, attached to 1996-11-07

Review by fhqwhgads

fhqwhgads Reviewed upon the archival audio release... Phish once again shows that they can do anything, this time by burning down the house in what was apparently then being advertised as the largest arena in America. Many phans agree that 1996 was a transitional year--due to a variety of factors, but mainly because of the awe-inspiring sea change in Phish's sound that occurred with the ushering in of the cowfunk era in 1997--but that doesn't mean it's to be skipped, as many of those same and some other phans also agree. You've got the Clifford Ball, the inaugural large-scale Phish festival, an Europe tour, and many highlights sprinkled throughout a year that saw more shows played than is de rigeur in the common era of 3.0. This show is a great example of where Phish was at in 1996, the previous standalone release of the Bathtub Gin from this show ("The Rupp Gin") on the Road to Vegas Bonus CD packaged with Vegas 96 DVD pre-orders notwithstanding. Now on to the music!

The energy is palpable from the beginning crowd roars. Chalk Dust Torture appears in its then-standard show-opener variety--far removed from the extended, psychedelic 2nd-set versions of nowadays--but is played with relentless verve and really kicks you off right in showing the benefit of recording in multitrack. Guelah Papyrus has an interesting recurring variation in the first half or so of this rendition that makes that song--one of my favorites of the songs yet to receive true Type-II treatment--a little more gripping than usual. Stash, simply put, smokes. I mentioned above that '96 is often viewed as a transitional year, but it's Stashes like this one that show even a "transitional year" of Phish is unmissable. It's not difficult to understand the "fire" metaphors often employed by longtime phans to describe performances like this one. We get a breather in a beatific Waste that showcases Trey's vocals in a very flattering way, an arguably standard Guyute that is nonetheless met with screams of glee, and then it's Free time. If I remember correctly, Free was only about a year and a half old at this time. This setlist seems very intelligently constructed to appeal to the natural ambiance of an arena as large as Rupp, and Phish doesn't miss a beat in providing an uplifting and mostly rocking first frame that steps into Tela before closing with another new song, Character Zero. MVP of set, for my money? Jon "butt with ancillary arms and legs" Fishman.

Phish has almost always tended to really let loose in the second set. There's some fun ribbing of Fish not having "sung this tour yet" before the opening Suzy Greenberg which does in fact see Fish... sing?!? Kind of a James Brown series of excited yelps, but fun! The funk is nimble and groovy, with Trey laying back into his percussion rack for a minute or so before the closing portion. Now for the infamous Rupp Gin, whew! I'll say little about this jam, which really has to be heard personally to be appreciated for its many virtues, but I noticed upon this relisten that it seems to presage the vaunted Went Gin in the soaring, majestic, if somewhat monochromatic (in the sense of little modulation) long jam, which eventually culminates in a section reminiscent of some of '94 and '95's weirder, more "out" excursions. HYHU > Bike > HYHU is phun and bantery. Fish takes his Bike out and nearly wrecks it, though we're all in this together and it's securely weird. The YEM that closes the second set is particularly long, though not as whipcrack-tight as you can find in earlier Phish, or even other shows from 1996. Frankenstein closes out the show in style, evincing the fact that Phish are nearly inhuman (!) in this phan's opinion in that they--from early on in their career--broke out of the box of prepackaged rock shows with their formulaic setlists played the same from night to night, by throwing curveballs wherever appropriate in a relentlessly experimental yet cohesive fashion that continues to engender appreciation amongst music cognoscenti to this day. I'm not saying it's aliens, but it was aliens.

Great show, great candidate for release, upgrade in sound, and generally enthusiastically welcomed additional option of how to spend this March morning!


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