Winter/Spring ’93 debrief

As I look back over Winter/Spring ’93 as a whole, a clear arc of the tour emerges. The tour began in February with the band focusing on breaking in the new Rift material. These Rift songs were kept in heavy-rotation throughout the month (as they were for the whole tour), and the band worked on figuring out what roles in future setlists the Rift songs would play. In addition to the songs from the new album, the first couple shows of tour also featured new songs not on Rift: future “Hoist” songs “Sample in a Jar” and “Lifeboy,” as well as a cover of “Loving Cup” to inaugurate Page’s new baby grand piano. Many of these newer songs did not catch on immediately: “Loving Cup” was not played after the end of March and “Lifeboy” made only 5 appearances. “The Wedge” felt like the most frequently played song of the first week of tour before dropping out of setlists entirely just a couple weeks later. One tour debut, however, did end up sticking around. It took a couple weeks for the band to nail the timing of “Sample in a Jar,” but once they did the song stuck around through the end of tour.

With the band focusing on breaking in an album’s worth of new material (and then some), February feels comparatively light on big improvisational highlights. You could depend on moments of full-band jamming in “Tweezer,” Mike’s Groove (particularly “Weekapaug Groove”), and “You Enjoy Myself,” and the band usually played one or two of those sequences at any given show. Full-band improv outside of those clearly defined segments, however, is rare. The clear highlight of February is the Atlanta Roxy run, which is capped by a ridiculous Saturday night segue-fest as “Tweezer” and Mike’s Groove weave in and out of songs like “Walk Away,” “Kung,” “Have Mercy,” and “My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own.”

The trajectory of the tour begins to shift in March. By the New Orleans shows at the beginning of the month the band sounds increasingly confident with their songs, which leads to an increased sense of adventure and fun throughout March. The band sounds particularly feisty during the Colorado run in the middle of the month, which features the return of the long-absent “Halley’s Comet,” the debut of “Great Gig in the Sky,” and a great “YEM.” The long, ten-show California run is spottier, with a number of average (or worse) shows, but the highs are high (see: the Gamehendge set on 3/22). Volume restrictions at the Redlands show on 3/19 led to an odd show on that night, but forced the band to pay more attention to the dynamics of their jams, which led to interesting playing during the following shows.

Painting in broads strokes then, I characterize February as focusing on breaking in new songs. This leads to an increased confidence in March that manifests in an increasing energy level at shows and sense of fun. The end of March, however, is the big turning point for the tour. The reason the end of March is the big turning point is because the band starts experimenting with full-band improvisation outside the context of the marquee jam vehicles (“YEM,” “Tweezer,” and “Weekapaug.”). This experimentation starts to occur primarily with “Stash” and “Mike’s Song.” Both of these songs were largely predictable during the first month-and-a-half of tour, with only a couple of standout performances from that time period. However, at the end of March, both songs hit a hot streak that lasts throughout the rest of tour. The big turning point for “Stash” occurs on 3/25 (I write in the review of that show that the 3/25 “Stash” is “easily…one of the best…if not the best “Stash” of tour to this point”). 5 of the next 6 “Stash” performances I marked in my notes as standout performances of the song. The song remains a fertile ground for creative improvisation for the rest of the tour, and it became one of the songs I most looked forward to hearing at a show.

“Mike’s Song,” similarly, often left me less than impressed during the first half of tour. The first jam is almost universally short on this tour, usually only 2-3 minutes in length, so most of the experimentation occurs in the second jam. During the first half of tour, this second jam was often a noisy, messy, sometimes incoherent mess. While the evolution of “Mike’s Song” occurs at a slower pace than that of “Stash,” standout performances start appearing more frequently at the end of March, and become the norm by the end of April. The “Mike’s Song” from 3/30 is the clear beginning of this trend, as the band eschews the second jam entirely in favor of digging into a dissonant groove. The band continues to creatively experiment with the song for the remainder of tour, often leading to great results.

During April all of these developments start to come together in exciting ways, making for an excellent month of tour that stands above both February and March. The Rift songs are fully integrated in setlists, the sense of fun and adventure that developed by March is still in effect, and the band continues to develop full-band jamming outside of the clearly defined sequences it was largely limited to during February and early March. “Stash” and “Mike’s Song” continue to impress, and the band adds a song to this list when they blow-out “Split Open and Melt” on 4/21. Like “Stash” and “Mike’s Song,” “Melt” was a predictable song for the first half of tour that featured a guitar solo from Trey and not much else. At the 4/21 show the band carves out an intense, dissonant groove that today we would characterize as a classic “Melt” jam. At the time, however, it was not a ‘classic’ “Melt” jam but the first time the band realized greater possibilities for the song. Reflecting the importance of this development, the band will use an excerpt of this “Melt” jam as the outro to next year’s Hoist album. While usually less free-wheeling than “Stash” or “Mike’s” (perhaps due to the song’s unusual time signature), the song continues to impress for the rest of tour.

All of this culminates in an absolutely terrific last week of tour that shows the band firing on all cylinders. I have not listened to much of the summer ’93 tour before, but I think we start to hear the genesis of that famed tour’s sound during these May shows. Among the highlights are a 30 min.+ “YEM” dance party on 5/5, a twenty-minute, type-II “Tweezer” on 5/6, and a 20 min. “David Bowie” that dives deep before emerging into the light with a “Have Mercy” jam on 5/8. Each of these performances is the longest performance of that song on this tour, which is an indication of how creative and experimental this last week is. While the Bangor show on 5/7 is solid but relatively unmemorable, every other May show I rated as a 4/5 or higher.

Broadly speaking then, these are my thoughts about the development of Phish’s playing on this tour. To fill the time between now and the start of summer tour in mid-July I’ll be diving deeper into different aspects of the tour in follow-up posts. Below is a (rough) schedule of the posts I’ll be working on for the rest of May, starting with a statistical breakdown of the tour on the 16th. As you’ll see, the band makes two festival appearances at the end of the month, and I’ll be covering those shows as I would any other show they played so far. I did find a recording of some jamming at a private party at Fish’s house on 5/15, but as it features both guest musicians and not the full band (Page doesn’t appear on the recording) I decided not to treat it as a Phish performance for the purposes of this blog.

Absent any unplanned post between now and then, you’ll hear from me again on the 16th…

May Blog Schedule:

  • 5/16: Winter/Spring ’93: Stats Breakdown
  • 5/23: Songs of Tour: “Stash”
  • 5/29: Laguna Seca Daze festival appearance, Monterey CA
  • 5/30: Laguna Seca Daze festival appearance, Monterey CA
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