Box This: OPT’s Archival Release Wishlist

We here at OPT have been in a state of collective bliss ever since the Hampton/Winston-Salem ’97 box set was announced. I’m not alone in being slightly obsessed with Fall ’97, and in my mind there’s no better stretch of that tour than 11/17 through 11/23 — each show of which will have now have been honored, in whole or in part, with an archival release.

But there are still plenty of great runs the fans would love to hear in pristine, Kevorkian-ized soundboard form. So for this article, the OPT staff picked out some moments we’d like to see in a box. Just to be clear, we focused exclusively on runs–no single shows (with one exception, which you’ll see below). And, as always, Big Cypress is excluded from consideration for obvious reasons.

Let us know in the comments which ones are at the top of your wishlist.

MASSIVELY EPIC ARCHIVAL WISHLIST COMPILATION

We also all picked out a handful of tracks from each of our chosen shows so you can all get a taste of how sweet an official release would be. So without further ado…

Download the compilation (Part 1, Part 2, missing tracks – 12/8/95 Tweezer->Kung->Tweezer). For song selections, see below.

ADAM’S PICKS

11/6-9/1996 (Audio in compilation: 11/6 Mike’s Song, 11/9 Bowie, Swept Away > Steep > Harry Hood)
Starting in Knoxville and ending in Detroit, this Midwestern jaunt boasts some amazing playing during a tour that gets very little attention now. If these decent-at-best recordings got spruced up for a box set, it would put a jolt of life back into a month that boasts some of Phish’s most experimental playing. The four-night run is anchored down by the massive second set at the Rupp Arena on November 7 with a 26-minute YEM and a 25-minute Gin (check out my review)

Fall 1996 foreshadows the funk that eventually came in 1997. There is plenty of wah-driven funk in the extended versions of Mike’s Song, You Enjoy Myself, and Bathtub Gin. In beautiful contrast to the dancible jams are the tightly-wound, guitar-driven playing in the other jams. Stand-out versions of Melt (two different versions over the four shows; 11/6’s is transcendent and trippy while 11/9’s is a fierce rocker), Mule, two Bowies (11/6’s is EXTREME tension/release–Trey rides a fuckin’ wave of tension before blowing up), Lizards, and probably my favorite Divided Sky ever (knocking 6/18/94’s into second place).

The Harry Hood that comes at the end of the four nights includes a beautiful hose jam after the evil segue from Steep after the chaotic screaming.

This is some of the best Phish ever in these four nights and I bet 80% of you don’t even know to look here.

7/19-21/1998 (Audio in compilation: 7/19 Ghost, Limb, YEM; 7/20 Gin, Drowned, Makisupa, Halley’s; 7/21 Ghost, She Caught the Katy)
Summer ‘98 is often brushed off by vets that claim it’s the year of gimmicky covers and ambient jams. However, I argue that July of ‘98 is one of the best months of Phish ever. They take the funk from ‘97, only now it’s cleaned up and mature.

Everyone already knows about the crazy Gorge ‘98 shows (and the recordings are not bad), so let’s go to the following nights that have been overshadowed, starting with 7/19 at Shoreline and finishing with 7/21 at Desert Sky.

While 7/19 all the way through the end of the month is incredibly sick, let’s focus on the insane highlights the three single-night shows in a row have to offer. Phish dished up some incredibly fierce jams starting with the infectious Ghost > Limb and YEM in the first set of the first night. Both of these jams are must hears. The Tweezer > Jesus will knock your socks off in the following set too.

7/20 is very special. The show that took place at Ventura Beach in the open-air opened with a 20-minute journey through improvisational bliss during one of the all-time best Gins ever. As if that and the massive Drowned -> Makisupa from set two weren’t enough, they end the encore with a massive and funky Halley’s Comet that’s laced with delay loops.

On 7/21, the last half of the first set throws everyone’s mind into a blender because of the Tube > Tube jam > Sparkle > Cavern > Frankie Says > Antelope–what a psychotic combo that is. The second set brings some serious heat and one of the biggest bustouts of all time: She Caught the Katy and Left Me a Mule to Ride (first in 1,037 shows). After the debut of Bittersweet Motel in the middle of the set-opening Mike’s Groove, the band drops into a bulbous jaunt duing Ghost before segueing seamlessly into She Caught the Katy.

PADRAIC’S PICKS

6/28-29/00 “Shock My Brain” (Audio in compilation: 6/28 Gin, Mike’s, Albuquerque, Weekapaug; 6/29 Drowned->Rock & Roll, Meatstick, Cities)
An often under-discussed run from an under-discussed summer tour.

Opening a run of shows with Chalkdust Torture isn’t the most rare decision the band has ever made, but following it up with the Sloth in the second position keeps the energy up and the old-timers happy. June 28, 2000’s first set, though, is highlighted by a great Bathtub Gin, one that is in the top 5 discussion for the song in a lot of circles. Don’t look past the If I Could bust out to close the set either. Set 2’s DWD > Hood > Jibboo opening rings more like a 3.0 set than 2000, but sets the table for a perfectly placed When the Circus Comes. Mike’s doesn’t break any records, but the start-stop jam toward the end is of note.

The rare first set Drowned > Rock and Roll from 6/29 is of note as well, bringing high energy to close out a first marked with some rocking, but standard first set tunes. Fans of Catapult should enjoy its version between BOAF and Heavy Things, featuring a rare sound. Even Heavy Things gets into the 2000 loop party in Holmdel. Set II also features the first iteration of the Meatstick in Japanese in the United States, coupled with references to Carini – both the song and the man – and his crewmates Chris Kuroda and Paul Languedoc. Carrying the Meatstick and Japanese themes to Cities is a treat and Antelope is high energy but doesn’t close the set. The main irony for me is that Carini didn’t find its way into the set.

Of course, the key intangible here is the Holmdel effect on the band and often great shows that come out of New Jersey and the lack of discussion around most of Summer 2000 (outside of 7/11/00 Set II). The beauty of these shows is that their four sets do not overshadow one another. There isn’t the “forget about XX night or ZZ set” mentality here, just some straightforward playing.

Both shows provide a “rock show” to end their respective nights, with First Tube, Loving Cup and Character Zero in the mix.

3/21-22/93 “We Spoke So Slowly” (Audio in compilation: 3/21 Lawn Boy, Possum; 3/22 Bowie, It’s Ice, Lizards)
The message here is that Gamehendge needs the remastered and official release tag if for no reason other than to quiet the constant rumors about it being busted out. First it was Telluride, then it was 1.1.11. For a while it seemed like half a dozen shows were being looked at as the possible Gamehendge bustout point. Now, it seems clearer that the set will stay on the shelf for good.

Gamehendge with narration. What is there to really be said about this set. It is the holy grail. The band’s white whale. Will it ever return to the stage? On March 22, 1993 the band took Gamehendge for a ride out of a crisp and dark It’s Ice. Everyone knows the story of Icculus, Wilson and the long-chased-for Tela. Its the spirit of the band playing it in its entirety that makes this special. Don’t sleep on the Mike’s Groove to follow either. The proverbial “blowing off a little steam” quickly to end the set.

Not only does 3/22 bring a solid Gamehendge narration, it joins 3/21 in the fun that is the band’s Secret Language. Before Super Ball IX, I would have written that “The band’s Secret Language, common in the mid-90’s, is gone forever.” Maybe it’s back for good. But, during this March ‘93 run, overshadowed perhaps by the Gamehendge set (I remember the tape of this show circulated with Set II only), the set I Bowie closer has Secret Language and teases galore, a must-hear and -understand for any Phish fan. Secret Language is also found on 3/21 in Possum and Esther.

Both shows also highlight a trend of the past that will likely never be revisited again – a capella songs performed without microphones. Along with acoustic songs performed without amplification, a capella songs have their place in the Phish catalog, but in 2011 are simply not feasible. Hearing a remastered take on these songs would let fans in on this experience.

As the writer for Under the Covers, I will conclude my argument for this run by making a simple grovel for Cracklin’ Rosie to return as a HYHU, should the band feel the need to make Fish sing in the near future.

POSTER’S PICKS

7/2-3/95 North Fayston (Sugarbush), VT. (Audio in compilation: 7/2 Camel Walk, Runaway Jim, Makisupa; 7/3 Bowie)
The Box Set: Phishing On the Long Trail – Not much from this period has been released by the band. There are some interesting choices from the summer that would make a cool release like Atlanta on 6/15/95 (really interesting show) or the Mann shows from 6/24-25/95 (but I didn’t pick those to avoid the charges of being a homer, since I’m from Philly). The tour closers in Sugarbush would be a good choice because a) they are from Vermont, b) I like skiing in Sugarbush (but not as much as I like skiing in Stowe), c) they are some heavy shows, d) 7/2 marks the return of Camel Walk, and e) 7/3 has an aborted Lizards in it and it would take major balls for Phish, or any band, to put out a release where they were less than perfect. It would allow the band to acknowledge their human side and showcase their sense of humor about themselves and their music. If possible, either the Stash>I Didn’t Know or the Bowie from the Atlanta show should be included as philler.

7/1-2/97 Amsterdam, Netherlands. (Audio in compilation: 7/1 Ghost, 7/2 Stash, Llama, Wormtown Jam)
The Box Set: Not As Fucked Up as We Were in 1996. I’m really not too familiar with much of this tour and that is one reason why I would like to see something released from it. The Amsterdam shows would be cool, the Lille show too, but only for the second set, or maybe the Vienna show (6/19). But if anyone has another rec for a stellar show from this tour (I’ve also heard the Lyon and Marseilles shows [ed. note – see Guy Forget’s picks]) I am all ears. Absent that, the Amsterdam shows because they were really out there and WAY better than their previous trip to Amsterdam in 1996.

4/27-29/93 Toronto and Montreal. (Audio in compilation: 4/29 Reba, Weekapaug->Makisupa->Weekapaug)
The Box Set: Phish, eh? From Canada. Toronto, 4/27, is a show I have never heard. However, looking at the setlist and seeing the numerous teases of The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Gordon Lightfoot makes me want to run out and grab this show. I’m sure it’s hot, as are all shows from the end of the Spring ‘93 tour (see: 5/1-8/93). The real reason I chose these two was for the 4/29 show in Montreal. This show is a must, must, must hear. It marks the return of Makisupa (sandwiched inside Weekapaug, no less), a killer Antelope and Reba, and Trey on acoustic for the My Friend intro. Now, I understand that this show is pretty close in date to 5/8/93 which has been released by the band, but the rules of this article don’t allow me to go with my original pick, a “Road Trips” like compilation of jams from 3/13, 3/20, 4/16, and 4/18, and this was the best I could come up with.

GUY FORGET’S PICKS

12/7-11/95 (Audio in compilation: 12/7 Split Open and Melt; 12/8 Tweezer -> Kung -> Tweezer; 12/9 YEM; 12/11 Bowie)
December ’95 is widely recognized as one of the greatest months in Phish history. It’s already been honored with two archival releases (12/14 and 12/31) as well as numerous selections in Kevin Shapiro’s From the Archives shows. And honestly, just about any run from this month would be worthy of release. But to me, this stretch is the meat and potatoes of 12/95.

If huge jams are your thing, this run has a ton of them: 12/7 Split and Mike’s / Weekapaug; the 12/8 Tweezer/Kung sandwich; the Albany YEM, considered by many to be the song’s finest performance; the Portland Bowie. But the jamming is only one element of what secures this run’s spot in Phish history. There’s the Dog Log Album banter on 12/11. The Beavis and Butthead audio on 12/9. The Come Together in Cleveland, in honor of the anniversary of Lennon’s death. Warren Haynes’s sit-in. Et cetera. Simply put, this run is what Phish is all about. Given that the audience recordings of most of the shows leave something to be desired, it’s high time these shows got the official release they deserve.

7/9-10/97 (Audio in compilation: 7/9 YEM, Ghost, Poor Heart; 7/10 Gin, Ghost->Take Me to the River)
Poster snagged my first choice for July ’97 Europe release, but these two shows are at least as deserving. The Lyon show from 7/9 includes what, in my opinion, is far and away the best guest spot in Phish history. I’m of the opinion that taking the stage with Phish is a true test of one’s improvisational prowess, and the Flecktones pass with flying colors. Over the course of nearly an hour, the two bands fit together like two pieces of a jammed-out puzzle — trading licks, finding mutually inclusive grooves, and inviting us to fantasize about the insanity that a full-time Phlecktones supergroup would bring to the world.

The following night has another excellent sit-in, with Son Seals’ band not only providing back-up on their own song (Funky Bitch), but teasing Bathtub Gin as well. But this show has so many more special treats: a funk jam in Bathtub Gin, another one out of Llama; a third that rises from the embers of Wading and fades into a slowed-down Lizards jam. It’s got antics: a series of duels in Ya Mar. And it’s got Take Me to the River. If you haven’t heard this show, go hear it. And if you’re Kevin Shapiro, release it.

8/9-10/97 (Audio in compilation: 8/9 Mike’s, Ain’t Love Funny, Simple, Swept Away, Steep, Mule, Slave, Weekapaug; 8/10 Hood, Cities)
The US portion of summer ’97 is no slouch. Building off of the playful energy of the Europe tour, and toward the dirty funk of Fall ’97, these shows offer a glimpse of the band in a state where they were both thriving and evolving. The Alpine Valley show has one of the most drawn out Mike’s grooves in history, with six songs and a whole lot of great improvisation sandwiched between Mike’s and Weekapaug. And for the second set of the first night of Deer Creek, the band dipped into a deep, dark psychedelic hole. By the time they emerged some 80 minutes later, they’d found their way to the longest-ever Cities, a crazy rotation jam, one of their strangest songs, Rocko William, and a whirling dervish of a Bowie to close. I haven’t even mentioned the awesome 19-minute Split Open and Melt in the first set, nor the Hood, which is one of the best versions ever. So you’ll just have to go download them and see for yourself how great they are.

ZIM’S PICK

[ed. note: while Zim is many things–eloquent, thoughtful, knowledgeable about Phish, etc., he is above all else incredibly lazy. Therefore we bent the rules and allowed him to pick only one show, because we wanted him to be involved and this was the only way his lazy ass was going to be.]
5/16/95 (Audio in compilation: Reba, I’ll Come Running)
Box Set: Filanthropic Phish.
The single biggest traveshamockery of the current Phish canon (besides that Sunshine show that shall go unnamed) is the lack of any decent audio from this legendary one-set throwdown in Lowell, MA. Most of you are already familiar with the Voters For Choice benefit show, but please allow me to recap what went down in one very special set: Six original song debuts including Free and Theme, four cover debuts, one of the top-three greatest Rebas of all time (and my personal favorite), and a fantastic YEM. One of the originals, Spock’s Brain, was played seven more times and not since ‘03. The other, Glide II, has never been heard from again. These are both outstanding songs and comprise slots one and two on this fanboy’s list of most coveted bust outs. Then there’s the cover debuts, featuring Lonesome Cowboy Bill and a one-time Eno tribute, I’ll Come Running. To top it all off is the energy between the band and the audience, which is just electric throughout. How many other sets couple this much history and devotion with the lack of decent audio? You’d have to go back to the previous decade, methinks.

Now, how does this work in a box set? Frankly, I would buy an eight-CD release of this show even if the other seven CDs were nothing but Gloria Steinem speeches. But to make it interesting, let’s call it Phish Filantropy (get it?) and throw in the Waterwheel kick-off show in 1997, the Bridge School benefit shows with Neil Young in 1998 and this year’s Vermont Recovery benefit. Then we donate the proceeds to the Facial Reconstruction Society to help offset the wave of meltage that is sure to commence once we’ve all had a chance to hear that remastered Reba.

ELI’S PICKS

6/13/94 – 6/16/94 (Audio in compilation: 6/13 Stash, Mike’s Song, Slave; 6/14 Bowie, YEM; 6/16 Antelope, Disease)
Box Set: The Dopest Song I ever Wrote, in 94
Bookended by two stand out Phish shows (6/11/94 and 6/18/94) and the OJ show (6/17/94) this string of Phish dates is filled with some of the best stuff from 94. Although Phish has released 6/22/94 (Live 10) as part of its LivePhish series, these shows are worthy of a box set. The summer jams of 94 are tight and showcase some great playing by the band, but June 94 was one of Trey’s hottest months in Phishtory. These shows are filled with Trey led jams and nasty guitar licks. 6/13 features a dark first set Stash that is a crash course in tension & release, and a Wolfman’s that prefaces some of the raging funk that would ooze out of song in the following years. Set two is anchored by a raw and filthy Mike’s Song and a short and sweet Weekapaug that will force a woman to try and match your move. The real gold from this Kansas City show is a standout Reba during a period when Reba reigned supreme and a soaring set closing Slave which boasts a peak that rivals any Slave climax.

After Kansas City, the band moved onto Des Moines, Iowa on June 14th and played a show filled with quirky musical endeavors. Even though set one is not filled with extensive improv, it is an action packed set with an mic-less Sweet Adeline, the third ever Digital Delay Loop jam into Guelah, an early Disease into a Fee sung through a megaphone, and a Split Open and Melt that will melt your face like butta’. The highlights of set two are Demand>Bowie, YEM complete with On Broadway teases in the jam and vocal jam and a set closing Possum that revives the On Broadway tease before encoring with Sample.

The band took June 15th off and returned to the stage in Minneapolis, performing another show filled with antics balanced by some serious improv. First set has a mind bending Maze and another sinister Stash while set two is a flowing hodgepodge of tunes. Suzy Greenberg opens the set in an unusual spot before entering Antelope. Down with Disease with a Swingtown tease, Forbin’s>Mockingbird, Contanct and Big Black Furry Creature from Mars demonstrate how comfortable Phish felt onstage and the musical risks they were willing to take at the time. An encore trio of acoustic/a capella versions of Ginseng Sullivan and Amazing Grace precede Good Times Bad Times, which sent everyone home in search of their melted faces.

This collection of June 94 shows are a must hear for any Phish fan. They demonstrate some of Phish’s greatest on stage antics, interpretations of a capella and bluegrass classics, and feature the live development of improvisation (based around the changing tempos) that they refined during countless hours of rehearsal. These shows are not all time greats, but are a glimpse into the band’s rapidly expanding repertoire during their best (arguably) month of 94.

11/16/96-11/19/96 (Audio in compilation: 11/16 Jim, Axilla, Hood; 11/18 Reba, 2001, Simple, Tweezer; 11/19 Bowie, Gin, YEM)
Box Set: Groovy Vibrations
Omaha, Memphis, and Kansas City sound like an odd trio of cities for three straight kick-ass nights during Phish’s fall tour in 96, but this run of shows packs a major punch. Three weeks earlier Phish covered the Talking Heads’ “Remain in Light,” which sparked a slower, more patient and groove-centric style of jamming. These shows exhibit Phish’s new style of jamming, guitar shredding solos, “Vibrations of Life,” and darker musical explorations (before 97’s cowfunk) that makes for a worthy box set.

Right out of the gate 11/16 is hot. A smoking Poor Heart with a piano/guitar solo section that Page and Trey slay, a jumping old-school rendition of Down with Disease and Gumbo complete with some piano playing by Page round out the opening trio while the first set Bowie is massive and ominous. Set two opens with the first La Grange in nearly a year that has a smoking Julius-esque jam. Next up is a 14 minute Runaway Jim,and a smorgasbord of Vibration of Life>Kung>Catapult. A rocking and extended Axilla with Trey and Fish belting nonsensical whims about Chris Kuroda and Leigh Fordham sets the table for the highlight of the show: Harry Hood. Although this Hood is famous because it boasts the longest held note in Phishtory, clocking in at nearly three minutes, it is also a beautiful rendition. As Trey holds the note, the band continuously builds the jam as though Trey is still soloing. Page and Fishman’s playing shine brighter than usual as the band takes the jam from a peak to peak and an ultimate climax without Trey at the helm. Phish closes the second set with Suzy, accompanied by La Grange and Axilla teases, and Amazing Grace before encoring with the first ever rendition of We’re an American Band, and the only one apart from Vegas ’00.

Of the three shows in this trilogy, 11/18 is the least impressive; yet, it still has some great moments. Set one has four early interpretations of tunes off Billy Breathes (Cars Trucks Buses, Taste, Billy Breathes, and Zero) and a beautiful rendition of Reba, but the real meat of the show goes down during set two. The improvisational highlight of the show is a twelve minute Also Sprach Zarathustra that bleeds into a sixteen minute Simple. This combination of songs is a must hear section of improv because it demonstrates the band’s growth after they fully embraced the groove-centric principles of the Talking Heads. The remainder of set two is enjoyable, but the stretch of songs featuring Gary Gazaway on trumpet (Tweezer, Hello My Baby, Tweeprise and Llama) are special versions of Phish classics. The encore duo of Waste and Johnny B. Goode with Gazaway on trumpet once again wrap a show that is memorable for its thirty minutes of improv in the form of 2001>Simple.

11/19/96 is one of the must overlooked and underrated shows of all time. Set one kicks off with the calypso great Ya Mar and the Gamehendge classic AC/DC Bag. Foam, Theme and Stash all offer some compelling jams, but once again, it’s set two that delivers the stunning improv that Phish is known for. An eighteen minute take on Bowie opens set two before giving way to A Day in the Life and Gin that push the musical boundaries of the songs. This is a space-monster of a Bowie, with an extended intro with guitar loops. It exhibits the patience the band would fully embrace over the course of the following year. Bathtub Gin has several segments in the jam, ranging from an early peak based around a Trey inspired theme, a groove section with an organ solo, a piano/organ section featuring Trey on the mini-set and spacey section that bleeds into the Vibration of Life, which is dedicated to Phish’s crew. Following the Vibration, YEM erupted. It’s filled with repeating and groovy guitar chords, stop/start jamming, peaking guitar solos, and a “Groove is in the Heart” tease during the jam and vocal jam. This You Enjoy Myself is relentless and action-packed.

An a capella version of the Star Spangled Banner and Jimi’s Fire round out the rest of set two. The band played a stand alone Squirming Coil, allowing Page’s piano solo to help mend fans’ minds at the end of a show full of Grade A improv.

This run of shows has hidden gems from top to bottom. The extended and laid-back funk jamming is the precursor to the heavy cow-funk of 97. These three shows highlight some of the greatest unknown moments of 96 and exemplify Phish’s musical growth following Halloween 96’s musical costume, “Remain in Light.”