10 Essential Live Phish Shows

Frans Schellekens/Redferns
Trey Anastasio performs with Phish at the Paradiso on Feb. 17, 1997 in Amsterdam.

Ask a Phish fan about their favorite show, and they’re likely to rattle off a series of dates and venues scattered across the country, detailing titanic jams, crazy cover songs, “bust outs,” and musicianship taken to the next level.

For Phish, who have played 1700-plus known shows since they first debuted on Dec. 2, 1983, there’s no shortage of live shows out there. Fans have been recording and trading gigs since the ‘80s (you can stream pretty much every show ever here) and nowadays, the band makes every performance available about 30 minutes after it’s done on their LivePhish (www.livephish.com) app, for purchase or stream. They also typically release one or two archival recordings every year.

Recently, the band’s first live album, 1995’s A Live One, was released on vinyl. It’s their best-selling live album to date (Hoist is their overall best seller). A Live One aside, below are our picks for the 10 essential live Phish recordings, widely available on CD and streaming services.

10. 8/26/89, Townshend Family Park, Townshend, VT

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In the early days, Phish might have played someone’s backyard, a farm, or in this case, a “family park,” where as the flier for the show said, one could play miniature golf, go swimming in the river, or enjoy “creamy ice cream.” This three-set show features a number of compact versions of fan favorites like “Split Open and Melt,” “Harry Hood” and a 14-minute “You Enjoy Myself” (Yes, 14 minutes is tight in this case). Of the live shows the band has officially released, this one, like many of the band’s ‘80s shows, is raw and playful, the latter a characteristic that would come to define them.

9. Vegas ‘96 (12/6/96, Aladdin Theater, Las Vegas, NV)

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Speaking of playful, this show has it all: several quality jams like on “Down With Disease” and “Mike’s Song,” a guest appearance from Primus bassist Les Claypool on the sought after “Harpua,” and drummer Jon Fishman dressing up with Elvis impersonators to sing the King’s “Suspicious Minds,” a cover they played only 13 times from 1995-1996 -- this night in Las Vegas being the last time.

8. 11/22/94, Jesse Auditorium, University of Missouri, Columbia, MO

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Phish’s fall ‘94 tour found the band hitting up numerous college campuses where they were gaining traction. This night at the University of Missouri in the tiny Jesse Auditorium (1800 capacity) became legendary immediately. The first set is fairly standard, but the second set immediately takes off with a 30-minute version of Son Seals’ “Funky Bitch,” suggesting that any song could go down long and winding roads if they felt like it. (Case in point: The 30-minute “Lawn Boy” from this past summer’s Baker’s Dozen run at Madison Square Garden.) The rest of the show features two Beatles covers (“Blackbird, “Cry Baby Cry”), a super weird half electric, half acoustic version of “Big Black Furry Creature From Mars” and three classic bluegrass tunes, including Marty Stuart’s “I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome” and Bill Monroe’s  “My Long Journey Home.”

7. Hampton Comes Alive (11/20/98 & 11/21/98, Hampton, VA)

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Where did Phish return to after their five-year break from 2004-2009? The Hampton Coliseum. The spaceship-esque venue has been host to many memorable shows, including this two-night run in November 1998. They trade out long jams for an eclectic array of covers like the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” Chumbawamba’s ubiquitous hit “Tubthumping,” Will Smith’s “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It,” Bob Dylan’s “Quinn the Eskimo,” Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2,” and Ween’s “Roses Are Free,” along with stellar versions of originals like a twenty-five minute “Mike’s Song/Simple” combo and a twenty-minute “Bathtub Gin/Piper” one-two punch.

6. 5/7/94, The Bomb Factory, Dallas, TX

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Phish’s only appearance at this Dallas, Texas club became an instant classic for fans because of the epic second set, lovingly referred to as “Tweezerfest.” After breezing through the Rolling Stones’ “Loving Cup” and “Sparkle” to kick off the second set, the band fired up a “Tweezer” for the ages -- weaving in a version of the Who’s “Sparks,” the Breeders’ “Cannonball,” Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” the band’s own “Makisupa Policeman,” the James Gang’s “Walk Away” and finally Prince’s “Purple Rain,” featuring Fishman on the vacuum. Other notable versions of “Tweezer” include the 18-minute version from November 17, 1997 in Denver, the 37-minute version from Lake Tahoe, Nevada on July 31, 2013 and the July 27, 2014 version from Merriweather Post Pavilion in Maryland. But The Bomb set the stage.

5. Amsterdam ‘97 (2/17/97 and 7/1/97)

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Perhaps wanting to feel like an up-and-coming band once more, Phish booked two small European club and theater tours in 1997, where they would play to 1,000-2,000 a night instead of the typical 20,000. Both stops at Amsterdam’s 1500-seat Paradiso club signaled that something was in the air...as the three shows got weird, and fast. Several early versions of what would become beloved Phish live staples showed up in Amsterdam that year, notably a creepy “Ghost” that sparked Fishman and Anastasio to have a show-long discussion about worms, a 30-minute “Stash,” and “Carini,” a dark, driving ode to the band’s drum tech, inspired by a seemingly random altercation he got in. 1997 was a banner year for the band, with the European tours offering many highlights that came to define Phish FOMO. The Amsterdam shows certainly helped kick that year into high gear.

4. New Year’s ‘95 (12/31/95, Madison Square Garden, New York, NY)

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New Year’s Eve at Madison Square Garden has become a tradition for the band and it started out with this show in 1995. The gag that night was that the band were keepers of time and as the clock struck midnight, they were seen on stage working in the “Gamehendge Time Factory” -- Fishman was introduced as Father Time and emerged after the clock struck midnight as Baby New Year, diaper and all. Standout performances include the Who’s “Drowned,” a mocking cover of Collective Soul’s “Shine” in the middle of the rare “Col. Forbin’s Ascent/Fly Famous Mockingbird” and a twenty-five minute “You Enjoy Myself” that trickled into the elusive “Sanity.”

3. 12/7/97, The Nutter Center, Dayton, OH

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“Never miss a Sunday show” is a Phish mantra held dearly -- the band seemingly loves to reward those who come out right before Monday reality kicks back in. On this night at Wright State University, funk and bust outs were in the air, including the Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer,” ZZ Top’s “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” and the return of Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie on Reggae Woman.” But those notables aside, ask anyone and they’ll tell you the band was just on that night -- they were in the groove from start to finish and you can hear it note for note.

2. 10/31/94, Glen Falls Civic Center, Glen Falls, NY

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Phish Halloween shows have become legendary over the years, as they’ve performed “musical costumes” where they cover an entire album from start to finish. They’ve tackled: The Who’s Quadrophenia, the Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, the Velvet Underground’s Loaded, the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main St., Little Feat’s Waiting for Columbus, and most recently, David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.

But if you had to listen to just one, make it the O.G. from ‘94. Tickets were $18 and they put a call out to fans to vote on what album they should cover, with the winner being the Beatles’ White Album front to back. The show ran four hours long and ended at 3 a.m. Along with the Beatles album, they played two sets of their own material, including a standout “Harpua,” “David Bowie,” Slave to the Traffic Light,” and “Run Like an Antelope.”

1. 12/30/97, Madison Square Garden, New York, NY

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Two years later after the famed 1995 New Year’s show, the band would return to the Garden for three shows, and it’s this one that encapsulates everything fans love about the band. Extended jams (“AC/DC Bag," “Harry Hood”), bust outs (Robert Palmer’s “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley”), hilarity (“Harpua” with a narration that featured the Proclaimers’ “I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)”) and raw rock n’ roll energy (Jimi Hendrix’s “Izabella”). Is this the best Phish show ever? Probably not. Essential? Most definitely.


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