Phish Live 12/30/93 – A Review

N.B.:  I have posted a link to listen to this show at the bottom of this review, but I would love if you read my review before you listen.  Thanks.

I’ve wanted to do this one for a long time, and besides, a live concert review is long overdue.  This has got to be one of my favorite live performances of all time by any band and this show on the night before new year’s eve at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, ME captures this band at the height of their career.  I’ve talked about it before, but there are those nights when things just click and even mistakes made by members of the band seem to fit within the scheme of the music, and this one is no exception.

This is a period within the band’s career that is near and dear to my heart.  This is around the time I was first introduced to them, and in my opinion, this is technically the period of their greatest work.  This show is a snapshot of that time of a band firing on all cylinders and having fun doing it.  The band had the ability to re-invent themselves several times throughout their performing career, and I loved all of those changes, but this is my favorite:  Raw, witty, funny, carefree, and close to the audience. 

This venue seats 9,000, but I remember around that time seeing them in a venue that seated a mere 3,200.  In venues that size, you really felt like you knew the band, and it created this very intimate relationship and added a completely different element to those shows, much more so than the huge stadium shows from later in their career.  This is an element that is important to consider when listening to this show.

Set I.

This one eases into an incredibly clean David Bowie which smoothly quotes Aerosmith’s Dream On in a couple of spots.  The song happens to be one of my favorites anyway, but there are plenty of versions of this one I could do without.  This one captures the the energy of the band at an early point but is also a very well-performed version.

Weigh bounces along as a good first set foil to David Bowie.  Whoever knows what weigh is about, please let me know, but even not knowing is okay.  This one  comes from that strange place in Mike Gordon’s head and it rocks.

The Curtain>Sample in a Jar is error free, but the Paul and Silas is in overdrive and sizzles.  Trey’s work on the guitar is amazing, but John Fishman’s drumming makes it sound like 3 drummers are at work on stage.

Now that everyone is sufficiently warmed-up, the band uses Colonel Forbin’s Ascent to lead the crowd into Gamehendge, and then they cap that journey of with Mockingbird.  My description wouldn’t do it justice, so you’ve simply got to listen to it to know what I mean, but suffice it to say that it is one of my favorite live moments in my collection.  It really emphasizes the interaction between the band and the audience that was central to this concept of this act.

The Rift is blazing – one of my favorites – and the Bathtub Gin takes the end jam to an unbelievably fast crescendo before deconstucting the tune back down to a crawl.  You get the impression that they can’t make a mistake as you are listening to this one.

The first set ends with a riotous a capella rendition of Freebird that really speaks to the band’s sense of humor.  How can you not laugh when you listen to it?  …but it’s good too!  Please don’t take this one too seriously.

Set II.

The second set is a real roller coaster ride of songs daisy-chained together, and opens with a scorcher Also Sprach Zarathrusta; this is one you will definitely want to crank.  It’s hard to keep still while listening to this one in your car, so just get used to the people staring at you from their own cars and take comfort in the fact that your entertainment is likely better than theirs.

Next in line is Mike’s Song which would normally work right into Weekapaug Groove, but they’ve deftly tucked The Horse>Silent in the Morning combination which slows things down a bit before they pick them back up with a Punch You in the Eye>McGrupp combination and back into a Weekapaug Groove that you hope will not stop.  Everyone is popping at the same time and the music feels like it’s got a life of its own.

There is a nice little vocal jam at the end of Weekapaug that drags down into a great Purple Rain, perfect for all of you 80’s music fans out there, that ends with some more Phish humor, a Fishman-plays-Henrietta vacuum cleaner solo.

The band stops, tunes-up, and lights in on nothing short of a majestic Slave to the Traffic Light that works through its slightly reggae sound, into a short screaming guitar solo, and then stretches out into an ambient jam that culminates into a theme monumental enough to close this one out.

This one gets 2 encores if that tells you anything.  Rocky Top is the first and it is super-fast, but the one I really like is the Good Times/Bad Times.  About all I can say is that they take this one and make it their own.  This is definiteyly the exclamation point that this show deserves.

If you are going to listen to it, I encourage you to do it in one sitting and without distraction.  This is a show, like many live shows, that cannot really be judged by taking each individual song and listening to them as standalone songs.  Each song relies on the one before it and/or after it for contrast and mood and to listen to one song without listening to the next would be to listen out of context.

Reading my words is one thing, but they don’t do justice to the show itself.  It is one of my absolute favorites and it is in fairly regular rotation in my car because I don’t tire of it very easily.  So here you go Grasshopper, enjoy!

Check out the setlist here

Well, I hope we haven’t bored you death, but please remember, we are the guys who talk about more than just Phoenix real estate; we talk about the things we enjoy and the things we have a passion for, and we hope that, at the very least, you can see that.  We invite you to comment or to suggest other topics about which we have perhaps not yet spoken.  Thanks again for listening. 


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