Welcome! As the first proper post on this blog, greetings is in order. If you decide to come on this journey with me, this will be our first step through the formative years of Phish. Beginning this project with the 1993 Winter/Spring tour is a bit arbitrary, but 1993 has always seemed in mind to be a particular turning point for Phish as they graduated from the club and college circuit to larger and more notable venues while also beginning to push further at their improvisation. I’ve seen the summer tour pointed to as the watershed moment, but I’m hoping to see seeds of this transformation during this tour. The Winter/Spring 1993 tour sees Phish embarking on a 71-show journey across the country, starting and ending in their home of New England. So with this context in mind, let’s take a closer look at Phish’s first performance of 1993.
Besides for starting the tour, Feb. 3rd is a show about beginnings in other ways as well. This show marks the debut of Page’s baby grand piano, a marked improvement over the keyboards he had to rely on exclusively in the past. A number of songs that will go on to make frequent setlist appearances also make their debut at this show. All of this feeling of a fresh start comes together with the first song of the night – the debut of the Rolling Stones’ song “Loving Cup.” Much to the crowd’s approval, Page has fun with his new instrument with some melodic flourishes before beginning the song proper. Off we go.
“Loving Cup” is tightly played on its very first outing and a quick but satisfying solo from Trey ensures that the show begins on a high note. “Rift” quickly starts up and is well played, followed by a textbook “Fee” that plods along in a mellow fashion before Trey roars into a well-played “Llama” before the listener can blink. The “Fee > Llama” serves as a nice yin-yang pairing. After “Llama” Trey informs the audience that he is “very excited” by touring with the baby grand. So are we Trey, so are we. Apparently Page refused to play “Loving Cup” until he could bring one with him on tour.
Up next we have another debut, “The Wedge.” It sounds like the arrangement is still being worked on for it sounds quite different than its modern incarnation. Instead of beginning with a Trey riff it starts with a very jazz-inspired solo from Page that gradually melds into the first verse. The end of the song features some Page-heavy soloing as well. “Divided Sky” anchors the middle of the set, which is perhaps my favorite placement of the song (mid-first set). There’s nothing too remarkable about this version except that it is played well and sounds practiced. “I Didn’t Know” follows and features Fish on trombone instead of vacuum for a change, though his playing could charitably be described as lacking. The rest of the band mercifully cuts his solo short.
The beginning of “My Friend, My Friend” has Trey on an acoustic guitar, as was the trend at the time. “My Friend” also has sections that highlight Page’s new instrument, a recurring theme throughout the set. A standard “Poor Heart > Guelah Papyrus” brings us to the set closing “David Bowie.” This strong performance gives us the first improvisational highlight of the tour. The intro explores a nice (though short) section of dissonance before the song starts proper. In the jam the band experiments with dynamics in a tight passage of alternating soft and loud sections that increases tension before the song leads steadily into a strong peak. It’s a thrilling end to a strong first set.
“We’ll be right back, in a moment…”
Set 2 kicks off with a “Runaway Jim” that does about what you expect “Jim” to do, though it’s a well-played and good sounding outing of the song (unfortunately I do not have the source information for the tape I’m listening to). “It’s Ice” follows without much of a pause between songs. This rendition isn’t particularly noteworthy except for Page showing off his new piano during the brief ‘underwater’ segment. Next up is the first “Tweezer” of tour. About 2 minutes in there’s a brief vocal jam between verses. I’m curious to see if this will be a recurring feature of “Tweezer” this tour or if it’s just a one-off antic, but either way it’s a fun addition. The jam begins with some choppy chording from Trey and becomes increasingly anarchic as Fishman and Page simultaneously go off into the deep end while Trey repeats a simple riff. Before long they rope things back in and return to a more typical, yet fiery, “Tweezer” peak. By 10:30 the band begins playing the composed ending of the song. This is a relatively short “Tweezer” but it moves quickly through some interesting passages. I won’t be returning to this one often, but it shows promise for the “Tweezers” to come this tour.
“The Horse > Silent in the Morning > Sparkle” provides a welcome, mid-set chance to mellow out after an energetic opening trio of songs. “You Enjoy Myself” starts off the home stretch of the show and begins with an unusual ‘bliss’ segment that veers into unusual territory beyond the usual and expected pleasant ambience. The song returns to its normal structure at around 5:00. The post-verse jam gains momentum at around 13:00 and concludes in a thrilling fashion 15 minutes in. The bass-and-drums segment of this YEM is very short, ending just as it begins, but is made-up for with an entertaining vocal jam. I can often space out during the vocal jam but this one is very melodic and seems to be at least partly based off another artist’s song that I am not familiar with. The debut of “Lifeboy” provides a delicate and well-placed landing pad after the craziness of YEM to create the night’s most sublime moment.
Speaking of craziness, we’re at the Henrietta segment of the evening. Fishman is introduced as “the little beast boy” and laments that Trey’s dog Marley couldn’t join them on this tour, for she is simply “too old and fat.” The subsequent “Terrapin” is dedicated to her. The anarchic exercise in crowd participation known as the “Big Ball Jam” is introduced by Trey who explains what will result as the audience hits the big balls in the air. “Possum” is the lone post-Henrietta song of the set and closes things out with a dose of rock and roll fireworks. The last debut of the evening is “Amazing Grace,” which is performed a capella without amplification and begins the encore. Considering the size of the venue and lack of amplification this “Amazing Grace” is actually surprisingly audible on this night’s tape. The crowd is unusually respectful, with the cheering and whooping at a minimum. “Tweezer Reprise” sends the crowd off into the night with a buzz.
As this post crosses the 1000 word count I would like to apologize for my lack of brevity; this review needs a bit more set-up and context than most will need. To quickly recap, this is an entertaining and well-played tour opener that celebrates significant additions to the band’s live arsenal both in terms of songs (“Loving Cup,” “The Wedge,” “Lifeboy”) and instruments. Both sets have a good flow with clear highlights, and the show has a take-away moment of improvisation in the thrilling set-one closer, “David Bowie.” Not a bad start to the tour! See you tomorrow night in Providence, RI.
- Show rating: 4/5
- Highlights: Page’s new piano,”Divided Sky,” “David Bowie,” “You Enjoy Myself > Lifeboy”
- Phish.net setlist
- Debuts: “Loving Cup” (Jagger/Richards), “The Wedge” (Anastasio/Marshall), “Lifeboy” (Anastasio/Marshall), “Amazing Grace” (Traditional)
- First set length: 75 minutes
- Second set + encore length: 99 minutes
- This was the first and last time Phish performed at the Portland Expo. Trey Anastasio Band performed here on 10/24/02.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “Fee,” returning after a five show absence (12/13/92).
- The best represented studio album is Rift (7 songs).