A Show For Your Weekend: Hampton ’96

Phish’s second show at the Hampton Coliseum is unique.  Some fans may look at the setlist and skip listening to the show because of the obviously jamless (relative to the rest of fall ’96) second set.

The stand-alone show at Hampton fell on October 25.  The show is top-heavy with the highlights; most of the intense musical moments and memorable parts fall in the first set.  But the second set has its own, mellow qualities.  The lack of experimental improvisation in set two is made up for by great versions of great songs–something perfect for a Sunday drive or to break in a non-phan.

The show opens with an extremely solid Ha Ha Ha.  The song has only been used as a show opener twice, the second time being at Merriweather in 2000.  Taste slipped right out of Ha Ha Ha–although the song was still in its infancy and didn’t reach the peaks it started reaching in ’97 and later, it paired very nicely with Ha Ha Ha by offering a distinct contrast of sounds to start the show.  Both got the crowd on their feet, but in completely different ways.

Set 1: Ha Ha Ha > Taste, Makisupa Policeman -> Maze, Billy Breathes, Mound, Guelah Papyrus, I Didn’t Know, Stash, The Squirming Coil

Set 2: Tube > Prince Caspian, Timber (Jerry) > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday> Avenu Malkenu > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, NICU > Free, Strange Design, Harry Hood > Cavern, The Star Spangled Banner

Encore: Johnny B. Goode

Makisupa followed–so far each song was totally different from the one before.  The keyword was simple: dank.  Soon the jam yielded to space and Maze emerged.  Maze was frantic and exciting.  The intense, whiplash-inducing double header of Makisupa -> Maze felt like something we’d normally expect in a second set.

After the face-melting Maze, the breather song came: Billy Breathes.  Still played with its original intro, the song was (and always is) beautiful.  Billy has only been played twice in 3.0.  I certainly hope it emerges more once again.

Mound, which seems like it might be coming into a semi-regular rotation in 3.0, was played for the second out of a total of four times in 1996.  After ’96, the song wouldn’t come back until 12/31/2002 at MSG.

I really enjoy Stashs from 1996.  One of my favorite versions is 8/14/96’s (my review and download here)–Hampton’s captured the same tension-filled intensity.  However, this version doesn’t have the traditional peak.

From the beginning of the jam, Stash’s tension builds.  The jam eventually hits its first release and then goes back into fiercely layered musical tension.  Trey hit a mini-peak before sinking way back down and building even more tension.  Then there is a huge climb up to a sort of a musical plateau that is seemingly comfortable for the band.  You’d have expected a monster release, but the spacey plateau, accented by Fish’s cymbols and Page’s piano, was like everyone taking a breath of fresh air after fighting to get through the webs of tension they had built.  There is no huge peak, but it’s made up for by its beautiful tension.  The unique ending slipped right into the closing lyrics.

When the second set opened with Tube, people went into a frenzy.  At the time, the song wasn’t played as often as it is now.  After ’91, Tube became a real treat to see.  The song, similar to how it’s played now, kicked things off and made its way into the unusual landing place, Prince Caspian.  While Ha Ha Ha > Taste was an unusual combo that worked, Tube > Caspian was an unusual combo that didn’t.

Caspian was standard and Stash’s tension was reprised in the following Timber.  The intense guitar builds to the song’s closing and the beginning notes to TMWSIY started as the last word of Timber was sung–another good pairing of contrasting songs.

NICU > Free wasn’t very expected seeing that there was very little jamming so far.  Free stayed within its box, but still played well.  Strange Design next?  What is this? 2011?  But the Hood makes up for the second set lull we just endured.

Hood featured a beautiful, patient, and glorious build to the end of the song.  Trey’s heavenly playing is truly inspired and inspiring in this rendition.

After Cavern, the guys closed the set with the Star Spangled Banner.  The acapella ode to America was played eight times out of a total of 17 in 1996.  In ’96, all eight were played in the fall tour because they were practicing for their public debut of it at a sporting event.  Maybe someone can refresh my memory for what–was it a hockey game?

Johnny B. Goode was the encore–a song I am dying for them to bring back.

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