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…