At The Roxy – Phish
Do you need this set? To start, let’s assume you’re like me, since that will make things easy, and since I’m betting that my Phish experience level is somewhere near the average for this site. In that case, you saw the band for the first time in 1994, and got the soundboard of their February 20th, 1993 show at Atlanta's Roxy later that year but haven’t listened to it in a long time, and have seen and collected many other shows but never bothered to track down the other two nights from this three-night run.
Phish must also be assuming that you’re like me. Like their previous mega-box, Hampton Comes Alive, this set comes in a minimalist package, without any Rolling Stone testimonials about the music’s place in history. The informed fan will notice many signifiers by the end of the “Loving Cup” opener, though. There’s the crowd noise at the start, reminding us that these were the days when Phish played to audiences numbering in the high hundreds or low thousands. There are some licks from Page McConnell, evidently still excited to be on his first tour playing a grand piano. There’s Jon Fishman and Mike Gordon, playing more on the front edge of the beat than they would later in the decade. And there’s Trey Anastasio, who sounds far less self-conscious about most things, including the amount of notes he plays, than he would later become.
Later in the first disc, there’s a monologue about “cycling backwards” in time. Anastasio was talking about the band’s previous Atlanta show, but now the phrase has a new meaning. If, like me, you’ve been listening to mostly more recent Phish, this is chance to revisit a different era. The era when a three-show run meant two Big Ball jams and three Fishman songs. The era when the audience hadn’t yet “written” its contributions to “Wilson,” “Stash” or “Harry Hood.” Almost all of Rift appears in the three shows, and the songs still have the new-album freshness that would be thoroughly gone a short time later.
Of course, out of the eight discs, disc five is the reason why this set exists, and the one that will see the inside of most of our CD players most often. It’s the first half of February 20th's second set, which was among the first times Phish demonstrated enough comfort with its audience and its music to throw out the rulebook and create an improvised suite onstage. It’s a moment of creation, although, like other similar moments such as the “Simple” debut in 1994 or the "Fleezer" of 1995, it shows that creation as a messy process.
For some, there will be a more specific followup question to “do you need this set”: are February 19th and 21st and 22nd as notable as the 20th? No. Still, both are very enjoyable listens. The 19th is notable for Jimmy Herring, giving Anastasio a run for his money with a more bebop-inflected set of licks and a rawer tone. The 21st has a bluegrass encore featuring the Reverend Jeff Mosier, as well as the type of abandon throughout that could only come from having two fine shows in the bank and two sets left to go. And both nights feature first sets that exceed the 20th's (which itself is no slouch): the 19th has a “Split Open and Melt” and “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent/Famous Mockingbird” on tap as well as the Fishman-birthday version of “David Bowie,” while the 21st offers some unusual twists in “Suzy Greenberg” and “Esther” as well as a hot “Run Like An Antelope.”
Do you need this set? If you enjoy the thought of cycling backwards in time, it’ll be fun. And the fact that Phish now has plans to cycle forwards takes away the melancholy edge.