Last week I wrote an essay celebrating the 30th anniversary of Phish's first show and
today I wanted to share some thoughts on my favorite piece of music I've had the pleasure
of watching the quartet perform live - the "Albany YEM." On December 9, 1995 - 18 years
ago tonight - the band laid down a monumental 34-minute version of "You Enjoy Myself" that
still to this day sends shivers down my spine every time I hear it. On that cold, snowy
night in Upstate New York, Phish took their game to a whole new level.
[Setlist Schematic by Mike Hamad - @PhishMaps - Full-
I entered Skidmore College in September of 1995 unsure of whether I had made the right
decision about where to attend school. Quickly I met people that would remain my friends
’til this day and had incredible educational opportunities that made it fun to learn for
the first time. As the first few weeks of school passed I met a number of Phish fans that
were interested in seeing the upcoming December shows. Add to that a few high school
friends who were staying with me — the shows were close to Saratoga — and the Albany show
turned into a meeting of the minds.
But things became hectic as the show date approached. The weather in the Capital District
became nightmarish thanks to the arrival of a blizzard. Luckily my friends from home
arrived at Skidmore just before the storm was hitting its stride. Still, we hit the road
early, the trip to Albany no doubt troublesome. Sure enough, as we traveled down I-87, the
road was littered with spun out cars. We drove really slow but got to the venue with
plenty of time to spare.
The Knickerbocker (now known as the Times-Union Center) has many parking garages nearby,
and as we had two hours to kill, I walked around. Having seen Phish a number of times by
this point I had met a lot of people seeing shows, many of whom I ran into in that parking
lot. I went into the venue and settled in the upper deck with five or six of my closest
friends at the time.
The show started with a first set that was extremely tight yet featured minimal
improvisation. Many shows during this time period had similar agendas: the first set
focused on the compositional aspect of Trey’s music, while the second set was all about
There was a very happy vibe in the arena as the second set started — it was quite warm and
everyone had dried off and forgotten about the terrible storm outside. The lights dropped
and the band opened the set with "Timber (Jerry)." "Timber" featured the first real
improvisation of the night, and Page really added some magnificent fills to Trey’s solo.
As the song ended, Trey couldn’t stop grinning as he called Mike over for a discussion.
The band started playing "Wilson," and Trey began using a Beavis and Butthead Talking
Remote Sensor. When he would trigger the device, Beavis and Butthead would say “Asswipe!,”
“This Sucks!,” or “You Dumbass!” People were confused to say the least, and it was pretty
cool to see all the puzzled faces in the crowd. The energy from the Beavis and Butthead
gag lent itself to a romp through "Wilson." A stellar "Gumbo" followed, and then
innocently enough "You Enjoy Myself" began.
"You Enjoy Myself" was the song Phish played the most in their career. Certainly each
version was different, but for the most part one version wouldn’t stray too much from
another structurally. This night was different as the band left the typical YEM jam
terrain with a quickness. Throughout the composed section each member of the group worked
in cool little fills that showed they were "feeling IT." Once Trey and Mike were done with
the trampolines, the guitarist hit upon a cool riff that he played over and over, changing
it ever so slightly each time.
As Trey toyed with this beautiful, anthemic riff McConnell augmented the melody with
pretty chords on his Rhodes electric piano, Jon Fishman kept a strong beat going and Mike
Gordon added a funk edge by utilizing his Lovetone Meatball envelope filter. If this was
just two years prior, the band would've blazed past the riff in search for another angle
but by 1995 the quartet weren't in a rush to continually move jams along. They knew they
had struck gold and were happy to keep blasting the groove. Every once in a while
Anastasio would throw a new lick into the mix and most had the "YEM" feel but weren't
quite the riffs found in other versions of the tune.
Eventually the Vermonters picked up the tempo with Trey building his solo to what would
usually be a big arena rock peak. However on this night, all bets were off. Around the 20-minute mark the guitarist swung his axe around and headed for the mini-percussion kit that
was added to Phish's stage setup for that tour. I wasn't a huge fan of the mini-percussion
kit in general, but during the "Albany YEM" Big Red came up with inventive rhythmic
patters which allowed Mike Gordon and Page McConnell to work up their own funk melodies.
When Anastasio put the guitar back on he focused on wah'd-out funk chords as McConnell
milked his clavinet in a way that would make Stevie Wonder proud. After a few marvelously
funky minutes Trey stepped to the mic and said, "Who's the
black private dick who's the sex machine to all the chicks?" quoting Issac Hayes's
"Shaft." Then, out of nowhere, the quartet initiated a "silent jam" in which they all
pounded away at their instruments without actually making a sound. The crowd was floored
and responded with huge cheers.
Now, we're already 27 minutes into "YEM" and were already in "best-ever" territory, but if
you take what happens next by itself, you'd still have a top-shelf "YEM" jam as Anastasio
absolutely tears into a run at the song's "normal" solo showing off his machine gun
skills. As the guitarist takes a knee with each peak the audience goes wild. If there's
any flaws with the "Albany YEM," it's that after the peak the band awkwardly winds up in
an uneventful vocal jam. But, as you can imagine, no one was complaining. There were high-
fives and hugs exchanged after the song ended as most of us knew we had witnessed
something special. When I returned to Skidmore the "YEM" was the talk of campus for the
week to come before we went home for the holidays. By the time we returned the outstanding
New Year's Eve performance at MSG was the main subject of Phish chats at school, but
that's just how it went back then - you didn't have to wait long for Phish to do something
that blew us all away.
Watch fan-shot video of the "Albany YEM" including soundboard audio:
Written By: Scott Bernstein