PHISH: 12/1/95 Hersheypark Arena, Hershey, PA
essay by Phish Archivist Kevin Shapiro (3/18/07)
By the time Phish arrived at Hersheypark Arena in Hershey, PA on December 1st, 1995, they had performed thirty shows in Pennsylvania over the years, from a 1988 gig at John & Peter’s in New Hope to a sold-out 1994 Philadelphia Holiday show . and most recently a two-night stand earlier that summer at Mann Music Center . The Hershey show fell in the middle of the second leg of fall tour and the previous shows of the run contained too many high points to list. Some notable moments of the late fall included a three-night stand in Atlanta and a blistering Orlando show . Other highlights included the debut of the full-band “Rotation Jam” (a/k/a instrument-switch jam) at their first Hampton Coliseum show, Fish’s loving serenade of Col. Bruce Hampton in Knoxville and Bela Fleck’s semi-regular Nashville sit-in. The night before Hershey, they nearly blew the roof off Dayton’s Nutter Center during an exquisite second-set Tweezer > Makisupa > Antelope that must be heard. After an overnight drive of nearly 500 miles, the tour arrived in the mystical land of chocolate, conveniently located just over an hour’s ride from Wilson Drive in King of Prussia.
Hersheypark Arena is a hockey arena built during the Great Depression. It sits in the center of Hersheypark , a nearly 100 year-old amusement park set in the “sweetest place on earth” originally built to entertain employees of Hershey’s Chocolate. Phish’s December 1st show there was sold out to a crowd of over 8,500 – tickets were sold mail order through Phish Tickets By Mail (begun in earnest that summer) and through the venue box office. Despite cold temperatures in the venue, zealous security and the old ice arena’s imperfect acoustics, the band played a high-energy, well-paced show with good flow and exceptional comic relief rooted in the location, the band’s penchant for The Simpsons and the universal human proclivity for “…mmm, chocolate.” During this tour Trey had begun playing a percussion setup during jams and Page’s Clavinet and synthesizers were becoming more prominent in the band’s sound especially when Trey focused on grooving percussion. These changes in instrumentation helped open the jams up for the unofficial funk breakthrough that crystallized around the 1996 Halloween show and matured around the 1997 Hamburg show immortalized on the live album Slip, Stitch and Pass. Lighting Designer Chris Kuroda had increased the size and functionality of his lighting rig and crew and, for the first time in over three years, the Minkin backdrops and scrims created by Mike’s mom weren’t used. While missed, the lack of backdrops helped open the stage to the audience from more directions – 360 degrees at many venues – which helped energy flow more freely in the arenas. All these factors alchemized to lead the band and a lucky capacity crowd in Hershey to the sweet taste of high adventure.
Like nearly all shows that Fall, the Hershey show began with the band chess move. As soon as the band took their places, they kicked into Buried Alive to open the show. With Trey’s first notes, the crowed exploded with waves of unbridled energy that characterized the rest of the night. After the opener, Mike dropped instantly into Down With Disease, deftly connecting club days gone by to the arena rock era. The lights accompanied the last strains of Disease softly into Theme From the Bottom, easing the transition into the latter’s submarine wisdom. As our hat-headed fearless leader coaxed slow leads through his Leslie amplifier, the spirit began to take hold. Piano, drums and Languedoc custom bass combined in exquisite counterpoint from the bottom and from the top building to the final crescendo in one of the set’s high points. Poor Heart was next, played at a fast clip in contrast to some slower shuffle versions played earlier on the tour. With scarcely a pause, Page set forth the opening piano notes to Wolfman’s Brother. Trey liked the “smooth atonal sound” line so much he repeated it, lending to the carefree, relaxed feel of this set. The staggered ending harmonies and extro of Wolfman’s led Trey immediately into a rocking Chalk Dust Torture.
For the first time in more than four years, Col. Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird followed Chalk Dust, coupling the tale of youthful frustration with that of mid-life vision quest and divine connection. Trey’s narration was another high point of set one as he endeavored to explain “a brief history of this planet” focusing on “the horrible split” between Western and Eastern thought, the latter of which obviously led to the “mystical land of chocolate…mmm chocolate.” The story was that before the evil King Wilson enslaved the Lizards, the only place remaining where science, philosophy and religion were all unified was Gamehendge (which incidentally owed its peace and harmony to the prophet Icculus’ inspiring archival work in authoring the Helping Friendly Book!). Answering fan inquires, Trey then revealed the alleged location of The Rhombus in nearby King of Prussia before they finished Mockingbird.
Stash followed with a formidable jam that stretched out instrumentally, locking into a dissonant theme that ignited the highest improvisation of the set. The whole band linked up beautifully for this jam, evoking a Dave’s Energy Guide-ish vibe and at points recalling the expectation-smashing heights of the Orlando Stash weeks before. After Stash returned to terra firma, Cavern closed the set, leaving “15 minutes” of recovery and preparation before the even sweeter second set that defined this show.
The audience chess move was made by an eleven year-old in attendance before set two’s music kicked off with the doo-wop intro to Halley’s Comet. This was a straightforward version compared to the extended madness of Halley’s > NICU > Slave two weeks later on December 14th but it was a great start featuring pronounced Clav work by Page and a short guitar solo that dropped straight into Mike’s Song. Before Mike even began to sing, Trey was spinning little licks around the groove. Page’s organ fueled the jam as Mike and Trey began an improvised theme. The jam got deeper and deeper until it eventually flew off a precipice as Fish switched to a more syncopated feel while Trey and Page hammered around him on guitar and piano. Trey then alluded back to the initial improvised theme, switched to a funkier feel and some hard rocking chords before he moved to percussion. This allowed Page to immerse himself in a long piano solo atop Mike and Fish’s deep groove. Page switched back to the funky wah-wah of the Clav, eventually locking into a synth-inflected groove that stretched out over the driving drums and bass. Trey picked his guitar back up amidst a changing beat that seemed to form the basis for the first-ever transition directly from this legendary Mike’s Song into Weekapaug Groove (they repeated the combination the following week at Niagara Falls). The band experimented with the rhythm of Weekapaug and a big guitar swell preceded the melody and lyrics, which took a minute to lock in as if the band was surprised that’s where they landed. Perhaps they were. Weekapaug soared with Mike slapping and Trey and Page trading licks for a minute until they developed a beautiful, almost-harmonic theme. As the jam shifted dynamically and began to deconstruct, the exuberant crowd started to clap along and the band sped furthur out into hyperspace before resolving back into the end of Weekapaug.
They barely paused before diving into The Mango Song. The audience hung on every line, reacting to the lyrics. Page’s piano work trading licks with Trey atop Fish’s jazzy approach here transliterated the tranquil and serene moment. The layered lyrics of the next verse were well executed and the jam out of the last chorus was tight with everyone hooked up into the ending, which in turn, was immediately transformed into Wilson. The crowd went crazy singing along, and the band was obviously excited to finally present the story of Wilson, King of Prussia so close to the namesake – causing Trey to giggle a as they negotiated the changes. Trey even blurted out “King of Prussia” before the blat-boom ending. The end of Wilson gave Fish and Trey the opportunity to switch drummers without a pause as the band slid into Suspicious Minds – a tribute to another King. Fish’s vocals were especially zealous, distorting at times as he drove the audience absolutely bonkers with his lit-up cape, the claw and the windmill during the rave-up ending. As usual, the band poked fun at him with Hold Your Head Up while he took his bows and sat back down to the serious business of bending minds.
David Bowie began with the signature high-hat section quickly melting into Catapult, which Trey sung accompanied by Mike’s understated bass. With barely time to process the song change, Catapult morphed back into Bowie’s introduction, which was peppered with more Homer-style references to the region’s key export and Simpson’s Phish language
thrown in for good measure before the lyrics. This was one of three Bowie > Catapult > Bowie sandwiches in Phish history (the other two are the first live Catapult 4/17/92 San Francisco and 2/16/03 Las Vegas). Similar to other big jams in this show, Trey began an improvised melodic theme colored by the eerie sound of his Leslie as the other band members swirled around him. Before long, the jam returned to more familiar Bowie territory as they rocked their way to the triumphant end of the song and set.
The fun continued during the Suzy Greenberg encore, with some unusual string scratching by Trey and an extended piano solo among its highlights. This show is a classic and we can now experience it with re-mastered soundboard audio synced to archival front-of-house video footage. It’s worth noting that this is the best possible quality this show’s audio can ever be offered in because the multi-track tapes are unplayable. This show, like Orlando before it and others on-deck for future release, is another stop along the golden road to the epic year-end celebration of this powerhouse year of Live Phish.
Original Show notes: This was Phish’s 1st only show at Hersheypark Arena – a historic hockey arena opened in 1936 in the midst of Hersheypark with a capacity 8,531. Tickets cost $20.00 and the show was sold out. Funky Bitch from the soundcheck was the slow, half-time version. Trey liked the “smooth atonal sound” lyric during Wolfman’s Brother so much that he sang it twice. The Fly Famous Mockingbird narration was nothing less than a “brief history of this planet” focusing on the “horrible split” between Western and Eastern thought and leading eventually to Trey’s revelation that the Rhombus was located in King of Prussia. This was the 1st (and one of 3-ever) Mike’s > Weekapaug combinations without any songs in between (see also 12/7/95 and 7/17/98). Trey added an extra “King of Prussia” during Wilson. Set II ended with the 3rd Bowie > Catapult > Bowie ever played (see 4/17/92 and 6/29/94). David Bowie intro included Homer-style “mmm chocolate” vocals and The Simpsons secret language. After this show the band and crew traveled 242 miles overnight to New Haven, Connecticut. This show was released on CD and audio/video download on JEMP Records in March 2007. Dog Log from the soundcheck was included on the 11/14/95 Orlando CD released in February 2007.