Something Phishy This Way Comes

The Pacific Coliseum
Vancouver, B.C.
Saturday, November 23, 1996 

Review by Darren Kerr
Photography by Rodney Gitzel 

Outside the Pacific Coliseum tonight there were
just as many frozen fingers as there were
grilled-cheese sandwiches being Coleman-fried in the parking lot. Solitary 
digits inviting frostbite,
waving in the cold November night, beckoning the "miracle ticket." I know what 
that is like; I feel
their pain. I once wandered a frozen Hamilton parking lot before a Dead show, 
singing bastardized
renditions of "Viola Lee Blues" and "Ripple," the lyrics slyly containing my 
plea for a "miracle." It
never came. Did I care? No. I did what every other person with money and no 
ticket should do: I
got drunk. 

So how is it that Phish, this band from 
Vermont, could,
without a top ten hit or video or radio 
exposure, be
handed the coveted torch of the post-Grateful 
carnival microcosm? The answer is simple: hard 
constant touring and consistently killer live 
shows that are
an amalgam of space and ground. As much Buck 
as Buck Rogers, and equal parts P.T. Barnum 
and J.P.
Patches, Phish are the closest thing to a 
group mind made
flesh. The way they build and peak a song with 
eloquence and intensity can only by explained 
telepathy. Or, to be brief, they smoke like 
the Grateful
Dead used to before they discovered MIDI 

Phish opened tonight's show with "Chalkdust Torture," a flat-out rocker which 
sounds a bit like
David Wilcox, and which is the only Phish song I have ever heard on radio. The 
band dipped into
the old crowd favourites quite a bit for this show, and the next three tunes 
were ones that have been
in their repertoire for the last decade: "Giula Papyrus," "Divided Sky" and 
"Wilson." "Divided Sky"
came out of nowhere, with the band members enveloped in white light for the 
stunning four-part
harmony intro. Trey Anastasio can coax the most beautiful sounds out of his 
guitar, the sonic
equivalent of a peaceful winter night or the soundtrack to your last utopian 
dream, and some of the
baroque Allman-esque guitar passages in the song were enough to achieve pure 
bliss. "Wilson" is
one of a few very old songs which tells the tale of the mythical kingdom of 
Gamehenge, over which
Wilson reigns supreme. 

The next song was introduced as a new song which 
just written on the road. It was full blown 
country music
waiting at the border and wanting to get home. Ba
ssist Mike
Gordon sang this one and, even though it caused 
the show
to lag, the audience really liked it. Another 
old song, "Split
Open and Melt," followed, with more crazed 
weirdness, as
Anastasio entered the nth dimension usually 
inhabited by
Robert Fripp. "Rift," one of my favourite Phish 
songs, was
given the full meal deal incendiary jam 
treatment, as people
all over the Coliseum were ecstatically riffing 
on air guitars.
Keyboardist extraordinaire Page McConnell was 
all over
this song, leaping from jazz to Joplin rag and 
with a little
Morricone for that added zing. 

The second set, though, was largely made up of Phish songs I just did not know. 
That's the thing
with Phish: even if you've heard every one of their seven albums, they're still 
gonna pull stuff out of
the tickle trunk that only true Phish-heads are familiar with. One particularly 
phenomenal jam was
like the Mahavishnu Orchestra playing celestial footsy with Daevid Allen's 
Gong. Suddenly everyone
around me disappeared and there was only myself and the band in some sort of 
pseudo-symbiotic relationship. Then, just when I thought the hairs on my arms 
could rise no higher,
drummer Jon Fishman signaled the segue into (depending on who you talk to) 
either "Cymbals and
Saxophones" or "We've Got a Band." Hell, it wouldn't matter if it was called "S
auerkraut Landlord,"
it still would have been a killer tune with a groove as thick as Liam 
Gallagher's head. 

This set also contained the only two songs that the
band would play from their new album, Billy
Breathes, which is a much more subtle,
song-oriented offering than the mad jams of previous
releases. "Cars, Trucks, Buses" was a welcome little
interlude in the style of the Sanford and Son theme
or the tracks behind Pizzicato Five's ditties, while
"Waste," a poignant declaration of love and apathy,
will most definitely be the first song played at any
Phish-head wedding in the future. 

The old songs I did recognize in this set were
"Weekapah Groove" and "Harry Hood." The former sounded almost Doobie 
Brothers-ish, while the
latter was a reggae workout. Throw in a touching a capella version of "Amazing 
Grace" and a very
faithful encore cover of the Zep classic "Good Times Bad Times," which had 
everyone stomping in
the cheap seats, and you've got yourself a peach of a rock show. 

I left the Coliseum feeling both inferior and inspired. Meanwhile, Phish and 
most of their traveling
circus were setting their phasers on "border cross" for the next night's show 
in Seattle. More
smoking Phish and, yes, more grilled cheese sandwiches. 

Andy's Phish Page