Live Phish 1 Turns Sweet 16
Time sure flies. Just 16 years ago, I was a senior in college at SUNY Binghamton. In my time there I had the pleasure of seeing Phish play a few shows at the Broome County Arena. The last of those concerts occurred 16 years ago this week (12/14/1995), and was released as the first in the Live Phish series. Many fans who saw Phish in that timeframe wax nostalgic for the precision and cohesion with which the band often played and this show is no exception. From the get go, the band fired on all cylinders with all of the band members showing off to great effect and pushing the tempos to keep the energy strong.
While I started this blog with the intention of talking about high bit rate audio, I'm making an exception to revisit this particular night. The liner notes say that, like a lot of shows from that era, it was originally recorded to DAT. So, the best quality audio we'll know of it is likely that 16-bit version, unless someone in the taper's section brought out a reel-to-reel that night.
I won't do my usual song-by-song rundown for this show, but suffice to say that the first set opens strong with a fiery Suzy Greenberg that was just as commonly played then as it has been in recent years. They didn't really cut loose jamming-wise until they get to "Foam" where Page and then Trey offered up somewhat staccato explorations while Mike and Fishman push the song along with vigor. "Makisupa Policeman" had a now more poignant than ever mention of Muammar Qaddafi ("woke up this morning...rolled over, Qaddafi in my bed, so I smoked a joint with him"). "Makisupa" gave way to a deeply crazy "Split Open" and "Melt," which saw what was the best jamming of the set. From there, the set eases out with "Tela," "Taste," and "My Sweet One," before finish big with "Frankenstein."
I could not have asked for more from a second set than what I got that night. I've always been a fan of"Curtain" (with or without) and while it was a standard version, they showed that they had not lost any momentum from the first set. "Tweezer" springs up hard out of the final note of "Curtain" and launches into a very groovy jam about four and half minutes in. As the Phish.net setlist notes, there's a tease of the Grateful Dead's "Slipknot!" about a minute and half before they eased into "Timber," though frankly I don't think I noticed it that night. "Timber" made for a full-sounding and frantic interlude before they headed back into "Tweezer" with Fishman sounding like he didn't want to leave that "Timber" jam behind. Other than Fishman's seeming objection, the transition is smooth as silk and leads into some cool synth work by Page and then a truly raucous and at times gritty jam that I completely got lost in back in '95 until it eventually slowed to a halt.
We were then treated to what was the last performance of the song that is labeled on the Live Phish release as "Keyboard Army," though some fans had been calling it "Keyboard Cavalry" at the time. It is a short airy piece in which each of the band members plays one of Page's keyboards.
While some fans now would complain that a 12-minute "Halley's Comet" isn't long enough, thanks to the longer versions that would come in years following this one, Phish didn't really jam this one out too much back in the mid 90's. This song is more dear to me than the aforementioned "Curtain" and this version doesn't disappoint. About five and half minutes in, Trey starts a wonderfully lyrical guitar line that weaves its way through most of the jam which, thanks to a bit of a push from Page, builds speed into a 5000-mph thrill ride before seemingly flying off a cliff only to float in the air with bursts of action and drama that eventually morphed moodily into "NICU". That transition is a prime example of how Phish can shift the mood of a room at any moment. This "NICU" really should be considered an extension of the "Halley's" that comes before it, as the band goes back to the theme of that jam before Page goes off into a solo similar to the one's he used to do when they closed sets with "Squirming Coil" in the 90's. Mike steps in with some nice interplay as they bring the whole thing to a close.
"Slave to the Traffic Light" emerges from "NICU" as though it had been lurking in the shadows the whole time just waiting to spring into the spotlight. While this version doesn't stand out in a big way from other "Slaves" of the era, it is played with all the power and delicacy that this song demands and provides a perfect close to one of the best second sets Phish played in '95.
After saying that they were going to play a request from the crowd and making a guy with a Brother sign freak out with glee, Trey lets him down easy telling him that "you gotta bring a sign, but you also have to bring a sign of something that we want to play," before going into "Bold as Love." This was the first time I had seen the Phish from Vermont play this song and my vantage point in the first section off of the floor, directly opposite the stage, couldn't have been better for the rainbow light show that Kuroda does for this cover.
It's not often that you get to go to a legendary show like this one and even when it's happening you likely won't realize it. I remember that I came out of the show very happy with what we had just seen. Overall, it was an uplifting ad awe inspiring experience that still leaves me somewhat dumbfounded every time I listen to it. So, let's all wish a happy sweet sixteen to an absolutely sweet show.