I found last night’s show to be average in the context of the tour but showing some encouraging developments from the band nonetheless, so I’m curious to see tonight if we hear more flashes of unexpected brilliance as we move further south out of North Carolina into Tennessee. Spoiler: I’ve listened to the Roxy run of shows that begins tomorrow night and I know they’re amazing, so I’m excited to see how this show sounds as the precursor to that run. Once again I have the soundcheck recording so we begin our recap there. After some fiddling from Mike on the bass the band starts up “Shaggy Dog,” which is fun for me to hear as I have only heard it previously a couple times. Page sounds good on his new piano here. There are significant audio issues during this track (an ominous sign of things to come).
After “Shaggy” comes the highlight of the soundcheck, a jammed out “Quinn the Eskimo.” There’s no Trey at the beginning of this, which sounds sorta weird, but once he joins in about a minute in it sounds good. It’s certainly a different arrangement than the “Quinn” they play now, it has a jazzier feel, and I’m not sure I like it as much. That’s sort of moot though, for they are jamming by 3:00 and never return to “Quinn.” The improvisation starts with Trey soloing over a funky backing track from the rest of the band, which sounds very unlike “Quinn.” It has a proto-type-II feel to it. Page takes over for a turn in the spotlight at 4:15. After about a minute of Page soloing he locks into a funky rhythm with Trey for the last couple minutes of the jam. For a second it feels kind of ’97-like. This “Quinn” jam is honestly one of my favorite improvisational moments of the tour so far, and it furthers the idea that Phish plays some of their best music when there’s no audience around. Figures. Nevertheless, seek out this recording if you can. This “Quinn” jam is a snapshot of early-’93 Phish experimenting with styles and spontaneity in their improv that they weren’t really incorporating heavily into their shows yet.
After that the soundcheck just consists of some banter (a reference to the bet about Fishman being late for the bus), noodling to test instruments, and some working on “Sample in a Jar.” So after nearly 500 words on the pregame, we can move on to the show proper. Set one kicks off with “Chalk Dust Torture,” which is a great show opener and I believe the first time it has taken this slot on this tour. The band sounds locked in and ready to rock from the start. Some audio issues are noticeable though; there’s a weird echo on the vocals throughout the piece (I didn’t notice it much after this song though). Trey’s solo is of decent length and shredding from the start. “Guelah” cools things off a bit and a short and snappy “Poor Heart” leads us into an early-first set “Tweezer” (!). Perhaps the soundcheck “Quinn” lit the band’s improv fire early? The jam starts ~4:50 and has a funky feel by 6:30. This segment somewhat echoes the soundcheck “Quinn.” Trey slowly leads it back into a couple of minutes centered around more typical “Tweezer” riffing. The outro for this “Tweezer” is rather atypical for the era; the band begins to break down ~10:45 while Trey continues to shred. An eerie segment develops that rapidly quickens pace and transitions fairly seamlessly into “Foam.” Overall, these distinct segments tie together well to make for a great-for-the-tour “Tweezer.”
The aforementioned “Foam” sounds good and a quick run through “Sparkle > Cavern” leads us into “Reba.” The “Sparkle” tonight sounds like it has a particularly intense ending and reaches breakneck speeds. The “Reba” jam has a nice and patient build tonight and begins peaking in a moment of pure bliss around 9:20. There are several minutes of great peaks after that until 11:15 when the song stops for the whistling ending. This “Reba” follows the classic “Reba” arc but does so delivering lots of glorious bliss, making for yet another highlight of this show. “Lawn Boy” lets the band blow off some steam before the set-closing “Run Like an Antelope.” This “Antelope” is well-played but doesn’t stand out as much to me as the “Reba” and “Tweezer” did. Nonetheless, it is a solid ending to one of the best first sets I’ve heard in a while.
“Rift” opens up set two, reprising its role from a couple nights ago in Chapel Hill. “Stash” follows it, as the song continues to bounce between the first and second sets. Trey sounds good in this one, and there’s a particularly dissonant end to the jam, but the song is still sticking to more or less the same “Stash” jam they’ve been playing recently. A fine performance of “Lizards” leads to “Punch You in the Eye,” which is still shaking off some rust. Mike transitions out of the intro before the rest of the band is ready, making for an awkward moment, but the rest of the song sounds okay. Mike’s Groove anchors the middle of this set. The “Mike’s Song” jam begins at 2:40 and is characteristically chaotic. There’s a rather demented segment around 5:15, about a minute before they work into the closing chords. No second jam this time. Page lays some cool keyboard drones over the beginning of tonight’s “Hydrogen,” but they’re still having some issues with this song. An interesting “Weekapaug” jam develops by 4:50 with a Page-led segment, but the band’s soundboard starts to audibly fry not long after this. There’s some neat parts during the rest of the jam but the audio issues distract from this.
Technical issues notwithstanding the band trucks on with “Mound.” However, despite the band’s laudable persistence, the soundboard wins the battle and fries completely at the end of the song. At this point Page blames the problem on someone spilling a drink on the board from the balcony (though a user review on Phish.net from someone that was at the show contests this story). The band runs through a number of a capella songs: “Amazing Grace,” “Memories,” and “Sweet Adeline.” Fishman corrects Page’s story after “Grace” and notes that it was actually a “buildup of condensation” from “people breathing” that caused the problem, so he kindly asks everyone just to “hold their breath for the rest of the show.” After “Adeline” they realize that the board is out for good for the rest of the night so they begin to apologize to the crowd and tell them that they will make it up to them the next time they play here (in the background chatter on the tape you can hear someone say: “Is there a house board? Anything we can use?”). They end the show with a strange rendition of “Rocky Top” that has guitar, bass and piano but no drums (Fish joins on trombone instead). The crowd eats it up and sings along boisterously.
My show rating always reflects the experience of listening back to these shows from the comfort of my own home and not the experience of actually being at the show. I could see tonight’s show being something of a bummer to attend due to it being cut short by a solid 30-40 minutes. But for the listener, especially with access to the soundcheck recording, there’s a lot to like to here. The “Quinn” jam from the soundcheck is tastefully funky and more open-ended than almost any other jam outside of “Tweezer” that we’ve heard so far. If you’re interested in this era of the band’s sound it’s worth tracking down. After that we have one of the best top-to-bottom sets of the tour with a great “Chalk Dust” opener, best-of-tour contenders with “Tweezer” and “Reba,” and overall good playing and flow. The second set is a step down from those highlights but still decent until the soundboard starts frying. There’s a lot of great segments to check out from this show, so for that I give it a 4. See you tomorrow night as we kick off a weekend stand in Atlanta!
- Show rating: 4/5
- Highlights: “Quinn the Eskimo” (Soundcheck), “Tweezer,” “Reba”
- Phish.net setlist
- Soundcheck length: ~19 mins.
- First set length: 74 mins.
- Second set length: 79 mins.
- This was the first and last time Phish performed at the Electric Ballroom.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “Memories,” returning after a sixteen show absence (12/28/92) (soundcheck excluded).
- The best represented studio album is A Picture of Nectar (6 songs).