Depository for my project to listen to every show from 1993 on and live-tweet it. May put other Phish stuff here too, I dunno. Like Phish, this project is best experienced live - on twitter @phishcrit
5/26/94 - SAN FRANCISCO, CA
On to night two. 5/26/94, San Francisco, CA, Warfield Theatre. http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/1994-05-26
5/26/94: Night 1’s energy flagged towards the end, so opening with a Buried Alive > Poor Heart > Cavern suite is a good wake-up call.
5/26/94: First Demand > Melt pairing since the Beacon. No car wreck sound effects, but lots of screaming.
5/26/94: Melt jam gets interesting in the 8th minute when the drums drop out and Trey holds a looooong note. Pretty weird/shaky after that.
5/26/94: First It’s Ice in 3 whole shows contains another piano vs. wah-pedal battle that never gels, but song ends in a Catapult duet.
5/26/94: And we have our first repeat of the run, the second Sample in two nights. Sample. Why did it have to be Sample?
5/26/94: Does this count as a Sample-prise? Is the entire Warfield run a Samplefest?
Setbreak entertainment. RT @YEMblog: Video: Tom Scharpling vs. Phish — Running Late with Scott Rogowsky http://bit.ly/P1BA8s
5/26/94: 2001 > Antelope to start the second frame. Just realized the last 5 2001s (all Set II openers, obv) have gone into Antelope.
5/26/94: Less Trey lead/rhythm alternation in this Antelope vs. the 5/23 version I raved about the other day. More rhythm, actually.
5/26/94: And they totally blow the peak — Trey’s still scraping noisy shrieks when the rest of the band chills out. It’s a fun mistake.
5/26/94: Divided Sky and Fluffhead in the same show again, just like 5/22. At least they’re spread out in different sets this time.
5/26/94: Weird…It’s Ice teases from Page and Trey around 10:15 in Fluffhead? cc @bizarchive
5/26/94: Despite the Fluffhead, this set has much better flow than the previous night. Disease was a good mid-set energy boost.
5/26/94: I jinxed the flow: acoustic set, Ginseng and Dog-Faced Boy, with the “emotion solo” bit again. Chronological listening ruins jokes.
5/26/94: Lengthy quiet and restrained section in the YEM jam. Climbing 8-note pattern sprouts from it and takes us home.
5/26/94: Cheers to the lady who shouted “Amen!” at the end of Amazing Grace.
5/26/94 Final: Decent show with a quirky first set, but it feels like they’ve been playing it very *safe* lately, even on jam-friendly turf.
5/25/94 - SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Starting up a 5-night Northern California residency with 5/25/94, San Francisco, CA, Warfield Theatre. http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/1994-05-25/ …
5/25/94: The Warfield is a nice case study in Phish’s iterative success. One show in 92, two in 93, three in 94.
5/25/94: The Warfield run kicks off with a yin-yang pairing of Curtain > Sample. 3 of the 5 Curtains in 94 so far have dropped into Sample.
5/25/94: Grinding theme at the start of Stash somehow morphs into a Trey/Mike Uncle Pen tease. #spookygrass
5/25/94: First Forbin’s > Mock in 23 shows and just over a month. Only one Harpua in that span too. Narration is fading.
5/25/94: Narration finds crowd forming into a clay lump of “human energy goo” and slingshot (w/ A+ fx) into space/Gamehendge.
5/25/94: I think Axilla II’s current setlist role is to show up when the band just needs to yell.
5/25/94: Page’s melodica solo in the acoustic My Sweet One is now some kind of melodica/Madonna washboard duel.
5/25/94: Always fun when they put a random chord at the end of a song that doesn’t really work as a set closer (here, Chalk Dust).
5/25/94: Guy yelling at tapers at start of set break - “Everybody over there taping needs to lower their speakers about a foot and a half.”
5/25/94: Slowly developing pattern in the Tweezer jam. Intricate maneuvers over a steady rhythmic base. The opposite of ADD jamming.
5/25/94: In fact, I don’t think we’ve had a real exploratory, multi-segmented jam since…Bomb Factory? Maybe the 5/20 Ice?
5/25/94: For those keeping track, I’m still not won over by Lifeboy. Putting it after every single Tweezer is a real momentum killer.
5/25/94: After ballad time, some of the punch of another insane Maze is lost, despite the now-routine sonic sculpting from Trey.
5/25/94: Julius is already the fifth Hoist song we’ve heard in the first show of the run, which makes me think we’ll get some repeats.
5/25/94: Maybe he does it all the time, but I just noticed Page multi-tasking piano and organ in this Julius. Is there a term for that?
5/25/94: The Syd Barrett catalog goes back on the shelf in favor of “Purple Rain,” which sounds a little sleepy. A repeat from Greek ’93.
5/25/94: Page’s Coil solo breaches the five-minute mark, but still isn’t doing much new. To be fair, few sane people listen to all of them.
5/25/94: Fishman’s biggest fan keeps yelling out his name during quiet parts. With a Sleeping Monkey encore, Jon *is* keeping pretty busy.
5/25/94 Final: Very “1st show of run.” Could have ignited after Tweezer, but instead fell back to ballads, novelty, and Hoist plugging.
5/23/94 – PORTLAND, OR
Pretty much every Phish fan has a love/hate relationship with Trey. Like a baseball manager, he gets an exaggerated amount of praise when things go well and an unfair amount of criticism when things go poorly. But in the constitutional monarchy of Phish, Trey is the undisputed leader, making setlist calls and, more often than the others, driving the improvisation. Even though he clearly does a pretty good job in this role, many of my favorite Phish moments are, paradoxically, when Trey gets out of the way and allows the rest of the band more space — which explains why I don’t hate the drum kit and the mini-keyboard as much as the median Phish fan*. The more Trey plays the Guitar God, the less engaging I find the music.
Fortunately, Trey has always been atypical as far as guitar icons go. In the early 90s, when he’s still very much the alpha male (the full band communication they’re famous for now is still embryonic in 1994), he usually resists the urge to take finger-flying solos — I find a lot of his 1999/2000 playing far more masturbatory than these earlier eras. As I’ve already said a bunch here, ‘94 is an interesting jump in Trey’s style towards more atmospheric and effects-driven playing, particularly in darker songs such as Maze and Bowie. But long before that, he had already developed his top anti-solo guitar trick: the ability to be both lead guitarist and rhythm guitarist simultaneously.
The second segment of this show’s Antelope is a sublime example of this approach. Some Antelopes just climb and climb through tension/release to a delirious peak, some go completely off the rails into new territory. This one does neither, but instead showcases how many brilliant ideas Trey can cram into 5-½ minutes, and how he manages to be both Phish’s conductor and featured soloist simultaneously. Without ever cracking the structure of the song, he lays down chugging rhythms, tosses in long sustained high notes, crafts complex melodic themes (sometimes playing against the very rhythm he’s established), and wraps it all up with the geyser explosion the audience craves. You almost can’t blame Page, Mike, and Fish for not throwing their own ideas into the mix…just keeping pace with Trey’s magic imagination requires incredible concentration and nimbleness. It’s a good reminder not to take Trey for granted, even when he dominates the conversation.
PS: Of course he’s good at plain ol’ guitar solos too, as the If I Could cooldown after this Antelope demonstrates beautifully.
* - we’ll see how that attitude holds up when I get to 1995 and 1999.
The dream of the 90s is alive because it’s still the 90s. 5/23/94, Portland, OR, Civic Auditorium. http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/1994-05-23
5/23/94: Off to a textbook start with Chalk Dust, Sample, and Foam. Trey biffs the opening of Foam hard, and lets out a frustrated groan.
5/23/94: According to the Fee performances page, we are in the middle of 18 months of “Trey sang verses through megaphone.” show notes.
5/23/94: Harmonic Fee outro blended skillfully with the Maze intro, a pretty frequent pairing lately.
5/23/94: A couple extra times through the Maze ending before Horse. Sorry, this show isn’t giving me much to work with yet.
5/23/94: At 7 shows, Reba is the biggest “bustout” so far. ’Tis a very nice one, with an unhurried flutter and excellent Page comps.
5/23/94: A smattering of Wilson chanters in Portland. With so few people doing it, the chant actually sounds kinda off-key.
5/23/94: Some glitchy robot loops in the calm before Wilson wraps up, then a super-minimal Antelope intro. Much better start to set 2.
5/23/94: Man. This Antelope jam doesn’t really go sideways, but Trey pours all of his new noisy tricks into it. Head spinning.
5/23/94: Whispered, creepy Spanglish between Trey and Fish over the start of the third section. “Been You To Have Any Cantaloupe?”
5/23/94: Gloriously phasing If I Could solo, thanks to either the Leslie speaker or a volume pedal.
5/23/94: I’ll never be comfortable with mid-set PYITEs, but at least they’re starting to give the intro room to breathe.
5/23/94: The 2nd Landlady segment is a trainwreck. That and the 1st set Foam show just how thin the margin of error is for some Phish songs.
5/23/94: A bout of whistling in the YEM ambient segment causes some in the crowd to whistle back, which is pretty freaky.
5/23/94: Weird jazz guitar effect in the YEM jam, quickly abandoned. Lots of electric piano from Page. Maybe they were going for fusion.
5/23/94: Vocal jam starts wet and gross, but turns into a muttered a cappella Psycho Killer, so all is forgiven.
5/23/94: There has been at least one song in the acoustic/no-mics setup at 6 of the last 8 shows.
5/23/94 Final: A really dull first set gets bailed out by the second, especially the flamethrowing Antelope/Cantaloupe. On to the Bay Area.
5/22/94 - VANCOUVER, BC
Canada’s Phish Stats, courtesy phish.net and ZZYZX
Canada has seen 18 shows spanning 24 years of Phish’s career. After catching the band in 1989 on a rare venture out of New England, Canada didn’t see another show until late 1992, which started its most intense period of following the band. Over the next five years, Canada would see Phish 13 times on their climb to the top of the jamband heap. But like a lot of old school fans, the late 90s just didn’t do it for Canada. Sure, Canada caught a few shows in 1999 and 2000, but it just wasn’t the same. The 2.0 years came and went without catching Canada’s interest, and it wasn’t until 2013 that it gave them another shot – though even this reunion was star-crossed, with rainy weather forcing a postponement.
The contours of Canada’s history with the band lead to some strange statistics. The “Most Common Not Seen” song for Canada is Possum, of all things, played nearly 500 times but never north of the border. Canada has never been blessed with a narration, having missed out on both Forbin’s > Mockingbird and Harpua. Mango, Gumbo, and late 90s staples such as Back on the Train, Velvet Sea, and Gotta Jibboo are also absent from Canada’s stats.
As for what Canada has seen, it’s a pretty predictable list, with Chalk Dust (which has opened 4 of the 18 shows) and Rift on top at 10 plays each. You Enjoy Myself has appeared at exactly half of Canada’s shows, with Tweezer and Fish’s intro music just short of 50%. Canada has seen more than the expected amount of Glide, Nellie Kane, and Amazing Grace performances, and fewer Jims, Gins, and Bags than 18 shows would predict. However, Canada has caught the only known complete performance of “Immigrant Song,” (somehow performed a cappella), and Hot Rize’s “Midnight on the Highway,” the first appearance of “Misty Mountain Hop,” and a triple shot of Phish-by-way-of-TAB debuts on 9/9/99: Mozambique, The Inlaw Josie Wales, and First Tube.
Was the excellent Disease on 7/22/13 enough to rekindle Canada’s fandom? Only time will tell. But Canada will always have warm memories of nights like this one, the third of five shows in Canada’s busiest year, a show that blends the Hoist and acoustic set regulars with 93-style jams in Melt and Tweezer and a healthy helping of the band’s proggier material.
Speaking of USA vs. Canada, 5/22/94, Vancouver, BC, Vogue Theatre. The second dip north of the border this year.
5/22/94: Things are a little weird up in Vancouver, so why not start off the show with Demand > Sloth, of all things?
5/22/94: The Glide pause is a full 2-1/2 minutes. Before the end, Trey says they’re going to play “a number called ‘Whoomp There It Is’.”
5/22/94: Phish’s arrangement of “Whoomp There It Is” sounds a lot like Peaches en Regalia.
5/22/94: Trey and Mike organize miniature chase scenes in Melt, then they all contribute to a chugging assault. Densest version in a while.
5/22/94: Divided Sky and Fluffhead in the same set, eh? Plus Glide, Peaches, Demand? This show is maximum prog so far.
5/22/94: The band freshens up the acoustic catalog with My Sweet One, complete with Page melodica solo!
5/22/94: Trey, Pre-DFB: “Greasy Fizeek is going to penetrate your very hearts and souls with an emotion solo. Be prepared to weep openly.”
5/22/94: Disease in its now-standard second set opener role for the first time since…its first complete performance on 4/4.
5/22/94: Trey sits back and plays rhythm for a good spell of the Disease jam, unusual for these early days of the song.
5/22/94: After my essay the other day on disorder in It’s Ice, this one is less chaotic. Intermittent drumming from Fish keeps it weird.
5/22/94: Very quiet, soothing middle to McGrupp. Kind of the mellow twin to the It’s Ice jam in some ways.
5/22/94: Some nice breakdowns in the composed part of Tweezer. Old-fashioned jam gradually deconstructs to a choppy section w/ Wedge drums?
5/22/94: Some missing/late “Slaaaaaave”s in Slave, which is disorienting. Jam starts in silence before the usual prayerful build.
5/22/94: They don’t save Tweeprise for the encore, so only three songs between Tweezer proper and the ‘prise. Monkey encore.
5/22/94 Final: A composition-heavy show in British Columbia still leaves space for interesting but old-school jams in Melt and Tweezer.
5/21/94 - SEATTLE, WA
If you’re around my age, you’re very familiar with the Moore Theater, even if you’ve never even been to Seattle. Sit down for any MTV-viewing session in the spring and summer of 1992 and you probably witnessed Eddie Vedder treating the interior of the Moore as his own personal jungle gym in the video for “Even Flow.” The image of Vedder throwing himself onto a sea of rapturous fans was one of the iconic images of grunge — a movement that likely helped steer Phish into its strange stylistic conflict in early 94.
When Nevermind hit #1 in early 1992, it set off a music industry gold rush for the next cheap, “underground” band to cross over. Record labels drew inspiration from Nirvana’s cover art and signed up scores of strange, naive underground bands that would normally never pass for marketable. Other labels took a fresh look at their stable and suddenly saw dollar signs in bands previously marked for modest, cult success.
It’s not hard to imagine that Elektra, in this environment, suddenly expected more album sales from those weird dudes from Vermont they had signed in 1991. And while the dastardly artistic meddling of record labels is oft exaggerated, I’m sure Elektra executives weren’t above a few nudges in the direction of a more polished and radio-friendly direction when Phish went into the studio in the fall of 1993, at the same time In Utero and Pearl Jam’s Vs. each hit #1. After all, Phish wasn’t any weirder than labelmates Ween, who found surprise, Beavis-fueled success with “Push Th’ Little Daisies” in 1992 (and released their own “polished” album in 1994, Chocolate & Cheese*).
You can’t really blame Phish either. They’d been exhaustively crawling up the venue circuit, had successfully sold out large theaters and played a few sheds in summer 1993, and seemed on the brink of jumping up to a new level of popularity. So they reined in some of their eccentricities, rewrote some lyrics, brought in guest vocalists and horn sections and gospel singers, and tried to write a hit single. The start of the 1994 tour also finds them playing the traditional record promotion game, with radio sessions at stations in New York and Atlanta that, notably, played alternative rock formats.
But of course, Phish was always going to be a weird fit next to Weezer, Green Day, and Nine Inch Nails. “Sample in a Jar” may not be that far off from Pearl Jam’s “Alive” — both are four-chord, mid-tempo rockers with anthemic choruses, and Jeff Ament’s burpy fretless bass isn’t far off from Mike’s sound at the time — but it sounds too “nice” to be a hit on the angsty airwaves of the middle 90s. Maybe they were just slightly too early, as by the end of the year touring buddies Blues Traveler and Dave Matthews Band would achieve the pop success Elektra wanted from Phish**.
In the end, Phish and Elektra were both right and wrong about the band’s trajectory — they were about to become one of the largest touring acts in America, but in spite of Hoist and its traditional publicity, not because of it. This show on grunge’s home court is a hilarious demonstration of just how unsuited for the mainstream Phish were — the entire second set is basically a collection of in-jokes with “Sample” marooned in the middle***. But it culminates in a performance of “Harry Hood’ that foreshadows the album that would *really* hook new fans into the Phish world, the one they would record later this year in their natural element.
* - They Might Be Giants’ John Henry is another 1994 “mainstream-quirk” Elektra parallel that I may get to someday.
** - It’s amusing to imagine an alternate dimension where Phish is DMB and DMB is Phish.
*** - Sample even gets a rare reprise/tease in the intro to Bowie, where it sounds perfectly out of its element.
Onward to 5/21/94, Seattle, WA, Moore Theatre. aka the venue that Eddie Vedder climbed around in the Even Flow video. http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/1994-05-21/ …
5/21/94: Nice little jam in the composed part of the Jim opener. Some DDL laser noises preminiscent of Page’s Meatstick synth.
5/21/94: An unusual, growly Trey tone in the Jim jam proper, with the most predictable follower possible: Foam.
5/21/94: Extra long pause in Guelah, with whispered “fly” lyric. Then Disease to reassure me I didn’t click on a 93 show by mistake.
5/21/94: On the heels of a couple baroque, proggy Phish songs is the best place for Disease right now. Its directness makes it soar.
5/21/94: Plucky opening to the Stash jam is bludgeoned to death by Mike. Then much dissonance/consonance, perfectly timed to today’s essay.
5/21/94: Page gets a good 4 minutes to solo with a mid-set Coil, followed by Tela. Definitely fan service for the Page Siders here.
5/21/94: Tela is chased by Llama for a Gamehendgy ending to this set. Some good Trey drones inside.
5/21/94: Back for Set II, which kicks off with the 1st Dinner and a Movie in 55 shows. Too bad I didn’t do this show on Valentine’s Day.
5/21/94: Sample tease (1 of only 2 ever) in the Bowie intro, basically everyone but Fish playing the song over the hi-hat.
5/21/94: Sparse start to Bowie jam (Trey tech problem?) lets a heavy Mike pulse and melodic Page riff into the driver’s seat. It’s nice.
5/21/94: Trey has been singing something over both Dinner and a Movie and Contact that I can’t quite isolate and place. Any ideas out there?
5/21/94: @bizarchive alert — Trey is playing “Smoke on the Water” in Big Ball Jam. Or is it “Cat Scratch Fever”? #nevergetsold
5/21/94: The old BBJ, Fish song novelty double-punch (albeit with Julius between) has this show feeling very 1993 again.
5/21/94: Before Hood, Trey and Fish goof on unintelligible crowd requests in the 1994 version of Poster Nutbag The Right Way.
5/21/94: All the set’s slap-happiness is put aside for a really strong, patient Hood jam with a brisk tempo and multiple peaks. Feels good.
5/21/94: Seattle show, so it’s a BOOM Anguh! encore, of course.
5/21/94 Final: In the home of over-serious alternative rock, of course Phish plays the jester. Another ’93 throwback, with a towering Hood.
5/20/94 - OLYMPIA, WA
It’s time to talk about It’s Ice. If you disqualify the heavy-rotation Hoist material, It’s Ice is the oddest participant in the most-played race seven weeks and 38 shows into the 1994 tour, its 14 plays keeping pace with perennials Stash, Antelope, YEM, and Maze. A quick scan of the song history chart reveals that after July 1994, it will never be played so frequently again, settling into the once every 7-to-10 shows rate we see today.
So it’s fair to say the frequent appearances of It’s Ice in early 1994 are conspicuous. I’ll also argue that its ubiquity is important, and perhaps offers one of the best keys to understanding the changes taking place in their improvisational style at the time.
But first, let’s take a step back and look at the song It’s Ice. The twelfth track on 1993’s Rift, the last album in the band’s early nerd-prog style, It’s Ice is a triumph of that approach, a bizarre mixture of fairy-tale lyrics, complex compositional sections, overlapping time signatures, and mysterious in-jokes (the Benny Hill theme bassline) that it’s hard to imagine any other band pulling off. The studio version also leaves room for an enticing minute of space (double meaning intended), where a metronomic rhythm, piano runs, and howling, far-off feedback paint an eerie ambience that Phish didn’t often explore at the time.
In live performances up through 1993, that spacey moment was usually just as fleeting as the one from the studio. But in 1994, a different approach to the It’s Ice breakdown transforms it into a laboratory for a new jamming style. Listening to a bunch of them in succession, the rules become clear: Page will ostensibly “lead” the jam with a busy piano solo, but instead of providing traditional accompaniment, the rest of the band is almost antagonistic to his lines. Fishman purposely avoids drums and steady tempo, focusing on his blocks and cymbals. Trey explores short riffs and rhythmic patterns often unconnected to Page’s piano (compare and contrast with Maze, for instance), often using one of his new effects toys* — the digital delay loop, the wah pedal — that will be critical to future Phish sounds. Mike plays sparse and low, creating a subliminally unsettling floor for the polyphony above and providing the spacewalk tether back to the song.
The sum is pretty damn avant-garde for a band playing to a few thousand people a night, even if it only tests its audience for two or three minutes in typical 94 versions. But there’s still some payoff for listeners, even if it’s a new, unfamiliar sort of reward. Instead of the classic Phish tension/release move of riding discordance for as long as possible before blissfully resolving, there’s a tension/release here of disorder vs. order. The thrill is watching these four very separate threads sporadically coalesce into a unified whole…which the band then mischievously blows apart a few seconds later. Only occasionally, cf 4/8/94, do they allow one of these spontaneous creations to fully bloom into a more traditional jam; more typically, these segments are a challenging study in withheld gratification.
By the end of 1994, these types of deep, experimental excursions and avant-garde games would escape from It’s Ice to dominate shows, stretching the boundaries of songs into the 20-minute range and expecting more of their audience and themselves. It’s easy to point to the Bomb Factory Tweezer or the 4/24/94 Bowie as the critical moments where this style was born, but It’s Ice offers a far more regular window into its gestation.
* - interesting then that the most recent Ice on 12/29/13 gets pretty weird thanks to Trey goofing around with his new Echoplex.
-> right into 5/20/94, Olympia, WA, Campus Recreation Center, Evergreen College. Let’s check out this weird band down at the Rec Center.
5/20/94: This is actually the 3rd of 4 times they played the Evergreen St. Rec Center, oddly. First Fee opener since May 1990, it appears.
5/20/94: Pretty much the same experience as The Gorge, right? http://crosscut.com/media/resized_image/story_image/Evergreen_state_fit_300x300.jpg …
5/20/94: Short Maze, but still time for a few layered Trey drones. I wish I knew what inspired this change in sound - Boredoms? MBV?
5/20/94: Bustout alert! First It’s Ice in *three* whole shows.
5/20/94: Dense Ice jam begins w/ usual piano-and-wah, but finds a 2nd wind when Page/Trey trade a funk lick, & a 3rd when it goes jazz.
5/20/94: Gin stays mostly within its structure, but a triumphant DWD-ish theme (and a Lion Sleeps Tonight tease) emerges. Weird ending too.
5/20/94: Both If I Could and FEFY in the first set? I guess someone’s feeling sentimental.
5/20/94: For all you crazy a cappella fans out there, this is the first Carolina in 56 shows (8/7/93).
5/20/94: It’s not much yet, but passing the 4-minute mark on 2001 means they are starting to explore some of the fertile ground it offers.
5/20/94: Yikes, rough transition from the 1st to 2nd segment of Antelope. But the stumbling start adds a little danger to the jam.
5/20/94: Strange outro to Antelope — about a minute of Trey cadenza, some of it unaccompanied, before he moves it into Weigh.
5/20/94: The first Weigh of ‘94 actually, and first in 38 shows. It is played incred..ibly sl….ooooo….wwwww.
5/20/94: Perhaps it’s a tape speed issue (though the vocals sound normal), but this set feels really sluggish, like it’s on quaaludes.
5/20/94: Despite the big Hoist push, we haven’t heard Wolfman’s since 5/4 w/ horns. Clockwork jam, with a nice sustained note in the middle.
5/20/94: Woah, wonderful ambient architecture built up in the composed section of YEM. Haven’t heard one that good in a while.
5/20/94: Very relaxed pace to the YEM jam, built around a simple lick. Feels like a 95 YEM until swerving into an Ob-La-Di jam around 14:30.
5/20/94: Jam comes to a cold stop before they remember to play the drum-and-bass section. Vocal jam explores Low Rider and primal screams.
5/20/94: Awfully weird to hear Chalkdust in an encore, even though it fills the send-off role well. A little adrenaline after a sleepy 2nd.
5/20/94 Final: Not sure what happened at set break, but something felt awry in the 2nd…not always in a bad way. Keen YEM, fun Gin.
5/19/94 - EUGENE, OR
On this date, according to Kevin Shapiro, Phish released a cassingle for “Down with Disease” with a very odd b-side: “NO2” from “The White Tape.” I can’t imagine a more perfect physical symbol for the conflict facing Phish in early 1994, a tug-of-war between yearning for mainstream success and exploring new experimental territory. On one side you have “Disease,” the song that announced the dawn of arena-era Phish in its abridged debut on 12/31/93. On the other, “NO2,” four minutes of piercing drill drones, dial tones, laser noises, and Mike making one-sided dentist conversation, followed by an instrumental acoustic guitar duet.
Those songs nicely represent the two dueling threads on the spring tour of 1994, a split between traditional promotion of the new album (radio sessions, heavy rotation of Hoist songs, song repeats) and the desire to further develop the maniacal, open-ended improvisation they refined in August 1993. These two flavors don’t mix particularly well, which is why so many of the shows from this era don’t really hold together as complete statements, and why a landmark show like the Bomb Factory is the exception, not the rule. Standing in 2014, we know how this story ends, but it’s fascinating to look back and watch the band scratch its collective head at this critical crossroads.
This night in Eugene fits the narrative well, with the three most heavily-pushed Hoist songs (Disease, Sample, and Julius) all showing up and only a couple flashes of deep improv. Overall, the setlist is very reminiscent of the “starter set” shows of 1993 — not a surprise, since they tended to revert to the introductory formula the farther away they get from established strongholds in New England and Colorado. So a very attentive University of Oregon crowd in a gorgeous venue gets “Cavern” and “Golgi” set closers, jam vehicles in their usual slots halfway through the first set and early in the second, and a “Big Ball Jam” gimmick in lieu of a Fish song. There’s a little weirdness around the edges: the two-beat ripcord segue from “Halley’s Comet” to “Llama,” slightly modified versions of “Horse” and “Silent,” unexplained in-jokes about Chris Kuroda and the “I Love Lucy” theme.
But the highlight is an incredibly paranoid “Stash” where a restless Trey eventually settles on a roaring chord drone while the other three frantically try to fill the void. After which, the clouds clear briefly while Trey finds a new pattern that is quickly yanked back into nightmare logic.
5/19/94, Eugene, OR, Silva Concert Hall, Hult Center for the Performing Arts. They skipped over Northern CA in favor of PNW, for now.
5/19/94: Today in sadly uncirculated soundchecks — an intriguing Blues Jam > Simple > The Fool on the Hill > Arthur’s Theme sequence.
5/19/94: Surprisingly effective rip-cord segue in Halley’s > Llama, the only time they were ever paired. Great opener.
5/19/94: A show of openers continues with MFMF, which has a nice extended outro. Is that a “Born on the Bayou” tease starting around 6:20?
5/19/94: Definitely some coordinated crowd cheers along with the Stash claps. Not so much a “woo!” as a “yeah!”
5/19/94: Big Trey-drone in the middle of Stash jam, with Mike & Page embellishing the edges. Excellent segment after on an Eastern pattern.
5/19/94: Some small quirks in Horse > Silent, and then a typical Disease, played for the arena crowds of their near future.
5/19/94: Some extra words in the Mango chorus I can’t quite make out. One of them sounded like “Toph drew,” then “corrosion”?
5/19/94: Yeah, a “Topher, we love you” at the end of the set. Some sort of in-joke with @Chrisck5?
5/19/94: Finally settled in for the second set, and get a plodding Sample opener as reward. Oh well.
5/19/94: Trey dropping air-raid sirens through the Mike’s first jam, then “Today” teases to kick off the 2nd!
5/19/94: Now that Simple has made its soundcheck debut, it’s starting to haunt Mike’s. This one is syncopated, but w/o a clear direction.
5/19/94: Pretty straight ahead Weekapaug, except for a creepy patch of the I Love Lucy theme. Weekapaug really reined in since spring ’93.
5/19/94: Lizards outro and Julius intro reveal a quiet, well-behaved crowd. You Oregonians are so civilized.
5/19/94: I Love Lucy theme comes back twice more for BBJ and Hood. Any explanation?
5/19/94: The band takes advantage of the quiet crowd to flutter at low volume for a good chunk of the Hood jam. Pretty, music-box-like.
5/19/94: The encore is a better place for the no-mics mini-set — not that this show had much flow to disrupt in the first place.
5/19/94: Somebody in the crowd yelled “Shirley Temple!” and got a big ovation. What in the world is going on in this show?
5/19/94: And Fire makes it a quadruple encore. Haven’t heard one of those so far in the project. (Correction: since 2/21/93)
5/19/94 Final: Reverting to formulaic setlists, but there’s some weirdness and killer versions of Stash & Hood within for the chill crowd.
5/17/94 - SANTA BARBARA, CA
A show for the snow - 5/17/94, Santa Barbara, CA, Arlington Theatre. Only a 90 mile trip from last night’s show, not bad.
5/17/94: The Arlington looks pretty sweet. Has the same soundstage Spanish village decor as the Aragon in Chicago: http://sbtos.com/IMG_8959_HDR_11x18_Tom%20Ginn_ps2_sm.jpg …
5/17/94: A rare Suzy opener, and then a watery Maze. Trey unusually sparse during a lengthy Page segment — stylistic choice or tech issues?
5/17/94: Very abstract Trey segment finds its way into a menacing Trey/Mike rendition of Happy Birthday to You. Good Maze.
5/17/94: More strangeness nibbling around the edges early — Mike holds “the bitter blue” line for extra measures in Mound.
5/17/94: If I Could is getting out of the awkward new-song phase and making me feel feelings. Great solo and full band build.
5/17/94: Pre-duel Mule jams aren’t too far off from It’s Ice breakdowns. A modernist Page solo with unsettling accompaniment.
5/17/94: Trey announces that Fish will do an “emotion solo” during Dog-Faced Boy. Emotion solo last time played 4/25. http://rob-mitchum.tumblr.com/post/68070144435/4-25-94-knoxville-tn-time-to-give-2013-a-rest …
5/17/94: Climbing dissonance in the Melt jam, like vines crawling up a graveyard wall. Horrific modulation of the chords at the end.
5/17/94: Awww, the crowd sings Happy Birthday to Page during the (short) Coil solo. Guess that solves the Maze mystery.
5/17/94: Nice effects-driven Trey playing in the second-set Jim opener. Helicopter wah, and some more Maze/Melt-style noise.
5/17/94: First Tweezer since the Bomb Factory. *puts on helmet* *straps on safety belt*
5/17/94: Trey starts to chop up the Tweezer rhythm, but Fish keeps it rooted. Hard rock riff becomes the 1st & only “Earache My Eye.”
5/17/94: I like the hushed extra-percussive return to the Tweezer riff after Earache. Back to the old slowdown ending, with a blues chaser.
5/17/94: “Earache My Eye” is a lot like Fuck Your Face, isn’t it?
5/17/94: Peeked at the song history chart on @phishnet, and this is the first of SEVEN consecutive Tweezers that land in Lifeboy.
5/17/94: First Big Ball Jam in 16 shows. I did not miss it.
5/17/94: Fish says he broke his bass drum during Sample, and his vacuum is “on its last legs.” A marathon tour takes its toll.
5/17/94: Straightforward Slave to end the set, and one last birthday wish for Page from Trey. Is Highway to Hell a message about turning 31?
5/17/94 Final: Tweezer’s return couldn’t help but disappoint, but Trey’s new noisy approach is all over this show, esp Maze, Jim.
5/17/94 postcript: @shapsio says they brought out a cake for Page during the Coil solo. Last On-Stage Cake until 12/31/13?
5/16/94 - LOS ANGELES, CA
Rounding out a busy week with 5/16/94, Los Angeles, CA, Wiltern Theatre. Their only show at the Wiltern, and it has a reputation for mayhem.
5/16/94: The soundcheck included Dog Log > the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Today”. Regrettably, it does not circulate.
5/16/94: LA fans are really fired up to hear Sample for some reason. Clearly nobody there has been listening to every single show of tour.
5/16/94: Just to rouse the rabble a little bit, does anyone else find the Divided Sky pause sort of…narcissistic?
5/16/94: Haha, just looked at the average song gap for this show: 2.87.
5/16/94: The final two minutes of Stash shakes a routine first set up; feints a switch to major, sculpts a nasty drone, and ends in a hush.
5/16/94: How did Phish crowds never learn that Sweet Adeline doesn’t actually end at that one part?
5/16/94: 4 minutes into Antelope, it steers in a dark, Mcgruppy direction, then jumps rhythmic tracks. We’re officially off.
5/16/94: Some hints of BBFCFM 1 min before it fully emerges. Says something about the preceding jam that it’s actually a smooth segue.
5/16/94: Only 1 verse of BBFCFM, and the ensuing section explores similar space to recent Ice breakdowns. Then Trey strikes a lighter path.
5/16/94: Pretty triumphant section here, actually, though Page/Fish are slow to resolve the dark undercurrent and join in.
5/16/94: 13 minutes in, Fish hits the reset button. Back on the Antelope climb, but still itchy, paranoid, fickle.
5/16/94: Ha, good Trey flub in the 3rd Antelope section. Leads with the “set the gearshift” line, laughs, goes back to “rye rye rocco.”
5/16/94: Speaking of Ice, here’s the third one in five shows, & another long one! Congeals into a Hey Bulldog-ish theme, brief vocal jam.
5/16/94: More whistling in YEM…it’s a trend! Some additional gibberish from Fish over the composed part as well.
5/16/94: YEM jam starts atypically with e-bowish lead from Trey and low bass rumbles. Darkness resolves in…a Louie Louie jam?
5/16/94: I like these creepy low-murmur vocal jams more than the ones that just go wooooOOOOOoooohhhh for 5 minutes.
5/16/94: Sorta disappointed that BBFCFM started over from the top instead of picking up where the mid-Antelope one left off.
5/16/94: However, I do heartily endorse a no-mics Amazing Grace between verses of BBFCFM, and a lengthy noise jam when it comes back.
5/16/94 Final: Expected more of a cohesive BBFCFM-fest, but the chaos was restricted to the beginning and end of set II. Massive Antelope.
5/14/94 - SAN DIEGO, CA
Because Chicago is still frozen in, I will once again escape to 1994 and the West Coast with 5/14/94, San Diego, CA, Montezuma Hall.
5/14/94: Continuing a string of unusual venues, Montezuma Hall appears to just be a big room in the SDSU student union.
5/14/94: Curiously, after it turned up in Santa Fe on 5/10, the Wilson chant has not made it to San Diego. Secret language instead.
5/14/94: Worth noting that this show marks the end of the first of THREE cross-country trips they will make in 1994. VT to CA in six weeks.
5/14/94: Some brief, improv curios in Wilson and Fee carrying the load so far. Harmonic Fee outro too short as (almost) always.
5/14/94: An easygoing, Southern California kind of Reba. Good pace set by Fish, purposeful melodic weaving by the others.
5/14/94: Perhaps it’s the room, perhaps it’s the SBD mix, but Fishman sounds unusually strident in this show, esp on DWD/Sample.
5/14/94: The battle of the laughers vs. the shushers is resumed over a no-mics Ginseng in the now standard acoustic format.
5/14/94: “A little song about our muddy Mississippi delta Vermont home,” says Trey. “The northernmost part of the Mississippi River.”
5/14/94: After some exploratory versions, this Bowie gets right down to business around 6:00 with a unison, descending three-note theme.
5/14/94: Fish muscles up on the tempo, so Trey decides to go full car alarm drone before bringing Bowie home. No ADD excursions this time.
5/14/94: Following my recent accusations of second set flowlessness, Phish responds with a Curtain opener > a plucky Mike’s. Well played.
5/14/94: Mike’s second jam gets into some seasick space with circular, out-of-phase patterns. Gently DDL-infused Hydrogen follows.
5/14/94: Weekapaug returns after a long 11-show vacation…the most recent Mike’s was ungrooved. Propulsive, with a nice detour into DivSky.
5/14/94: That DivSky tease and its delicate coda gave way to TMWSIY, which is almost silent in its reprise, a tranquil lullaby.
5/14/94: The band tries to shake itself awake with PYITE. Unusual intro to this one before Trey counts the drums in.
5/14/94: There have been a lot of hints of Landlady in jams lately (esp Ice), and they effortlessly zoom through it within PYITE.
5/14/94: FEFY and Lizards and you can quite rightly call this set *mellow*. Trey really tore into a brief FEFY solo though.
5/14/94: I know this is a SBD, but in the quiet moments (such as Page’s Lizards solo) it almost sounds like they are playing an empty room.
5/14/94: As my wife would say, Page is really *selling it* on this “Bold As Love.” As always, it’s adorable.
5/14/94 Final: The first set seemed a little too “direct,” but the second set was weird, pretty cohesive, and so chill. Stay frosty.