From: Charlie Dirksen

I believe Trey said in an interview that the 12/31/95 show was a major
turning point for the band, in that the band felt that they'd *really*
reached a Peak, and were wondering where to go from there.

As I hear it, 1996 was a year in which Phish revisited their roots,
but also took the knowledge, skill and confidence that they'd gained
in the prior decade to explore new territory.  Phish got back to its
roots by playing a small bar in June (not to mention Jazzfest in
April, I suppose), and then a multitude of small venues in Europe
(they played some more for good measure, of course, in 1997 -- shows
you how much fun they'd had in 1996!!).  A few new songs showed up in
summer '96, of course, most of which reflected a quieter, gentler,
introspective Phish (Waste, Talk, Trainsong).  Character Zero was
clearly more in the rockin', Chalk Dust Torture/Julius scheme, though.
Billy Breathes tunes like Taste and CTB really started to get
Addressed in the Fall.  Phish explored new territory in the Fall by
jamming out songs like Taste and Character Zero more seriously, and
also took off into some thrilling jams out of songs like Suzy
Greenberg, Simple, Runaway Jim, Also Sprach Zarathustra and, of
course, Down with Disease.  Mike's Songs also had a damn good Fall

I've heard a lot of oldbies criticize 1996 as fairly "blah," and well,
I'm guilty of having thought and said that before, too.  But upon
further reflection, especially having heard where Phish Went in 1997,
1996 was a plateau of sorts.  Phish Rode the Wave, but danced on it at
the same time, cleverly keeping things interesting with new material,
a new venue or two, and of course, Remain in Light.

These "Best Shows in my opinion" posts are just that.  There are a lot
of great Phish sets and shows from the last few years, but "best"
implies a bit more than the Great Music (and lights) Phish provides at
almost every gig.  By "best shows" I mean *complete shows* that are
well above-average:  length of set(s); song choice and flow;  and
stellar versions of songs (i.e., interesting/unusual/especially
melodious jam segments; improv that sounds like glorious composed
music and not like improv; extended jams;  transcendence of the
typical structure of a song; etc.).  My opinions are based *solely* on
the music.  The scene doesn't usually come across on tape (and
besides, I only saw ten shows in 1996 so couldn't review scenes very
well.. ;-);  but I've heard every US show from 1996 except 3.. haven't
heard most of summer '96 Europe, but it apparently wasn't exceptional
outside of Amsterdam, anyway).

I feel pretty strongly that the following *shows* are worth hearing
and checking out.  I follow up the show remarks with a few brief
comments on great SETS and VERSIONS from all over the year (in my
opinion, of course). The fact that there are ten shows listed below,
btw, is by accident, not intentional.  There are plenty of SETS that I
mention below (below the "best shows") that are arguably good enough
to make the ENTIRE SHOW that they were played in one of the "best" of
the year.  But again, I'm being really strict here:  both sets or all
three sets, or the show as a whole, really had to be well above
"Great," or, in the case of Amsterdam, exceedingly controversial, in
order to be a "best show in my opinion." Oh yeah: if you think I might
be biased in favor of shows that I attended (like a tyro), I only
attended one of these alleged "best shows."

07/12/96  Melkweg in Amsterdam, Netherlands

     Probably the lamest all-around Phish show, musically, that I've
ever heard, this show nevertheless warrants two paragraphs.  Yes it
has an incredible setlist, and yes the band members were probably, uh,
medicated.  But this show is so magnificently and stupendously
DREADFUL at times that anyone with even the slightest amount of
musical training *should* FLEE IN FEAR from the very sound of some of
this CRAP. When it IS good, and it *IS* interesting/good a couple
moments, the goodness is almost irreperably harmed by later "musical"
activity.  Hear it for yourself, though, because it will probably
encourage you to give thanks to the greater glory of the Phish you
regularly listen to, and will hear, in the future.

     I enjoyed that Ice was unfinished (went into Prince Caspian out
of the "jam segment"), but the unfinished MikeS, Antelope and Slave
were ABSOLUT SCHWAG.  This Mike's Song is without question one of the
worst versions *ever* performed.  The NICU is, to me, the highlight of
the show; it has a pretty interesting jam (for NICU).  I suppose SOME
of the Ice>Caspian transition is pretty cool, too, but since some of
the same transition is HIDEOUS, this isn't really saying that much.
Some folks have suggested that the band sounded so badly because they
were experimenting RADICALLY with their music, deliberately screwing
around with the structures.  After all, improvisation IS risky.  This
is probably true, but the music of this show makes me wonder what
structures they were trying to transcend (at least the show makes me
WONDER! or I should say "made" me wonder, since I got rid of the
tapes). So why is this one of the "best shows of 1996"? Primarily
because it generated so much controversy and comment.  I think it
sucks.  Judge for yourself.  If you like it, you're deaf, imo.

08/14/96  Hershey Park Arena, Hershey PA

   Remarkably underrated in the shadow of 8/13/96 Deer Creek (an
astoundingly overrated show, primarily because of all the breakouts in
the first set, and the second set Mike's), this Hershey show is
*excellent* from start to finish.  The Wilson>Jam>Disease opener's
intensity kicks everything from 8/13's butt *as a whole*.  Reba, Gumbo
and Stash are also decent versions in the first set, and everything is
well-played.  Second set opens with a sweeeet Runaway Jam, good YEM,
strong Tweezer, and, of course, a Julius encore that was the best
version *ever* if you heard it at the show..;).  The best ALL-AROUND
TWO SET show of the summer easy, in my opinion.

08/16/96  The Clifford Ball, Plattsburgh Air Force Base, Plattsburgh NY

     First set's highlight is definitely the Bathtub Gin, which,
though not a long version or witnessing anything that I'd call HOSE,
nevertheless has perhaps the most divinely melodious jam segment of
any normal-lengthened Gin that I've heard.  Everything else in the set
is pretty well played.  Second set begins with a cool SOAM, and
concludes with an **excellent** Mike'sSimpleContactPaug.  The third
set has easily one of my personal favorite 40 or so minutes of
Straight Phish:  Makisupa, Also Sprach > DWD > NICU (and god damn,
don't the DSBDs sound niiice!? :-).  The Harry might not be 11/12/94,
but it is quite a strong close to the gig, especially given the
fireworks.  (and they HAD to encore with Grace -- are you as happy as
I am that they have made this tune a rarity in 1997? it deserves to be
special, imo)

10/31/96  The Omni, Atlanta GA

     I'm honestly not too fond of the first set, even though the
setlist is pretty wild.  The DWD and YEM really aren't great versions,
imo (the end of DWD and YEM's beginning are out of tune).  The Reba,
however, is very pleasant.  Second set is one of my personal favorite
sets in Phishtory.  RiL was one of my favorite tapes when I was in
high school (sophomore year, I believe).  Hearing Phish play this
Talking Heads release IN THEIR OWN WAY is magnificent.  I still get
goosebumps from this set. Third set has a decent Brother, a good
Simple, some tunes with strong horns (but I think 'ween '95 had better
horns!), plus Karl Perazzo.  As an WHOLE PACKAGE, this show is
must-hear, in my opinion, even though sets one and three are certainly
not up there with "Best SETS of 1996 Imo."

11/02/96  Coral Sky Amphitheater, West Palm Beach, FL

     Karl Perazzo plays percussion for this gig, and DAMN is it a
great gig!  The YaMar opener is an excellent version (foreshadowing of
the Shoreline '97 version?), and everything else in the set is
*really* cool to hear with Perazzo AND WORTH HEARING.  Stash in
particular is really cool with Perazzo.  The second set is one of my
favorite sets in Phishtory and is easily the best all-around set of
1996, in my opinion.  I can't thank the band enough for sending a
crisp DSBD>CD to FM stations for broadcasting.  =^]  Incredible 37 or
so minute Crosseyed and Painless -> Antelope.  Great jams in Waste and
Harry.  If you don't have this set, your collection isn't worth the

11/03/96  O'Connell Center, Gainsville FL

     I think this is one of the best shows of the year primarily given
what Perazzo does with all these tunes (Jim, NICU, Theme in the first,
in particular).  Some shaky starts in some of the first set tunes, but
god damn, check out this Divided Sky jam segment!!  The second set
really funks, with an EXCEPTIONALLY funky Tweezer, and great
versions of everything else that jams.  If you don't have this show,
you're missing one of the best all-around shows of the last few years,
in my opinion.  Too bad we don't have this show on DSBD>CD. (yet!?)

11/27/96  Key Arena, Seattle WA

     Controversial choice, I know, but I love the THEME in the first
set.  The jam segment is melodiously led by Trey, and isn't the
boring, textural schlock of Olde.  Everything else in the set is
well-played, though it might not bring you to your knees.  Second set
has a THRILLING Down with Disease Jam, which segues nicely into a
decent JLC (a version not as nice as the Gorge '97 version, but still
very good).  Both the Scent and DISEEEEZER are must-hear, for reasons
that should become apparent when you 'ears them.

11/30/96  Arco Arena, Sacramento CA

     *Everything* in the first set is played well, and the Stash and
Fluffhead are both very strong versions, even by 1997 standards.
Great flow to this set and show, taboot.  Second set *smokes*, with
above average versions of EVERYTHING, except perhaps Glide and
Contact.  Peter Apfelbaum on tenor sax is *very* cool to hear most of
the time, as is McEuen on lap steel for Possum (E).

12/06/96  The Alladin Theatre, Las Vegas NV

     First set has a charming DWD, and nice versions of everything
else, including YEM (strong setlist!).  Second set has a sweet Mike's
Song, incredibly experimental (but good!) Simple, great Harry, and one
of the best Weekapaug Groove's **EVER**.  Nice Good Times closer as
well.  The "encore" (which is basically a third set) is a crazy Harpua
with members of Primus, and Suzy.  Check this show OUT!!!

12/31/96  The Fleet Center, Boston MA

     I still don't understand why this show wasn't more well-received
(bad seats? ;-).  It is a well-above-average gig, in my opinion, not
merely because of the three sets and the amusing Bohemian Rhapsody.
The gospel-choir-enhanced Julius & Grace were unusually cool, imo, and
christ, both Axilla Parts Eins und Drei to open the show.  Nothing
really leaps out as *AMAZING* in the first two sets (Character Zero
was damn good though). The second set does open with a stellar Chalk
Dust (imo.. even if it ain't long), and the set flowed really well
(even if most of us could predict the set).   I enjoy the Harry *A
LOT*, still, even though it ain't no 11/12/94 or 10/7/95.  The Disease
of this third set is still one of the best versions I've heard, and
the Antelope is definitely up there with my personal favorites (see
also 11/2/96 and 10/24/95).  Not to mention the thoroughly jammed out
Suzy (even if it is heavy on the percussion and light on melodious
soloing).  If you don't think this is one of the best all-around shows
of 1996, I think you're ...


Jazzfest:   Cars Trucks Buses

07/21/96 Nuremberg: FREE (personal favorite of '96: it
has the same post-jam-segment measures that the version on "Billy
Breathes" does, which the band has now brought back!! =^] check out
the Free from Ventura '97!!! %^)

08/02/96 Wolf Mtn:   Fluffhead (arguably)
08/04/96 Red Rocks:  Reba, Bowie
08/05/96 Red Rocks:  Entire second set
08/06/96 Red Rocks:  Tweezer, Caspian
08/07/96 Red Rocks:  Runaway Gypsy Queen Jam
08/17/96 Ball:       Second set of course; Slave..
10/22/96 MSG:        Weekapaug Groove
10/23/96 Hartford:   Entire Second Set
10/26/96 Charlotte:  DWD, You Enjoy Myself
11/06/96 Knoxville:  Mike's Song! Weekapaug!
11/07/96 Lexington:  BATHTUB GIN
11/08/96 Champaign:  MAZE, SIMPLE.. Entire Second set!!
11/13/96 Minneapolis: Suzy Greenberg>JAM
11/16/96 Omaha:      AXILLA (cool ending!)
11/19/96 Kansas:     Entire second set
11/23/96 Vancouver:  Entire second set (arguably)
11/24/96 Portland:   Entire second set (inarguably)
11/29/96 San Fran:   Taste
12/28/96 Phili:      SOAM, Mike's Groove

That's all from me.  Please add your own two cents (but be sure to
call me deaf!!).