Although there were not many shows scheduled, late fall and early winter 1993 was a busy time for Phish. They spent most of October and November recording their fifth album for Elektra Records, Hoist, at the American Recording Company studios in Woodland Hills, California. Many special guests visited during this project and appeared on the album, including Bela Fleck, Alison Krauss, the Tower of Power horn section, and Jonathan Frakes of Star Trek Next Generation. Mixing at Can Am Studios in Tarzana began after Thanksgiving and continued through much of December.
The first half of December was spent mixing Hoist with mastering scheduled for January of the following year. A session with photographer Michael Llewellyn was held with the band on the beach near the Surfrider Inn in Malibu on December 12th. This occurred shortly after the major fires of that year in the hills of southern California, which led to the stark outdoor setting of parts of the shoot. For this project, the band was given access to the Universal Studios Wardrobe Department, where they assembled some unique costumes.
Phish had instituted an official taping section at outdoor shows the previous summer. The need to organize audience tapers into a defined "section" came as rapidly increasing numbers of microphone stands began to obscure Front-of-House Engineer Paul Languedoc’s view of the band. For the second annual four-show "Holiday Tour", a mail order ticketing system was created for the New Haven and Worcester shows (Portland and Washington, DC were general admission, so no mail order was required), following an announcement in the Phish Newsletter (re-titled "Doniac Schvice" earlier in the fall) and on the hotline.
In response, 156 orders were submitted for tapers’ tickets for the shows. The postmark dates were October 21-23 and orders were submitted on 3 X 5 index cards, as the order form had not yet been developed. The hoisting of longtime fan and employee Amy Skelton’s (see TMIPH August 1991) horse, Maggie, also occurred during December. With help from Amy’s family, Amy, and the hoisters, Maggie was lifted at Amy’s Farm in Auburn, Maine on December 22nd to create the photograph for the upcoming album cover. In addition to the upcoming album and new systems for taping and ticketing, other aspects of 1993′s holiday shows were substantially more complex than the previous year. For their first holiday tour, in 1992, the band performed two shows in New Haven at the Palace Theater, one at Symphony Hall in Springfield, Massachusetts, and finished up with a New Year’s Eve performance at Northeastern University’s Matthews Arena.,
Although the band had some fun with the live radio broadcast and some costumed crew members and friends joining them onstage, the four nights of 1992′s Holiday Tour were ostensibly “regular” Phish shows, with little added fanfare in the way of stage props, etc. In contrast, preparation for the December 1993 year-end shows was a much larger project. Set designer Chris McGregor helped to conceptualize a large aquarium stage set for the ’93 tour. Phish manager John Paluska recalls a meeting with the band and McGregor in Los Angeles that took place in late October while the band was in the studio. He remembers Chris bringing a motorized model inside a small fish tank. “Everyone looked at the model and it was so impressive, we all said ‘if you can make a stage set that’s anything like that model it will be great.’” The actual set turned out to be almost exactly like that initial model; it included motorized moving fish, life-size phosphorescent green "seaweed" and other deep sea creatures, including a giant clam. Many of the pieces were specially painted so that they would react vividly to Chris Kuroda’s lighting.
The aquarium premiered at the show on Tuesday, December 28th at Bender Arena in Washington, DC, in the middle of a massive snowstorm. This was the first show since Phish finished their summer tour at the Greek Theatre, in Berkeley, California (with JJ Cale opening) on August 28th. The aquarium set remained on stage for the following night’s show at Veterans Memorial Coliseum in New Haven, Connecticut. The next show, at Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, Maine, took place on a frigid evening but was considered by many to be among the most memorable Phish concerts of that era, including such Phish classics such as Punch You in the Eye, McGrupp and The Watchful Hosemasters and Slave to the Traffic Light. With the building blocks in place, Phish headed for The Centrum, a venue situated across the street from the New Aud (Worcester Memorial Auditorium) — the site of the 1991′s New Year’s Eve show, Phish’s largest show at the time (with about 4,000 attendees) and the band’s first three-set New Year’s Eve. December 31st, 1993, in contrast to its predecessors, was a full-on Arena show, with the aquarium set fully installed, including the giant clam. Before the beginning of the third set, the band members donned wet suits and gurgling bubble noises emitted from the sound system. Then four suited figures "dove" into the aquarium set from the trusses above. They explored the stage, checked out the giant clam, and eventually climbed inside. The clam snapped shut on the divers, trapping them inside. Then the clam rose above the stage, shook violently, and erupted into a sea of confetti, light and sound, apparently vaporizing the band. They immediately reappeared on stage and the third set commenced. A portion of that show made its way into the band’s first and only "MTV-style" video, Down With Disease, which was released in conjunction with Hoist, which became available on March 29th. The December 1993 holiday shows were Phish’s last live appearances until the spring tour began the following April with a benefit for the Flynn Theatre in Burlington, Vermont.