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.