PHISH: Feb. 1993 The Roxy, Atlanta, GA

The Roxy - Feb. 1993

 

February of 1993 was a heady time for Phish and their career was on the steady climb in terms of musicality, popularity and ambition.  They had just released their fourth major-label album Rift on February 2nd – based on a dream concept with some of the most challenging music the band had ever written or performed.

The band had been touring nationally for the better part of four years since their Colorado '88 excursion.  They had played dozens of multiple-night stands over the years, had toured with a 3-piece horn section, headlined the HORDE Tour and opened some high profile gigs in Europe and Stateside for the Violent Femmes and Santana.  Corresponding with Rift's release were some technical changes too.  Page changed his instrumentation to include a Yamaha C7 Baby Grand Piano (prompting, among other things, the band's inspiring cover of The Rolling Stones' "Loving Cup").  In addition to the keyboards upgrade, bass sub-woofers were now standard across the front row giving a lot more kick to the kick drum and bass guitar.  Despite regularly sold out headline shows at clubs, colleges and theaters, Phish had not headlined more than two consecutive nights at any venue since 1990.  Their three-show run at The Roxy Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia ended that streak and set the stage for many classic tripartite celebrations to follow.  The Roxy Theatre is located Atlanta's upscale Buckhead neighborhood and was named after a famous downtown Atlanta movie-house closed in the seventies.  The Spanish Baroque building was built in 1927 and opened in 1930 as the Buckhead Theater.  It continued as the Capri Theatre and went through several name changes before it began to be used as concert hall in the 1980's.  The intimate room was laid out perfectly for live Phish with an capacity of 1,250 with a long sloping floor, balcony at the back and two smaller Loge sections on either side of the main balcony for extra dancing room.

When tickets for this three-night stand were put on sale, Phish had played the State of Georgia fourteen times – seven in Atlanta, and had become friends with local heroes Widespread Panic and Colonel Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit, sharing bills nationwide over the course of the past few years.  Their last show in Atlanta had flooded out due to a problem with the plumbing at the historic Variety Playhouse Theatre the previous spring, during which they promised their growing local fan base that they would make it up to them.  That show, on March 28, 1992 was historic for a number of reasons including the flood that eventually ended it soon after the first set ended.  It was the band's largest Atlanta show.  It took place at ARU's main haunt in the hip Little Five Points neighborhood.  It featured some fiery playing as well as Phish's only public performance of Gershwin's Lullaby of Birdland and, after it became apparent that the show could not go on as an electric concert, the intrepid band members managed to pull off a four-song encore acapella with no microphones or stage power (it had been shut off to avoid electrocution).  "We'll make it up to you" was the mantra from a band unwilling to cut their show short for much of anything, especially a plumbing problem.  While soundboard tapes did not survive the Variety Playhouse show, the legend did and excitement peaked when tickets went on sale for three nights in a row less than a year later.

The Roxy shows were the makeup gigs that set the stage for a rich legacy of mind-bending Atlanta performances – 26 in all over the years.  This southern cultural mecca, birthplace of Coca Cola and Piedmont Park and an aquarium for the ages became something of a home away from home for Phish.  The Roxy hosted three inspiring nights of tube-screaming, piano-pounding, organ swirling, tribal-gone-jazz-and-back drumming and deep sub-sonic bass that tore the roof off the place and helped secure a hallowed status for Phish whenever they visited.

PHISH: At The Roxy captures a magical moment for the band and their audience during a period of peak experimentation, risk and discovery.  The playfulness of the early years was still apparent but it was mixing more and more with drop-dead serious jamming that was becoming as dark, heavy and scary as it was whimsical.  At the same time, the quartet was experimenting with their acoustic, bluegrass side that peaked over the next several years and which provided a perfect baffle to the intense, psychedelic rock of Rift-era Phish. At The Roxy showcases the heart of it with three complete two-set shows – seventy-eight unique songs with only one repeat - spread over eight compact discs featuring all that was great about the band at the time.

February 19th was a perfect first night, from the opening pairing of Rolling Stones cover "Loving Cup" and title track "Rift" to the bent jams of "Split Open and Melt" and "Maze".  There was an early nod to Gamehendge with "Colonel Forbin's Ascent" > "Fly Famous Mockingbird" with a special flood story about circling backwards through time and space to the last Atlanta show and even an unusual blending of "David Bowie/Moby " to celebrate drummer Jon Fishman's 28th birthday.  After a blazing "Runaway Jim" opener, high-octane bluegrass of "Paul and Silas" and a rare and raucous pairing of "You Enjoy Myself" > "Ya Mar", Jimmy Herring from local visionary outfit Aquarium Rescue Unit sat in for four songs playing Trey's spare Languedoc guitar.  A gift presentation to Fish before his vacuum solo in "Love You", dedications to Page's parents of "Lawn Boy" and an acapella "Amazing Grace" and friends met on tour ("AC/DC Bag" encore) capped a beautifully-played, diverse show on the eve of the Big Bang of February 20th.

The legend of the middle Roxy show mushroomed with the intentional quick circulation of a soundboard recording passed along with fervor reserved for only a handful of other treasured recordings.  Excellent renditions of older songs like "Foam", Gamehendge-era material such as "The Sloth" and "Possum" and the pairing of "Weigh" and "All Things Reconsidered" in their native order from Rift got the show off to a good start.  Textbook performances of Phish masterpieces "The Divided Sky" and "Fluffhead" sealed a memorable first set.  Even from that height set two was magic of the highest order, anchored by a non-stop, interconnected Tweezer-inflected tour de force of a set that merged set opener "Wilson" with a soaring "Reba" that hinted at a string of songs, including "Stash" and "The Lizards" which popped up two days later), Joe Walsh's James Gang hit "Walk Away", "Glide", an extended "Mike's Groove" infused with the "Vibration of Life" and ritual chant "Kung", The Mighty Diamonds' "Have Mercy" and the obscure experimental "NO2" – followed by an impromptu guest appearance by a fan convincingly dressed as KISS legend Gene Simmons!  This set of Phish demonstrates in many ways why Phish's impact on their fans and on the fabric of modern music is undeniable.  This set was continuously experimental and playful, rocking and steeped in history but inter-dimensionally fresh at the same time.  No other band plays like this and that was as clear then as it is today.  The outrageous second set spills onto a third CD with a sublime "Fast Enough For You", audience collaboration piece "Big Ball Jam", superb "Harry Hood", obligatory "Tweezer Reprise" and encore "Sleeping Monkey" securing a top position among the cream of Phish History.  This set is ironically both entry-level and hyper-advanced.  Despite a complexity, intensity and general weirdness, this set is anything but beginner's Phish, however the unique setlist and sound quality make it a seminal live recording. 

Not to be outdone, the third show on February 21st continued the magic, starting with the 1,2,3 opening combination of "Suzy Greenberg" (with an unusual vocal introduction and teases of Tweezer as a nod to the previous show) > "Buried Alive" > "Punch You In The Eye".  The band touched on Rift again with "Horn" which segued into a fiery "Chalk Dust Torture" followed by classics "Esther", "Dinner And A Movie" and a blazing "Run Like an Antelope".  For the final set of the run, the band abandoned the new album, tearing open with "Axilla", followed by a scintillating grouping of "The Curtain" > "Stash" > "Manteca" > "Stash" > "The Lizards", which landed the audience back in Gamehendge where their journey began days before.  "Bathtub Gin" segued musically into "Hold Your Head Up" to signal Fish's third lead vocal performance in as many days.  By the time he finished his cymbal-accompanied interpretation of Neil Diamond's "Cracklin' Rosie", Trey openly lamented leaving the Roxy.  The set wrapped up with "The Squirming Coil" which featured Page on his new piano, followed by tongue-in-cheek punk rocker "Big Black Furry Creature From Mars" and capped by a 3-song bluegrass exploration with Aquarium Rescue Unit alumnus The Reverend Jeff Mosier, including an impromptu bluegrass version of Led Zeppelin's "Good Times, Bad Times" and the band's debut of "Pig In A Pen", conclusively proving that Phish cannot be effectively categorized.  Over three jam-packed nights, Phish repeated only one song – "Paul and Silas", played the second time with The Rev. Mosier.  As you experience this epic run of shows from acapella to heavy metal and progressive rock to bluegrass, one thing is for sure.  The only thing better than one night of Phish at their peak is three shows in a row and, as three-night stands go, Roxy Theatre simply must be heard.

Drawn from luthier and soundman Paul Languedoc's master 2-track soundboard DAT's (many of which were unheard until this release) and with un-mic'd A capella songs missing from the console recordings blended in from fan audience tapes, these recordings mastered with Fred Kevorkian's sonic touch have never sounded better or more powerful.  As the first complete multiple-show release since Hampton Comes Alive and the magical Island Tour of 1998, this almost eight-and-a-half-hour excursion from late Winter 1993 will take you to High Places and back again and, like future runs of shows sure to follow, will trace the development of new discoveries with each and every listen.

To hear this epic collection, pick up At The Roxy – on JEMP Records CD's at Phish Dry Goods and other retailers along with FLAC or MP3 downloads at phish.com, livephish.com and iTunes. 

Enjoy!

 

--ks

Published 19 February 2013 10:32 AM by brad

Essays by Kevin Shapiro

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