All selections and text by Kaveh Rahimi
“Run Like An Antelope” 8.28.93 II, Berkeley, CA
After three nights of the Grateful Dead at Shoreline, the friendly, West Coast confines of the Greek, put the perfect cap on a wonderful four nights of music. It was the end of summer tour and the band was locked and loaded with their typical tight, robotic force of music. The “Antelope” from this night, after a good “2001-Rift” opener, took a really good show to another level. Not quite as overall powerful as the Red Rocks “Antelope” 9 days earlier, this version is still a shred-fest of 1993 proportions.
“Lizards” 6.10.94 I, Red Rocks, CO
I know we have all had this experience, where there has been a certain time a song has been played and you finally “understand” the song. “The Lizards” on this night was this type of experience for me. I had heard the song many a time, but it was during Trey’s floating solo, that I, half way up an unpacked Red Rocks, felt/understood the plight and struggle of the Lizard people. His solo translated that idea into music. I felt it and just understood it. One of those experiences.
“Slave to the Traffic Light” 11.26.94 II, Minneapolis, MN
The “Bowie” from this night took the band to many a new and far reaching place in the musical universe, and it is that same openness and patience, that translates to this “Slave,” the perfect set closer.
“Jesus Left Chicago” 10.31.95 III, Chicago, IL
After the monster (one of my favorite) “You Enjoy Myself” opened the third set, a perfect and killer version of this cover is one of the highlights of the night. With Dave Grippo joining the band, his infusion of alto sax on this song, takes it to another level. The band just let’s him give solo upon solo. I remember the crowd erupting after this solo and giving him a long, well deserved hand. Something about a straight up blues number in a city like Chicago that is hard to replicate anywhere else.
“Reba” 11.17.97 I, Denver, CO
We all love 4 to 5 song sets. This pure gem takes up slot 2, after the then rare, “Tweezer” opener. Something was in the air over these two night in the Mile High city; seemingly taking off in full with an absolute blissful Set II from the first night. You know you are in for a great “Reba,” when Page and Trey nail their game of cat and mouse, before the serious release of music happens. Worth noting that Fishman, as usual, holds down and adds the right amount of drive to this furious back and forth chasing. Now the meat….right from the outset, there is an open air to this “Reba” jam, with Trey in no hurry to add directive or control. Page and Trey with the always healthy backbone of Mike and Jon, continue their game of playing off each other with Gordo adding to the jam raising it to another level…the four headed beast in full control. The continued, classic Phish push, push of the music. The rest of the song, just floats away…as all great Reba’s do.
“David Bowie -> Catapult -> David Bowie” 2.16.03 L.Vegas, NV
Absolutely one of my favorite show openers. The band was in serious mode on night two in Vegas. The transitions into and back out of “Catapult” fit better than OJ’s glove. Tight. And driven. With the technically, aggressive nature of “Bowie” on full display, especially as the underlying beat for this “Catapult” that sneaks up on you in perfect silence. This “Bowie” is the perfect show opening sandwich. Tasty.
“Piper” 12.29.03 I, Miami, FL
Right out of the box and charging. I love this “Piper” as an opener. This version is locked and loaded with aggressive guitar work from Trey with that little extra, dirty 2003 guitar tone. After the initial outburst, the band settles into the galloping part of the song with Page adding tasteful piano over Trey’s, always wonderful, rhythm guitar work. Following a calmer, guitar build up that is driven by Fishman with his usual pushing fills, Trey slaughters his solo, bringing an already high energy building to a higher understanding. As the song builds itself to conclusion, it is very, very easy to forget that this is the start of the show. Jesus.
“Wolfman’s Brother” 10.30.09 II, Indio, CA
An often overlooked, hidden gem from the Indio run. This version has the band chomping at the bit as soon as the lyrics end. With the groove already in place; the plinko-ish, Page piano jam gets things rolling. Mike is quick to add some liquid bass, thus bringing Trey to the foreground as the jam continues to ebb up and down but constantly move forward. Trey then drives the band, off into the outer realms of music. The song complete breaks down almost as quickly as it began. Finding itself in orbit of Pluto and the like, there is nothing earthly about this quite scary section; which is good. Pure, form-breaking music to the end.
“Down with Disease” 6.3.11, II, Pine Knob, MI
While this one that has been well documented and discussed, it is amazing music. After the “Waves” at Bethel, the throw down at historic Pine Knob on Mike’s birthday, continued to put the music of 2011 into the upper stratosphere. This “Disease” is pure magic. What gets me every time I listen to this version is the pure “push” that comes in two latter places in this song. Places where the form has been left and all there is, is music. It is music as it should be! Pure and new. When the band is firing on all cylinders and you are listening to music being created, there is really no other place to be.
I’ll admit it. I’m a sucker for a “Chalk Dust Torture,” anytime and anywhere. This version is lodged in everyone’s memory quite well, so I’ll only add that this version is the “Chalk Dust” that I have been waiting for since hearing the IT version in 2003. There is something wonderful when this band takes a normal, straight forward rock and roll song and blows it’s doors wide open—the power of the musicians. Furthermore, it is rather fitting that the band chose to bust out “Emotional Rescue”, because, as of that point in the evening, I think we all where riding a great emotional wave and needed some “rescue” from the bliss.
Thank you for all the reader’s picks submissions! It will take me a bit, but I will get to all of them. Cheers, Miner