As you all might know, August 1993 is one of the more hallowed months in Phish history. There was a palpable shift in the type of music Phish was making that expressed itself in more exploratory jams, increased risk-taking, and a big payoff from years of listening exercises, day-long practice sessions, and maturing songwriting. I was fortunate enough to see some of these great 1993 shows and the memories have stuck with me to this day. On this, the 20th anniversary of 8/13/93, one of the first shows where a particular song came to define a moment, I hope you will indulge me in a bit of reflection.
Though the Murat Theater is where that special “Bathtub Gin” happened, it is worth looking back almost a year, when Phish was on tour with Carlos Santana. It was Phish’s first real exposure to playing music in the large outdoor sheds they would later sell out on their own, and their chance to play for a crowd that in many cases probably had not ever heard of them. Their time with Santana was an education in a few ways. Carlos introduced them to the concept of The Hose, where the musicians are just the delivery system for the music that, if they listen to each each other and let go of what they have learned, can flow through them in a rather magical and transcendent way. This is a concept well known to the jazz greats but relatively rare in rock and roll. Bands like The Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead played at times with this sensibility in their heyday, but other than that there weren’t very many rock bands that allowed themselves that type of freedom.
In 1993, Phish was on a precipice of sorts. 1992 was a workhorse year for the band, playing 120 shows across the US and Europe. A Picture Of Nectar came out in February 1992, and Rift would follow a year later. The band rehearsed frequently, often for 8 hour or more stretches for days in a row. They developed their special listening exercises like “including your own hey” and “two plus two” which helped them stay locked in to each other musically while still being able to express their own musical ideas. They added musical “language” cues into their sets that were part inside joke with the audience and part a way to keep each other on their toes and always listening. They had pushed themselves so far into sync with each other and were musically at a point where their skills were evolved to the point of mastery, that what took place over the course of 1993 in hindsight seems almost inevitable.
The fall/winter tour of 1992 was the first time Phish used full size tour buses and started to become comfortable with a small measure of success as their fan base, ticket sales, and venue sizes grew. In February of 1993, Page added a full grand piano to his touring rig and the rest of the band added some new toys to their arsenal and began to explore some new tones on their instruments. Trey played a bit more wah pedal, Mike added what we now might call the meatball sound. Musically, there was a glimpse of what was to come at those Roxy shows in February in Atlanta. The famous 2/20/93 second set was so loose and free and weird and wild, those of us who were there knew there was something different about the band and the approach to their music. They weren’t quite jumping off the cliff yet, but soon enough they would take that leap of faith into the unknown and produce some of the best music of their careers.
Throughout February, March, and April of 1993, Phish played a staggering 64 shows, ending that tour with an additional 7 shows in the first week of May. Anyone who has heard 5/8/93 knows how great Phish was playing by the end of this tour. By any measure it was a huge success for them. I spent some time with Jon Fishman after that tour ended, and we talked a lot about where the band and he were at, musically. They were listening to a lot of Sun Ra, early 70’s Miles Davis, and other avant garde jazz musicians like the late, great pianist Don Pullen and his African Brazilian Connection. They were all ready to forget everything that they had learned up to that point and do their best to be the vehicle through which their music could play itself. Be the Hose.
Fast forward to July, the start of summer tour. Besides doing their own shows, Phish joined up once again (and for the last time) with the H.O.R.D.E festival, which was one large jamband orgy. Most of July was spent hopping around the east and southeast sections of the country. Then in August they started the month off with two rare appearances in Florida, then headed more than 1,100 miles north to Cincinnati, OH. By the time I got on the tour at the Cincinnati Zoo, I was really excited after reading some posts on rec.music.phish. As the week progressed, and they played some classic sets like 8/7/93 with its Roller Coaster Of The Mind, and the dark jams of 8/11/93’s "Stash" and "Mike’s Song," it was already one of the best weeks of my life. I had graduated college a few months before and my whole life was in front of me, and Phish was the soundtrack. I think 8/12/93 will always live in the shadow of the Murat show, but you can probably pick almost any show from this month and find some risk-taking, extra mustard, key-changing, left-turning moments.
August 13th, 1993 was nice summer day as I remember, not too humid or hot. Something to be thankful for in Indiana in August! It was also Friday the 13th, and we were about to see Phish in a strange, Egyptian style theater inside a huge Masonic temple. The show was sold out and there were definitely people there with fingers in the air. Once inside, I found my seat about 12 rows back on the left aisle. A great vantage point. The staff was a bit heavy handed, and it was quickly apparent that the No Smoking rule was going to be enforced. The venue was quite beautiful and ornate.
Although the "Bathtub Gin," "Ya Mar," and "Mike’s Song" get most of the focus when discussing this show, set one is no slouch. "Lengthwise" started a number of either first sets or second sets in 1993, always followed by "Maze" when in the set-starting position. This time it segued into a scorching "Llama," with Mike very pronounced in the house mix. For me this was a great sign, as I had the opinion that when Mike was turned up and playing well, the whole band played better. Certainly there could be no complaints from the People For A Louder Mike. And thankfully it translates to the Languedoc soundboard recording. “Makisupa Policeman” followed, with a spacey segue into “Foam,” which had a jam that started nearly silently but showed us all that the band was loose and at the same time tight. This tour was probably the first time I thought to myself, “Wow, these guys do anything, play anything they want.” The “Stash” that followed had a jam that was a bit obtuse at times, but also had moments where Mike’s bass took over with really pleasing results, and finished on a very high note. In its second-ever Phish performance, "Ginseng Sullivan" featured a brief “Starship Tropper” acoustic tease and Fish, aka “Mr. Butt With Protruding Arms And Legs” on Madonna washboard. Trey kept the acoustic guitar on for the “Fluffhead” intro, a rare treat to see and a nod to its roots on the Junta studio recording. A very spirited “Fluffhead” followed with an extended outro. “My Mind’s Got A Mind Of Its Own” something I would like to see more often in Phish 3.0, was also at a very quick tempo, Fish bouncing his sticks off his snare drum in perfect time. “Horn” was pretty and well executed, and I loved that song then just as I do now. The “David Bowie” that followed and closed out the set, was in my opinion extraordinary. Featuring an intro that lasted over 4 minutes and explored a number of textural musicscapes, led by Mike, it blasted off into the main part of the song like a box of dynamite. Mike’s playing in this version still gives me goosebumps. Powerful slaps and punches and creative playing all around. The jam picks up on a bit of the Stash jam, at least in terms of feel, then goes about every direction imaginable, including full on “The Mango Song,” “Magilla,” and “My Favorite Things” jams, secret language, then a supersonic climax of the usual Bowie jam. Boom! Great stuff. Inserting other songs into Bowie had me thinking back to the Roxy shows, and the prospect of something akin to that made me very excited for set two.
I don’t have any recollection of what we did during set break; to me it’s almost like it didn’t happen. The second set, however, I remember quite well. “Buried Alive” is a great choice for a set opener, and this one set a high energy tone for the set. “Bathtub Gin” was a relative rarity still in 1993. It was only played 7 times in all of 1993. Compare that to something like “Mike’s Song,” which was played 41 times that year. And of course this was well before we had a long history of Phish jams that went Type II, so it’s not like we ever said “Oh I hope they take this one for a walk” back then. Jadet Vets we were not. As the jam started to open up, and Trey started the licks to "Weekapaug Groove," Fishman got excited and started yelling things into his microphone, and the jam took off for destination: unknown. Now, hopefully dear readers you have all heard this version of “Bathtub Gin” many times and if not, please do. As the jam elevated into the glorious Type II jam, I found myself giddy to the point of near spontaneous combustion. I can attest, at least from this fan’s perspective and those who were around me, that the weight of this jam did not go unnoticed in real time. It was a truly glorious musical moment for both the band and hopefully most in attendance. The last seven minutes of that jam are permanently written to the folds of my brain. You could probably play two seconds of it to me and I would recognize it. Yet it was far from over. The segue into “Ya Mar” was as smooth as could be, and once again Mike just demolishes the intro and we got treated to a "Ya Mar" that still stands out as one of the great versions. Loose, playful, groovy, filled with goofy banter between Trey and Mike. A nice Page/Fish duet, solid Trey solo, then more funny banter right up until the end. “Mike’s Song” was up next, with an instant "Ya Mar" quote, and then Trey grabbed his bull horn and sang the verses along with Mike. Trey kept shouting “ho!” and “hey!” and the like during his playing, which was a clear indicator that he was having a great time. The first jam section (yes there were two jams in Mike’s song at one time and they should bring that back!) was once again led by Mike’s humongous bass lines then picked up by Trey who led the band through more outside-the-box-yet-shredding jamming, then let the floor drop out during the second jam. Starting from about the 4:50 mark it’s almost beyond description and you really just have to hear the next seven minutes to understand it. From space to rock to a great little “Stranglehold” jam, this Mike’s Song deserves as much attention as the Gin. Why we don’t talk more about the “Murat Mike’s” is beyond me. Once they return to the main jam theme, Trey positively shreds his way to the end of the song. Chin, meet floor. The “Lifeboy” that followed may be the most perfect placement of that song ever, in my humble opinion. I for one needed a moment of reflection after what had just happened during the previous 35 minutes. A beautiful rendition that made me forever love that song.
Much like this year’s Tahoe Tweezer, which I was lucky enough to witness, what followed next almost didn’t matter. They could have walked off the stage after “Lifeboy” and I would have been completely satisfied. But we got more! “The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony” is one of those songs that gets me excited because you just know they are going to follow it with an uptempo number. Mostly either “AC/DC Bag” or more likely in 1993, “Suzy Greenberg.” We got Suzy, and it was spirited, rocking, loaded with Mike slapping heavily over an initial one-note solo by Page that turned into a great piano solo. Then instead of ending right there, they added a little extra sweetness with an a capella, no-microphone rendition of "Amazing Grace." Beautiful. End set, time to pick your melted face up off the seat back from the row in front of you and cheer like mad. Then, as a counterpoint to the set ending song, and a show that went to the heavens and the depths and back again, “Highway To Hell” closed out the show as the encore. Bravo!
“No stop signs, speed limit
Nobody’s gonna slow us down.
Like a wheel, gonna spin it
Nobody’s gonna mess me round.
Hey satan, payed my dues
Playing in a rock and roll band.
Hey momma, look at me
I’m on my way to the promised land.
I’m on the highway to hell
And I’m going down all the way!”
Backstage after the show, the excitement was thick and the energy electric. I remember Trey literally bouncing around the room, completely jazzed up about what had just happened. They all knew it as much as we knew it, that they had hit a new high point, that they had become the Hose, that all the work was paying off big dividends. They were making unique music that went to a place they could not have imagined or forced into existence. It was a thrilling night for me, a personal favorite moment that I will carry with me to the end of my days. And as we know, it continued. Phish played another amazing show the next night to a mostly empty, giant amphitheater in Tinley Park, IL. I had to go back home after the 8/14/93 show, but that was ok. It was 8 days of musical bliss that far exceeded any expectation I could have placed on it. The rest of the month had more great jams (check out the “Reba” from 8/16/93 if you haven’t heard it), and ended on a beautiful night in Berkeley that I flew out for. The late JJ Cale opened that show and the Dude Of Life even made an appearance. August of 1993 was a coming of age for Phish, and for myself as well. And twenty years later, I’m still upside down.
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