- By @SufferingJuke -
If 1992 was the first great year of Phish, 1993 was when their limitless ambitions became fully apparent. Over the next six years, if the band wasn’t one-upping themselves on an annual basis, they were, at the very least, taking part in active reinvention in new ways that would push their sound forward, oftentimes unexpectedly. Much of this can be drawn directly back to the vast Winter/Spring Tour of 1993. The longest continual tour in their history, it began in early February in Portland, ME, snaked south and then west and then north until it reached Seattle on April 5, and then turned back eastward where it crossed the upper-mid-west, before circling the northeast for the better part of two weeks, closing down only after an epic show in Durham, NH on May 8. The tour was a colossal undertaking, and in many ways, the band would never be the same.
Their bratty collegiate humor, insignificance in the larger cultural narrative, and three-level deep inside jokes with their growing audience clashed with their obvious step-up in venue sizes, musical communication techniques, and outsized ambitions. If there’s ever a line between Phish as a regional sensation and Phish as a modern rock phenomenon, it’s probably crossed somewhere in the middle of their second set on February 20 at the Roxy in Atlanta. A night where they allowed their musical curiosity get the best of them - to stunning results - the band would allow the performance to drive their creative forces forward as they leveled-up on their journey to December 1995.
Moving westward, the band hit a hot streak that, while they’d experienced these in the past - Oct/Nov 1990, July 1991, late-April 1992 all come to mind - had never offered them the opportunity to push so far beyond their songs that they found themselves suddenly crafting wholly new music on the fly. For the first time since 1987/1988, Phish was intentionally jamming their songs. The run of shows, from March 9, 1993 in Colorado Springs, to April 16 in Louisville is where they begin to crack out of their shell and come into their own as the band we’d come to expect over the next decade.
Darkness began to swirl in their jams, and two songs in particular, Stash & Weekapaug Groove, led the charge for the band’s best creative impulses. Of note, the 3/14, 3/30, 4/3, 4/5 , and 4/14 Stash’s, as well as the 3/5 , 3/9, 3/19, 3/27, and 4/2 versions of Weekapaug were among the most shocking pieces of music the band had played live to that point. Without these explorations, the breaking apart of the norms that would happen regularly throughout August 1993, as well as the deep excursions of Fall 1994 and Summer 1995 might never have happened. Without these moments of abandonment, and allowing the music to guide them, there’s little chance the band would have ever evolved into the wholly-connected machine of Fall 1997.
As the band began their big turn towards the northeast in late-April, they adapted an on-the-fly tightening up their sound, and allowed the energy and excitement from their accomplishments out west to carry into their homecoming shows. All the while inserting the lessons of a brilliant month of music into their playing. On April 21 they played a version of Split Open & Melt that cracked open the possibilities within the song and would be put to tape a year later, serving as the jam out of Demand found on Hoist. Four nights later, on the SUNY Geneseo campus, Mike’s Song joined the party with a jam that further helped them break song structure and would go on to influence standout versions from later in the year - 8/11, 8/13, 8/24 and 12/30, most notably. The two-night run in Upper Darby, PA was packed with classic songs, high energy jams, and a marked break from setlist structure. In New Brunswick they brought Tweezer in on the fun with its best version of the tour, only to be challenged two-nights later in Albany with its first stab at 20minutes. The Albany run joined the Roxy in February and the Warfield in March as the strongest multi-night stops of the tour, showcasing a strength Phish would maximize over the next 26 years.
Finally, the tour closed with one of the strongest shows of the era, and a monumental step forward for the band. May 8, 1993 fused the jamming accomplishments of March/April with the gimmickry and humor that defined the February 20 show at the Roxy. Stash -> Kung Stash as well as Reba in Set I, David Bowie madness, a freakin’ Squirming Coil jam, and Mike’s -> Crossroads -> Mike’s anchored a second set that took the cue from the first stanza and then doubled-down on it.
By the end of the tour they’d grown in unforeseeable & unexpected ways. They’d crossed the country twice together, seen interest in their creative project begin to swell, and experienced their music guiding them in weird and abnormal and unpredictable directions. When they returned in the summer, the time spent on the road during the first half of the year paid off in droves. An effortlessness began to creep into their sound, and their jams suddenly seemed limitless. The foundation set during the Winter/Spring Tour of 1993 would change Phish forever.