04 February 2008

Nedstalgia: 15 Years Ago

[Previously in Nedstalgia: Phish shows 1 & 2, #3 #5 ,#6-9, #10, #77 & 78, #79, #80&81, #82-84); Mule; Widespread Panic #1 (& 'ween 97); The Duo; Robert Randolph HORDE 92 (i.e. Phish #4, WSP #1), Freaks Ball III, Galactic NYC 97, Electric Masada 2003]

Now it starts to get good...

[pleased to download 4 February 1993 and listen while you read: part 1 part 2 part 3 part 4]

If I were to break the Phish lifetime into distinct "eras" I would break them down thusly:

  1. prehistoric Phish: covering their conception in the dorm rooms of Vermont until essentially they took it upon themselves to "book" the band at the Paradise in Boston in 1990.
  2. a growing phenomenon: from that night in Boston through their New Year's gig in an arena in the same town in 1992. A mostly local entity with some roots starting to form in other exotic places
  3. critical mass: from 2/3/1993 until the Clifford Ball in 1996 -- the band transitioned from theaters to selling out arenas across the country.
  4. big Phish: from the Clifford Ball through the hiatus
  5. a Phish too big -- the great white whale: post-hiatus and doomed from the start.
Now, luckily for me, I was a college student in Boston during the very exciting years in that critical mass era and got to see a fair share of shows, when every night it seemed like history was being made. The first night of the massive "spring" '93 tour was in Maine and I did not make it up there. Pity to know what my life would have been like if I actually had my own car during those years. As it stands, I was able to get to quite a few Phish shows by hitching one ride there and back and then another to the next. I managed just enough to feel like I wasn't missing anything (while of course I was) but with a built in limitation that allowed me to still graduate and not arouse too much pushback from the family. Early in the previous semester I donated blood and got these cool little notebooks which were perfect for keeping setlists. Amazingly, they are still in my possession and still in pretty good condition, so enjoy my transcriptions in the dark in between the boogie.

The second show of that tour was in Providence and my buddy drove me and a couple of our friends to the show at the Performing Arts Center there. Amazing that it was barely 35 days since they'd wrapped up the New Year's show just a few miles up the road but were right back at it, launching a many-months tour that would wrap around the entirety of the United States and end about the same distance north of Boston as we were south.

Now why do I pick this as the breaking point of my Phish eras? There are several reasons that are subtle pick-ups on the playing style, jam directions and setlist choices that mark a severe departure between the fall of 1992 and the winter of 1993. In addition, there was the release of "Rift" a week or two earlier that probably stands to this day as their finest studio release. But really, for me, it was one reason why the new era began in February 15 years ago this week. Plain and simple, it was the grand piano. There was something serious and "next level" about a band who decided to start touring with their own grand piano. It marked a serious commitment to the quality of the music they were making on the stage, a statement that what they were doing in the context of the live show was art at a fundamental level. This was a band that said "yeah, it's a lot of effort to lug that thing around, but we don't feel we can deliver the best product to our fans without it." These same attitudes fleshed out in so many other areas of their shows, a small step for Trey, Jon, Page and Mike, a giant leap for Phish.

The show at the PPAC is one of the more underrated or maybe undiscovered gems of the period. The theater was one of those standard old performance spaces that most municipalities seem to have in one form or another. A combination of ornate detail and neglected wear-and-tear was the perfect setting for Phish to ply their wares. It was one of the first times I remember remarking about how good it sounded: from the first note the mix was clear and crisp and I felt a glorious mix of elements swirling on a direct line from the speaker stacks to my ears... waiting a few rows back on the right side of the orchestra.

The first set was standard fare for the time, marked mostly by the debut of "Sample In A Jar." At setbreak I thought it was a lot more jamming than it turned out to be, the guitar solo seemed to be orders of magnitude longer, but still, decent. I still sometimes think of Sample as a new song. The Antelope also was pretty darn good, but when isn't that the case?
The second set started with a raging Chalkdust and then the second ever live version of "The Wedge." That had been everyone's favorite song when we listened to Rift multiple times through... mostly because we hadn't heard that one yet and it had a nice little groove and a sound that diverged from what we were familiar with. For some reason I didn't think they'd play it live and when they busted it out, we were thrilled and sang along. It was cool to see how they had already reworked a song that was barely available for public consumption for a couple weeks. That was perfectly Phish-like.

The finished that one and the pause was one of those looking back and looking forward. We needed a break to digest the wonderfully tight Page-on-the-piano outro to the Wedge and to catch our breath before the real meat of the show got going. They busted into Mike's Song and sheeah! The jam was dirty and the smoke, oh that smoke... filled the theater so that we were "in the cloud" like we were being transported to a different world and the closer to the stage, the deeper into the smoke and the further you went. There was a smell to that smoke that still hits me with a Pavlovian reactions when I get a whiff of it elsewhere... Mmmm Mike's Song. The previous version was on New Year's and had leapfrogged over Hydrogen with a sick Auld Lang Syne peanut butter stick into Weekapaug. I had considered that to be a special thing for NYE and that they'd be back into their normal Mike's>Hydrogen>Groove predictability, but that night in Providence they took things further in the opposite direction. As the smoke machines quit streaming out the clouds of mist, the band got all nice and quiet and almost I Am Hydrogen-like, but instead it was "The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday." Holy shit! That was a surprise and a pleasant one at that. Trey and Page delicately sashayed around the melody, the composition and the playing merging into one powerful performance. Then a bopping Avenu Malkenu and back into the Man Who Stepped for a meaty sandwich filler. I remember thinking that entire interlude how they were totally going to wind back down into Weekapaug afterwards and that's exactly what they did. Wild, wild stuff.

Funny side story about that Weekapaug: there was a dude that lived on my hallway freshman year who loved Ween and was always trying to play them for me. I was as closed-minded as any self-respecting Phish head would be and the shit he was playing for me was kinda craptastic taboot, so it didn't take and probably soured me on Ween completely to this day. Still, nice guy. So, anyhoo, a few days after the show, he came up to me and asked if I had been at the Phish show in Providence, to which I replied in the affirmative. He told me that he had read on the internet ("internet is for gleeping geeks" is what I was probably thinking at that moment) that Phish had covered Ween at that show. "No way, end of story" was my reply -- this also soured me on the net for at least 2 more years. He even had a specific song that they had played and played it for me and I was quite certain they did not play "Push Th' Little Daisies" ("what a stupid song"). So, long story short, I spent many, many years trying to find a recording of this show (for reasons about to be explained) and finally got my hands on one about 5 years ago. And when I was listening to it, what should I hear Trey launch into in the midst of that colossal sandwich-ending Weekapaug Groove? None other than Ween's "Push Th' Little Daisies." So, to you, Ted, Class of 1996, I apologize. You were right about almost everything.

When we got back into the car after the show, my buddy saying "well, now I guess we have to start labeling Hydrogen on our tapes" which was exactly what I had been thinking about that theretofore redundant exercise. Like the grand piano and the reworking of the Wedge, the rules of Phish had once again changed.... they were exciting times.
I could go on, but in the end it all comes down to Harry Hood. This was a good show, very indicative of the era in which it was played -- tight, all-band jamming, bright, shiny guitar licks and plenty of adventure on the grand piano. But what makes it a great show was the Harry Hood. Simply put, it is my favorite version of this song. The jam started off innocently, with Trey teasing the previously-played Lengthwise to get the ball rolling. But then it grew and grew and the band coalesced around the amazing notes coming out of the Languedoc and I was entranced. Literally. My mind just kind of went numb and hyperaware all at once, the notes synethstesically playing with my nerve endings turning into colors and sensations on the surface of my skin. And all the while I could not stop moving, my knees and shins banging helplessly into the seat in front of me. There were so many moments along the way when I'd see Phish and they'd so something and I'd be left dumbstruck -- "I knew they could do a lot of things, but I didn't know they could do that!" It was never as good as the first time and this was the first time I realized that the band could break me down completely. I was so overtaken with the music being made in the final stretch of the Harry Hood that night that I literally started to cry. Tears of joy, but honest-to-goodness tears formed in my eyes that night 15 years ago. I don't know that anything else has musically made me feel that way before or since and so I hold it dear. It's worth the download for that, but here's the Harry Hood standalone for those who want to hear it. Maybe it stands the test of time, maybe it doesn't, but it's mine.

Anyway, [dries eyes] I caught the next two nights as well and will try to drop a reasonable-length note about those in the next day or two. I'm also putting out an APB on 2/5/93 and 2/12/93 -- if you have copies or know someone that does, please, please get in touch.

For now: download the 2/4/93 show and get ready for a lot more Nedstalgia.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here are links for just about every '93 show: