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…