Sunday 04/24/2011 by Icculus


Every so often, something Phish-related surprises me -- even though it shouldn’t. The other day on Twitter, the 6/30/99 tour opening show at Sandstone Amphitheater in Bonner Springs, Kansas, came up. I couldn’t recall a single note of the show. But two veteran Phish fans, one with an enormously popular Phish blog and the other a member of Phish.Net’s working group, both of whom I often agree with about things Phish, uttered dramatically opposed opinions about the show’s music. The esteemed blogger called the show “awesome,” and the other said it “sucked.” This intrigued me, and inspired me to listen to the show again.

Now, “sucked” is a strong word. I think the fan in question likely meant something more akin to “below average-great.” Because, frankly, even on their worst night, Phish just doesn’t suck. In fact, even when they suck here and there during a show, they can pull-out some transcendent, spectacular jams (e.g., Coventry’s Drowned). I can’t name a single Phish show that I believe “sucked,” and I say that even though I’ve come close to walking out of a few during the second set. (The only show I recall ever actually leaving I left due to reasons unrelated to the music.)

To put 6/30/99 in context, it was Phish’s first public show since the ‘98 NYE run, and those four shows were Phish’s only shows in December 1998. Trey had toured earlier in 1999, but as fun as it was, it wasn’t the same, and even before June 1999, fans were chompin’ at the bit for Phish’s return. (They may have been especially eager to hear Phish again, of course, if they’d already heard the spectacular mid-April 1999 Phil Lesh & Friends shows, featuring Trey and Page and Steve Kimock.) This June 30 show would start a serious 20+ show tour, concluding with four gigs in JAPAN, one of which has just been released by the band to benefit the Japan relief effort.

My $0.02 on this show will probably come as no surprise, given that I must have liquidated my 6/30/99 tapes (CDs?) 10+ years ago. But I actually feel pretty strongly that this is, at best, an average-great Phish show from the late 1990s, and that’s giving it some credit. It’s a mixed-bag, and a show I would never have recommended anyone check out at that time, when acquiring tapes/discs would cost time and effort. Nowadays, of course, since it’s easy to download a show off Kevin Hoy’s Spreadsheet and listen for oneself, I encourage you to do the same, if you’re so inclined, if only in light of the staggeringly different perspectives (apparently) of some vets about it. To go out a bit on a limb just to make things more interesting: musically, I think this show -- as a complete show -- offers little even when compared with Phish’s best shows in 3.0. I’d recommend that a fan check out 10/20/10 Utica, for example, and hundreds of other Phish shows, before I’d recommend 6/30/99.

The first set opens with a 19 minute Gin, with “Type 2” improvisation a-plenty. A Gin opener is always welcome and I love Gin. Love it. It’s up there with my favorite Phish songs and I just never get tired of it. This version, albeit lengthy and exploratory, is often aimless and even flounders at times with no clear direction. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the jam floats like a turd for awhile. It’s not that bad at all. It’s just when Trey does solo/noodle melodically, at times it seems to lack much of a purpose. I’m thus not surprised that folks have very different opinions about it. I’d sooner recommend that, for 1999 versions that are more or less equally as long, but much more glorious (as I hear them), one check out 7/18/99, 9/12/99, 9/22/99, 12/2/99, and 12/7/99. Also, I’d sooner recommend the 2/22/03, 2/28/03, 7/9/03, and 8/9/04 Gins (to name four from 2.0) and even the 8/7/09 Gorge Gin. (Comparing this 6/30/99 version to the 7/29/98 Riverport and other “best ever” versions perhaps isn’t very fair.) In any event, hats off to Phish for opening with this 6/30/99 Gin, since it took some nads to open a tour with so much “Type 2.” That is certainly not common! And I love Gin, and I enjoy this version, too, even if, among versions over 15 minutes, this wouldn’t come to mind as one to recommend highly.

The rest of the first set, which isn’t all that long, is solid, i.e., “typically great Phish.” The Maze is pretty good, but Maze is usually pretty good. Maze is one of those amazing Phish tunes that, like Julius, can be difficult to call “above average” unless it’s obviously over the top, like say 12/31/94, or 2/26/03 Worcester. And this set features the first Back on the Train (another tune I love), and a fairly good LxL (love it). A Golgi set closer, even if perfectly performed, isn’t going to get a jaded vet too excited, but whatever, this is still a fun set of course. The Gin was a cool opener, with some beautiful improv, but not “must hear.” As compared with all other first sets in Phish history, this is a “typically great,” or “par” set, IMO. (i.e., no rush to send B+P)

The second set opens with Squirming Coil. Let me say that again. The second set opens with Squirming Coil. And it’s not too bad, as far as Coils go. But I can completely understand and forgive the jaded vets in attendance in Bonner Springs that day who, after a Golgi first set closer, upon hearing Coil, thought, “Are you f’ing kidding me!?” It’s just not that strong a set opener. It’s too darn pretty and mellow. I love Page, and I especially love his recent offerings, “Halfway to the Moon” and “Beauty of a Broken Heart,” but a song whose coda is a piano solo isn’t a strong set opener for a rock show.

The set then goes weird with a slow, somewhat plodding, eerie version of “Free,” one of the most unusual versions in Phish history. It doesn’t really go what I’d call “Type 2.” It rather just has an extended jam segment that gets dark and twisted at times. An atypical version for damn sure and one of the longest versions, even though, frankly, I can see how some might not appreciate it. I’d recommend it highly, though, to any fan of “Free” looking to hear a remarkable version of the song.

The “Birds” > “Simple” that follow “Free” aren’t shabby. Late 1990s versions of “Birds” are pretty much all worth hearing (assuming you like the tune), and frankly, versions of “Simple” that don’t appear in a Mike’s Groove sandwich are often worth a listen as well. That said, I wouldn’t call either of these versions well above-average. But these are enjoyable tunes, and the “Swept Away” and “Steep” and “Piper” that follow, while perfunctory, are entertaining.

The “Bug > My Left Toe” is, well... I like these tunes, don’t get me wrong. But I can see how they may have bored some in attendance big time. (“My Left Toe” was also a debut, and I’m sure some at the show probably thought it was just part of an extended “Bug” jam.) The improv in these songs is very textural and chord-heavy, of course. There’s no melodic noodling or “rock star Trey jamming” or “glorious mellifluous transcendent hose” etc. Lots of big, phat, sustained chords. I enjoyed listening to this quite a bit, but likely still would have sat down for it at the show. The set then concludes with a “Stash” that, frankly, has a jam that I find directionless, obnoxiously dissonant, and largely meh. It doesn’t climax at all well, and Trey seems to lose his way during it. Not a version I’d recommend. I’d have been disappointed to hear this close a set, even though I typically love this song. This “Stash” is disappointing compared with versions from any era, in my view (e.g., the 10/31/10 Stash blows it away, though to be fair, it’s jam segment is much different).

The 6/30/99 show encores with “Bouncin” and “Sample in a Jar.” Now, these tunes are quite popular, of course, and encores are always “icing” on the delicious cake that is a typically great Phish show. But after an unquestionably below-average Stash second set closer, I can see this encore disappointing some jaded vets in attendance. In any event, you’ve heard these versions/songs before many times.

All this said, I can empathize with why some fans aren’t too keen on this show, or even its second set, particularly when you compare it with the most recent second sets from the two-set shows on the ‘98 NYE run, which were great: 12/28/98-2, 12/29/98-2 and 12/30/98-2. While mileage certainly varies, vets tend more often than not to agree about what versions and shows qualify as “top versions” and “must hear” shows, if not “above-average-great shows” etc. This 6/30/99 show is thus a testament to how opinions even among vets can differ immensely. As I hear it, it’s very much a mixed-bag. I’d recommend the “Free” for sure, but as far as the show as a whole goes, I’d call it less awesome than a typically awesome 1999 Phish show... an opinion that may annoy just about everyone, but it’s just my $0.02. -charlie

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, comment by highhat
highhat Kevin Shapiro, please PM me, Thank You!....

, comment by MiguelSanchez
MiguelSanchez yeah, that's a good review. i actually popped this one in the other day for the first time. it was one of those that always fell through the cracks and i never gave it a listen because the set list looked kind of blah and no one seemed to speak to kindly of it. the free is very interesting, but the rest is pretty blah.

i do remember checking out the set list in the morning before i left for antioch and being very glad that the boys had already played golgi, batr, and sample. either way, they did save caspian for me. can't win 'em all...
, comment by ADAWGWYO
ADAWGWYO I was there. I have to agree that I don't have many memories of awesomeness or face-melting music. I drove to the show last minute from Laramie,WY(UW!!!) I blew a tire about 4 hours out on I-70 and while changing the flat a Hi-Po pulled up behind me, got out and asked what the problem was. I told him I had a donut/spare and was ok. He got in his car and away he went. I remember only having a little reefer on me, but still sweet when he rolled on. Amber and I showed up to the lot with maybe an hour to chill. We got drunk on PBR cans and stumbled inside.

It's your typical summer shed. No covered seating that I recall. I remember being happy about the Gin opener; Tube was cool(although nothing stellar ;) BOTT was fun and I knew at the time, that I didn't know it- ya know? ;) That's about it for musical memories from this show. Bouncing> Sample Encore= "Let's go get a burrito!"

Sidenote: The girl I was with had seen some shows(Spokane-Portland 96) but wasn't a regular. Anyways I mentioned we were rockin the "car-temperature" PBR cans in the lot pre-party style. Well we were CHUGGING em'. So we're dancing sometime in the middle of set I and although it was an over-cast day in Kansas, it is still HOT and HUMID. She stops and says "I need to go to the bathroom." And I'm like(casually) "Yeah, we'll go at set break." Well what she meant was is she needed to throw up. Well, she made it to set break and bless her, she mad it to the tarlette to excercise them PBR demons.

walk with light
, comment by TheEmu
TheEmu Charlies review is pretty much right on. I attended this show and got a copy soon after, so have listened to it several times. A couple of extra notes...

The Gin opener was due in part (I think) to the torrential downpour that we got about 20 minutes before the start of the show - we all loved to take that bath. The general vibe of the show was working out the kinks/shaking off the rust. It seemed awkward and a little sloppy at times, and also not too serious, i.e. the post-Maze repetition of the closing notes (which also included Fish trying to mimic them).

I did kind of enjoy the Coil second set opener. Unusual choice, and the end started to turn a little ambient, and I was hoping they would stretch it out a little bit, but instead we got Free, which was OK. I also enjoyed hearing Bug (first time I'd heard it, first Phish Bug) and I did, indeed, think the end was part of Bug and not a separate song.

But musically, Charlie is right, this show is all kinds of "meh" with quite a bit of "woops" and a healthy portion of "yikes." Nothing to write home about.
, comment by ozwaldo
ozwaldo The Coil> Free was very cool and unique. Very appropriate for the first show of tour, "little Jimmy's off to camp". The end of Coil was great because the whole band jammed on the ending instead of just Page. The Free that followed was my cup of meat. The downpour and ensuing atmosphere was pure phun. I loved this show and had a blast. That being said it is kind of one of those, you had to be there. Oh yeah, they played Tube, worth it.
, comment by macbergleton
macbergleton i remember this night clearly, and fall on both sides of the spectrum.

the first set was abysmal. aimless jamming. trey sounded lost through most of his leads. and the screws weren't tight enough for even golgi, leaving me wondering why i drove all night to get there.

i was a fan of the second set. perhaps because my expectations had been tempered. perhaps because it was just kinda interesting and fun. or maybe just because mike's big bass bombs during Free seemed to finally light everyone up and bring some excitement. the rest of the set brought unexpected song choice and a laid-back vibe that worked for me that night.

this was the first time that I could hear how far off the rails the train was headed. the inconsistencies that debuted in bonner springs ("meh" + "woops" + "yikes" ;) became a staple of 99-00 and 03-04 phish. i agree with charlie--i'd recommend several 3.0 picks before this, or many other, 99 shows.
, comment by ryanpm1976
ryanpm1976 I attended this show as well and have often said through the years that this was the third worst Phish show I have attended in the 140+ Phish shows I have attended. The only two shows I disliked more were both Coventry shows.
, comment by highhat
highhat The author has removed all of the text from their comment
, comment by DiggityDaxon
DiggityDaxon Interesting side note...
I don't think anyone mentioned it above, this was the first time they mixed up their stage setup moving fish to the back of the stage. The downpour and cold breeze prior to the show was followed by a constant drizzle and definitely went well with the BG opener. The combination of a few pieces of new and untested material made for an interesting tour opener. This wasn't the best show i've ever seen, but it certainly wasn't the worst. For those that went and endured the monsoon that followed this tour can defintiely sympathize. They made huge strides in the right direction over the following three months leading up to Pelham, AL 9/28/99 which IMO decimated all. Both of these were roof-less ampitheatres, both saw rain and yet the Oak Mountain show looked like an entirely different band.
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