Being the history dork that I am, I decided to dive into the era in order to better understand the context of the show. First off, 1996 is a huge year for the band career wise. Following the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995, a massive influx of people came into the Phish community. This of course lead up to the amazing Fall ’95 tour and the legendary MSG NYE show to cap the year off and announce to a much larger audience that Phish was THE touring act in Rock N’ Roll. Fast forward to July and instead of playing to salivating phans back home, the boys take off with Santana to Europe. I imagine that only some of the most hard core phans made this trip to actually tour considering the lack of full Phish shows, which likely helped expose the band to a new audience. That being said, my opinion of Europe 1996 is sort of low. I think most of the shows display tight, yet average jamming with minimal exploration. The London show is a great example of this. This show is particular was probably light on true phans, since most of the kids of tour likely stayed on the mainland following the couple shows in France and headed to Amsterdam (which would take place the following night). I know I would have had I been there.
Let’s get down to business. The show has a very visually pleasing set list to most. Reba, Hood, YEM coupled with Stash, Maze, SoAM, and of course the Lizards alone would qualify enough to make most 3.0 shows a stand out. Sadly, the Reba and Hood just don’t hit it, however the Mule and YEM are both crushed by Page! So Page ragers this is a show to listen to the chairman go old school on that ass! But….we’ll get to that shortly.
Kicking things off with the always fun Runaway Jim that show gets going with a fun bouncy feel. Trey gets the noodle fingers working right away during a brief jam held largely together by Fish slowing the tempo down. Moving quickly into Cavern the band offers London a chance to sing along. This is where I should disclose that in addition to listening to the show, I also was able to get my hands on a full DVD recording of the show. I’m sure some of you have seen it. Kuroda does a great job with lighting up what appears to be a tiny venue during Cavern and the Trey and Mike look to be having a ball. Perhaps the fun laced themes of Cavern prompted the boys to drop into the early set Reba. Where as an early set Reba is usually a chance for serious exploration, this one fails to rarely peak out at all and in my opinion falls all to flat. Phish.net officially lists the song as unfinished in the Companion and it of course does not contain a whistling ending then. I Didn’t Know brought out her royal highness (aka Fish) for a vacuum jam and some solid vocal displays by the foursome. As far as I am concerned any time the Electrolux comes out fun is sure to play out. I bet that got a great reaction out of some random London bloke who was dragged to the show by a friend. Sparkle drops next and it’s Sparkle, next.
Stash features some great tension and release as it should. It’s interesting to note that the audience participation part following the “…cries to his cohorts asleep in the trees” line is very low to almost non-existent, and as a result Trey seems to be randomly screaming which is great. I guess nobody gave London the memo or perhaps it wasn’t a big part of the experience then, not sure, you’d have to ask a soul older then mine. The Scent Of A Mule that follows is the high point of the first set. Ripping through the track with veracity and speed, everyone is locked on as Mike steps to the forefront to belt out one of my personal favorites. From both the DVD and the recording it is clear that Page means serious business during this tune. He crushes Trey so hard during the “duel” that at one point Red actually goes down and sits on the side of Fish’s kit to watch him finish it off. Page takes his baby grand for a full-fledged roller coaster ride up and down the keys, tossing his head back and forth like Bach in an Opera House. It’s a standout version and if you dig SoAM and especially the “duel” then you’ll enjoy this. It is the epitome of Page side, Rage side. Awkwardly, Sample closes out the set, and like Sparkle, leaves you with not a lot to say.
I personally have never seen Harry Hood open up a set, but I hope one day I get too. However, I hope the Hood that does is a meaty monster from the deep instead of this wimp shrimp from the shallow side of the pool. Tight in the section and moving softly into the jam, this Hood is mellow and does invoke that flying feeling, but never comes to a definitive peak. Displaying their master ability to move fluidly through their selection, the band slides into what seemed to be one of the crowd favorites of the night, Bouncing Around The Room. A sing along with an English accent permeates the room as the sounds bounce around the tiny London venue. As Bouncing winds down, a spacey ambient sound emerges complete with some noodling by Page and then click, Fishman drops in the drums, Kuroda kicks on the lights, and 2001 rocks into London. Short, sweet, and to the point 2001 is quickly met by the high-hat sound of rat-a-tat-tat. Returning to a similar place taken by Stash, this Maze rips. Displaying stellar shredding by Trey and a physic link of communication between everyone on stage, the Maze is fun and a definite highlight of the set and show. When we finally get out of the Maze, a brief moment of rest ascends. A welcome moment to refocus your thoughts after four back –to-back tunes.
What can be said about the Lizards, it’s amazing and always is! To all you who are reading this that have still yet to get your Lizards keep holding out and it will come! A second vacuum jam? Hold Your Head Up always reminds me of a game show for some reason. Like Fishman just won a contest and gets to “come on down” and do his little ditty and make weird sounds on a vacuum. You just have to love Phish I guess. Terrapin is fun and the crowd seems to dig the second shot of vacuum jamming. Following the other slice of bread in the HYHU sandwich, Trey makes a remark that the second vacuum jam was for Syd Barrett, who is of course a founding member of Pink Floyd. Trey mentions that Syd is up in the balcony and then as if sending the rock legend a shout out, YEM sparks up. You’re not the only one who can rock the roof off a composed opus Mr. Barrett! An extremely tight YEM that features yet more musical crispness from Page with Mike stepping in to funk up the Queen’s Island. A dance party ensues all across the floor and it’s a fantastic way to end a pretty good set of Phish. The vocal jam is lengthy and closes everything out. At this point, you will see Hello My Baby cuing up in the recording, but you wont be able to hear it likely. It was preformed without amplification and as a result is extremely hard to pick up by those who were recording that evening. If you have a crispy copy please send it my way. Encoring with a Beatles cover, so appropriate, the boys break out a well-polished version of A Day In The Life and get ready to leave the land of tea and crumpets, heading off to the land of outer space that is Amsterdam.
Overall, I am surprised this show was not reviewed before on .Net. After all, a DVD does circulate among friends and collectors. I think it is a solid show and over the several times I listened to it I continued to like it more and more. It’s a show I would burn for a friend first getting Phish and tell them to listen to it from start to finish. I’d also tell them to re-listen to it and this time try and key in on Page the whole time. He’s was like a werewolf in London that night. This show is a solid base hit, not a homerun. Enjoy yourselves.