After touring extensively throughout the Fall of 1990 in support of their second proper studio album, Lawn Boy, Phish went right back at it in early 1991. Very much on the rise, still focused on the "tighen-up" approach of the previous two years, this was a time when they were testing out new markets, refining their setlists, all while relishing in the most consistent period of creative output of their entire career. Their catalogue, while certainly smaller than today, was, at this point, by no means limited. However, a repeated song here & there, was far from a curious mistake, and rather a reflection of a continued focus on developing their setlists and showcasing their strogest material on a nightly basis.
It was a halcyon time to be in Phish, and to be a fan of the band. They played in small venues with the ambition of a band that was ready for the arena circut. They worked tirelessly to connect with their growing fanbase, and a show like February 28, 1991 from Vanderbilt - part of the band's first swing through Tennessee - showcases why they were increasingly becoming a "must-see" band outside of the Northeast & Colorado.
Set I opens with a staple of its time, "The Landlady," curretly immersed in its run of 198 (of 210 total) versions that would be played between September 1990 and August 1993, all the while its partner, "Punch You In The Eye" sat dormant. From there, we get "Bouncing," "Foam," and "Esther." A trio of tunes that, I'd venture to guess, were on 92% of future fans first tapes. The latter two are played with the kind of precision that defined the era - there were no flubs because there was no focus on loosley stretching their songs out. If you're a die-hard, you're simply hearing Phish sound like Phish, but as a casual noob wandering into this random Thursday night show, off-Broadway, you're hearing the kind of intricate prog/fantasy/left-of-centre melodies that sounded nothing like the larger music of the time. You're either lost or hooked. Essentially no in between.
A classic "Mike's Groove" follows, and it must be noted, that, for as much as we fans clamour for "Mike's" to go Type II, in its original format, "Mike's" is consistently one of the hardest rocking tunes in their canon. The deep red lights, the Thin Lizzy guitar tone, the organ that just makes it sound so big, this often provided an easy entry-point for any fan just getting into Phish. "The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday>Avenu Malkenu>TMWSIY", in its last year prior to becoming a full-blown rarity, is featured here, initiating Tennesee fans to the wonders of Gamehendge. It's an archetypal first set for the era, showcasing a bit of what Phish excelled at at this time, namely: taught compositional pieces, raucus energy, and an emphasis on in-the-know humor that either won you or lost you depending on how much you were looking to be initiated. A power-outage during "Golgi" prompted Trey to joke about Fish's memorable drum solo. Later, during the "HYHU" segment, Fish in turn blamed Lighting Director, Chris Kuroda for blowing a fuse. The back & forth banter is timeless Phish, and part of what connected them so earnestly to their audiences. Embracing the unknown & then taking the piss out of it.
The Second Set and Encore must be noted for its full listenability. The setlist is quite strong for the era - one in which the differention between set's one and two always tended to be quite unclear - and features some of the band's biggest songs in major slots - something that would be a staple during their 1992-1993 rise to dominance. The "Reba" here is particularly stirring and sounds like it could have come out of the fantastic Spring '92 West Coast Run. Later, "Lizards" closes the set with a proper indoctrination to Gamehendge. Listening back to these early shows and the sincereity with which Phish banked their growth on a fantasty concept album they'd conjured up is really nothing short of adorable.
Prior to the encore, Trey notes how this is perhaps the quietest & most attentive audience they'd had in five years, so they have a special encore planned. Thus for only the third time in its history to that point - of 17 total occurances - "You Enjoy Myself" was featured in the encore slot. A song that, when placed outside of it's traditional fourth quarter slot, tends to be a nod to a special show/venue/crowd, you get the sense that the band was feeling high heading south to Atlanta through a tour that would still see them cross the country and circle back for a May landing in the NE.
Thanks for reading and hopefully you're enjoying this series. Another Weekly Catch with Osiris will be up next week!
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March 27, 1993
25 years ago
Set 2: Buried Alive > Halley's Comet > It's Ice > Bouncing Around the Room, Chalk Dust Torture, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Hold Your Head Up > Cracklin' Rosie > Hold Your Head Up, Poor Heart > Golgi Apparatus
 Beginning featured Trey on acoustic guitar.
 Fish on trombone.
 All Fall Down signal in intro.
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