Last week I posted the first half of my 10 favorite Phish shows of 1993, detailing entries #10-#6. Everything I wrote in that post about having to make difficult decisions in ranking these shows against each other applies even more so here. Regardless of the merits of ranking the shows I have (which I would love to see debate about in the comments!), I think we can all agree that these five shows are shows that any Phish fan should be able to enjoy.
So here they are: the top 5 shows of 1993!
#5. May 8th – Field House, Durham NH
Phish kicks into high gear early during this tour-closer with a deep, first-set sequence of “Stash > Kung > Stash.” I definitely prefer the late winter/spring “Stash” jams to the early summer ones, and the unbridled intensity of this “Stash” is a perfect example of why. The band tears through “Stash,” builds up a ball of energy in “Kung,” and crashes back into the conclusion of “Stash.” It’s an awesome sequence. The first set is otherwise well-sequenced, paced, and fun to listen to, featuring a rare jazz standard and a somewhat unique if not revelatory “Reba.”
The first set of this show is definitely fun, but it’s the second set that really shines. The band uses the final set of their longest-ever tour to embrace some full-on, distinctly Phishy, freewheeling madness. The longest and–with only one possible exception–wildest “David Bowie” of the year opens the set. Extensive “Jessica” and Secret Language teases are woven into the song’s intro before the band launches into a dark, heavy-metal, type-II jam. This heavy-metal jam is complete with requisite power chords, vocal wailing, and guitar shredding. The set just snowballs from there: “Have Mercy” gets woven into “Bowie” before that song’s conclusion 20 minutes after-the-fact, “It’s Ice” gets a long-for-the-time ‘underwater’ jam, “The Squirming Coil” is sixteen-minutes and goes into a full-band, type-II jam (???), and Phish debuts Eric Clapton’s “Crossroads” in the middle of a ripping “Mike’s Song”…before the tour ends with a jammed-out instrumental version of “Amazing Grace” on top of a “Weekapaug Groove” beat. It’s all totally unpredictable but flows together into something somehow cohesive all the same, and it’s 90 minutes of pure Phish fun. [LivePhish release]
Must-hear sequences: “Stash > Kung > Stash”,”David Bowie > Have Mercy > David Bowie”, “The Squirming Coil > Big Ball Jam”, “Mike’s Song > Crossroads > Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove > Amazing Grace”
#4. March 22nd – Crest Theatre, Sacramento CA
The first set of this show is largely unexceptional for the period. The setlist is promising, featuring the likes of “Stash,” “Reba,” and “David Bowie,” but all these big tunes turn in rather standard performances. It’s still a fun listen; “Bowie” receives a good workout, for example, and goes through several exciting builds, but the first set is certainly not essential listening.
Set 2 is another matter entirely. “Golgi Apparatus” opens the set in unassuming fashion, but during the underwater segment of “It’s Ice” Trey begins the only complete “Gamehendge” performance of the year, making this a truly unique and special set. Despite some of these songs being in light rotation (e.g. “Tela,” “McGrupp”) they are all well performed, and the narration is enjoyable without being overwrought. I had not personally listened to a complete Gamehendge performance prior to this set, and I found it to be both a true delight (even on re-listen) and the most memorable sequence of the sometimes-inconsistent March run of performances. The entire song cycle takes on a dream-like quality as Trey narrates the tale.
This performance of Gamehendge takes up a full hour of the set, but Phish still has enough in their cylinders for a fiery Mike’s Groove to finish out the set. Trey gets downright nasty during “Mike’s” with a killswitch-esque segment while the band uses “Weekapaug” for some earned musical celebration. It’s a perfect cap to an incredible set.
Must-hear sequences: Gamehendge (“It’s Ice > The Lizards > Tela > Wilson > AC/DC Bag > Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird > The Sloth > McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters”), “Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove”
#3. August 13th – Murat Theatre, Indianapolis IN
While the second set of this classic mid-August show is jammier and more memorable than the first, the first half of this scorcher in Indianapolis has its share of highlights as well. A rare, cold-open “Makisupa Policeman” sets a heady tone for the night as song #3 of the evening, and a typical-but-shredding “Stash” warms up the band’s improvisational muscles just a couple songs later. The night really takes a turn for Phishy weirdness, however, with the near-20-minute “David Bowie” set closer (the “one possible exception” I mentioned above while discussing the 5/8 “Bowie”). This experimental “Bowie” works its way through a number of distinct mini-jams including a euphoric peak centered around “The Mango Song” progression and a riff on jazz standard “My Favorite Things.” It’s not the most fluid jam of the month, but it’s an exciting listen and would be the clear standout of many other shows.
Of course, the Murat Theatre show stands out from most other shows, and the exploratory “David Bowie” only marks the beginning of this show’s incredible offerings. This show will forever be known for the “Murat Gin,” one of those legendary Phish jams that has been bestowed with its own short-hand, proper-noun name. The jam is not quite the ecstatic blow-out that the best of the late-90s “Gins” are, but the fact that this jam is even in conversation with those best-of-career showcases speaks to its quality, and it’s an explosion of creativity, joy, and energy that is certainly groundbreaking for this time. The Murat “Gin” displays more fluidity than any prior “Gin” and works through multiple life-affirming peaks. And, unbelievably, that’s not all this set has to offer! The band shortly after then goes on to drop another huge type-II jam at the end of the set by way of a hard-rocking and intense “Mike’s Song.” “Mike’s” eschews the euphoria of the earlier “Gin” for unbridled heavy-metal energy, shouted vocal wails and all.
Several shows on this top 10 list earn their way on through a combination of setlist hijinks, bust-outs, pure Phishiness, and memorable improvisation. With 8/13, while the setlist is certainly good, it’s simply all about the jams. Murat earns the #3 slot because in terms of improvisation it’s the most accomplished show of the year prior to the New Year’s Eve run, pure and simple. [LivePhish Release]
Must-hear sequences: “David Bowie,” “Bathtub Gin,” “Mike’s Song > Lifeboy”
#2. December 31st – Worcester Centrum Centre, Worcester MA
Speaking of that New Year’s run…
Some factors that go into ranking shows on this list are relatively easy to quantify. For example, it’s easy to look at a setlist and count how many big jams a show has. Other factors require a little more attention to detail and nuance and can’t be reduced to a number, such as the band’s approach towards a song on any particular evening. Lastly, some elements of the show experience, like how it must have felt to be in that particular room during any given show can be near-impossible to translate to words or an after-the-fact analysis. It’s these more intangible factors that lie behind the high placement of this show perhaps more than any other show here.
While not quite the largest capacity venue Phish played all year, the Centrum is nevertheless considerably larger than the vast majority of venues that Phish played in ’93, and judging by the excitement of the crowd on tape, the size of the audience brought a considerable energy to the performance. The band sounds electric and precise from the opening “Llama,” and it’s simply incredible to hear the band–from that already high starting point–continually pick up steam and become more and more destructive in their playing as the night goes on. The first set “Stash” and “Reba” are very good, but it’s “Run Like an Antelope” where the evening starts to push into that upper echelon. It’s not a particular long or exploratory “Antelope,” but Trey is simply ripping by this point and the jam explodes with a wild and crazy intensity.
The second set picks up where “Antelope” left off and continues to build. The set-opening “Tweezer” is also not particularly exploratory, but trades exploration for a single-minded, laser-focused party vibe that slowly builds to an incredibly satisfying peak. Trey uses his solo in “You Enjoy Myself” to deliver more thrilling guitar theatrics before the entirety of set 3 serves as a peak for the evening. Phish immediately follows the “Auld Lang Syne” ringing in of the new year with the joyful debut of “Down with Disease” by way of an instrumental jam on that song’s main theme and a dark, precise “Split Open and Melt.” Everything culminates with a euphoric, definitive take on “Harry Hood.” As I write in my review of the show, “Phish is hungry during this show. It’s simply impossible not to sense. The sets are perfectly scripted, the band digs in to just about every jam to bring them to soaring heights, and Trey simply shreds from beginning to end, putting on a master class of rock solo musicianship.” I don’t think there’s much more to be said.
Must-hear sequences: “Run Like an Antelope,” “Tweezer,” “You Enjoy Myself,” “Auld Lang Syne > Down with Disease Jam > Split Open and Melt” (found on Live Bait Vol. 3), “Harry Hood”
#1. December 30th – Cumberland County Civic Center, Portland ME
This show is the yin to the yang of the 31st. Both shows are the complete package, but while the 31st is exploding with energy and a party-vibe, this night showcases the band diving deep into heady, psychedelic territory and surfacing with some of the most impressive jams of the year. Phish shows they mean business right from the get-go by using “David Bowie” to open set 1 for the first time since February. While not as exploratory as some summer performances of the song, this is still a highly entertaining “Bowie” that features a brief “Dream On” jam, knotty full-band interplay, and an exciting series of peaks.
The show just builds from there. The stakes continue to rise over the course of the first set, with a fun narration in “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird” that references the hockey rink beneath the audience’s feet and the first “Bathtub Gin” since the monumental Murat performance. While this “Gin” may not reach the same heights as the Murat performance, the band nevertheless once again busts open the end of the song and embarks on a galloping, open-ended jam that gradually melts into nothingness. As I wrote in my review, this was “my favorite set of the run so far; first set or second.”
As good as the first set is, it’s merely prelude to the awesomeness contained in the second half. The whole of set 2 is simply a peak performance. “2001” kicks things off as if it’s still summer before a monster “Mike’s Song” kicks off a 40+ minute Mike’s Groove. “Mike’s” is not unusually long, but it is unusually locked-in and focused, with the band driving straight towards a cathartic, euphoric, and type-II peak with a fluidity often absent from this year’s big jams. The rest of the set flows like a dream, with the band refusing to take a pause or play a wrong note: “Mike’s” melts into a serene breather by way of “The Horse > Silent in the Morning” which in turn gives way to the funk intensity of “Punch You in the Eye.” “Punch” emerges into the exquisite, rare treat of “McGrupp” before “Weekapaug Groove” brings the whole sequence to a rocking, explosive conclusion. Still-new to rotation “Slave to the Traffic Light” caps this momentous set with a judicious amount of ‘hose’ peaking from Trey.
Individually these songs are all great, but they somehow manage to coalesce into something even greater. This is one of those shows where every song, every jam, every note seems to somehow be placed exactly where it is meant to be. All four musicians are on top of their game, and this whole show is simply a delight to listen to. To be fair, much of the same can be said of the 31st, and deciding which of these two shows to place on top was probably the hardest decision I made while working on this list. But something about this entire show simply clicks with me in a way that no other 1993 show did. There was something magical in the air on this cold night in Portland, Maine.
Must-hear sequences: “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird,” “Bathtub Gin,” “Mike’s Song,” “Weekapaug Groove,” “Slave to the Traffic Light”
I hope that these rankings have been as fun to read as they were to work on! Phish’s 1994 spring tour did not start until April, so I’ll be posting one more backwards-looking ’93-focused post on February 25th before I start looking ahead to ’94 Phish. Talk to you then!