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:
- One for three; two for five.
- Never miss a Sunday show.
- No talking during jams.
- Glowsticks are cool sometimes but not to be thrown at the band.
- Mike needs to be turned up.
- Always use the rock test to decide who drives home.
- The music is all that matters.
- Keep it positive.
- Seriously, no talking during jams.
- Pass the pre-rolls freely. Everyone will benefit.
- 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?