Once upon a time, there was one analog tape- one set- that I played twice as much as all my others. It was just that good. Forward, backward- I played it over and over and over again. This is the story of that tape. After stepping up their game in August of ’93, concluding a very successful summer tour, Phish took the fall off from touring. The next time the band hit the stage, they embarked on their customary December New Year’s Run tucked into the Northeast. It is this New Years Run that produced 12.30.93, one of the best Phish shows in history, and the outlandishly over-played analog tape of my yesteryears was the second set of this show.
Coming on a brisk snowy night in Portland, ME, this show cemented Cumberland County Civic Center as an ultimately Phishy venue. With the stage designed as a massive aquarium for the New Years’ Run, Phish dove deeply on this evening. Still regarded as one of the marquee performances of the band’s career, 12.30.93 was an instant classic, and its absence in the Live Phish series boggles the mind. Wasting no time at all, the band opened up with a thick and grooving David Bowie that incorporated some masterful teasing of Aerosmith’s “Dream On.” This initial jam of the show was so locked and patient, clearly illustrating the level of synchronicity the band felt on this night. The show would only grow from this point forward.
Bowie’s greeting gave way to a typical first set series of non-improvisational songs, with a Curtain > Sample, and a Forbin’s > Mockingbird both highlights of this string. Before closing the set with an a capella Freebird, the band stopped off for a short Bathtub Gin that featured some thematic and flowing improv before moving into some chugging uncharted territory. Peaking pretty wildly, this Gin balanced out the dark Bowie that opened- but in reality, this was all just warm up.
Improving exponentially each year in the early ’90s, Phish commanded your attention every night at the end of 1993. Something to behold and now listen to, with a total commitment to the entity of Phish, the band blossomed so fast, like one of those scientific time-lapse clips, from the years 1991-1995. Coming at the end of a huge year of growth for Phish, they were about to play one of the best sets of their lives.
Like they did for almost every single Summer show in 1993, Phish came out for set two and opened up with their newly discovered instrumental cover of Deodato’s arrangement of “Also Sprach Zarathustra.” Coupled with a new light rig that debuted over the summer, allowing Kuroda to both move and change colors of lights for the first time, people were getting the first glimpse of the new, more futuristic look of Phish. These new lights, now contained indoors for the first time ever, upped the ante of the Phish experience. “2001,” as it became known, was simply a three minute intro to each set during 1993- a little space-funk to get things moving. This time, the band immediately launched into the New Years Run’s Mike’s Song.
Crisply moving through the initial couple minutes, when the jam dropped, the place exploded, and Phish moved into one of the greatest Mike’s ever played. Period. Enough cannot be said about the quality and sheer perfection of this jam- pure Phish. With the classic focus on the second jam of the song, (inexplicably dropped in later years), it was here that the Phish tapped into existential forces and simply channeled the universe’s energy. With all band members just going off as one, this Mike’s defines the ethos- the fundamental spirit- of Phish. Ranging from bliss to terror, this jam does not let up for one second, before it seamlessly moves into Horse > Silent. Only twelve minutes long, this Mike’s is potentially twelve of the best minutes of Phish’s career. Listen yourself before you tell me I’m exaggerating. It’s amazing how “compact” Phish jams were back then, so much madness in a short amount of time- no nonsense playing.
The dream setlist continued with a mid-set Punch You In the Eye. Coming in an unexpected slot, Punch picked the dark energy in the building right back up again. Directly following the tightly executed version, the band dropped right into McGrupp which dissolved into the beginning of Weekapaug, closing the “dream” Mike’s Groove. This Weekapaug features prominent Trey shredding throughout, and the band members just firing like the pistons of a automobile. This is some full-on no-hesitation jamming that illustrates the style of Phish at the end of one of their greatest years of improvement.
A then typical Fishman segment of Prince’s Purple Rain came next before the band closed the set with a rare and majestic Slave to the Traffic Light. Busted out in Cincinnati on August 6, of ’93, Slave had been tucked away for two years and 241 shows. Played only one other time, at their first Red Rocks show on 8.20.93, the band, supposedly responding to a front row request, played their delicate jam vehicle as the emotional crescendo of this set of pure Phish fire. The song, being so rare at the time, got the full treatment with one of the more emotionally intricate and directed builds of all-time. This is ten minutes of sonic bliss.
After sets like this, encores mean nothing, but if you’re keeping score, they played a Rocky Top, and a Good Times, Bad Times to end this version of 12.30- the best night of the year. So you can see why I kept listening to that analog tape over and over and over again- this set will hold up to any set ever played to this day. If you’re not yet convinced, download it below and let Phish convince you.
LISTEN TO THE 12.30.93 MIKE’S SONG NOW!
This is an amazing matrix recording of one of the best Phish shows of all time. If you don’t have this, grab it now!
I: David Bowie, Weigh, The Curtain > Sample in a Jar, Paul and Silas, Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Famous Mockingbird, Rift, Bathtub Gin, Freebird
II: Also Sprach Zarathustra > Mike’s Song > The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Punch You in the Eye, McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters > Weekapaug Groove> Purple Rain, Slave to the Traffic Light
E: Rocky Top, Good Times Bad Times
(The songs aren’t labeled by name, only track number.)