Underrated in Summers Past

11.20.09 (W.Rogell)

With June methodically approaching, one can’t help but think of tours past under the welcoming warmth of the summer sun. Just like every tour has particular shows that standout as highlights, there are always a some performances that either get dogged on, or flat out forgotten. Sometimes these criticisms and cases of historical amnesia are well warranted, but other times, not so much. Below are three shows that either get a bad rap, or glossed over in Phishy historical dialogue, and  each, I believe, has more to offer than their legacy suggests. (Click the orange show titles to download.)


8.14.1996 Hershey Stadium, Hershey, PA

Perhaps the perfect example of this phenomenon, people have ripped on Hershey since the day it happened. Many fans skirted Chocloate City for Plattsburgh, in order to set up camp at The Clifford Ball a day early. But for those who braved the bare bones environs of Hershey Stadium, they were treated to a show with more than a few highlights. Right off the bat, the band jammed out “Wilson” uncharacteristically, building an elongated sonic bridge into a searing “Down with Disease. “Reba” and “Stash” provided musical adventures of the opposite nature, providing the improvisational yin and yang for the rest of the opening set.

Although front loaded, set two came out with more than its fair share of jamming. An old-school, multi-themed “Runaway Jim” kicked off the frame, and set the table for a second song “YEM.” But the jam of the show came in the mid-set “Tweezer,” a twisting rendition that got far more interesting than its bombastic Clifford Ball counterpart. While the end of the set trickled out a bit, there was more than enough meat in this show to hold up to its Summer ’96 brothers. While not the strongest show of the summer, Hershey deserves a earnest re-listen if it hasn’t been heard in years.

I: Wilson > Jam > Down with Disease, Fee > Poor Heart, Reba, The Mango Song, Gumbo, Stash, Hello My Baby

II: Runaway Jim, You Enjoy Myself, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Cars Trucks Buses, Tweezer, Theme From the Bottom, Hold Your Head Up > Cracklin’ Rosie > Hold Your Head Up, Sample in a Jar, Tweezer Reprise

E: Julius


7.29.97 Desert Sky Pavilion, Phoenix, AZ

While this show doesn’t get the harsh treatment of Hershey, I find that it often gets overlooked all together. Following a climactic first week of Phish’s US tour, and before a memorable run up the west coast, the band dropped a bomb in the desert. On a Tuesday night, Phish continued their revolutionary summer with a standout session of bulbous grooves in the first set’s “Gumbo.” A piece that stood out to Trey, himself, as quoted in The Phish Book, the jam’s connected funk rhythms followed the band’s musical goal of the summer, setting the foundation for larger dance extravaganzas throughout the tour. A blowout, late-set “Ghost” kept the beat pulsating before the band took things into setbreak.

Phish turned in a wilder direction with the drop of an early-second set “Antelope.” Taking this piece much further out, and in different directions, than most late-90s “Antelopes,” this version became an instant classic. The second standout jam in the set, and perhaps one of the most dark-horse pieces of improv from Summer ’97, took place in “Twist.” A song that had been debuted only a month earlier in Europe, this early stateside version crawled slowly into unique places. Taking the jam into a darker, murky musical swamp, Phish was still experimenting with where “Twist” could take them, and on this night, they nailed one. Desert Sky ’97; don’t sleep.

I: Theme From the Bottom, Beauty of My Dreams, Gumbo, Dirt, Sparkle, Ghost, Swept Away > Steep, Loving Cup

II: Olivia’s Pool, Run Like an Antelope, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Twist > Taste, Sample in a Jar, Rocky Top, The Squirming Coil

E: Possum


7.15.99 PNC Arts Center, Holmdel, NJ

This first night of PNC’s two-night stand followed the typical pattern of delving into deeper, more exploratory jamming than its second night counterpart. Phish filled the second set with this type of open risk-taking. Starting the set with the summer’s anthem, “Meatstick,” this version emerged as the one time the band actually jammed out of the song, crafting a sparse and playful plane of bass-led space-funk. Extending the into engaging exploration, the band finally landed in the intro of “2001″ –  or was it “Split Open?” For a second it seemed that the band didn’t even know, but they steered the groove into the intro to “Split.” As the improv dropped, Phish got very heavy very quickly, alternating tempos in a menacing piece of music. Building the snarling textures into “Kung,” the band blasted out of their Gamehendge-based chant into a blistering, break-neck jam. Playing with fury, the band took off into intersteller communication. Interestingly, however, they eventually reached a chilled-out plane where the entire band was still clearly anchored in “Split;” some adveturous psychedelia to say the least.

“Punch > Ghost” opened the show with as much pop as possible, and the rest of the night flowed from there. A rare “Axilla” and “Sloth” popped into the first set before “You Enjoy Myself” set the crowd into the intermission. This show gets largely ignored, and the second set contains some impressive grooves and stellar abstract improv, while the second night went on to boast a setlist of greatest hits within a relatively safe performance.

I: Punch You In the Eye, Ghost, Farmhouse, Horn, Poor Heart, Axilla > Theme From the Bottom, I Didn’t Know, The Sloth, You Enjoy Myself

I: Meatstick > Split Open and Melt > Kung > Jam, Bouncing Around the Room, Chalk Dust Torture

E: Brian and Robert, Frankenstein


Jam of the Day:

Reba” 10.26.94 II

This mellow and meditative Monday morning “Reba” served as a precursor to the scintillating Halloween ’94 version. Plucked from the Download of the Day, this is another great example of the synergy between 1994 and “Reba” jams.



10.26.94 Appalachian State University, Boone, NC < Torrent

10.26.94 Appalachian State University, Boone, NC < Megaupload

Appalachian State – Boone, NC

An animal-themed first set and a classics-based second, combined for this pre-Halloween party in the mountains of North Carolina in October of 1994.

I: Simple, It’s Ice, NICU, Run Like an Antelope, Guyute, Dog Faced Boy, Scent of a Mule, The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony > Suzy Greenberg, Runaway Jim

II: Rift, Bouncing Around the Room, Reba, Axilla (Part II), You Enjoy Myself > The Vibration of Life > You Enjoy Myself, Hold Your Head Up > Cracklin’ Rosie > Hold Your Head Up, David Bowie

E: Nellie Kane*, Foreplay/Long Time*, Amazing Grace


Source: AKG 460s

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