Wednesday, October 1, 2008

PHiSH Reunite! - My all-time top PHiSH shows

This morning's momentous news that Phish is reuniting spread through the online world like wildfire. Text messages were sent, and status messages were updated to spread the almighty word to all that "Phish is back!!!" As I write this, message boards everywhere are filling with speculation about Summer tour dates, setlists, and what color shirt Mike will be wearing.

I'm sure many of us have weaned ourselves off of the Phish somewhat over the past few years as our lives have progressed and changed, but now seems to be the time to revisit this collective obsession and embrace it for all its worth. As tribute to this renewed fervor of Phish-maina, here are my all-time top Phish shows, in order of utter sickness factor: (click on links to download the shows via BitTorrent)

1. February 28, 2003 - Nassau Coliseum - The best concert experience of my entire life. The magic-hose-mojo was everywhere this night. This show is most known for the re-emergence of the song "Destiny Unbound," which hadn't been played since 1991, but that was nothin' compared to the jamz that abounded. The band rolls along, exploring uncharted musical avenues with complete and utter synergy. "Get Back on the Train" and "Bathtub Gin" in the first set were journeys, then the time-stopping, 30 min. "Tweezer" to start the second set, which is really one long jam, all the way to the final notes of "Harry Hood." A three-song Encore is icing on the cake.

2. December 31, 1993 - Worcester Centrum - A no-holds-barred barrage of face-melting, shredding, celebratory music. I like this show better than the more popular MSG NYE show from 1995. It just rages, and every single song is pushed to an old-school bliss-out climax, with Trey flexing his then-impeccable chops. Favorite moments include Auld Lang Syne> Down With Disease Jam (First time played)> Split Open and Melt, and my all-time favorite "Harry Hood," complete with an "Auld Lang Syne" tease thrown in there.

3. December 31, 1999 - Big Cypress - It's hard to beat a six-hour, midnite-to-sunrise continuous set. Not much needs to be said for this one. The band itself has said that it was the peak of Phish. Too many highlights to list here, but the "After Midnight," as well as the Drowned> After Midnight Reprise are rage-tastic.

4. December 30, 1997 - Madison Square Garden - A cow-funk-heavy party of a show that has something for everyone. Amazing setlist, plenty of spacious arena-funk, lots of jamming, and a Harpua thrown in ta-boot before a 30 min. encore caps it off. This show contains every disparate musical element that makes Phish amazing.

5. June 18, 1994 - UIC Pavillion, Chicago, IL - In a year as amazing as 1994, this show really stands out as simply perfect. Every song is flawlessly executed with red-hot intensity, and there is some really ferocious Trey-action going on here. Mind Left Body Jam> David Bowie is raunchy. Listening to the tapes, it sounds like an extremely sweaty time. This is the show where Trey says he had a mystical experience during the pause in "Divided Sky." In Trey's own words:

"I had a really incredible experience once when we were playing in Chicago. It was a really special night, and I was envisioning the music flying around the room. You know the concept of being the tube, and the music is flowing through you? I was really open, we were doing "Divided Sky," and I felt like the music was these sheets that were zinging across the air in front of my ace. All I had to do to play was jump on one, and let it do the playing. I got to that section of "Divided Sky" where we usually do a pause, and I realized that just because I wasn't playing notes with my hands didn't mean I couldn't still be a vehicle for this music that was there. I decided I was going to have the same feeling the music going through me and coming out through the guitar, but without making any noticeable sound. I started imagining the music zipping out through the middle of my chest into the audience, and right when I started doing that, the place erupted. No joke. It was the wildest thing. We were standing up there for 45 seconds, motionless, with no sound, and I realized I could continue jamming in silence. I did it, and the place went, "RAHHH." It was the coolest. I was writing in my journal about it for a week."

6. June 19 and 20, 2004 - SPAC - Saratoga Springs, NY - When I met Mike on his golfcart at Coventry, I asked him what he thought the best shows he ever played were. He replied that in recent memory, it was the shows at SPAC, notably the second night. For some reason, I did not attend these, which I will regret forever, as my friends have been raving about them since. There was obviously crazy energy going on, due to the farewell tour. But these shows were jammed to perfection, with Trey holding back enough to give everyone in the band a chance to lead the jams into new places. The collective group mind, the absolute telepathy between these musicians is astounding at these shows. Check out the Piper> Gotta Jiboo from the 19th, and the Drowned Jam and the entire 2nd set from the 20th, which Mike owns. This is the band jamming as four equal parts of a whole, and the results sound like nothing the band had ever played.

7. July 1 and 2, 1997 - Paradiso - Amsterdam, Netherlands - Probably the most psychedelic and out-there shows the band has ever played. The first night has a five-song 2nd set, the second night's 2nd set has three songs. And as a thematic thread, trey keeps yelling "You're on the back of the worm!" during freaky jams. In Trey's words from a High Times interview, here is the story behind that:

"When we were in Amsterdam, me and a friend took a couple of hits of acid and a hit of Ecstasy later on that night. We were walking around and I started imagining I was riding on this giant sandworm, because the roads kind of go up and down. I was picturing these huge sandworms, diving up out of the canals. That's where the phrase 'Back of the Worm' came from. The next night in the middle of this crazy jam... I think I was yelling that and people started saying 'Back of the worm!' soon as I'm on stage I start trying to play the guitar like that... I probably started using effects in a different way the night after that, because I wanted the music to be able to
do it."

So these shows are obviously influenced by substances, and they are seriously tripped out due to this fact. The "Ghost" from the first set first night is the perfect place to start, as it rages hard and long. The other highlights are the Bathtub Gin> Jam> Cities from the first night, with a perfect transition, and the uber-weird "Stash" from the second night. Strange, amazing music.


  1. Mine-
    7/8/94- Great Woods
    This show features the last Gamehendge narration as well as a YEM and Stash that were later featured on A live One. This show gives a look at both sides of Phish. Both fun and technically masterful.

    7/16/94 Sugarbush Summer Stage, VT This second set is the set of all sets. Trey running around stage screaming during Antelope sets the tone for a wild show.

    12/31/95 MSG, NY A MUST for any phish fan. It starts with Runaway Jim and never settles down after that.

    8/11/04 Great Woods- In the same vein as Eric's top 5 this show was a personal highlight for me. Between parking lot banter before the show and the .99 cent bagged ice at McDonald's after the show- it was a can't miss for inside jokes and music alike. I was pumped when the Divided I had asked for on the way in from the lot was the opener, Tears of a Clown showed that the band could still have fun, there was a Fishman vote, and later a double drum solo. A lot of fun that night. This also marks the day I would become obsessed with Phish.

    Phinally (what is a top Phive list without replacing atleast one F with a PH!?!)

    08-26-1989 Townsend, VT. If listed to only one pre-1990 show, this is it! Trey has said that the band always played best when nobody was watching. This is a prime example. The Andy Griffith theme to start the second set is one of my Phavorite Phish moments.


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  3. Nassau 03' #1??? You're being totally biased just because you were there in person.

    Go listen to the other shows on the list and the recording of Nassau and tell me it's the best show they ever played. Nothing after hiatus should make the top 10, from an objective point of view. Even SPAC...they simply weren't practicing enough at that point.

    PS: 2nd set of Cypress was 8 hours from start to finish, not 6.

    PPS: Where's Halloweeen 04'? Some of the best versions of Slave, Antelope, and Divided Sky you'll ever hear, and the Quintessential Reba (IMO at least).

    Great list though, seriously. That New Years 93' show is fuckin' killer...I remember when you showed it to me down in Abbey...

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