August 1993 is one of the most vaunted months in Phish history, often spoken about in the same bated breath reserved for Fall ’97. Despite this reputation, I have previously listened to very few the shows from this month. This is thus my first time listening to this Ritz Theatre show. We were last at this venue in February (2/26), and the show on that date was a rather average performance. Just one look at tonight’s bust-out-heavy setlist, however, leads me to think that tonight might be more eventful. “Chalk Dust Torture” opens the show, and even by “Chalk Dust” standards, this is a fiery performance that sets the energy-level high right from the get-go. “Guelah Papyrus” was in heavy rotation during the spring but has been played more sparingly this summer, so it’s almost nostalgic to hear it return to the two-slot, a spot in the setlist it occupied so frequently during the last tour. The mellower vibe of “Guelah” serves as a nice companion to the high-energy show opener, and it features a Simpsons signal during the song’s pause.
A quick “Poor Heart” serves as a bridge between “Guelah” and one of the biggest bust-outs of the tour so far: “Brother!” I heard this fan-favorite soundchecked once during Winter/Spring, but it hasn’t been played at a show proper since July 1992. Perhaps due to the song’s absence, the band almost loses the thread of the song at 3:45 during Trey’s otherwise-excellent solo, but they manage to recover quickly. Despite this minor misstep the song is fun to hear, and it’s an overall good performance. The rarities just continue to flow from there, with the elusive “Oh Kee Pah Ceremony” serving as an intro to a mid-set “Suzy Greenberg.” “Suzy” fits well here in the setlist, as the show has been generally high-energy from the beginning. Trey delivers a positively scintillating run up the fretboard prior to Page’s second solo, much to the crowd’s delight, and Page matches Trey’s playing with an impressive solo of his own. This adds up to a better than average “Suzy.”
A quick run-through of “All Things Reconsidered” brings the band to “Bathtub Gin.” “Gin” was last seen in April, and while the song is a personal favorite of mine, the band still seemed uncertain what to do with the song’s jam last time it was seen. Trey definitely shakes off some rust during the song’s composition, as it sounds like he remembers how to play the song’s main melody on-the-spot. The jam starts at 4:55, and it initially sounds like it will break down immediately, similar to the spring performances. Trey quickly locks into a simple, melodic riff, but the rest of the band seems uncertain as to what to do. Mike and Page lock into Trey’s playing fairly quickly, but Fishman is all over the place with the rhythm, unsure of whether to break the song down or to lock-in to the rest of the band and dive deep into the unknown. The latter course prevails, and the whole band is locked in to the jam by 6:45. What follows is a short but simply glorious and uplifting bliss jam. Trey returns to the main “Gin” melody at 7:45, which led me to think the band was bringing the song to a close. They take a left-turn at 8:30, however, and the tempo suddenly quickens as the band instead moves into a very bluegrass-esque second jam. Page takes the lead in this segment with some great, melodic playing. After some fun with dynamics, fading the jam in and out, the band plays a buttery smooth segue into “Makisupa Policeman” (!), which has only been played once so far this year.
Folks, I think we just witnessed the birth of the modern “Bathtub Gin,” and it’s simply a delight to hear. You can literally hear the band in real-time decide whether or not to take the song for a ride. I’m glad they did. “Makisupa” is a nice landing-pad after the craziness of “Gin,” and contains a nice little ambient/reggae jam of its own. The set rolls on from there, with the band starting straight into “My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own” out of the ending of “Makisupa.” Two more huge bust-outs close the set: “Dog Log > La Grange,” both which have not been played since 1991. “Dog Log” has been soundchecked several times this year, so the song sounds pretty tight despite the time on the shelf. It’s fun to hear, but it’s a fairly standard read of the song. “La Grange” provides Mike with an opportunity to ham it up during the intro, before the song kicks into high gear to end the set on the same note as it began: with lots of energy and quality soloing.
This is simply a wild set: it’s ridiculous how much ground the band covers in less than an hour. The overall energy level of the set is very high from the beginning, with a fiery “Chalk Dust,” fast “Brother,” above-average “Suzy Greenberg,” and ripping “La Grange” closer. The band breaks “Bathtub Gin” wide open for the first time in the song’s history, with the song contains both an uplifting bliss jam and a bluegrass second jam that segues smoothly into the rare “Makisupa.” Lastly, this set contains big bust-outs left and right. This whole set is more or less one giant highlight, from beginning to end. Easily one of the best sets of the tour so far.
“2001” opens a set for the 12th time this tour to kick off the show’s second half, and drops unexpectedly into “Mike’s Song.” Mike’s Groove has been played less often this summer than during the Winter/Spring tour, so it’s a surprise to hear it pop up in consecutive shows. It’s also usually played much later in the set. That said, if the first set was any indication, “anything goes” is the mantra of the night. The “Mike’s” jam starts at 2:30, with Trey coming in at 3:10. Trey rides a simple, hard-rocking, Zeppelin-esque riff for about a minute before transitioning into a solo shortly after 4:00. This builds to a good, exciting peak, before the “Mike’s” end chords kick in at 5:00. A second jam begins at 5:15, and the band quickly breaks the jam down into a chordal, half-time segment. Trey locks onto a driving riff at 6:00, which the rest of the band uses to build the jam back up. The tempo increases rapidly and the mood becomes quite intense. This crashes back into the “Mike’s” progression at about 6:45, with the jam winding back to the “Mike’s” end chords at 7:45. Someone starts wailing away at this point on vocals, a guest named Joe Rooney according to Phish.net. This wailing adds to the anarchic and intense mood of this jam. The jam starts to break down again, and transitions into the biggest bust-out of the night at 8:40…”Sparks” (!!!).
“Sparks” was born to be played coming out of an intense jam, and that’s exactly the role the song fills tonight. This song is a lot of fun to hear, and it transitions into another rarity: “The Ballad of Curtis Loew.” “Loew” is not exactly my favorite song, as I’ve noted before, but after a wild first ~15 minutes of the set it fits in well here as a nice, contemplative breather. The tempo and energy of the set increases again after “Loew” with a well-played, mid-set “Rift.” “The Squirming Coil” is next, making a somewhat unusual mid-second-set appearance.
The band didn’t forget about “Weekapaug Groove,” as the song gets cold-started after “Coil.” Like last night’s “Weekapaug,” this is a very short performance of the song, clocking in at under 5 minutes. Despite being of similar length and style to last night’s performance, however, I think tonight’s performance is much more dialed in. The jam starts at 1:20 with the band initially bringing down the song’s volume, instead of diving straight into a peak. Trey then leads the band through several minutes of build-up, which culminates with a quick dissonant run shortly after 3:00 that erupts into a thrilling, trill-filled, blissful peak at about 3:40. After this excellent, uplifting denouement, the band works back into the “Weekapaug” verse at 4:30. Seconds later, the band smoothly segues into “Hold Your Head Up.” This is an great example of a short “Weekapaug” that works well despite its length.
Fishman introduces the audience to his new Electrolux vacuum before singing the tour-debut of “Bike.” It’s silly to critique the Henrietta segment too much, because c’mon, it’s the Henrietta segment of a Phish show, but it’s kind of nice to hear “HYHU > Bike > HYHU” after the seemingly countless renditions of “Purple Rain” this tour. “Run Like an Antelope” closes out the set. The “Antelope” jam is high-octane from the start, with Trey wasting no time in setting the gearshift for the high gear of your soul. The jam goes slightly sideways, briefly, at 4:30, before going through several tension/release segments that get progressively wilder and more intense. This builds to a furious peak at 7:00 before the jam breaks down into the song’s reggae segment. Instead of playing the normal reggae segment, the band instead transitions into a full-on “Makisupa Policeman” reprise! This lasts for a couple of minutes, with the band singing the “Antelope” lyrics over the “Makisupa” groove (mentioning a “Marco Policeman-dolas” in the process). This is another great, summer “Antelope” and an excellent way to end the set. “Sleeping Monkey” and an “Amazing Grace” sung without microphones comprise the encore.
The second set is not quite the same ecstatic frenzy that the first set is, but it’s still a blast to listen to. The first twenty minutes (through “Loew”) are a fun journey through jams and bust-outs, the set-closing “Antelope” is as thrilling as the other great “Antelopes” from this tour, and the short-but-sweet “Weekapaug” in the middle is a joy to listen to as well. Combine this with a mind-melting first set and you have yourself one hell of a classic Phish show. If tonight’s performance is any indication of what I have to look forward to over the next month, well, it looks like I’m in for quite a treat.
- Show rating: 5/5
- Highlights: “Bathtub Gin -> Makisupa Policeman,” “Mike’s Song > Sparks > The Ballad of Curtis Loew,” “Weekapaug Groove > Hold Your Head Up,” “Run Like an Antelope > Makisupa Policeman Reprise > Run Like an Antelope”
- Phish.net setlist
- First set length: 59 mins.
- Second set length: 70 mins.
- This is the second and last time Phish performed at the Ritz Theatre. They last performed here on 2/26/93.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “Sparks,” returning after a three-hundred and ninety-two show absence (9/13/90).
- The best represented studio album is Lawn Boy (4 songs).