10 Most Memorable Phish Albany Moments
Words by: Scott Marks
Albany is a city that has become ingrained in Phish history over the last 30 years. Located under three hours from Burlington, the band has played in New York’s capital 15 times from 1989 to 2009. Phish’s first Albany show was at Pauly’s Hotel, a tavern that has been around since 1862. As the band grew in popularity in the ’90s, the venues they played in also grew in size, with the quartet returning for their Fall Tour 1992 to play at the Palace Theatre, a 2,844 seat building in existence since the 1930s. They played two more shows at the Palace in May 1993 before moving up to perform in the largest venue in the city, the Knickerbocker Arena. Over time, the arena has changed names to the Pepsi Arena and currently the Times Union Center. Phish has played 11 shows in this 15,357 capacity arena from 1995 to 2009. Given its close proximity to the band’s home in Burlington, shows in Albany have often fallen around the start (1992, 2000) or end (1993, 1997, 1999, 2009) of tours. The quartet’s appearances at the Times Union Center tonight and tomorrow will kick off Fall Tour 2018.
To celebrate Phish’s return to Albany for the first time in almost a decade, I compiled a list of some of the band’s most memorable moments in the city and tweeted them out under my @bizarchive handle using a #Bizrec hashtag. This list is a more in depth explanation (beyond the 280 character limit of Twitter) of why these picks made the list along with some historical significance mixed in. A few factors were put into play while determining the list. The first was importance. Why was this moment significant? Is it something crucial in the band’s history, something meaningful to the fans of the band, or a combination of both? The second ingredient to the countdown was a variable in the song’s performance. As a fan, why would you want to seek out this version? How is it different from all others? And finally, perhaps the most subjective of all of these qualifications is the quality of the moment. You could ask 10 different fans what their favorite moments, jams, or songs are and get 10 different answers. With any list, you’ll find that certain things get left off or get ranked higher or lower than you might personally agree with. These are my top ten moments in Phish’s long ties to Albany.
10. Jeff Holdsworth Sit-In – December 1, 2003 – Pepsi Arena
Phish’s 20th anniversary Thanksgiving run from November 28 through December 2, 2003 featured a taste of the band’s history each night. Steve Pollak (aka The Dude of Life) joined the band on stage for “Crimes Of The Mind” on the 28th at Nassau Coliseum, Tom Marshall added vocals for the next two shows (“Buffalo Bill” in Philadelphia and “Run Like An Antelope” in Albany) and a video montage was shown during the setbreak of the run’s concluding show in Boston. None of these guests from the past would compare to the shock the crowd received at the Pepsi Arena when Trey Anastasio introduced Jeff Holdsworth, who took the stage for the last five songs of the evening to perform with Phish for the first time since May 17, 1986 (or over 1,300 shows). Jeff was a founding member of the band who left in 1986. The chance to hear Trey and Jeff’s guitars in unison for these songs along with Jeff on vocals is a unique listening experience. While no amazing jams occurred during Jeff’s appearance with Phish on this night, it’s worth a listen to hear the past brought into the present with this lineup. As with all shows from 2003 onward, this is available as a soundboard on LivePhish.com.
Possum Recorded by Dave Flaschner
9. Mike’s Song -> Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da Jam -> Rocky Top – May 6, 1993 – Palace Theatre
After a “Mike’s Song” filled with “Cheap Sunglasses” teases from Mike Gordon (with Trey eventually joining in), a jam on “Ob-La Di, Ob La Da” followed instead of the typical for the era “I Am Hydrogen.” This White Album Phish debut would eventually be performed with vocals a year and a half later in Glens Falls, New York during Phish’s first costume set on October 31, 1994, but on this night fans were treated to an instrumental rendition. Midway through the jam, Dick Solberg joined the band on violin and would accompany them on the remaining songs for the set. The end of the “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” jam veered away from the Beatles’ song structure into faster-paced improvisation leading expertly into “Rocky Top.” Out of 202 performances of this Boudleaux and Felice Bryant cover, only seven in Phish history featured a guest musician and this is the only version to feature a violinist. Dick blends perfectly into both the “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” jam and “Rocky Top.” A soundboard of this entire show is in circulation.
May 6, 1993 Soundboard Shared by FromTheAquarium
8. You Enjoy Myself – October 10, 1999 – Pepsi Arena
Out of 15 Phish performances in Albany (with 14 of them having known setlists), “You Enjoy Myself” has appeared in seven of those shows (two more than any other song), so it seems fitting to have one of Phish’s oldest and most storied compositions appear on this list of Albany’s greatest moments. Entering the second set of the Fall Tour 1999 closer after a several minute set-opening ambient jam, this “You Enjoy Myself” clocks in at 26:32 and is one of the top 25 longest versions of the song (out of 583 known appearances). A driving, extended jam occupies the core of this “You Enjoy Myself” with a second jam building up to a peak around the 22-minute mark featuring beautiful high notes from Trey. What makes this version even more impressive is two integral pieces of most “You Enjoy Myself” renditions (the “bass and drums” segment and the vocal jam) are noticeably absent on this night. This “You Enjoy Myself” only exists as an audience recording.
Audience recording by “JK” via FromTheAquarium
7. Ya Mar – December 13, 1997 – Pepsi Arena
This “Ya Mar” opened the final show of Phish’s legendary Fall Tour 1997. One can make an argument that at 18:25 in length, this “Ya Mar” is the longest in Phish history (May 24, 1988 features a “Ya Mar” at 18:49 but veers drastically off course to the point where Phish.net has labeled it as “Ya Mar” -> Jam with the latter featuring Jah Roy on vocals). After a brief jam staying in the confines of the “Ya Mar” groove, the melody returns at 8:27 for a brief ten seconds before venturing off into a new jam. Within 30 seconds of the new improvisation’s inception, “Ya Mar” has already been forgotten with a funk-laden jam taking its place. Fall 1997 was known for the heavy amount of funk showing up on a nightly basis as the band’s style completely morphed into a new direction from the start of the year all the way up to the heart of December. At the 13-minute mark of “Ya Mar,” the jam arrives at its peak with elevated notes from Trey taking the lead. More funk ensues before this amazing opener comes to a close. This “Ya Mar” was released by Kevin Shapiro as part of the Super Ball IX From The Archives.
6. Mike’s Song – December 13, 1997 – Pepsi Arena
The jam in this “Mike’s Song” begins at 2:22 and around 40 seconds later, Trey and Jon Fishman start talking about The Dude, periodically chanting “Bring in The Dude!” and say that they’ll “Bring in The Dude,” resulting in breakdowns with Mike, Trey and Page McConnell taking mini-solos. The Dude of Life never appears on stage and the jam starts to intensify with Trey chanting “Bring in the Dude” for a bit. There’s a brief quiet drop before the jam returns with a flourish, building up to a thundering climax with “Foxy Lady” quotes and a forceful segue into “Llama.” This “Mike’s Song” only exists as an audience recording.
Audience recording taped by Dan Estrin
5. Ghost – October 9, 1999 – Pepsi Arena
Phish takes their time in this “Ghost,” with a slow but determined build and transforming into a driving rock jam around 10 minutes in. The “Ghost” continues to intensify before leading to a darker/lower bass and drums led section and finally lighter improvisation. This “Ghost” only exists as an audience recording.
Audience recording by Dave Flaschner via FromTheAquarium
4. Set Two – December 12, 1997 – Pepsi Arena
I could easily make the argument that the “Piper” and the jam out of “Prince Caspian” deserve their own separate spots on this list, but the whole set is a masterpiece. The longest “Saw It Again” to this date opened up the set with an extended jam before segueing into “Piper.” Phish debuted “Piper” just five months earlier and hadn’t really started to expand the song until the fall. By the time the penultimate show of the fall tour came around, “Piper” was starting to establish itself as a new jam vehicle. The December 6th show in Auburn Hills saw the song stretched out to 14 minutes, but it paled in comparison to the monster that showed up in Albany. Several bursts of energy made it one of the best versions up to that point and foreshadowed what was to come for the Trey Anastasio/Tom Marshall composition. The set gets a bit of a breather with “Swept Away” and “Steep” before “Prince Caspian” arrives. The jam out of “Caspian” is seven minutes of spectacular Phish. Trey takes the reins to start with before Fish revs up the tempo. Fast-paced and phenomenal, this jam didn’t have any of the tour’s funk and didn’t need it. A mild finish is quickly shattered with “Izabella” and the set is closed with “Tweezer Reprise.” The energy peaks on this night are fantastic and fit well with the occasional breaks in the action. This set only exists as an audience recording.
December 12, 1997 – Set Two Video Shared by phoompapa
3. You Enjoy Myself -> Jam – May 5, 1993 – Palace Theatre
The second “You Enjoy Myself” on this list also lacks the “bass and drums” and “vocal jam” portions of the composition. Stretching out to over 31 minutes, this “You Enjoy Myself” features the Aquarium Rescue Unit and The Dude of Life. Trey (and later the Aquarium Rescue Unit’s Colonel Bruce Hampton) adds lyrics which appear to be improvised on the spot. Extremely percussive, this jam was one of the biggest musical moments of the band’s career at this point. Long before the 20 minute jams that would become more commonplace and a few months before August’s transition in the band’s style, this “You Enjoy Myself” and its ensuing jam have it all. The “You Enjoy Myself” -> Jam was released as part of The Great Went From The Archives.
2. Seven Below > Ghost – November 28, 2009 – Times Union Center
The words “20 minute jam” get thrown around a lot in the Phish community. In its purest form, it’s just a number, but those three words form a meaningful metric to many fans. Upon digging into the enormous amount of live shows circulating in the band’s career, you’ll find countless jams that are under 20 minutes that are spectacular and perhaps better improvisationally than some of their 20+ minute counterparts. The longer the improvisation, the more chance the band has to musically explore and go into new territory.
On the second night of Phish’s last two night run in Albany, fans were treated with two consecutive songs that exceeded the 20-minute mark in “Seven Below” and “Ghost.” While there had been some clear highlights in the band’s 2009 return after their breakup (the Camden “Sand” on June 7th and “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley” and “Bathtub Gin” from the Gorge on August 7th immediately come to mind), this two-song combo passing 46 combined minutes is perhaps the best of the best for the year and holds up well when being compared to any era of great Phish. The “Seven Below” has 16 minutes of spectacular Type II jamming (improvisation played outside of the song’s core structure) with multiple directional shifts and by itself is a tremendous piece of the set. The “Ghost” that follows is just as good: a soaring, high energy jam to start with before taking off into new territory after a few minutes and then picking up speed and later intensifying around 17:30 for a ferocious finish. These songs are available on Live Phish.
November 28, 2009 Full Show Video Shared by pryan
1. You Enjoy Myself – December 9, 1995 – Knickerbocker Arena
If you were to Google “Albany YEM,” the “You Enjoy Myself” on this night shows up at the top of your search results. At 34 minutes, it’s among the longest versions ever. Trey is dominant early on with high, spirited playing as Mike and Fish provide a driving rhythm beneath him. A second major segment eventually develops with ’70s infused funk, breakdowns and Trey quoting the “Theme From Shaft.” A “silent jam” then emerges in which the band mimics performing yet don’t make a sound. The “silent jam” came complete with Trey imitating Pete Townshend’s signature windmill motions. While this clearly doesn’t translate on the recording, it adds to the legend of the “Albany YEM.” The band eventually picks up where they left off before a vocal jam finishes the song. A special moment in the song’s history occurred on this night and remains a fan-favorite to many over 20 years later. This “You Enjoy Myself” was a House of Live Phish release at Super Ball IX.
With Phish returning to Albany mere hours from now, one can only wonder what the band will add to their rich history in the city.
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