I Chase the Backbeat – Tallahassee, FL 10.29.1996

Phish — Leon County Civic Center — Tallahassee, FL 10.29.1996

I  CDT, Guelah, CTB, Taste, Bouncin’, Stash, Train Song, Billy Breathes, Poor Heart>Bowie

II  Rift>Mike’s>Horse>Silent, Paug, Wedge, Zero, Suspicious Minds>HYHU, Slave, HMB

E  GTBT

 

As fans of this band, we kind of have this reputation for being a bit obsessive and complete-ist with regards to our appetite for the music they have produced over the years. I know I know. That’s just a bit of an understatement. We can recite setlists, know show dates based on a particular run of songs, have websites (and apps) devoted to letting you know how many times you saw them play Bouncin’ in 1994, refer to infographics about song rotation, track the timing of when tour dates drop, endlessly argue over which version of a song is the best or what year is the best or whether Mike should wear scarves or is Page hitting the sandwiches too hard again or can Fish really support all of those kids or whether people should be allowed to ‘woo’ and so much more useless shit, search endlessly for teases/quotes, blather on incessantly to the twitters about so many stupid things about our scene and the band, and much much more. I haven’t even touched the taper minutiae, PT, PhishTwitters and a lot of other typical goings on in this weird world of ours. Heck, we have a deserved reputation for attacking anyone who dares to speak ill of something (Phish) that they may not like which . I guess what I am saying here is that we are quite devoted to this band so any time something major happens — particularly with their music — everyone takes notice. And there is something that I have been teasing and hinting at for quite some time now that, lo and behold, is finally here.

 

First things first though! Phish had only played Tallahassee one time before, for a Monday night show during their inaugural visit to Florida in Spring 93 (which we have covered here previously). That one is probably most notable for having the second to last ever Secret Language Instructions (something that is wholly unnecessary these days, unfortunately), a couple of soundcheck gems (first known takes on Nellie Kane and Guy Forget), and… um… two Fish Fun Time tunes I guess? Okay, so it wasn’t exactly a legendary show. But when the band came back they were in a MUCH different place having become a well known national touring act and all that. This visit would be to the Leon County Civic Center (now called the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center or “The Tuck” – a rare case of returning to an original name as when Florida State University took over ownership of the venue from the Leon County Civic Center Authority in 2012 they brought back the name). It sits on the main campus of FSU and is primarily used for college basketball and other university activities along with outside concerts and other typical events for venues in this size range (12,500). But on this night it was where PerazzoPhish was born and the band started something that we still reap the benefits of today.

 

You are probably asking yourself what the hell “PerazzoPhish” is and that is a reasonable question to ask. Well, there’s this guy named Karl Perazzo who the band met way back on the Summer ’92 tour when they opened all those shows for Santana (after leaving the OG H.O.R.D.E. tour). Along with the times various members of Phish sat in with Santana there was that 07.25.1992 show in Stowe, VT when the favor was returned (by Carlos, Raul Rekow, and Karl Perazzo)  for the last three songs of Phish’s set opening the night. The Summer ’96 Euro Tour also saw some crossover including on 07.03.1996 Carlos and Karl joined in for a fantastic Taste->Llama. So when the band opened up here in Tallahassee with five people on stage it was definitely a surprise for the crowd but not necessarily uncharted territory for the band. It would take a few songs for Trey to clue everyone in on their guest for the evening but by then it is pretty clear that no one has any issue with what he is adding to the mix.

 

Things get started out in a rocking way as they play Chalkdust Torture for the second time in as many sets (opening both, in fact). The added percussion here amps things up even a few more notches than normal and the crowd responds with triumphant roars of approval for the slamming entry into the night. Our old pal Guelah Papyrus is back in its familiar two slot tonight, serving the role nicely before they bounce into a punchy take on Cars Trucks Buses. There’s nothing major going on here except that buoyant dance vibe but just three songs in you can already tell something is up with Phish tonight. It isn’t just that there is an added player. Something seems… new here. But we haven’t quite hit it yet. So the fourth song starts up and it is Taste and being that this is one Karl is definitely familiar with he can play around even more than some of the other songs here, resulting in some syncopated madness as they spiral through the jam towards the peak. Fish and Karl are lock-and-step in all of this, putting down a beat that pushes the rest of the band forward. I may have hit repeat on this one more than once. Trey takes time to mention how excited they are to share the stage with Karl for the night and then Bouncin’ keeps the people moving and singing along. Next up is Stash, a tune that wouldn’t seem to lend itself too well to an added percussionist. Well, it does in this case, particularly when that added percussionist helps to push the band a bit resulting in a jam that feels fairly familiar while also being something new. The familiar comes from the chugging leads by Trey which sound a lot like something from Fall ’95 (perhaps a bit like this famous Stash from 11.14.1995?) and the new is that percussive build that they craft bringing this up to be an all Type I jam but one that provides a satisfying bit of T&R. It isn’t a Stash that will be on anyone’s mind when thinking of the biggies but it is a good sign of what is happening here in this set.  After that they bring it down a bit for a pair with the ballads Train Song and Billy Breathes, two songs that don’t really need the extra player but oh well. They bring the energy back up following these two with Poor Heart and then drop right into the set closing David Bowie. Getting right to the point here, they forgo the typical style of jam for Bowie, opting instead for a bit of groove pocket jamming. This is something you don’t get too often with Bowie and it is just another example already of the band’s sound shifting, seemingly as this set progresses. By the time they wrap it up (and give us the obligatory “we’ll be back in fifteen minutes” LIE, you lying liar, Trey!!) you have to start wondering what is in store for the next set. Obviously, a lot of the conversation here would have been around Perazzo but whether it is his influence or just coincidental with what they were already putting in motion is not really clear. I tend to think the latter combined with the still-unknown-to-the-crowd trick about to come in Atlanta but there is a bit of chicken/egg here as well.

 

Following the break, with the crowd anxiously anticipating their next move, Perazzo is the first to start up, playing a calypso-tinged beat that Trey comes in over with the start to Rift. This is one of the more unique versions of this song that you will hear (save the original, slow version of the song) as it is part Calypso Rift and part rocking shred Rift. This seems like a disparate pairing but it really works well. They drop right into Mike’s Song following Rift, working through the classic tune and heading off into a patiently crafted first jam. This jam gets a bit dark and soupy as both Trey and Page try out a few ideas over the big time bass and percussion pocket with Perazzo offering up some nice fills of his own as well. Trey is soloing with drawn out notes over the pocket, begging it to get over the hump and into deeper waters in a way that feels quite comfortable in that Mike’s way but also feels like they are poised for bigger things here. After pulling back for the main riff to signal us into the 2nd jam the crowd recognizes this could get special and gives a bit of cheer feedback in that regard as Trey breaks out the siren loop and really goes off with these wailing lead lines. He drops out to start something we simply have not heard him do before which is to do some funk comping over that pocket while Page toys around with some proto-funk lines of his own. Mike changes up the bassline to match the feel and we are fully into our first ever cowfunk pocket jam! Holy crap! This is the moment. Here is where we go from a band of precision and otherworldly psychedelic openness to one that can put down the funk and get a real live dance party going. You can hear the joy in the music here as they all bounce around the groove. Just before the 15 minute mark (yeah, I know. RIP, long Mike’s jams…) Trey starts hinting at something before playing a quite recognizable line around 15:15. Everyone hops on board and they are now in a place that hints at the classic Mind Left Body (MLB) theme while also having hints of The Wedge. Trey peaks this out with more wailing lines and we have finished the transition from the dark groove of the first jam over to the lightness of this peak. Admittedly, when they do hit the return to wrap up the song it is pretty rough going but after that jam they can be forgiven for any perceived misstep in this regard. This is a tipping point jam for the band, one that cannot be undersold with regards to the importance it holds in where we go from here.

 

Call it Patient Zero (thanks, MiA), the moment, example one, whatever. There simply was NO indication at all that the band would play this sort of jam here and now after what had come before it on the Fall 1996 Tour (or before then, clearly). With Phish the points of change seem to be more gradual that distinct as the band works out new ways of doing things over the course of a tour or sometimes even longer. Up until this jam if asked to define “The Phish Sound” here in Fall 1996 I would have said something like “percussive precision with moments of open musical abandon” but that description won’t work from here forward. Granted, we are still a long way from where the sound will go in six to nine months and eventually to the massive changes that came out of Summer ’97 and into the legendary Fall ’97 Tour but this is the birthplace of all of that. While not fully formed or even perhaps recognized by the majority of the fanbase in the moment, this is a wholly new way of crafting jams for the band. This takes what was up to this point a largely average tour and offers a new vocabulary for us to start to unpack, a new way of furthering the conversation between band and crowd. You may be saying “this dude needs to take it down a notch cuz Phish has always had some funk in their trunk” and to that I’d reply “yeah, but not like this. this is loose and tight at the same time and oh so fresh.” I really don’t think that I am overselling it to say that this jam marks our move from the open psych era of Phish to the cowfunk/groove period. This is not to say that every show would become a dance party of one dimensional groove jams though because at the root Phish is still a group of music nerds who just had found a new ‘costume’ to wear. Seriously, if Phish went fully to funk I doubt everyone would have lauded it as highly as they did. It is the ability to use it to counterpoint their other styles that makes it so effective as a tool. They are not a funk band but rather a band that can play funk. And in that one Mike’s jam that previous statement became real.

 

I suppose I need to now move on to the rest of the set because I am starting to get a bit repetitive and unfocused. So how do you follow up that Mike’s then? Well, being ’96 it probably means not Hydrogen considering they only played that pairing twice in the year (07.23.1996 and 08.05.1996) so instead we get one of only three times they have gone Mike’s>Horse>Silent>Paug. The other two are 12.30.1993 and 10.15.2010 but there are also a couple of times they have included Horse>Silent within the Groove (07.01.2011 at Superball and 08.26.2012). This interlude and lost-marbles-search segment is followed by the expected Weekapaug Groove which picks back up to the energy of the Mike’s but lacks anything more than a fairly standard take on that tune. Next they bust out The Wedge after a 70 show gap for a fun version with the extra percussion, perhaps having tipped their hand that it was coming earlier in that Mike’s 2nd jam. Another mid set Character Zero punches through with a big rocking version and then we get Fish Fun Time for the first time since that IDK in Hampton with the cover of Elvis Presley’s Suspicious Minds (with light up cape, naturally). That video of Elvis doing the song in 1970 is great for more than just the music but the Fish take on the song was fairly straight forward unless you feel that vac solos aren’t supposed to be part of the song. They played Suspicious Minds 11 times along Fall ’95 Tour before it hit the shelf only to be busted out here after a 48 show absence. We will hear from this song again at the end of the tour but let’s go ahead and file it as another one of those songs it would be nice to have them play again. After the HYHU bit and Trey again calling him “Norton Charleston Heston” Fish returns to the kit as the band starts up Slave to the Traffic Light, providing one more collective peak for the crowd. The addition of Perazzo doesn’t really do much here but oh well. A quick a cappella Hello My Baby acts as closer and then a raging Good Times Bad Time encore (after a 34 show gap) sends everyone off into the night to wonder about what just happened and to prep for the drive north to Atlanta for the Halloween show.

 

In total, this show is probably on the high side of pretty good as the addition of Karl Perazzo helps to push some of the more mundane stuff forward. The takeaway jams here though are of the highest quality that we have seen so far on this tour and not just due to the added beat maker. Taste and Stash from the first set hint at it but the Rift>Mike’s is where new Phish dreams are made. Throw in the groove Bowie for good measure and you have a solid idea of what this show offers. I know I spent a lot of words on it above but you really cannot undersell the importance of this show and that Mike’s jam in particular in how it would shape the future of the band. It is evident that they had clearly been working on this sound before that moment but by pulling the curtain back on what was to come in Atlanta (and beyond) we are shown the roots of what their groove-based ‘cowfunk’ would become.  If you have never listened to that Mike’s jam I would highly recommend doing so if you are the sort who has interest in seeing these music evolutions in real time. This jam, but an inkling of what is to come, would make a lot more sense in context after the show two nights on and even more so as the tour progresses. For that you can thank not just their decision to take on the costume of a legendary polyrhythmic group of musicians but also because they brought in Karl Perazzo to help them get ready for that night. And seeing as how Karl stayed with them for a few shows even after Halloween, it should come as no surprise that everything changes from here on out. If you were a bit bored with the shows on this tour so far, stick around. I think you will soon agree that the remaining tour is anything but boring…

You Keep It Very Clean – Hartford, CT 10.23.1996

Phish — Hartford Civic Center — Hartford, CT 10.23.1996

I  PYITE, Poor Heart, Bag, Foam, Hello My Baby, Zero, Rift, Theme>Lope

II  Brother, Ya Mar, Tweezer>Lizards, Llama, Suzy>Slave, Julius

E  CDT

 

Phish has a long history with Connecticut, stretching back to the not quite verified 05.08.1988  show at a place called CD’s in Norwalk, CT, a venue I cannot find any information on anywhere which means it probably doesn’t exist anymore because you’d have to think there would be some mention of it on these here intrawebz. As with that show, the next visit to the Constitution State is one that has no known setlist but is at least confirmed to have happened on the noted date (04.02.1989) at The Nightshift Cafe in Naugatuck. Their first show in Hartford would come about six weeks later on 05.27.1989 for a fraternity party at Trinity College. This is still a somewhat incomplete record, however, as only the supposed first set of this show circulates. The next visits to CT would be in 1990 to the famed Toad’s Place first for a show on 03.01.1990, then the classic Woodbury Ski & Raquet Club show from 04.29.1990 which circulates on video in full, and then back at Toad’s Place again on 05.06.1990 for a show that was heavily circulated back in the day. You may know it for the Hood or Bowie but the Jagermeister Song is the comical aspect of this one (dedicated to WSP who opened) or perhaps the odd show ending where YEM pretty much just ends without the vocal jam and they had no encore due to the venue curfew. There was one more show in CT on the Fall Tour that year at Wesleyan University in Middletown (09.16.1990) which was a free single set affair that has a super shreddy Trey-heavy Weekapaug and then they wouldn’t return to the state until the following Spring Tour.

 

1991 would produce only three shows in the Nutmeg State with two at The Sting in New Britain (05.16.1991 and 11.19.1991) and a banter-heavy affair from The Salisbury School on 05.19.1991 that was organized by a few prep schools in the area. Oh, to be able to book Phish to play your boarding school… what a different time that was. There is a humorous note that the show was apparently cut short by the powers that be due to suspected drug and alcohol use by the students in attendance, something one would never expect from prep school hippies! Quite honestly, none of these shows are overly noteworthy except in establishing Phish’s affinity for playing in the area but things started to ramp up with Phish performances here in The Land of Steady Habits in 1992. While there are only three shows for Phish here in 1992 they are all quite solid and all were performed at the Palace Theatre in New Haven. The first is the 03.19.1992 show which has one of those rare Bowie ‘tease medley’ versions and a lot of that high energy, tight shred stuff they did back then (not to mention the original arrangement of NICU). The 12.28.1992 show is a bit of table setting for the NYE Run but is a worthwhile listen all the same. Then, on 12.29.1992 they dropped a classic Tweezer in a tease-heavy show that sounds more like Spring ’93 than anything from ’92 or earlier. Of course, there are two BBJs in that show which immediately drops it down a few pegs, unfortunately…

 

1993 had only two CT shows, first for the 04.30.1993 stop in West Hartford and then back to New Haven for the second show on the NYE Run, this time at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum show on 12.29.1993. The playing here is quite good as they had pretty well moved on to the 1994 psych jazz sound at this stage. Stash is quite unique if you have never heard it. After skipping the Provisions State in 1994 Phish returned along the path of the epic Fall ’95 Tour for a great one (again) in New Haven, one best known for the Tweezer it birthed but also for the overall quality of the performance (not to mention being the first time – of four ever – where Prince Caspian has opened the show). I’ll now stop the history lesson to get into the single CT stop for 1996 but it is notable that the band has returned here in almost every year of touring since with an additional nine shows scattered between 1997-2000 and 2009-2013. With the exception of 2000 and 2010 these are all single night stops and in toto Phish has played solid shows here throughout their history. And this one from 10.23.1996 is certainly no exception…

 

The first set starts off well enough with some energy tunes to get things moving as they rip through decent takes on Punch You In The Eye, Poor Heart, and ACDC Bag. The Bag has a bit of extra sauce on it but stays within form and then they add to that energy some more with the first Foam since summer tour. Four songs in there is nothing major to take away but the playing is tight and the band seems ready to go bigger. Before doing so we get the a cappella Hello My Baby and then another couple rockers in Character Zero and Rift. The set seems to be flying by without much of note but then they start up Theme for a soaring, crisp take on the type I vehicle. Trey uses the distortion pedal well here as he plays with the peak and then upon resolution we drop into the Antelope closer you could have seen coming a mile away if you had been watching setlist trends at this stage of tour. This Lope has some solid dissonant shred jamming and tension building, bringing the crowd to a frenzied peak but it otherwise largely straight forward. And that might be one of the shortest first set recaps I’ve done which kinda makes sense here what with the quite un-notable nature of it all (and the fact that this is only a one hour set…). Which probably had a lot of people scratching their heads unless that itch was just their super hetty dreads being a little dry this time of year, brah.

 

And your confusion would have been further amplified had you gandered at the stage during the break rather than heading out to the concourse to chat up that cute spinner gal you met on lot earlier that day as a second drum kit was brought out! What the heck?!? Well, maybe if you were up on your side projects and whatnot you would realize once they came out to the stage that the guest second drummer is none other than Bob Gullotti, drummer for such projects as Michael Ray’s Cosmic Krewe (who is still in fine form, I must say, having just seen him as part of the James Brown Dance party thing post Phish on 01.02.2016), George Garzone’s The Fringe (free jazz improv), Surrender to the Air (remember that Trey thing we mentioned not too long ago?), and as support for a variety of folks over the years. He also has the distinction of being a drum instructor for Fish over the years so all told he has some history with the band. This would be the first of three times Bob joined the band on stage with the other two being during shows in Texas (07.25.1997 and 07.26.1997) on the Summer 1997 Tour. For this night in Hartford he sat in for the entirety of the 2nd set and encore.

 

The set starts out with a punchy Brother, another tour first timer, and this one apparently played by request for Trey’s brother-in-law’s birthday. Right after this Trey introduces their guest and then they drop into a quite fun Ya Mar which has a bit of a drum duel/solo in the end before they come back to the song itself. Considering that Fish virtually never takes actual drum solos this is notable, particularly since with two talented players on the kits it doesn’t ever get jumbled or showoff-y like some big arena rock hair band drummer trying to get the chick in the front row to throw her unmentionables at him. Next up is our first Tweezer in a bit and here is our first real open jam of the night. Trey and Page plug along with the rhythm section setting the beat, with Trey soloing over the time changes as they build momentum here. Trey gets a siren wail going with his sustain, looping it as Page offers up some funky fills and Mike bombs away in the back. Trey drops out to hop on the mini-kit and now we are into the most percussive Tweezer jam that I know of considering there are now three people on drums. Page takes over the lead here with Mike providing some unique lines as well and the jam goes sideways for a few minutes as they explore this open territory. Trey eventually heads back to the guitar for the last couple minutes, building towards the Reprise-ish return to the classic slow Tweezer ending. This segues right into The Lizards which gives us that lovely cautionary tale of our friends from Gamehendge. As usual, this version is bright and danceable and even with two drummers it does not feel overwrought as both Page and Trey nail their respective solos.

 

Backing this up with Llama you might think that the second drummer would get in the way of the beat here but that never happens. Bob and Fish work quite well together which makes sense considering their shared history. Trey shines here, of course, as they turn the civic center into a head banging good time for a few brief minutes. This is followed up by good times Suzy Greenberg that manages to amp the energy up even further even in being about as standard of a take on the song as is possible. Moving towards the back part of the set now, they transition into Slave to the Traffic Light with both drummers offering up the tell tale stop and go beat of the song. The journey to the peak here is nice but nothing new tough it does elicit a rousing cheer from the patrons in the room. Trey then starts up Julius and we are clearly on our way to the end of the set here. As I have mentioned previously, these ’96 versions of Julius really smoke with Trey shredding the shit out of them but this one has that added drummer kicking it up another notch. The swanky groove they lay down for Trey to solo over mandates chair dancing at the very least, assuming you can resist the urge to rise up and give in to the beat. This serves as a solid closer for this guest-enabled set, bringing the crowd up once more to join in the dance party. A suitably fiery Chalkdust Torture with a fun build to the final Trey solo is spurred on by the double drummers, providing the encore tonight and then we are off to discuss the relative merits of bands that have multiple drummers/percussionists while trying to get gathered to begin the trip headed south for that next stop in Hampton.

 

This show seems to continue the pattern set so far in this first seven shows which are high on energy and dexterous playing but light on big jams. And that is not entirely inaccurate but might perhaps be an oversimplification of what is going on at this point. With the new album out (and one that isn’t exactly full of big jam vehicles) the focus is on that material as well as getting back into touring form after about two months off following The Clifford Ball. I would maintain that we haven’t yet had a “bad” show necessarily but that doesn’t mean we have had any great ones either. Most of the jam structures so far are either true to form or in their infancy (e.g. Simple) and we are about to see a whole heck of a lot of development in that respect. This show is a fine enough Wednesday nighter coming on the back end of three straight nights after the pair in New York that preceded it. By the time the following weekend is through we will start to see bigger jams and more noteworthy takeaways, not to mention some more variation in setlist construction and song choice in general. I personally like this show because of the uniqueness the second drummer offers and the overall clean play by all involved throughout but that doesn’t mean it has all-timer jams I’m putting on the big list. With that said, your takeaways tonight are rather light but solid all the same:  Ya Mar, Tweezer, and Theme as the add-in if you so choose. Viewed within the context of the tour progression it is in line with what you might expect at this stage even if we still have yet to hear the inklings of the big things to come in just a few weeks. Maybe they are holding back or maybe they just don’t want to show their hand yet. I can’t really answer that for certain but with the benefit of hindsight I can say for certain that the prevailing trends of this tour are about to be turned on their head… and that is going to be quite exciting indeed.

Trying to Make A Woman That You Move – New York, NY 10.22.1996

Phish — Madison Square Garden — New York, NY 10.22.1996

I  The Curtain>Jim, Bouncin’, Ice, Talk, Melt, Sparkle>Free>YEM

II  2001>Disease>Taste, Mango, Lawn Boy, Mule, Mike’s->Swept Away>Steep>Paug

E Watchtower

 

Fresh off a night of rocking out at The Garden Phish returned for round two in this most venerable of venues. This is one of the most storied venues in the band’s long history with 31 shows having already taken place here along with another four to start TONIGHT! WOOOOOOOO!!!!! Yeah, dude! Phish at the Garden!!!! YEMSG, YO!!!!

 

Ahem.

 

Sorry about that. I’m just a little excited for Phish to bring us more new music. Let’s get back to the review…

 

Okay, so as I was saying Phish has a long history with this venue, first playing a single show along the 1994 NYE Run before a pair capped by the epic 12.31.1995 show preceded this pair we are here to discuss. Over the years certain shows here have stood out for one reason or another, be it the overall awesomeness of the show (such as that 12.31.1995 masterpiece), one particular jam or possibly an entire set that just goes to another level. Some have gone as far as to try to boil down each show played here into one or a few big takeaways, which is admittedly a difficult task. I bring all of this up because if you ask phans what they know of the October 1996 MSG Run the most common answer you will get is something like “oh, yeah, the Freakapaug show!” Now, we have a lot to get through before coming to that memorable part of this one but suffice it to say that this is the moniker by which most fans know 10.22.1996. Now that I have sufficiently teased that, let’s get down to the nitty gritty…

 

In the lore of Phish, certain songs just seem to fit best as set and show openers. I probably mentioned this somewhere along the Spring 1993 path but to me, the pinnacle for this is The Curtain. For those of us who cut our Phish teeth in the 90s we had only bad tapes to tell us of this thing called “The Curtain (With)” as the band put the (With) on the shelf from 1988 until 07.12.2000 (1,178 shows if you are counting) with versions of the song including the (With) becoming more of the norm from there (and particularly in 3.0 where The Curtain (With) has been performed 13 times to the scant 2 that The Curtain has. Even still, we now have to wait to hear whether they will continue With or Without and move on to something else, preferably something with a bit of jam to it. I’m going to skip the full breakdown of songs-that-follow-Curtain but if you guess Tweezer, Sample, Mike’s Song, or Jim you would be in the right ballpark. So in 1996 when we heard The Curtain kick off the first set the first thing you got to do was to get down to that old school classic and then start to prep for what the song following would be. On this night, that would be Runaway Jim, a song that had some of its biggest versions in Fall 1995 — like, seriously, check the 06.16.1995 one from Raleigh if’n you don’t already know it, not to mention a big chugger from that 12.31.1995 show — but also had a couple of keepers from the previous summer tour, first with the one that sandwiched Gypsy Queen at Red Rocks on 08.07.1996 and then for the beaut from Hershey on 08.14.1996 (featuring our friend the mini-kit). While this one doesn’t reach the heights (or depths) of the monsters from ’95 it does give us our first little jamlet which also has a quite nice ‘quiet’ section if that makes any sense. From here we get Bouncin’d before they drop It’s Ice on us. Page is on top doing great work as is typical while Trey scratches out these dissonant, almost feedback-y lines to counterpoint the piano work. This one doesn’t go full darkness like some of the best ones but it is a nice bit of work before we get Talk. Whoopee. Talk.

 

Okay, moving on now they do bring the darkness in the form of Split Open and Melt. This one stays mainly within the framework of the ‘standard’ progression but Trey finds a lead line that is quite satisfying. Working this towards the peak, Trey misses it by a half-step and therefore brings it back around to build a bit more tension before re-peaking the song. The rest of the band catches this with ease and if you aren’t listening for it you might not even notice but it is just another of one of those really cool things you hear when they are connected and improvising in the moment. A quick romp through Sparkle and a brief but crunchy Free serve as appetizers to the set closing YEM that drops next and from the start this feels like a big one is coming. While it might not reach epic status it is quite solid with Trey’s jam being the strength followed by a funky D&B section. I’ve definitely seen much worse first set closers than that. And now you have time to head to the concourse to fight the masses in the bathroom line and grab some water and a pretzel before heading back into the fray.

 

So once settled back into whatever lovely spot in the Garden that you habitated that night you have to wonder if there will be any really big fireworks to come out of this run now that we are minutes from the final set of the run. Sure, that first show was fun and the first set offered up a bit more jamming than the night before but you want big time music and stuff! Everyone loves stuff, right?? Well, stuff you will get in this set, my phriend (sorry, I promise to never do the ‘ph’ thing like that again). After a punchy and funky 2001 to open things up (another song like The Curtain that first lived its life as a precursor to other things rather than as the vehicle it later became) they drop into that telltale soupy intro to Down with Disease. As has been hinted at with the prior two versions on this tour, this one starts to shed the Disease skin a bit while still staying mainly within the theme. Fish is a veritable metronome throughout this one and Mike is going big while Page and Trey throw out ideas. Page heads to the effects board and plays around for a bit while Trey hops on the mini-kit before they bring it all back to the Disease finish. Disease is shaping up to be another song to watch on this tour. Next is a finely executed Taste and then our first Mango Song of the tour, always a welcome one to hear. As always seems to happen at MSG, Page then takes a turn serenading the crowd with Lawn Boy and now we are itching for something in the key of “jam” again… only to get Scent of a Mule all over us. Now, this one is certainly unique as Trey opts for a scat jam solo and rumor has it a guy who is well known as a scatter (Otiel Burbridge) was standing side stage laughing his head off for this so that in and of itself makes it more interesting than the typical Mule (and Page shines in his turn to solo too) but still. It’s Mule. In a prime slot for a big Tweezer or something. But Mule is a song that they seemingly love to play and we already covered this topic so let’s just enjoy it for what it is, mm’kay?

 

Now, to their credit, Phish does have a solid habit of following up Mule with a big jam vehicle (or Cavern but let’s just forget about that) as the most frequent dance partners for that alien adventure are YEM, Tweezer, Stash, Hood, and Mike’s Song. And Cavern but we aren’t talking about that, remember? Tonight gets Mike’s Song and from the start they attack this one with intent, dropping into a menacing jam as soon as possible. They opt out of a second jam for a full segue to Swept Away>Steep, capping it with the yelling thing that is in a few of these early versions before dropping into what is assuredly the set closing Weekapaug Groove. I should probably just go ahead and link the (shaky) video from this whole thing since if you haven’t seen it it might not seem as exciting as it undoubtedly was in the moment. First you get the band playing a really tight and fun version of one of their best loved oddball songs and then, well, then the freaks come out. You have dancers in unique garb, people being quite acrobatic, and… more all while Phish rocks out this Paug. Keep an eye out for Mimi Fishman making her first non-vac stage visit with Phish towards the end of this madness. I mean, nowadays this wouldn’t even cause one to bat an eye what with the crap that Miley is pulling and such but back then this was enough have this version crowned the Freakapaug. It’s a clever name and one that has stuck enough that people know this show for that bit of musical theater and everything else is mere footnote. It is definitely a fun thing to watch so check it out.

 

You’d be excused if you thought that after that they would head to a straight forward encore like Julius or Suzy or maybe even something a cappella and Rocky Top but NOPE! There are more tricks in store for you, oh faithful fan. Let me set things up for you a bit by providing a quite entertaining series of videos that detail the backstage goings on that night as there were several notable guests in attendance. Two of those people, the focus of those videos (and I’m not sure why there is a full rip of Bittersweet Motel at the end of that playlist but hey that’s nice, right?), end up on stage with Phish for the encore, Merl Saunders and Buddy Miles. Now, you a wisened music vet that you are probably already know who these two luminaries are but just in case you do not Buddy Miles was in Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield before becoming best known for his association with Jimi Hendrix in his Band of Gypsys while Merl Saunders also has a long history with many notable musicians but is most associated with his time working with Jerry Garcia on various projects. This night the two came out to help on the encore bustout of All Along the Watchtower, the song written by Bob Dylan buy made (more) famous by Jimi Hendrix. The only other time Phish had played this tune (excepting sit-ins with other bands and stuff like the Ritz Power Jam which followed their 1993 visit to the Roseland Ballroom across town) was with members of the Dave Matthews Band on 04.21.1994 (check out that full encore for a drum duel between Fish and Carter Beauford that evolves into a full two band jam and then eventually the DMB-type take on Watchtower) making this one with Buddy and Merl a 227 show bustout which is nice. But it is strong also for the music made which starts out as a loose exploration with Buddy offering up some vocal stylings while everyone gets comfortable (Merl joined Page on the keys and Fish gave his kit to Buddy and hopped on Trey’s percussion mini-kit) before Buddy introduces Watchtower and they crank into it for a really fun take on the tune. The dancers came out as well to add to the party and everyone has a blast putting a nice finish to this MSG run. As encores go, this is the sort of thing you could only hope might happen in your weirdest Phish fantasies.

 

When looking at this show and the MSG run in toto it may not be to the level that we have come to expect from our visits here but it still has some solid moments and points to the continuing upward trend on this early part of the tour. Of the two shows, this second one is probably the more “complete” one but that is not to say that we didn’t find value in that first night. Here on night two the takeaways are bigger (Melt, Disease, Paug, Watchtower, and perhaps the Jim if you are feeling gracious) and the stage is grander what with the spectacle they created there at the end. I hate comparing shows to each other because each one has its own special unique snowflake-ness but as with the first night by the time we get to recapping this tour this one will pale in comparison to others yet to come. For now though we have a wild night where the freaks joined the band and the band played a quite fun Tuesday night show for the round room.

 

I’m off to MSG for the back half of this upcoming New Year’s Run so don’t expect any new posts until next week at earliest… unless I decide to drop in to overly fluff the shows I will have just seen. Happy New Year!

 

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

Fall 98 Takeaways

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

 

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

 

 

Like Water That Drips From Above – Worcester, MA 11.29.1998

Phish — Worcester Centrum Centre — Worcester, MA 11.29.1998

I  P&S, Axilla>Theme, Sparkle>Horn>LxL->Catapult->Kung>Maze, All The Pain Through The Years, Layla

II  Roses>Simple, Makisupa, Possum->Wipeout->Possum, Gin, YEM

E  Roggae, Hello My Baby

 

Tour ending shows, particularly Fall Tour closers, have a reputation as being pretty hot throwdowns where anything goes. Part of it is the band giving us one final thank you for yet another great tour. Seriously, outside of maybe the first Euro Tour in 1996 (which has its highlight moments…) has there ever really been a “bad” tour? Sure, there are those who will say some of the 2.0 tours were a bit rough but that’s more a combination of disparate factors than a comment on the music. In a way, the tour finale acts as a summary essay on the tour that just occurred while possibly looking forward towards what is to come. For Fall Tours that means you have the chance to wrap up the entire year with a nice Phishy bow before the celebration that will be the impending New Year’s Run.

 

Look back all the way to 1992 and you have the pair of shows in Canada that capped the Fall (both at venues called The Spectrum, oddly enough) and there’s the tight playing that would beget the Speed Jazz era that blossomed in 1993. There is no Fall Tour in 1993 since the year is front loaded with a 70+ show spring tour and a big summer but that final show from The Greek on 08.28.1993 you get the culmination of the 93 sound with some aspects of the more open psych to come. Fall 1994 ends in Santa Monica with a show opened by the Dave matthews Band that includes a fantastic Stash, the Simple you have memorized from A Live One, a call back to the Beatles cover set earlier that fall, and the debut of one of my favorite songs they have only ever played twice, Chalkdust Torture Reprise. The epic Fall 95 tour concludes just a scant eleven days before the NYE Run with a wonderfully boisterous show from Lake Placid that puts the exclamation point on the big arena psych rock sound so prevalent that year (and that Tweezer->Reprise is straight awesome). The 1996 Fall Tour ending show from Las Vegas should need no introduction but it too pulls together the massive psych and budding funk that made this tour so impressive in its variety while giving hints of the much much bigger things to come not to mention including a great Harpua encore that brought some friends to the stage to help out. Albany’s tour ender for Fall 97 might not be the biggest show on the tour where Phish destroyed America but the cowfunk is in full effect for this dance party show. I’ll skip 1998 since we are about to discuss that in detail but 1999 from the Mothership is a great example of the junction between the funk and ambience that was at the forefront throughout 1999 while also showing the budding Millennial Sound that would be explored in more greater depth at Big Cypress and beyond. From here it gets a bit more difficult to use these shows as boiler plates for the band as first you get Hiatus in 2000 then the start of less frequent touring during 2.0 followed by The Long Wait and finally the enigma that is 3.0. By that I mean that I think since we are still in the midst of it we are trying to determine what this period of Phish means in the larger context of the band’s legacy and potential future so understanding the impact of developments within the band’s sound is not as easy to do as when we look back ten or more years. There is also the fact that what Fall Tours we have had in 3.0 have been much shorter than in prior years meaning that any theories developed based on the music played therein suffers from lack of data. The important thing, I believe, is that Phish is still together and creating meaningful music which reminds me that I am getting really sidetracked here and need to get back to the matter at hand… eventually.

 

Along with being something of a celebratory culmination of the tour that preceded it there is something a bit melancholy about a tour ending show. It means the party is ending and it is time to get back to “real life”. It means there is no new Phish to look forward to, at least until you make the annual pilgrimage to whatever big arena or reservation they happen to be playing for the New Year’s Run to come. It also means parting ways with new friends and old perhaps after several weeks spent traveling and running into the same people over and over both on the lots and in those random moments in the hotels, rest stops, and other places we tend to frequent on tour. For these reasons the tour ender brings with it emotions of all kinds and offers one last chance to lose ourselves in the music before the stark white fluorescence of life gets in the way of the rainbows of our mind. Here in 1998 there is a bit of all of the above going on as we get a show that looks back while pushing things forward in certain ways as well.

 

Your first sign that things are a tad different here in the tour closer is the opening Paul and Silas, a song we grew quite familiar with in Spring ’93. This marks only the second one of the tour (and the second all year taboot taboot after its 115 show bustout in Chicago) and tonight the lyrics are a bit different as Trey adds a bit about Paul Languedoc‘s legal troubles from the night previous. Apparently the then soundman for the band (and luthier of the wonderful guitars that Trey uses and Mike used to) was arrested for failure to vacate a hotel bar in a timely manner the night before so Trey decided to give him some shit about it. Not knowing the reference, most of the fanbase would have been content with the bluegrass song opening a show for the first time but if you listen carefully he alters the lyrics in reference. Next is the more traditional opener Axilla which rocks along before giving way to our first opportunity to stretch out a bit for Theme From The Bottom. Both Trey and Mike are on fire here with Trey leading the band to a soaring peak all while Mike offers up some quite interesting bass work. A frenzied romp through Sparkle keeps the energy high as they almostbutnotquite lose it at the end before going into Horn for the second time this tour. This one is almost clean in the execution and then we head back to the heights for Limb By Limb. The jam here is mostly straight forward in that lovely LxL way that elevates to a big peak but instead of breaking down to the octopus Fish drum clinic outro they stay on the repeating line and hit an almost calypso groove. As you are zoning out to this beautiful music your eyes close and then you snap them back open once you realize that Mike is singing Catapult over this smile-inducing groove, busting out the song after its last appearance in the Fall Tour ending show from Albany 67 shows ago on 12.13.1997 in the midst of a big Weekapaug jam. After getting through the verses Mike voices his approval with several footbell *tings* in time with the beat before Trey comes in over that groove to start up the Kung chant (the only other time these two songs have been paired was in reverse as the coda to the Jim->Vibration of Life->Kung->Catapult sequence in a show best known for the epic sustained note crowd/band peak of Harry Hood). The groove is maintained as the backing music here which ramps up a bit following the intonation as Trey starts up a repeating lick to complement the polyrhythm of Mike and Fish and eventually they all give way to a transitional loop that Trey sets. Fish then comes with the high hat to get us into Bowie… or maybe Maze. Maybe that was more a thing people confused back in the day and I am really only joking because clearly Bowie goes “sika sika sika” while Maze goes “tske tske tske”. I mean, c’mon. It is sooooo obvious. Anyway, they dive into Maze and shred the shit out of it as they are wont to do with a Shafty tease in there for those looking.

 

From here the set takes a bit of a left turn as Trey introduces a guest who probably would not have been overly familiar to anyone who didn’t live at that time in Vermont (and honestly he is still not really very well known outside of the VT music world). Being that they all lived in Vermont at this point it is not surprising that they bring out Seth Yacovone to play on a couple of songs to end this set, though the very fact of bringing out a guest at all is perhaps the most surprising bit here. If you are not familiar with him, Seth has his own eponymously named band that is more on the hard bluesy side of improv rock with Seth being the guitar player for the power trio. Their first brush with Phish was when Trey met Seth at a guitar workshop. This was followed by Seth’s band being asked to play the lots at The Clifford Ball before eventually joining Phish for this appearance. Trey would end up sitting in with Seth and his band during Hiatus on the majority of the second set from 02.07.2002. Seth has also shared the stage with TAB during the famed Vermont Easter Jam show that saw all four members of Phish eventually have the stage to themselves for a few songs as well as an Amfibian show less than two weeks later where Mike also participated. But here in Worcester they had him up for the two songs to end the first set, first his composition All The Pain Through The Years and the only Phish performance of the Derek and the Dominoes classic Layla. The first song is straight up blues rock with Seth leading on vocals and lead guitar while the band lets him shine, Trey taking his solo turn as well and adding a quick Layla tease which would have been a good precursor of the next song if anyone was able to make that connection in the moment. Layla is pretty well by the numbers to the original you know so well with Trey and Seth trading off on the signature licks of the tune. Neither song elevates to anything otherworldly but it is an interesting sit-in all the same to once again confirm that in the end Phish is just better when we get the four playing without interference by other players. There are definitely some guests who work quite well with Phish (Bela Fleck, MMW, Santana, most of the various bluegrass luminaries who have joined them, and others) but the ones that work best are all world class musicians known for their ability to improvise. This is not to speak ill of Mr. Yacovone’s playing abilities as he is an accomplished player in his own right and perhaps it has something to do with the song choices but this sit-in falls a bit flat for me. The Layla in particular just doesn’t have much replay value considering it is a song everyone already knows every note to and this version does nothing to move the song forward. In the end this sit-in ends up being yet another geeky footnote in the band’s history rather than something we cherish for its greatness. And in closing the set with these two songs it provides a bit of fun but doesn’t exactly give the punch you might expect for the end to the penultimate set of this fine tour.

 

While you are still debating the merits of that sit-in with your friends the lights come down to get us moving into the second set. Tonight our opener is Roses Are Free, one of only three times they have opened the second set with the Ween tune with the others being the epic Island Tour version and the Desert Sky version from 10.01.2000 (there are also two show opening Roses out there in the 07.25.1998 one from Austin, TX and the 08.02.2009 one from the final show of that wonderful four night run at Red Rocks). Unfortunately, as with all but a scant few amazing versions there is no jam here as they instead start up Simple. There is promise here as Simple has been a consistently strong song on this tour and tonight is no different as from the start of the jam it is clear they mean to take this one for a ride. It stats out with some exploration around the Simple groove with Trey trying out different ideas along the way. Eventually they break down to a more sparse space leading to a searching jam that feels like transitional space but eventually settles into a hard edged, dissonant, and noisy adventure in distortion. This is a different type of ambient jamming than we have seen on this tour, relying more on the powerfully discordant drawn out notes from Trey to open up the portal to a darker sense of ambience instead of the generally blissy nature of the ambient texturing that Phish typically employs. Some may not be fans of this sort of music but it is very encouraging to hear them explore the other side to this ambient sound. The jam seemingly resolves itself into nothingness and they start into the second (this seems to be something of a theme tonight…) Makisupa Policeman of the tour. Tonight’s keyword is another nod to Paul’s arrest as Trey says, “hey Paul, can you pass me the soap?” to the confused delight of the crowd. There is a bit of drippy, loop’d “dub” to follow which is pretty darn cool if you like your music trippy and then they come back to wrap the song up.

 

When they next start up Possum you start thinking that they are probably just going to go high energy rock Phish on us for the rest of the set but when Trey lays down a final nod to Wipeout in the early part of the jam here you realize that maybe the fun isn’t quite over. This Possum is pretty much what you expect but the jolt of that quick run through Wipeout almost blows the roof off the building when the crowd pushes that energy back to the stage. Once returning to Possum they work it down to a whisper before coming back up to the typical Possum peak as Trey throws in some almost DEG phrasing along the way. Following this they could have gone any of a dozen directions but we are treated with a late second set Bathtub Gin, something not really too common. There are a good number of solid second set Gins but the song generally shows up in the first half of the set which is a bit odd considering that it is so often a first set closer. Well, tonight we get one of those late 2nd set versions and this one first starts out with a raging Gin jam that stays close to the main theme while chugging forth on the patient climb up towards the peak. But that peak never fully releases. Instead, Trey drops out to allow Page to offer up colorful fills before they all drop down to the lower register and head into another ambient jam this one more in the contemplative realm than the Simple jam earlier in this set. Over the next five minutes or so they move through a few different themes, the most engaging being a Mike-led segment that Trey accents with singular notes and Page drapes in spacey effects all while Fish keeps that beat going. This evolves into a sweet little groove pocket that feels like it is about to explode into a big time bliss jam buuuuuuuuut instead they pull back and move on to start up You Enjoy Myself.

 

This YEM might not end up being your favorite one even from this tour but as the set closer to the final night of Fall Tour you could do a heck of a lot worse. The funk is prevalent in this one early and often even without an end D&B section as Mike and Fish push the pocket higher and higher. Fish in particular is driving the bus in this one with a drum line that is hard to not just get up and dance to as the other players ride this rising wave to bring the room to collective release. Mike is in agreement of the merits of this one as he throws in a bunch of fightbell *tings* throughout. Trey chimes in with some Superbad similar to the one from Albany. This is a great dance party version of a song that brings the room to that final peak you know everyone was looking for having gotten several jams on the night that teased at the release and just built the tension up towards this moment. After the VJ we are on to the encores and, fittingly, we have a more subdued pair with another soulful take on Roggae before they end with one last a cappella song in Hello My Baby. From here we are left to the hugging before one last trip through Shakedown to capitalize on all of those “end of tour” deals the vendors were assuredly offering. I’m sure the nitrous mafia was really gracious in that regard.

 

Tour ending shows are somewhat difficult to evaluate as you get a bit of everything. There’s the emotional aspects at hand, the “tour summary” feel in certain places, and the overall celebratory feeling of being there for the end of it all. The band always offers up their big thanks to the fans and the crowd is giving it right back to them so in that sense the music sometimes gets elevated by everything contributing to it. This is not always the case, of course, but thankfully on this night it all seems to come together pretty well in providing us with a balanced show that has so many of the elements that make a Phish show great. I’m not saying this is an all-timer show but there is a unique setlist construction, a decent at worst sit-in, some bustouts, a bunch of solid jams, a bit of inside-joke humor, and several nods to the tour gone by. It is clear they had a great time on this tour and this show is a joyful example of that. There isn’t even a single ballad to mess with the flow of the sets. It might not have the highest highs or include everyone’s favorite tunes but it works in its role here as the tour finale. So with that all that is left is the takeaways from the night which tonight are rather a lot. There’s Theme, LxL->Catapult->Kung, Simple, Possum->Wipeout->Possum, Gin, and perhaps YEM with the Seth Yacovone sit-in stuff being interesting at least for a listen. All told, yet another fun night with this band called Phish.

 

On a final note, as I have mentioned in previous posts I will be doing a bit of summarizing for this tour over the next few posts. With Thanksgiving coming up I will probably get to that next week. So enjoy the holiday and give thanks that we are able to devote so much time and energy to this wonderfully oddball band we obsess over way too much. And thank you for joining me on this tour.

 

And They’re Pushing Me Further From Shore – New Haven, CT 11.24.1998

Phish — New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum — New Haven, CT 11.24.1998

I  Disease, Moma>Ginseng, Stash, B&R, LxL, Sample, Tela, CDT

II  Ghost>Halley’s>Tweezer->Possum, Wading>Zero

E  Suzy>Reprise

 

Do you hear that? Come closer. Closer… Now you hear it? Yeah, that’s the collective exhale of a band moving on from a weekend with extremely high expectations back to the normal goings on of a midweek stop in the Phish-friendly climes of southern Connecticut. That is not to say that Hampton is not also Phish-friendly but that maybe just maybe the weight of the prior year’s performance in The Mothership influenced the band to the effect that what we got was two solid if not remarkable shows devoid of many “all star” jams (save the Simple, of course) as had occurred in 1997. I cannot verify the band’s mindset here some 18 years in the future, obviously, but all you have to do is listen to the very next show they performed in New Haven, CT and it sure seems pretty clear that they simply allowed this one to flow after having thrown a lot of songs out there over the prior two shows. The end result is a Tuesday night throw down where the playing is white hot, the jams come early and often, and there is nary a wasted moment in getting to the point of the endeavor.

 

In all the years since its debut — first as the celebratory New Year’s Jam on 12.31.1993 — Down with Disease has been played 250 times with only 19 of those being show openers (it has opened 74 2nd sets and one 3rd set for the Halloween 2010 show which featured the cover of Little Feat’s Waiting For Columbus). In most cases this song as show opener acts as a big energy burst to set the stage for bigger things to come. On this night the energy coming from the show opening Disease is big but so is the jam. This is not just a shred clinic even though that is on display here. This is a triumphant, patient, building jam that reaches its first peak to the elation of the crowd but just keeps going, eventually covering close to 14 minutes as it begs to blow the roof on the joint clear off just as things get going before finally coming around to the full Disease ending that is now so rare to hear. Oh, and lest we forget to mention it, Trey teased Stash a bit in the intro to that Disease. Keeping everyone on their toes, the band starts up Moma Dance after a brief pause, diving into the funk early in this show. They are really starting to put a little extra stank on this tune of late and this version fits that mold perfectly. There is nothing but deep groove going on here but, man, they hit that pocket hard. If you can’t get down to a version like this one then I’m not sure what to say because this is a clinic in Phish Funk. Trey is using the wah pedal to great effect in coloring the groove all while Mike and Fish hammer at that beat and Page comps along. It feels like a groove that could keep on going but they bring it down and head into Ginseng Sullivan for the three slot grassy tune on the evening.

 

After the brief interlude about the perils of being a valuable root scrounger trying to make his way back home we return to the jam for the Stash that Trey teased at the start of the set. Similar to the first two songs of the evening we stay firmly within the song itself but Trey plays an interesting staccato lead as they patiently work their way through the tension-building exercise that is Stash. Fish pounds us to the release of the peak and we are left with a third quality jam just four songs into the set. Now we get our first real breather tune with Brian & Robert but we are quickly back to it with Limb by Limb. I feel like I am beating the horse here but this is yet another solid jam that does not stray from the song but features Trey reaching high towards to peak. Here in the back half of the first set there has yet to be any one song that is going to make it on to some fan’s jamcharts but there is very little wasted either. Of course, as soon as we are able to turn and hug our neighbors to celebrate that LxL they start up Sample In A Jar to shut me up. Now, I’ve read some who say that Trey takes a “real solo” here but I don’t hear it and I will continue to maintain my position regarding this song because I am right and I have 278 examples to back me up here. Shit, even having Carl Perazzo sitting in doesn’t help and don’t try to tell me that one from Copenhagen 03.02.1997 counts either because a quick quote of Radiohead’s Creep isn’t gonna count here, bucko.

 

Moving on, we have a lovely Tela where Trey hits all the right notes in the end solo. This is what you want out of this song since even though it is like Sample in the fact that they never “jam” it here at least you have an interesting piece of music that is made better by the performance of it. As if to counterpoint the beauty of Tela they follow it by closing the set with a punishing, rocking take on Chalkdust Torture, one that will send you off to setbreak hooting and hollering about this band and how they came to melt faces before getting into a rambling almost incoherent rant about how THIS is Phish and THIS is them showing everyone why they are the best band on earth as you recap the highlights of the set for everyone in your section. Naturally, all of those people start to slowly back away as they understand the state of mind you are in and they make excuses about how they need to go get a beer or get some air — anything to escape the black hole that is this conversation — and eventually you are left standing there with your back to the stage as you continue to espouse on the wonder that is this set.

 

Hopefully it isn’t the house lights eventually going down again that snaps you out of it because that would probably mean your whole crew and everyone around you will have left to find somewhere else to dance for the second set to come. But hey, maybe that is what you needed to cleanse your mind a bit on this night so when they come back out and drop that telling loop to kick off Ghost it flips the switch and you shut the hell up for once and lose yourself in yet another high quality jam. Trey takes the helm here at the start, pushing a growly tone over the beat all while the loop persists and Page offers up some crunchy organ to augment Trey. Similar to the Disease that started the show, this one patiently builds with Trey holding his notes longer as Fish picks up the pace. Trey then takes things higher, teasing us with a lead line that gets more and more involved yet still stays true to its Ghost roots, building tension towards a release that hits more than one false peak along the path. Trey throws in some “Foxy Lady” style phrasing as this progresses and there is never a full release bliss peak as we get in many Ghosts but instead heads towards the typical outro space that this song begets. Page is on top here and Trey sets a new loop as they hit the breakdown and look to transition to the next song. Here’s a crappy old video of that one if you are so inclined where perhaps you can find the San Ho Zay and Psycho Killer teases that are hidden within. As a bit of an aside, if you have never read the wonderful Daily Ghost Project by lawnmemo you should go ahead and do that already. He does a fantastic job breaking down so much in those posts. He is also currently working through 2001 too if you like the Ghost stuff. Now back to the show…

 

The transition from Ghost gets us to Halley’s Comet which tonight does not include a jam but rather serves as the bridge to our next vehicle, Tweezer. The tempo here is a bit slower than “normal” at the start but as they enter the jam space Mike hits the fight bell multiple times (in time with the beat, no less) and then they head off into the ether. Mike takes the clear lead here, building a Tweezer-ish line that Trey picks up and elevates with some more growl tone. This evolves into a serious bit of groove that never really leaves Tweezer with Trey soloing on top, Page added flavors to complement him, and Mike and Fish pushing the groove to greater heights. This is the four-headed monster Phish where all of the players are contributing to the jam while no one is ever wanking out a big solo or anything. This is the type of Phish jam that in the moment has you doing your best dance moves, making knowing eye contact with perfect strangers who feel that connection and reflect it right back to you. Trey eventually brings us all home with some more growly, electro lead lines that bring us to a small bit of dark ambience before Trey kicks into the old school slow down ending to wrap it up. But before fully closing things out Trey stretches out the last note and then they ramp up to punch into the start of Possum. Even before the lyrics you can tell this version is a bit more than your standard Possum fare as Trey plays the slightly off key lead line from “Born on the Bayou” (last teased 11.13.1997 in Mike’s Song) in the intro. Once they get to the jam Trey plays around the Possum theme for a few minutes, offering up an almost staccato version of the normal Possum lead and then solos out of that as Page tinkles away with his own line on the baby grand. This all follows the typical pattern for Possum in getting to the peak but they extend it for several minutes with Trey alternately playing a direct lead and a dissonant “un- jam” (not really too unlike the “un-jams” that Possum enjoyed in Summer 2012) that serves to build tension towards the release peak where he comes back immediately to the Possum theme. It may not be the best Possum ever but it sure is more interesting than the swamp music normalcy of the song.

 

You could pretty well expect that here some 55 minutes into a set heavy on the jams they would play a bathroom break song next and they do with a serviceable Wading In The Velvet Sea that has a nice outro solo if that is your bag. This is followed by yet another fiery Character Zero on this tour which while pretty much what you expect rocks quite hard in capping this set. In coming out for the encore Phish had a bit of a surprise up their sleeves as they brought out an old friend to assist for the first Suzy Greenberg of this tour, not to mention the ensuing Tweezer Reprise. Everyone by now would have known who the Dude of Life is but might not have been prepared for him to give us some alternate lyrics to Suzy and Reprise. This offers some reason to check these versions out but otherwise it is just another brief visit from a vision of their past which included backing him for his album Crimes of the Mind (an album that offers us the music of Chalkdust Torture as backing to another song entirely amongst other “gems”). He is something of an acquired taste but you cannot deny his place in phishtory so there it is.

 

Perhaps I am over-fluffing this show due to its juxtaposition with the preceding Hampton run that didn’t exactly elevate this tour to greater heights. Again, I am not saying that the Hampton shows were bad by any means just that they may not have hit the extremely high expectations of the fanbase. This New Haven show is another type of Phish from the one we saw in Hampton, one that is more about taking songs to their logical conclusion by playing around the theme while searching for inspiration towards new music. Honestly, this show is heavy on what would be deemed “type I” jams but it is also showcasing the sound the band had developed in getting to this point on the tour. Being 18 shows into the tour with four to go (including the three night finale in Worcester) they were operating at full capacity. Outside of the Suzy every song in this show had been played within the preceding two weeks, showing that they were familiar with the material and willing to stretch their legs a bit. They also returned to the pattern of less-songs-played, back to the tour average of 9 first set songs after both Hampton shows had 13 song first sets (and below the tour average of 18.9 songs for the whole show by playing just 16 after nights of 22 and 23 in Hampton). All told, this one is a show that I will respin more frequently than those Hampton shows due to the interesting jams that go along with all of the other “standard” factors at play. Just putting together the takeaways proves that as we have Disease, Moma, Stash, LxL, Ghost, and Tweezer->Possum as definites and Suzy>Reprise for the unique offerings they are. I wish all my Tuesdays could be so fruitful. So to return to the question, am I being a bit to fluffy here? Yeah, sure, fine, but I’ll gladly wear that mantle for a show like this one.

Dancin’ The Night Away – Hampton, VA 11.21.1998

Phish — Hampton Coliseum — Hampton, VA 11.21.1998

I  Wilson>BBFCFM, Lawn Boy, Divided, Cry Baby Cry>Boogie On>NICU, DST, Nellie Kane, Foam, Wading, Guyute, Bold as Love

II  Sabotage>Mike’s>Simple>Wedge>Mango>Free->Ha Ha Ha->Free, Weekapaug

E  Tubthumping

The second night of this Hampton ’98 run starts out much like the first one in that we have a first set that offers up a lot of songs that are played well but without a whole lot of real jamming going on. That is oversimplifying it, of course, but looking at that setlist above produces thoughts of “jukebox Phish” jibes from the jaded vets. I would encourage you to spin it though because while being primarily song-based fare there are some fun bustouts, at least one nice jam, and some great energy out of the band. And that’s not even mentioning the more interesting second set.

Tonight they come out with a rocking pair of Wilson>BBFCFM, setting the stage with the big power chords and audience response of Wilson before the mini-bustout of one of the more uniquely disturbing songs in their repertoire, Big Black Furry Creature From Mars. There is a ‘Leave It to Beaver’ tease to be found here (by Mike) and Fish nods back to the night prior with a little ‘Getting Jiggy’ quote but otherwise this is the typically deranged tune that causes head banging and head scratching almost simultaneously. Next they bring it down for Lawn Boy and after Page’s crooning we get the Mike solo tonight. Divided Sky follows for a soaring version that invigorates the crowd greatly (with a 1:41 pause tonight for those keeping track which while far above the accepted average of 35.94 seconds as determined by The Divided Sky Pause Project is pretty well in line with the timing for the era). Another bustout comes in as they then play the Beatles’ classic Cry Baby Cry for the first time in 278 shows. This stands as the last ever version of the song which was played four times between its debut 10.31.1994 and this show here. Keeping things moving, they head right into Boogie On Reggae Woman for the first time this tour and finish up a little three pack by heading directly into NICU from there. After these two dance numbers they bring it back down for Dogs Stole Things and then we get our grassy tune in the bustout of Nellie Kane after 293 shows and close to four years on the shelf. I was witness to many of those 1994 versions having caught seven on Fall ’94 tour alone and perhaps for that reason it is nice to hear them play it again as it is one of my favorite of the bevy of bluegrass covers they do so well.

This brings us to Foam and this is a version I recommend seeking out if you are at all a fan of the tune originally known as “Marijuana Hot Chocolate”. Seriously. Listen to the banter between Fire and Alumni Blues on the 04.22.1988 tape if you don’t believe me as Trey gives the name and Mike plays the bassline that will eventually be Foam. Fun little bit of trivia to wow your stoner friends with, right there. Anyway, the song itself is not some big open jam or anything but Page takes a really nice solo before Trey comes in with a really nice bit of playing. It all has a little more juice to it than your typical Foam and for the first one of the tour it is quite well played. Continuing the see-saw nature of this set we come down for Wading In The Velvet Sea then back up for a run through the rocking Guyute suite before they punctuate the set with the deservedly loved cover Bold As Love. I’ve probably commented on this before but I really dig this song what with the evocative lyrics, swirling build, and overall psychedelic rocking nature of the tune. Considering the impact Jimi Hendrix clearly has had on Trey it is always surprising to me that they do not play more covers of his work though that is admittedly a daunting task to undertake so I suppose it might not be as surprising as I think. Either way, we are glad to have this one in the stable. And with that we are off to the break.

Keeping everyone on their toes, Phish comes back for the second set and gives us another cover, this time one debuted only that summer in The Beastie Boys Sabotage. This is a fun if a bit sloppy one but that’s pretty much in line with the song itself so the impact of the energy it offers up is what is important in this context. They would not play the song again after this until 3.0 so at the time it was pretty big to have this open up the set (it had previously been debuted in the encore at MPP on 08.08.1998 and as the third set open at Lemonwheel on 08.16.1998 and made its return after this night 318 shows later at the new Colorado home base for the band Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on 09.02.2011 to cap the “S” show in fine fashion). Trey sets up a loop at the end here and this keys them into Mike’s for the first real meaty jam vehicle of the show. By the time they get through the verses of the song Trey has more than one loop going and things get dark and menacing in a hurry here. Trey is playing around the Mike’s theme while Page whirls about on the organ and Fish and Mike lay down a punishing rhythm. They ride this demonic groove for a bit before wrapping up and heading into Simple, foregoing any thoughts of a second jam in the process. Not that anyone at that time really focused on the Mike’s 2nd Jam like they do these days but it was a lot more common then for sure.

And I don’t think anyone was complaining about it once this Simple got going. The jam here starts out in the typically blissy fashion, kind of plodding along towards more open waters. About halfway through things get a bit more ambient, never fully leaving Simple but providing an ethereal atmosphere to the bliss rock being played. This version is something of a culmination of the different aspects of their then-juvenile ambient jamming style, bringing the soundscape and more melodic elements together for a fully realized dip into something that is not-quite-Simple but still reminiscent of the song at the same time. By the time this one peters out with some colored accents by Page and then the transition to The Wedge you are left swaying and smiling, maybe even hugging your neighbors in acknowledgement for where that took you. Fair warning though, I wouldn’t go hugging your cubicle mate or the person next to you on the train if you are listening to this while commuting because they might not be on the same page as you. So then we keep it happy with the buoyant Wedge (a bit peppier than all of those slow Wedges from Spring ’93, huh?) and this is followed by another happy-time-party Phish tune in The Mango Song. Perhaps not a lineup of jam titans but this run of tunes should get you moving. A late set Free kicks in next and the hopes for another big jam arise once more only to be derailed after a little over a minute of crunchy rock they slide right into the first Ha Ha Ha of this tour. Maybe this is a nod to the shenanigans of the run and maybe it is a fakeout as if to say “you thought we were gonna jam this, didn’t you? HA HA HA!” I like to think it is the former but it could be the latter and in the end it doesn’t matter right, Bug fans? Yes, I know Bug wouldn’t be debuted for another seven months. Back off. I’m just using the lyrical reference, poindexter. Besides, the Ha Ha Ha is probably foreshadowing for the encore which we will get to shortly anyway. So they return to finish up Free (pretty much coming back exactly where they left) and then we get the anticipated Weekapaug Groove to wrap this set up. Mike hits the footbell in the intro and there’s a Mango Song tease by Trey as they bring the set to a high note in closing things up. For the encore they had one last trick up their sleeves in debuting yet another cover, Tubthumping, the Chumbawamba radio hit from 1997/98 that will get stuck in your head yet again because of this. Tom Marshall joins to help with the singing and Gears is back for the trumpet parts as they played a faithful cover of the song. Fish adds in one last ‘Getting Jiggy’ quote for good measure and we are off into the night to get ready for the trip up to New England and the final shows of this tour.

So what to make of this one? Again, this has the benefit of an official release (despite the protestations of the entitled who don’t think it is worthy of it) and so it is quite well known. The show (and run) are not known for the big jams as much as the overall vibe and the variety of playing styles on display with everything from rock to psych to bluegrass to loungy crooning to hip hop to pure Phish with more I haven’t even mentioned. This is not the high point of the tour but rather a celebratory stop along the way which showcases who Phish was in this time period (and continues to be, quite frankly). You may not like these shows in comparison to others and that is fine but you cannot deny that these shows are a great example of the band up there doing what they do best: playing the music they want in the way that works for them and bringing us all along for the ride. While there are no great videos out there from this run what is available plainly shows how much fun they were having and it is audible in the music as well. You will want to listen to the Foam, Mike’s>Simple, and Tubthumping (because it is pretty fun) at least but you would be forgiven for letting that whole second set run as it is a joyful reminder of the wonderful place Phish occupied in Fall 1998. The takeaways might be fewer than the shows that surround it but they are high quality all the same. Every once in a while you need an energy show or two to just go out there, rock the fuck out, party down with friends, and maybe cleanse the soul a bit in the process. So enjoy these for what they are and get ready to dive deep again as after two nights off to travel north Phish lays down an entirely different type of Phish show altogether…

Then Reveling In Mirror Mask — Hampton, VA 11.20.1998

Phish — Hampton Coliseum — Hampton, VA 11.20.1998

I  Rock & Roll Part II>Tube>Quinn>Funky Bitch, Guelah, Rift, Meat>Stash, Train Song, Possum, Roggae, Driver, Melt

II  Gin>Piper, Axilla>Roses, Farmhouse, HYHU>Gettin’ Jiggy With It>HYHU, Hood>Zero

E  Cavern

Let’s just get this out of the way from the start. This is not the 1997 Hampton run. Quite well known throughout the fanbase due to the eventual release of Hampton Comes Alive, the pair of shows that we are here to discuss has an image problem due to the constant comparison they endure to their older siblings from the same venue one year earlier. Is that unfair? Perhaps, as these shows often get criticized for not being deserving of the box set treatment they enjoy. But as we will see some of that criticism is warranted even when factoring in those pesky lofty expectations that came from revisiting a venue which had become a home away from home due to top notch shows dating back to their debut here in Fall 1995. Coming back almost a year to the day after having thrown down two complete shows of stellar playing here the stage was set for Phish to either add to the growing legacy of this venue or fall on their faces in the trying. The reality, however, is somewhere between those two extremes.

How exactly do you follow up two of the more highly regarded shows in that era? I mean, seriously, we are talking about 11.21.1997 and 11.22.1997 here. If you don’t already know those two shows inside and out by now (either via the tapes that quickly appeared with high quality aud pulls for all to enjoy or via the fantastic sounding boxset that also includes the Winston-Salem, NC show from 11.23.1997) I’m not really sure what you are doing here on a nerd phish blog read my bloviations about tours gone by but that’s your deal, man. I’ll just keep with the writing and asking oddly specific rhetorical questions. So yeah. Right. The review.

Knowing full well as they did that the fans would be expecting Phish to come out and lay waste to The Mothership yet again, it is pretty clear the tack they chose to take in crafting the setlist and flow for this first show. In 1997 they opened with a debut cover and big jam of a classic rock artist’s tune (the phenomenally out there Emotional Rescue) and so tonight they chose another classic rock cover to debut in Rock and Roll Part II, the glam rock/jock jams (many of the songs included there have not exactly aged well…) anthem by Gary Glitter that has pretty much disappeared from the jukebox of public opinion due to Mr. Glitter’s rather displeasing backstory. But in ’98 this was not a known thing and it served as a good way to wake up the crowd while perhaps throwing in a little tongue in cheek nod to the prior year’s goings on. This heads right into our first Tube since the funky, jammed out one from Utah which tonight stays in “single” mode before giving way to a MASSIVE bustout of Quinn the Eskimo. The song made its first appearance in 1,151 shows after having last been played 08.10.1987 at Nectar’s. Here in 3.0 it has become almost common, having appeared in 22 shows between 2010 and 2014. Many in the room probably only knew this as a Grateful Dead cover of the Bob Dylan song if they knew it at all considering how scarce the history was for the song up to this point. Riding the energy of these opening numbers, they added Funky Bitch to the string for a punchy bit of bluesy playing before finally coming up for air for a few seconds.

This breath allows them to reel it back a tad to give us Guelah Papyrus before they amp it up once again for Rift. By now you are starting to realize that they sure are playing a lot of songs in this set which is a bit off script for this tour so far. Allowing that thought to pass you are brought back into the music by Meat and here the set really begins to take some shape as they let this one breath out into an ambient soup jam that embraces you like a warm blanket on a wet, cold Fall day. Knowing they are probably going to use this to segue into something else it is still a little jarring when Trey stumbles into the start of Stash but outside of that small misstep they toy around with the reliable vehicle in building some tension for this jam. There is a brief Fikus tease in here (the last known direct reference to the song on stage by the band, sadly) and Trey has something of a train horn sound going as they hit the peak but otherwise this is straight forward Stash fare. Not a bad thing by any means but nothing new for us to learn. Train Song pops in next for the cool down/bathroom slot and we are back on our feet for a rowdy Possum. Again, they follow this with something a bit slower in tempo as they start up Roggae for a slightly extended (compared to others this tour) take on the still young tune. Pay particular attention to Mike in this version as he helps to build the jam with a lovely set of notes. Trey then pulls out the acoustic for Driver and finally we get Split Open and Melt to close up shop for the set. This Melt stays firmly at home but offers up a nice groove pocket for Trey to use in soloing over while working towards the eventual return. While that may make it sound like there isn’t much to this Melt but with the electro Trey soloing at the peak this one can get you closing your eyes, shaking that head back and forth, and rocking out for a bit which is always nice. And as you look at the setlist when the lights come on you realize they have already played thirteen songs which is a number we might blush at even in 3.0 (for reference, most first sets in this tour run 8-9 songs so that is a considerable increase).

Following the setbreak Phish came out and wasted no time in getting to the matter at hand by playing the second 2nd set opening Bathtub Gin of this tour. The previous one was something of a revelation and second set Gins generally can get a bit open so there was good reason to think that this one would follow suit. While more contained than its sister from Chicago this jam to elevate for one of those straight-shot-for-the-summit versions that might not make the arty rankin list for best versions of the song but will definitely get you moving and wooing at the show. Okay, maybe you aren’t into the woo necessarily but even the most stoic dancers might have at least raised a fist to the sky at the peak here. They play with the Gin theme in building towards that end as both Trey and Mike slowly tighten around it (not to mention Page throwing in a Tequila tease) until erupting into the screaming climax. Similar to the Stash and Melt of the first set this isn’t a revelatory Gin but it is one that will move your feet.

And then rather than returning to the standard Gin close they comp out for a bit and eventually drop into a quite patient slow build intro for Piper. It takes a full two and a half minutes before they are in the song proper and from there they build it up to a frenzied peak, resolving it without any jam to speak of at all. Next up is that odd song about armpits, Axilla, which gets the psychedelic Axilla II outro tonight before giving way to the sixth ever Roses Are Free, the well loved Ween cover that fans have long pined to have include another jam even close to the epic that emerged out of the first version from this year on The Island Tour. We have since had two dips back into the jam pool for this song (the long form Big Cypress version tucked late into the Millennium set and the pint-sized bit of jam from the Worcester shows that opened Summer 2012) but alas, this would not be one of those. It is well played but straight to form and then we get Farmhouse’d.

After this the set could have gone in several directions, be it a mid-late set big time jam vehicle or perhaps a string of rockers to set up a big closer or maybe some storytelling or hijinx. The latter would be the case here once the telling organ of Hold Your Head Up keys us into the start of Fish Fun Time. Thinking perhaps that we might get a standard Bike, Terrapin, or maybe even Great Gig in the Sky or If I Only Had a Brain, we are surprised when Trey and Mike start up the Will Smith chart topper Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It. Yeah, I know. But he actually pulls it off better than he should have (even though SOME PEOPLE think this was one of the worst covers ever – #4 on their list of the “worst 50” with some particularly uninformed and blatantly snide comments about the band and their music thrown in for good measure), using cue cards to get through the lines and even tossing in a reference to one of his aliases, Bob Weaver. I recommend checking out that video because you can tell how much fun they are having with it all. If you can’t find humor in that perhaps you are following the wrong band here because the image of a portly bearded dude wearing a dress, plastic viking helmet, white socks and black sneakers while singing a mainstream radio hit (and taking a vac solo too) is funny no matter how you slice it. After rocking out the reentry HYHU a bit and normalcy (well, at least what passes for it at a Phish show anyway) is restored Fish hits the opening run for Harry Hood and we are off into a nice but linear take on the Phish setlist staple. They wrap this up pretty quickly and head to the raucous Character Zero closer to put the finish to this set. The encore Cavern gets some help from Carl Gerhard on trumpet and we are out of here to catch some sleep (yeah, right…) before the next show.

I think we all know this show pretty well so I won’t belabor it to much but this is not exactly the high point people were pointing to when looking at the routing ahead of this tour. I firmly believe that the band was trying to offset the lofty expectations set by the prior year’s jam-heavy juggernauts by offering a wholly different sort of Phish show, one that a large segment of the fanbase seeks out as their ideal type of show. For the jam seekers this means you are left wanting but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t have had a good time at this show all the same. This is a party atmosphere show that has a highly unique setlist, solid and energetic playing throughout, a few takeaway jams, and one of the funnier Fish antics you could dream up outside of a NYE gag.  My personal history with this show (and the one the night following) is that I got the boxset when it came out and I was living in bum-fuck western Ohio so I ended up spinning it a lot, learning the ins and outs of this show much like we did when a tape got stuck in the car deck for a while and you just “had” to listen to that old Dead set over and over until you knew every squeal out of Donna backwards and forwards. This doesn’t make it a great show for me but it stands as the one I know the best from this tour and as a result I have been able to find the positives for me in it. Even on paper it isn’t the most exciting show but once you start listening you realize that this is the gelling of the Fall ’98 sound. While we still have six more shows to come after this one by now they are playing at a fully connected level, sharing ideas freely and quickly in moving through the music. Sure, it is more likely a tape you give to a noob to give them an introductory taste to the band than one you keep in regular rotation but even in having it be somewhat ubiquitous there is always a case where throwing it on for music in the background is not a bad thing. And realistically, it is perhaps that ubiquity that turns people off to these shows since part of our obsession with this band is finding the gems that others have yet to unearth either to be able to share them with others, hoard them for our own joy, or maybe a little bit of both. So with all of that your takeaways for this one are not big time and stay mainly in the box but include Roggae, Melt, Gin, Gettin’ Jiggy (because, c’mon, it is fucking hilarious), maybe the Stash, and maybe the Cavern if you like the added horn line that reminds you of the GCH Summer ’91 tour (kinda). So not too bad in the end, I guess…

Mixed In With The Signal You’re Sending — Winston-Salem, NC 11.19.1998

Phish — LJVM Coliseum — Winston-Salem, NC 11.19.1998

I  Cities, Curtain>Sample, Ginseng, Bouncin’, Maze, Something, Ghost>Golgi

II  2001>RnR->Taste, Frankie Says, Gumbo->CDT, Frankenstein, Been Caught Stealing

E  YEM

Heading out of South Carolina on their way northeast towards the final batch of shows on this Fall tour, Phish made a one night stop in Winston-Salem to visit a venue (for the last time, sadly) that seemingly always ended up having a strong outing by the band. The first of these back in Spring 1994 is probably most notable for the Mike’s Song and Possum along with a sit-in for the encore by that night’s opening band (yes, once upon a time you could sometimes get an opening act with this band). The opener that night happened to be the then up and coming Dave Matthews Band (back when Phish was a much bigger act and DMB was still something of a real live jamband) and that encore goes Drums->Jam->Watchtower which is something to hear if you haven’t before. The next year they came back in the Fall and laid waste to the venue with a massive show highlighted by the 2nd set opening sequence of Simple->Bowie->Take Me to the River->Bowie. This is the band at one of their peaks as they were about to head into what would become one of the more storied months in their history December 1995. Two years later they again visited this venue on another highly lauded tour (and following the legendary Hampton run) for a show big on the cowfunk and jams. Everything cooks in that one as well but the Gin->Disease->Low Rider->Disease that makes up the bulk of the second set is master class Phish (though skip the first set Theme>BEK and Stash->NICU at your peril). With all of that history as set up, hopes were undoubtedly high for Phish to drop yet another classic on the North Carolina faithful.

The show opens in a promising manner as they pulled out Cities for the first time this tour. While this one does not elevate to epic status it does its job in warming everyone up and getting the funk going before they wrap it up and play another tour debut in The Curtain. At this time we were still firmly in the “without” period for the song as the bustout and eventual re-normalling of The Curtain (With) would not occur until 07.12.2000. So in 1998 we would be thinking about what the song would open the door for instead of whether it would be “with” or “without” considering that over the years The Curtain has been a kick start to numerous sets and the door opener for many big versions of songs like Tweezer and Mike’s though it also can be a fake out into something a bit more on the contained end such as this evening where they go into Sample in a Jar and we will just move on from that. Ginseng Sullivan fulfills the bluegrass quota tonight and then we have Bouncin’ preceding Maze for what seems like the 1,000,000th time. Shockingly, it has only occurred 17 times and for today’s deep geekery the most frequent dance partners with Bouncin’ out of its 451 performances are:  Rift (20), Stash (20), YEM (19), It’s Ice (19), Antelope (18), Maze (17), Foam (16), Possum (16), Landlady (15), Tweezer (14), and Bowie (14). Those eleven songs account for almost 42% of all Bouncin’s which is… something.

Tonight’s Maze has a bit of a loopy intro and then they get into it with aplomb, first with Page soloing on the organ and then with Trey putting on a shred clinic in working through the jam and sticking the landing. This is not going to win any awards but you could do worse than to have a version like this one as your early morning alarm. The third ever Something gives us a breather and then we get another set up loop though this time more recognizable as the intro to another late first set Ghost. They start out in a low key manner, funking along as Trey flavors things with some San Ho Zay which kind of serves to kick off the next section as they begin to slowly build their crescendo. Over the next several minutes there are numerous ideas being thrown out by various band members without anything sticking in taking them down a different path so they instead head for the peak. Trey is driving things here but Page is right there with him and as they get close to a full peak the music stays about where it was as Page throws colorful comps in and Trey devolves the jam towards transitional space. They quickly move out of this into Golgi Apparatus which while a rocking closer is not exactly where we would have liked that whole thing to go. In the alternative we are left to dance and scratch our heads for what might have been as the lights come on and the band leaves the stage. This ends up being a perfectly fine though mostly un-noteworthy set as a result but it is still a solid Phish set all the same.

Coming back from the break the band comes out and immediately begins at building a soundscape with Trey putting out some big loops and Fish eventually kicking in the tell tale hits for the start of 2001 which, similar to The Curtain, is often the lead-in to bigger things. Always a good way to start a second set (there have been 72 in the 204 times the song has been played), they take their time here as the sonic build takes close to seven minutes before Page enters the song “verse” proper. This build has many of the elements of the Fall ’98 sound what with the loops (both siren and drone), ambient wash, and funk comping not to mention a little Crosseyed and Painless tease for good measure. They ride the dance party anthem (well, it’s a dance party anthem for us anyway, right?) to the obvious peak and then drop right into Rock and Roll for the third ever performance of the song. While still mostly contained at this early age they do add in a little electro rock jam out of the verses which drops down to a groove rock section that eventually works its way to a full segue into Taste. Though the composed section of Taste here is not flawless once they hit Trey’s solo that is but a fleeting memory and it elevates to the peak you know so well to complete this three pack of set opening tunes.

Now about a half hour into the set we get our lone ‘breather’ tune in Frankie Says which is a perfectly fine choice by me for that slot any time they want to go ahead and keep doing that. This one lacks any form of outro jam but serves its purpose well and now we are ready to tackle the back half of the set with empty bladders and loaded lungs. Not that we are using empty bladders and loaded lungs to tackle the back half of the set because that would be weird but dangling participles aside I think you know what I meant here. Gumbo starts up and here in 1998 you just know that they will jam it because that is what they did with the song back then. I am not even kidding. Look at every version from mid-1997 (including every domestic version that year) through the early part of 2.0 and without fail they all include at least something of a jam. I’m not here to pin down when the peak for the song was but 1998 sure seems to fall somewhere right in the middle of it. This version from Winston-Salem is right in the wheelhouse of the punchy funk versions of the Fish-penned tune that emit wafts of Manteca throughout but after a few minutes of working the room Trey drops things down to a more sparse bit of playing that triggers a move towards ambience. Rather than go the melodic route, Trey then triggers a grating, noisy loop (you’ll know it. you’ve heard it before) that Page adds to with some interstellar sounds. This has some promise but alas, they use it to transition to Chalkdust Torture rather than to go out further so we are left to wonder about what might have been. The resulting Chalkdust rips hard and fast but stays at home in the song before giving way to Frankenstein for another fun rocker. Then, as if to attempt to blow the roof clean off the place they crank into the set closing cover of Been Caught Stealing which is quite well received by the enthusiastic crowd.

Following all of that you rockin’ could excuse them if they kept it light for the encore but noooooo they have to go and start up You Enjoy Myself instead. We again get the slightly extended ambience in the pre-Nirvana section and then a funky jam in the middle but the notable aspect of this YEM quite frankly is the guest who joins for the vocal jam. Now more reasonably known for her electro pop band Heloise and the Savoir Faire (maybe you know this song? I’ll admit that I didn’t…), Heloise Williams was at this time the lead singer and flutist for the Vermont collective Viperhouse. They toured around the Northeast and had a couple of releases before going their separate ways. Being a VT band there was enough of a crossover with our boys Phish that Heloise here has a backing vocal credit on The Story of the Ghost, that album which came out preceding this tour. She would also later provide vocals on Mike’s Inside In album but that is getting ahead of ourselves. Lo and behold, Viperhouse was on a tour of their own that matched up with Phish in more than one town (they had been in Greenville, SC when Phish played there the previous night). With a late show at the famed Ziggy’s (home to a fun old school Phish show once upon a time and a Jazz Mandolin Project show with Fish about three years later on from this night) set to follow Phish’s show here she ended up joining the band for the aforementioned encore. Where things get really interesting is that Trey then went to the Viperhouse show and sat in for the whole second set. And this is important for us because that was apparently the night Trey met the organ player for Viperhouse who would soon become his organ man in the many iterations of TAB, Ray Paczkowski. So that’s a pretty neat way for all of that to come together.

Okay, getting back to our show here, overall we get a solid Thursday night affair that kind of feels like table setting for the pair in Hampton to come. Maybe they were amping up for those shows or something but this one never really takes off like most of the shows before it. There is no major centerpiece jam in the second set which is not to say there isn’t good music to be heard but just that nothing really pushes things too far forward. The first set is a bit song-y (though will pale in comparison to such song-based sets soon enough…) and while somewhat engaging the Ghost and Maze jams don’t push this to great heights. The second set gets into it a tad more but it is still relatively contained, particularly when you look at all of those lovely 20+ minute jams to start several of these sets in the recent past. Definitely one where a fun night would have been had but outside of the few takeaways here I’m not rushing to go back to spin this one again. So for those takeaways we will say Maze (though admittedly this is just padding the list), Ghost, 2001>RnR->Taste, and Gumbo->CDT. The YEM is not quite interesting enough to add in because, really, who is going to spin a YEM just to hear a somewhat unique VJ? Don’t answer that.

The Minutes Seem to Last a Lifetime — Gunnison, CO 03.14.1993

Phish — Paul Wright Gym, WSU — Gunnison, CO 03.14.1993

I  Cup>Foam, Guelah, Sparkle, Stash, Paul & Silas>Sample, Reba, PYITE>Jim

II  Halley’s>Bowie, Curtis Loew>YEM->Spooky Jam->YEM, Lifeboy, Rift, BBJ, GGITS>HYHU, Coil

E  Memories, Adeline, Golgi

Here on the back end of a three night run that had the band traipsing back and forth across Colorado we have a Sunday night show, the last Colorado show before they make the jump over to Arizona on the way towards the West Coast. Playing in the midst of a Spring snowstorm, this would be the band’s last time performing in the highest collegiate gym in the world (he he. that works on more than one level) as their next visit to this mountainous state would be for their first performance at Red Rocks during the much ballyhooed August leg of the upcoming summer tour. This is the 30th show of the tour over 39 days that have seen the band play in 14 states. I’ll detail some tour stats towards the end here today since I think they are somewhat telling at this stage of the game but let’s get into it, shall we?

First set kicks off with that new cover Loving Cup and by now they have it down to where the band and crowd are feeling what this song will be. That energy carries over into a spirited Foam where Trey plays some nice leads over the thumping rhythm section. This gives way to Guelah, Sparkle (non-FMS) and four songs in we have gotten the crowd up enough to hear them well on the aud. Notably, Foam and Guelah in the 2/3 holes is pretty common at this point in the tour so I think one could say that for the band these were definitely being used as ‘warm up’ tunes to a certain extent. Now we drop into Stash which stays mainly in the box for the first half before they ratchet things up towards a fierce jam that eventually comes back to the main theme in closing up. Definitely a version worth checking out. P&S>Sample gets us to Reba where things get a little bit loose considering they bring out Cameron McKinney after several callouts to him by Trey earlier in the set (he was their favorite child to have guest with the band, of course). There is a decent little jam here but it gets largely overshadowed by the kid’s inclusion as he does a little Indian War Dance solo on piano (which was also teased earlier on in the song by Trey) right before the whistling section and then joins in for the ending chorus. Check it out but don’t expect this to be a world burning version. PYITE is up next and this is another example of the band having found form on a song that just came back for this tour. Considering they still are rotating it with Landlady it is good to hear that they can shift towards the longer song and hit all the right spots. A rocking Jim closer sends the crowd to the setbreak with high hopes for a big second set as it is clear the band has come to play on this evening.

And with that second set things go big right from the start. First we get a massive bustout for a quite well played (all things reconsidered) Halley’s that had been waiting 474 shows between appearances. This is also the first time the song was ever performed without its writer, Richard “Nancy” Wright. There’s no outro jam or anything, but they get the energy muffin cooking from the start here. This heads straight away into Bowie and having this fill the second slot should be indication enough that things are going swimmingly. The jam here is pure T&R, staying mainly in the box but with Trey playing some evocative leads above the fray along the way. Another quality jam to add to the list here. Oh and next? Yeah, let’s just bust out another one from the way back with Curtis Loew popping in after 302 shows passed by. Again, nothing major here but considering the time between versions it is nice to hear them play it well. So that gets us to the meat of the set which is a major YEM the likes of which were talked about and traded as commodity back in the day. This one starts off well enough with a quite patient and pretty nirvana section before they head off into the jam. After a couple of minutes in the YEM box they go outside first for an ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ quote (with Trey throwing in a vocal), then some ‘Low Rider’ action, then a full ‘Spooky’ jam (with Page on vocals), all followed by a seamless run into ‘Oye Como Va’ before the short D&B gets us to the VJ. And we aren’t finished yet! First they drop a tease of the Pretenders’ tune ‘Mystery Achievement’ (you may not recognize the song’s name, but you will know it when you hear it) before getting to a ‘We Will Rock You’ chant and eventually a full quote of ‘Welcome to the Machine’ prior to the breakdown into madness that includes some spirited pirate banter. This was my favorite YEM for quite some time (and the last show one of my brothers hit before a 17 year gap that we closed in 2010… but that’s another story) so I know it very well and I implore you to give the full thing the listen if you don’t know it. You won’t be disappointed. Next we get a much deserved cool down with a beaut of a Lifeboy (only the third of tour and first in 26 shows), then a pretty well shredded Rift. BBJ will then get us to a debut with the first Great Gig in the Sky filling the Fish Fun time slot instead of the normal Syd Barrett and other light fare. This is a nice change of pace and well done in its hilarious fashion on the vac and includes the spoken lyrics before the main section. Page then tickles the ivories nicely for the Coil closer and we have a triple encore of Memories, Adeline, Golgi to take us into the thin, snowy air of the Colorado night.

Look, this isn’t the best show ever and it may not even make the top ten sets of Spring ’93 when it is all said and done but it makes a pretty good case for inclusion. That second set has everything one could hope for and more out of ’93 Phish including on point playing, high energy, antics, open jamming, bustouts, a debut, and more. And to think that they are still easily on the upswing with this tour just makes you shake your head and laugh. For highlights from this one I’ll say you should spin Stash, Reba, possibly PYITE>Jim, and pretty much the whole second set though you could take out the Rift, BBJ section since that is fairly standard. I guess you could leave out Halley’s and Curtis too but being the big bustouts they were, why not just let ‘em run, eh?

Now it is time to follow the lines headed… west… but while we are here let’s talk stats for a bit, okay? After 30 shows on this tour some noticeable patterns have taken shape in terms of song placement and choice. There are some songs that are clearly being played quite frequently as [leaving out HYHU] there are eight songs that have been played in at least half of the shows: BBJ (22), Grace (20), Rift (20), Poor Heart (19), Sparkle (16), Stash (16), YEM (16), and Llama (15). Another 21 songs have been played more than 10 times so it is clear that the rotation is relatively tight which stands to reason considering this tour is essentially supporting the release of Rift which came out the day before the tour began. In total there have been 112 songs played with 12 debuts (I’m not counting ‘jams’ such as the .net identified ‘Spooky Jam’ in this show’s YEM) which is a pretty good rate there. In terms of some of those patterns, the easiest place to look is at openers/closers/encores. For show openers, the songs are fairly evenly spread out with Golgi the leader at only 6 shows opened. For openers it has been more about stringing together 3-4 solid energy songs to get the crowd moving and allow the band to warm up before heading into jammier waters. First set closers are more telling with Antelope (11) and Bowie (9) being very far ahead of everything else. Second set openers are all over the place with Axilla and Jim each having 5 to their name to lead the way. Show closers are a bit surprising with Reprise (7) holding first and Grace in second (5) after which it becomes muddled. And then not surprisingly the a cappella tunes rule the encores with Grace (13) in the lead over Adeline (7). Maybe this minutiae is only interesting to me, but it is telling when you go through an entire tour to start to see these patterns emerge as it all unfolds.

So that’s the story here. One thing to note is that most sources out there for this one have an aud for the first set and then an sbd for the second which is quite nice. Enjoy this one and we’ll be back shortly with more from AZ…