"What is a band without simple?"
When I heard Phish would be playing Hill Auditorium, my first thought was 12/15/71, the date of a well-known Grateful Dead show at this venue. My second thought was Ann Arbor, MI, a small, friendly college town where my sister had attended the University of Michigan. These two thoughts, along with the temptation of hanging out with Ohioans for four straight Phish shows led me to travel from Rochester, New York.
We got to town early and hung out on campus all day. There was essentially no scene before the show, mainly because there was no central parking lot. The Auditorium is located in the heart of the campus. There was a small crowd outside before the show. I remember seeing a handful of food and soda vendors greeting us outside the doors after the show. There was essentially no lot scene in the Midwest at this time. I was shocked to see a raging scene in Syracuse, NY, less than a month later, on 11/6/94.
Stepping inside the building, I felt like I had entered sacred historical grounds. All my thoughts turned to imagining what the Dead, and the scene, might have been like in `71. The place was beautiful, with carpeting, plush seats, and a large balcony. From the ceiling hung the best theater sound system I have ever heard. I believe Phish only used the house speakers at this show. Most of the students appeared to be U. Michigan students, who unfortunately were sitting much of the time, especially in the long jam sequences.
The first set contains some of my older favorites including "Foam", "Reba", and "Fast Enough for You". "Stash" is at its full potential here, with a jam that was beyond anything I had ever heard. They deconstruct the song down to its basic elements, feeling more like a jazz band improvising rock music. It sounds like they turn the song inside out in a mathematical style. Fishman keeps the same timing, but the rest of the band appear to fill opposite holes. During the quiet section at the end of the jam, I had a vision of the band dancing like ballerinas with umbrellas while balancing on circus balls. Just when I thought they couldn't get any further away from "Stash", the main riff melted through without warning. It was brilliant! I remember commenting that I could walk out now and be happy.
The Reverend Jeff Mosier, formerly of Aquarium Rescue Unit, joined the band for the last four songs of the first set. Three of these had not been played in over a year, a special treat. Seeing the Reverend sing "Tennessee Waltz" is surely one of my oddest moments at a Phish concert. This was the first time I saw the band play a miniature acoustic set.
The second set is historic for a thirty-eight-minute sequence of "Mike's Song->Simple->jam". This one was a shocker because at that time there were only a handful of shows where Phish had jammed for over a half-hour. (One of those is the "Tweezer" featured on A Live One, from Bangor, ME.) The unbelievable jam pushes the boundaries, with multiple segments that all have a live of their own. Every time I thought the jam would end, it just took off in a different direction. We stood with our jaws on the floor for most of it. While I admit that tapes are not as powerful as being there in the moment, I urge you to get a copy and take a listen!
This show led me deeper onto the bus. What I heard on "Stash" and "Simple" convinced me to travel just about anywhere, and as often as possible, to see this band. However, the next three nights were tainted for me by the magic of the Hill Auditorium. Some of the highlights include the Beatles' "Helter Skelter" to open Dayton the next night. The Hara Arena is really a college gymnasium with bleacher seating. The venue and vibe seemed very different from the previous night. The "Colonel Forbin->Vibration of Life->Mockingbird" was a nice treat, though. The Reverend also played with the band all four nights, including a Michigan State encore of "Runaway Jim" with an extended banjo solo.