Phish Makes Las Vegas Debut With Help From Les Claypool On This Date In 1996

By Scott Bernstein Dec 6, 2016 12:31 pm PST

Thirteen years into their career Phish made their Las Vegas debut on December 6, 1996; when the foursome ended Fall Tour ’96 at the Aladdin Theatre. The band delivered two powerful sets chock full of classics and then finished the night with one of the most memorable encores in Phish history.

There were highlights around every corner of Phish’s first and only performance at the now shuttered Aladdin. Up first was a “Wilson” the band telegraphed into just their second cover of Frank Zappa’s “Peaches En Regalia” since 1994. A rare first set “2001” was expertly extended before Phish launched into “Llama.” A tight “You Enjoy Myself” showed just how in sync the quartet was at the end of the tour and included a fun vocal jam based on the theme of “donuts.” The all-killer, no filler opening stanza came to a close with a winning “Cars Trucks Buses” > “Down With Disease” > “Frankenstein” sequence.

Phish began the second set innocently enough with “Julius” and “Sparkle.” A standout “Mike’s Groove” was among the highlights of the tour thanks to a transcendent “Simple,” gorgeous “Harry Hood” and wild “Weekapaug.” All four portions of the “Mike’s” segment (“Mike’s Song,” “Simple,” “Harry Hood” and “Weekapaug Groove”) are stand outs. There’s a part within the “Weekapaug” where the group connects on mind-blowing full band stops that needs to be heard to be believed.

When Phish fans talk about the best encore in band history the discussion usually includes what went down in Las Vegas on December 6, 1996. The bulk of the 40-minute encore is based around “Harpua,” a song that gives guitarist Trey Anastasio a chance to tell a story. On this night the core band was joined by Primus bassist Les Claypool and guitarist Larry LaLonde for a tale of protagonist Jimmy’s trip to Las Vegas. At one point Les leads the ensemble through his “Wildwood Weed” rap before Anastasio talks up Jimmy and his cat Poster Nutbag’s visit to Sin City. Trey explains that on the way to Vegas Jimmy sets up camp in the middle of the desert and starts yodeling at which point vocalists Heather August and Anamieke Carrozza and pedal steel guitarist John McEuen emerged to perform Patsy Montana’s “I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart.” Then, in order for Jimmy to be allowed to enter Las Vegas he had to beat four Elvis Presley impersonators at their own game. Drummer Jon Fishman stepped into the role of Jimmy and came out with a cape to join in with the impersonators on “Suspicious Minds.”

After the outrageous “Suspicious Minds” featuring Jon Fishman and four Elvis impersonators Phish went on to finish “Harpua.” As if the encore wasn’t crazy enough, the quartet, Claypool, LaLonde, the Elvis impersonators and actor Courtney Gains launched into “Suzy Greenberg.” The ensemble worked “Suzy Greenberg” into a “Susie Q” jam after being prompted by one of the Elvis impersonators. In 2007 Phish released a recording of the entire show as well as a bonus DVD as Vegas ’96.

Listen to Phish’s Vegas ’96 official release:

Watch fan-shot clips from Phish’s Vegas debut including “Harpua” thanks to Telekinetica:

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