Friday, November 29, 2013

10 Fall Phish Shows To Be Thankful For

This blog post was co-written with Nate from @Phish_Forum

In celebration of the week of Thanksgiving, we wanted to look back and share our thoughts about 10 Fall Phish shows that we’re thankful for. For us, the fall is always about a few things: leaves turning, the weather getting colder, and awesome indoor Phish shows. We wanted to share a few of the shows that bring to mind the classic Fall Tour Phish we all love. Hope you enjoy, and let us know what you think. 

10.26.89, The Wetlands, New York, NY
1989 represents the first real Phish “Fall Tour.” This show from the Wetlands was among the first shows I ever had on tape, which was a nice SBD copy. This is vintage early Phish. Songs like Fluffhead were still being re-worked at this time, as we see “Who Do We Do” and “The Chase” portions played standalone here. Check out the early first set “You Enjoy Myself,” and a “Mike’s Groove” first set closer that just showcase great interplay between Trey, Mike and Page. Check out the second set “Punch You In The Eye” too, which was shelved two shows later for 414 shows. This version of PYITE smokes any ‘93 and most ‘94 versions.  The show ends with a long, winding “David Bowie” that definitely goes “Type II” and features the classic tension and release that means “Phish.” If you haven’t heard a lot of Fall ‘89, start here.

11.4.90, Fort Ram, Fort Collins, CO
At the end of October 1990, Phish played a 5-show run in Colorado. This was actually their 2nd run in the state that year, and we know that the band has always progressed when getting out of their “element,” first in Colorado and later in Europe and Japan. This 1990 show shows a marked improvement from 1989 in terms of improvisation, technical ability and breadth of playing. Bowie fans will not want to miss this 11.4.90 version, which is overshadowed by the 11.2.90 version. The “Harry Hood” and “Mike’s > Hydrogen > Weekapaug” are great examples of the development of opposite ends of the spectrum (blissful vs. raging rock). This spectrum of possibility in their playing was just starting to develop, and this show offers a nice preview of where things are going.

12.5.92, The Vic Theater, Chicago, IL
1992 holds a special place in my heart. It was the first year I sat down and listened to every show consecutively with the intent to “learn” Phish—whatever that means. In 12.5.92 we hear a nice rocking first set, with strong versions of “Rift,” “Melt” and “Divided Sky.” But this show is anchored by its remarkable second set. Boundless energy and creativity pervade this set. “Tweezer,” “Reba > I Walk The Line > Reba” and “Mike’s Groove” all see nice segments of improvisation. And “Maze,” still in its infancy, shines here too. The now highly sought after “Whipping Post” gets the Fishman treatment, and the “Tweeprise” to close the set ties it all down. 1992 shows often find Phish high on their own virtuosity, and we all know what happened as ‘92 progressed into ‘93 and then ‘94 and so on. Check this show out and hear Phish on the cusp of a major breakthrough.

10.31.94, Glens Falls Civic Center, Glens Falls, NY
This is a pretty obvious one, mostly because of the historic second set cover of the “White Album” in its entirety. But we always go back to this show’s first set. Maybe it’s because we had a VHS video of the show? Maybe it’s the all-time versions “Reba” and “Divided Sky?” Maybe it’s Fishman starting up the beat to “Simple” after the segue from “Sparkle.” Whatever IT is, this show is always worth listening to, front to back. The band was so energized going into this first ever album cover show, you can hear it throughout. The third set opens with an almost perfect “David Bowie,” contains a stellar “Run Like an Antelope,” and the “Squirming Coil” encore is a lovely end to what is a truly wonderful show.

11.9.95, Fox Theater, Atlanta, GA
What can we say about Fall ‘95 that Phish themselves have not with their choices for official releases? 10.21.95, 11.14.95, 12.1.95, 12.14.95 and most recently 12.7.95 grace our ears in fully remastered soundboard glory. Clearly this is a rich period in Phish’s history that finds fresh creativity and improvisation night after night. Truly wondrous.

And 11.9.95 is no different. The rare “Tweeprise” opener lets us know from the start that this will be no ordinary show. A standout version of “Divided Sky” follows, and we hear very nice first set jamming in both “Simple” and “Reba.” But it is the “Bathtub Gin" in the second set that raises this show from ordinary to extraordinary. Perhaps (rightly) overshadowed by the 12.5.95 and 12.29.95 versions, this version is no slouch. The “Gin” jam progresses through several themes before a light as air denouement signals the “Gin” coda—top notch Phish, not too long winded and fresh ideas throughout. Follow that up with the always welcome “TMWSIY > Avenu Malkenu > TMWSIY” and you have a set for the ages. Well played, Phish. Well played.

11.2.96, Coral Sky Amphitheater, West Palm Beach, FL
Afterglow—the elated feeling that remains after a pleasant experience. After an especially moving Phish show I glow very brightly, radiating a powerful blend of pure energy and emotion. On 11.2.96 Phish was still basked in a powerful afterglow from their monumental Halloween show in which they covered the Talking Heads’ “Remain In Light.”

You can hear it in Trey’s raspy voice. You can hear it in every single song in the first set. You can hear it especially in the monster “Crosseyed and Painless” that opens the second set. The afterglow brightens and starts to spark, igniting a fire within the band that would fuel the most creative period in their history, 1997-2000.

“Antelope,” “Waste,” “Hood.” Every song thereafter is imbued with the wondrous glow. We’re so thankful Phish made this show an official release in both audio and video formats, because you can feel good over and over and over again.

12.6.97, The Palace, Auburn Hills, MI & 12.7.97, Nutter Center, Dayton, OH
As our friend Andy suggested, these two shows just go together, and one ends where the next begins. Much like this entire tour, where segues and song combinations were perfect and seamless—well represented in these two shows.

The Palace show’s first set is highlighted by a high-energy, rocking “Bathtub Gin” that flows beautifully into “Foam.” As we all know, the band was firing on all cylinders during this tour and were in the process of destroying America. The second set opening combination of “Tweezer > Izabella > Twist > Piper” is, for lack of a better term, brilliant. Sometimes a second set “Tweezer” opener means life will never be the same. After a fairly standard ‘97 funky jam, at about 12 minutes in Trey starts the upbeat, blissful jam. This builds and builds until Trey takes it into a decidedly dirty, classic rock direction. The “Izabella” that followed scorched the Palace. Fans have been hoping for a “Tweezabella” ever since.

The next day, on a cold Sunday morning, we traveled from The Palace to the Nutter Center. Although we had been treated to what was maybe the best second set we’d ever seen on Saturday night, expectations were high, because it was the Fall of 1997 and we knew that the band was connected in a way that we hadn’t ever heard before. The opener of “AC/DC Bag” into “Psycho Killer” was perfect for that night, and we knew we were in for it again. To end the first set, there’s a “Tube” that immediately develops into a deep funk jam. They ended “Tube,” and Trey says, audibly, “let’s start that jam again.” They take the funk jam from Tube for another 6 minutes before landing into “Slave to the Traffic Light,” which melted the arena. That was just the first set. The second set didn’t even really matter, but a nice “Reba” and incredibly fun “Possum” closed it out. These two shows were the best 2 in a row I’ve ever seen, and are worth listening to back to back.

11.11.98, Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI
I am a major proponent of this show becoming an official release. The Midwest leg of the ‘98 Fall Tour had some very strong shows, and Van Andel Arena is a standout among standouts. In the first set we hear full-on space jamming in “Gumbo,” an emotional “Tela” and the set-closing medley of “Birds of a Feather > Theme from the Bottom > Julius” is wide open rocking.

The second set though—whoa buddy the second set. The set-opening “Halley’s Comet” is the stronger, angrier cousin of the Hampton ‘97 “Halley’s.” And when coupled to the following “Simple > Walk Away > Limb by Limb,” we have nearly an hour of brilliant improvisation.  The mellow lull of “When The Circus Comes” provides a launch pad for the set-closing “Ghost.”

This “Ghost” is the absolute fire, and is an improvisational highlight perhaps even beyond that of the “Halley’s.” The opening loops pique our interest after “When the Circus Comes,” and the band begins ever so lightly, exuding confidence. The lyrics come in and they slide effortlessly into a loping funk groove. Fish pushes up the tempo and “Ghost” just builds and builds into pure rock fury. Page, Mike, Fish and Trey all take the lead at points and make this “Ghost” a shared highlight. Huge show for Phish. Bravo.

11.28.09, Times Union Center, Albany, NY
When Phish came back in 2009. we were so happy that we were back, we didn’t (at first) think much about how much they were jamming songs or how much they were pushing the envelope. That lasted about 3 shows, and people started getting antsy. The band executed some nice jams in the summer and fall, including the “Ghost” from Red Rocks, the “Light” from the Gorge, and the “Down with Disease” from Detroit. 

But this second set opening combination of “Seven Below > Ghost” is something for the ages. The 24-minute “Seven Below” contains what I consider to be the best improvisational playing of 2009—it spans funk, bliss, rock—but the real key is that they’re completely locked in, together. This is the hose, and it’s beautiful. The "Ghost" continues this journey, and it's something to behold. This is the first "3.0" show I saw where I thought: “Phish is back.”

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