In the summer of 1993 Phish leaped forward from a musical, creative, and sustainability standpoint. Their shows coalesced around opportunities to break free from structure and explore the unknown, without a net. The results were astonishing for a band that was quickly outgrowing their collegiate home base. At the same time, they took their first fall off from the road, and recorded their most polished & radio friendly album yet, Hoist. Breaking only for a four show northeastern New Year’s Eve Run that served as a love-letter to their core fanbase, when they returned in April of 1994 they were a clearer reflection of their new album than they were of the band that had spent the previous year expanding upon their sound in experimental ways. For the first time, Phish appeared as a traditional rock band, following the album-promo-album cycle more so than ever before.
About three weeks into the 1994 Spring/Summer Tour, however, the band began to break free. Beginning with their April 24 show in Charlotte where Bathtub Gin wove in and out of Jump Monk, and David Bowie pushed against the norms of their jamming structure, and continuing with the Bomb Factory show on May 7, where Tweezer took over the entire second set, the band began to open up again in the live setting. Later, on June 17 and 22, as well as July 13, they brought back the Roxy approach, turning second sets into unyielding seguefests that showcased their stop-on-a-dime creativity and communication. They even brought back Gamehendge for two surprise shows that tied the past to the present. Moreover, shows like June 18 and July 6 featured deep improvisation that would push them into the next phase of their career. When they ended their Summer Tour with an updated proto-festival show at Sugarbush, they righted the ship back towards the unknown that would define their next twelve months.
Much like the Spring 1992, 1993, and 1994 tours that preceded it, Fall 1994 snaked across the country the long way, however, here, they all but bypassed the northeast in favor of untested markets where they were free to play without expectations. The tour’s first month was rife with nervous energy as the band built towards their first Halloween show in three years, and where they’d begin a new tradition of covering another band’s album in full, here focusing on the mammoth double-LP White Album in one of the must-hear shows of their career to that point. The very next show, on November 2, in Bangor, ME, they let the pent-up energy of their Halloween build-up release in a 30min cacophonous journey through the cosmic underbelly of Tweezer. From there, they band was off.
While still experimenting with flow and a variety of inspirations - as was represented by their weeklong live Bluegrass tutorial with the “Reverend” Jeffrey Mosier - what’s ultimately taken away from the Fall 1994 are the wild and pulsating jams. The 11/3 SOAM, 11/12 Hood, 11/14 Bowie, 11/16 Simple, 11/22 Funky Bitch, 11/23 Tweezer, 11/26 Bowie, 11/28 Tweezer, 11/30 My Sweet One, 12/1 Tweezer sandwich, 12/2 Bowie, 12/6 Weekapaug, 12/8 Simple -> Catapult -> Simple, and 12/9 Tweezer all showcased the freedom the band felt at this point.
The Hoist experimentation had brought them more national attention and recognition, but it was clear that they were more comfortable in their own weird little corner of the world. Following the White Album performance which would go on to influence their own songwriting on their next album, Billy Breathes, the band was ready to reincorporate the experimental tendencies that pushed them forward in early 1993 and the summer of 1994 and turn the levels up to eleven. The following Summer Tour they’d push the avante garde approach to its (il)logical conclusion before reigning things in again towards the greatest peak of their career. Fall 1994 was where the two competing notions of Phish collided in perhaps their most glaring and celebratory ways possible. What’s most important about the tour is that it reinforced to the band that they were at their best when they were removed from the zeitgeist, when they were allowed to do their own thing, and they were free to follow their own impulses and their own voice. Unquestionably, following this tour, it was clear that their audience was prepared to follow them down whatever rabbit hole they dove into.