Revisiting Phish’s Valentine’s Day Performances
Original photo by Peter Wallace
Ah, Valentine’s Day. A time for lovers, friends and family to gather together and talk about the three Phish shows that occurred on Feb. 14. The Vermont quartet has performed on Valentine’s Day three times (according to Phish.net), each taking place in a different period of their history.
The first Valentine’s Day show occurred in 1991, at the State Theatre of Ithaca in Ithaca, N.Y. The next occurred in Brussels, Belgium six years later, in 1997, during Phish’s third tour of Europe (the first two tours occurring in Summer ’92 and Summer ’96). The final Feb. 14 show (so far) was performed in 2003 at the Great Western Forum in Inglewood, Calif., after Phish’s two-year hiatus from 2000-2002, making that show a part of Phish 2.0.
Shows from these three eras of the band – the early ’90s, before Phish really blew up; the mid-late ’90s during Phish heyday; and 2.0, Phish’s resurgence – sound vastly different. The Phish that was performing in 1991 was quite different than the Phish performing in 1997 or 2003. With that in mind, let’s take a look at each show.
Feb. 14, 1991 – State Theatre of Ithaca, Ithaca, N.Y.
Listen to this show here.
Set I: My Sweet One, McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters > Buried Alive > Reba, Destiny Unbound, Cavern, The Mango Song, Stash, Lawn Boy, The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony, Golgi Apparatus
Set II: Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Foam, The Squirming Coil, Runaway Jim, Esther, Alumni Blues, Bouncing Around the Room, I Didn’t Know, The Landlady, Possum
Enc: Uncle Pen, La Grange
The Valentine’s Day 1991 show showcases both the incredibly high energy and the carefree goofiness that defines early Phish shows. (Unfortunately, this is so early that the circulating tape is incomplete; it cuts out in the middle of the second set, during “Runaway Jim.” The world may never know just how raucous the final “I Didn’t Know,” “The Landlady,” “Possum” section was.)
The night began with a spirited and topical “My Sweet One.” During the subsequent “McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters,” Phish showed that while they were still figuring out how to be an improvising rock band, they could still jam at a high level. A standard “Buried Alive” gave way to another example of 1991 Phish’s improvisational prowess: a stunning, yet perhaps cut slightly short, version of “Reba.”
“Destiny Unbound,” still a regular in Phish’s repertoire at this point, provided some of that trademark, early-Phish lightheartedness: the band announced that, “in honor of Valentine’s Day” according to guitarist Trey Anastasio, they would be giving their old band vehicle away to a fan. Watch a video of the “Destiny” and the van giveaway announcement below (via YouTube user tdunski):
After standard renditions of “Cavern” and “The Mango Song,” Phish again treated their early fans to some jamming during “Stash.” The set wrapped up with “The Oh Kee Pah Ceremony” > “Golgi Apparatus.”
There is less to say about the second set, mostly because – as mentioned above – the tap cuts out during “Runaway Jim.” The “Mike’s Groove” is certainly worth listening, but it is not among the upper echelon of the song sequence, even for 1991. The “Foam,” like many of this era, is excellent; it is obvious that the band was rehearsing relentlessly. “The Squirming Coil” and the first minute-and-a-half of “Jim” are both standard. It is a shame the recording is incomplete, though; the remainder of the second set (as well as the encore) look superb on paper. If only I had a time machine…
On to 1997!
Feb. 14, 1997 – Le Botanique, Brussels, Belgium
Listen to this show here.
Set I: Runaway Jim > NICU, You Enjoy Myself, Sweet Adeline*, Axilla > It’s Ice > Billy Breathes, Uncle Pen, Run Like an Antelope
Set II: AC/DC Bag > Ya Mar > Down with Disease > Funky Bitch > Reba, Walfredo, Rock A William, Scent of a Mule > A Day in the Life
Enc: Character Zero
*performed without microphones
Phish’s 1997 Valentine’s Day performance is less about what occurred during the show and more about what was to come. The band had just come off the transition year of 1996, which included a different (and far more impactful) holiday show: Halloween ’96. During that show, while playing the music of Talking Heads, the band seemed to discover their new direction: funk.
This show, only the second of 1997, begins to show signs of the “cow funk” that would come to define the year. The opening sequence of the second set – “AC/DC Bag” > “Ya Mar” > “Down With Disease” – is the clearest example of this groove-focused jamming, particularly during the “Disease.”
The show also features a few rarities; during the second set, the band performed the instrument-swapping song “Walfredo,” followed by “Rock A William,” a Fishman-penned song that only appeared at five public Phish shows, all in 1997. (It was also played once at a private show at The Barn, as a prep for Summer Tour 1999.)
On Phish trip to Europe in the winter of 1997, during which this show was played, the band was figuring out their new direction. While on tour that later summer, the band honed their brand of funk. And, of course, during the fall of 1997, Phish destroyed America.
On to 2.0!
Feb. 14, 2003 – Great Western Forum, Inglewood, Calif.
Listen to this show here.
Set I: My Sweet One, The Cover of ‘Rolling Stone’* > Chalk Dust Torture, Fee -> Taste, Bathtub Gin, Heavy Things, Golgi Apparatus
Set II: Possum, Walls of the Cave -> Carini, All of These Dreams, Limb By Limb, The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony > AC/DC Bag -> Prince Caspian
Enc: Loving Cup
The (admittedly fantastic) two-night Vegas run that follows this show often gets more attention, but to sleep on Valentine’s Day in LA is a mistake. Feb. 14, 2003, at least in this writer’s opinion, contains the highest number of jamming highlights compared to the previous two V-Day shows. The “Fee” -> “Taste” early in the first set is a textbook case of “weird” Phish jamming, with “Fee” containing a calypso-style jam that melts into a mellowed-out “Taste.” Immediately after this pairing, Phish delivers a soaring, powerful, hose-filled “Bathtub Gin,” perhaps akin to the Feb. 22 and Feb. 28 versions of “Gin” the band would play in the coming weeks. Watch the last 11 minutes of that jam below (courtesy of YouTube user silverchair97):
The second set kept the jams coming, with a 23-minute of “Walls of the Cave.” While much of the jam stays within the general structure of “Walls,” the final section turns brooding and quiet before segueing smoothly to “Carini.” Later, the band would again tap in to low-key jamming during “AC/DC Bag” before segueing into a set-closing “Prince Caspian.”
Also during “Bag” came the oddest moment of the show: a fan rushed on to the stage right before the guitar solo section and grabbed Anastasio’s mic, visibly startling the guitarist. The fan then professed his love and wish a happy Valentine’s Day to… well, I’m not sure. The fan bellowed the name so incoherently it is impossible to decipher it. He was then dragged offstage, and the band seemed visibly put off by the whole ordeal. How romantic!
Watch a video of the entire second set below (the infamous moment occurs at around the 59-minute mark):
Speaking of romance, Phish also nodded to Valentine’s Day twice during the set; like in 1991, they opened with “My Sweet One,” and they chose The Rolling Stones’ “Loving Cup” as the encore. They also nodded a different ‘Rolling Stone’ during the first set – Rolling Stone magazine that is. The band played “The Cover of Rolling Stone” for the first and only time, referencing the fact that they would appear on the cover of the 2003 March issue.
Comparing these three shows based on their quality is a fool’s errand; they are so different that trying to decide which is “better” is extremely difficult. However, listening to all three within a short period is an effective way of getting a taste of three vastly different periods of Phish. Perhaps they will play another show on Feb. 14; surely, when compared to its Valentine’s Day predecessors, it too will be equipped to showcase the era in which it occurred.