DISCLAIMER: The following comments are written by a 26 year old
straight white male elitist haughty moronic Phish fan in the midst of
law school finals, who has only heard around 1100 hours of Phish's
music, who has only seen about 45 shows, and who is so jaded that he
won't be seeing the Sacramento show tonight because he knows that, if
he attends and the show is average (""great" "awesome") or amazing,
he will be too tired to study effectively on Sunday for his 9am Monday
Constitutional Law final and, on the other hand, if the show is lame,
he will be BOTH tired AND pissed off on Sunday, and so he loses either
11/29/95 Cow Palace, San Francisco, CA
Outside, the scene was familiar and typical; the smell of patchouli
oil, burning sage, indica and sativa and hybrids, hippies, frat boys,
glass bowls, hemp jewelry and clothing, hats, more hats, skateboards,
miracle-seekers, t-shirt-beer-dope-shroom vendors, etc. Surprisingly
few unleashed dogs, however, which was good. There were a lot of
people there early (as usual), but not much of a party atmosphere (it
was very chilly for San Francisco before the show.. about 55 degrees
perhaps). Certainly not as pleasant a scene for the eyes and ears as
a good summer show when the lot opens at 3pm (and everyone shows up at
1 or 2 and begins the party outside their cars waiting in line to get
in, on a sunny 75 degree afternoon..). I for one am happy about the
summer tour, even though I won't be making any summer shows, in all
The Cow Palace is, as the name implies, about as much a dump as it is
a venue. It was renovated at some point in the last decade, as it is
allegedly not as much of a dump as it was in the 70s (but it is still
home to rodeos and HOT RIIIIDERS and motorcycle enthusiast
gatherings). East Coast fans should take note that it reminded me of
a typical indoor 80s-made collegiate basketball/hockey/graduation
arena, only grey seemed the predominant "color" motif, as opposed to a
school's colors. The sound was not nearly as poor as it could have
been (a big thank-you to Paul Languedoc!!), and I'm fairly certain
that, in front of the soundboard on the floor, the sound was actually
quite pleasing. The Cow holds around 10,000 probably, and there were
extremely uncomfortable "seats" for those that opted not to crowd onto
the standing-room-only floor. Reasonably-sized, average taper's
section. The bathrooms were few (I think there were only two men's
rooms), and there may have been only one beer vendor in the entire
place. There was also some cheesy neon-advertised "bar" along the
short vending thoroughfare, which, incredible as it seems, actually
had a long line to get in it within an hour of showtime.
Lights went down at around 7:58 or so, and the non-smoking Cow Palace
was modestly filled with smoke. The show started within a minute.
The Frankenstein NICU opener was excellent to hear and see (Chris'
light show is quite brilliant, especially in a reasonably small
smoke-filled room like The Cow), but these versions weren't as
energetic and engaging as the 7/8/94 Frankenstein and the Amsterdam
NICU by any stretch. NICU even had a flub or two. That's a tune I
wish they'd jam the heck out of at some point...
The first set really wasn't very good. The Divided Sky was the lamest
version I'd ever heard or seen -- not much energy at all, and a flub
or two. The "jam" at the end was just not as passionate as it has
been known to be even in an average version. I was very relieved that
Trey didn't spend too many minutes in suspended animation before
playing the "Note" to close the Divide (as it were). Maze had a
reasonably good Page solo (as usual), and Trey's very curious solo
(lots of flats.. interesting!) included a brief tease of Dave's Energy
Guide's opening licks. It didn't climax at all well, however.
Bathtub Gin was fantastic to hear (I love this tune), but the
awe-inspiring number of Sampleheads in attendance didn't seem to care
much for it. The jam segment was very short (a la 8/16/96 Clifford
Ball), and enjoyable, but certainly not a thrilling Event like 11/7/96
Rupp or 12/29/95 or 8/13/93. The jam wasn't quite as focused as many
other versions. The set closing tunes (which if memory serves included
Life on Mars and Suzy Greenberg) were standard at the very, very
best. A 2.5-3.0 set, in my opinion. Definitely sub-standard, given
the lack of any serious jamming (only a few minutes in Gin).
The second set, on the other hand, was typically average, magnificent,
awesome Phish. The Wilson opener was extremely appropriate for me,
since I definitely wondered at set-break whether I could still have
fun given my geeeezing and attitude problems. The highlight of the
set was actually, in my opinion, not "Sparks" as you might think, nor
the JAM into Sparks out of Simple (lots of chording from Trey.. not
that much noodling), nor even the GLORIOUS jam segment of You Enjoy
Myself (about a B+/A- probably), nor the Swept Away > Steep (I love
these extremely Beatles-esque numbers), nor even the precious Harry
Hood closer, but rather
THE JAM SEGMENT OF TASTE!!!!! WoW!!!!!!!! =^] =^] =^] The crowd
around me didn't seem into it at all, but it was by far and the way
the greatest Taste I'd ever heard (I admittedly have only heard a few
Fall '96 versions, but I've heard almost every other version). Like
other Fall versions, the jam was made up of a Page jam and a Trey jam
(similar to Maze in this sense), but both of these jams were intensely
moving and fiery and spell-binding, in my opinion. An excellent
version, that I cannot wait to hear again on tape (maybe I won't like
it as much, I know, I know..).
The jam into Sparks out of Simple was remarkably tweezeresque, and I
was reminded of the 5/7/94 Tweezerfest set. This 11/29 Simple jam was
very engaging and gorgeous; much more enjoyable, imo, than the
excellent 10/31/96 Simple jam with Karl (who didn't show up, btw, but
that's ok.. I'll give him shit next time I see him ;-). Sparks was
played reasonably well (though not flawlessly), which surprised me
because there were some flubs here and there all night. It was my
first *live* version of that tune. No one within forty feet of me
seemed to recognize Sparks, but when Sparkle began... (and people
wonder why Phish still plays this song.. maybe it is because at least
90% of the audience appears to REALLY REALLY REALLY LIKE IT!!!).
You Enjoy Myself was excellent, but only because of the jam segment,
in my opinion. The entire opening segment was below average without
question. The pre-Nirvana segment was spacey and beautiful, as usual,
but no attempt at the Vibration of Life was made, and it wasn't as
enchanting as numerous other versions (especially from 1994). Mike's
solo-section was certainly reasonable, but nothing incredible. Trey
broke a string at the first shot at the Note, which sounded like The
Anti-Shot-at-the-Note, amusing me (I had my eyes closed, of course,
and it wasn't until after the show that someone told me that the
Anti-Note was actually Trey breaking a string). The second shot at
the Note was equally embarrassing, since I believe Trey was still
doing damage control. Additionally, Page didn't stop on time before
the charge (only the second time I'd ever heard him do this).
The WUDMTF segment was standard, and there were trampolines for the
"tramps" jam. Usual routine. Page's jamming in the tramps segment
was fine, but not jaw-dropping or unusually profound.
The jam segment, on the other hand, was incredible! It opened up with
Trey repeating a very, VERY groovy, funky, mellifluous theme (I
thought of you folks who really enjoy the 12/31/93 YEM theme.. wait
until you hear this one.. I think this one is even more catchy and
groovy..). The jam on the whole was an amalgamation, it seemed to me,
of themes and styles that Trey had integrated into the jam over the
history of the song. There were remarkable hints not only at Spooky
and Oye Como Va, but also more obscure funk and R and B grooves that
sounded very familiar in style but which I could not name. A
magnificent fushion of YEM jam segment styles, with a spectacular
closing minute or so taboot. It was also about two minutes (at least)
longer than usual (the whole version was around 26 minutes).
The bass and drums segment was All Mike, with Fish accompanying
remarkably respectfully. Mike's soloing didn't especially grab me (I
just don't like his tone that much these days), but it was a very
beautiful, patient, melodious effort, that even teased some of the
themes of the aforementioned jam segment that Trey had commandeered.
The vocal jam was active and danceable-to, but otherwise left me
unmoved. No small furry creatures noises, and lots of harmonizing, as
usual these days. All things considered, I'd probably give this
version a B+/A- or so (I need to hear it again; for those of you
impressed by either the 10/31/96 YEM or the 11/7/96 YEM, this version
is spectacularly superior to those, in my opinion, even though this
11/29/96 version opened poorly).
Waste was well, AGH. Why don't they jam out the ending segment!? The
song is absolut schwag without a jam (but I guess that's the point?).
They should turn this tune into another If I Could (I don't think Waste is
even vaguely as precious as Lifeboy or Fast... it just doesn't work
without a climactic closing jam.. I nevertheless do not dislike it).
Harry Hood to close the set was sahweeet, but not more beautiful than
a normal Harry, in my opinion. I was certainly more moved by it than
I was by the 8/6/96 Red Rocks version, however, but I have yet to hear
even one Fall '96 version. Trey's soloing was very focused, and he
seemed more interested in speaking to our hearts than in passionately
noodling (actually, this is true of the second set generally.. Trey
didn't noodle nearly as much as he is known to do.. he seemed more
genuinely interested in enchanting us.. not much rock star Trey at
I didn't expect anything good for the encore, given the blessedness of
the second set's improvisation. Indeed, the Sample (E) was even lame
for Sample (flubbed, and the jam was surprisingly weak).
I would recommend this second set, which was good enough, in my
opinion, to make this _show_ a typically awesome, 5.0 Phish show at
best (maybe even a 4.5, in all fairness to truly well-rounded shows).
I had a great time, and I'm very glad I was fortunate enough to go!
It was a pleasure seeing Darius again (sans long hair), and meeting
Katie Holloway and Michael Gouker face to face for the first time (if
you see someone walking around who could be Paul Languedoc's brother,
that would be Mr. Gouker..). And congratulations to Bruce Norbeck,
who successfully taped a Phish show for the first time with a brand
p.s. See, even a jaded fan can still have a good time at a Phish
show!! Thanks mail order, and thanks PHISH!!!!! =^]
The Simple from this show is fantastic. Great full band groove session. The rest of the show is meh, unfortunately, but the next night in Sacramento is pure fire. Oh- and the Cow Palace lives up to the billing- you can smell the cow shit in there to this day.
Maybe the band was getting a little tired by this point in a long tour, but aside from a joyous Simple that segues seamlessly into a rare Sparks (the last one until Dick's 2011), there's only a few moments of excitement on this night in Northern California.
Character Zero ends unusually, with the band members singing the background vocals acapella style. Gin is less than 10 minutes and never steps out of Type I territory. Maze is the first set highlight, a powerful and psychedelic version during a tour when this song shined.
The jamming out of Simple and seamless segues into Sparks is the musical highlight. Sparks>Sparkle is unique on paper, but it's a weird placement for that first set song. Fortunately the Taste that follows is way above average and extremely tight. Trey breaks a string sometime during YEM, but other than some extended jamming in the later section of the song, it never rises above standard.
An exuberant and fast-paced Hood ends the night on a high note, with Trey ending the night by telling the crowd, "We really appreciate you coming to the Cow Palace. If you want to see some real cows, come visit us in Vermont."
Meh... This was my 21st birthday show. The boys seemed distracted most of the night. The transition into sparks is an attention grabber, but for a real burner, check out the next night in Sacramento. No doubt one of the best of the tour!
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