The Tower

As Phish evolved through the ’90s, one of the most enchanting qualities surrounding their shows was the sheer spectacle of it all.  Between the size of the crowds, the loud mind-bending music, and the fantastical light show, it felt as though we opened the door to Oz every time the lights went down.  Creating a parallel reality at their shows, we felt as if were entering the Phish dimension walking through the portals of basketball arenas.  The band, more than anyone loved a spectacle.  One need not look farther than their New Years’ shows and festivals to prove that.  Whether it was riding a giant hot dog or torching a massive piece of communal art, the greatest show on earth sometimes included much more than music.  One such time was the somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd of August at IT in Limestone, when Phish put on perhaps the greatest spectacle of their career.

Russ Kahn

photo: Jeremy Wanamaker

It had been rumored all day that the annual “late night” set would take place atop the air traffic tower that still stood on the defunct Air Force base.  By the time the show happened, everyone all but knew this would go down after the show, and it seemed a hell of a lot cooler than jamming on a moving truck or the Great Went’s “disco” tent.  Nonetheless, the show happened and all was jolly in post-show partyland when we began to see a light from atop the tower and could hear sound in the distance.  Moving quickly to the tower, we were greeted with an empty field that soon filled, in a sort of “real-time-lapse” film.  Barely visible, Phish bellowed dissonant noise from the sky as smoke poured off the tower against the red concert lights.

tower2Although we knew all day this would happen, it was still utterly surreal- nobody knew it would look like this!  As the band progressed into some more developed madness, it became apparent that they would jam extensively from the darkness of the night, and from the dark side of the universe, as if composing the score of a psychedelic war movie.  And the music was dirty.  Wasting no time with composition, the band aimed an arrow at the heart of experimentation and hit a bulls eye.  Exploring dark, dissonant, and noise-like textures, the band created a sort of evil doppelganger to their more melodic and broadcasted sound check.  Something that seemed pulled from a dream sequence, Phish continued improvising on the most menacing abstract planes, creating music that transcended anything one could hope for from a song-based jam.  Delving deep into the cavern of experimental sound, the band raged an hour of music that was the highlight weekend.  Artistically reaching natural peaks and grooves, the band stood as silhouettes, as smoke, light and sound poured from atop the tower.  Now this was a spectacle!


photo: Vinnie Ray

Leave it to Phish to take it a step farther.  As if this wasn’t enough psychedelia, about two thirds of the way through the sinister sonic experiment, white sheets fell, covering all visible sides of the tower as three dancers from the Bay Area’s Project Bandaloop began performing acrobatics at the top.  They began to gradually descend in front of projected patterns as Phish slowed down, trying to match their music with a beat-less texture.  Amorphously improvising amidst their own late-night circus scenery, Phish had outdone themselves once again; leaving nothing behind them but a trail of smoke and light in the night sky.

As the weekend of IT concluded Summer ’03, Phish had returned.  Killing a festival at the end of their “return-to-glory” tour, things sat well as we left Limestone.  Little did we know in a year, it would be done.  Yet, as we dispersed from tour, with so many new magical memories in our head, none were more indelible than The Tower Set.  As night turned to day, and day back to night, that feeling of standing in a pit of musical mayhem, with colorful smoke and music bellowing from the heavens, did not soon fade.  The exclamation point on a summer of renewed exploration, The Tower stood as a reminder of what was and what could be.

THE TOWER JAM (Great Footage!)

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12.5.95 Mullins Center, UMASS, Amherst, MA < LINK

The second of two shows at UMASS, this show stood out among the first week of December ’95.  The first set contains a great “Free,” and “David Bowie,” while the second set is strewn with classic ’95 improv.  A 20+ minute excursion into “Bathtub Gin” ends in “Keyboard Cavalry,” while a 15 minute Scent lands in “Lifeboy.”  To top the show off, Phish played a magnificent “Harry Hood” that stands out among the best of 1995.  Trey’s guitar run through the Leslie speaker (usually used for organ) creates the most haunting tone.  Enjoy this classic!

I: Horn, Chalk Dust Torture, Fog That Surrounds, Lizards*, Free, Esther, David Bowie, I’m Blue I’m Lonesome

II: Poor Heart, Bathtub Gin > Keyboard Army, Scent of a Mule > Lifeboy, Harry Hood, Cavern

E: Theme From the Bottom, Sweet Adeline

*Dedicated to Dick Vitale.

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20 Responses to “The Tower”

  1. Matso Says:

    I was only vaguely aware of the Tower Jam, sensing it somewhere off in the distance and then barely making out excited reports from my buddies. I was in fact doing what I did during all of the late night sets (including the ambient jam): Sleeping. Although I sort of regretted it each time, in each case, for various reasons, I would have been too tired to appreciate the music much anyway. I also slept during bits of Big Cypress – the Roses in particular – waking again for sunrise.

    In each case, it was a light sleep and I was always almost aware of what was going on, with the music somehow permeating my unwinding brain. Despite the regret, I also always thought there was something appropriate about it: Phish will always catch you off guard (although by ’03, I should have known better!) and I like the idea of sleeping through music which really only makes sense at on less than conscious, perhaps irrational level. In that way, maybe I didn’t miss anything after all.

  2. Al Says:

    Woke up in the morning at IT – had no idea till I was home and read about it. Living on a space of 3 x 3 feet for 10 hours in front of the stage was enough for me, I suppose….

  3. R1 Says:

    Apropos of Matso’s comment: Foregoing the tent-camping scene one late night at the Clifford Ball, I went back to my white van, parked at the very end of a long row of vehicles, to sleep. Exhausted from hours of raging, but still in mind-sprint mode, I eventually was on the verge of slumber. As I was just trailing off, I began to semi-consciously dream of a blissful, gentle and melodic music, sent from some kindly deity to assist me in my travels to a place of repose.

    At first I was simply happy to have these sounds visiting my mind, but they seemed to be growing louder. Hmmm, I thought as I roused slightly, this is a little odd. Yes, they were definitely getting louder. And, they were apparently not emanating from within my skull. Then some lights outside the van. What the hell?? I sit up, look outside my window. There, not 20 feet away, the Phish leisurely driving by producing this infinitely pleasant little jam, followed by a few dozen heads.

    Ok . . . well that was pretty nice. And then off to sleep.

  4. jon_hansen Says:

    Would have loved to see this…had some friends who were there, but think they had the same experience as ^^Al.

    Maybe the surprise of it was half the fun.

  5. Brian T. Bowman Says:

    I had the fortune of parking in ‘vendor parking’ so we were tipped off as to the event upon arrival. Also, anyone remember the video posted on the band website with Gordon pushing the model of the tower set idea?

    One of the coolest things they have ever done. Reasons such as this is why we’re a community and I think the boys serve themselves better throwing their own festivals.

    How about the 30 minute zombie music to finish Waves?

    Mellow Mood, Ghost, Mist, YEM, Chariots of Fire, Loving Cup = Sickness

  6. empire Says:

    I was still spun and just exhausted from the whole event. I had
    never been so tired at one of phish’s festivals but the lack of sleep
    had caught up to me already. I get to my tent eat something to calm
    the mind and lay down and rest I start hearing music far away and
    as it progressed I remembered the rumor that was going around which
    i taught was bullshit, peaked out and sure enough they were on top of
    the tower..I thought about starting to walk but thought with my current
    mindstate i would have a hard time finding my way back. so i sat there
    in silence just drifting off with the music and fell asleep right after it
    ended. When i heard the cd of this from livephish holy shit did i regret not
    walking there..that is some of the best improvisational music that phish
    created. it really feels like they are communicating with ufo’s or something. peaceout
    I need hamptons!!!I need a miracle!!!

  7. Laurel Says:

    I’ll tell you, I was there. And I was just wandering around with my friends, very tired, a little out of my mind, and when it started, I HONESTLY thought it was aliens. I mean, where else would they come but a show, right? But nobody else seemed alarmed, so I just played along, figuring I’d make a run for it in the morning. I wondered if I’d ever see my family again, or if they had landed in other areas, etc. But through about twenty minutes (that seemed right out of Independence Day, or Invasion of the Body Snatchers), it occurred to me, and I turned to the guy who would later be my husband.

    “Huh.” I said. “I think that’s the BAND.”

    And he just looked at me and shook his head, but really. I’d LIVED THROUGH twenty minutes of being utterly convinced that an alien ship had FINALLY landed at a show (I always thought it MIGHT happen). It was.

  8. Matso Says:

    @Brian T Bowman – “Mellow Mood, Ghost, Mist, YEM, Chariots of Fire, Loving Cup = Sickness”

    Couldn’t agree with you more, but let’s not forget the Pebbles & Marbles. As I’ve said before, this version absolutely raged and had perfect placement, flowing smoothly out of Mist and raising the energy for the YEM. (btw, If you watch the IT movie, which has a slightly different mix than the Live Phish discs, you can Gordo play a ridonckulous line right when they turn into the jam)

    IMO, this was one of the most perfect sets I ever saw. Some reggae, a huge sick jam, an excellent placement of one of their most beautiful songs, a top version of an otherwise underperforming song (P&M), a phenomenal YEM (one of my all-time favs really, it almost sounded old-school ’92 for a while when Trey started shreddding), some silliness and a Loving Cup which was totally nailed.

    That was IT for me.

  9. gills Says:

    hey minor i download ur picks and i try to open file and it says windows cannot open this file it needs to know what program created it???? what should i do, i need this music and all the rest of it……

  10. Jacob Says:

    Just got the It DVD in the mail yesterday, so I’m trying not to read too much here until I’ve seen that. Haven’t really heard much from It either, except for the soundcheck, and that’s really growing on me.

    I’ll report back after I’ve watched the movie.

  11. hawkinbj Says:

    @gills – use something like winrar to open it it. It’s a .rar compressed file.

  12. Brian T. Bowman Says:

    Matso – the Mellow Mood just cut so crisp as the set opener. It was too perfect. I agree with the P&M comments.

    I’m not sure what aphicianado’s refer the huge space music as (ala waves at IT), but I’m sure they did that a couple times on tour that year. Just, HUGE HUGE space music that left me spaced out of my head and I don’t think ANY OTHER BAND TODAY could even create that level of sound.

    There was a MELT at Deer Creeck in 2003 that was somewhat similar. I believe it was a Second Set Opener. RED LIGHTS. With a ambient “SIREN” sound. Maybe I was too blown out, but I had never really heard anything like that in my life. I was dumbfounded, but loved it.

    All these styles were represented in the TOWER JAM. Ambient, dark and HUGE.

  13. lanser Says:


  14. R1 Says:

    ^^Laurel – HA!

  15. Patrick Curran Says:

    I want to thank you so much for all your time and effort putting this site together. So many memories, so many stories, so many more brain cells at the beginning. Thank you form the bottom of this fellow travelers heart. I have an unrelated question for you. Do you know what song/show is playing in “Bittersweet Hotel” when the Rochester Memorial section starts? I don’t have a copy of this, and a friend was asking if I could find out. Thank you again for all your hard work.


  16. Al Says:

    Patrick, it’s Trey’s solo part in the song “Golgi Apparatus” recorded at the Auburn Hills show from a few days before. Later in that scene they rehearse “Roses are free” backstage and then on stage.

  17. Patrick Curran Says:

    Thank you for your help.

  18. wilshire vermont Says:

    i wasn’t at the tower jam thanks for posting.

    the 12.5.95 was my first show. listening to it all now. great great clarity for an aud. wow.

    I drove up with friends from marist college the day before. through a snowstorm.

    anyway i didn’t have a ticket. so we’re all going thru the turnstyles my friends and umass friends. they all pile up the turnstyle lady saying, “its about to start its about to start” she was totally overwhelmed and was able to squueze through as my friends made this mountain of bodies. it was greatest best drug ever, free phish. i wasn’t even all that familiar with them at this point. my hands never left railing. I saw em couple more times but it wasn’t until vegas 98 that it hit me and then again at the e center in camden summer 99 the trey jam in chalk dust changed my life

  19. Drinks>Chainsaw Says:

    12.5.95………Great show, one of my all time favorites. I remember really wanting to hear a Hood that night. Driving to the show earlier that day we saw a Hood truck. Which is pretty common in New England anyway, but this one seemed special. Back in those days it seems like we were always looking for signs, looking for some kind of reasurance. Being so naive had created such a dominating aura around everything. Hundreds of people saw that truck that day, yet we were the only ones bursting with excitement at it’s foreshadowing effects. Teslas song “Signs” played on the radio moments after the truck took a wide right onto and icy New England road….we were getting a Hood that night, we were so sure of it I would have bet the 35 dollars I had in my pocket on it. I can still feel the excitement of those days. The not being able to sleep the night before christmas type of energy that surrounded me. Driving to that show, hanging in that parking lot, set break are all so vivid for that Umass show. I remember when Hood was first acknowledged that night. You would have thought we just won the lottery. I turned to my friend whom I was dancing in the aisles with, she and I could not have been more excited. You would have thought we just won the lottery. When looking back at it, we basically did. AS corny as our predicition was, it sort of added to the entire experience. The innocence of that time in my life will never be the same. Those were the days.

  20. Scott Schaffer Says:

    Heard this jam this weekend after walking around in the East Coast Heat Wave. Mind was blown. Was wondering if anyone has, or knows where I can download a SBD or good version of the jam!??

    Thanks, SCott

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