I previously wrote about how the summer of 1987 was a transformative period in Phish’s career - a point where the band would take the leap between playing occasionally at random bars, and becoming a full-time band. I think an equally important transition point for Phish was the summer of 1993. The 93 summer tour is definitively the most frequently mentioned date I hear when people talk or write about the band making the next leap, from a good touring band to a world-class act. So, as I became slightly overwhelmed by the monotony of reviewing shows from the late 80s, I decided that I may as well jump straight to this point in time. I figured it would give me a good foundation to start with, and also highlight a series of shows that will always have something of interest.
Phish played 15 shows in July, and they consisted of a northeast leg (from the 15th to the 25th) and a swing through the southeast (which would continue into early August). There really weren’t any new songs that debuted during this run that have lasted over the years, with the major exception of "2001," a workhorse of the tour that filled the set-opener slot nearly every show and has remained a Phish staple. However, the band began to open things up significantly for this tour, which led to increased spontaneity, longer and more diverse jams, and more teases than ever. While there’s a myriad of reasons that led to the band’s breakthrough during this summer, I’ll break down what I know about the band and compile them into three main points:
First, the band essentially severed its ties with "Hydrogen." The band would not play "Hydrogen" until April of 1994. This opened up a major space in the second set for the band, which they began to fill with a number of different things. They introduced a hydrogen-mimic ("Leprechaun," a criminally under-recognized instrumental). When that didn’t happen, they’d fill that space with a rarity ("Sparks," "Kung"). And later on, they’d fill it with another slower song ("Lifeboy"). I feel that for some shows, this broke the band free from their previous routine.
Secondly, the band routinely began to openly perform "hey"-exercises while on stage. This is very evident for some of the songs from the tour (notably the Murat "Gin" when Trey yells at Page to “Say Hey”). Previously, the band had practiced off-stage with "hey"-exercises, but it wasn’t that often when you could hear the whole band actively participating in the practice. Some new technological fixes (Page and Fish’s ear bugs) allowed the whole band to hear each other better and helped this cause. The act of direct improvisation that could end up anywhere opened the band up to nearly every direction. While before the band was somewhat concerned and focused on playing their shows consistently and to some degree safely as they grew, for this tour, Phish allowed themselves to meander with no end goal in sight - pretty much every night.
Thirdly, and this may follow up on the second point, is that the band began to incorporate nearly every musical idea that came into their head into their current performance. There’s a great bit about this from Mike’s journal from the release of the 8/14/93 Tinley Park show, where he mentions that everything was fair game (or something to that effect). You can hear this in the band’s playing, as there are numerous teases scattered throughout every show. I have been constantly finding new teases to put up on phish.net as I’ve listened to these shows, and I imagine there will be even more to find. But the important element was that this opened the setlists up in ways that had not been available previously.
As I did before, I’ve picked out some of the shining moments of this month as highlights. However, this time, I’ve put it all together in the form of a full show. Here’s the list:
Soundcheck: Guyute (7/18), Pungee Jam (7/18)
Set 1: Buried Alive (7/23), Foam (7/31), Poor Heart (7/16), Stash (7/30), Divided Sky (7/18), Lawn Boy (7/18), Maze (7/25), David Bowie (7/25), Sample (7/15)
Set 2: 2001 > SOAM (7/16), Runaway Jim (7/25), Fluffhead (7/30), Fast Enough (7/16), Chalkdust (7/30), Reba (7/30), My Sweet One (7/28), Antelope (7/18)
E: Leprechaun (7/15), Harpua (7/25)