December ’95. The mere mention of this special page from calenders past conjures up so many feelings drawn from that freezing cold month of blazing hot Phish. Many still argue that this was the pinnacle of the band’s career- it doesn’t get any better. Though hard to compare the Phish “up to 1995″ and the Phish of “1997 and beyond,” and reluctant to rank eras- it could be suggested that December 1995 was the peak of everything the band had done up to that point in their career. Polished, and raging like never before, their musical styles that had been explored and developed over the course of over a decade, were coming to a unified head at the end of 1995, concluding with their biggest show ever- their first ever New Year’s Eve extravaganza at The Garden.
The context of December ’95 must be put into perspective to be truly understood. It was the culmination of a tour that began at the end of September. Only taking one week off after Halloween, Phish had toured for two and a half straight months-54 shows- their last tour of such magnitude. With the New Years’ Run, these December ’95 shows culminated 58 shows over the fall and 82 shows over the year. To put it in even better perspective- December ’95 was the culmination of 204 shows over a torrid 1994 and 1995. That averages out to practically one show every three days for two years! With all of the extensive experimentation and exploration that went on over the course of this time, it was as if Phish was heading into the final month of 1995 bringing to the table the best of what they had discovered. Incredibly refined and gleaming, Phish moved into the final two weeks of their fall odyssey chugging tighter than ever. They say practice makes perfect, and if everything prior was practice- December 1995 was perfect.
One day after a great show at Dayton’s Nutter Center, December 1st saw Phish at Hershey, PA. for an epic show that has since been released on livephish.com. The northeast-centric month brought them up through New England, all over upstate New York, with additional stops in Cleveland, Portland, Providence, and Philadelphia. Each show was fire, showcasing the mind-boggling communication, risk-taking, energy, and precision that had come to define the band’s decade plus history. Practically every show in the month is famous for one reason or another, all leading up to two nights at the Olympic Center in the small town of Lake Placid- the incredibly intimate mini-arena where the US Hockey team upset the Soviets so many years ago.
During the month, the band was literally firing on all cylinders every single night, producing some of their most hallowed music during the last bend of fall tour and their famously epic New Years Run. Their musical adventures were jaw dropping, producing insanely high-paced psychedelia on a nightly basis. Yet, it was a cultivated psychedelia- the music was absolutely crazy while tightly harnessed and controlled by the band with seemingly no effort. Every show was better than the next; a display of musical gymnastics night after maddening night. You could feel the collective wave of energy surging each in every arena, building to the frenzied heights of Madison Square Garden on the 31st. Through twelve years of grass roots determination, incessant touring and the melting of so many minds, Phish had reached rock and roll’s mecca on its holiest night of the year- and we all know what happened next. They imploded rock’s biggest arena with their consensus “best show ever.” What else would you expect from the Phish?
Beyond its insane shows and sublime music- December ’95 represented the mountaintop. Phish had succeeded. Using their own quirky self-driven model, songs that just didn’t make sense to so many people, and a unique unmatchable style, Phish had reached the summit. At this point in their career, they could have chilled, producing years more of their patented frenetic journeys that people had grown to love. They could have continued doing what had finally proven successful. But they didn’t- they wouldn’t be Phish if they did. Fueled by the need to continue pushing the envelope- although it took almost a year to figure out their next musical direction- by the time 1997 rolled around Phish had transformed into something bigger than before, and people were running for cover.
December 1995 was the end of an era. It was the end of Phish scrapping and clawing to make it. They had now officially made it. The month represented a vessel masterfully being sailed to shore after years atop the stormy seas, by four salty dogs that had seen it all. Phish would no longer to need to navigate the industry; they would begin to call their own shots. They would begin to have more of a hand in designing their tours and their soon-to-be legendary festival weekends. Phish would get much bigger in years to come; more institutionalized with the Dead no longer around. More people would come to shows- as Phish was the preeminent counter-culture band, and scene, in America. The band responded to these array of changes around them with change of their own. Into a crunchy groove monster they would grow, cruising the outer realms of the galaxy for the late ’90s. But this is not about the late ’90s, this is about December 1995, a very special time in the hearts of all who were there-and in the ears of those who weren’t. This was Phish at its best- take it or leave it. It seems like we all took it- hook, line, and sinker.
To bring us back through the epic month on December 1995, I have put together “Miner’s Picks: December ’95” This compilation features ONE selection from each show of the month, in order, from Hershey to MSG. Take a trip down memory late or learn some history you didn’t know before. It was hard to pick only one selection from each show but I did, and I present to you the links and track listing below: (with a bonus disc of must haves!)
1,2. Mike’s > Weekapaug: 12.1 Hershey, PA.
3. Tweezer: 12.2 New Haven, CT
4. Run Like and Antelope: 12.4 Amherst, MA
5. Bathtub Gin: 12.5 Amherst, MA
6. Split Open and Melt: 12.7 Niagara Falls, NY
7,8,9,10. 2001 > Tweezer > Kung >Tweezer: 12.8 Cleveland, OH
11. YEM: 12.9 Albany, NY
12,13. The Curtain > David Bowie: 12.11 Portland, ME
14. Down With Disease 12.12 Providence, RI
15. Split Open and Melt 12.14 Binghamton, NY
16,17. 2001 > David Bowie 12.15 Philadelphia, PA
18. Reba: 12.16 Lake Placid, NY
19,20,21. Free > 2001 > Harry Hood: 12.17 Lake Placid, NY
22. Tweezer: 12.28 Worcester, MA
23,24,25. Bathtub Gin > The Real Me > Bathtub Gin: 12.29 Worcester, MA
26. Harry Hood: 12.30 MSG
27. Reba: 12.31 MSG
28. Mike’s Song 12.31 MSG
29. Harry Hood 12.05 Amherst, MA
30. Drowned 12.31 MSG
31. Tweezer > Tweezer Reprise 12.17 Lake Placid, NY