There always seems to be a stigma with reviews of Phish shows, that someone's review or opinion is almost always wrong about how good or bad a given show is. More recently since the return of Phish, shows have either been tagged with the label of "epic", "best show ever", or "worst show ever". Rarely in reviews does one read about a show that was simply solid, with high energy and great fun all the way around. A show where the setlist had good balance, the sound of the venue was excellent, and the band and the crowd were in high spirit. A show where no particular song crumbled, but a couple stood out as inspirational and emotional markers of the evening. And more importantly, a show you were so glad to be at or kicking the dirt because you were not. A show like the one that took place during the late fall of 1996 in the desolate tiny town in the Great Plains known as Omaha, NE. My intention of this review is not to hype up an underrated show to acclaim some certain status, but to intrigue fans to go and download or trade for this show to enhance their listening pleasure.
One reason this show might be masked of its greatness could be due to what went down at the infamous "M" show on the night before in St. Louis. We drove from Bowling Green, KY only to hit St. Louis. After such a great show, my girlfriend (now wife), along with two roommates were standing in the Kiel Center lot confused as to whether we wanted to drive back home on such a solid note, or to utilize our post-show high energy to hoof it to Omaha. We decided to at least head towards Nebraska and decide by the time we got to Kansas City. We figured if not, then hang out in Kansas City and go home on the following day. So we arrived in Kansas City and slept on our decision.
Naturally, we decided to finish the trip right and head to Omaha. We didn't know what to expect so we ordered four Will Call tickets to be safe from a sold-out show. When we arrived in Omaha, the weather was biting cold with freezing rain. As we drove past the venue the marquee read, "Tonight Phish" and just below, "Sold Out". After a swipe of the brow and "thank goodness we called earlier" heard throughout the car, we proceeded to the lot, which was cold, wet, slippery with ice, and quiet as everyone wanted in when the doors opened.
Inside, the venue was rather small (compared to most Fall 1996 venues and thereafter). The venue had a nice personal feeling to it because of its size. Both the floor and the seats were general admission so we decided to park it right behind the stage in the front row by Page...literally. Sitting in my seat, I would rest my feet on the stage floor, as Page was not too far in front of my seat. The sound and lights from our location were excellent. A nice feature of sitting behind the stage is having a similar view as the band. Our expectations for the show were low (because of the "M" show), but we were still excited to be in such a small venue in the middle of nowhere seeing Phish.
After absorbing the first set's energy by finally getting to sit down during set break, the four of us knew we drove all the way here for a reason and that reason was firmly established during the second set. The “La Grange” opener set a nice opening tone with another reminder that we were in Omaha, getting down to some ZZ Top style country rock and roll. None of us had seen Phish do this number before (and have yet to see it since), which increased our excitement. Following “La Grange” was a dark “Runaway Jim”. As this jam vehicle launched away, there was this immediate feeling of intensity and indifference that eventually led to a deconstructed breakdown into this hum, which began to overtake the sound.
At first it was annoying and I think many were waiting for Paul to fix a feedback problem. But then Trey began to narrate and everyone got interested real fast as he described, defined, and gave us all, the “Vibration of Life”! After Trey announced that the “VOL” had been written by God, the vibe slid right into “Kung”. With this only being my second “Kung” since my first show (10/29/95), I was very excited.
Many of the jams so far in the evening were taking on a dark connotation, with heavy use of red, yellow, and white lights from Kuroda. Thus “Kung” fit right into the theme. Soon after the chant, the odd calypso beat of “Catapult” sprung in as Mike performed gypsy-like dancing at the front of stage while waving a purple handkerchief. To break from this odd but rather amusing part of the show, the band jumped right into “Axilla”.
This heavy rocker immediately built the energy back up before taking on more of the dark style of jamming and chanting during the slow outro. The chant involved some shouting between Trey and Fish involving Leigh Fordham. A creepy “Axilla” nonetheless and well worth a listen. What came next would be what I would consider one of the most energetic, emotional, and inspirational moments out of my seventy seven show Phishtory, and that moment occurred during “Hood”. During the "Harry" portion of the song, the band altered the lyrics referencing Leigh Fordham, once again adding to the mystery of what the story behind Leigh Fordham was all about. As we all know, Leigh popped up again in the lyrics to “46 Days”.
Anyway, this “Hood” could very well be the top version that I have heard and seen. All “Hood”s are a blessing, in my opinion, but during this particular version, Trey held this one note for just over four minutes while pumping his arm and fist in the air. He motioned to the crowd as if he were saying, "Come on, feel this moment, this it, this is why you are here and all of us in this room are connected on the same level of musical euphoria". And it worked, as the crowd roared throughout this everlasting moment, and Trey broke out of the note to finish the jam. If you are looking for a touching goosebump type of song, get this show for this version of “Hood”.
My buddy was really hoping for a “Harpua” sometime during the show and especially loves the line "we're coming to your town, we'll help you party down". Well, he was at least satisfied when they encored with the debut of “We're An American Band”, where the same line appears all throughout the song. This song fittingly has Omaha references and maintained a high energy send-off.
The show ended a bit early (between 10:30-10:45pm) due to a heavy ice storm that was taking place during the show. We were slipping and sliding to our car only to find over an inch of ice on the windshield. It was a hectic drive, but the eighteen hour drive home in snow and ice was well worth it. From the Fall of 1995 to the Summer of 2003, this show stands out as one of the most fun and solid shows that I have attended, and I highly recommend it to anyone who does not have it in his collection.