cavern

II  Makisupa->Maze, McGrupp>Melt, TMWSIY>Avenu Malkenu, MMGAMOIO>Mike’s, Monkey>Mean Mr. Mustard>Paug

E  Funky Bitch

 

After getting the heck out of central Iowa quite quickly Phish headed southeast towards their Friday night date in St. Louis to play a large arena show here for the first time ever. By this time the band already had a very strong history with the Gateway to the West as they had been coming here practically every year since they played three in the area in 1992. The first visit was to the now closed (shocker) Mississippi Nights on 03.30.1992 playing a fun, banter-filled show with the obligatory teases and SL not to mention Trey dedicating BBFCFM to Brett Hull and mentioning that they had put the entire St. Louis Blues hockey team on the guest list (no idea if any of them showed up but one of Trey’s childhood friends, Roger Holloway of “just like Roger he’s a crazy little kid” fame was definitely there based on banter). This show also has a Tweezer inflected by one of personal favorite classic rock cover tunes ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’ (originally by Status Quo but give me the Camper Van Beethoven version any day) and the rare Fish Fun Time sandwich of HYHU preceding and Cold as Ice bookending it. Later that summer on 08.02.1992 they played a single set as opener for Santana at Riverport Amphitheatre, the venue they have played more than any other in Missouri (and kind of important in phishtory what with that kinda awesome Gin that went down 07.29.1998…). They capped the year in this market on 12.04.1992 back at Mississippi Nights (for the final time that Phish would perform there) with a show big on SL and high energy rocking, most notably in the Possum from that second set – check out the fun Forbin tale here as well. Returning in 1993 they had graduated to the larger American Theater, one of those great, old vaudeville houses of the early 20th century that is, you guessed it, now closed. There were two shows here with the first taking place on 04.14.1993 and if you haven’t ever heard this one I highly recommend you check it out. There are some really interesting setlist calls here like Stash->Kung->Stash, some acoustic Kung-Horse madness, and YEM->Spooky->YEM (calling back to the YEM from Gunnison about a month prior) and the white hot playing that typifies that second leg of Spring ’93. There’s a fun Harpua story here and tons of teases as well if that is your bag. Oh, and Trey’s friend Roger was back again this time getting up on stage to ask his girlfriend to marry him (she said yes) prompting the band to play ACDC Bag in his honor afterwards. That summer they hit this venue in full stride of that August run, dropping a show on 08.16.1993 that was for quite some time considered to be pretty legendary what with the big jams in Possum, Reba, Foam, Melt, Mike’s, Ice, and Paug along with everything else that goes down here (including a Sparkle with a unique little intro jam that, sadly, does not result in the FMS). Clearly, this was a venue they enjoyed playing. Continuing to grow in popularity, when Phish returned in 1995 they had moved up to the Fabulous Fox Theatre for their show on 11.23.1994 dropping a show best known for the beautiful Tweezer and the YEM->VoL->YEM they threw down in the second set. For 1995 their sole visit would be back at Riverport Amphitheatre, this time headlining for a full show on 06.13.1995. This show perhaps suffers in comparison to the shows that surround it considering that they stopped here between the great pair at Red Rocks and the one that follows which just happens to include The Mud Island Tweezer but it does have a really nice Reba and the “jazz version” of Golgi, according to Trey. Based on the information above it is pretty clear the band has done well here but whether that is due to a great crowd, stops generally coming mid-tour once they have hit their stride, or some other less obvious reason remains a mystery.

 

That gets us up to speed in advance of our show here tonight, their only time playing the Kiel Center. Before I get going, note that there is full video of both sets out there for this one:

set one

set two

So feel free to watch/listen along as you read as if that is physically possible. It is worth it to witness Mike’s purple shirt and sparkly pants and Trey showing off the guns with the sleeveless t-shirt along with the fun had at the end of the second set which we will get to in due time.

 

Seemingly brushing the prior night’s performance off almost immediately the band comes out with a rocking Wilson, getting the crowd engaged from the start with the call/response we all love to hate these days. This drops into Divided Sky, something they have done 15 times – and six times to open a show. Just because I was curious I discovered that the only song to more frequently come out of Wilson is actually pretty surprising considering it is a now rare cover: Peaches en Regalia (18 times). Anyway, the Divided here is soaring, clean, and ripping (pause is 1:15 tonight) and does nothing to lower the energy in the room as a result. After bounding through Bouncin’ Around the Room and rocking out Character Zero Trey kicks into PYITE, making this five straight crowd-pleasing tunes to start the set. After pretty well nailing the entirety of Punch they end up in Prince Caspian, giving us another of the sort of version you could expect from the song in this era. It isn’t bad, it just doesn’t really do much but sap the energy out of the room for a few minutes. Which I guess many would say is bad… Well, they ramp right back up for the bluegrass slot with Ginseng Sullivan tonight, getting the sing-a-long going before really bringing the set to a momentum-ending point by playing yet another Train Song. Okay, fine, whatever, you probably needed to pee by now anyway if you didn’t take the opportunity during Caspian so no biggie. As generally happens they follow this ballad with something a bit more fiery which tonight is Chalkdust Torture. This one is the classic type I rager. Next up in the penultimate slot for the set is Taste and while I do like this song I am kinda getting tired of it by now. This makes 12 appearances for the song in 22 shows with only one other song anywhere near that total as Zero also sits at 12, setting up the competition to see which song will be crowned as most-shoved-down-our-earholes this tour. I shouldn’t complain because at least they haven’t overplayed something far worse as the end jam is always smile-inducing for me. This runs into the set closing Cavern (yay) and we are off to wander the halls of this NHL team venue, pondering the meaning of the “fifteen minute break”.

 

Now, that first set doesn’t look like anything overly special and realistically it is not in comparison to some of the real juggernauts over the years but even just listening to it in relation to that Ames show you can tell things are different somehow. The crowd has something to do with it but it may have had more to do with the ‘trick’ the band was about to pull which you can partially figure out from the setlist above. Trey has a bit of a tell in that way, often being a bit more giddy or musically involved when things are afoot, be it an overt trick to be played or simply things that unfold as the set progresses. This is easy to say in retrospect particularly in going through a whole tour where you see the patterns that emerge but in the moment it is definitely not something that you will expect that the crowd will notice outright. So with the crowd being none the wiser Phish came back out to start the second set and immediately dropped into Makisupa Policeman (key word: “stink kind”) you had to know that something was up at the very least. As if to give away the end, Trey at first sets a loop that is quite similar to the Maze intro before the high hat which could easily have caused some to be expecting that song to open instead of the Maki they jump into instead. The song has been played 96 times and only 16 of those have been set openers with seven of those being 2nd set openers so you could excuse someone for making that sort of assumption. Go ahead and look at the stats on that as it is a pretty reliable indicator of a hot set to come. They drop into a fun little jam here with Trey adding some mini-kit fills (whistle wah and the water drip one) and Mike playing the bassline of what sure sounds like Dog Log while Page toys around for a bit before setting up the transition for a full segue to Maze (interestingly, of the 7 times that pairing has happened 5 are set openers). Par for the course, this Maze rips hard with Page taking his time on the organ before Trey takes it to the stratosphere at the peak. Next up is McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters, one of favorites of the Gamehendge suite primarily due to that end Page section which tonight does not disappoint. After that bit of ivory tickling they head out into Split Open and Melt, giving us our second vehicle already in this set. While this Melt doesn’t turn sideways into a full type II jam Trey does lead his way through some directed searching around the Melt theme which results in a dirty jam that while linear pays off quite nicely.

 

After those two shredders Trey gets a bit tender by starting up TMWSIY, pairing it with its partner Avenu Malkenu as one would expect. What one might not expect though is that instead of returning to the ManWho theme after that Yiddish Funk they start up My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own. You may be saying “so what” and that is a perfectly valid response but we here at LIMR Enterprises pride ourselves on bringing you the nittiest and grittiest of useless facts about this band so here goes. Every time Avenu Malkenu has been played it has been preceded by ManWho (that’s 76 performances) and these two songs have never not been played together (i.e. in the same show). Traditionally, we expect the band to return to ManWho after Avenu Malkenu but the data suggests that this might not always be a wise assumption to make. In 20 of its 79 performances Avenu Malkenu has not returned to ManWho though in one case (11.28.1992) after playing Maze they went back to ManWho to close that open door. It is notable that in most cases where they do not return to it the set in question ends up being quite memorable though considering this could also be said for many of the sets in which the full sandwich happens that’s not exactly a hard and fast Phish Rule to make money betting parlays on (there are Phish parlay betting lines, right?). Tonight marks the only time they go into MMGAMOIO instead as with its relative infrequency the only two songs to have had it occur for them are Bag (2 times) and Mike’s Song (3). All that to say that it is still a bit surprising to hear when they do go elsewhere — and I say this as someone who has managed to catch four instances of this in the 11 times I’ve seen them play these songs. Well, whatever it all means they play MMGAMOIO (37 shows since the previous one) to give us a bluegrass tune in each set (thanks, guys) before heading on into the Mike’s Song you kind of figure would be coming by now if you have been paying attention to the setlist. After the lyrics they head into the first jam and out come the tramps (something I thought was done by this point but I guess my memory on that is a bit foggy). I’ve read things that say that this is a short or even uninspired first jam to which my response is “have you ever tried improvising live music while bouncing a synchronized choreography on mini trampolines?” and I have yet to have anyone be able to answer yes to that query. Of course, I haven’t exactly asked very many people either…

 

Trey and Mike hop down from the tramps to move into the real meat of this jam as Kuroda fills the stage with smoke as was par for the lighting course for this jam in this time period. The overarching feel here is not too dissimilar from the main jam template they have established on this tour as they get into a chugging, guitar-driven jam. Typically as these jams have progressed we have seen Trey hop over to the mini-kit to give room to Page and Mike but tonight he stays on lead, going big all while Mike drops big bombs in counterpoint. This jam is a classic take on the second jam, erupting into a noisy back end (Mike voices approval with at least two *tings* of the fight bell) that never comes back to the ‘traditional’ Mike’s finish but instead kind of abruptly resolves into nothingness. This is the peak jam of the show and the third worthwhile one this set. After a quick breath Trey starts into another mini-bustout as we get the first Sleeping Monkey of the tour (25 shows) which continues the motif we have going thus far. If you were watching the video you might have noticed that when they came out to remove the tramps at the end of that Mike’s jam a piece of paper is placed in front of Trey’s monitor which ends up being important in paying off the trick they have been building all night. The band starts into a familiar melody that might not be easy to pick up at the start as Trey banters about thanks from “myself, Mike, Moses over there, Mr. McConnell… oh, and Mimi” before noting that the set has been “brought to you by the letter ‘M‘ and the number ‘420’” which is a fun reference to Sesame Street as well as nodding back to the set which began with their ‘weed tune’ and started the run of songs with M featured in the title somehow. Without knowing their internal shorthand for each song which probably belies it even more you can still see the pattern they have put together. As the yawn of realization washes over you they start into that familiar-ish song with Trey taking a peek at the lyric sheet he was brought to stay on track as they debut the Beatles’ tune Mean Mr. Mustard! The crowd loves it but even more so when from stage left a crouched over, hobbling, draped in cape man makes his way to the stage, in time with the song’s “such a mean old man” chorus (if this were pro wrestling and we had some context you could argue this to be the entrance music to the ‘heel’ with the crowd screeching and gasping and shouting out “oh mah gawd! they are playing his music!! here he comes!! EEEEEEEEKKK!!!). And who should that mean old man be but the band’s old friend and once frequent collaborator (both musically and in prankiness) John Popper. He throws off the cape to reveal his trademark tactical harmonica vest as the crowd erupts in recognition and at that moment the band jumps into the Weekapaug Groove you figure is coming but can’t really expect based on this whole ‘M‘ thing they have working this set.

 

Now, there are a couple of schools of thought when it comes to sit-ins with Phish. We have covered this a bit in the past but in general the dynamic of having additional people on stage with Phish doesn’t always work particularly when the sitter-in is a “lead” type player who needs to be in front of whatever is going down. This often causes fans to make sweeping declarations about never wanting anyone to sit in with the band — except for horns, of course, because who doesn’t like what horn accompaniment can add to the mix? Then you have the folk who say ‘bring it on’ in any form as that is the root of this collaborative, improvisational thing the band has fostered over the years. Or you could have that friend who doesn’t opine but takes the ‘wait and see’ approach before either effusing praise or crapping on whoever deigned to sully their religious experience with the band. I can see the logic of these varied viewpoints and I personally probably sit more with the last person there except for that last bit because in the end while I may have a transformative experience at a show I’m not laying blame on a guest musician if I personally do not make that connection on a particular evening. Which brings us to Mr. Popper.

 

Being that both Phish and Blues Traveler came up in the same period of time, in the same general circle of musicians, and even with some members having grown up together at the same prep schools it makes sense that there would be a connection between the two bands. Recently there have been some anecdotes to come out about the ever-going prank war between the two bands as Mr. Popper has a new book out to promote. Personally, my favorite one is this from the ’93 H.O.R.D.E. Tour:

The set-closer on July 27th was You Enjoy Myself and it featured many special guests joining Phish onstage, including Chan Kinchla from Blues Traveler, Dave Matthews and members of his band and members of Colonel Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit. During the traditional “mini-trampoline” section of YEM, a true to life dummy of John Popper (complete with his trademark hat and harmonica vest) was lowered in a wheelchair (Popper was confined to a wheelchair that whole summer due to a motorcycle wreck) from the ceiling toward a giant trampoline while Popper jammed along offstage. The joke, based on Popper’s grand personage, was that the cable holding the chair and dummy “broke” and the effigy of Popper crashed through the trampoline and thunked onto the stage. The musicians onstage then shocked the audience by attacking “Popper” as the harmonica wailed on.

or perhaps the time on the ’92 H.O.R.D.E. tour when he came out to jump on the tramps during YEM and proceeded to bust through it on first hop resulting with him leaving the stage dejectedly, though some would contend that this was not a prank so much as a result of his size at that time being too much for the springs to bear. But the roots of their collaboration on more than just humor as members of both bands have shared the stage with each other on numerous occasions. I’m not going to go through all of the times Popper has joined Phish (as an aside, if you don’t know that Ritz Power Jam show from Spring ’93 I am a big fan and promoter of it and will now refer you to the post I wrote about the Roseland shows which include a Popper sit-in as well) but suffice it to say he has brought his harmonica stylings to the Phish stage a lot. A person’s appreciation for his sit-ins is, I believe, directly related to your tolerance for his brand of mouth harp playing which can be either fascinating or unbelievably grating depending on the ear of the listener and because within only a few notes it is plainly clear who is playing harmonica when he is involved… for better or worse. Realistically, the majority of his appearances with Phish are for tunes that are pretty straight forward blues/rock template songs (the most common are Funky Bitch, JJLC, Fire, and GTBT) which means that you don’t have to think much about where it is headed or worry that he will be able to keep up. Heck, Trey even pulled a section out of the old arrangement for Reba and added some of Popper’s lyrics for a song called Don’t Get Me Wrong that they played together three times in 1990 before it disappeared… forever!

 

So when Popper threw off that cape you had to be wondering what we were in for here, particularly with that Paug just hanging out there waiting to be played. Surprisingly, he hops right on and crushes his solo in the first section of Paug, getting the crowd amped with the first run to the peak and setting the tone for this jam. He and Trey size each other up musically as they move through this one and unlike some sit-ins his playing never gets in the way but rather adds to it. After some hugs and such everyone departs the stage for the encore break and you know Popper is coming back out, which he does, and then we have a not surprising at all take on Funky Bitch. This song lends itself well to this sort of sit-in where both Popper and Trey and take their big solos and in watching the video you even get to see them slap fives during one of the verse sections in acknowledgement of how good it all comes off. Sure, neither of these hit the jam heights of the Mike’s earlier on but they are big time crowd pleasing rockers and sometimes that is what you need to cap a really great show on a Friday night in the middle of America.

 

I’ll be honest, I never had a lot of love for this show prior to spinning it a few times in getting this write-up put together. I guess I had brushed over all of the great playing here for the gimmick without realizing just how solid this one is throughout. And the contrast to the preceding show is so striking you almost have to laugh and wonder why they sandbagged that one so badly (though we covered that already…). Honestly, I had a bit of a hard time picking out the takeaways here in the end because pretty well everything is nailed. In terms of pure highlights I guess I have to narrow it down to Maki->Maze, Mike’s, Mean Mr. Mustard>Paug, and Funky Bitch for the first tier with McGrupp coming in as the second tier option. I could probably add the Melt as well but considering that there have been better versions already this tour we’ll leave it off. I definitely recommend spinning this show and watching the video if you have the opportunity because after the little lull there earlier this week the band has caught fire once more… and it really only gets better from here!