15 Must-Hear Shows for Any Phish Novice

So Aaron and I have been friends of Justin’s for a while, and while there’s no question in our minds that he completely adores the Phish from Vermont, it’s become increasingly obvious over the years that he doesn’t quite know the whole deal. Now we’re not calling him a newb by any stretch of the imagination, but let’s just say that whenever I ask him about certain shows of legendary status (The Bomb Factory, for instance), he can only shake his head in ignorance and shame.

A few weeks back at High Sierra, Aaron and I were talking about this peculiar phenomenon, and how Justin could desperately use a history lesson. And with that, we decided that it was time to bring back one of Live Music Blog’s most popular columns, Phish Friday — not only for the benefit of LMB’s loyal readers, but also the Editor-in-Chief himself. Thus, we present to you our first of hopefully many entries that will school and humble our fearless leader:

The Top 15 Shows Justin Needs to Listen to Immediately**

** Note: These shows are not ranked in any order other than chronological. Thankfully, Justin has already heard Big Cypress, the ’98 Island Tour, New Years ’9512.11.97, the Halloween shows, and a couple other key LivePhish releases (2.20.936.22.94, 7.16.94, 12.14.95, 12.7.97, etc.) so these did not need to be included. But if any of you readers out there have neglected these shows, go get ’em now!

Phish was in the midst of a two week jaunt with The Giant Country Horns when they dropped this stellar three set show. A noteworthy period of early 90’s Phish, it’s great to hear some of Trey’s early compositional classics get the mini-orchestral treatment he always envisioned in his head. Plus, you get to hear Fish sing “Touch Me.”

Here’s one where we can just let the 2nd set speak for itself: Glide, The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony > Suzy Greenberg, Rift, Manteca, Bathtub Gin, Manteca Reprise, The Lizards, Mound, Lllama, TMWSIY > Avenu Malkenu > TMWSIY, Dinner and a Movie, Harry Hood, Cold as Ice > Love You > Cold as Ice, Rocky Top. E: Contact, Big Black Furry Creature From Mars. The bread and butter is the Harry Hood, which contains not only some stellar machine-gun Trey (which to this day on every re-listen makes me want “that tone” back), but Linus & Lucy teases all throughout. If it doesn’t put a smile on your face, well f*** it. Your face, that is.

While the Reverend Jeff Mosier “bluegrass period” wasn’t until a full year and a half later, this Albany show features Dick Solberg on violin for the second half of each set. The band blows through such standards as Why You Been Gone So Long, Tennessee Waltz, I Been To Georgia On A Fast Train, Rocky Top, and That’s Alright Mama, and the rest of the show ain’t bad either.

You knew that Phish was going to bring the heat for their first ever show at the hallowed Red Rocks. Famous for Trey’s story during “Harpua” about the giant iguana trapped in the rocks and subsequently turned to stone by everyone’s favorite cat, Poster Nutbag.

Tweezerfest, The Bomb Factory, whatever you want to call it… the fact of the matter is that this show absolutely KILLS, and I don’t think anyone could ever get sick of it. Once the band drops into Tweezer early in the second set, they don’t stop weaving in and out of songs until they reach Tweezer Reprise over seventy minutes later. Thankfully, this is a Live Phish release so you can listen to it in all it’s soundboardy goodness.

The OJ Show. Fews recordings can capture the band’s manic energy and the “anything can happen at any moment” feeling like this one does. Enough said.

As one would expect from one of the best months in Phishtory, the band started December ’95 off with a bang. Honestly, pretty much any show from this month is a must hear (I wavered between including this show or December 7th). The highlights are undoubtedly the Col. Forbin laden with references to the Rhombus, King of Prussia, and chocolate (they were in Hershey, after all), and the first ever Mike’s to segue directly into Weekapaug (something that also happened on 12.7.95). Pure Fall 95 hose.

Fall 96’s tour closer, and recently released as “Live in Vegas”. This show is famous for its 30 minute Harpua encore with Les Clapool, Larry LaLonde, some yodelers, and 4 Elvis impersonators running around stage, but really it’s the two sets that precede this madness that boast all the musical highlights. Check out the 35 minute Simple -> Hood in the middle of a Mike’s Groove sandwich, or the Peaches > Poor Heart > 2001 > Llama > YEM in what I hesitate to call the “first” set. OK, nevermind, just listen to the whole damn show.

“You wanna know where you are”? “You’re on the back of the worm!”. I’ll let the tapes speak for themselves on this one. Trust me, you’ll be hooked as soon as the 1st set opener Ghost starts up, and then you’ll want to grab the next night as well. Something was clearly in the air during this Amsterdam run.

Mike’s Groove followed by Hood, and that’s just the FIRST set opener. Beginning with a jammed out Halley’s Comet (oh how I yearn for the days when Halley’s was more than 6 minutes long), this show boasts one of my favorite second sets of all time. Why Phish decided to officially release Hampton ’98 instead of ’97, I will never know. This is honestly what dreams are made of.

Often overshadowed by the following night’s bust out laden show, this is yet another Fall 97 show that demands to be heard. The second set starts off with what Mr Miner has repeatedly gone on record as stating is his “go-to jam“: Tweezer -> Izabella. The seguefest actually continues with a stellar Twist -> Piper, while the first set is no slouch either. A ripping Golgi > Antelope combo kickstarts the show, while a beautiful Gin flawlessly segues into Foam just a few minutes later.

Last ’97 show, I promise. This one is famous for the band playing a ridiculously long second set that featured Tom Marshall singing “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” in the middle of the “pentagram Harpua”, and an extended AC/DC Bag. In fact, the second set was so long that the band had already broken curfew by the time they left the stage. In classic Phish fashion, Trey took the stage and said “since we’re already over curfew, we might as well play til midnight, and that way we’ll play TWO New Year’s shows”. Hence the insane 30 minute encore, which featured the first ever stateside Carini. Oh, and let’s not forget the first Sneakin’ Sally in over 900 shows.

The “snooze and you lose” show of Fall ’99. After hitting Portland and the Gorge the weekend before, a lot of folks skipped this Tuesday night show in Boise, Idaho and headed straight down to the San Francisco Bay for the upcoming 4 night California run. But as anyone true head knows, you miss a Phish show at your own peril. The second set simply reads: Peaches en Regalia > AC/DC Bag > Gumbo, Down with Disease > Frankenstein, but trust me on this one — it’s a keeper and then some.

The whole Japan 2000 run is worth listening to, as Phish was clearly stoked to be playing to some of the smallest rooms in ages, but this night is the undisputed highlight. Anytime you have a four song second set, you know there’ll be some interesting band interplay, but this truly is a set that’s unlike any other. Another top notch show that has luckily been commemorated by Phish.

158.5.10 -“Ride Captain Ride” opener. Kangfirmed.

Okay, so we just threw #15 in to see if you were paying attention. As for the rest of the list, these are must-hear shows and we’re holding our Editor’s feet to the fire to get these shows listened to in the next two weeks. He’ll have to make up about a show a day to get the list finished in time for the Greek.

What shows do you think we missed? Drop some comments on @livemusicblog us so we know what to include for Justin’s “after Greek” homework assignment…

Stay tuned for next week’s lesson: the top 20 jams that Justin (and/or any of your novice friends) haven’t heard yet.