Tonight’s performance is the second of three Texas appearances this tour, and the first show of 1994 to be officially released by Phish. This is also the second show I am reviewing for this blog that was selected as one of the original 20 LivePhish releases (the first being 8/14/93 from last summer). Although this show is considered by many to be one of Phish’s classic performances, I have not listened to it prior to writing this post. The show begins with a ripping “Llama” that is followed by an appreciated “Horn,” the song’s first appearance in a couple of weeks. “Horn” actually features a bit of a improvised coda tonight! Flurries of notes from both Mike and later Trey after the end of the song work to create an ambient interlude between the end of the song and the following “Divided Sky.” It’s only a brief moment, but it’s neat. Speaking of “Divided Sky,” tonight’s performance is very good. The great sound quality of the official release brings out all of the song’s lovely details, and all of the band members are playing well. There’s about a minute long pause tonight, and Trey’s solo at the end peaks with an explosive outburst of trilling.
“Mound” cools things off slightly after “Sky” after this very engaging opening trio of songs. “Fast Enough for You” is next in a mid-set position and is performed near flawlessly. The first Hoist song of the evening, “Scent of a Mule,” picks the pace back up while continuing to feature a very concise duel segment. “Split Open and Melt” follows “Mule” (meaning you could say “SOAM” follows “SOAM”) , providing the first real opportunity for significant group improvisation this evening. And the band certainly takes advantage of it!
Trey begins the “Melt” jam at 4:30 with a minute or so of fairly typical riffing, but Page does a good job of keeping the energy high with his steady chordal comping. The band starts to experiment with the jam’s progression at 6:30, shifting the root around, and eventually land in an anarchic passage driven by all-out drumming from Fishman and intense, non-stop shredding from Trey. Trey begins to step back at 9:00 and shift from this shredding into hazier, effects-driven playing. This adds a dark, psychedelic layer of murkiness over the jam, causing the rest of the band to break down and build back up to a big peak at 10:00. Trey then leads the band through a number of demented takes on the main “Melt” progression and, instead of dropping straight into the composed ending, the band instead transitions into a subdued groove at 11:40 that very slowly and gradually fades out. Not until 13:20 does the band quietly and slowly begin to play the actual, short ending to the song. The best “Melts” are the darkly psychedelic ones, IMO, and this one definitely gets into that territory. A great first set jam.
“If I Could” provides a pleasant landing pad from the darkness of “Melt,” and a standard “Suzy Greenberg” wraps up the set. Altogether, this is a great first set with an engaging opening sequence of songs and a big jam near the end. The middle third or so of the set is pretty typical for the time, but it’s strung together nicely and the band’s playing is rock solid throughout the set.
“We’re going to take a very short intermission, so don’t go away…”
Only the second “Loving Cup” of the year so far opens set two. I genuinely love this song and think it works great as a set opener, so I greatly enjoyed the song’s placement here. The band turns in a spirited rendition of the tune before transitioning into “Sparkle.” Normally I don’t comment much on “Sparkle,” because you generally know what you’re going to get from the song, but the final build at the end of the song is a hair wilder than normal tonight, with Fishman coming perilously close to dropping the beat of the song altogether at the end. “Sparkle” drops straight into the second “Tweezer” in three shows, and the longest track I have listened to writing for this blog not titled “You Enjoy Myself.”
The “Tweezer” jam begins at 4:35 with some sparse riffing and initial space. Some scat-like vocals emerge from the stage as a funky groove is developed, driven in no small party by Mike’s bass playing. A swaggering vibe is established, leading Trey to start up a repeating, catchy, hard-rock riff. Page starts to push towards the light at 7:40 with major chords, which Trey matches with soaring melodies of his own. This bliss jam lasts for a couple minutes before Page reintroduces tension on his baby grand. This guides the band back into a “Tweezer”-esque groove with Page leading for a while. Trey plays some quick chords on his guitar, however, and Mike almost instantly matches this on his bass, and the two go off to the races, pulling the rest of the band along with them into an anarchic, psychedelic, free-jazz freakout. The band settles on a “Mound”-esque blues groove at 13:45 after this messiness, accompanied by yelling by just about everyone on stage. Trey starts soloing at 14:45 “Jesus Just Left Chicago”-style over a couple progressions of a standard 12-bar blues and brings the jam to a funky blues peak at 16:30.
The jam breaks down again after this blues bit. After some searching, Trey lands on a quick, driving riff that the rest of the band gets behind to build the jam to a frantic, noisy peak that then implodes and settles on a chunky Mike groove. Trey adds some more swaggering riffing and wah-pedal chording as Fishman returns to a “Tweezer”-esque rhythm. The band firmly returns to type-I “Tweezer” territory by 22:30 as Trey continues to play soaring melodies. He builds up to a final, big, satisfying peak from 24:30-25:15. They could transition to the composed ending from here, but they instead opt for a hazy, psychedelic outro that transitions (very) smoothly into…”Sparks!” This “Tweezer” impacts this tour with the force of a nuclear explosion. With the one possible exception of the 4/24 “Bowie” this “Tweezer” shows Phish going deeper and more being more exploratory than they really had gone on stage prior. There’s some messiness in the 26 minutes, certainly, but they reach a lot of legitimately great sequences as well and manage to maintain a decent amount of fluidity throughout the whole thing. What’s even more incredible, however, is that the band is just getting started!
“Makisupa Policeman” emerges from the end of “Sparks,” a song Phish seems to save for special occasions during this era (it was last played during the summer’s famous Murat Theatre show). And, for perhaps the first time ever, the band fully jams the song out! Trey starts playing with his delay effects at 2:30, leading the rest of the band to largely drop out. Trey establishes a “Digital Delay Loop Jam”-esque groove with his pedals which he then begins to shred on top of. Mike comes back in at 3:20 with melodic bass playing, and Fishman slowly starts to come back in as well. This delay-fueled groove builds in a satisfying manner back into a progression very similar to that which the band ended the “Tweezer” jam with. This in turn slides smoothly into a full-on “Sweet Emotion” jam, complete with vocals! Then, just as smoothly and on a dime, the band slams straight into “Walk Away” (which Trey had been teasing subtly earlier in the jam) with a burst of momentum at about 10:00.
“Walk Away” is always a lot of fun, especially when the band segues into it out of a jam, and that holds true tonight. “Walk Away” gets jammed out significantly too, which is hardly a surprise at this point in this incredible set. Page takes control of this jam early, and before long takes a solo spot similar to the ending of “Squirming Coil,” with the rest of the band largely staying silent. As Page ends his solo with washes of chords, the rest of the band slowly steps back in similar to the ‘underwater’ segment of “It’s Ice” (and with some explicit teases of that song). The volume begins to build at 9:35, though no clear leader of the jam emerges, causing the jam to disintegrate again. After a Simpsons signal and another build the band transitions into the partially complete debut performance of “Cannonball.” The goofy nature of the song combined with the topical lyrics of the song (“Cannonball,” Bomb Factory, get it? haha…) makes for a fun way to end over 50 minutes of Phish insanity.
“Purple Haze” provides everyone the first opportunity to take a breather this set and Fishman an opportunity to grace the audience to one of his vacuum solos. The customary tease of “Hold Your Head Up” is started after the end of “Purple Rain” as usual, but the band then uses the theme as an opportunity to begin another jam, because of course. It’s almost as if the band challenged themselves to jam out every song they played this set after “Tweezer.” The first couple minutes of this jam feature some standard interplay based around the “Hold Your Head Up” theme, but Trey steps up and begins to go for it shortly after 2:00. The band falls in line behind Trey with accompaniment that struck me as vaguely reminiscent of “Weekapaug Groove,” which makes sense as that song is generally a showpiece for Trey these days. Trey impresses with one more ripping peak before the band crashes into, appropriately, a set-ending “Tweezer Reprise.” A comfortingly standard pairing of “Amazing Grace” and “Sample in a Jar” comprises the encore.
Standing by itself the first set of this show is very good. It doesn’t necessarily stand head and shoulders above other first sets from this tour, but the darkly psychedelic “Split Open and Melt” it produces is one of the better “Melts” from this tour so far. This second set is simply monumental, however. The band started to push into firmly type-II territory in their jamming last summer on a fairly consistent basis, but that consistent exploration has been noticeably and unfortunately absent from much of this tour so far. Even last summer, however, Phish did not drop a jam quite as long as this “Tweezer,” nor weave type-II jamming throughout virtually an entire set like they do here.
I will say that the jamming is not uniformly amazing or mind-blowing. This “Tweezer” is nowhere near as fluid as a 20+ minute jam from the modern era, or even 2.0, or hell, nowhere as fluid as the 20+ minute jams the band will be producing regularly just a couple years from now. While it contains some truly excellent passages, there’s some occasional aimlessness and messiness as well. The jamming near the end of the set also is not as impressive as the jamming in “Tweezer” and “Makiuspa.” That said, it’s hard to overstate how big a step it is for the band to devote such a significant chunk of a set to free-form improvisation, and the great moments this improvisation produces spread across the set more than makes up for the occasionally less impressive or interesting moments. Given the legendary status of this show among the fanbase I’m sure I’m preaching to the choir when I say it, but this is absolutely a must-hear show.
- Show rating: 5/5
- Highlights: “Divided Sky,” “Split Open and Melt,” “Tweezer > Sparks > Makisupa Policeman > Walk Away > Cannonball > Purple Haze > Hold Your Head Up Jam > Tweezer Reprise”
- Phish.net setlist
- Debuts: “Cannonball” (Deal)
- First set length: 70 mins.
- Second set length: 79 mins.
- Encore length: 7 mins.
- This is the first and last time Phish performed at the Bomb Factory.
- The longest gap in this night’s setlist is “Makisupa Policeman” returning after a forty-two show absence (8/13/93).
- The best represented studio album is Rift (4 songs).
- One year ago today: 5/7/93 (Bangor Auditorium, Bangor ME) – Rating: 3/5 – Highlights: “Split Open and Melt,” “You Enjoy Myself,” “Harry Hood,” “Harpua”