On the ‘About’ page of this blog I lay out the simple reasons why I chose Winter/Spring ’93 as the jumping off point for this project. There is a logical, music-related reason: ’93 is considered one of the watershed years for Phish, so starting at the beginning of that year makes some sense. The year also marks the band’s transition from theatres and clubs to larger venues. But there’s a personal reason as well. 1993 is the year I was born, and this show marks the very date I entered the world. I don’t think that’s going to color my evaluation of tonight’s music very much, but I want to be upfront about this show holding some personal significance to me.
This is Phish’s final night in Ohio on this tour, and their second-ever performance at the Agora Theatre. The band opened their last show at this venue with “Suzy Greenberg,” almost exactly a year ago, and they decide to open with the same song tonight. Like most “Suzy” performances this one is largely interchangeable with other appearances this tour, but it’s a fun start to the night. “Sparkle” follows and is paired with another Rift song, “It’s Ice.” There’s nothing special about this “Ice,” but it works well in the setlist as a prelude to “Reba.”
“Reba” is the first big moment of this show. The jam is treated with patience from beginning to end, with both the build-up and the peak feeling perfectly executed. Trey slides into a real nice, mellow run by 7:30 that is then built on over the next several minutes. Trey kicks on the overdrive and drives the jam to its peak at 10:00, and then really pushes at this peak to keep it going. In many “Rebas” this tour they’ll bring this song to a celebratory height for just 30 or 40 seconds before cutting out, but they let this one develop for at least a couple minutes. It’s a great “Reba,” which I say a lot about “Reba,” but this one is a serious contender for best of tour so far.
“Chalk Dust Torture” maintains the energy from “Reba,” while the following “Esther” is well-played and a nice breather. The second big moment of the show is next. “Stash” returns to its experimental form, seen at the end of March and beginning of April, and delivers a thrilling mid-set jam. At first the jam sounds typical, but it takes a big step sideways at 7:20. A passage of great, intertwining lines from Trey and Page begins. The mood is dissonant and it quickly grows in intensity, sounding akin to a dark and demented “Split Open and Melt” jam. After a couple crazy minutes Trey pushes the jam to a peak at 9:30, and gradually begins the transition to more typical “Stash” territory. None of the tension is really released, however, until about 10:20. Shortly after this final peak the band breaks down the volume of the song rapidly at 10:45. A sparse jam develops, mainly led by Page with Trey adding some scratching and dissonant noises. Trey very delicately leads the band into the “Maybe so, maybe not” ending after the jam almost cuts out entirely at 11:50. All I have to say is “Wow!” I have heard a lot of great “Stash” jams on this tour (it might be the band’s most exciting song at the moment), but this one might be the best. It goes sideways, develops intensity at an incredible pace, and goes through several twists at the end.
“Fee” works well as a deserved break after the trip through the wormhole in “Stash.” A very well-played “Rift,” always a good indicator of the band’s tightness, leads into a set-closing “Golgi Apparatus.” This is an excellent first set, with two big jams in the middle of the set surrounded by a good song selections and tight playing. I frequently praise “Reba” and “Stash” when they are played, but these two impressed me more than most and rise to the upper echelon. Needless to say, the bar has been raised high for the second set.
Set 2 starts with a string of shorter songs: “Llama,” “Bouncing Around the Room,” and “All Things Reconsidered.” All three sound good, both in terms of the band’s playing and the quality of tonight’s audience recording. The set opens up with the following “Tweezer.” The jam starts around 4:45 and the first four minutes are focused around a slow, modulating riff that Trey latches on to early. I don’t find this section particularly interesting: Trey’s riff just doesn’t interest me enough to be the focus of attention for so long. This riff does establish a dissonant tone that is expanded on when Trey finally starts to solo a little more. He does this starting at 8:30, and initially he still references and reprises the earlier riff. The jam breaks free though, and I really like Trey’s descending lines and soloing from 9:00-11:00. These last couple minutes of the jam are a chaotic and raucous end that somewhat recalls the intensity of the earlier “Stash,” and I liked it quite a bit more than the beginning of the jam. The ‘composed ending,’ a gradual slowing down of the song, begins at 11:15. They drag it out to comical proportions, not ending until 13:20 where Trey slowly starts up “The Lizards.”
“Big Ball Jam” follows “Lizards” before the band jumps right back in the deep-end with “You Enjoy Myself.” At 2:25, not long into the ‘bliss’ segment, Trey begins “playing” “The Vibration of Life.” Trey says the vibration will “recharge you for the rest of tour.” After some narration, Trey and Mike hold a pair of notes “at 7 beats per minute” from 3:45-5:00. Trey then ends the segment by asking everyone “feeling better?” The band goes back into the ‘bliss’ segment of “YEM” while Trey finishes bantering. Page’s solo begins at 11:20. It’s a fun solo, but fairly standard. Trey takes over at 13:00 and as usual, the rest of the band gets very quiet. Page and Mike barely play at all, and Trey takes a jazzy solo. We’re back at full volume at 15:00. Trey begins a big rock solo to wrap up his segment at 16:00, and delivers a strong peak before the drum and bass solo starts at 17:30. The drum and bass segment is long tonight, almost two minutes. I feel like Mike has been getting better at this part throughout the tour. He does well again tonight, though maybe loses focus a little near the end. This “YEM” has a fun jam, though one that is not particularly unique or memorable. The “Vibration of Life” interlude definitely adds some novelty factor to the song, though.
“Uncle Pen” provides a bluegrass interlude before the Henrietta segment. Fishman asks the crowd for suggestions for a new theme song to replace “Hold Your Head Up.” He says it can’t be one of their own songs, because it has to be a song he hates. “We Got the Beat” is suggested and Fishman replies that it’s in the running. Eventually he says he’ll play a song he loves, and begins “Love You.” A quick “Tweezer Reprise” closes out the set, while “AC/DC Bag” and “Amazing Grace” end the show as the encores.
The first half of this show outshines the second, with an excellent setlist that features two, top-shelf jams in “Reba” and “Stash.” The second set is not bad by any means, but it’s less memorable. The “Tweezer” jam meanders a while before reaching a cool peak, and the “YEM” jam is fairly standard (“Vibration of Life” interlude notwithstanding). Overall though, this show continues the trend of high-quality playing that hopefully is setting the standard high for the rest of the tour.
- Show rating: 4/5
- Highlights: “Reba,” “Stash,” “You Enjoy Myself > The Vibration of Life > YEM”
- Phish.net setlist
- First set length: 76 mins.
- Second set length: 93 mins.
- This is the second and last time Phish performed at the Agora Theatre. They last performed here on 5/7/92.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “The Vibration of Life,” returning after a forty-three show absence (2/20/93).
- The best represented studio album is A Picture of Nectar (5 songs).