Summer ’93 Bust-outs: Ranked

Phish’s repertoire is considerably larger these days than it was in ’93, but that didn’t stop the band from springing a setlist surprise or two (or three, or four…) during the summer tour. A total of 13 songs were ‘busted-out’ for the first time this tour, which I define as an appearance after a gap of over 50 shows. Due to the huge length of the ’93 winter/spring tour, a few songs on this list were ‘busted-out’ after being played early on that tour, but going forward this standard for a ‘bust-out’ will usually equate to a song being absent from at least a full tour.

The summer ’93 bust-outs were generally clustered at the beginning and middle of the tour, with three coming from the fantastic 8/2 show alone. Below I rank the tour bust-outs from best to worst from the perspective of the impact the songs had on the tour. Obviously, this ranking is impacted substantially by how I feel about these songs in general, so it’s a necessarily subjective endeavor.

Without further ado!

1. “Slave to the Traffic Light” (Date of bust-out: 8/6/93 – Cincinnati OH, 3 total appearances, gap returning from: 241 shows)

Without a doubt, “Slave to the Traffic Light” was the most conspicuous absence from setlists during the winter/spring tour. The bust-out and first ’93 rendition of “Slave” on 8/6 was thus quite a treat. “Slave” emerged deep in the second set of that show, building patiently into a euphoric, ‘hose’ peak from Trey in one of the biggest moments of the night. The song only made one more appearance on the tour, but in an even more prominent position: “Slave” arose out of the second set-opening “2001” on 8/20 in similarly stunning fashion. In my eyes, “Slave” is in the rarefied echelon of quintessential Phish songs shared by the likes of “You Enjoy Myself” and “Fluffhead,” and its return is very much a significant development this summer.

2. “Crimes of the Mind” (8/9/93 – Toronto CAN, 2 appearances, gap: 234)

As far as I’m concerned, “Crimes of the Mind” provides a straight shot of energy into a set whenever it appears. The Dude of Life-penned song may be straightforward, but it makes up for that with lots of hard rock energy and a great sense of momentum. These qualities and the song’s true rarity (only two appearances in all of ’93) make its appearances on 8/9 and 8/28 a real treat. The Dude of Life himself joins the band onstage for the Toronto performance, and it’s easy to see that the song was written for his voice, as his singing fits the song and elevates it even further. Phish also placed this song well, saving it for the role of capping off otherwise-great shows.

3. “The Mango Song” (7/24/93 – Mansfield MA, 3 appearances, gap: 150)

Similar to “Crimes,” your thoughts about this ranking for “Mango Song” will largely depend on how you feel about “Mango Song” as an actual song, for the band didn’t attach any improvisation to the song on this tour. I have a soft spot for this tune, because the catchy refrain of “Your hands and feet are mangos/But you’ll be a genius anyway” stuck in my head in my early days of getting into Phish at a time when some of the long jams went over my head. In the years since I’ve retained an appreciation for the song’s quirkiness and technicality. Accordingly, I was disappointed when the song was not played during the winter/spring tour, and it’s reappearance this tour was a delight. “Mango Song” was busted out late in the first set of the excellent Great Woods show, and according to my review, helped add “some freshness to the setlist of this first set, which is otherwise stacked with songs currently in heavy rotation.” The song appeared twice more in August, similarly contributing positively to the show on each occasion.

4. “La Grange” (8/2/93 – Tampa FL, 3 appearances, gap: 310)

I’ve never been much of a ZZ Top fan, but this fiery, rocking tune fits perfectly in Phish’s repertoire. The song lights up setlists whenever it appears, similar to Hendrix songs like “Fire” and “Izabella.” Also similar to “Izabella,” Trey saved this song for high-profile occasions. Phish used this song as an exclamation point to an incredible first set on 8/2 and two amazing nights of music on 8/7 and 8/14 (both, not by coincidence, available as high-quality LivePhish downloads). The band stayed consistent in their approach towards “La Grange” on these three occasions, with the song varying little between performances. Don’t mistake consistency as a negative, however, for the band brought a ripping intensity to the song on each occasion. Hearing this high-energy song bring a close to an excellent set of music is always a treat.

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5. “Brother” (8/2/93 – Tampa FL, 1 appearance, gap: 143)

“Brother” ranks this high largely because I really love “Brother” as a song. The blend of vaguely absurd lyrics with interesting and technical musicality reminds me of “The Mango Song,” but “Brother” also contains more jamming potential and is more open-ended than the latter. Because of this appreciation for the song, I was bummed when “Brother” sat out the entire winter/spring tour. Phish finally ended the “Brother” drought alongside a slew of other bust-outs on 8/2. Unfortunately, however, this appearance ended up being something of a tease. The song did not reappear the remainder of the tour and was kept fairly concise on 8/2. In my review of the show I wrote that “Brother” showed some signs of rust, but that it was an “overall good performance.” Hopefully Phish will show their “Brother” a little more love in ’94, and open this song up further.

6. “Nellie Kane” (7/16/93 – Philadelphia PA, 13 appearances, gap: 57)

This is the first of four songs on this list that were ‘busted-out’ on this tour despite actually appearing early on the winter/spring tour. These songs were never going to be ranked very high here, simply because they weren’t gone long enough to truly be missed. As a general matter, I enjoy Phish’s bluegrass interludes, and view “Nellie Kane” favorably within that category. I was excited to hear Phish debut the song on 2/23 right in the middle of a “Weekapaug Groove,” but the song vanished from sight for the remainder of that tour. The song came back with a vengeance this summer, entering heavy setlist rotation and making a total of 13 appearances. “Nellie” never exactly is a huge contribution to a show, but a set is never worse off for having it, so it lands square in the middle of this list.

7. “The Wedge” (8/20/93 – Morrison CO, 1 appearance, gap: 63)

Similar to “Loving Cup,” “The Wedge” debuted early during the winter/spring tour and seemed designed to capitalize on Page’s new baby grand piano, but quickly fell out of rotation regardless. Also like “Cup,” the song only made one appearance this tour, during the excellent Red Rocks show on 8/20. The arrangement of “Wedge” that debuted in the winter is significantly different than the song’s current incarnation, and this Red Rocks performance falls somewhere in the middle of those two approaches. I note that the song here has a “funkier feel,” but retains the earlier structure and Page-led intro. “The Wedge” is a legitimate highlight of this show’s first half, holding its own against an otherwise-stacked set thanks to Page’s “absolutely filthy playing.” “Wedge” fans will find this performance worth checking out (though Phish fans should find this whole show worth checking out…so keep that in mind!).

8. “Loving Cup” (8/8/93 – Cleveland OH, 1 appearance, gap: 50)

“Loving Cup” memorably opened the winter/spring tour on 2/3 as a vehicle for Page to introduce us to his new baby grand piano. The song seemed perfectly suited to the new addition to the band’s instrument arsenal, but “Cup” nevertheless quickly fell out of rotation. The song made its last winter/spring appearance on 3/30, and only graced the stage once this summer, on 8/8. I note in my review of that show that Mike seems to re-learn “Cup” on the spot, but that Trey delivers “a good solo at the end of the song.” Despite this bust-out causing a fairly minimal impact on the tour, I have a surprisingly deep appreciation for the Stones (I blame my father) and for Phish’s rendition of this song (blame me for being a child of 3.0), so I was glad to see this song not vanish entirely.

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Phish – “Loving Cup” – 10/31/09

9. “My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own” (7/15/93 – Weedsport NY, 7 appearances, gap: 59)

“My Mind’s” Got a Mind of Its Own” is one of the rarer Phish bluegrass songs. It was busted-out early in the winter/spring tour but only made two total appearances before vanishing again until 7/15. Like “Nellie Kane,” this song made quite a comeback on this tour for seven total appearances. I haven’t looked up the stats, but I bet this might be the tour in which this song is in heaviest rotation. “My Mind” began to take backseat to the newly-ascendant “Ginseng Sullivan” the second half of the tour, making only two appearances after 8/2.

10. “Faht” (7/15/93 – Weedsport NY, 4 appearances, gap: 80)

Poor “Faht.” Prior to listening to this tour I had never before heard a live performance of this song (at least, as far as I can recall), and I was looking forward to seeing how Phish interpreted this esoteric Picture of Nectar track live on stage. The result seemed to be, at least at first…that it was that was kind of a bummer. At least on tape. I’m sure this song was quite an experience in person, but at least on tape, “Faht” straight-up killed the momentum of the second set of tour-opening 7/15, and adds little to 7/17. Thankfully, the band did get better at placing this song over the course of the tour, which saves it from falling further on this list. The song worked alright as an ambient come-down to an intense “Run Like an Antelope” on 7/23, and its true saving grace comes on 8/16, when the song is used as a neat “I Am Hydrogen”-replacement in the middle of a hot Mike’s Groove. Still, the Weedsport bust-out of “Faht” left something of a bitter taste in my mouth.

11. “Who Knows” (8/9/93 – Toronto CAN, 1 appearance, gap: 510)

This bust-out comes and goes so fast that you’ll miss it if you blink! I almost considered treating this “Who Knows” as just a tease in “Chalk Dust Torture,” but as the ‘tease’ features vocals and at least kind-of one verse I decided to count it as an actual performance (which is consistent with Phish.net). The ‘song’ appears in the middle of Trey’s solo in the show-opening “Chalk Dust Torture” from August 9th. It’s a fun but inessential sequence that adds some novelty to an otherwise-standard “CDT.” To date this is the final Phish performance of this Jimi Hendrix song.

12. “Dog Log” (8/2/93 – Tampa FL, 1 appearance, gap: 283)

While the August 2nd bust-out of this song is the only public performance of this song all year, the song appeared during at least four widely-circulated soundchecks from the winter/spring tour that I listened to while making my way through that tour. On all those sound-check occasions but one the band used the song as an opportunity to really stretch out their improvisational muscles, taking the song to nine minutes on 2/17 and a somewhat unfocused, but still interesting 16 minutes on 3/28. Maybe it’s a bit unfair to compare this condensed, straightforward reading of “Dog Log” to those private performances, but in context it’s a bit disappointing. Upon hearing a concise reading of the song I was reminded why the band probably relegates it to soundcheck status to begin with – the song is a fun diversion, but there’s not a lot to it either.

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13. “Free Bird” (7/15/93 – Weedsport NY, 13 appearances, gap: 569)

I’ll admit I chuckled the first time the band performed their a-cappella, satirical-gag rendition of “Free Bird” during the tour-opener in Weedsport, as the band played “what song y’all want to hear?” in the way no one intends it to be played. As such, I can’t really fault the band for incorporating the gag as a regular schtick in their show, as anyone experiencing it for the first time would probably react similarly. But after the thirteenth time of listening to this gag, I was pretty done with hearing it. A clever satire does not necessarily equate into good music, and I can only listen to Fishman’s somewhat off-key, mock-guitar solo so many times and enjoy it. The band may have felt similarly, as the interval between performances began to increase as the tour wore on (thankfully).


This is my last post specifically dissecting Phish’s summer 1993 tour, I hope they have been of some interest! You can quickly find all of them by clicking “Summer 1993” in the menu bar beneath the header image. I will be posting at least a couple more posts at the beginning of next year relating to 1993 as a whole. And before then, reviews of the New Year’s Eve 1993 run beginning on 12/28!

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Songs of Tour: “Mike’s Song” (Summer ’93)

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May the bass be with you

“Mike’s Song” is the best part of a traditional Mike’s Groove. There, I said it. While I always have fun guessing what the Mike’s Groove sandwich is going to be, and “Weekapaug Groove” generally establishes a fun, head-bopping progression for the band to solo over, ever since I was a Phish-neophyte I have found “Mike’s Song” to be the most interesting part of the traditional Mike’s Groove song sequence. Trey’s infectious riff that begins the song always gets the crowd going, and the dark/ominous vibe that characterizes the beginning of the jam segment gives the song a harder edge than many of the band’s more pleasant tunes (I often see “Mike’s Song” as a precursor to the more obviously heavy-metal “Carini” in that way). I find even a ‘standard’, type-I “Mike’s Song” to be a lot of fun.

Hearing the beginning of “Mike’s Song” at a show is kind of a microcosm of the Phish experience as a whole: the beginning of the song is familiar, and generally you can predict where the band will end up by the end (“Weekapaug Groove”), but how the band will get there is anyone’s guess. I’ve definitely had my share of personal experiences with the song as well: the first “Mike’s Song” I witnessed live (at the 8/17/10 show) kicked off a near set-long Mike’s Groove that contained an unexpectedly awesome and type-II “Backwards Down the Number Line,” whereas the most recent “Mike’s Song” I witnessed (at the 8/2/17 show) I would rank as the one of the best jams I’ve seen Phish perform, regardless of song. Those two shows exemplify the jump into the unknown “Mike’s Song” represents: while typically more constrained than say a “Tweezer” or a “Ghost,” you can never quite predict where “Mike’s” will take you.

“Mike’s Song” in 1993 almost always contained two jams: the first consists of a quick Trey solo that peaks and transitions into the song’s ending chords, and the second is longer and more experimental. “Mike’s Song” progressed in fits and spurts over the Winter/Spring tour; there were standout performances on that tour, for sure, but the second jam was also often quite messy sounding, leading to mixed results. As Phish became more comfortable engaging in deep, type-II improvisation on-stage over the summer, however, “Mike’s Song” quickly became a consistent source of impressive and adventurous jamming.

“Mike’s Song” was performed 10 times over the summer ’93 tour. Of these 10 performances, I included 9 in my list of show highlights (90%). Below are the “Mike’s” jams from summer ’93 that I believe to be the crème de la crème.

7/24/93 – Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts, Mansfield MA (Set 2, song #7, length: 9:23)

This “Mike’s Song” emerges out of a second-set “Sparkle” to begin a mid-set Mike’s Groove. The first jam is very short; Trey comes in at 3:10 for a quick, shredding solo that ends at 4:15. The ‘end chords’ kick in, and the second jam begins shortly after at 4:35. This second jam is initially dark as the band hammers on the “Simple” chord, but Trey soon modulates into a mellower key. The rest of band follows suit, resulting in the jam opening up considerably by 5:10. At this point the jam is fully type-II and wonderfully melodic, as Trey engages in breezy, tuneful soloing. Trey gradually recedes, leaving Page the spotlight as Mike grounds the jam with his pleasant bass groove. The jam builds energy at 6:45, and the tempo quickens. Mike really grounds the improvisation here as Trey and Page add swirling psychedelia on top. Trey unleashes a shredding solo at 7:45 which leads the band to crash back into the “Mike’s Song” progression at 8:00. A final round of soloing from Trey brings the band to the final set of ‘end chords’ at about 8:30, before the song segues into recently-debuted “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav.”

While not quite as adventurous as some of the “Mike’s Songs” that would come in August, the cohesive and melodic type-II jam that emerges here makes this performance one of the most tuneful “Mike’s Song” of the year to date, and certainly sets the stage for the even bigger “Mike’s Songs” to come later this tour. Even putting this context aside, this “Mike’s” is one of the biggest highlights of what I found to be the strongest show of July.

 

8/7/93 – Darien Lake Performing Arts Center, Darien Center NY (Set 2, song #2, length: 14:54)

This “Mike’s Song” follows “2001” to open the second set of this officially-released show. The jam begins at 2:35, with Trey coming in a minute later. This first jam is not as shred-filled as the typical first jam; Fishman is more deliberate with the song’s tempo and Trey takes his time in building before smoothly dropping into the ending chords at 4:40. The second jam begins at 5:00, and in stark contrast to the Great Woods performance, immediately heads towards (and stays in) dark and dissonant territory. The band slowly coalesces around moody Trey soloing, though the feel of the jam remains frantic. This comes to a modest peak at 6:45 and returns to the “Mike’s” progression, but the band quickly breaks the jam back down into a dissonant murk.

Trey, Mike, and Page all contribute in this segment to a darkly psychedelic, carnival-esque vibe. Following more structural experimentation, Trey breaks for the light at 9:00 with upbeat, melodic playing. The rest of the band follows suit for what seems to be a mellow coda to the song. Mike takes the lead with a bass solo as Page and Trey fade out. Just as the song seems to have collapsed into silence Trey starts up staccato playing…which leads the band into “Kung!” After an Aw Fuck! Secret Language signal the “Kung” chant begins at 11:15. Trey continues his stacatto progression and the rest of the band begins to swell the energy of the jam at 11:50. This leads the band to crash back into the ending of “Mike’s Song” at 13:00 with a head full of steam. Trey delivers a final round of shredding to bring this “Mike’s” home.

Most of the “Mike’s Songs” that I highlight in this post distinguish themselves by breaking structure and reaching for melodic, blissful spaces. That is not this “Mike’s Song.” Here the band embraces the ominous vibe of the song, drags the crowd through some psychedelic sludge, and then airs the jam out for an exciting “Kung” chant. The dissonant, sometimes-messy darkness of this second jam is somewhat reminiscent of the Winter/Spring approach to “Mike’s,” but here the band is much more successful in their experimentation than they usually were on that tour.

8/13/93 – Murat Theatre, Indianapolis IN (Set 2, song #5, length: 12:28)

Phish collectively sounds like they’re ready to dive deep right from the beginning of this performance. Trey significantly alters his opening riff during the song’s intro;  Mike repeats the “Ya Mar” vocal refrain before beginning the verse; someone adds scat vocals before the beginning of the jam. This whole show crackles with energy and it shows here. The jam begins at 2:25 with great solo runs from Mike. Trey comes in to drive the song to a quick peak, and the end chords kick in at 4:30.

The second jam begins with a “Simple”-esque riff that gives way to dark psychedelia courtesy of Page’s organ work. Trey reverts to feedback and fades out, while Mike pushes the jam in a blissful, melodic direction with his leads. Page follows Mike, and the bass leads the jam for quite some time as Trey comes in with spacey ambience. Barely decipherable vocals creep in at 7:30, creating a dreamy vibe. The energy starts to build as Trey belts out power chords and the band adds vocal wails. The last type-II segment is almost “Saw It Again”-like, with repetitive, heavy-metal riffing and “Stranglehold” quotes. Trey unleashes some big rock shredding at 10:30, and the jam smoothly shifts back to the “Mike’s” progression at 11:10. Some final soloing leads to the ending at 12:00.

If it weren’t for the Murat “Gin” being just two songs earlier in this set, I think this “Mike’s” would receive a lot more attention. It has it all: some initial darkness, a blissful turn for the light, a dreamy and psychedelic soundscape, and some heavy metal shredding to wrap it all up. This whole show is on another level, and this “Mike’s” is evidence of that.

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It’s his song

8/16/93 – American Theater, St. Louis MO (Set 2, song #1, length: 13:44)

Just days after the Murat “Mike’s Song” Phish drops yet another epic second-set performance of “Mike’s,” this time as set-opener. (This is also the third consecutive “Mike’s Song” on this list to be officially released via LivePhish). The jam begins at 3:00, with Trey coming in a minute later at 4:00. Instead of launching straight into shredding, Trey builds this first jam by repeating a simple, catchy riff. He does finally transition into an outright solo and build the first jam into a solid peak by 5:00. The first round of end chords come in at 5:20, with the second jam beginning at 5:45.

After some initial dissonant messiness in which the band feels each other out, Trey starts repeating some subdued but melodic riffs that the rest of the band starts to coalesce around. Page belts out some particularly aggressive organ runs in this part, and as he settles down Trey pushes further in the light direction and leads everyone into an aired out, blissful space. The energy of “Mike’s Song” dissipates into feel-good ambience. Mike and Trey start to trade quick riffs, which leads Trey to unleash a fountain of joyous, staccato descending lines (‘plinko’-style). The energy starts to swell again beneath Trey’s playing. Upon striking a noisy power chord at 10:00, Trey returns the jam to the ominous/aggressive vibe of “Mike’s.” Mike and Trey tightly lock into each other’s playing for some intense hard rock riffing that brings the band firmly back into the “Mike’s Song” progression at 11:00. Some good, old-fashioned shredding brings this one home to the final set of end chords at 12:40. An ambient, feedback-filled outro bridges this “Mike’s” into “Faht.”

This “Mike’s” jam follows a somewhat similar progression to the Murat performance but still manages to feel creative and unique. I would probably give an edge to the Murat version, but this performance is still impressive in its own right, and the staccato/’plinko’ riff that Trey lands on is downright euphoric.

8/24/93 – Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver CAN (Set 2, song #4, length: 11:36)

It felt to me while listening through this tour that Phish peaked creatively during the seven show, mid-August midwestern run between Grand Rapids (8/11) and Kansas City (8/17), but that’s not to say this final week did not have highlights of its own either. This “Mike’s” is proof enough of that. Besides for a brief but notable passage of tap soloing from Trey at 4:40 the first jam is solid but standard. As usual, the excitement comes from the second jam, which starts at 5:45. This second jam is initially driven by heavy-metal riffing from Trey. He launches off this riffing into dissonant shredding while Mike goes in a different direction, throwing on his funky sound filter and laying down some thick grooves. This segment is only loosely held together by Fish, but the result doesn’t sound messy either. Structured chaos would be a better description. The jam very much retains the ominous sound of “Mike’s” through this passage.

Trey settles back into aggressive, heavy-metal chords and adds some vocal wailing on top for good measure. (This second jam is very much the dark yin to the light yang of the last two “Mike’s” featured here). The jam airs out a bit, and Page steps up with organ soloing. The rest of the band undertakes some ‘hey hole’-esque structural experimentation while Page takes the lead. Trey finally steps up at 9:40 to tear the band out of these exercise-like experiments with more shredding of his own. This brings the band back into the “Mike’s” progression at 10:10, and after some final soloing, the end chords at 10:50. A neat organ interlude from Page bridges the end of “Mike’s” into the band’s acoustic arrangement of “Ginseng Sullivan.” Don’t let the comparatively shorter length of this “Mike’s” fool you; it’s a wild ride through some psychedelic, Phishy darkness.


“Mike’s Song” had a big year in 1993, as these examples illustrate. I’ll be publishing one more blog post dissecting the summer 1993 tour on December 10th, in which I will rank the songs busted-out over the summer from the perspective of their impact on the tour. After that it won’t be long until the NYE 1993 run reviews!

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That One Time… (Summer ’93)

Many songs Phish performs at their shows vary little between performances. These songs are played in a ‘standard’ fashion, with one performance being more or less interchangeable with any other performance of the song. This can be because the song is tightly composed and leaves little room for improvisation (as is the case with, say, “Punch You in the Eye” or “Rift”), or because the song has a well-defined role in the setlist (i.e. “Cavern” is a set closer, “I Didn’t Know” is a Fishman comedy song, etc.). However, on rare occasion, the band will do something totally bizarre or unique with these songs that defies any expectations one might have for the song. It’s times like these that keep us fans coming back time and time again to Phish shows; those moments where the band takes us totally by surprise. This post takes a look at songs Phish played in a ‘standard’ fashion for most of summer’ 93, except for ‘that one time’ they took it for a ride or did something unexpected with it. The list is organized alphabetically by song name.

AC/DC Bag (August 25th – Paramount Theatre, Seattle WA – Set 1, song #1 – length: 9:44)

Phish takes the stage at the Paramount Theater this night and Trey begins what sounds like the “Punch You in the Eye” intro chord scratching. The band doesn’t begin that song, however, and a weird little jam emerges around this guitar string-scratching before the band drops into “AC/DC Bag” about a minute in. The song’s solo/jam begins at 4:20. There’s an understated feeling to the beginning of Trey’s solo, which Mike uses as an opportunity to throw on a ridiculous funk filter he used at some shows this summer. A groovy funk jam develops. Trey drops out entirely at 6:10, causing to Page step up and co-lead the jam with quick piano work. Trey starts to patiently work towards a peak soon after. An energetic “Bag” jam develops which doesn’t fully come to a peak until 9:00, at which point Trey goes wild with shredding. The song then slowly fades out into “Daniel Saw the Stone.” The band approaches this “AC/DC Bag” with an uncharacteristic looseness and extend the song’s jam a fair amount, making this “Bag” a clear cut above the average performance of the song.

 

Fee (August 9th – Concert Hall, Toronto CAN – Set 1, song #5 – length: 6:12)

“Fee” has been performed a lot in 1993 (30 times as of the end of this tour, to be exact), and largely in the same manner at each show. However, for the first time this year, Phish developed the end of the song into a mini-jam of sorts at this Toronto show. The jam begins at 4:55 in the typically-pleasant fashion that usually characterizes the song’s brief outro. Trey, however, quickly introduces a slightly dissonant riff. Page adds contrast to this dissonance by largely continuing with pleasant playing. Psychedelic, full-band interplay swells at about 5:45 as the band devolves into free jazz-esque playing. The short outro jam fades out shortly after 6:00 into the beginning of “Split Open and Melt.” This is a brief moment, but a very cool one. The band would add an outro jam to “Fee” on at least one other occasion this summer after this performance.

Halley’s Comet (August 6th – Cincinnati Zoo Pavilion, Cincinnati OH – Set 2, song #7 – length: 6:30)

This “Halley’s” comes deep in the second set of this show. The band segues right into the a-cappella intro of the song out of the vocal jam of a wild “YEM > Cocaine Jam >YEM.” There’s some initial hesitation and shakiness with regards to the composition, probably reflecting the fact that this is the tour-debut of “Halley’s” and the song had spent some time on the shelf. The band clears this up within the first couple of minutes of the song. The standard outro-solo begins at 5:15, but instead of bringing the song to a quick ending, the band instead lets the ending peter out slowly beginning at 5:45. Trey begins heavily-staccato playing while Page adds some great interplay of his own. Trey’s playing evolves into some blissed-out melodies, and Page ends the song with swells on his grand piano. These swells lead the band smoothly into a huge bust-out of “Slave to the Traffic Light.” While this jam segment is very short (similar to the “Fee” highlighted above), it’s a cool transition that makes this “Halley’s” stand out and sets up the following “Slave” to make an even bigger impact than it would have alone.

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The Squirming Coil (July 24th – Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts, Mansfield MA – Set #1, song #10 – length: 11:18)

While not as exploratory as the “Squirming Coil” featured in the previous ‘That One Time…’ post, this first-set-closing “Squirming Coil” is still pretty darn cool. Right at the beginning of the song’s traditional fade-out, Mike and Trey start repeating a two-note vamp at 4:35 that sets the tone for the next couple of minutes. Instead of dropping-out to leave Page solo, Fishman and Trey briefly increase the energy of the jam instead of decrease. They quickly back off, but Mike sticks with this groove. The energy picks up again at 6:10, led by Mike and Fish, before dropping out to finally leave Page solo at about 7:00. Page’s solo is particularly inspired by the full-band interplay of the last couple minutes, and some beautiful ascending lines soon after 9:00 are worth highlighting. Like a lot of songs performed at this show, “Squirming Coil” received some extra attention in Mansfield.


If you think I omitted any performances here that deserve a shout-out here, let me know in the comments! My analysis of summer ’93 will continue on November 22nd with a ‘Songs of Tour’ post that will highlight the best “Mike’s Songs” of the summer. And of course, I will be reviewing the 1993 NYE run that begins on December 28th. Don’t forget that you can follow me on Twitter as well!

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Songs of Tour: “Split Open and Melt” (Summer ’93)

I would definitely rank “Split Open and Melt” as one of Phish’s most obviously psychedelic songs. Even relatively ‘straightforward’ “Melts” can lead the band through dark, gooey, and intense terrain during the song’s jam segment. The band started to learn at the end of the Winter/Spring tour how to really carve out space during the song’s jam, and the band continued to expand their approach towards the song over this summer tour. The July “Melts” largely hewed to the script that the band developed at the end of the W/S tour, but in August the band cracked “Melt” open even further with the song consistently ranking as one of the biggest improvisational highlights of the night each time it was played. August ’93 was just as big a step for this song as April ’93 was.

Phish performed “Melt” 13 times during the summer ’93 tour: 5 times in July, and 8 times in August. Of these thirteen performances, only one “Melt” was not included in my list of show highlights (the standard “Melt” from 8/6). That means that I considered “Melt” to be a show highlight over 92% of the time it was played, an impressive record. Below is a list of my favorite “Melts” from the landmark month of August ’93.

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8/9/93 – Concert Hall, Toronto CAN (Set 1, song #5, length: 13:11)

This “Melt” is the highlight of an impressive mid-first-set sequence of “Fee > Melt > Glide,” and the first standout “Melt” of August. This “Melt” begins to stand out before the jam even begins, with some extra scat vocals during the composition and some added space between 2:50 and 3:00. The jam begins at 4:30 with a quick tempo, driving Trey riffing, and improvised vocal melodies. Fishman introduces a half-time groove at 5:00 as Trey moves to sharp, chordal bursts, which begins to break down the jam. The tempo begins to pick back up at 7:00. Trey is still belting out his aggressive, chordal bursts, but he begins to play more major-key inflected melodies as well.

Trey eventually transitions into full-on shredding as he gradually makes his way back to the “Melt” theme. The band coalesces around the main “Melt” progression, and instead of driving the song to a hard peak, gradually lets the song dissipate into the ether and the beginning of “Glide.” While not as exploratory as some of the later “Melts” from this month, this “Melt” is an easy recommendation for those who like their “Melts” intense, rhythmic, and gooey.

8/12/93 – Meadow Brook Music Festival, Rochester Hills MI (Set 1, song #6, length: 12:26)

It doesn’t take long for Phish to strike gold again with “Melt” after the Toronto performance, as the song’s next appearance just four sets later impresses once again. The jam here starts at 4:25, and is again initially driven by hard-rocking Trey riffs. Instead of quickly breaking down the jam with a half-time tempo, however, the band instead just lets Trey rip. The band lets Trey build the energy for a couple minutes. At 6:10 the band takes a left turn through a dissonant excursion, which Fishman uses as an opportunity to unleash some particularly intense fills.

The so-far tight structure to the jam begins to loosen, and Trey flirts with some major-key departures at ~7:20. The rest of the band begins to coalesce around the “Melt” progression at this point, but Trey keeps them from getting too comfortable in that structure with explosions of trills and the occasional major-key departure from “Melt’s” tension. The next couple minutes of the jam are particularly wild and impressive, as the band constantly flips between the main “Melt” progression and brief, structure-breaking excursions. The jam collapses into a quiet, subdued segment shortly after 9:00. This segment builds slowly back to the end of the “Melt”, with the band teasing the audience with several fake-outs along the way.

 

8/14/93 – World Music Theatre, Tinley Park IL (Set 1, song #8, length: 12:35)

The third consecutive impressive performance of “Split Open and Melt” comes from the first set of this officially-released show. The song is easily the improvisational highlight of the first set. The jam begins at 4:15, and has been the trend, is initially driven by quick Trey riffing. Mike contributes some upbeat, head-bopping melodic lines as Trey lets loose a solo. The mood of the jam begins to shift at 6:00 as both Mike and Trey begin to hammer on the same note. This loosens up the song’s structure, and the band grows more subdued. The energy begins to build back up a minute later, and the sound gets increasingly thick and chunky. This swell of energy crests just as Trey reaches for the light with a major-key shift at about 8:45. Trey leads the band through a downright blissful series of trills, making this the most euphoric “Melt” of the month. After this peak, Trey gradually leads the band with some fiery shredding through a transition to the main “Melt” progression and the end of the song.

The unexpected emergence into a blissful space really makes this “Melt” stand out; as I wrote in my review of the show: “This ‘Melt’ is a serious contender for best ‘Melt’ in a month that is becoming filled with great ‘Melts.'”

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8/20/93 – Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison CO (Set 2, song #3, length: 11:26)

The Red Rocks “Melt” is the one “Melt” on this list to come from the second set. Phish drops straight into this “Melt” out of the stunning, set-opening sequence of “2001 > Slave to the Traffic Light.” The jam starts shortly after 4:00, and while initially driven by Trey riffing, this jam begins unusually subdued. The rest of the band very gradually builds energy behind Trey’s repeating riffing. Trey finally starts to transition into a ripping solo at 7:00, as the mood of the jam begins to subtly darken. Despite this push towards darker territory, Trey quickly starts to unleash some major-key-inflected runs in a move somewhat similar to the 8/14 performance. The band doesn’t commit to this direction, however, and instead begins to push through several, increasingly wild peaks. The backing band gets a lot of kudos here for appropriately tampering with the song’s progression as Trey goes nuts with guitar theatrics.

After some final, scintillating builds from 10:20 through 10:40, the band brings this one home, bringing an end to an excellent opening sequence to this set two. From my review of the show: “This isn’t the most experimental ‘Melt’ of the month, but it trades that experimentation for patience and grooviness seemingly inspired by the previous ‘Slave,’ making the result no less impressive.”


Hopefully in this post I’ve managed to highlight some impressive summer ’93 “Split Open and Melts” that fans of the song may have overlooked. Each of these jams (and the sets they are from) are easy to recommend. I’ll continue to analyze Phish’s summer ’93 tour on November 2nd with another “That One Time…” post, in which I will take a look at songs that were more-or-less the same throughout the tour except for ‘that one time.’

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Summer ’93: Stat Breakdown (Part II)

This is the second and final part of my statistical analysis of Phish’s summer ’93 tour. For the first half of this post, and for the explanation of the various notations I use, click here.

With that out of the way, let’s dig in!

Number of Shows Appearing as Show Highlight:

  1. Split Open and Melt (*), Stash (∧1) (tie – 12 times featured as show highlight – 36.4% of total shows)
  2. You Enjoy Myself (∨1) (11 – 33.3%)
  3. Run Like an Antelope (∧1) (10 – 30.3%)
  4. David Bowie (∧1) (9 – 27.3%)
  5. Mike’s Song (∨2), Tweezer (∨2) (8 – 24.2%)

Delisted: Weekapaug Groove (1)

The movement in this chart definitely illustrates some of the differences between the winter/spring and summer tours. Phish definitely started to crack the code with “Melt” during the Winter/Spring tour, but the fruits of that effort did not become fully apparent until this summer. By August the song was frequently the site of the most adventurous improvisation of the night, and one of the songs I most looked forward to hearing. “Stash” was consistently impressive, but except for a few occasions, perhaps not quite as wild as it could be during late March and May. The decline of “Mike’s Song” and “Tweezer” is not due to the songs being less impressive this tour, but is simply due to the band simply playing those songs less frequently overall. “Mike’s” led to some impressive and deep jams in August, while the band’s approach towards “Tweezer” was more or less in line with their approach to it during the spring.

“Weekapaug” definitely felt de-emphasized this tour. While the most consistently experimental song for a good chunk of W/S, most the band’s experimentation this tour came from other songs, and even the best “Weekapaugs” of tour were shorter and less adventurous than their W/S counterparts (see: the fun and energetic but less than five minute “Weekapaug” from 8/2).

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Some melty goodness definitely came out of “SOAM” this tour.

Average Venue Capacity:

  • Tour average: 6906
  • July average: 8468
  • August average: 5754

Phish seriously started to crack into the summer shed size of venues during their run through the northeast. The northeast portion of tour featured debut headlining performances at Philadelphia’s Mann Center on the 16th (capacity: 14000), Jones Beach Amphitheater on the 23rd (capacity: 10800), and Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts on the 24th (capacity: 19900). However, during August, the band toured regions where they were less well known, leading to the overall lower capacity average for that month. For example, the shows on August 24th, 25th, and 26th all had venue capacities of under 3000.

My Rating Breakdown:

  • Five Stars: 8 shows – 24.2% of total shows
  • Four Stars: 15 – 45.4%
  • Three Stars: 8 – 24.2%
  • Two Stars: 2 – 6.06%
  • One Star: 0 – 0.00%

I’m doing this calculation mostly to keep myself in check, and to make sure I’m being honest and not too gushing in my reviews. I think this is a pretty reasonable allocation of ratings for what is such a praised tour. The Vegas ’04 “Down with Disease” is what I have in mind for a 1/5 rating, and while I haven’t given a show 1/5 yet, nothing I’ve heard from 1993 even compares to the sloppy playing, mindless jams, and depressing lack of effort that characterizes that ill-fated 2004 run of shows.

Longest Songs of Tour:

  1. You Enjoy Myself – 25:59 (8/17 – Kansas City KS)
  2. You Enjoy Myself – 23:07 (8/28 – Berkeley CA)
  3. You Enjoy Myself – 22:43 (8/25 – Seattle WA)
  4. You Enjoy Myself – 22:10 (7/18 – Pittsburgh PA)
  5. You Enjoy Myself – 21:54 (8/9 – Toronto CAN)

Still waiting…still waiting…(for anything besides “YEM” to crack this list). Nothing from this summer could match the length of the the awesome, party-all-night “YEM” from May 5th in Albany, which shot past 30 minutes.

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YEM continues to reign supreme when it comes to length.

Top Set 2 Openers:

  1. 2001 (*) (18 times played as set 2 opener – 58.1% of total second sets)
  2. Buried Alive (*) (3 – 9.68%)
  3. Mike’s Song (*) (2 – 6.45%)

Delisted: Axilla (1), Runaway Jim (1), Chalk Dust Torture (1), Wilson (1), Llama (1), My Friend My Friend (1), Rift (1), Suzy Greenberg (1), AC/DC Bag (1), Golgi Apparatus (1), Loving Cup (1), The Landlady (1).

Eight other songs were all played once as set 2 opener. In order of appearance, these are: David Bowie, Maze, Wilson, Lengthwise, Dinner and a Movie, Rift, Possum, Llama.

While “2001” was an ubiquitous presence here, it was more so in July than in August. By the end of the tour the band was mixing it up in this slot quite a bit. That said, “2001” opened ten consecutive second sets between 7/16 and 7/28, and opened the first set of the two one-set shows in that period. That’s impressive.

Most Played Debuts:

  1. 2001 (20 performances – 60.6% of total shows – First Time Played: 7/16)
  2. Daniel Saw the Stone, Purple Rain (tie – 14 – 42.4% – 7/15, 7/16)
  3. Leprechaun (3 – 9.09% – 7/15)
  4. Nothin’ But a Nothin’, Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (2 – 6.06% – 8/25, 7/16)
  5. Piano Duet, Bill Bailey Won’t You Please Come Home? (tie – 1 – 3.03% – 7/28)

Not much to say here, except that the only debut this summer that is an original song (“Leprechaun”) vanished about as quickly as it appeared. Two future-Hoist songs debuted during the spring (“Lifeboy,” “Sample in a Jar”), but the band was either not finished working on more or wanted to save them for later (perhaps to continue to break-in and promote the Rift material).

Top Set 2 Closers:

  1. Good Times Bad Times (*) (6 times played as set 2 closer – 19.4% of total second sets)
  2. Run Like an Antelope (*) (4 – 12.9%)
  3. Cavern (∨1), Chalk Dust Torture (*) (tie – 3 – 9.68%)
  4. Daniel Saw the Stone (*), Rocky Top (*), Highway to Hell (*), Tweezer Reprise (∨3) (tie – 2 – 6.45%)

Delisted: Golgi Apparatus (1), Amazing Grace (1), Possum (1), The Squirming Coil (1), Big Black Furry Creature from Mars (1)

Six other songs were all played once as set 2 closers. In order of appearance, these are: David Bowie, Golgi Apparatus, Crimes of the Mind, Possum, Suzy Greenberg, Free Bird.

I don’t have much to say here other than “Good Times Bad Times” is an excellent way to end a second set. Other than that it’s interesting to see “Antelope” appear here while dropping in the set 1 closer chart, whereas “Squirming Coil” is delisted here and appears in the set 1 closer chart.

Top Encores:

  1. Free Bird (*) (12 times played as encore – 37.5% of total encore sets)
  2. Amazing Grace (∨1) (9 – 28.1%)
  3. Daniel Saw the Stone (*), Rocky Top (∧2) ( (3 – 9.38%)
  4. Chalk Dust Torture (*), Poor Heart (*), La Grange (*), Fire (∧1), Bold as Love (*) (2 – 6.25%)

Delisted: Sweet Adeline (1), Tweezer Reprise (1), Good Times Bad Times (1), Carolina (1),

Eighteen other songs were all played once as encores. In order of appearance, these are: Llama, Tweezer Reprise, Golgi Apparatus, Cavern, Piano Duet, Bill Bailey Won’t You Please Come Home?, Walk Away, AC/DC Bag, Sleeping Monkey, Carolina, My Sweet One, Sweet Adeline, Highway to Hell, Harry Hood, Memories, The Mango Song, Nellie Kane, Halley’s Comet.

I’m actually surprised “Amazing Grace” only fell one spot here, despite the frequency of “Free Bird.” The band still certainly seems to be enjoying their a-cappella numbers! As the long list of songs played only once indicates, there was a lot of variety in the encores this tour.

If you have any questions about my methodology, or would like me to calculate something that I haven’t included here, please drop a comment below and I’ll see what I can do. Otherwise you’ll hear from me again on October 14th, when I’ll a post a ‘Songs of Tour’ article analyzing the best “Split Open and Melts” of summer ’93.

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Summer ’93: Stat Breakdown (Part I)

I noticed as I was working on this post that it was beginning to become very long, so I’ve decided to split it into two posts. The second half, with the remaining computations, will go live exactly one week from today on September 28th.

All of my prefatory comments to the Winter/Spring ’93 stats post apply here; namely, that the data I used for all of these calculations comes from what I actually listened to, so any songs that were missing from audience tapes I listened to were also not included here. Unlike that earlier tour, however, no full sets or shows are missing from the summer ’93 tape record, so at most a couple openers and encores are missing from my data set. These small discrepancies between the data I used and the data on, say, Phish.net, shouldn’t have too much of an impact on these rankings.

In addition to tracking what songs had the greatest impact on the tour (one of the main reasons I find these posts interesting), I’m also interested in how the importance of songs changes across tours. I’ve thus added some notations to indicate how songs have moved up or down in these charts since the Winter/Spring tour. So, for example, (∧2) indicates a song has moved up two spots on the chart since the last tour, (v1) indicates a song has dropped one position on the chart since the last tour, (*) indicates a song that did not appear on the chart during the last tour, and (-) indicates a song is occupying the same slot it did on the last tour. The “delisted” line beneath a chart lists songs that were ranked during the last tour but got knocked off on this tour. The number in parentheses indicates the number of consecutive appearances on the chart before being knocked-off (as I have only done one prior stats post, this number is 1 for all delisted songs in this post). I know this all sounds somewhat jargony, but I think it’s pretty comprehensible once you start reading the lists.

So without further ado, here is my stats breakdown of Phish’s summer 1993 tour!

Most-Played “Songs”:

  1. Rift (∧2) (23 performances – played in 69.7% of total shows)
  2. Hold Your Head Up (∨1) (21 – 63.6%)
  3. 2001 (*) (20 – 60.6%)
  4. It’s Ice (∧1) , Maze (∧1), Poor Heart (∧1), Sparkle (-) (tie – 16 – 48.5%)
  5. Chalk Dust Torture (*), Stash (*) (tie – 15 – 45.5%)

Delisted: Big Ball Jam (1), You Enjoy Myself (1)

Rift songs continue to dominate, as “Rift,” “It’s Ice,” “Maze,” and “Sparkle” all at least maintain their chart positions. “Stash” only barely missed the cut-off during the last tour, and ekes its way in this time. I really do like “Rift,” but after hearing it so many times both this tour and last, and because of the almost complete lack of variance between performances, it’s basically become background noise to me at this point. I wouldn’t mind if they eased off that particular song a bit next tour. I’ll be curious to see if “2001” is as prominent during the next tour, or if its set-opening prevalence will be a gimmick limited to this tour.

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This album continues to hold tremendous sway over setlists

Most-Played Songs*:

  1. Rift (-) (23 – 69.7%)
  2. 2001 (*) (20 – 60.6%)
  3. It’s Ice (-), Maze (-), Poor Heart (-), Sparkle (∨1) (tie – 16 – 48.5%)
  4. Chalk Dust Torture (*), Stash (-) (tie – 15 – 45.5%)
  5. Cavern (-), Daniel Saw the Stone (*), The Squirming Coil (*) (tie – 14 – 42.4%)

*excludes Hold Your Head Up and Big Ball Jam.

Delisted: You Enjoy Myself (1), Amazing Grace (1)

Nothing too surprising here, except perhaps the delisting of “YEM” (the song only barely missed the list, making 13 total appearances). “Big Ball Jam” really started to fall out of rotation this tour; making only four appearances each month. It’ll be interesting to see if this “song” continues to fall out of fashion or if it makes a resurgence in ’94. I thought “Amazing Grace” might disappear entirely after its ubiquity during the winter/spring tour, and while the band’s a-cappella “Free Bird” did displace it somewhat, the spiritual still made a healthy 10 appearances.

Shows Rated 5/5: 7/24 (Great Woods Center for the Performing Arts, Mansfield MA), 8/2 (Ritz Theatre, Tampa FL), 8/7 (Darien Lake Performing Arts Center, Darien Center NY), 8/13 (Murat Theatre, Indianapolis IN), 8/15 (The Macauley Theater, Louisville KY), 8/16 (American Theater, St. Louis MO), 8/20 (Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison CO), 8/26 (Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland OR)

I gave more shows a 5/5 this tour than I did during the winter/spring tour, despite the W/S tour containing over twice as many shows.

Shows Rated 2/5 or 1/5: 7/21 (Orange County Fairgrounds, Middletown NY), 7/29 (Tennessee Theatre, Knoxville TN)

I gave the same number of shows a 2/5 or lower during the W/S tour, suggesting that while the W/S tour might not have reached the highest of peaks as often as this tour, it may have actually been more consistent in quality.

Best Rated Multi-night Stand: There were no multi-night stands on this tour! 33 shows, 33 venues. That compares to 10 separate multi-night stints during the Winter/Spring tour.

Biggest “Bust-Outs”:

  1. Free Bird (569 shows since last appearance, date of bust out: 7/15)
  2. Who Knows (510, 8/9)
  3. Sparks (392, 8/2)
  4. La Grange (310, 8/2)
  5. Dog Log (283, 8/2)

“Free Bird” reappeared in a major way this tour, making a total of 13 appearances, but was more or less nothing but a gag (giving the crowd the what of “what song is it you want to hear?”, but not the how the crowd expected). “Who Knows” was fun, but short and unfinished (to the point that I debated considering just a tease). “Sparks” and “La Grange” are always awesome, and I was glad to see the latter make more than one appearance. “Dog Log” is one of those quintessentially quirky Phish songs that I always enjoy hearing. While it may not have been one of the top 5 “biggest” bust-outs in terms of shows since last appearance, certainly the most important bust-out of summer ’93 was the return of “Slave to the Traffic Light.” “Slave” made two stunning appearances in August, after being absent from the stage since 1991.

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“What song is it you wanna hear?”

Most Common “Mike’s Groove” Interlude (7 total):

  1. Leprechaun (*) (2 – 28.6%)
  2. Faht (*), Ginseng Sullivan (*), Multiple Song Sequence (∧1), The Great Gig in the Sky (-), Yerushalayim Shel Zahav (*) (tie – 1 – 14.3%)

Delisted: I Am Hydrogen (1)

“I Am Hydrogen” dominated this category last tour, but in a complete about-face, was not played once this entire tour. Instead, the band kept things varied and played something different in this slot just about every Mike’s Groove. This might be the one slot I actually enjoyed “Faht” in, as it worked well on 8/16 as an ambient interlude between epic performances of both “Mike’s” and “Weekapaug.” I also particularly enjoyed the acoustic “Ginseng” on 8/24. The multiple song sequence is from 8/2, and the setlist for that Mike’s Groove was: “Mike’s Song -> Sparks > The Ballad of Curtis Loew > Rift, The Squirming Coil, Weekapaug Groove.”

And hey, at least “Leprechaun” is #1 in something, right?

Top Show Openers:

  1. Buried Alive (-), Llama (∧2), Chalk Dust Torture (∧1) (4 times played as show opener – 12.1% of total shows)
  2. Rift (*), 2001 (*), Wilson (*), Runaway Jim (∧1), AC/DC Bag (*) (2 – 6.06%)

Delisted: Golgi Apparatus (1), Suzy Greenberg (1), The Landlady (1)

Eleven other songs were all played once as show opener. In order of appearance, these are: Daniel Saw the Stone, The Landlady, All Things Reconsidered, Funky Bitch, Contact, Split Open and Melt, Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Lengthwise, Sample in a Jar, Axilla, and Divided Sky.

As you can see, I will only be considering songs that were featured in this spot at least once for these lists. The only “2001” show-openers were during one-set shows. I’m happy to see “AC/DC Bag” slowly moving towards its classic (IMO) spot. Otherwise, nothing too surprising here.

Top Set 1 Closers:

  1. Cavern (∧2) (10 times played as set 1 closer – 30.3% of total shows)
  2. David Bowie (-), The Squirming Coil (*) (4 – 12.1%)
  3. Golgi Apparatus (∧1) (3 – 9.09%)
  4. Runaway Jim (∧1), Run Like an Antelope (∨3), Daniel Saw the Stone (*) (2 – 6.06%)

Delisted: Possum (1)

Six other songs were all played once as set 1 closer. In order of appearance, these are: You Enjoy Myself, Possum, La Grange, Suzy Greenberg, Chalk Dust Torture, Crimes of the Mind.

It really felt like “Cavern” dominated this slot, so I’m not surprised to see that reflected by the numbers. “Coil” continues to make mid-set appearances, but also is becoming increasingly comfortable here. “Antelope” slipped quite a bit due to it becoming a second-set mainstay, instead of being an almost exclusively set one affair.

Okay, that’s enough for today! Another 1000+ word post will be incoming in exactly a week as I continue to dive into the numbers behind Phish’s summer ’93 tour.

 

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Summer ’93 Debrief

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The opinion I formed after listening to the first couple weeks of Phish’s summer ’93 tour was that the band had more or less picked right back up where they left off at the end of the marathon winter/spring tour. Or, more accurately stated, they picked up where winter/spring left off, putting aside the stellar and improvisational week of shows in May that ended that tour. Most shows from early summer – through the end of July – show the band focusing on breakneck tempos, technical precision, and structured chaos during the ‘jamming songs’ (“Stash,” “David Bowie,” “You Enjoy Myself,” “Tweezer,” etc.). To be sure, the tempos were somehow cranked up even further for this tour (for example: check out the blistering first set from Philadelphia!), and the dedication to precision made nearly every performance of compositional-heavyweights like “Divided Sky” and “Fluffhead” a pleasure to listen to. However, the band’s approach through the end of July towards their style of playing and construction of setlists largely echoed the approach from March and April.

Phish’s approach towards their shows may have been more of an incremental development from the end of winter/spring than a huge departure, but some differences between summer and spring nevertheless became apparent quite quickly. One of the most obvious changes between tours was the impact that the new song debuts made on setlists night to night. “2001” and “Purple Rain” both became ubiquitous presences on the stage after their debuts on the 16th, and neither song varied between performances. “2001” became the de facto set 2 opener, usually serving as rave up before the band dropped into deeper cut, whereas “Purple Rain” became the most common ‘Henrietta’ segment of the tour. “Daniel Saw the Stone” also debuted at the beginning of the tour and became a constant setlist fixture, though its position in the setlist on any given night was much more varied. The biggest moments of the show still usually came from the songs that they came from during the winter/spring, with one huge exception: “Run Like an Antelope.” “Antelope” was often performed in a standard, typical-great fashion throughout winter/spring, but the song absolutely exploded with energy on a nightly basis this summer, and that trend began right at the beginning of tour. Additionally, while the band had begun to crack the code of “Split Open and Melt” by the end of winter/spring, the song impressed on a much more consistent basis from the very beginning of summer tour.

The highlight of the pre-August shows of tour comes on July 24th, Phish’s debut headlining performance at Great Woods. This Great Woods show feels like the culmination of everything the band had been working towards – a tightly constructed setlist with lots of compositional weight, high-energy rocking, and impressive improvisational diversions. I would point to this show as the highest peak of July, but the surrounding shows on the 23rd and 25th, in Wantagh NY and Stanhope NJ respectively, are very fun and entertaining as well.

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Rift promotional video (1993)

Before moving on to August, I would be remiss to not discuss the band’s final H.O.R.D.E. appearances on the 21st and 27th. Consistent with the band’s approach to their festival appearances in May (and throughout 3.0), they largely play it close to the vest during these shows. This lack of risk-taking combined with an uncharacteristic sloppiness (for the time) leads the H.O.R.D.E. appearance on the 21st to be perhaps the least impressive set of the entire tour. The set on the 27th is much more solid, and ends with a “You Enjoy Myself” that is the clear highlight of the H.O.R.D.E. sets. Guests join the band during “YEM,” and the song gets blown out into an awesome free-jazz freak-out (and is left unfinished). Fans of unusual “YEMs” will definitely want to check this one out.

And then August begins. As I said above, the Great Woods show felt like the culmination of the winter/spring + early-summer approach towards shows (as did the winter/spring tour-ending May shows). So where does the band go next? Listening to the August 2nd show, it kind of feels like the band is asking that question as well, because during that show they essentially throw everything against the wall to see what sticks. Fortunately for us listeners, virtually everything they throw at us during that show is awesome. The band surprises the audience with not one, not two, but four of the biggest bust-outs of the tour so far (including great cuts like “La Grange,” “Brother,” and “Sparks”), and also present the tour-debut of “Bathtub Gin,” which they promptly break open and take for the longest and most glorious ride of the song’s brief history to this point. This is the kind of show where a ridiculous and highly-entertaining “Antelope > Makisupa Policeman Reprise > Antelope” at the end of the second set is almost an afterthought, because of how mind-melting the show to that point has been. It’s a fiery, risk-taking show that is full of everything that makes Phish awesome. The August 2nd show instantly raises the stakes for the rest of the tour. If the band can jam outside a song’s structure on the snap of a finger, like they do in this “Gin,” what’s them to stop them from doing it again?

This monumental show is followed by one of the weakest of the month, as the band seems to come-down from the outflowing of creativity the night before. After this brief night of relative rest, however, the band begins to return to the same well they visited on the 2nd on a nightly basis, and the explanation for this tour’s legendary status becomes increasingly and obviously apparent. Picking favorites from the next few weeks is a fool’s errand, as virtually every show between August 6th and August 20th contains stunning improvisation and creativity. In particular, the band simply barnstorms through seven incredible nights in a row in the middle of the month; a run of shows that led me to give out three 5/5 ratings (8/13, 8/15, 8/16). I’ll deconstruct some of the highlights from this period in more detail in blog posts to come. Suffice to say, pick a date from this period and you’ll find some great music to listen to.

After a superb performance at Red Rocks on the 20th, the band hits a bit of a late-tour lull as they tour the northwest. The band reins in their newfound spontaneity just a smidge, perhaps in part due to some exhaustion after being on the road for over a month, and undoubtedly influenced by the almost full-set guest sit-in on 8/21. The tour finishes strongly, however, with a ‘greatest-hits’ vibe to the Portland show on the 8/26 and a high-energy tour finale in Berkeley on the 28th.

So, just as I asked after the Great Woods show, what now? During August, Phish dug deeper into some of their songs than they ever had previously, and proved they were able to break songs open into wild, type-II excursions on a regular basis. Will this become the new norm going forward? Or will the band fall back into a more July-esque style of playing after a few months of rest? The long jams of August were often chaotic, lurching between ideas every couple of minutes. Will the band work on creating more fluid and organic jams, or will they push the hyperkinetic style into even more psychedelic heights? I was even less familiar with ’94 going into this project than I was with ’93, so I can honestly say I don’t know the answer to those questions. My personal encyclopedia of Phish knowledge largely does not start until ’95–I’m very interested in how we get to there from here over the next year and change.

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Hoist photoshoot (1993)

It will be sometime before these answers to these questions come, for Phish takes the fall off from touring after summer ’93, presumably as work on what will become Hoist picks up team. We will get some hint as to how August ’93 will impact Phish going forward during the New Year’s Eve run, which will start on December 28th and feature the band circling several major northeast cities.

To fill the time between now and the start of that New Year’s Eve run I will be posting several posts dissecting different aspects of the summer ’93 tour in greater detail. The next of these will be a statistical breakdown of the tour on September 21st, so stay tuned!

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