Sleeper Shows Pt. III
An issue Phish heads are often faced with is the overwhelming number of recordings readily available, only a click away. It has come to the point where almost any show we desire can be downloaded, loaded into itunes, and ready to play in minutes. But, with all of this availability there are few legends to guide us through the maze that is Phish’s live career. Throw in a collection of Dead shows and you’re really in trouble.
While every one of us has a selection of shows that we constantly revisit, whether it be weekly, yearly, or whatever you so desire, these shows create the foundation of our listening. When someone introduces us to a new show, or we catch sight of a particularly juicy setlist, we are often led to great new discoveries.
Discovering new shows that can be added to your list of favorites is a wonderful feeling, and I try my hardest to make it happen as often as possible. Today, I’d like to share a couple that you may not not be familiar with, but may happen to find their way into your regular listening cycle after today. These aren’t meant to be shows no one has heard of, but rather shows that often go unmentioned considering their value.
1991.10.19 The Catalyst, Santa Cruz, CA
In the fall of ’91, Phish was embarking on their second national tour of the year. In many ways, ’91 existed as one of the formative years in the band’s career, expanding their music and audiences as they swept across the nation. Following a scorching summer tour that included both the Giant Country Horns and the famous show at Amy’s Farm, the band stepped into the studio to record Picture of Nectar. Fresh out of the studio with a wealth of new material, the band returned to the road in their two vehicle convoy consisting of a panel truck and a minivan. Touring through the heart of Dead-country, the band played the last of four nights in California at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz.
The show begins with a powerful “Landlady” opener that ushers with it an energy that rides throughout the entire show. Wasting no time, the band dives straight into “Suzy” without missing a beat. The set continues with an early version of “It’s Ice” that shows the band experimenting with the mid-section. “Jim” features a divine solo from Red, gearing this small bar in Santa Cruz up for a psychedelic ride. The rest of the set is terrific in every way. Great playing, great songs. Listening to this show just feels good…
Set two launches out of the gate with a concentrated burst of energy in “Llama”. The second set absolutely cooks, as the band runs through several big jams loaded with musical acrobatics. The “Tweezer” jam spirals into a groove, with contrasting sections of major and minor. The recording from this small bar is so good that you can clearly hear each member communicating with the others as they build mounting crescendos before exploding into collective outbursts of sound. The highlight of the show comes at end of “Hood”, which features a divinely bright jam to close the set.
“Harry Hood” (10.19.91)
Set 1: The Landlady > Suzy Greenberg, It’s Ice, Runaway Jim, Foam, Chalk Dust Torture > Bouncing Around the Room, My Sweet One, Stash, Golgi Apparatus
Set 2: Llama, Bathtub Gin, Sparkle > Tweezer > Horn, Poor Heart, You Enjoy Myself, The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony > Hold Your Head Up > Terrapin > Hold Your Head Up, Harry Hood
Encore: Good Times Bad Times
1994.10.18 Vanderbilt University Memorial Gym, Nashville, TN
This show is somewhat better known for its ripping second set “Llama” featuring Bela Fleck. However, few ever mention the other highlights from this show – including one of the finest versions of “Reba” from ’94 (a bold claim). Touring through the south, the band made a stop in Vanderbilt’s gymnasium, leaving behind a show with several gems worthy of mention.
The show kicks off with an embryonic version of “Simple”, abbreviated yet powerful. “My Friend”, a potent opener in its own, follows, adding to the early energy. The first set is well played throughout, with a particularly dark “Stash” placed right in the middle.
The meat of the show starts with the “Bowie” second set opener. Diving deep into the darkness, the band members can be heard communicating as they bring life to the music. Rather than simply “jamming” on the chord progression, as so many “jam-bands” do, the band can be heard playing with the dynamics of sound (increasing and decreasing volume and tempo), as well as incorporating compositional elements into their jamming. This “Bowie” is a foreshadowing of the adventurous improvisation that would take place throughout the fall ’94 tour.
As was mentioned above, the second set “Reba” is one of the finest on a tour that took the song to great heights. Featuring a diversion from the standard modal jam, the band embarks on a soul-reaching journey that is superbly delivered. Bela Fleck joins the band from “SOAMule” until “LLama”, adding a welcome touch to the band’s bluegrass repertoire. “Llama” features the band starting on acoustic instruments and then moving to electric. A raging jam ensues.
Set 1: Simple > My Friend, My Friend -> I Didn’t Know, Poor Heart, Stash, Tela, It’s Ice, Guyute, The Divided Sky, Amazing Grace
Set 2: David Bowie, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Reba, Scent of a Mule, Lifeboy, The Old Home Place, Beaumont Rag, Nellie Kane, Llama
Encore: My Sweet One