1994.11.16 Hill Auditorium, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
November 1994 – an amazing time of an amazing year for Phish. Picking a show from November ’94 is like picking a Dead show from May ’77, you’re bound to pull out a winner. This show from November 16, 1994 at the Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor, MI is a top-notch performance that contains one of the band’s first truly extended jams.
Set 1: Sample in a Jar, Foam, Fast Enough for You, Reba, Axilla (Part II), The Lizards, Stash, Pig in a Pen, Tennessee Waltz, Foggy Mountain Breakdown-> Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Set 2: Mike’s Song -> Simple, I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome, My Long Journey Home, Chalk Dust Torture, Fee, Run Like an Antelope
Encore: Amazing Grace, Suzy Greenberg
When I first caught wind of this show, I immediately thought of the Dead’s two-night run at the same venue from ’71 (12.14 & 12.15). Both nights display the band at the top of their game, with the second night’s “Darkstar” easily ranking as one of the best jams from that year. Like Phish, the Dead were also going through a transitional phase when they arrived in Ann Arbor, having added Keith Godchaux to the line-up only months before in an attempt to compensate for Pigpen’s dwindling state. Both bands can be heard breaking new ground in these shows, and as a result, both have remained among my favorites for some time now.
As Phish’s group dynamic improved (stepping away from the guitar-led show that dominated the early years), and their willingness to explore songs increased, jams began to extend in all sorts of directions. At this point, very few shows contained jams that stretched out over thirty minutes (and those that did exist were from the days and weeks surrounding this one). However, on November 16th, 1994 the band decided to embarked on a 34 minute version of “Simple” (of all songs) that reaches beyond imagination.
It bears mentioning that this was also the first show of the tour that welcomed Rev. Jeff Mosier to help teach the band bluegrass. As such, there is a heavy dose of bluegrass in the first and second set, which may or may not be to your liking. Either way, this show has plenty to offer.
The first set kicks off with a “Sample”, “Foam” starter combination followed by a perfectly placed slow song, “Fast Enough For You”. “Reba” appears next leading the audience into the first cosmic journey of the evening. As the jam begins, Trey locks into some gorgeous playing feeding the jam with coils of melody. There are a few moments before the band fully kicks in where you can tell by the reaction from the audience that the band is on. Just then, the music explodes. Trey’s soaring notes guide the band as they converge on the song’s melodic end-jam.
The other highlight from the first set, before a sit-in with Rev. Jeff Mosier for several bluegrass numbers, is the mind-bending version of “Stash”. Entering the jam, Trey seams eager to get his ideas onto the fretboard. Experimenting with a more unstructured sound than ever before, the band begins to dissect the “Stash” jam down to its roots. A long period of dark tension building ensues that can only be described as measured chaos. With a heart-pounding groove, the band digs deeper and deeper into the darkness as we await our moment of release. The wildly disconnected playing slowly begins to come together as Trey shreds the jam all the way to the finish. A few bluegrass numbers, including “Pig in a Pen” and “Tennesee Waltz” (two of my favorites), follow before the set comes to a close.
The second set takes off as the opening riff to “Mike’s Song” rings out. Trey solos fiercely over the entire jam before reaching a perfect counterpoint as the band slips into the lighthearted “Simple”. However, this version takes a turn from the standard melodic jam that usually follows, embarking on a psychedelic trek that ventures far-out to the corners of the galaxy.
The jam begins with the standard melodic solo over the progression, but soon the tempo drops and we are left with a vast space. As Page gently provides swells of notes on the piano, Mike and Trey prepare to embark on a journey into the depths of the dark. Mike charges the jam by creating a unique sound (bending the strings on his bass) that propels the band into a King Crimson-like musical onslaught. As the storm arrives Trey locks into one of his classic droning licks from which he can traverse the fretboard in any direction. With the drums perfectly locked in with the guitar, Jon and Trey riff of one another leading the jam into a frenzied state. As each member joins in, they channel this dark energy into a breathtaking piece of music. There is lots going on as the jam continually deconstructs, and then rebuilds itself.
It sounds as though there are two opposing energies – one light and one dark – that continually battle for the upper hand in this jam. For a moment, we find ourselves in a jazz groove and then the next in a heavy metal segment. There are multiple shifts in theme before the band finally arrives at a beautiful outro segment that perfectly caps off the journey on which we have just embarked.
While anyone in attendance could have left happy at this point, there is still more. Following two more bluegrass numbers, the band plugs back in for the rendition of “Chalkdust” that appears on A Live One. Every note seems perfectly placed in the solo, and it’s one we’ve all heard so many times we can sing along with the jam.
But still lurking at the end of this monstrous set is a rockin’ “Antelope” that is not to be overlooked. As many fans will know, once Trey locks into a droning lick in a set he often revisits it many more times. This “Antelope” is a perfect example of this as Trey seems to have picked up right where the “Simple” jam left off. The band seems as tight as ever at this point in the show, trailing on the heels of each member’s every step. After a prolonged tension building segment the jam explodes in a wailing sense of triumph. Trey wishes everyone a safe drive home, and from the crowds reaction you can hear that the sense of joy that is pouring from the room.
The band’s this willingness to explore is what defines this psychedelic period in their career, and is also that factor allowed them to constantly reach higher levels of musical creativity. The “Simple” from this show is one of the hallmark moments of fall ’94 and should be heard by all.
DOWNLOAD: 1994.11.16 Hill Auditorium, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
Here’s the band rehearsing “Blue and Lonesome” backstage with Jeff Mosier.