Phish worked on Billy Breathes for most of the spring and early summer. While mixing at Bearsville Studios in June, they previewed much of the material from the album at a surprise club gig in Woodstock (see TMIPH June 1996). Billy Breathes was subsequently mastered at Gateway Studios while the band traveled to Europe for the second time. Phish’s first European tour took place four years earlier in June, 1992 when they opened for The Violent Femmes at seven shows in Germany, Denmark, France, Belgium and one radio appearance in England. Within weeks of returning from their maiden voyage to Europe, Phish supported Santana for twenty-five mostly-amphitheatre shows in the United States. In doing so, the band forged a strong creative relationship with visionary, genre-bending guitarist Carlos Santana (see TMIPH August 1992). Given Santana’s early assistance introducing Phish to wider and larger audiences Stateside, it seemed fitting that Phish’s second European trek consisted partially of opening slots for Santana (who was already very popular abroad) along with some headline and festival appearances. Because Billy Breathes was not yet released, the band and Elektra prepared a special Europe-only sampler entitled Stash to support the tour.
Phish’s first scheduled date with Santana in Europe was July 2nd, 1996 at Lonigo, Italy. However, weather intervened and the Phish set was cancelled due to rain. Members of Phish sat in with Santana, but Europe’s real re-introduction to Phish was postponed until the next night at Stadia Brtamasco in Trento, Italy. The Trento performance was standard, with the band seemingly getting used to their new stage setup (with Fish facing straight forward near center stage rather than stage left turned toward Page). Toward the end of Phish’s set, Carlos Santana and percussionist Karl Perazzo joined Phish onstage for Taste > Llama. Carlos even lent some vocals to Llama, which he had played with Phish during their 1992 tour. The band and crew celebrated Independence Day on foreign soil before continuing their run across Italy with Santana, performing July 5th at Stadio Olimpico in Rome. The Rome show flowed well for an opening set, segueing smoothly from Funky Bitch (technically Phish’s sound check, during which the doors were opened unexpectedly) > Chalk Dust Torture > AC/DC Bag > You Enjoy Myself. The band closed their set with David Bowie before a quick Sweet Adeline encore.
On July 6th, Phish tore through a diverse opening set at Duomo Square in Pistoia, Italy, performing 2001, Reba, Maze and Harry Hood at the Pistoia Blues Festival. The following night, they played The Divided Sky and The Curtain > Tweezer, before ending their performance with Run Like an Antelope > Suzy Greenberg. After a night off, Phish opened for Santana again on the 9th at C.I.D. (Centre International de Deauville) in France. The C.I.D. set featured new music from the outset with a Theme From the Bottom opener as well as Cars Trucks Buses and Character Zero to highlight the new album. Mike’s Song was also played at C.I.D. On the 10th the Santana/Phish tour rolled into Paris for a show at Le Zenith that showcased Ya Mar, Split Open and Melt and Good Times, Bad Times as well as Waste from Billy Breathes.
Phish headlined their next two (multiple set) shows on July 11th at Shepherds Bush Empire in London, England and 12th in Amsterdam. The first set in London featured Reba, Stash, and Scent of a Mule, ending with Sample in a Jar. The second set was more exploratory, starting off with Harry Hood > Bouncing Around the Room and continuing with 2001 > Maze. Set two continued with The Lizards, Fish’s first performance of Terrapin in over a year and YEM. The encore, The Beatles’ A Day in the Life was a fitting way to close the band’s first ever full-length European concert and their first live London appearance. On July 12th, Phish performed a rare modern-day three-set show at the legendary Amsterdam rock club, Melkweg. The first set in Amsterdam fit well with the place’s legendary smoky atmosphere. They kicked off the show with Wilson and The Divided Sky. Next came Horn, Split Open and Melt and Ya Mar. The band then debuted their new arrangement of Taste as it appears on Billy Breathes and Trey announced the song was no longer “The Fog That Surrounds” as it was known for the previous year or so. The set continued with Funky Bitch and Taste and closed with Tweezer > Llama. The bizarre second set kicked off with a combination of It’s Ice > Prince Caspian > Mike’s Song which segued smoothly into Antelope > Purple Rain. A Big Ball Jam-esque Jam where audience members, egged on by Trey, called out the type of groove (ska) and chords (G, D, E, A-minor) which the band played before slipping into a jammed out NICU > Slave to the Traffic Light, which ended with a Coil-like Page piano solo and Suzy Greenberg. The band then played a surreal third set, which kicked off with David Bowie > Free before ending the night with an encore consisting of Bathtub Gin and Johnny B. Goode.
On July 13th, Phish played their first festival date of the 1996 Europe tour at The Dour Festival in Belgium. There they played a single set featuring a soaring Reba, Split Open and Melt, Fire, Funky Bitch, Chalk Dust Torture and YEM. After a day off, Phish returned to Italy to perform a two-set headline gig on the 15th at La Marna in Sesto Calende. The opener at the small lakeside venue, La Marna was My Friend, My Friend followed by Punch You in the Eye. Fast Enough For You, Guyute, Possum and Harry Hood were also played in the first set. Phish kicked off set two with a hot Down With Disease and Maze, followed by two interesting combinations, Loving Cup > Makisupa Policeman and then It’s Ice and Julius. Fish performed Purple Rain during which they carried Phish’s secret language across the Atlantic, utilizing the Simpsons and All Fall Down signals.
After three headline dates and a festival, Phish settled back into the Santana opening slot, catching up with Carlos on July 17th in Vienna, France. There they opened at Theatre Antique with The Divided Sky and also played David Bowie, Ya Mar and closed their set with Funky Bitch. The next night, Santana and Phish performed at the Nice Jazz Festival in Nice, France. Phish’s set there was nice and jazzy, with Julius opener, Cars Trucks Buses (from the new album) > Bouncing Around the Room > Stash and YEM to close. On the 19th, the tour traveled to Arles, France where Phish’s opening set at Les Arenes featured two songs that hadn’t yet been played on this tour, Foam and The Squirming Coil. July 20th was a day off during which the band traveled to Germany.
On the 21st, Phish headlined The Forum in Nuremberg. They opened the show with Golgi Apparatus, followed by Guelah Papyrus, Rift and Tweezer. Following Split Open and Melt, the audience was treated to the Horse > Silent in the Morning. Taste followed and then the debut of Train Song, a new song from Billy Breathes. A unique combination of Fee > Timber (Jerry) > Johnny B. Goode capped the first set. Nuremberg’s second set began with Llama and continued with Life on Mars?, Free > Run Like an Antelope and Simple > Prince Caspian. The encore that night was Harry Hood. On the 22nd, Phish re-joined Santana for an opening set at Tanzbrunnen, an outdoor park in Cologne, Germany. On the 23rd, the band settled into the Markthalle in Hamburg for another German headline date where they opened the first set at Hamburg with AC/DC Bag > Foam. Set one at the Markthalle also featured the first Gumbo performed in Europe as well as Scent of a Mule > Down With Disease > McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters > Stash. The band kicked off Hamburg’s set two with 2001 > Runaway Jim, followed by Loving Cup and a full Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove for the first time in nearly a year. Bike, Slave to the Traffic Light and Rocky Top encore rounded out a decidedly old-school show, and the band’s last European headline show until they returned the following Spring.
Phish ended their tour of Europe with two opening sets with Santana in Germany. The first, on the 24th at The Music Hall in Hannover, began with Chalk Dust Torture and also featured Julius and YEM. Phish returned to Hamburg on the 25th where they played their last European set of the summer at Stadtpark. The Hamburg set featured a Poor Heart opener, Punch You in the Eye, It’s Ice > Antelope, Harry Hood and Cavern finale’.
After returning to the U.S., Phish commenced summer touring on August 2nd in Utah and culminating with The Clifford Ball in Plattsburgh, NY August 16th and 17th.