Tour Stop: The Spectrum

The Spectrum, Philadelphia

Trey saw his first concert, Jethro Tull, at the Philly Spectrum, so he explained in 1995.  At the classic venue, at his first live music experience, little did he know that his own future band would turn the arena into one of their “homes away from home.” Beginning in the mid-’90s and beyond, The Spectrum always felt like Phish belonged there, as the band carved out a storied history in the building.  Amidst the Philly sports complex, and notorious open nitrous market, the venue turned it into a routine stop during Phish’s eastern portion of their tours.  With Trey being a huge Flyers fan, and a local of the general area, Philadelphia was always like a Phish homecoming.  As the Philadelphia prepares to tear down the now run down Spectrum in favor of the more modernized First Union Center, Phish will hopefully squeeze a few more adventures out of the storied venue before its demolition.  Yet, before we start thinking about the future in Philadelphia, lets look at Phish’s nine-show Spectrum past.

The Spectrum’s Stage – photo: Craig

Phish first arrived at the venue with the Rocky statue at the tail end of their monstrous 54-show Fall tour in 1995.  With only two Lake Placid shows remaining, the first Spectrum show was the beginning of a celebratory weekend in the land of Phish.  After 51 shows of improvising, Phish pulled into to Philly firing on all cylinders, the night after dropping the popular Tweezer > Timber > Tweezer Live Phish release from Binghamton, NY.  Wasting no time at all getting their Spectrum career underway, the band opened with the classic combination of Chalkdust, Harry Hood.  Both straight up Phish anthems, their appearance at the top of the very first show at the venue announced Phish’s arrival in a building dominated, historically, by the Grateful Dead.  The first set progressed with more Phish classics such  as Wilson > Maze, before stopping for a rare first set Fishman appearance with Elvis’ “Suspicious Minds.”  Yet, it was after the set closing combo of Free, Possum that the adventure would truly begin.

The second set of this show is a frenetic journey through vintage December ’95 Phish.  Kick-started by the Tweezer Reprise that completed the Binghamton Tweezer, the set was off and running in a split second.  This second set is full of quality Phish jams from the Runaway Jim, to the very unique and psychedelic It’s Ice jam, to the massive Bathtub Gin in which the band rotated instruments for the second time in their career.  Out of this spacy madness sparked a late set 2001 which, in turn, launched a concise but shredding set ending Bowie.  Holding nothing back, the encore was a raging Good Times, Bad Times into the night’s second performance of Tweezer Reprise.  A magnificent journey from beginning to end, this set is quintessential December ’95 Phish; a perfect convergence of music, lunacy, and energy at the first Phish conference at The Spectrum.

After their initial standout visit, Phish didn’t find themselves back at The Spectrum until the first two nights of 1996’s New Years Run.  Following a transformative Fall tour, Phish headed for Philadelphia to begin four nights ringing in 1997, a year that would alter Phish’s musical course forever.  On the 28th, the first set included one of the first-ever jammed out Wolfman’s, and although the length or funk did not compare to what would come the following year from the once benign song, this version provided a small preview while catching the attention of many fans.  The opening set of the run remained pretty tame, though a nice Split was thrown into the list of songs.  The second set got started in more interesting fashion with the diverse combination of Makisupa > Maze.  During the Makisupa, Trey referenced the holiday spirit of the season by quoting the Grinch for his “key word”- “Stink, stank, stunk.”  A Digital Delay jam segued mystically into TMWSIY, whose natural midsection, Avenu Malkenu, did not return to TMWSIY’s original melody.  Instead, the band moved directly into the raucous opening to Mike’s- coining this section of the show “The Man Who Stepped Into Mike’s.  A big ending to the set foreshadowed what would be a more intense excursion the following night.

The 29th of 1996 was a show that stood out in this run, and while the first set contained nothing much of note, less the return of the jazz cover,  Caravan, the second set got downright dirty.  Opening with an extended Bowie that had the intensity and magnitude of a set closer, this one was set up for something special.  The Beatles’ “A Day In The Life” provided the perfect follow up for the dark excursion.  After a mid-set Bathtub Gin, Lizards combination, the band dropped into a twenty-plus minute ripping YEM that found its way into a Rotation Jam, ending with Mike on piano segueing into a comical rendition of “Sixteen Candles.”  As the band entered the YEM vocal jam, the show was surely over.  But upon the extinguishing of the stage lights- on came four white spots and, “Oom Pah Pah, Oom Pah Pah, Oom Pah Paaaaaaaaaaah..”  Stamping the already great show all the more special, Phish entered into the rare, Harpua.  With a story about Jimmy, Poster, and Harpua going to hell and meeting the Uber-Demon, and a toungue-in cheeck cover of Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova,” this rendition in the historic venue felt very appropriate.  As fans began to flock up to frigid Boston, they felt warm and fuzzy about the first two nights in The City of Brotherly Love.

Returning to The Spectrum for another two-night stand as part of their storied tour of Fall ’97, Phish unleashed a fury of funk in their four sets.  The first night was highlighted by a incredibly strong Mike’s Groove, with a Simple > Dog-Faced Boy > Yamar sandwiched between top notch versions of Mike’s and Weekapaug.  A dark and dancy twenty-minute Mike’s is really the gem from this set,  and while Weekapaugs don’t get much play on my stereo, this is one that is definitely worth listening to, as Mike slaughters the jam.

The second night in ’97 featured a much more interesting first set, climaxing with the three song groovefest of Gumbo > 2001 > YEM.  The funk faucet was turned on early in this show, and would overflow the Spectrum before the night was done.  A second set opening Bowie provided a cryptic, searing ride that that eventually came out of a dark tunnel into minutes of percussive groove, uncharacteristic for fifteen minutes deep in a Bowie.  As the band jammed down to a quiet rhythm, Trey coyly strummed the opening to Possum.  The unfinished Bowie gave way for the more upbeat song, but the real highlight of this Possum is what comes directly after it.  As the band had toyed with the fall funk all evening, upon the last note of Possum, they bust into a ridiculously tight and addictive jam.  Phish should have requested the audience to strap on their seat belts before this unexpected high-paced psychedelic bumper car ride through the layered funk textures that colored the tour.  It was as if the band just needed to get some funk out of their system after focusing on the divergent Bowie > Possum for so long.  Closing the set with a Hood, this show complimented the night before quite well, creating a two-night stand that is often overshadowed by its east coast ’97 counterparts, Hampton and Worcester.

Phish didn’t visit the Spectrum in 1998, oddly skipping it on their extended and well-loved Fall run.  The next time the band stepped foot in The Spectrum was on their anticipatory December ’99 “Cypress Warm Up Tour,” honoring the venue with yet another two-night stand. The first, 12.10, was an anomaly in an otherwise can’t miss two week run.  The Tweezer opener is solid, and the band started the second set in promising fashion with a long Jiboo, and a Bowie, which segued before long, into Have Mercy, evoking memories of the classic combo in the well-circulated 5.8.93 Durham, NH show.  However, this one would not hold up, as the band flagrantly botched the transition out of Have Mercy and instead of finishing the Bowie, went into a Hold Your Head Up jam signifying a Fishman appearance- this time Crackin’ Rosie- a nice way to kill a promising set.  Any momentum was lost at this point, as the band stumbled to the finish line with a quick Twist, and Waste.  While this show just wasn’t tapped in, the following night would be an 180 degree turn with a second set adventure into the very fabric of the universe.

Unlike night one, the Phish came on stage and got directly into some serious improvisation with a blissful twenty-minute Hood opener, followed directly by a classic Mike’s > H2 > Weekapaug.  12.11, proved to be a whole different monster than the previous night, as the band played one of the top shows of the year in one of their favorite venues.  Circus, Scent of a Mule, and Cavern rounded out the stellar first frame, but no one would be talking about what happened before set break when this show was over.

The second set was a masterpiece- flat out and simple.  After a Boogie On opener, the sequence of Sneakin’ Sally > Ghost > 2001 > Disease is the reason we go and see Phish.  A absolutely sublime Ghost featured a gorgeous melodic peak by Trey, and got very dirty and ambient quickly after.  The band soon entered into a layered “space” jam of straight psychedelic madness- not unlike the 12.17.99 Hampton jam playing in the the recent announcement video.  Yet as opposed to Hampton’s anti-climactic Bug, this jam went exactly where everyone thought it was going- into a searing inter-galatcic flight of 2001.  This version is a monster, clocking in at over fifteen minutes of pure Phish crack, as the set had now been grooving excessively hard the entire time.  Using the popular follow-up of Disease, this entire segment of Phish is awe inducing.  One of the most exciting shows of the year, and one of the best ever at The Spectrum, this was an instant classic, adding another page to Phish’s legendary past in this legendary venue.

The Faux Flyer

Only appearing in Camden, across the river, Phish never made it to The Spectrum in 2000, the year before their hiatus, reappearing in Philadelphia during their Winter ’03 “return-to-action tour.”  In a pretty tame show, Phish showcased Slave in the first set, while opening up the second with a fun combination of AC/DC Bag and Cities before playing a soaring Theme that went into some uncharted dissonant and groovy territory before segueing into Runaway Jim.  Certainly the centerpiece of a mellow show, the Theme > Jim is some high quality Phish (though it won’t be on the compilation due to my lack of an audience copy.)

The Spectrum: 11.29.03

Phish’s final performance at Philly’s Spectrum was a bright spot on a somewhat underwhelming four night Thanksgiving / 20th Anniversary Run.  Despite the standard first set, the jam of the run came at the beginning of the second with a dark exploratory Twist.  Highlighting the heavy dissonant post-hiatus tone that some fans adored and others disliked, Trey led the band on a journey that finished with a dangerous quest down a dark alley. Yet, at the end of this eerie alley was a triumphant Simple that oozed out of the ending of Twist.  One of the jams of ’03, this Spectrum highlight would be the last true psychedelic experiment the band conducted at the venue, as the set continued with a mellow reggae segment of Makisupa and Buffalo Bill, before picking back up with the closing trio of Bowie, Strange Design, and Character Zero.

The Spectrum is such a storied venue, far beyond the many epic nights of Phish.  Yet, in September, it will be no more.  It will be a sad day when this relic of American culture is gone, but Phish will all but definitely be visiting one more time.  With rumors swirling of a weekend at the Spectrum in March (to go along with Hampton, MSG, and Boston), we could all go back one more time for what will surely be a multiple night stand and a final tribute to the many fond memories we’ve collectively had in the building.

Until then, I have compiled the highlights of Phish at The Spectrum from 1995 to 2003, in the newest edition of Miner’s Picks: “The Spectrum.” Totalling 7.5 hours of pure Philadelphia Phish jams, this compilation is complete summary of Phish’s intimate relationship to the classic arena.

1-6. It’s Ice > Gin > Rotation Jam > Mallory > 2001 > Bowie 12.15.95 II

7. Split Open and Melt 12.28.96 I

8,9. MaKisupa > Maze 12.28.96 II

10-15. TMWSIY > Avenu Malkenu > Mike’s (> jam) > Strange Design > Weekapaug 12.29.96 II

16. David Bowie 12.29.96 II

17. YEM 12.29.96 II

18-22. Mike’s > Simple > Dog-Faced Boy > Yamar > Weekapaug 12.2.97 II

23-25. Gumbo > 2001 > YEM 12.3.97 I

26-29. Jam > David Bowie > Possum > funk jam 12.3.97 II

30. Tweezer 12.10.99 I

31. Ride, Captain Ride 12.10.99 E

32. Harry Hood 12.11.99 I

33-36. Sneakin’ Sally > Ghost > 2001 > DIsease 12.11.99 II

37,38. Twist > Simple 11.29.03 II


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