Apart from the Atlanta Roxy run, tonight’s show is the only Winter/Spring ’93 show I had heard prior to commencing this project. This is because of the excellent sounding, official LivePhish release of the show that the band put out to raise money for Hurricane Sandy relief. An essay written by Phish’s archivist Kevin Shapiro both about tonight’s show and the tour as a whole can be found here. One interesting tidbit from the essay is that while both Trey and Page “have roots” in New Jersey, this is only the second headlining show Phish played in New Jersey.
Show #67 of ’93 starts with “Buried Alive,” which has a solo piano intro tonight. Good performances of “Rift” and “Weigh” follow. The band sounds locked-in tonight and have no trouble with these compositions. A ripping but otherwise typical “Chalk Dust Torture” is next before the set slows down with the relatively elusive “Esther.” “Esther” is delivered with a conviction that the band isn’t always able to pull off, and sounds especially nice due to the quality of the official recording.
“Split Open and Melt” anchors the middle of the set and is the first real opportunity tonight for the band to engage in open-ended jamming. The jam starts at 4:13, and Trey latches on to a riff at 4:30 that drives the jam. The rest of the band starts to experiment within the “Split” progression. There’s great chordal comping from Page on his baby grand at 5:30. The jam is only tenuously linked to the “Split” theme at this point, and takes a dissonant turn at 6:30. After a couple minutes of building tension the band transitions into the end of the song at 8:40. Though not as experimental or wild as some recent performances of this song, tonight’s “Melt” is still high-energy and rocking and a highlight of the show so far.
The band launches straight from “Split” into a long “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird” segment. The narration begins with Trey telling the audience that Paul on the soundboard has been working on an “experimental gas” that is being emitted into the crowd. Together with the “Vibration of Life” that the band begins playing, Trey says the gas will put the crowd into a trance. After the “Vibration of Life” Trey continues and tells the crowd that they will not remember the next 10 to 15 minutes and have only a hazy recollection. He then proceeds with a relatively standard “Forbin’s” story about the venue slowly ascending into space and the audience members becoming stretched out before falling gradually falling into Gamehendge. At the end of the narration Trey remarks that “you’ll think this was just a story I told you because of the gas in your head, but it actually happened!” I wouldn’t go as far as to say this sequence is essential, must-hear Phish, but it’s very amusing nonetheless and a nice twist on the standard narration.
A good “Possum” takes us into the homestretch of this set. Trey’s solo starts at 3:15 of “Possum” and is cooking by 6:00. The solo just gets more intense from there and comes to a very thrilling end at 8:30. A very quick-paced “Lawn Boy” brings us to the set-closing “Cavern.” While there’s no segment of this set that is truly extraordinary, there’s a lot of great playing throughout. The “Split” is an intense mid-set jam, the narration is very entertaining, and the “Possum” at the end builds to a great peak. This is surrounded by overall tight playing that is further highlighted by the pristine audio. Overall, I would rate this as a better-than-average first-set for this tour.
“AC/DC Bag” opens set 2 for only the third time this tour, and “The Curtain” follows. Both opening songs sound good. The set really gets exciting, however, with the next song: a big, seventeen minute “Tweezer.” This is easily the longest “Tweezer” jam of the tour so far, and a big development for a song that hasn’t been surprising me much of late. The jam is initially based around a bluesy Trey riff. A different groove begins to develop at 6:50, led by melodic playing from Trey that is unusually free of dissonance. After an intense first peak, the jam morphs again at 8:35 into a blissful, upbeat groove that is totally free of the usual “Tweezer” groove. Trey locks into a pleasant, repeating riff that segues smoothly at 10:18 into the first full refrain of “Manteca” since the February Atlanta run. Once finished with a couple of refrains of the “crab in my shoemouth” lyrics the band resumes the rocking, upbeat groove. After some brief soloing from Trey the jam starts to break down at 13:20 and lands back in a dark sounding “Tweezer” groove. There’s one final peak with some good soloing from Trey before the composed ending of “Tweezer” begins at 15:50.
Unlike most recent “Tweezers,” which have been fairly predictable exercises in tension and release, this “Tweezer” breaks structure fully and does so early on, going through several distinct melodic sections over the course of 17 minutes. My initial reaction: probably the best “Tweezer” of the tour so far. A standard “Contact” emerges from the end of “Tweezer,” which leads into a decent “It’s Ice.” “McGrupp and the Watchful Horsemaster” makes only its third appearance of tour and the first time since March, lending some freshness to tonight’s setlist. The song is very well played and the delicate middle segment is treated with loving care by Page, making for a memorable performance of the song.
The set rolls on from there with “Runaway Jim,” making an unusual mid-second set appearance. The performance is typically-solid with a good, patient solo from Trey. “Big Ball Jam” brings us to the night’s “Love You” Henrietta segment. There’s not much banter tonight outside of band introductions. “My Sweet One” keeps the goofy Fishman spirit alive before the set-closing “Tweezer Reprise.” New Brunswick gets treated to a triple encore that begins with two a cappella numbers: “Memories” and “Amazing Grace.” “Highway to Hell” wraps up the show firmly tongue-in-cheek.
Undoubtedly, the big moment of this show is the break-out “Tweezer.” Most “Tweezer” jams this tour have been based around a similar-sounding “Tweezer” groove, but this one breaks free for about ten minutes of freeform improvisation. That’s a kind of improvisation that has been very rare this tour, especially for such an extended length of time, and it’s exciting to hear. If the band starts jamming songs out regularly this summer, I think tonight’s “Tweezer” can be pointed to as a big step in that direction. Over the last couple months we have seen the band ‘crack the code’ with “Stash” and “Split Open and Melt,” turning relatively unremarkable performances early in the tour into nightly opportunities for experimental jamming. If tonight starts a trend, the same can be said now about “Tweezer.” Truly an exciting time for Phish!
That being said there’s a lot of strong moments elsewhere in this show, though of a kind more typical to this tour. The “Split” in the first set has a rocking if not particularly experimental jam, the “Vibration of Life”/”experimental gas” “Forbin’s” narration is entertaining, and the second set “McGrupp” is particularly well-played. Lastly, but importantly, the general quality of the band’s playing is high. All of this makes for a classic Phish show worth a listen.
- Show rating: 5/5
- Highlights: “Split Open and Melt,” “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird > Vibration of Life > Fly Famous Mockingbird,” “Possum,” “Tweezer > Manteca > Tweezer,” “McGrupp and the Watchful Horsemaster”
- Phish.net setlist
- First set length: 78 mins.
- Second set length: 86 mins.
- This is the first and last time Phish performed at the State Theatre.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “Manteca,” returning after a fifty-one show absence (2/21/93).
- The best represented studio album is A Picture of Nectar (5 songs).