With Phish fans from all over plotting the course for their summer, speculation has begun to emerge as to which venue will bring the “best show”, and which will produce the “sleeper”. Last summer, the golden ticket in every lot was for the Fox show – the intimate venue that played host to the epic show from ’94. However, those in attendance were treated to a lackluster show with an encore that seemed like an apology. With this summer’s seemingly impossible navigational routes, there are some difficult choices to make – will you drive north from Columbia to Canadaigua before heading back down south to Raleigh? Will you fly from the Greek to Telluride? These are some of the thoughts on Phish fans minds’ as summer tour rapidly approaches.
Today we’ve selected two underdog shows, overlooked and often unmentioned, to help remind you of the importance of each and every Phish show. Deciding to skip one show to attend another might be the difference between the show or the dud of the summer. We hope this doesn’t make your planning any more difficult…Enjoy!
1990.9.22 Student Union Ballroom, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA
In the early years, Amherst was in many ways the home away from home for Phish. With manager John Paluska spreading the word, the band had a rapidly growing audience in the Amherst area. This sold-out show fell on the day following the release of Phish’s second studio album Lawnboy, a point in which the band was truly brimming with creativity. Constantly debuting new songs and covers, the band had introduced “Tube”, “Landlady”, “The Asse Festival”, “Destiny Unbound”, “Buried Alive”, “Magilla”, and “Stash” all during 1990. This show featured six of these new tunes, and was a energetic show packed with university students hungry for their fill of Phish.
The first set is loaded with early versions of several Phish classics, including a must-hear “Bowie” closer. “Bowie” features “Chariots of Fire” teases, secret language, and an extended intro section, and a jam clocking at 20 minutes – surpassing the ten to fifteen minute standard at the time – that shows the band attempting to extend their musical journeys to far-out places. The second set carries the “Chariots of Fire” tease, weaving it through several songs in the set. “Tweezer” was still in its infancy, yet to break out of the mold. This version features some particularly ripping guitar playing, as well as the original slowed-down ending. “Stash” had only been debuted a week earlier, and so this version is a very early look at the band working around the song’s infamous chord progression. If you don’t know it, check out this show, especially the “Bowie”.
Set 1: Buried Alive, My Sweet One, The Divided Sky, Tela, The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony > Suzy Greenberg, Magilla, Wilson, The Landlady, I Didn’t Know, David Bowie
Set 2: The Squirming Coil, Tweezer, Destiny Unbound, Fee, Uncle Pen, Bouncing Around the Room, Stash, The Lizards, Lawn Boy, Possum
Encore: The Asse Festival, Golgi Apparatus
 Chariots of Fire tease.
 Multiple Chariots of Fire teases, both in the intro and the main song itself. Hi-hat intro also a had a full-band Mo’ Better Blues tease, three Charlie Chan signals, an Oom Pa Pa signal, two Random Laugh signals (one from Trey and one from Mike), and a How High The Moon tease from Trey. DEG tease and How High The Moon attempt from Trey as well as a fourth Charlie Chan signal in song itself.
1994.7.3 The Ballpark, Old Orchard Beach, ME
This show, unlike the one above, was a nearly empty affair in a minor league ballpark. With so many great shows over the course of ’94, this one understandably slides a bit off the map. However, there are several gems that deserve recognition such as the divine first set “Reba” or the scorching second set “Split”. On a hot summer day, there’s nothing like a “Reba” jam. This version features a “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” tease from Trey, and a divine modal excursion that seems to soar through the open air. The second set features a wild “Bowie” and a wilder “Split”. The latter includes a nod to Jimi with a “Third Stone from the Sun” tease from Trey. The ensuing jam is an outside journey of varying sorts moving from raging sections with screaming guitar to syncopated discombobulation. Pure hose. “Bowie” and “Antelope” are also highlights. During “Antelope”, fireworks are lit off, leading to a wild reaction from the crowd and an appropriate musical response from the band. The show was fittingly closed with “Fire”.
“Split Open and Melt” (1994.7.3)
Set 1: My Friend, My Friend, Poor Heart, Down with Disease, Fee, NICU, Horn, The Old Home Place, Reba, Axilla (Part II), David Bowie
Set 2: Split Open and Melt, The Lizards, Bouncing Around the Room, It’s Ice, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Julius, The Squirming Coil, Run Like an Antelope, Suzy Greenberg
[Thanks to Phish.net for the setlists]
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
In their career, Phish has made a total of 19 trips to Canada. Each time, the band has delivered performances that stand out amongst the other shows on the tour. We’ve said it before, and so have they: when Phish performs off the beaten track, they seem to play some of their best shows. The Canadian shows have consistently exhibited creative improvisation and stage gimmicks. Coupled with the freedom and beauty of Canada, these shows have made for some incredible moments.
The band’s first trip to Canada was all the way back in ’89 at Les Founfounes Electriques in Montreal, Quebec (7.1.89). They would return three years later on 12.12.92 for a performance at The Spectrum in Toronto. This show features a monstrous “Tweezer” that constantly delves back and forth between dark and light. Starting in Toronto, and continuing the following night in Montreal, it was clear that the band felt in-tune with the freedom of their surroundings.
The following year, 1993, the band made five trips to Canada, each show following the trend of the past. The Canadian shows consistently stand out as some of the best, and ‘Phishiest’. In Montreal on 4.29.93, the band launched into a now legendary version of “Reba”, adding to the show a “Mike’s Song > Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove > Makisupa Policeman > Weekapaug”. Prior to this, “Makisupa” had not been played for two years. The show closed with a rare “My Friend, My Friend” encore. The “YEM” and Dude of Life appearance in Toronto on 8.9.03, or the “It’s Ice” from 8.24.93 are also worth mention. Attempting to stretch their fan base wider, the band treated the Canadian audiences to evenings that gave those in attendance a dose of what the Vermont quartet was all about.
The band continued to spread their magic in the north in ’94. Playing five shows between Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, and Vancouver, the crowd and the band became more familiar with each other. As the shows began to feel more like Phish shows, and less like field-trips, the band opened up, offering more psychedelic improv and stage antics. The show from Montreal on 7.06.94 is simply one of the best. Featuring outstanding versions of “Reba” and “Tweezer”, this show is one of the finest from ’94.
1995 saw a drop in Canadian shows, as the band only made one trip to Vancouver on 10.6.95. ’96 followed with only one trip to the north, also to Vancouver. The band took a Canadian hiatus after ’96 until their return in 1999 with two fiery shows in Toronto and Vancouver. The Toronto show was the band’s first at the larger, outdoor, Molson Amphitheatre. Removed from the smaller theaters that had hosted their previous shows, the band played to a much larger audience, and strayed from their wild stage antics. However, continuing to treat the Canadians, the band busted out “Misty Mountain Hop” for the first time, a song that had been played in soundcheck since ’93. The show in Vancouver was the first after the Fuji Rock Festival, and opened the fall ’99 tour. The Vancouver show saw the first of “The Inlaw Josie Wales”, “First Tube”, as well as “Free Thought” (or “Third Tube”) which later became “Mozambique”, showcasing Trey’s new ‘Fluorescent Tube’ material. In 2000, Phish played their last Canadian show in Toronto, where Trey commented on how ‘beautiful Toronto is’.
Clearly influenced by the free spirit of the north, and the unassuming audiences, Phish has let loose every time they have performed north of the border. Due to the large number of fans unwilling to make the trip, these shows have become sleepers, aside from maybe the ’94 Montreal show. The atmospheres have been noticeably more accepting towards the fans and their behavior, creating a better experience for everyone. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it’s been almost a decade since Phish has played in Canada. It’s about time for another one of these northern shindigs.
Here’s a couple of our favorite Canadian Phish moments:
“Tweezer” from 12.12.92 The Spectrum, Toronto, ON.
“Reba” from 7.6.94 Theatre St. Denis, Montreal, QC.