November ’94: On the Brink

If assessing best-ever eras in Phish history, Fall 1994 has to be thrown into the ring.  In particular, November 1994, will always be remembered as one of the creative peaks of the band’s career.  November of 1994 will never be recreated in its cacophonous psychedelia, deep raucous exploration, and style that made it seem like Phish was constantly playing for their lives.  They had a sense of urgency and mania never before seen in a quartet.  As the band’s fan base continued to grow, slowly drawing more attention from coast to coast, their tour remained mostly in college towns while beginning to expand into bigger venues on the east coast.  Yet, as they grew in underground stature, Phish consistently maintained their stage pranks and humor; never taking themselves too seriously as they left a burning wake of fire on stage each night.

November 1994 officially started on Halloween in Glens Falls, NY.  Not to mention the marathon White Album Halloween set, Phish also tore apart sets one and three with standout versions of Reba, Bowie, Slave and Antelope-with even a Harpua thrown into the middle of the first set.  As Phish embarked on their month of madness, they left behind 21 shows that had brought them to this point in the tour, and were ready to dig to deeper places than ever before.  This era of Phish featured the most daring musical risk-taking of their career, as 30 minute exploratory Tweezers became the norm, and mind-numbing intense jams were strewn throughout every show; this month represents Phish at their most “balls-to-the-wall period.”  Adopting their model of jazz-based improvisation to a milieu of dark, churning, psychedelic dissonance, the results were some of the more adventurous musical journeys ever taken.  During an era focused on mastering the audiences’ psyche with space exploration and insane tension building and release- Phish was indeed a different monster.

A seventeen show month started in Bangor, ME on the second of November, and started out with a second set opener of Halley’s > Tweezer that set the tone for the month.  This was the first truly extended experimental Tweezer.  Featured on “A Live One,” this stretched out Tweezer would soon be well known even tangential Phish fans.  Two nights later, the band stopped in Syracuse, NY for a standout show that featured a first set Forbin’s>Mockingbird, and an ominous second set opening sequence of Curtain > Mike’s > Simple > Mike’s > Tela > Weekapaug.  Eight days off showed no ill effects when Phish returned to action on the 12th at Kent State, OH, for a college gig that was highlighted by a now-famous Disease>Have Mercy>Disease that recently made an appearance on my Labor Day Mix.

The 16th, saw Phish at another college- this time Ann Arbor, MI- for the appearance of bluegrass legend “Reverend” Jeff Mosier, who began a week-long traveling bluegrass clinic, appearing every night on stage with the band, teaching and leading them though traditional arrangements.  This style of play would integrate into Phish’s array of tricks after this fall, and some of these songs would pop up in the years to come.  This show also featured a fierce 40 minute Mike Groove at the beginning of this second set, punctuated by a “best ever” unique Simple jam.

As the month progressed, the trend of longer dark experimentation continued in the form of David Bowie. With Dayton’s David Bowie on 11.17, Madison’s Bowie on the 20th, and the the monumental Bowie, just released from the archives, from Minneapolis on 11.26, this composition provided a perfect launching pad for the type of intricate and maniacal improvisation that the band honed in on during this month.  In the same vein, the show on 11.22 at the University of Missouri included a huge standout jam to start the second set that emerged out of Funky Bitch.  Filler on one of the Live Phish releases, many are familiar with this diamond in the rough.  As the month headed into its final week, there was still a tremendous amount of top-notch Phish that was yet to unfold.

The Fox Theatre in St. Louis housed one of the more magnificent Tweezers of 1994 on November the 23rd.  With lengthy and abstract exploration leading to a spiritual guitar release by Trey, this version is a can’t miss- you may have heard it featured in the Labor Day Mix as well.   The band dropped a fantasy second set at UIC Pavilion in Chicago on the 25th, reading “2001>Mike’s>Simple>Harpua> Weekapaug>Mango, Purple Rain, Antelope!”  Yet the month’s most magnificent show may have come on the 26th in Minneapolis.  The aforementioned Bowie absolutely stole the show with its extended celestial psychedelia, while the overwhelming darkness was brought into set-ending light with the now renowned, and incredibly triumphant, Slave from “A Live One.”  This represented what a Phish show is all about- a dark inner journey, bringing you face to face with your soul, only to deliver you to glory with invigorating bliss and life-affirming wonder.

Not to be outdone by their own theatrics, the following show at the University of Montana in Bozeman, will always be remembered for the 45 minute Tweezer than defined the show.  The longest jam from the fall, this Tweezer remains particularly engaging the whole time, and a segment of it was featured as “Montana” on “A Live One.”  One of the deepest dives of the month for the band, the word “Bozeman” will live in Phish history for the Tweezer that was born that evening.  On the final night of this historic month, 11.30, Phish found themselves at yet another college- this time at the west coast hippie-haven of Evergreen University.  This show, later released on, was a start to finish masterpiece.  The second set of this show was another massive segue fest strewn with incredibly locked-in jamming throughout the night.  The famous Antelope-laced set will go down as the triumphant conclusion of one of the Phishiest months in history.

With just a week left on the west coast before wrapping up their 46 show jaunt, Phish had reached a high point in their career.  Getting ready to begin the transition from colleges to arenas, Phish was on their way.  For their upcoming New Years Run, they would already be stopping at MSG and The Boston Garden.  The intensity of their playing and the sheer aggressiveness of how they went for the jugular every single night represented a young band, with unbridled enthusiasm, on the brink of making it.  With growing attention and word of mouth, Phish had become a new force in the improvisational musical landscape.  This fall tour completed a year of 122 shows; evenings where Phish explored, challenged, and redefined their own musical creativity.

This individual month of standout shows was Phish exploding at the seams; energy bursting from the stage, barely containable by four walls; Phish was now a sincere power to be reckoned with.  The band’s playing was unparalleled, their attitude, focused as a drill bit, while still having a blast every single night.  Phish’s momentum gained a head of steam through the end of 1994, getting ready for the year in which they would ascend to the soon-to-be vacated throne of the psychedelic universe.  Phish’s reign was just about to begin.

In honor of this momentous month of momentum, I have put together MINER’S PICKS: NOVEMBER ’94, which will take you on a chronological ride through this historic month.  Totaling seven and a half hours, this compilation should give you a pretty solid idea of what November ’94 was all about.  Many say it’s as good as it gets.  The download links and track listing are below.  Enjoy!

1,2. Halley’s > Tweezer 11.2 Bangor, ME

3. Split Open and Melt 11.3 Amherst, MA

4-9. Curtain > Mike’s > Simple > Mike’s > Tela > Weekapaug 11.4 Syracuse, NY

10. Stash 11.12 Kent, OH

11. Reba 11.13 Erie, PA

12. Run Like An Antelope 11.13 Erie, PA

13,14. Peaches > Bowie  11.14 Grand Rapids, MI

15,16. Mike’s > Simple 11.16 Ann Arbor, MI

17, 18. You Enjoy Myself ( > vocal jam) 11.17 Dayton, OH

19. Slave to the Traffic Light 11.17 Dayton, OH

20,21. Tweezer > Contact 11.18 East Lansing, MI

22. Harry Hood 11.19 Bloomington, IN

23,24. 2001 > David Bowie 11.20 Madison, WI

25,26. Funky Bitch > Jam 11.22 Columbia, MO

27. YEM 11.23 St. Louis, MO

28. Reba 11.25 Chicago, IL

29. Slave to the Traffic Light 11.26 Minneapolis, MN

30. Tweezer 11.28 Bozeman, MT

31-36. Antelope > My Sweet One > Antelope > Fixin to Die > Antelope > Yamar > Mikes > Catapult 11.30 Olympia, WA

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