These days, everything Phish plays is documented, captured, and recorded in every way imaginable. The audio has always been covered (#godblessthetapers), though access and quality have vastly improved over the years–live-streamed fan audio is a far cry from sending blanks and postage to a dude on an Internet forum and hoping it comes through. Every person in the building at any given show has at least a decent-quality camera in their pocket, and thousands of people spray clips of photo and video out onto social media, instantly circulating them to countless people. And that’s just what comes from the fans: 3.0 Phish live-tweets their setlists, sends soundboard audio straight to your pocket minutes after the show is over and, of course, gives a large portion of their performances the full multi-cam webcast treatment…what a time to be alive.
Of course, the prevalence of live videos decreases significantly as you go backwards down the number line. Many of the bands earlier, sillier, more out-there performances are preserved only in audio and in our minds’ eye. Thankfully, by the time ’96 came around, there were a fair amount of camcorders out in the audience, so we do have video of some prime performances—like 11/16/96 at Omaha, NE’s Civic Auditorium. which celebrates its 23rd birthday today.
One of the most memorable shows during the band’s marathon 30+ date Fall ’96 tour, 11/16/96 showcased Phish at their Phish-iest. After a solid though relatively conservative first set, the second frame got weird, in the best of ways. The band opened the set with a once-common but then relatively rare cover of ZZ Top‘s “La Grange” before diving into “Runaway Jim”.
After reaching its stride with a nice, funky groove, Trey Anastasio eventually asked Jon Fishman to cut the drums so they could usher in “The Vibration of Life”, the pseudo-song and invitation for antics the band was known to invoke early in their career (it would only make one more appearance, three days later, before disappearing from the playbook altogether). That began a trio of Phish oddities, as the “Vibration” became “Kung”, and the crazed “Kung” percussion jam became “Catapult”.
All of this is incredible to listen back to 23 years later, but it’s even more incredible to be able to watch. Seeing the shit-eating grin on Trey’s face when he grabs mallets and lays into a percussion jam—years before his star-crossed love affair with the Marimba Lumina began—makes this show worth revisiting in itself.
After the always-bizarre “Catapult” (featuring a scarf-waving interpretive dance from Mike Gordon), the band led into arena anthem “Axilla”, which ended with eerie shout-outs to the light crew that dwelled particularly long on one particular member—Leigh Fordham—who would be immortalized in the Phish vernacular when he was once again referenced in “46 Days” years later. The “Harry Hood” that followed continued the Leigh Fordham vamps (alternating with cheeky laughs from the band), in addition to a truly remarkable stretch where Trey wielded his noted Jedi powers to sustain a single note for nearly three full minutes, prompting uproarious cheers from the crowd.
“Suzy” and “Amazing Grace” closed the crazy set, but the band still had one more trick planned: their debut of Grand Funk Railroad‘s “We’re An American Band”, a location-appropriate selection which references “four young chiquitas in Omaha” in its lyrics. It has only made one live Phish appearance since, though the song’s refrain has long echoed through Phish shows in a literal sense through “Harpua”, and in a thematic sense through the band’s very essence. It’s as if the song were actually written about the joys of touring with Phish—a true American band, comin’ to your town to help you party it down.
You can fully experience the musical and theatrical antics of Phish’s memorable 11/16/17 Omaha show via a large selection of videos from the evening. Check out some of the crowd-shot clips of the highlights, as well as a near-full video playlist of individual songs below.
“Runaway Jim/Vibration of Life/Kung/Catapult”
“We’re An American Band” [Grand Funk Railroad cover]
You can also watch a partial video playlist from the show, broken down by song, below via YouTube user outpostsouth:
SETLIST: Phish | Civic Auditorium | Omaha, NE | 11/16/96
SET 1: Poor Heart > Down with Disease, Guyute, Gumbo, Rift, Free, The Old Home Place, David Bowie, Lawn Boy > Sparkle > Frankenstein
SET 2: La Grange > Runaway Jim -> The Vibration of Life -> Kung -> Catapult, Axilla > Harry Hood > Suzy Greenberg, Amazing Grace
ENCORE: We’re an American Band
 Tribute to the light crew, Leigh Fordham references at end.
 Lyrics referenced Leigh Fordham.
 Leigh Fordham reference.
 Phish debut, Grand Funk Railroad cover
Page teased Maple Leaf Rag at the end of Gumbo. The Vibration of Life was announced by Trey as “Written by God” and was performed for the first time since November 30, 1994 (148 shows). At the end of Axilla, the light crew also received a bizarre tribute and Leigh Fordham, a member of Phish’s light crew, was mentioned several times. The Hood lyrics were subsequently altered slightly to include a bit about Leigh Fordham. Suzy Greenberg included Leigh Fordham references as well as La Grange and Axilla teases. We’re An American Band made its Phish debut in the city referenced in its lyrics.
[Originally published 11/16/17]