After supporting Santana across Europe (and a couple of solo gigs) for the early part of Summer 1996, Phish returned to the states in August for a run of shows leading up to the much-anticipated Clifford Ball. Following another much-anticipated run of shows at Red Rocks – that later turned out to unfortunately be a story of what happened outside the red walls of the venue rather than within it – the band headed east toward Plattsburgh, stopping in the Midwest along the way.
Having seen my first show at Alpine Valley ahead of this run that year, hearing people on lot and in the venue talking about the drive to Deer Creek, camping and more had me beyond interested intrigued confused awed.
Set 1: Divided Sky, Tube, Tela > Maze, Fast Enough for You > The Old Home Place, Punch You In the Eye, Llama, Glide, Slave to the Traffic Light
Set 2: AC/DC Bag > The Lizards, Mike’s Song > Lifeboy > Weekapaug Groove -> Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Waste, Train Song, Strange Design, Sweet Adeline, David Bowie
Encore: Sleeping Monkey > Rocky Top
 Performed solo by Page on theremin.
 Performed on acoustic mini-stage.
Not immune to the opening slot, but not as common as songs like PYITE and Llama later in the set, Divided Sky kicks off the second night of the band’s second trip to Deer Creek. Perhaps not as powerful as the Red Rocks version in surroundings, Divided Sky is an opener that highlights energy, build and contrast, two caveats of a well-crafted song and show. Look for Trey’s delicate touch on the solo after the pause.
After a short and punchy Tube, it’s time to mellow the fans out for a few minutes with Tela. Filled with more delicate playing here from Trey and notable bass fills from Mike, Tela is always highlighted by the build ahead of the final chorus and the soloing afterward. Tela then dives into a raucous Maze. 1996 is a great year for Maze and this is another great mid-set version with Page’s work on the keys shining early and Fishman’s hi hats going off later.
Again, after getting the fans in a frenzy, it’s time to bring the set down a notch with FEFY and Old Home Place, a song I would’ve loved to see in the acoustic set. The common set openers mentioned above, PYITE and Llama, get the energy level back up in a big way ahead of the happy-go-luckyness of Glide and the set’s best treat, a Set I closing Slave. With a feel of the end of a second set, Slave succeeds here.
After Set II gets kicked off by a pair of Gamehendge tunes in Bag > Lizards, the former featuring a decent piece of Type I jamming and Fish’s return to the hi hats and the latter continuing the subtle soloing efforts from Trey, it’s time for the set to take on a life of its own in a uniquely Summer ’96 sort of way. I always enjoy sets that feature two distinct flavors. Here, we have the contrast of Mike’s Groove and the acoustic set, separated by Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
Let’s just start this off the right way – WOW. Kicking into Mike’s the band was on a mission, 22 minutes later the mission was clear. Blow the roof off of Deer Creek and let some space in. The now-elusive “second jam” in Mike’s is not to be missed on this show. A standout version in a year sandwiched by years of amazing versions of the song, Mike’s and the jam into Lifeboy highlight this show. Whether it’s Tweezer > Lifeboy or Mike’s > Lifeboy, the pairing opportunities and contrasts are undeniable. While Lifeboy serves as boy a fan favorite and transition into Weekapaug, it is so much more than that. A quality that cannot be described here adorns this song. ‘Paug follows with another average-great version. In listening, it’s almost like the version is straightforward to ensure it doesn’t take away from its precursors. I would speculate that this Mike’s Groove caught the eye of Shapiro and the boys for official release as Live Phish 12.
Somewhere Over the Rainbow
After debuting the Theremin at Red Rocks a week earlier, Page brought it back after a standout Mike’s Groove for Somewhere Over the Rainbow. While I’m not sure if I should qualify the Theremin as a “gag” or “extension of keys”, if anything it is uniquely Phish. Here, the work on the Theremin helps transition between Mike’s Groove and the acoustic mini-set. Transition songs, or instruments as the case may be, are crucial to two-set, two-vibe shows. With the return of the Theremin mainly reserved to Steam as of late, I’d love to see Steam > Somewhere Over the Rainbow > Boogie On or something of the sort.
The acoustic mini-stage effort was something distinctly Summer 1996 for Phish (aside from similar revisits in 1998 and 2009). With an album full of songs that translate well to the acoustic sound, this vibe fits well for Phish – especially in the outdoor setting of venues like Red Rocks, Deer Creek and the Clifford Ball. Waste and Strange Design add impassioned vocals to the acoustic tone while there’s just something about Train Song and the Midwest that “works”. As this portion of the show ends with Sweet Adeline, I would have personally liked to see Old Home Place given the bluegrass treatment, but I digress.
After the acoustic chill filled the Indiana air, it was time to put the hammer down on the first two-night stand at Deer Creek with Bowie. Above average, Bowie doesn’t go the way of the second jam in Mike’s earlier, but shuts the door well. Sleeping Monkey > Rocky Top encore? Well, that’s their choice. Enjoy.