After an inconsistent and spotty festival appearance yesterday night, Phish hit the road to get ready for a full performance in their home state of Vermont. Tonight’s show is the first and last Vermont Phish show of 1993. The show opens with standard renditions of “Llama” and “Foam.” While these performances are not distinctive, it does sound at this point in the show that the uncharacteristic sloppiness that plagued some songs last night has been left in upstate New York. After “Foam,” Trey is audible on the tape calling for an on-the-spot setlist change as he calls out for “My Mind?” The band follows his lead, and the third “My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own” of summer tour leads into a solid “Sample in a Jar.”
“Divided Sky” takes its usual setlist position as mid-first set anchor. The song is played very well tonight, though like everything so far this set, it also is not a particularly distinctive performance of the song. “Mound” makes a first set appearance to follow “Sky,” and drops into “Ya Mar.” Both the Page and Trey solos are kept relatively brief tonight in “Ya Mar.” “Poor Heart” follows “Ya Mar” and someone goofs in the intro, causing the band to restart the song after the false start. The penultimate song of the set is “Stash,” which provides the only real opportunity this set for the band to dig into some improvisation.
The “Stash” jam kicks off at 4:50, and the first couple minutes feature fairly typical “Stash” soloing from Trey. Things start to get interesting at 7:30, when Trey locks on to a repeating, descending riff. This leads the rest of the band to break down the groove of the jam slightly. An intense build begins at 8:45, featuring lots of great riffing from Trey. This leads to a peak at 9:35. After a minute of great shredding from Trey, the band works into the composed end of the song at 10:30. This is not a very adventurous “Stash” when compared to some of the other monumental “Stashes” from this year, but it’s still a shot of life into what has otherwise been a fairly pedestrian set. A quick “Golgi Apparatus” closes the first set.
On one hand, the band has tightened up their playing from the night before, which is a welcome return to form. Besides for the false start to “Poor Heart,” all of the compositions are played essentially flawlessly, which makes the “Divided Sky” in particular a treat to hear. However, on the other hand, there’s very little improvisation in this set and none of these performances really stand out when compared to other recent performances of the same songs. The “Stash” jam is entertaining, but it doesn’t stand-out much when compared to great jams that have emerged from the song in the last couple months. Hopefully something will a light a creative spark under the band during set break, and the band will come back out for the second set with a couple of surprises in store.
Side note: I just read this on Phish.net after listening to the first set, but apparently the weather during this show was awful and the show almost got canceled because the amphitheater couldn’t handle the rain. If playing at all was something of a risk, that could explain the relative lack of risk-taking during the songs themselves.
“2001” takes its typical set 2 opening position, and transitions right into “Tweezer” (reprising the set 2 opening pairing from the 17th). The “Tweezer” jam starts at 4:20 with some pleasant runs from Page. Trey quickly takes over with riffing of his own, which leads into a full-blown solo by 6:30. A sequence of tension/release jamming begins with a dissonant build at 6:30. The song starts to get weird at 7:15 as Trey thrashes away at a single chord while the rest of the band builds up an eerie ambience. This section could have led to interesting experimentation, but instead Trey rips the band back into more typical “Tweezer” territory in a somewhat awkward fashion by 8:00. He makes up for this less-than-smooth transition with a satisfying solo that peaks the jam. Instead of moving into the composed ending of the song, the band instead seamlessly transitions into “Walk Away,” keeping the energy level of the set high. I always enjoy the pairing of these two songs, and while not an ‘all-time’ jam or anything like that, this is still a fun “Tweezer.” This “Tweezer -> Walk Away” sequence is easily the highlight of the show so far for me.
After “Walk Away,” the band moves through a sequence of through-composed songs: “Sparkle > It’s Ice > Contact.” Like all of the compositions from the first set, these songs are played with nary a flub in sight. These songs are all performed in a standard fashion, though Page’s solo in “Contact” feels a bit more funky and tasty than normal. “Possum” is next, and the last big musical moment of the evening. The intro is elongated, due to an “All Fall Down” Secret Language signal, and Trey works a “Tweezer” tease in at the beginning of his solo at around 3:15. After a couple minutes of noodling, Trey’s solo starts to pick up steam by 5:30 and builds into a downright fiery peak by 8:00. This is probably Trey’s best solo of the evening. Reflecting the energy of this “Possum,” the band adds some extra vocal silliness and screams when they crash back into the verse of the song.
Banjo player Gordon Stone joins the band for the rest of the set, for a sequence of: “Paul and Silas > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu -> Rocky Top.” This segment is fun but not particularly essential, especially because Stone is unfortunately barely audible on the tape recording I’m listening to. The transition between “Avenu Malkenu” and “Rocky Top” is seamless and funky, and probably my favorite part of this guest segment. “Rocky Top” closes out this brief second set (which clocks in at barely over an hour). Trey apologizes for the rain before the sole encore, which is the a-cappella rendition of “Free Bird” that has been frequenting this slot throughout the tour.
The elements were working against Phish at this show, so it’s impressive that all of their compositions were nevertheless played flawlessly. The looseness and occasional sloppiness present at their festival appearance yesterday has vanished. However, there’s not a truly memorable take-away moment from this show either. The “Tweezer > Walk Away” and “Possum” performances are both fun and energetic, and the highlights of this short show, but they are also not sequences I’m likely to return to much in the future. An average Phish show through and through, at least for the time.
- Show rating: 3/5
- Highlights: “Tweezer -> Walk Away,” “Possum”
- Phish.net setlist
- First set length: 68 mins.
- Second set length: 64 mins.
- This is the second and last time Phish performed at the Stowe Performing Arts Center.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday” and “Avenu Malkenu,” both returning after a twenty-three show absence (4/20/93).
- The best represented studio album is Rift, A Picture of Nectar, and Junta (4 songs).