After successfully staging The Clifford Ball (North America’s largest concert event of the summer) in August 1996, Phish took September off. On October 15th, their seventh CD, “Billy Breathes” was released on Elektra Records. Unlike the planned release parties that characterize the release of many recordings, “Billy Breathes”‘ release was celebrated by fans in Burlington at an intimate affair at Nectar’s. There were technical rehearsals on October 14th and 15th at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid, New York, where additions to the touring set-up included a new quadraphonic speaker configuration by Paul Languedoc and Bob Neumann. On October 16th, the band started their U.S. tour in support of the new album at the Olympic Center. There they premiered Swept Away and Steep (Steep was a tiny part of the Bearsville “Blob” of music that eventually became a distinct song). The next night, Phish played at Penn State University’s Bryce Jordan Center, opening the show with 2001 > Funky Bitch, and also debuting a unique version of The Star Spangled Banner. They sang an a capella version of the anthem in preparation for performing it at a Lakers vs. Supersonics game that November in Minneapolis.
The next evening, October 18th, Phish returned to the Pittsburgh Civic Arena where they performed a notable version of Maze and a Julius encore. The following day was a Saturday and the band appeared at Buffalo’s Marine Midland Arena. After a day off, Phish played their fourth show at New York’s Madison Square Garden on October 21st. October 22nd was the second of two nights at the Garden and Trey began set one with a commentary about the house lights being on, saying to the crowd, “It’s nice to see you for a change.” Set two contained The Mango Song and a version of Scent of A Mule with a long and unique scatting duel (Oteil Burbridge, bassist and scatter extraordinaire, stood at the side of the stage laughing uncontrollably while it happened). It was the Mike’s Song > Jam > Swept Away > Steep > Weekapaug Groove that really upped the ante though. During Weekapaug, no less than eleven costumed contortionists and voguers filed onto the stage doing interpretive dancing all around, including on Page’s grand piano.
The dancers were led by old Burlington friend the inimitable Myndy K and were joined by a similarly clad Mimi Fishman who died her hair pink for the occasion. This was Mimi’s first onstage appearance not playing the Electrolux and it was certainly her most exotic. For the encore, special guest Buddy Miles (of Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsies) took over for Fish on drums for his version of All Along The Watchtower > Stairway to Heaven. During the encore another special guest, Merl Saunders, joined in on keyboards and Fish accompanied Buddy’s drumming and singing using Trey’s percussion setup. Late that night, the dancers took the band on a tour of their stomping ground, New York’s lower Village.
After this fling, the tour continued on to the Civic Center in Hartford, Connecticut. The first set of the show there on October 23rd opened with Punch You in the Eye and closed with Run Like an Antelope. Set two featured Bob Gulotti (of the Boston free jazz group The Fringe, Surrender to the Air, and Michael Ray’s Cosmic Krewe) for a set-long special guest appearance on a second set of drums. That set began with Brother which was a birthday request for Trey’s brother-in-law. Band and crew traveled on October 24th and on the 25th played their second show ever at Hampton Coliseum in Virginia. This show opened with the rarely played Fishman composition Ha Ha Ha and the first set featured Fish’s first vacuum solo of the tour (he was introduced as “Norton Charleston Heston”). Set two opened with Tube and also contained Timber Ho!, NICU and Harry Hood.
On October 26th, Phish performed in Charlotte, North Carolina at the Coliseum. It was their twenty-fourth appearance in the state of North Carolina. October 27th found the band in North Charleston, South Carolina. This performance featured a rare version of Catapult in the middle of the Scent of a Mule “Mule Duel” sung, as always, by Mike and accompanied by Page on his Theremin. Set two featured Bathtub Gin, YaMar, Fluffhead and a double encore consisting of Possum and the geographically appropriate Carolina. October 28th was an off day in Tallahassee and the band used it to go golfing. Trey played his entire game using only a 7 Iron thinking that it would help his game. It turns out he was right and he reportedly played better than ever.
On October 29th, Phish played the Leon County Civic Center in Tallahassee, Florida. Foreshadowing the upcoming Halloween “musical costume”, a special guest percussionist, Karl Perazzo (from Santana’s band) joined them for the entire show during which they performed classics like The Wedge and Slave to the Traffic Light. The encore that night was Led Zeppelin’s Good Times, Bad Times. There was no show on the 30th as the entourage made the trek to Atlanta for the third recent Halloween Extravaganza.
October 31st found Phish at The Omni for their ninth Halloween night performance in thirteen years. It was the third consecutive experiment of playing another band’s album as a second set “musical costume”. This year, the band chose their own selection, the Talking Heads’ early eighties classic album “Remain in Light” which featured collaborations with Adrian Belew and Brian Eno (in past years fan input was sought — see TMIPH October 1994). The show opened with Sanity and AC/DC’s Highway to Hell as birthday requests by road manager Brad Sands. Set one on the 31st also featured an “Evil Halloween Mockingbird” narration by Trey during Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird in which David Byrne was depicted as Icculus and Colonel Forbin’s Eyes were stolen by the Mockingbird. Set two was the much anticipated musical costume of “Remain in Light”. The “Remain in Light” set featured special guest and longtime collaborator Dave “The Truth” Grippo on alto sax (see TMIPH July 1991) and Gary “El Buho” Gazaway on trumpet, flugelhorn and trombone. Other guests during the musical costume included the band’s bus driver, Dominic Placco, costumed as “the enforcer” and Colonel Bruce Hampton (Ret’d) who “played” a jackhammer during Overload. Karl Perazzo also joined the band for all of sets two and three on spirited percussion and even some megaphone during Overload. Highlights of the “Remain in Light” set included The Great Curve, Listening Wind (Mike sang the tune seated in an armchair while Fish played percussion, Trey bass and Karl the drumset) and Overload. Overload featured, in addition to the interesting combinations already mentioned, four multi-media screens placed at the back of the stage, Trey performing on a Black and Decker skillsaw, Mike on a power drill and Fish on vacuum.
An elated crowd at The Omni was then treated to set three, which included Dave Grippo and Gary Gazaway on horns for the set-closing Jesus Just Left Chicago, Suzy Greenberg and an encore consisting of the Edgar Winter Group classic Frankenstein. The entire Halloween 1996 show has since been released as LivePhish15 – 10/31/96.
As the dust from their third musical costume Halloween concert settled, Phish enjoyed a day off before heading back to Florida. After October, the tour continued for another twenty-seven shows in the South, Midwest and West, culminating at the former Aladdin Theatre in Las Vegas, Nevada on December 6th.