It’s time for night 2 at the Tower Theatre, which means that Phish’s run in Upper Darby is the first multi-night stint at the same venue since Ohio. This last week of tour is awash with good circulating recordings: both 5/3 and 5/8 have official LivePhish releases, and these two nights in Philadelphia have circulating soundboards. I believe I also downloaded soundboards of the two forthcoming Palace shows as well. There is a caveat though: at least one of the shows in the next week has an entire set missing, and a couple songs are missing tonight too (though nothing that would have been a show highlight).
“Axilla” has been absent for over a week but makes an appearance tonight. The song has frequently appeared as a set two opener but rarely as an opener, so it’s nice to hear it in that role tonight. Like the eventual “Carini,” the song is an instant kick-in-the-face, so it’s a natural opener. “Sparkle” follows and is another quick, high-energy song. “Divided Sky” usually appears mid-to-late first set, so it too appears early in the setlist tonight. The performance is solid tonight, as is the case with “Mound.” “Mound,” of course, is usually a set-2 song (notice a trend?).
The first opportunity for the show to open up appears next with “Stash.” I thought the Hartford “Stash” was a little weak compared to the standout April performances, but tonight is a true return to form. Trey is out of key slightly during the composition of “Stash” at 3:10, but he’s back into shape by the beginning of the jam at 5:30. The beginning of the jam is built around a dissonant, descending Trey riff. The band locks into a dissonant passage at 7:30 that morphs into a full-on (but brief) type-II jam at 8:00 that is similar to the “Melt” jams of late. After a wild and chaotic minute, Trey leads the band back into the “Stash” progression at 9:00, though the mood of the jam remains intense. After some great shredding from Trey, the band works back into the composed end of the song by 10:30. Though shorter than some of the experimental performances from earlier this tour, this “Stash” drives a laser-focused path through a chaotic, essentially type-II jam that resolves in a satisfying manner. It’s a very strong first-effort at group improvisation tonight.
“The Horse > Silent in the Morning” follows “Stash,” and unlike the duo’s placement during the Hartford show, the release in tension is appreciated at this point in the setlist. “Poor Heart” brings the tempo back up before a “Maze” that is the highlight of the back-half of the set, largely due to Page’s solo. Page’s solo segment sounds better than average tonight and leads to a strong peak. Trey’s solo feels largely by-the-numbers, so Page clearly wins the “Maze” duel tonight. “I Didn’t Know” with Fishman on washboard and a quick “Golgi Apparatus” close the first half of the show.
The first half of this set through “Stash” is excellent. The setlist feels fresh, with numerous songs appearing earlier in the set than typical, and the playing is solid as well. This culminates in another excellent Spring ’93 “Stash” that has a very intense, dissonant jam that feels influenced by the breakthroughs the band had in “Melt” recently. The second half of the set is slightly more standard, though a strong “Maze” and a decent setlist flow makes for a fine listen. A good first set, overall.
“Llama” begins set 2. The band doesn’t sound in-sync at the beginning of the song, but they quickly pull it together. “Llama” ends with some added screaming from Trey. “Punch You in the Eye” appears for the first time in well over a week, and is a nice funky counterpoint to the fire of “Llama.” Speaking of funk, “You Enjoy Myself” appears very early in the set tonight, and has an awesome funk jam of its own. Page’s solo begins at 8:45. As Page solos the rest of the band starts to jam behind him. Mike starts adding some leads of his own, and within a couple minutes the band has locked into a unique groove centered around a descending Mike riff. Trey’s playing becomes more prominent at 13:00, but he doesn’t begin to solo fully and instead plays with the groove that has been established. He starts to take a traditional solo at 16:00 and leads the song to a peak at 16:55. After a satisfying end to the jam segment, the bass and drums solo starts at 18:30. The vocal jam feels a bit shorter than normal night, perhaps due to the long instrumental jam. I really enjoyed the funk jam in this “YEM” and think it’s a great “YEM” for the period.
“The Lizards” works well as a follow-up to “YEM,” and this is a typically-great performance of the song. There’s a brief tape patch or something for “Big Ball Jam,” because the source sounds different for this track. Unfortunately, due to further tape issues, the following two songs are absent from the circulating recording (“Bouncing Around the Room” and “Uncle Pen”). Next is…a mid-second set “Run Like an Antelope?” Okay, I’m down. I really am enjoying the subtle changes to the ‘usual’ setlist positions these last couple nights of nights at the Tower.
The “Antelope” intro is extra dynamic tonight, with the band fading in and out completely around 1:10. The jam segment starts at 2:50 and is immediately driven by ‘machine-gun’ riffing from Trey. The intensity doesn’t relent for several minutes, and Trey continues to riff at an incredible speed until about 5:00, where he starts to solo. More dissonance is introduced at 5:45, and similar to “Stash,” the band breaks into an anarchic, mini-type-II jam. They return to the “Antelope” progression at 7:30. Trey goes through a series of wild modulations at 7:55 before delivering a final, thrilling solo before the song’s reggae breakdown at ~8:50. This reggae part is jammed out a bit as well and I believe contains a Secret Language signal. If Phish is going to play “Antelope” in the middle of the second-set, I want them to play a particularly intense rendition of the song (like at the “Coral Sky” show in ’96). That’s exactly what they do tonight. This is one of the best, and most experimental, performances of the song in recent memory.
After “Antelope” we’re firmly in the home stretch of the show. A “Cracklin’ Rosie” Henrietta segment with some brief but entertaining banter from Fishman is next. There’s a long pause on the recording, and Fish remarks that it takes a “good deal of effort to determine…which of the 5 songs” he knows how to play he should perform. The prankster song “Big Black Furry Creature from Mars” closes the set. “Sleeping Monkey” is the first encore of the night. The band vamps over the chord progression for about a minute before Trey finally bursts out admitting “I’m sorry, I forgot the lyrics to this song,” much to the crowd’s delight. He goes on to mention that it’s extra embarrassing tonight because lyricist Tom Marshall is in the audience. Some advice Trey: if you want to remember the lyrics, play the song more often! “Amazing Grace” ends the evening on a spiritual note.
This is another great show at the Tower Theatre, which I might, if pushed, rank slightly higher than last night. There’s standout jams in both sets (“Stash,” “YEM,” “Antelope”) that are surrounded by good playing. I also enjoy the variety the band introduced to their setlists the last couple nights. The only real reason I’m not giving this show a 5 is because I think it’s just a little too lacking of that intangible “IT” to push it over the line. Nevertheless, this is an excellent late-tour show that I easily recommend.
- Show rating: 4/5
- Highlights: “Stash,” “Maze,” “You Enjoy Myself,” “Run Like an Antelope”
- Phish.net setlist
- First set length: 66 mins.
- Second set length: 86 mins.
- This is the second and last time Phish performed at the Tower Theatre. Trey Anastasio band performs here on 2/24/01, 11/15/05, and 12/13/14.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “Sleeping Monkey,” returning after a thirty-one show absence (3/21/93).
- The best represented studio album is Rift (5 songs).