, attached to 1994-04-11

Review by qushner

qushner One is supposed to review one's first show, after all. At 15 years old, this was the night that changed my life. Now middle aged, I return each year with older ears, a bit more critical, and also better able to appreciate the ups and downs of an evening with Phish.

Despite whatever sentimental attachment I've got to the show, there's not really much to distinguish it from any number of other shows on this long, strange, in-between tour. Not quite polished, but decidedly graduated from the clubs they'd regularly haunted as recently as two years prior, Spring 1994 strikes me as a tour that casts about for an identity. Sometimes, Phish tries to ride its new material, and with varying degrees of success. Julius, for example, works quite well, pretty much from the beginning, and I think what later became known as the Julius Syndrome developed quickly: every version is the best version ever: this was certainly the case on this night at UNH. Other songs, most obviously Disease and (especially) Wolfman's, really had no idea what they were, and they fit awkwardly into the repertoire. When not working out the new stuff, Phish would fall back on their old habits: as the tour bled into May and June, the narrations and inside jokes piled up, but they didn't seem to work nearly as well when the band could no longer make out the faces at the back of the room.

This show really is a tale of two sets. The first set is a run-of-the-mill 1994-vintage first set—but it's hot, top to bottom. The cool-down song is Glide, and that tells you what you need to know. Nothing here is necessarily a "must hear," but you could do far worse than to spend an hour listening to this set beginning to end. The two jazz tunes, which would be abandoned by year's end, both work here. Trey's solos on both are fiery and fluent. Though he'll never be confused for a "real" jazz guitarist, he follows the changes with confidence and dives down a few harmonic rabbit holes, building an admirable amount of tension using notes, phrasing, and the occasional double stop—not the delay, phase shifting, and loops that would eventually become his calling cards. Each of the proper Phish songs that round out the first set includes a canonical Big Phish Peak. Again, nothing revolutionary here—just what you'd expect/want to hear on any given night at a generic mid-'90s Phish show in some forgotten hockey arena. I thought I heard the tubes in Trey's amp gasping for breath after Divided.

The second set, for better or for worse, also happened. Nothing quite comes together, though it's not for lack of trying. Maze... happens. Forbin's and Mockingbird do, too. The playing is good enough, and there have certainly been shows with poorer song selection, but the fire that filled the first half of the show has gone missing. Even the Mockingbird Trey leads, which are melodically competent, feel a bit forced. In the end it's a mishmash. An unearned psych-rock peak in Maze. A long narration in a too-big room (before this was rare enough to be Something Special). A recent single that you'd be forgiven for never having heard on the radio. An a capella tune. A Big Ball Jam that was fun at the time (one big ball landed on my young head), but they realized they'd grown out of a few months too late. A perfunctory YEM. An apology of a closer in Suzy—at least we'll send you home smiling. Nothing's wrong, but nothing's quite right either.

All together, this show has tremendous meaning to me, and I look forward to hearing it each April. But my older ears have learned to appreciate the show for what it was: just another Monday night on another long tour. I hope that you'll give it a listen. If you wander away at setbreak, I won't hold it against you.
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