Runaway Jim was a solid energetic opener and a sure thing around the mid-90s. Although some were better than others all have the 4 basic elements that I love about Phish; ripping guitar, exploratory bass, piano throw-down, and revolving drum patterns. It’s all there in this 8.5 minute version. That’s a good way to start a concert.
Guelah was still in the regular rotation at this point. The instrumental section of this song is where it’s at for me. If that doesn’t work, then it is hardly worth watching the corny synchronized kick spins. This version was nice with a very dark feel at the end of the instr. section. Nothing unusual but at least it is there.
Old Home Place is always welcome in any set list as far as I’m concerned. Trey had a nice short solo before the final chorus that is noteworthy.
Cars Trucks Buses was pretty average. Great playing by Page but when does he not give it up for this song? CTB was usually placed before a big jam tune in 96 and this show was no exception.
Stash is pretty good with some nice moments. I think Mike was really into the 6 minute jam at the end. He seems to be all over the place and doesn’t stick to any one theme for very long. Trey has many dark moments of haunting dissonance that could only be pleasing to a phish fan...and I love it!
Strange Design was a pleasant song to hear after a moody stash. This was the first time it was played without the acoustic setup since New Year’s Eve. It fit nicely here in the set.
Trey didn’t waste any time going into Divided Sky after Strange Design ended. He must have really been ready too because he played the composed sections flawlessly and the solo at the end was one of the best Divided Sky solos from the year. 96 was full of top of the mountain Divided Skies (Clifford Ball, Deer Creek, etc.) and this is one of my favorites. Trey’s climb to the top at about 11:40 gets a rewind almost every time I listen to it. The crowd went nuts after they played this song and for good reason. Any energy that was lacking in the venue in the first set had certainly dissipated and vanished by this point.
Phish had the audience following them up the mountain at this point but Billy Breathes was a strange route to take from here to say the least. This was a little too soon to hear another slow song for me but at least it was as good as it was. This Billy Breathes was about as close as you can get to the album version with the energy of a live show. Trey hit all the notes that I love about the guitar solo on the album.
Taste! 96 was full of excellent versions of Taste and this one is as sweet as any of them except for maybe the ones with Karl Perazzo a couple weeks later. The jam in Taste opened up a new path for Phish and they went down it as often as they wished in 96. About 1.5 minutes into the jam Fish rides the chinese cymbal for a while as Mike and Page lock onto a nice Arabian thing. Trey turned his tone knob way down low and hits some fast melodic runs that could have sent shivers up Vincent Price’s spine. The jam unfolded as it always does but there were numerous bits of interplay that sparkle and shine as well as any Taste from Fall 96.
A rockin’ Sample closed out the first set. This version, as 98% of them, was very standard but it was a nice way to close out a mixed bag set and it definitely left the attendees on a good note with hopes of a great 2nd set.
Billy Breathes came out just 3 days before and the band was high afloat upon the waves of their greatest studio effort to date. They played 4 songs from the new album in the 1st set. I guess they had to promote it. After all that is why bands play live right? – To promote the record. ;-) Well they got most of that out of the way in the first set and now they were ready to jam to some old school phish tunes. Suzy G. opened the set and it seemed to pick up right where the 1st set ended. A nice short rollin’ version got us ready for a monster set.
The Maze that followed was pretty standard for the year but there is nothing wrong with that since 96 saw many great versions. Page’s solo stands out to me. The swirled sound of the organ would have made it impossible for anyone to find their way around the arena if they hadn’t returned to their seats from the set break. About 1 minute into Trey’s solo Trey hits a note that he proceeds to hold out for about 40 seconds with feedback, bends, vibrato, hammer-off/ons, and whatever else he could think of. After that the solo really took off to shreadville with lots of Hendrix sounding tones and licks.
YEM started out a little bumpy until the soft part about a minute and a half in. From then on all of the sections were smooth. Trey’s wah-wah was a nice addition to this song on the “Boy-Man” part starting in 96 and this version is extra funky. YEM took a big turn after a nice funky section and they all got soft for about 2 minutes. Trey played some very subtle leads - nothing spectacular but everyone around me was into it. Anyway it gave ‘em a chance to clap in time (for the most part) to the beat. Trey: “Do you feel…..like I do?” Fish: “…like I do?” At the end of the quiet section of the jam Trey stops playing for a few seconds. Fish winds up with a huge crescendo of a fill and the song explodes with everyone on top of things. The jam really takes off from there. Mike’s bass playing exit from the jam is really gooey as they enter into the dark realm of a 4 minute vocal jam which is at times very rhythmical and almost melodic. As it starts to end it sounds like babies talking and then sinks into a pit of screams and shouts. After a weird wash of sounds that builds and slowly drops, it ends on a nice harmony in Ebmajor. You could probably call that an above average vocal jam if you care to rate such things.
It should have been clear to everyone at this point that these were going to be two very different sets. Next was Reba and it was very well played. Before the 2nd chorus the crowd was into synchronized clapping again. I guess they just didn’t get enough of it during Stash and YEM. Anyway the band seemed to feed off of this because the energy coming from the stage just increased by exactly 10.18% (if you care to track such things). The composed section was executed perfectly to my ears. The 8 minute jam included for the first time of the night some really great soft Trey leads. Page had some nice playing on the grand throughout that is worth paying close attention to as well. Trey hit the phase button and the Iron City was in the middle of total Reba bliss from then on out. The four-piece unit was seriously dialed-in here and the communication was clear as they took us on the journey to that place at the top of the mountain. You could see for miles up there and I know everyone around me at least was up there enjoying the view too.
This was a nice place for the slow song of the set and Waste filled the gap appropriately. This is a pretty good version; fresh since it was still a new song.
The sounds of reggae added a nice mellow mood as Harry Hood began. The vocals have been better on this song but at least it was played well. There were some nice vibes in the jam. Nothing spectacular but it was a nice end to the set. Although the jam seemed a little rushed to me and got to the top very quickly. With nowhere else to go it just kind of lingered for a minute or so and then jolted to the end. Trey: “Special thanks to Mario! We love you man. You’re great.”
The shufflin’ Julius was a perfect encore for this show; good vocals and a hot bluesy guitar solo. Trey didn’t pull any punches on this solo either.