I’m Sinking Down, It’s a Glorious Feeling — Grand Rapids, MI 11.11.1998

Phish – Van Andel Arena – Grand Rapids, MI 11.11.1998

I  PYITE, Gumbo, If You Need A Fool, Sleep, Tela, BOAF, Theme, Julius

II  Halley’s>Simple>Walk Away>LxL, Circus, Ghost

E  Contact>Rocky Top>Funky Bitch

Certain parts of the country seem to be something of a catalyst for Phish to consistently play top quality shows. New York, particularly NYC, has quite a few notable shows from over the years. Colorado holds a special place for the band having been the destination on those first road trips away from New England. New Jersey gets the love because Trey and Page both grew up there. Connecticut seems to get good shows too, perhaps due to Trey’s time at Taft or maybe just because the good people of the Constitution State (or the Nutmeg State if you are more into that) bring the energy and attention the band appreciates. There are many examples of this type of “bias” and I bring it up to note that Michigan is also one of those lucky places. The band has now performed 25 times in The Mitten, starting humbly enough at Rick’s Cafe in Ann Arbor and eventually graduating up to arenas and sheds such as The Palace of Auburn Hills and the now renamed Pine Knob Music Theatre. Many of these well loved shows from The Great Lakes State are throwdowns from the many colleges here as Phish included several stops at various institutions of higher learning in the state along the path of their early 90s tours. In the mid 90s they started playing the hockey arenas in the western part of the state with notable shows at Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo on 10.27.1995 (check out the Bowie from that show for starters) and one from Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids (11.11.1996) that is relatively underrated on that Fall Tour. Two years to the day later they returned to this town on the heels of their three night run in Chicago and laid out a classic midweek sleeper show that has big jams in both sets and a lot more.

After the night off to travel and rest up after four straight shows the band comes out seemingly well rested with a clean and popping PYITE, amping up the energy from the get go. Gumbo, another song that could be argued hit its peak here in 1998, slinks in next and here we get our first bit of extra flavor as they take this one out for a slow ride through the funk accompanied by loops and effects. This is the evolving funk sound of ’98 which has a lot of Page up front on the clavinet followed by the dive into more ambient waters in the back half. Many of the notable Gumbos include Manteca teases or at least hint towards that song but this one avoids that almost entirely. This is a swanky jam that implores you to move with it albeit somewhat slowly since this one is just thick until they hit the ambient space. I challenge you to listen and not be moved! Well, at least until it kind of just ends there, I guess.

Following the rocking PYITE opener and that dank dance party Gumbo they break out the ol’ third slot bluegrass song for the second (of three ever) performances of the Steve Earle penned and Del McCoury popularized tune If You Need A Fool. This isn’t the best bluegrass cover they ever did (and it isn’t the worst either) but it suits its purpose just fine here. If you aren’t familiar with this song it sounds a lot like MMGAMOIO except for that whole different lyrics and a Page solo instead of Trey but yeah. Next up is one of my personal favorite of the late 90s ballads Sleep, a tune that had just been debuted three weeks prior at the first Bridge School Benefit show. This is paired up with Tela in providing the mid set breather tunes and tonight’s Tela comes off well with Page doing his thing and Trey playing a nice solo in the end. From here we have a positively white hot BOAF with Trey sounding the shred alert in going big on his solo. The song is still all straight ahead rock here but when they nail it like this there is definitely nothing wrong with that. Theme From The Bottom follows and this is a version that if you haven’t heard it may surprise you a bit as along with the typically soaring peak they reach for there is a harder edge to this jam, still though in the vein of the song. Some people are not huge fans of this song for whatever reason but this might be the type of version to change minds. The set is capped by a joyous romp through Julius and we are then off to the break.

I hope that those who were in attendance for this one took advantage of that break because the second set wasn’t going to provide it for them. It will be close to an hour into the set before we get the one breather tune and everything leading up to it is top shelf Fall ’98 Phish. First we have a song much like that first set Gumbo where jamming comes and goes — and its peak period is also in this late 90s/early aughts time frame. For the bulk of its history Halley’s Comet has been a lead-in, setting the table as a starting out point for bigger things. Aside from a few versions here and there over the years (like the 12.14.1995 version from Binghamton, NY) this held true for over a decade, though that time period did include a 475 show break from the Summer of ’89 (ha!) to Spring ’93. Everything changed for Halley’s with one magical and understandably highly praised version from Hampton ’97 which you all should already know by now so I will just assume you have that one memorized. Development of this song as a jam vehicle continued throughout 1998 with this version from Grand Rapids being the capstone take on the song for the year. Though perhaps not THE best version ever it is certainly in the conversation — and for good reason. After working through the song itself the band sets out right away with a punchy jam that is impossible to not move to as it gets funkier and funkier as it progresses. Page is all over this version, providing great accents on top of the wicked groove Mike and Fish lay down all while Trey comps along. This continues for a bit and then around the 16:00 mark we head out into space funk until going sideways after a minute or so. Things stay weird for a bit, hinting at a turn towards the ambient, but then they hit on a punishing rawk groove that Trey takes and solos over with a lot of distortion and drone mixed in until they somewhat abruptly segue into Simple. This makes for the third show in the last four where the second set opener stretches out over 20 minutes. And the best part of that statement is that each of these is wholly unique in comparison to each other, shining a different light on the varied jamming styles of the band.

A jam like that will make the night for a lot of folks but we aren’t finished yet. Simple ends up being a short but sweet version that segues into our second Walk Away of the tour which then segues into Limb by Limb. This version moves along much like most others with the Type I jam going as it does (Trey is really on point here) until everyone drops out except for Page. He solos within the framework of the song for a bit and then each band member comes back in to add to the build towards a very satisfying peak.  It is a unique version with this solo and something I wouldn’t mind hearing them do again some time as it comes off nicely. Now we get that breather tune with When The Circus Comes To Town (another of those late 90s ballads I appreciate – though in this case it is a cover of a Los Lobos song from several years prior) and this is nice enough in allowing for a bit of bathroom time for all. By now you have to expect we are headed towards the closer which is true but you wouldn’t necessarily think that is what we are getting when Ghost starts up (with the full, slow, looped out intro too so that’s fun). This one starts out as a funky groove monster and they keep pushing up the energy level higher as they go. Page unleashes his arsenal of effects on this jam (perhaps the first full display of such on this tour excepting the Vegas Wolfman’s?) and eventually Trey takes charge and they head up the mountain towards the summit, tackling a few false peaks along the way. It is a triumphant version in the mode of the Holy Ghost and other similar bliss-laden Ghost jams and here it provides a big exclamation point on the end of this great set. The encores tonight are Contact>Rocky Top>Funky Bitch, offering a road song for the trip ahead, the classic Rocky Top nod to a good show, and a somewhat rare encore slotting of the bluesy rock of Funky Bitch (one of only 19 times it has appeared as an encore).

For a Wednesday night one-off show in the western part of Michigan, there is a lot to like here. As we will see this may end up being one of the better overall shows of the tour as there are notable jams in both sets including one of the best versions of Halley’s Comet ever. This is just another example of Phish making people realize that you should never skip the show that is the obvious one to skip as there are definitely people who — potentially for the second time already this tour — skipped this one to get a head start on heading to the next venue further east (in this case Cleveland). Their loss, of course, but those that made that trip north instead of heading east from Chicago were rewarded quite well. Your takeaways from this show are Gumbo, Theme, BOAF, Halley’s, LxL, and Ghost. Not a bad night in a town now known for beer as much as anything — and it is a worthy reputation. I highly recommend a trip to Grand Rapids to taste some of the wonderful offerings here… but that’s maybe for another blog or at least another time…

So now that we have hit ten shows played on this tour, let’s do a little stat geekin’, shall we? Here we are having had shows in seven states including in all four time zones with the added oddity that each venue played has been in a different state. There have already been 132 songs played with 95 of those being one timers (the Loaded and DSOTM sets obviously factor in here as that provides 20 songs and only one – Rock and Roll – that has been played again so far. Additionally, a total of 20 songs have debuted this tour with Something and Smells Like Teen Spirit joining the tunes from those albums that had not yet been played by Phish). With this many songs played there is not any clear leader in terms of number of performances though several songs have been played at least four times: BOAF (5 times), Driver, Frankie Says, LxL, Roggae, and Moma Dance. Interestingly, we have only seen one Tweezer so far (in the second show of tour) and the next one is still another show away. We also have yet to see several setlist standards as songs like Bouncin’, Suzy, Foam, IDK, Rift, and MSO have not been played to date. There have been no repeats for show openers and only two repeats for first set closers (Cavern, Weekapaug). Second sets are just as diverse as no song has repeated as either 2nd set opener or closer. For encores, the only song repeated so far is surprising: Free Bird. We will get to dive deeper in the stats as the tour progresses but this does appear to be a quite diverse tour so far. Personally I think this simply shows just how damn good this band was at this point considering that they aren’t exactly mailing in the setlists or the performances for that matter. All signs point towards more heat to come as they drop down through Ohio and into the Southeast portion of the tour. Yay, stats!

Making Soup for the Ambassadors – Chicago, IL 11.09.1998

Phish – UIC Pavilion – Chicago, IL 11.09.1998

I  Llama, Horn, I Get A Kick Out Of You, Divided, Frankie, DST, Poor Heart>Free, NICU, Bold as Love

II  Gin, TMWSIY>Avenu Malkenu>TMWSIY>Moma>Slave>YEM

E  Frankenstein, Freebird

The third night of a run can go a lot of different directions. Sometimes you get the undersold sleeper show that makes people regret not sticking it out for the whole run. Other times you get a high energy affair perhaps light on jams but well received by the fans. And there are also times when that third night falls flat whether it be due to the band, crowd, or some combination of the two being a bit tired and not bringing it. This last night in Chicago was not one of those nights.

First up is a fiery Llama opener which gets a bit of that electro Trey shred in the solo before giving way to a perfectly serviceable take on the setlist staple Horn. Trey has a nice solo here but this is one doesn’t get any extra sauce (like the 07.15.1998 one with its ambient outro jam on the way to Chalkdust). Next up we have the third Mike tune in the early part of the first set in as many nights as they play what will end up being the second and currently final version of ‘I Get A Kick Out of You’, the Cole Porter jazz standard. Last night we had ‘Love Me’ and the first night of the run got that lovely Mike’s Song. Hey, it is a Mike tune, right? Maybe not a crooner but, really, which would you prefer? This version is a bit loose with Mike almost over-singing the words as it comes off a bit joke-y in the execution. From here the band straps in for bigger things, starting first with a clean and triumphant take on Divided Sky. It isn’t the best version you will ever hear but it is always nice to hear them nail this classic. Frankie Says pops in next with a straight forward version that lacks the outro ambience they have occasionally tacked on to the end of this song. After Frankie relaxes us we have the first Dogs Stole Things of the tour which goes how it does and then we get our old pal Poor Heart to bring the energy up a bit. Nothing special here but it does slam right into the start of Free which will provide us with our first real highlight of the show. Everything stays within the construct of the song but it gets pretty raucous and funky as they chunk their way through this jam. It is more akin to the latter day pinner Free jams than the early percussive, multi-themed giants of ’95 but with a dirtier feel that precedes the uncompressed tone of the 2.0 versions… if all that makes sense. Whatever, just listen to it. You’ll like it. After that we have NICU and one of my favorite cover closers, Bold As Love. This is the first Bold as Love of the tour and it rises to that swirling peak that makes it oh so good to hear and now we are on to setbreak after a largely average but overall well played first set.

Considering that the past three sets have been mostly straight forward without too many left turns into open jamming, you have to think by this point it is about time they took something out a bit at least at the start of this second set. And you would be right as they come out with the always welcome second set opening Bathtub Gin. Now, 1998 is arguably the best year for Gin overall with 1997 and 1999 having solid arguments in their favor as well. But considering some of the versions we have from 1998 (Prague, Barcelona, Ventura, this one, Hampton, Worcester, and of course The Riverport Gin, not to mention a few others…) it is hard to argue against it being in the conversation for this being the “BYE” (best year ever) for Gin. Tonight’s version starts off innocently enough as they search around the Gin theme. Around the 7:30 mark Trey doubles up his lead line and we kick into a higher gear that plugs along with that funky vibe until Trey takes a firm lead and adds new ideas on top of the pocket. Around the 13:00 mark Trey comes back to the Gin theme and then goes out from there to explore some more. Eventually, Mike throws in a few footbell *tings* which kind of signals the start of the transition to a quieter space where they are all still grooving along and exploring, even hinting at some Manteca-ish tones as they make their way towards the ambient realm. A loop starts up and Trey adds the drone tone and after wading here for a bit we return to the full Gin ending. I am pretty well oversimplifying this here but this is a jam that goes through several distinct phases while staying pretty close to the song itself. That is not atypical for Gin, of course, as many of the more notable versions of the song are mainly ‘type I’ jamming with some ‘type II’ sections. Here we have a prime example of that motif.

So now I am going to make a pretty bold statement which is to say that if you take this Gin and put it up against the all but universally lauded Riverport Gin from a few months prior I prefer this one from Chicago. At first I thought this was just recency bias but I listened to both versions more than once, alternating between the two, to check myself. The result for me is that this version is just more interesting with the creative paths they take in weaving in and out of the Gin theme. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the Riverport Gin but it feels a bit static (or maybe linear is the right word?) at times when you compare it to the breadth of scope that this one includes. And hey, it is a worthwhile discussion point so there’s that for us to look forward to here.

After collectively catching our breath from that 23+ minute journey Trey starts up one of the older originals in the catalog for our first TMWSIY>Avenu Malkenu>TMWSIY sighting of the tour. This is well played, as always, and then it gives way to our fourth Moma Dance in just nine shows. Things get funky in that Moma way here before they make a transition out into Slave for a nice, uplifting version of that song that always seems to pop into setlists preceding everyone getting on the road again. After resolving this one with a nice peak we head into YEM for what will inevitably be the set closer. Similar to the prior version from Utah tonight’s YEM has a somewhat extended pre-Nirvana section that gets into a little bit of ambient texturing but then once they take off this one gets seriously funk’d in a hurry. On the way there we get an interesting occurrence in the build towards the big jam where Trey is playing the chords for that build while Page is still soloing over top, creating a mashed up feeling to this section. Once through that the jam includes some hints of ‘Things That Make You Go Hmmm”, that classic C+C Music Factory dance anthem from the early 90s. Eventually we peak out to the VJ and that’s a wrap because the lights come up early without an encore.

But wait! That was just those guys being oh so funny and instead they rip into a particularly spirited Frankenstein. After this first encore Trey thanks everyone for coming out the past three nights and asks what a cappella tune they want to hear and thankfully everyone in the crowd seems to agree to shout out “FREEBIRD!” at the same time so that we don’t have conflicting opinions on that. And after that hilarious homage to both barbershop quartet and southern rock we are out of here to head northeast to Grand Rapids to visit one of those old hockey arenas once again. Your takeaways tonight are the Free, Gin, and YEM with additions of Divided and maybe Moma>Slave if you are feeling like listening to more.

This show provides a solid bookend to this three night run where the meat (jams) is more on the outside of the sandwich with the bread (staple songs) being the filler in between. That sounds messy but it really is quite tasty. That first night produced the big Bag>Ghost highlight and this one has the Gin while the middle show is more about songs and taking care of business with rocking jams rather than looking outside of the sandbox. All told, this is a great three night run that stands the test of time and should hopefully get its own release some day, perhaps in conjunction with the run they did here in 2011. No matter what, getting more tracks from this out there on SBD should happen hopefully sooner than later.

We Can Laugh Our Lives Away – Chicago, IL 11.08.1998

Phish – UIC Pavilion – Chicago, IL 11.08.1998

I  Taste, Carini, Love Me, RCR, Fee, P&S, Roggae, WITS, Stash, Cavern

II  CDT, Meat>RnR>Disease>Piper>Wading, Antelope

E  Been Caught Stealing

What happens when you have a Sunday night show in the middle slot of a three night run, the night that is typically your Saturday rock show night slot? Do you get an uber fantastic never-miss-a-Sunday-super-jammy-rock-show-for-the-ages? Or maybe you get that rock/energy show but amped up a bit because it is Sunday? Well, we get to find out because that is exactly what transpired on this run at UIC Pavilion in November 1998. After throwing down a quite solid show that is heavily jammed in the second set on Saturday the band came out and laid down a balanced effort that is high on quality performances of numerous songs including several first timers for this tour (and a couple of minor bustouts) with a few engaging jams that may not win any ‘best of’ competitions but can get you where you need to go if you let them.

Having stretched their legs the night previous and now settled into this little ‘residency’ here Phish comes out swinging with a energetic Taste, setting a good precedent for the night to come. This is firmly ‘Type I’ in nature but it comes off clean and bright. This uplifting music is put in counterpoint with the song that follows it, Carini, as the band crunches through the now-staple song which had not been played since the Europe Summer ’98 Tour. This version, coming 37 shows from that show opening take in Barcelona (the first of the final two shows of that mini-tour) is short and to the point but does get a little lyrical variation when the streaker from last night is referenced (you know, because Carini was the guy to take care of such matters back then…). After a bit of dark shredding in Carini we have the Mike-crooned take on the Elvis Presley classic Love Me, a tune that had been played seven times in 1997 with almost a year and 62 shows having passed since it last graced the stage on 11.30.1997 (as the denouement to that wonderfully twisted Wolfman’s). There will be one more appearance for this song later on in this tour which we will get to but since then it has gone the way of so many other fleeting covers before it. And I think most people are okay with that, honestly.

Once that is done we hear the tell tale tinkling electric piano sounds of a mostly rare but definitely well loved cover, Ride Captain Ride by The Blues Image. This classic rock radio standard has only been played seventeen times since it was debuted way back in 1987 (in a show where another well loved cover, Sparks, was also debuted) and up until a performance of the song at Deer Creek earlier in 1998 (after a 492 show gap) had not been played since the penultimate show of 1992. Tonight’s version is nice enough though it isn’t like they have ever really done anything with this song outside of mainly adhering to what you already know the song to be. After this performance it would be another year plus before the song was played again and after that it went into hiding until after Hiatus and The Long Wait. Fee is up next in a megaphone-less version and this does have a nice little outro that feels like it could have gone on longer and gotten more ambient but it doesn’t so we will just move on to the stock Paul and Silas that followed it but wait that isn’t really interesting to talk about either except that it had been 115 shows since they had last played the Josh White tune so let’s keep moving here, okay? Next up is yet another Roggae (it’s like the Fuego of Fall ’98!) which stands as the first song tonight that had already been played on this tour (I’m not counting the FarmAid or Sessions at 54th shows as part of this tour for stat purposes). They are clearly familiar with the song by now and it shows as they add a bit more flavor to the outro jam, layering a bit of ambience behind the lead lines Trey lays down. Still not exactly a big jam, this is quickly becoming a reliable midset tune with the end solos developing a bit more each time out. You could do worse than to have this song in heavy rotation.

Roggae is followed by the song that precedes it on The Story of the Ghost, Water in the Sky, a song that transformed for the album and in concert earlier in 1998 from being a somewhat clunky country-ish tune to its faster, phishier incarnation we know today. This is the first take on it this tour and it comes off well but still leaves us wondering if and when we might get an actual jam vehicle in this set. What’s that? Ah, yes, now we have it. Our first real live jam vehicle of the evening follows with the second Stash of the young tour. And while this stays mainly in the ‘Type I’ realm they do pull in some of those ambient tones, creating a melodic Tension and Release section with some Fikus teases thrown in for good measure. I’ve gone back and listened to this version more than once and was surprised at the density of music being played by the band here. On the surface it seems pretty straight forward but all four have a lot going on in the execution of this jam. After they resolve that Stash we are left with the set closing Cavern which in 1998 means some botched lyrics by Trey, a nice bit of funkiness, and a *ting* from Mike’s footbell in getting everyone ready for the lights to come up. I can imagine that the conversations about this set during that break were a bit all over the place considering there really is only one biggish jam (Stash). The playing is all very good and the energy is high so there aren’t any complaints there but it really just never gets out of the song-based format.

So after the break you have to be thinking that big things are on their way and when they come out and open with Chalkdust Torture you are saying to yourself, “okay, here we go, take this one out!” but then you remember that this is ’98 and they haven’t really blown up CDT in that big jam vehicle way yet. I mean, sure, there are some really shreddy versions from the first part of the song’s history but it really took until 1999 (and maybe even into 3.0, honestly) for CDT to evolve into a set-carrying monster like we have experienced in the past couple of years. This is not to take anything away from this night’s version except to frame it in saying that the song was more about energy and execution at this stage than in providing a launch pad for exploration. After crushing the rocking opener we get another Meat, a song where 40% of the total performances occurred in this its debut year. The best part of this is perhaps the set up it provides for the transition to Rock and Roll and the second ever performance of the VU classic. It would take a while for this song to evolve into being a real vehicle, practically becoming a crutch in the early part of 3.0 as it seemingly popped up as a consistently jammed song for the band throughout the first few years of The Return. This version is rocking and well played but sticks to the structure even more than that debut version from Halloween. The best part is probably the murky end/transition to Down With Disease which quickly elevates into a high energy version – and the de facto jam to carry the set.

The Disease jam starts off within the structure of the song as they build the intensity and develop a pocket as Trey goes electro shred over the rest of the band but then about ten minutes into the song Trey changes gears a bit, rising up with some guitar god lines that the band quickly follows in shifting directions. This does not continue for very long though as Trey eventually leads it all back to the full ending for Disease, something we don’t get to hear all that much anymore. But instead of wrapping it up completely Trey throws out a drone tone and over the next couple of minutes they put together a serene bit of ambient transition space (our only real ambient jam from this show) which offers a great starting point for Piper with its now-never-heard slow build intro section. This Piper goes to eleven in a hurry with Fish pounding away over the crunchy raging rock jam that develops — I really think it is Fish’s enthusiastic playing that causes this one to elevate as it does. The payoff here is in the shared frenzy that Fish and Trey push forward, building in strength and intensity until… all but suddenly the bottom drops out and we are Wading In The Velvet Sea. Wonderful. Sorry, I just can’t take this song here. It totally saps the set of all of the energy built up throughout that RnR>Disease>Piper section. I mean, sure, Trey has a lovely solo at the end but c’mon. It doesn’t even peak out like so many other versions of the song. This just feels like they needed to check off Velveeta on the songs played list for that night. Maybe Trey had an entry at phantasytour he really wanted to win that night or something. I dunno, but I’m happy to entertain defenders of the cheese even if I won’t agree with you.

After that interlude we set up for the set closing Antelope and tonight is another tight take on the song but lacks some of that mid-90s scary psychedelic energy that made this tune such a fan favorite in its hey day. Instead it provides a nice punch of energy to counteract the sob story of the preceding song in closing set, not too unlike the versions we (mostly) get here in 3.0. Not bad, but nothing to write much about either. The encore has some fireworks in the second ever cover of Been Caught Stealing, the Jane’s Addiction tune that was debuted during that ridiculously fun Alpine show from the preceding summer tour (and which also included the debut of Led Zeppelin’s Ramble On). While what you expect, it rocks out hard and sends everyone off into the Chicago night with a big grin because how could you not love them playing that song? Don’t answer that, jaded vets.

All told, what we have here is a failure to comm… wait, that’s something else entirely. What we have here is a classic rock/energy/custy/Saturday Night Special show except for that pesky detail of it having been played on a Sunday. There are jams here as we have seen but this one is more about songs and the energy they create. For many fans this is exactly the type of show they seek since they get to hear a bunch of songs, a few rarities and bustouts, some fun covers, and a couple of jams but nothing so out there that they might lose interest. I am not that fan. If this was your first show you would probably be psyched. If you had been following this band for a long time, perhaps had been on tour for a bit, and they dropped this show you might have had fun in the moment but this is not one you will call out to your friends when discussing epic shows and it won’t be one you get stuck in the ol’ cassette deck in your beat up Volvo wagon that is being held together by resin and bumper stickers at this stage. I am not saying anything negative here because it is all quite well played; I’m just pointing out that this is not an all timer. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have some solid takeaways here. For tonight I say you should spin that Taste, Stash, RnR>Disease>Piper, and perhaps that bit of outro jam from Fee, maybe? The Roggae is nice too so throw that in if you have the time. But don’t spend too much time here as we will have much more to discuss from the next one on the docket…

Sit Up And Take Notice – Chicago, IL 11.07.1998

Phish — UIC Pavilion — Chicago, IL 11.07.1998

I  My Soul, Mike’s, Driver, B&R, Wedge, LxL, Fikus, Billy Breathes, Beauty of My Dreams, Weekapaug

II  Bag->Ghost, Reba, Farmhouse

E  Guyute, WMGGW

After the one night stop in Wisconsin Phish made the trip to a city where they have had a long history, having first played the Windy City on 03.30.1990 as opener for a band I doubt any of us has ever heard of, Bop (harvey), who have apparently been going strong for over 30 years just like a band we kinda are obsessed with here. Hey, maybe you know this band but they aren’t ringing any bells for me. Reading their website it looks like their shows are fun though so I guess check em out if you get the chance? Phish would play nine more shows in Chicago in the years preceding this three show run in Fall ’98, graduating from opening sets at the Lounge Axe (11.09.1990 they opened for Alex Chilton of the Box Tops, Big Star, and solo fame there) to bar venues like Biddy Mulligan’s (04.13.1991) and The Cubby Bear (10.02.1991) to rooms like the Caberet Metro (05.02.1992), The Vic (12.05/06.1992), and the venerable Aragon Ballroom (04.10.1993) and eventually to this very room for two quite memorable shows in June (06.18.1994, a day that also included an appearance on Danny Bonaduce’s radio show) and November (11.25.1994) of 1994 which were released in 2012 as a boxset. It should also be noted, with a big hat tip to GP420, that the band had played in the towns around Chicago several times over the years leading up to this run in places like The Gathering Place in Evanston (04.15.1991), Poplar Creek Music Center in Hoffman Estates (08.01.1992 as opener for Santana with the band coming out to play during the Santana headlining set as well), The Rosemont Horizon (10.31.1995, duh, how did I not include this after just going deep on a Halloween date??), and The World Music Theatre (08.14.1993, 08.08.1997, and the FarmAid concert on 10.03.1998 just a couple of weeks prior to this date – which we may cover on its own eventually). Over the years, Phish has continued to show their love for the Second City and its surroundings with many more shows including a couple of three night runs of great music (and sometimes horrible weather and questionable “guest” appearances…) that all started with these three from UIC.

These days the band is very good about their tour routing, generally having three night runs at a single venue start on Friday and run through Sunday night, allowing for travel days on each side – not to mention providing a little rest for all involved. On this tour the three night run in Chicago began on Saturday right on the heels of the Friday night show in Madison meaning that there would be a Monday show to cap the run before they headed up to Grand Rapids, MI for the Wednesday night special. But we have three nights of engaging Phish to discuss before we get to that.

Over the years, we as a fanbase have gotten pretty good at figuring out the various setlist signs that will clue you in even without hearing the show about some of what occurred that night.  Some of this is denotation (such as segue notation) and some of it is song choice (e.g. encores like Monkey>Rocky Top or Fire are generally good signs of a show that rips) or song placement (certain openers and closers can mean different things). I bring this up to highlight the history of the opener for this show, My Soul, a song that while nothing really too special on its own (it isn’t a jam vehicle and pretty well does the same thing most of the time) has been known to be the first set opener for some true classics over the years. Examples of this include 02.21.1997 with its jam-heavy first set (including the first YEM in Firenze ever) and the ‘heavy metal’ jamming and Reba of the second set, 11.23.1997 with the Theme>BEK and Stash->NICU in the first along with a seriously epic second frame anchored by Gin->Disease->Low Rider->Disease, 07.04.1999 with the Ya Mar and Ghost->Slave (listen for the notable teases) and the debut of WTU?, 05.22.2000 with what many consider their favorite Ghost ever (nothing wrong with that choice for sure), 10.20.2010 with the Guyutica fun and that second set, and 01.01.2011 with all that went down in that phenomenal night at MSG. Sure, there are times when the My Soul opener “rule” hasn’t held up but on this night that would not be the case.

So Phish took the stage at UIC for the first time in almost four years and cranked up the energy with the rocking My Soul we just mentioned. Things stay in the higher energy realm as the band then started up Mike’s for an early first set version. These days Mike’s Song has been a bit neutered compared to its time as one of the major jam vehicles in the repertoire – this past summer’s “return of the 2nd jam” notwithstanding – but in this time it was still a formidable tune. Tonight’s version has a first jam that chugs along through the power funk shred first jam before the band drops into a more subdued space, building the ambient motif that typifies this tour already. The resulting jam is quite beautiful and not what you expect out of Mike’s but it works well in providing transition to the songs that will bridge us from here to the Weekapaug we know is coming. I did say songS, and tonight the first of these is a pair with Trey on acoustic for Driver and Brian and Robert. The Wedge follows and does what it does in bringing the energy level up a bit from those acoustic tunes, not to mention being quite the far cry from the Slow Wedges of Spring ’93 even if it still isn’t a jammer. Limb by Limb follows and we get another lovely take on this song though perhaps not quite to the level of the one that preceded in Utah. By now you are starting to wonder just when they might wrap up this here Mike’s Groove considering we are four songs out from the beginning of the groove but this is starting to get to be a bit too much. Will the next song be the payoff?

Nope. Fikus it is here for what still stands as the final performance of the Story of the Ghost track. Sure, there are a couple of teases of the song later on in this tour but outside of that this dreamy escape has been relegated to the realms of super fan wishlists. Things stay in slower territory for Billy Breathes and then we get the grassy cover of Del McCoury’s Beauty of My Dreams and now FINALLY we get the set closing Weekapaug Groove we have been waiting for all set. We will get to the Paug in a second but first let’s talk about how we got here since this is not your standard Mike’s Groove by any means. For the majority of the suite’s existence I Am Hydrogen has graced the midground in the Groove with Spring ’93 being the first time since the pattern had settled for there to be any relatively frequent examples of the band deviating from the norm. This isn’t to say that Hydrogen disappeared entirely but that it couldn’t still be expected to definitely be the song to follow Mike’s on the way to Paug. I’m not going to detail every one of these deviations because they become more and more frequent throughout the mid and late 90s but it is interesting just how many songs the band plays here mid-groove, so to speak. I’m not really interested in taking the time to see just where this ranks in terms of distance between start and end of groove but I have to believe that sticking seven songs in there while also staying in the same set has to be up there in the rankings. So honestly, by the time they do get to this Paug set closer you have to wonder whether people had forgotten about the Mike’s being out there or if everyone was hanging on it in anticipation. Either way the payoff is worth it as they first build an engaging jam to punctuate the set before they drop down to allow Trey to speak over the rest of the band in thanking the crowd and mentioning the upcoming setbreak. Following this you know they will come back to a big peak and they do that but not before speeding everything up considerably and rocking the fuck out to close the set. This ends up being a fairly uneventful first set except for the Mike’s and Paug but the song choices are fresh and the playing is solid throughout. After a set like that though, one has to wonder what they have in store for after the break.

Well, one should have figured they were saving something for this set as they came out and dropped one of those good ol’ four song sets that get the kidz all riled up and frothing. Tonight the main attraction is the set opening ACDC Bag, a song that really came into its own as a jam vehicle about a year prior to this first with the multi-themed beast that came out of Ghost on 11.21.1997 in Hampton and then on that year’s NYE Run at MSG on 12.30.1997 with some of the same type of playing but even more to show as well. From then on the song has been considered a potential vehicle by fans as many often want, nay expect, that the song will stretch into a 20-minute juggernaut jam. While that may not be the case (especially here in 3.0) on this night in Chicago those wishes were heard as the band threw down a magical jam over more than twenty minutes of playing. Once the lyrical part of the song ends the band wastes no time in heading into the cowfunk on steroids beginning theme, eventually passing into that ambient space they have been exploring this tour. This first sounds familiar to what they have done with other jams of this kind in recent shows but eventually heads into a completely new space as they explore the ambience more deeply than any time previous on this tour, excepting perhaps the Vegas Wolfman’s though that goes in a decidedly different direction. Tonight everything is positive and glowing and the waves of musical ideas within the ambience further that feeling. If you know the comp that Mr. Miner put together under the moniker A Trip Through The Late 90s you will recognize some of the more melodic sections of this jam. Eventually, after several minutes of this bliss space they begin to build towards a transition which emerges as Ghost (matching the only other pairing of these songs in this order that occurred in another jam-heavy show from Prague on 07.06.1998. and to answer the obvious question, the only time Ghost has preceded Bag was in the aforementioned Hampton ’97 show. good company on both fronts…). Though this Ghost does not quite reach the heights of others in the history of the song it does get to several minutes of hardcore Phish funk. Shaking off the less dance-friendly aspects of the ambient jam that preceded it this jam will get you moving in that wonderful way, practicing all your deepest knee bends and funk’d up faces. Oddly though, rather than stretch this out into another segue or by moving back to the ambient they bring the song down by steps eventually simply fading out as if to say “okay, we’re good on that, let’s move on now”. But before doing so there is an almost familiar passage Trey throws in that hints heavily at Dear Prudence if not another Beatles tune. It almost feels like they will transition into something here but instead it fades out and we are on to the next song. (thanks to stapes for the reminder on this aspect of the Ghost)

At this stage you would be expecting a breather song or something at least a bit more in the box than what the prior 40-ish minutes had provided but instead they dive right into another meaty tune with our gal Reba. The song and first part of the jam are just fine and dandy but it is the back end of this jam that provides the payoff as they build and build to that satisfying peak of Reba that we all know and love. This not going to be a version you call out for the best ever conversation – looking at you, St. Denis Reba! (yes, I know there is a sbd version of this gem out there but I don’t have it upped anywhere right now so…) – but it does what you want in a Reba jam and that is a good thing.

We can even excuse the set closing Farmhouse that follows this (the only time it has ever filled the 2nd set closer slot, by the way…) because over the preceding 50 minutes or so Phish has just provided three great examples of the breadth of jamming styles that they are capable of in this era. SO with a bit of a letdown closer of sorts we head to the encore and tonight we get an interesting pair of not-similar-at-all songs in Guyute and While My Guitar Gently Weeps. The first rocks hard through its proggy progressions and then we get the mournful wail of the Beatles cover to send us home. These aren’t my favorite encores ever but really, how can one complain about encore selections? The whole point of an encore is to give a little more back to the fans once they have voiced their appreciation enough for the band to come back on stage (just ask Dean Ween about that – check the comments from Mickey on that post). And in Phish’s case the encore slots fill many different roles be it adding an exclamation point to a hot show, cooling the crowd down a tad before sending them off to Shakedown, or making a wry comment on one thing or another. I’d say that this encore accomplished the goal of giving everyone a bit more of what they wanted and sending things off on a high note (not literally though. WMGGW isn’t exactly a bliss peak type tune…). Anyway, the night was complete and we still have two more shows here to be played so let’s just move on.

Looking back over this one it is really a tale of two sets. The first set is a largely song-based affair but there is that one big highlight in Mike’s not to mention solid playing by the band throughout. The second set is all about the jam from the start with the only non-jammed tune being that odd closer choice. It would be interesting to hear what people would think of a show like this in 3.0 as it has a little bit of everything except maybe antics/humor. In the pantheon of great shows this one might not even crack the top 50 or 100 but it does give us a seminal jam that stands the test of time. I wouldn’t add this show to the canon of greats but I’ll gladly recommend it as a show that should be heard at least once. Your takeaways tonight are Mike’s, Bag->Ghost, and Reba with the Paug being one to add if you want to hear that frenetically fast finish.

Next up is the middle show of this run and it is a completely different sort of Phish than what we just covered. Should be interesting…

Provoking Dreams That Don’t Exist — Madison, WI 11.06.1998

Phish — Kohl Center — Madison, WI 11.06.1998

I  Possum, Wilson>Roggae, Maze, Meat>Sparkle>Melt

II  Makisupa>Funky Bitch, Simple->Caspian>Fluffhead, HYHU>Bike>HYHU, Hood

E  BOAF, Hello My Baby

Two nights later and close to a 1,000 miles from Denver Phish took the stage in Madison, WI on the first show of the Midwest section of this tour. This would be the first of seven shows over ten nights as they wound their way in a generally southeastern direction to the south of the Great Lakes before following the lines headed even further south. It is also the first of four shows in as many nights and the first time the band had played this college town since playing the Dane County Coliseum 10.24.1995 for a show that is long on great playing and big highlights, most notably the YEM->Monkey>Antelope. They had started playing Alpine Valley in the Summer of ’96 so this wasn’t the first time back in the state since then but it had been a few tours since the ‘Berkeley of the Midwest’ had been graced by the presence of Phish.

The first set kicks off with a punchy Possum where Trey gets the fingers warmed up nicely in running through the swampy twang rock of the setlist standard. They keep the energy waaaaaay up with a rocking Wilson that includes some of that ‘electro Trey’ playing in the pre-Blap Boom solo before heading into a curious segue to Roggae. The juxtaposition of these two songs is a bit jarring at first but once they get to the end jam all is good in the world. Maze follows and brings the energy back up again in a straight forward but typically frenetic version that has a solid organ solo from Page. Following the resolution of Maze they drop into the gooey funk humor of Meat before bringing out Sparkle for an uplifting if not FMS take on the staple. By this stage you get the point that they are building tension in the more subdued songs with the release payoff coming in the big peaks of the energy rockers in between so you look at the pattern and realize that with the Fast-Fast-Slow-Fast-Slow-Fast order we could be getting another big one to close the set and provide symmetry. Which is exactly what happens as they drop into what will be the set closing Melt. You should already know this version considering that it was released in its SBD glory as part of the second volume of the Superball FTA. If you are not familiar with it, go ahead and spin it because it is one to be heard. Here we get the Fall ’98 funk sound paired with one of the most psychedelic tunes in the catalog providing for a jam that begs you to move with it. The rhythm section is on point throughout here, never fully leaving the structure of the song as Trey solos around the theme over top of a chunky groove that you just don’t want to end. Unfortunately, it does end but not before we have been treated to a top notch Melt that showcases the ’98 sound quite well. Now it is off to setbreak to see if they serve cheese curds.

The second set, which you can view in its old VHS glory here, starts off with the first Makisupa Policeman of this tour and tonight’s key phrase is “university rent-a-cop”. The outro jam here keeps the lilting reggae beat while getting decidedly ambient which then leads to the first Funky Bitch of this young tour. Though about what you would expect here, Page goes on an organ bonanza (an organ-za, if you will) in taking the spotlight solo for tonight’s version of the Son Seals classic. Next up is Simple, the jam of which starts out in pure beautific style continuing on in this way for a bit before they head into some ambience that keeps the beauty flowing as Trey provides sonic color without overwhelming the music with too many loops and effects. This is bliss Phish without the resolving peak but once you hear the transition coming you understand why they do not pay this off within Simple. Instead we have a great segue into Caspian which is moving along as it does when – just as they are about to drop into the big solo out of Trey – a naked guy jumps up on stage (you can see it partially around 29:40 of that video linked above if you are so inclined). This spurs on Fish to repeatedly exclaim “bring him back!!” which along with the band building the crescendo whips the crowd into a bit of fervor. Things settle in for a jam that allows Trey to get his guitar god on as the band creates the envelope of sound around him before they drop it all down to some minimal space and Trey drops in the tell tale riff that brings us to Fluffhead (yet another first timer for this tour). This version is high on energy and is pretty well nailed by the band, something that becomes more and more rare as we head to late 1.0 and the full shelving of the song for 2.0. Here that is but a figment of future imaginations as it comes off quite nicely.

At this stage you have to think the band deserves a bit of a breather and we get that… kind of… as we have our first Fish Fun Time of the tour! WOOOOO!!!! ahem sorry. Just had to get that out of my system. I blame any leftover FFT joy from my daliances with the Spring ’93 stuff. Anyway, here we actually have a notable bit of HYHU as Page brings the theme back after the normal stopping point for another bit of the song. Not exactly the full band jam on HYHU like 05.07.1994 or something but a nice derivation. The Fish tune tonight is Bike and along with the expected vac solo we get introductions of the band members, though not like we typically enjoy. Tonight it is generic “drummer”, “bass player”, and “organ player” call outs.  After Bike as they do the kit switch in the outro HYHU Trey calls Fish “Bob Weaver” which was, of course, the preferred nom de plume of our oft-named octopus of a drummer throughout 1998. Incidentally, if you are looking for a pretty complete list of the nicknames that Fish has acquired over the years a good starting place is his bio on .net which also includes some other fun facts about the donut dress wearin’ dude. Once back to the kit Fish immediatley drops the opening beat for Harry Hood and we are back to the music. This set closing version is a nice uplifting take with a solid peak but it isn’t winning any awards in comparison to the many other Hoods it competes with from so many years of performances. It does provide a nice punctuation mark to the set though and sends us on our way to the encores which tonight include a quite spirited take on BOAF and the old a cappella ditty Hello My Baby. From there it is time to get to Chicago for tomorrow’s show which kicks off the three night run at the UIC Pavilion.

As with the preceding Denver show this one feels like something is left lacking but that is really only in comparison to the massively important shows that preceded it from Vegas and Utah. The reality is that this show has a solid first set capped by a wonderfully funky Split Open and Melt and a second set that never lags and is anchored by that Simple->Caspian>Fluffhead mid section. The band is definitely fully in the swing of this tour now and heading towards much bigger things as they go forward.  Your takeaways tonight are the Melt and the Simple->Caspian>Fluffhead but if you want more check out the Wilson>Roggae pairing and perhaps the Maki>Funky Bitch or the Hood. I’m trying to be a bit more conservative with what I recommend from these shows but considering the level of playing it is difficult to limit it without skipping songs I consider to be highlights. Oh well. I guess that means more Phish to spin. What a terrible fate…

The World Will Spin Beside Itself — Denver, CO 11.04.1998

Phish — McNichols Arena — Denver, CO 11.04.1998

I  Buried Alive>Zero, Guyute>Gin>Ya Mar, BOAF, B&R, Frankie->Bowie

II  Jim>Moma>Piper->2001>CDT, Cup

E  Coil

Finally, after another night off Phish has made their way to Colorado to catch up with the fans who did not join them for the stop in Utah that we kinda discussed a bit there. For that day off they popped into KBCO Studios for a little interview and a few acoustic live tracks. Nothing too major there, but a fun listen to get a sense of where the band is at this time, covering stuff like the Halloween cover tradition, their messy situation with Red Rocks at that time, and more. And then the following night they hit the stage for the third and final time at McNichols Arena, the non-demolished arena that once was home to the Denver Nuggets before the construction of the Pepsi Center where the band would play on the early Spring 2003 Tour. This was also the last show in Colorado by Phish until the one time performance at Fiddler’s Green, a venue that has been greatly improved since that appearance, though the music didn’t suffer too much as a result of the venue issues considering the second set they threw down that night. But that’s for another time.

This show continues the run of sports arena shows that started in Las Vegas on this tour, a run that will stretch for a bit since the band had a strong enough following at this stage to be able to carry the larger crowds needed for these bigger rooms. It is a big contrast to the small crowd of the tour opener in Los Angeles but more typical of the era for the band. Tonight’s show opens with a solid combo of Buried Alive>Zero and while nothing revelatory these two songs provide the energetic punch sought in the opening slots. I must say that Zero works quite well here as opposed to its typical set closing or even encore slotting. Incidentally, the song has only opened sets three times, one each for a first, second, and third set. There have been 41 encore performances of the song out of its 186 performances, a bunch of first and second set closing slots, a smattering of midset takes over the years in both first and second sets (most times ending up within one or two songs of the closer though it does have a number of right smack dab in the middle of the first set slottings), and just one other time that the song was the second song of a set as it fell in the two-hole of the second set from MSG on 12.31.1998. That’s way more detail than you wanted here but I was curious so now you know.

After this they keep things on the up for a fun romp through Guyute (one of those classic I-am-not-picking-it-but-if-they-play-it-I-enjoy-it kind of numbers) before heading into Gin. There are no major takeaways in the jam here but they get to a nice build section before fading it out into a series of loops as they transition to Ya Mar. This cover song has a long history with Phish, mostly being played straight up with some short solos and whatnot but in late ’97 and throughout ’98 the song has become more of a vehicle for exploration. While this version is perhaps not at lengthy or expansive as the one from Albany ’97 or the captivating Island Tour one it does stretch beyond Ya Mar proper as the band gets into a sparse, staccato-esque jam where Mike and Fish take over the lead duties for some bass work/footbell action and wood block stylings, respectively. The compact rocking BOAF fills the next slot before we have a cool down section with two songs from the recent album coming in flip flopped from their album tracking. First up is Brian and Robert, a ballad that was a staple in ’98 and the latter part of 1.0 before becoming something of a setlist rarity these days. Frankie Says pops in again after this and while also in the lower energy spectrum this one goes pretty deep in the outro ambient jam with the first half being Trey-led and in keeping with the song structure before they dive off into the murk in a jam that feels more Floydish than the other ambient stuff they have been putting out there this tour. There are not a lot of loops or effects here with Trey playing some interesting melody lines as the rest of the band provides setting. It allows for nice table setting in beginning the tension to eventually be released with the set closing punctuation mark that is Bowie. This Bowie is mainly about what you expect with no major left turns to speak of though Trey does quote Stash in the midst of the jam which is nice. Outside of that the song closes the set finely enough and we are off to the break.

The second set kicks off with a slightly extended, rocking Jim that chugs along quite competently before giving way to Moma for the third performance of the song already in just five shows. Nothing special here as they go through the funk number in a typical way before heading into Piper which is where the real heat of this set lies. This song is played quite energetically, leading to an upbeat and raucous jam that stays mainly within the framework of the song before they bring it down to a loop’d transitional space, building the framework for what will be a full segue into the subsequent 2001. After achieving this segue we have a straight forward 2001 (save for the fight bell *tings* out of Mike) that funks its way to another rocker with CDT fitting the bill. This one is a fiery little monster with a shreddy back end jam but no stretching out of the song. Which then brings us to the Cup closer and we all know what that does. Encore is the always lovely Squirming Coil and we are them off to make the trip up to Wisconsin for the show two nights from now.

All in all this show is just fine with a couple of decent highlight jams and solid playing overall. It pales in comparison to the nights that precede it but that is not to say there isn’t some value to be found here. For takeaways I’ll say check out the Gin>Ya Mar, Frankie->Bowie, and Piper->2001. Definitely not a bad way to have spent a Wednesday in Colorado… and I am sure you are all thrilled that I did not write 3,000+ words for the first time this tour. Enjoy the extra free time as you prep for our Midwest run to come.

There Is Time To Kill Today — West Valley City, UT 11.02.1998

Phish — The E Center — West Valley City, UT 11.02.1998

I  Tube->Drowned->JJLC, Driver, Bittersweet Motel, LxL, Wading>Sample

II  Disease, Mango>Moma, YEM, Harpua>Speak to Me->Breathe>On The Run, Time>GGITS>Money>Us and Them->Any Colour You Like->Brain Damage->Eclipse>Harpua

E  Smells Like Teen Spirit

Clearly we can excuse Phish for effectively taking the night off for this one night stop in Utah as they made their way from Las Vegas to Denver on this tour. Since most of the traveling fanbase skipped this one it makes sense that the band took it easy… hey, wait a minute…

::looks at setlist more closely::

::looks again because that can’t be right::

Um, yeah. So, we might not have covered it here yet but now is a good time to as there are a few axioms in the Phish World that almost always hold true. These include but are not limited to:

  1. One for three; two for five.
  2. Never miss a Sunday show.
  3. No talking during jams.
  4. Glowsticks are cool sometimes but not to be thrown at the band.
  5. Mike needs to be turned up.
  6. Always use the rock test to decide who drives home.
  7. The music is all that matters.
  8. Keep it positive.
  9. Seriously, no talking during jams.
  10. Pass the pre-rolls freely. Everyone will benefit.
  11. Never skip the ‘skip show’!

Some are more guideline than rule but that last one is the biggie as applies to our show up above. In the wake of the two shows in Las Vegas there sat this one that was a bit out of the way for those also hitting Denver considering that they all turned right in Sulphurdale, UT to pick up I-70 and head east rather than continuing on I-15 up to the Salt Lake City area for this show. This proved to be a major blunder on their part and the band made them pay for it in legendary fashion.

Now, if you the fan were really ambitious you would have gotten up there on the off night to catch Trey and Mike joining an ‘open mic’ night at the Dead Goat Saloon, a dive bar that has since closed its doors. More on this as we work through the set here but they played a decent number of tunes to a really really small crowd, from all accounts. It is highly doubtful that audio of that exists but here’s hoping it surfaces some time in the future because we are obsessive and need to hear every single last note any of these guys has ever played.

But had you at least made it to the Phish show the following night in West Valley City you would have been witness to one of the biggest jokes the band has ever played on the fanbase in a venue that holds over 12,000 which was perhaps a third full for that night’s show. This made that night ripe for Phish to do what they tend to in such circumstances when no one expects them to come out and lay waste to the lucky souls who made the commitment to be a part of IT. Examples abound from all over the band’s history including 09.14.1999 (Boise Bag is all I need to say but the subsequent Gumbo and Disease are fantastic as well), 08.14.1996 (Hershey show before The Clifford Ball. Jammed out Wilson opener, awesome Reba, open jamming in Jim, and a Tweezer that’ll get you moving), 10.20.2010 (The Guyutica show! My Soul openers generally mean good things and this is no exception what with the first set shenanigans and the Melt madness in the second)… I could keep going here but that’s how I end up with 4,000 word posts so let’s just say we will all do our homework on sleeper/skip shows and get to gettin’ here.

Obviously, where I am headed here is that this show stands as THE EXAMPLE for why the axiom exists. After playing two big shows that were both very difficult tickets to obtain — and throwing down some transcendent, wonderful music in the process — you had to have thought (these future past perfect* tenses get confusing some times) a breather is coming (particularly in Utah) before they go over to Colorado where they already had a long history of performing and playing quite well. Add on to it that a lot of fans didn’t want to deal with the hassles of potential law enforcement interactions and you have a recipe for an undersold show.

So what does Phish do to not only increase that FOMO (before the term was coined, of course, but a concept that has long been a part of our scene) and also to give back to the fans who did make it to this show? Oh, just throw down a bunch of sick jams and cover another full album (one that was so rumored to be the pick for the ’94 Halloween costume that they actually played the first track over the PA at the start of that costume set to mess with everyone) that they learned THAT DAY while waiting for the show. And that album cover didn’t even start until after they were close to 50 minutes into the second set already. But before we get to all that we have a great first set to discuss. I love when that happens.

These days, if you see Tube on a setlist you can expect it to have a tight little funk jam but to stay somewhere in the six to seven minute range in toto (the longest one of 3.0 is only a shade over seven minutes) but in the latter part of 1.0 and into 2.0 the song got a bit more time to stretch out, particularly in a few highly memorable versions that include the Tube “Reprise” section after the final verse and refrain. This night in Utah the show opening Tube is one of those instances and, to me, stands as one of the best takes on the song they have ever performed (special shout out to a few other notable ones though before we dive in here:  12.07.1997 Dayton, 12.29.1997 MSG, 02.22.2003 Cincinnati, and my personal favorite 09.15.2000 Hershey). The fun part about this one though is that it combines not just the swanky cowfunk of the ’97 sound but the emerging ambient funk that will come to typify Fall ’98. In the first part of the jam Trey starts the loops early and they romp through a highly danceable section with each player adding flourishes where they see fit. After the “napkin” section and final refrain they seem to wrap the song up only to get a Fish BLAP to kick off the reprise section and here things turn sideways in a hurry. The loops are more subdued but still there and Trey goes off on a long lead journey while the band builds the pocket around him. It is highly engaging stuff that seemingly brings together the last two album influences in leading to a bliss jam that is wholly not Tube. In the final minute or so you can tell they are clearly headed somewhere but it isn’t an obvious segue until Trey throws in the power chords over the rest of the band with Page adding the signature piano line for Drowned and we are off into our second jam vehicle just two songs into the show!

This Drowned is a triumphant rocker in the first half before they settle into an upbeat groove with Trey trying out several ideas – none of them ever really catching – while Fish pounds away Moon-like, Page comping along on the piano, and Mike matching Trey with ideas of his own. Eventually they all come together and eventually move into another bit of transition space for what one has to think will be a cool down tune, only to have them emerge into Jesus Just Left Chicago. Typically this song, while rooted in its blues foundation, gets a bit more rocking and almost funky when Phish plays it but tonight they keep it cerulean with Page and Trey trading enthusiastic solos on the organ and guitar, respectively. Coming after those first two jams it kind of is a bit of a cool down tune but at the same time has a great energy of its own.

Now we get that breather section first with a little dedication/anecdote from Trey to mention the prior night’s open mic fun and to thank the staff at the Dead Goat Saloon before playing a pair of songs with Trey on the acoustic, Driver and Bittersweet Motel. There is a bit more banter between those two songs and then they also use the big Freebird-esque ending to close it up. These two songs provide the necessary bathroom break after that 40+ minute three song onslaught to start the show and then we get another shot of energy with a really quite beautiful take on Limb by Limb. It never leaves the main structure of the song but Trey and Page keep it airy and light while Mike and Fish lay down the pocket, resulting in a smile-inducing jam that far outpaces the first LxL on this tour back at the Greek on night one. From here we get a Wading>Sample closing combo that is pretty much what it says on the box and we are off to setbreak where I am certain the conversation would have been around that Tube->Drowned->JJLC segment. At least that’s what my conversation would have included assuming my talk functions were active that night ifyouknowwhatimean.

After the break they come out firing with a fiery hot Disease that stays in bounds but elevates the energy well. The subsequent Mango Song is a well played version of a song (listen to Page in particular here) that is always nice to hear which tonight segues into Moma for our second funk workout of the evening. It is a fun version with a couple of Monkey Man teases but the real highlights of this set are yet to come. They kick into a mid-set YEM and almost immediately depart from form by stretching out the pre-Nirvana section with a captivating ambient soundscape that has all of the YEM elements present while stretching the tune out in building tension for the explosion of prog funk energy to come. The rest of this YEM is well done but largely what you expect out of the song and after that we get a few rare moments of the band collecting themselves in making the next song selection.

Here I should probably tell you that the song to come is a bit of an obsession of mine, as I have long been fascinated by the ever-evolving tale of that spastic dead-eyed hound Harpua and his foil Poster Nutbag, the cat that always dies. Except when he doesn’t but that’s for another time. Any time I see this song on a setlist I know there is a story to be heard that will tickle the imagination and offer up at least a tease of a non-Phish song we all know, often resulting in the crowd or even other band members wanting to keep that song going (such as Fish asking for more “Jimmy” when Trey rips up a bit of Voodoo Chile in the famed 06.17.1994 OJ Show version of Harpua). Add in the fact that they were coming off the run in Vegas where a pretty pretty pretty notable Harpua had gone down a little less than two years prior involving members of Primus, a bunch of Elvii, yodelers, and a wonderful yarn about our man Jimmy’s trip to Sin City and you have the potential for this one to get weird once again. Trey does in fact connect the two stories, after first making a knowing reference to the “E” Center in saying how full of love and warm he feels being there. You can tell he really cracks himself up with that. SO once he gets to the story he speaks perhaps a bit in a self-reflective manner by relating that Jimmy decides to get out of Vegas almost as soon as he gets there because it is just too crazy and he can’t take it so he hitches a ride with a guy to SLC. The guy puts on one of Jimmy’s favorite albums (it is always one of Jimmy’s favorites, isn’t it?) and then the band drops out and over the PA we get the start to Speak to Me! Well, that’s a pretty cool nod, isn’t it? Should be fun to hear them go back into Harpua after this little bit of… hang on. They played the whole song and THEY ARE GOING INTO BREATHE!! At this point, if you were in the crowd you have to be wondering whether they could possibly be going through with this. Normally you get a few bars of the song Trey mentions and then we are back to Harpua for the fight and resolution. NOPE!! Not tonight! Tonight we get the full album cover of Dark Side of the Moon, only one of the most seminal and widely lauded rock albums of the prior twenty-five years (yes, I am generalizing and I know there is a huge segment of people who prefer the older, Syd-influenced Pink Floyd sound – if they like PF at all – but considering that this album stayed on the Billboard Top 200 albums for an ungodly 861 weeks you have to acknowledge the touchpoint that this album was and continues to be).

So here we are with the second full album cover in as many shows, this time one that pretty well everyone in the room would have known — many having wanted this to be the album played on Halloween. Now, I was a huge Pink Floyd in my formative youth, using that band as one of my gateway bands into the world of psychedelic music and for that I will forever have an affinity for their music. And had I been there on this night I would have totally lost my shit and maybe even dropped to my knees with head in hands in awe of this band though that last part might be the result of… other factors. But the reality here is that as amazing as it is that they pulled this off after (as all of the legend around this show indicates) only buying the CD that day and learning it together for that night’s show it is all very down-the-middle stuff in playing the album pretty much straight to form.

Before the pitchforks come out and the torches get lit though let me state that I am not saying there is anything bad in this occurring as I really think this is the master stroke of pranking done by the band on their fanbase. It is a big middle finger to those who were perhaps not thrilled with the Velvet Underground choice for Halloween as well as to those who chose to skip this one-off show for whatever reason. It proves the notion that you are risking missing out on a peak experience every time you choose to not go to a show and once again shows just how in tune with the fanbase this band was and continues to be. But musically? It is pretty average. There are no real jams to speak of and the playing, while typically good Phish, is not anything you haven’t heard before and for that reason I’m not going to do a song-by-song breakdown of the DSOTM portion of the show except to say that if Trey wants to go ahead and drop Any Colour You Like into the middle of a hot jam or even sandwiched into a great set of segued music I am all for it and will woo louder than the Tahoe Tweezer woo brigade to here it go down.

All that said, in comparing it to the sonic landscapes they crafted just one night prior in drawing inspiration from the music of Loaded the performance of DSOTM just doesn’t stack up. I wrote a bit on this in the comment section of the previous post but I’ll lay it out here again because I think it speaks volumes about what both performances meant to the band. The DSOTM set was about doing it because they could but not necessarily about pushing that music forward or making it their own. In contrast, the performance of Loaded is all about putting their imprint on the music and drawing inspiration from the templates Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground set out for them to use as their starting point. Each song therein is something a bit more than just a replaying of the album; it is instead a retelling of it. Further, when you look at the songs on Loaded and which ones have become a part of the ongoing rotation to whatever frequency they tend to play them you have several songs with performances scattered over the years and one that has become a bona fide jam vehicle in Rock and Roll. Cool It Down, Oh! Sweet Nuthin, Lonesome Cowboy Bill, Sweet Jane, and Head Held High have all been performed in the years since 10.31.1998 (the last two only once) and Rock and Roll has graced the stage more than 70 times since. On the other hand, not a single song from DSOTM has been played since that night and the only tune off of that album to have been played prior to that set (excepting the jam on Breathe from St. Paul, MN 10.25.1995) is GGITS which we learned during its debut tour of Spring ’93 was a joke performance in the Fish Fun Time slot. This is quite telling to me because more than just being setlist oddity it speaks to what the band thinks of their relative connection with the music on each album, respectively, and how they wanted to use that music to push their own boundaries. As we will continue to see along this tour the impact of the Loaded set on Phish was definite and significant. The same cannot be said for DSOTM. Again, I am not deriding the performance of DSOTM because as a setlist writing geek fan I definitely love that they did it and would have been floored in the moment had I not been some 5,000 miles away at the time. But the set I will continue to spin of these two is Loaded because I both love the VU tracks and the Phishy spin that the band put on it that night, not to mention the sonic impact it had going forward.

So after that fantastically fun and awe-inspiring run through Dark Side of the Moon they come back for the resolution of Harpua, skipping the fight section since Poster apparently didn’t make the trip out of Gamehendge with Jimmy and Harpua was probably off chasing a heard of multibeasts or something. Oddly enough, this is one of 13 show closing Harpuas of the 60+ times the song has been played, not even including the handful of encores where the song has appeared. Following this one the encore seems like a big afterthought but surprise surprise they break out another debut by playing Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit to send everyone out with an even bigger smile on their pie-eyed faces. Sure, it isn’t the cleanest take ever and Trey flubs the lyrics a tad but it is just another dig at those who skipped this one. If ever anyone asks you to explain what you mean when you say “you just never know what could happen at a show and that’s why we keep going back” you can point to this night as a prime example for why that is our mindset.

So summing up we have some top notch jams for the listen back: Tube, Drowned, JJLC, LxL, YEM, and maybe the Disease if you like ’em compact and coming in hot. Plus if you have never heard it you really do need to listen to the entirety of the Harpua Suite to understand this night. Heaven forbid you skip out on the skip set to end them all…

*yeah, not certain that is a real verb tense but let’s just go with it. it sounds good, right?