Something’s Got A Hold On Me And I Don’t Know What — Las Vegas, NV 10.31.1998

Phish — Thomas & Mack Center — Las Vegas, NV 10.31.1998

I  Axilla>PYITE>Roggae, BOAF, Sally->CDT>Lawn Boy, Mike’s->Frankie Says>Weekapaug

II Who Loves the Sun, Sweet Jane, RnR, Cool It Down, New Age, Head Held High, Lonesome Cowboy Bill>I Found A Reason, Train Round the Bend, Oh! Sweet Nuthin

III Wolfman’s->Piper>Ghost

E  Monkey>Reprise

There are few days as special in the world of Phish as Halloween. It is a holiday that leans right into the path of so much that draws many of us to this band, what with the juxtaposition of dark and light, the opportunity to fool those around you — as well as to prank the unknowing in a somewhat playful/harmless manner, and the opportunity for some form of story telling or showmanship either by tale, costume, or other manifestation. Phish has made it a somewhat regular thing to capitalize on the potential of Halloween in taking their game to a different level having played shows on Halloween in 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990, and 1991 before really taking things up several notches to something we will get to shortly. Those early Halloween shows leaned on the antics and musical playfulness of the quartet, offering up unique takes on setlist construction not to mention some interesting teases, jams, and cover tunes. These are all fun shows but nothing you are putting on a top whatever list or recognizing as an evolutionary shift in the band’s outlook.

But that all changed in 1994 when they took on the challenge of playing a full three set show where the middle set was a musical costume of a classic album, in this case the wonderful White Album by The Beatles. This was a very important night for several reasons, not the least of which being that they took the time to learn an entire double LP’s worth of new songs (28 tunes if you are counting at home) during the course of a lengthy Fall Tour that saw them in the midst of further developing their already considerable skills at crafting engaging, psychedelic, improvised music. The next year the stakes got higher as they played on the fanbase’s predilection towards debate in teasing several songs over the Fall Tour that were not a part of the eventual Halloween album Quadrophenia, even going so far as to open the ‘costume set’ with a prerecorded bit of the fan favorite choice Thriller as one last ‘trick’ before diving headlong into the arena rock concept album (for what would be my 1st Halloween spent with Phish). That night was a game-changer of sorts as they were only really able to play that album once they had graduated to the large arenas that they were at that point finally popular enough to book and fill consistently and as such they chose a perfect album to mark the occasion. The following year they continued the trend of choosing albums that were influences on the band, playing the one that would begin a major transformation in the sound of the band, Remain in Light by The Talking Heads. Another thing that changed with this performance was the band handing out a “Phishbill” for the first time to fans attending the show as a way to get everyone ready for the set to come as well as to provide some of the band’s reasoning behind playing that album… not to mention some funny fake ads and such. Much can be (and has been) written about what this performance meant for the future sound of the band but we will leave that to others since our focus today is on the next album to come in the Halloween hit parade.

But before we get to that we should also note that in most cases, particularly since they began the album-as-costume phase of their career, the sets surrounding the costume set are filled with some of the highest level of Phish musicianship one could want. I’ll give you a few examples because I tend to do that…

  • 1994:  start with the Simple>Divided if you aren’t into raging Frankensteins to open shows.. the bliss starts in the Simple and the Divided takes off to the stratosphere. Julius goes full hose. Reba is quite possibly one of the best versions of the song ever. Bowie is strong though straight forward, Antelope elevates like it did back then, Harpua has a fun story about the Vibration of Death, and overall the playing here is about what you’d expect from Fall ’94 which is to say top notch.
  • 1995:  another high quality Divided after the only Icculus opener ever and a Harpua with Mike taking story telling duties for a quite memorable one bookend this energetic first frame and then after the theatrics of the costume we have a 40+ minute YEM for the ages, a rambunctious JJLC with fantastic horn work out of The Truth, one of those awesome horn-filled Suzys that make you wish every Suzy had horn accompaniment, and then an encore only Phish could dream up: bluegrass My Generation culminating in instrument destruction and Fish’s kit being blown up.
  • 1996:  Sanity>Highway to Hell opening combo should tell you where things are headed here. The uplift of the soaring Caspian gives way to a Reba that is downright devilish but it is really the third set here that captivates (to say nothing of the costume itself). Karl Perazzo sticks around for the whole third set adding extra sauce onto everything, particularly the groove clinic Simple and the show closing Suzy (with horns again).

So you can see how these three years of Halloween shows have set the fanbase up for some pretty lofty expectations heading into the 1998 — especially with the band having taken 1997 off from Halloween, starting tour about two weeks later in this venue we are discussing today.

Now, I was not at this show as I mentioned in an earlier post so I cannot personally speak to the experience but all of my friends who were as well as everything I have read indicates that this was an off-the-rails-careening-down-the-mountain-shouting-to-the-moon-through-the-open-window kind of night. In a certain sense, everything up to this point had led the band to this place. They had a track record of playing seminal albums quite well on this date, they had begun another sonic evolution, the fanbase was just about as big as it would get, they were hot on the release of a new album, and they had the confidence and swagger of a band that could try and succeed whenever they took the stage. Looking back this was a potential recipe for disaster and I think that may have contributed somewhat to the mixed bag of responses you will get if you poll fans about what they think of this show and also the album that they played.  But we will get to all of that…

The first set kicks off with an energetic combo of Axilla>PYITE to get everyone moving before heading into a relatively downtempo Roggae which shows off the new ambient feel while they work their way through the end jam. Nice version but feels like table setting at best. BOAF offers up a bit more than the version from LA two nights ago but is still firmly within the song structure. Just as you are starting to think this set may just lope along in setting up the costume they start up Sneakin’ Sally for a take that is a far cry from the funky versions of its resurgence starting on the NYE Run of 1997. Here the funk drops out fairly early for an atmospheric jam (with a quick Superbad tease out of Trey) that is definitely headed somewhere that isn’t patently clear until Trey starts to bring the energy up and up towards the full segue into Chalkdust Torture. This provides a rocking lift midset but even this does not have the normal edge that CDT carries, staying somewhat diminished until they head into the lounge act portion of the show for Page’s take on Lawn Boy. After that they crank up Mike’s for what should (and will) inevitably be the set closing suite of songs. Trey kicks in the loops right away after the lyrical portion of Mike’s and the band proceeds in a patient, almost purposefully plodding fashion with a Simple tease along the path before they make a nice transition into Frankie Says. This would be the first of two times Mike’s and Frankie are paired (07.14.2000 Polaris Amphitheatre) and it works, I suppose, though I personally would have liked more out of the Mike’s before they made the move. After that breezy interlude we get the punctuation mark on the set we wanted in an amped up Weekapaug closer that leaves nothing on the table. Trey goes electro in fitting in as many notes as possible to his solo and the crowd heads off to setbreak to try to figure out which songs from the Phishbill will make good jam vehicles.

Which brings us to the meat of the matter. For this costume set the band took on The Velvet Underground’s Loaded album which is in and of itself a controversial choice if you know the history of that band. If you read the linked allmusic summary in the previous sentence you will get the full story but the gist is that when VU made the shift to Atlantic Records they were asked to make an album “loaded with hits” and without the sex and drugs that typified their experience and thus their sound. Due to the politics of the band amongst other factors this album is heavy on Lou Reed with more polish than the “full band” albums that proceeded it. And to top it off, before it was released Lou left the band which pretty well sealed the deal on where they were at that stage. That being said, it is a solid album full of some great tracks and it is really a good entry point to this highly influential band. If you like it I would recommend digging into their back catalog to find the live stuff and other albums that are more in line with the reality that was VU.

In a way though this set up all makes the album choice a good one for Phish to try to play on Halloween. It is not so obscure that there are no tracks that someone who has listened to rock radio or went to college in the past 15 years or so would not be able to recognize at least one, probably Sweet Jane. The music presented here covers several different styles (sounds like a band we know…) and offers a template for further exploration if desired (again…). The subject matter in the lyrics is oddly appropriate when you consider where Lou Reed was mentally when writing these songs and compare that to where Phish is at this stage in their career, riding a peak with a big record contract and fabulous touring success but perhaps not necessarily as content as the surface suggests. And being an album that a sizable portion of their fanbase would not be familiar with it offered the opportunity to stretch outside of their norm a bit while exploring a new sound that felt more akin to this music than to what they had played only three and four years prior. Now, I have put this all into perspective by stating that I had already found VU long before this time, actually right around the time I discovered Phish back in 1990 because high school is a time when many of us start to really explore our options musically. I had always thought that there were songs that Phish should be covering by VU but it just never happened. And with that in mind my happiness in finding out the next day that they had covered this band just raised my opinion of Phish more if that is even possible.

The truth is that they had covered two songs from this album before. The most prevalent was Lonesome Cowboy Bill which popped up three times in the Fish Fun Time slot in 1995 (SEE! That slot still haunts us!!) with Sweet Jane being debuted earlier in 1998 at MPP (08.08.1998) along with another cover of an entirely different sort, Sabotage. Neither of these covers made much of an impression at the time though you have to wonder if playing it only a couple months before this set was any indication of what the album would be that fall. Tough to say considering that Summer 1998 is the Tour of Covers with at least one seeming to debut nightly but it does make you think in that wondering stoner kind of way. But outside of that and those throw away LCB covers this was all new to us.

The set starts out with a straight forward take on Who Loves the Sun?, a playful ditty that wonders about subjects darker than the music implies. Sweet Jane is next and while mostly about what you expect if you know the song Trey does take off for a blissy solo in the back half. Next up is a tune that is now quite familiar to Phish fans, Rock and Roll. Even here in the debut you can tell that this is a song they will enjoy playing as the elements are all there for what will become one of the more reliable cover jam vehicles Phish employs on a regular basis (74 total performances as of this writing). We get more of that electro trilling out of Trey (perhaps that was all setting up to this jam) and some brief full band exploration before they wrap it up nicely in getting to the next tune. That next song is Cool It Down, another tune that has had a bit of staying power considering it has graced six more setlists over the years. The feel here is almost CCR-ish at times, something they would clean up in subsequent performances but overall the performance is fine enough to keep everyone engaged. At this point even if you weren’t familiar with the songs I would think you would have to have liked what you heard but I’m not as jaded as some so maybe if you were expecting them to play Zappa or something you could be standing there with arms folded. Imagine how those guys felt in 2013!

Here in the midset they get a couple of songs to stretch out a bit starting with the aptly titled New Age. They play this true to form at first before elevating to a soaring full band jam. The performance here works on more than one level as they are paying homage to an influential band from their past while also looking ahead with the new sound they are forging on stage. I’m actually kind of surprised that this song has never been played again as it really fits in well with their sound and could be a great vehicle for improvisation if given the opportunity. Oh well. Next up is a punchy take on the rocking though oddly worded Head Held High which gets us to that Lonesome Cowboy Bill we have expected only this time it isn’t framed as an antic as it was three years ago. Here we have a faithful take on the song before they go beyond into a jam that ranges from groove-based rock to the ambient textures they have been developing of late, eventually leading right into a lovely, soft version of I Found A Reason. The ironic Train Round The Bend with its downtrodden lyrics counterpointing the uplifting melody and tone provides the intro to the set closing Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ that feels like it was written for this band to make their own. Listening here it is hard to believe this is the first time that they played the song. It is well executed with a soaring peak and quiet return that brings this set to a close quite nicely. Oddly enough it took until 3.0 for this song to come back with five performances between 2009 and 2013 before it hit the shelf again. And now everyone gets the lights shined on them to figure out what they thought of what went down in that second set and to prepare for what should (will) be a dichotomous set if ever there was one in Phish history.

But before we get to that let’s talk about this costume set which for quite some time was the worst received (overall) costume that the band ever assumed on stage. There are some who are not fans of the Velvet Underground’s music and that would be a perfectly acceptable reason for not preferring this set. And there are others who were not familiar with the band or album and therefore chose to not like it because why like something you don’t already know? I mean, why didn’t they play ::insert album of big band everyone has memorized from their youth here:: ? That would have been perfect! Except it wouldn’t have been perfect. You have to consider why Phish chose each album that they did to understand this I think, but the reality is that as much as the costume set is for the crowd it is also for the band. The White Album is the outlier a bit but it does fit in with the band in a lot of ways what with all of the different types of music on display and the way that they performed it. Quadrophenia is a direct link to that album having influenced them as kids and having the opportunity to play it loud and proud in a big, open arena. Remain In Light was the band adding more tricks to their bag, exploring the quirky polyphonic funk of The Talking Heads while simultaneously pushing their own music to much greater heights as a result. And here we have another formative album from their youth that offered an entirely new template to explore musically. More can be said about the Halloween cover albums to come in 3.0 but that is a long way down the line from this night.

And getting back to that night we have another set to discuss! If you thought that cover set was divisive wait until you start asking people about the Vegas Wolfman’s. To say that this version causes OPINIONS is an understatement. I could go through and give you a breakdown of what happens over this 30+ minute version but I really believe that this is one you need to hear and judge for yourself. Here is the PJJ version so that you can focus on the controversial jam itself. In some camps your take on this type of Phish jamming will either put you in good favor or remove you from it. This is not a jam that you kinda sorta maybe in the right mood like. You are either for deep, dark, hide-under-your-chair, ambient Phish or you are not. There really is no middle ground. Some people hate this type of Phish and point to it as an example of the band headed on the downward spiral that led us to Hiatus and eventually The Break Up. Others, like me, see it as a natural shift in exploring musical themes that they had previously overlooked or avoided for whatever reason. Here you get the band as patient as they ever could be, allowing the ideas to come to them rather than trying to force their ideas upon the music. There are lags and their are moments of true connection, there are a couple of teases (Lifeboy, Makisupa) and there and moments where Fish throws in some vocal tones, and overall it just works considering that it moves forward through several different phases on the path through the darkness. It is really about the best “Halloween” music they have ever played… until you factor in the 2014 album which is something else again that is not up for conversation here. Anyway, your opinion may vary from mine and that is totally fine because this band Phish is not one thing to all people. It is many different things to everyone, evolving to something else again as quickly as you become comfortable with what was the previous norm and for that we are all the better.

Towards the end of that aural adventure they build an uplifting groove before going into Piper and you may be thinking, “okay! here we go! let’s rock this shit!!” and it does in fact rock along quite nicely in the first jam. After the final refrain they follow that pulsating groove for a few minutes before they jump off and head into the start of Ghost. Things start off fine enough here in the first Ghost of the tour (with the last one in a show being a quite happy version at that surprise 10.15.1998 show) as Trey lays down the loops and they head into what seems like it will be a throw down version for the ages. But only a few minutes into the jam things get sparse before it just… ends. No journey, no peak, no resolution. Trey just leaves the stage. And everyone else eventually follows. Don’t believe me? Check out the video. Some will tell you Trey was pissed about how the crowd reacted to the VU set. Others will say he really had to pee and could not wait a second longer. Still others will claim that he was off his head on ::insert substance here:: that night and just lost focus and wandered off. True conspiratorians will watch the interaction between Trey and Mike around the 47:30 mark to point to how Trey had PLANNED IT ALL ALONG! IT WAS A PHALSE PHISH OPERATION!! I KNEW IT! Okay, wait. Let’s all just settle down here. The truth is obviously somewhere in between all of these rumors and theories. If he was really dosed as some suggest, why did he take the time to set all of his loops and grab the glass of water on his way by the back riser? And why does the rest of the band follow along with nary a double take or sideways look? And if he was really coming on that strong how does he play the encore so fluidly only a few minutes later? I think that what is really going on here is that they had a plan to leave this unfinished, perhaps to revisit it elsewhere along the tour (the next Ghost is a really good one a week from now in Chicago but we shall get to that). Musically, he had said what he wanted to in this show. Maybe there are other factors and it is a bit odd to just walk out like that mid song, but it wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last he did something like that. And with that the encores are the fun Monkey>Reprise pairing that caps this run at the Thomas & Mack quite nicely.

I have said a lot here and so I won’t go further into trying to deconstruct this show because I think it is clear where I stand here. I will tell you that for takeaways I would suggest Sally->CDT, Mike’s->Frankie>Paug (particularly the Paug), RnR, New Age, LCB>I Found a Reason, Oh! Sweet Nuthin’, and the entire third set. Yeah, there’s a lot but it is a three setter for Halloween. You should be spinning the entire show anyway. Now we have a night off and then a skip show up in Utah (he he he) before heading to Denver and off to the Midwest…

My Temperature Started To Rise — Las Vegas, NV 10.30.1998

Phish — Thomas & Mack Center — Las Vegas, NV 10.30.1998

I  Wilson>Meat>Mule>BATCS>Mule, Long Cool Woman, Antelope, Guelah, Lizards, Cavern

II  Stash->Manteca->Tweezer->NICU>Jam->Caspian>Golgi

E  Driver, Freebird

One night after the tour opener in Los Angeles the caravan had moved northwest along I-15 (or THE I-15 if you are of the west coast persuasion, I suppose) to that ode to human weakness in the desert, Las Vegas, for a pair of shows at the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of UNLV, but a short distance from the main concentration of decadence along The Strip and its surroundings. This was the second time the band had played the venue (and city) and the second Fall Tour in a row to include this stop as they had opened the 1997 Fall Tour in this very place.  The pair of shows they threw down here in 1998 builds off of what began in LA (though really with the ambient set from Lemonwheel if we are being honest…) while diving even further into the deep end with several notable jams. The anticipation and demand were very high for these shows, considering that the second night fell on one of the high holidays in the world of Phish, Halloween. But prior to that night’s surprises we are treated to an opening night that holds its own tricks and treats.

This first set starts out innocently enough with Wilson — as if any set can be considered ‘innocent’ when the first song relays the tale of a despot who enslaved a race of people all due to his desire for a certain book (yes, I am vastly oversimplifying it but you know what I mean) — and this first one of the tour gets a little extra sauce in the Trey solo as he brings out that electro run of notes that popped up several times in the first show of tour. From here they dip into the languid funkiness of Meat for the first time this tour. This bleeds right into something of a different sort entirely as they bring the energy up a few notches for Scent of a Mule. The first half of this goes true to form but once Page enters his solo that typically evolves into the klezmer duel they drop into a quite familiar groove which I would expect that many in the audience did not immediately recognize to be the Phish debut of the Jimmy Smith classic Back At The Chicken Shack. Let’s be honest though, the real lack of recognition in this crowd would come the next night when they came out for the second set’s cover album of one of the seminal bands of the late 60s, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves a tad. This debut proves to be a pretty straight forward take on the funky organ-led track which would be sprinkled into seven more setlists over the next two years before hitting the shelf. After working their way through this they return to the Mule to finish up the klezmer duel and to catch their breath for the first real ‘stop’ in the set considering the songs up until now had all been segued together.

At this point Trey banters with the crowd, stating that “they tell us this is the fifteenth anniversary of our first show” (or something. close enough.) in introducing the next song to be played. Even though future research would prove this statement to be incorrect (the actual first show occurred 12.02.1983, some 30 plus days later) it was a nice way to get a performance of Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress (that title is waaaaaay toooo looooong) out of the band after, oh, only 1,207 shows. They rock their way quite well through the Hollies’ radio-friendly hit from back in 1971 and there is a funny moment at the end as Fish tries to get them to restart it since he enjoyed it so much. The band says no. Next up is a mid-set Antelope which is always nice considering its ubiquity in the first and second set closings slots these days. Tonight’s version has that evolving ’98 sound in spades, first in the initial build where they go away from the song structure for several bars before coming back around to the main theme and layering in that ambient sound. Trey adds some color that directly relates back to last night’s Reba awesomeness as they climb towards the ‘rye rye rocco’ section and the eventual peak of this Lope. This is clearly a concerted musical shift for the band here and something we will be hearing time and again throughout this tour. Lope leads us to our old friend Guelah Papyrus and tonight’s is about as unique as any of the plethora of times they played it back in that Spring ’93 tour which is to say it is not unique at all. A lovely run through Lizards follows this with a decent solo out of Trey before we get our third mostly formulaic tune for the set closing Cavern. At this point, a set break is well deserved considering we have gotten not just a bunch of cannon fodder but some quality jams and hints of where things are headed here both in the short and long term.

After what must have seemed like an endless setbreak (they all feel that way though when you are holding your thoughts in your hands and trying to keep your eyes from eating your toes, don’t they?) the band comes out and tinkles around a tad before — just like last night — dropping into a song that has traditionally been a first set tune. The placement within the set is not the same, but just like Reba Stash has been played many more times in setting the table than in the latter half of the show, having only appeared in the second set (75), third set (2), or encore (2) slots 79 out of 398 total performances. That’s 19.85% for those counting at home and I did remove as many of the ‘sandwich’ double mentions as I could in getting that figure. The Stash from this night is not really the main attraction here as the jam gets to some sparser space fairly quickly, leaving the tension & release for another night’s version. It becomes evident fairly quickly that there is something brewing here and once Trey hints at the melody to Manteca you realize this was coming long before then. The segue is flawless and we get a drone-heavy take on the bustout — 219 shows with the last being part of what many consider their favorite Stash ‘suites’ ever. and who would blame them for thinking that about THIS! — which includes the lyrics before dying down into the ambient drone once more. Trey plays around for a bit here and again we start to hear the next song before it arrives as they stick the landing on yet another perfect segue, this time into Tweezer.

If you are looking for a bombastic Tweezer with a massive blissy peak and a bunch of shred, this will not be the one for you. Nor is it an off-the-reservation-face-melting psychedelic juggernaut. But this is a great version for entirely different reasons. With the benefit of hindsight we can now understand what they were doing here (and in several of these jams we have mentioned from the prior show and the first set tonight) as it builds off of the ambient vibe they are laying down while also pretty well providing the blueprint of what the Halloween set will be, if you know anything about that band’s style and musical execution. I want to save the full discussion of that correlation for the next post where we will cover all of that but I cannot ignore it either. So let’s focus on the other aspects that make this a noteworthy jam. First, they play around the Tweezer theme for a bit in the typical way before Trey lays down a ‘drone’ loop that provides the background for everything to come. With this still in place the band begins adding more and more layers to this soundscape, Page providing dark intonations, Mike pulsating on the bass, Fish offering ideas and colorful fills/crashes, and Trey harkening back with Manteca teases and moving elsewhere with teases of the Joe Tex standard You Better Believe It Baby. That song doesn’t sound like something that would work in this context, but it does and you have to wonder if Trey was making a purposeful nod with the song title (as in “yeah, this is really happening. you better believe it, baby!”) or just riffing on the old soul tune as it happened since we all know he tends to bring things he had been listening to off stage up with him.

This jams proceeds for a bit before Trey changes his direction and gets more melodic hinting at another transition that eventually reveals itself to be (oh, just yet another) wonderful segue into NICU once Trey changes keys to get into the song properly. At this point you start to wonder if these were all planned out or if it occurred organically which would make them pretty much the only organic things in the venue that night, all things reconsidered…  Anyway, they run through the punchy tune in an almost lazy manner and you start to mentally think about what the end set will involve here but then instead of heading to the final “blap” moment Trey keeps the drone tone on, Page adds a bit, and Fish hits the kits a few times before they let the drone take over and then all dive back into the deep end for a few minutes of very very telling music (again with the foreshadowing!). They take this out a bit, with Trey providing melody and Page/Mike the baseline — honestly, at one point or another it feels like it could fully go into about four decidedly different songs (e.g. Norwegian Wood) — but then it gets quite dark and sparse and Trey brings us up into the light of Caspian.

Now, I am not exactly the biggest Fuckerpants out there (well, except for the Magna Tweezerpants, but THAT’S DIFFERENT and you should go spend the 34 plus minutes it takes to be changed by it if’n you aren’t already in the know) but this just works here. Song placement can often cause head scratching worse than a Head and Shoulders commercial but on this night and in this set in particular there is none of that. This is the resolution to the darkness we have had all set. It provides an uplifting exclamation point on what was a set quite unlike most in the past, which is not meant to put an arbitrary value or ranking on it. Trey has a nice solo here above the band and even here you can here the difference in the full sound they are putting out as Fish rides the crash cymbal and Mike has a diminished feel to his playing that somehow adds depth to counterbalance the uplifting notes coming from Trey, not to mention Page as he comps along on the baby grand. From here we have our last segue of the night in arriving to the Golgi closer that offers a happy exclamation point to the set and even though it isn’t really in congruence musically with everything that came before it, the placement is solid and the reference is clear as this was by all accounts a very difficult ticket to procure. Your encores tonight are another Trey-acoustic take on the new tune Driver followed by the hilarious a cappella of Free Bird, one of my personal favorite tongue-in-cheek tunes in the canon.

It is clear already that here two shows into this tour there are simply so many more things to cover than in the old, straight ahead shred days from five plus years prior. I would apologize for my typewritten vomiting of effusive praise but I am not sorry. For as much as I loved the old school Phish with their precision and attack it has also been their ability to evolve seemingly on a nightly basis that has kept me coming back again and again. And I know I am definitely not alone in that regard. So with that I’ll cap this show by saying that this one includes a lot of not-so-subtle hints as to what would occur the night following, both in the costume set and beyond. There is a lot to cover with those three sets so let’s bring this one home by saying if you do not spin this entire show you should at the very least hit the Antelope, Stash->Manteca->Tweezer->NICU>Jam->Caspian and if you want to stretch a bit the Mule>BATCS>Mule and perhaps the Long Cool Woman bustout.

Rest up. Halloween shows have a tendency to propagate my loquacious leanings.

You Know I Believe And How — Los Angeles, CA 10.29.1998

Phish — The Greek Theatre — Los Angeles, CA 10.29.1998

Julius, Roggae, Llama, LxL, Driver, Sleep, Frankie Says, BOAF, McGrupp>Zero

II  Possum>Moma>Reba->Walk Away>Simple>Albuquerque, Bowie


First let’s just get this out of the way…

Phish in 1998 was a much different animal than the band we have been discussing up to this point. Instead of being an heavy-touring, up-and-coming, looking-to-gain-fans-by-barnstorming-the-country act this was a band who had arrived. They were deep into a multi-album deal with Elektra which began with A Picture of Nectar (and the re-releases of both Junta and Lawn Boy) but really blossomed with Rift, Hoist, A Live One, and Billy Breathes. The touring was still significant relative to most major acts (and definitely still the core of what this band is, was, and ever shall be) but the days of 100 plus shows a year (to say nothing of a 70 plus show tour like back in the early 90s…) were over. With the benefit of a large, dedicated, and then still growing fan base and greater cache allowing them to play larger venues they were able to craft tours that reduced their travel commitments while still hitting key areas and which worked for the devoted masses who had hopped on tour by now.

By the time the Fall 1998 Tour began they had already enjoyed a year that many groups would have considered enough to be successful but as we know that wasn’t enough for these now seasoned vets of the music world. Things started with a huge bang with what became known as The Island Tour, which was a quickly announced four show run comprised of two shows at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island and two shows at the Providence Civic Center in Rhode Island. The energy from those now legendary shows carried over into the recording/organizing of what would become The Story of The Ghost beginning only one day later (check out this post over on phishthoughts and the linked music therein for more on these great sessions at Bearsville Studios that would produce not only that album but the fantastic Siket Disc as well, not to mention this one that focuses on the album itself) with the album release coming just two days before the start of the Fall Tour we are here to discuss. Summer Tour came next, starting with nine shows in Europe that allowed the band to first test out some of that new material followed by twenty-one shows in the US of A (a tour that deserves its own reviews eventually…). This was capped by their third official festival, Lemonwheel, which was another high point in a year already full of of them. Between the festival and the start of Fall Tour they played a well received set at FarmAid with Neil Young joining for significant sections, a surprise show at the FillmoreTheatre in San Francisco heavy on the jams, two sets at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, CA (with several debuts and great guest sit-ins throughout), a set recorded for the PBS Sessions at West 54th showcasing the material off of the album to come as well as a great interview with host and major influence on the band David Byrne, and an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman to perform Birds of A Feather on the day of the album release. Not a bad month to get ready for tour! And I think I hit my monthly quota for links up there too.

All of this leads us to the start of this tour at the lovely outdoor venue that is The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, CA. I must say that the contrast of diving deep into a formative tour like Spring 1993 and then hitting up one like this is striking on many levels. First and foremost you have the size of the crowd and surrounding scene where we have gone from small theaters and clubs of 1,000-3,000 people up to amphitheaters and arenas approaching 20,000 and even higher, not to mention the 60,000 plus who ventured up to Limestone, ME for the festival. Granted, this tour opener was at a relatively intimate venue that held “only” 6,000 people or so but you get the point. This is not barroom Phish any more.  Then you have the more important musical evolution of the band which has gone from focusing on long composed pieces, energy rockers, straight ahead ‘type I’ jamming, antics and other humorous ‘show tune’ type stuff, and the beginnings of the open or ‘type II’ jamming to long for type II jams, cowfunk (‘type III’ jams), ambient soundscapes (just check out the late night set from Lemonwheel for the prime example of this), an even broader array of cover songs, and much much more. This is Phish with the full arsenal at their disposal. It is a band that could — and would — do anything they thought would help to foster the musical connection between the band members and the crowd. And that, my friends, is what makes a tour like this so enticing to dissect…

So on that first night of tour you could expect the band would focus on tracks from the album while also hoping for some interesting jams as well. If those were your only expectations you would be well served here but considering the fanbase we are dealing with there might be elements of this show some find lacking. The band came out with intent, sliding into a somewhat restrained Julius that gets us moving but largely does what one expects in the execution. Next we get a patient Roggae which while a lovely version doesn’t exactly elevate the energy in the room. Perhaps they were just trying to ease these West Coast fans into the newer material (but if you had kept track of Europe and the balance of Summer Tour that wouldn’t be an issue, which I suppose is assuming a lot about our wook friends). Besides, we can’t be harshing the brahs mellows now, can we? Then in the three hole we get that energy lift we were looking for with a Llama that rocks hard and relies on Trey’s nimble fingers for a solo that showcases his toys with some electro-esque lines coming from The Trza. You could almost say that this is the true show opener, at least in terms of the prototypical high energy you look for with this whole live music thing. But hey, they recently opened a show with that classic shredder The Line, so what do I know?

After this jolt of power we have Limb by Limb for a mainly straight forward version that has some punch but stays firmly within the construct of the song. The real notable aspect of this one is that Fish kinda doesn’t really do, well, anything with the ending where he typically goes all super-octopus-drummer-dude on us. Realizing this, Trey gives him another shot to finish it up, leading to a little humorous banter about that ending. Now we get to what could be considered the controversial part of the show and a section that I know would get torn apart on the various boards if it happened these days. The double dip offering of acoustic Driver and acoustic Sleep pretty much brings the momentum of the set to a halt, even though both are pretty takes on the tunes and there is a bit of fun banter in between the two songs from Trey about the subject matter of Driver (eliciting our first Fight Bell *ting* of the tour out of Mike — something he apparently got at a flea market across the street from a show in Florida some time in the mid 90s. If you weren’t familiar with this toy before you will now hear it all over tapes, primarily from ’97 on. You’re welcome?). Keep in mind that these two songs were only debuted 12 days prior at the Bridge School Benefit so I understand the pairing and the sparse instrumentation at this stage. It just kinda sucks the energy out of the place is all… So what do they do next? Ramp it up with a raging Chalkdust or something??? Um, no. We get Frankie Says which, while a nice tune and one many people have on their still-seeking list, is not the one to take things up after two acoustic tunes. The mellow vibe was perhaps fitting in Trey’s head at that moment but we are heading towards masses of folks sitting down at a Phish show if this keeps up here, people, and that shit simply won’t stand! Or sit. Whatever! Crises are averted, however, as they wrap up the singer songwriter portion of the set by playing that hip new single Birds of a Feather. Nothing special here apart from more of that tight electro-playing from Trey in the solo, as the tune is still mainly a straight ahead rocker with the exception of its second ever performance earlier this year in Providence — which is a version I implore you to hear if you are not already intimately familiar with it. Which you should be.

But let’s get back to our show here. After that BOAF we have one of my favorite tunes of the Gamehendge Suite, McGrupp. Tonight’s version has a bit of ambient texture (get used to this. it is the new motif they added on this tour and something we will discuss A LOT going forward) and is highlighted by an extended Page section that has some great Fish in it as well. I should probably note one of the things you will definitely notice from Fish’s sound in this tour that was not ever present in the olden times which is the abundant use of his crash cymbal in providing color and punctuation to jams. This is on full display in this McGrupp and will be noticeable in a major jam later on in the show as well. It isn’t a huge thing but it adds something to the mix that no longer occurs since he has again gone down to a more minimalist setup here in 3.0. McGrupp heads right into the set closing Zero (which also has some of that ‘electro’ playing from Trey that we heard previously in the set) and we are off to relax for a few while soaking in the lovely California Fall weather. DOn’t worry, I checked. It was gorgeous that day.

And as happens, after some head scratching and trying to figure what might happen next in the course of discussing the first set, the band came out with vigor and dropped an almost seamless second frame that holds a top notch jam, a major bustout, and more. Kicking into one of the oldest tunes in the catalog, Phish ripped up Possum to get things moving before dropping into one of the newer funk numbers, Moma Dance. This one punches the funk button hard while staying mainly in the box, getting the crowd bouncing and moving in ways they never considered before the show began. Trey throws a Super Bad tease in for good measure and eventually we wind down to the start of… Reba! A second set Reba can only mean good things considering the song has only been placed in the second second (or later) 49 times out of 371 total performances. That’s a 13.2% hit rate for those doing math at home. And if you take out the four encores and one third setter we are down to 12.1%. That’s nothing! But it shows that when they do decide to put our girl in the second set things inevitably get good. And tonight’s version is one of the best of those in my humble opinion. Once through the composed section of the song we drop into a patient, building jam with Trey offering ideas on top of that groove pocket. Others (i.e. Miner) have described this jam more effectively than I can, so let’s just get one more (last?) link in here, mm’kay? I promise I won’t link anything else. Maybe. SO, the first signs that things are different tonight come when Fish changes cadence slightly and Trey offers up a couple of loops while Mike and Page go into ambient drone territory. The four combine to create an intriguing space that gets downright dark and dirty, eventually arriving into a grimy groove that pulsates and hints at… wait, it can’t be, could it? HO-LY HEY! and BOOM! we have a major bustout with a full segue into Walk Away! That’s 367 shows since they played it last at the famed Bomb Factory show of 05.07.1994. I’ve linked enough already, you know where to find that gem. This take on the James Gang tune is straight ahead and fun, bringing the crowd up from the depths of that sinister Reba before a crunchy bridge jam heading into a late set Simple that continues the fun. This one is not overly extended but succeeds in doing what it can before we get the first/only cool down song of the set in the lovely Neil Young tune Albuquerque which the band debuted only a few months previous in Dallas. After this we get Fish Fun Time and hey… wait! This isn’t 1993. Fish Fun Time is much less a regular thing and almost a bustout now so we won’t be needing to detail all of that so much anymore… Instead we get a punchy and rightfully rocking Bowie that isn’t super special — but it is perhaps a little lightly regarded for what actually occurs. The jam is nothing overly new but does continue the idea of more ambient space being added to the jam texture of these songs. It is definitely worth the listen if nothing else than for the swirling peak they arrive at out of the murk of the jam. And hey, let’s see if we can get a little trivia going here. Can anyone tell me where the sonic tapestry in this Bowie intro section was used by the band in the future?

I probably need a paragraph break by now so let’s just put one in there. After the big Bowie closer we have a nice debut with the encore Something, a Beatles tune that would get four cracks out of the band on this tour before disappearing forever. So it goes. And with that we have our show. It is perhaps a bit uneven, particularly in the first set, but overall you really cannot complain about a show like this for a tour opener. The band already sounds connected and we have at least one major highlight jam with several other items of note in what appears to be a fairly nondescript setlist on paper. Which is why we listen. Because the setlist only tells part of the story. Knowing what is coming up in the next few shows there are some things that seem to hint at the musical costume (and more) to come but I’ll leave that for y’all to bring forth as I have written waaaaaaaaay too much here. At this rate, I’ll match the word count for both of the Spring ’93 tour legs I have done before finishing up this relatively short tour’s reviews. A lot of this was table setting though so you can expect a return to form from here on out. Mostly.

In summing up, let’s get to the highlights. For this show you definitely will want to hear the McGrupp, the Reba->Walk Away>Simple section, and the Bowie. If you want more without spinning the whole thing, add in the Llama, BOAF, and Zero to hear that newer Trey playing I mentioned (which will come up almost nightly on this tour) and if you like the tender stuff throw on Driver, Sleep, Albuquerque, and Something and maybe even Frankie Says for good measure. Have I included all of the tracks yet?

And we are off and running. Next up is the pair of shows from Las Vegas for Halloween. Spooooooooooky!

You’ve Been By Here Before — The Next Tour To Tackle

I, like many of us, have a long and varied history with the band Phish. I have been privileged to see this band all over the United States in every possible type of setting over the course of twenty-five plus years. I have not seen the band in a foreign country and there are definitely big stretches of shows over that time that I was unable to attend for whatever reason but I feel lucky to have gotten the opportunity to share in the experience of their music as much as I have.

In thinking about what tour to tackle next in reflecting back here I wanted to focus on something that was wholly removed from my personal experience with the music. I also wanted it to be a tour that I have listened to but have not done a deep dive into as far as listening goes so that it would be fresh for me to hear so that I could come in with something of a clean slate. So this would require the tour to be one where I did not attend any shows and where I had not spent a lot of time listening back as compares to some of the more classically highly touted tours in the band’s history. And at the same time I wanted it to be a tour that has musical merit and value within the evolution of the band and their sound which is to say that my decision would factor in some thought about where the band was coming from and where they were headed considering my ability to shine a retrospective light onto the proceedings. Lastly, I wanted this tour to be one that was high on jamming and open jamming in particular since that is, at the core, what Phish does best in my estimation.

As fate would have it, there are a few tours that fit this bill quite swimmingly with one being a tour that I long did not listen to very much because I was unable to catch any shows on — but for what I consider a very good reason. After catching several shows along the Summer 1998 Tour as I finished up grad school work, several friends and I took the Fall to backpack our way around Europe, starting in Madrid and doing a lap around the continent over the course of about four months. People came and went along the way but I personally came back in late November having missed any opportunity to catch Phish that Fall. Don’t fret for me though, as I had an amazing time and capped it by seeing what would be my final full NYE Run of 1.0 at the end of the year. We won’t discuss why I didn’t make it to Big Cypress the year following as that’s a conversation for another day.

So call it burying the lede, but what I am announcing with this post is that my next project will be to detail the show by show goings on of the Phish Fall 1998 Tour.

This tour includes a lot of what we all love about Phish in these twenty-two shows and shows a band on top of their game but still pushing the envelope to get further out. We will have plenty of big jams to dissect, antics to laugh at (or deride if that’s not your thing), new songs, an album release, a Halloween cover costume, the don’t-skip-the-skip-show show of all of them, and much much more. Heck, with this small number of shows perhaps I should just start with the few shows that led up to that tour opener in Los Angeles, as there is a lot to detail in those as well (this includes the Farm Aid set, the surprise show in San Francisco, and the pair of sets at The Bridge School Benefit).

For now though, let’s all get our files in order to start going back to that time when Phish had graduated on to bigger venues and bigger expectations, a time when they seemingly could do no wrong, a time when their sound included all of the elements of what had gotten them here but not a time of stagnancy of any sort. The band and scene had grown to all but peak height and many openly wondered whether it could keep going in this way for much longer. While that sort of thinking would eventually become more of a factor, here in Fall ’98 the wheels were still turning and the Phish Express was chugging along with no signs of apparent wear, tear, or ill repair. So let’s hop on board and listen in to what the band threw down in the middle of those years that many refer to as The Peak, shall we?

As I Thrill to the Magic Charms — Seattle, WA 04.05.1993

Phish — HUB Ballroom — Seattle, WA 04.05.1993

I  Llama, Ice, Fee, Maze, Fluffhead, Paul & Silas, Stash, Forbin’s>Mockingbird, Bowie

II  Axilla, Poor Heart, Caravan, PYITE, Tweezer, Glide, YEM, HYHU>Cracklin’ Rosie>HYHU, Reprise

E  Carolina, Fire

Now back in the good ol’ U S of A after their one night tour of Western Canada, Phish put another solid show in the books for the good people of Seattle, WA on what would be the last night of the West Coast leg of this Spring ’93 Tour. This is a show that provides a nice exclamation point to all that preceded it, offering musical ideas that have been developed over the past two plus months and popping off with the energy of a band that knows they can do effectively whatever they choose in delighting their fans. Tonight’s show would include so many of the elements that make Phish who they are that it seems difficult to think that the band did not actively take the show in the direction it would eventually go.

Starting with the first set opener the band showed they came to do business, offering up a fiery little monster of a Llama that contains a tease that would play heavily into the tenor of the show, particularly the second set. This tease is Caravan and if you know your Phish history you will note that this jazz standard was once a relatively common cover with 26 of the total 42 performances to date occurring in 1990 (and another five times in 1991 — four times on the Giant Country Horns tour that summer). We will come back to this though…  After that we have a clean take on Ice and a megaphone-less Fee to bring us to the next rager in Maze. A typically high energy version, this one is quite shreddy and fast-paced with a big organ (heh) solo out of Page and some crowd participation as the fans clapped along during the initial build and in a couple of other spots. This clapping is something that wasn’t necessarily rare in later ’93 and ’94 but this is the first time this tour I recall hearing it so clearly on the tapes.

Next up is a mid set Fluffhead and this take is on point and energetic, which seems to be something of a theme by now in this set. Nothing too special here but nice to hear them nail this tune. The bluegrass ditty tonight is Paul & Silas which then gets us to the main highlight of this here first set in a dynamic Stash that I definitely recommend one listening to if you can.  The jam starts off patiently, allowing the band to get a bit outside the song itself before they head into a DEG-ish section and eventually come back around to the song while seemingly hinting at CYHMK along the path. It is a good example of what Stash used to be. By now you’d think they would be starting to head towards the closer but first we have Story Time with Trey by way of Forbin’s>Mockingbird. Tonight’s story is another engaging one as Trey notes the crowd being pretty ‘toasty’ and being quite literal here he means that the crowd is turning into toast.  I don’t want to ruin the detail of where the story heads from there but I will note that there is a ‘Those Were the Days’ (theme to All In The Family) in there from Page. After that we get the lovely resolution that is Mockingbird and finally the set closing Bowie you could have bet was coming if you had been watching setlists this tour (much easier said than done back then, frankly). The intro section gets the Secret Language in spades tonight with Simpsons, AFD, and Oom Pa Pa signals, not to mention a tease of Mockingbird before they head forward for a mainly ‘in bounds’ version that provides an energetic stamp on the set and allows us to all catch our breath for a bit with the break to follow.

After that breath-catching session the band came out and started up the 2nd set by continuing the high energy motif with Axilla and a decently fine Poor Heart before we get the payoff on that tease in the show opener. After 224 shows and almost two full years they dusted off Caravan, throwing in a Manteca tease for good measure. Incidentally, the song would then stay in the rotation for the next leg of tour, being played three more times between this show and the tour closer in Durham, NH a month from here. Each of those also included a Manteca tease for whatever that is worth. Sadly, after seven more appearances for the song it has been shelved (last occurring as a bustout after 160 shows for the New Year’s Run in 1996 at the Spectrum in Philly). Pardon the parenthetical dangling participles there.

After this we get PYITE which is just fine and dandy before they head into a Tweezer that doesn’t stretch too much but offers up several more Caravan teases out of Trey. Worth the listen but this Tweezer isn’t making any best of lists. Glide provides a respite of sorts before the next big one which tonight is YEM. We get a few ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ teases along the way here and Trey exerts his domination in taking over the jam which brings us to a nice peak and resolution.  Next up is Fish Fun Time which tonight is Cracklin’ Rosie and then we have a bombastic Reprise closer to cap the night. For the encores we get a couple of ‘dedications’ as they first do the un-mic’d a cappella for Carolina (played in honor of the University of North Carolina basketball team which the band watched beat Michigan during setbreak — this is the infamous Chris Webber time out game if you can recall) and then Fire (for Trey’s friend Dudley who was the other guitarist in Space Antelope back in the day). After this the band would be off for a few days before starting up things in the Midwest on April 9th. They were not resting on their collective laurels, however, as they traveled back east to receive an award and perform at the Boston Music Awards, gathering more laurels in the process.

I am a fan of this show and while it has a few warts in a couple of songs that aren’t exactly top notch versions there is a lot to like here. Seeing as it was the capstone show on a wonderful West Coast leg of the tour, the band is clearly feeling it and they provide a bit of everything in their bag of tricks to celebrate this fact. The straight forward rockers all have great energy, the more open jams go places with concerted effort, there are quality teases and some secret language, Trey tells a captivating story, and the band engages the crowd on several levels that pay off for everyone. Yes, there are better shows on this tour which we have discussed (and which are yet to come when I eventually come back to detail the last leg of this tour) but if you want to give someone an idea of what they could have expected from Phish in this era, you can’t do much better than to offer up this as an example. Your highlights tonight are the Stash, Caravan, Tweezer, and YEM, as well as the Forbin’s story if you like that aspect of Phish.

Next up for me is kicking off our new tour project which we will leave to surprise for now. I will also be putting together a post to pull together the biggest of the highlights through these first two legs of the Spring Tour so keep your eyes peeled in that regard.

Before we move on, however, I do want to give the stats update for these 47 shows. By now they have played in 19 states over 61 days (yup, that’s only 14 days off non-show dates over that time). They have played 121 unique songs with 23 being one-timers. The most frequently played tunes are BBJ (32), Rift (29), Amazing Grace (28), and Poor Heart (28) with HYHU being left out because of course I am not counting that. The most common 1st set openers are Buried Alive (7), Golgi (6), and Llama (6) with the most common first set closers being Antelope (17) and Bowie (14) by far. Second set openers are a bit more scattered though Axilla (9) and Jim (7) are ahead of the pack. Second set closers are also somewhat widespread but Reprise is king with 10 such performances. Encores are also expectedly all over the place but Amazing Grace (18) and Sweet Adeline (11) are the only above single digits. Another interesting trend is how often certain songs were played in consecutive shows (something that virtually never occurs anymore with such a huge song canon) as Amazing Grace, Rift, BBJ, and HYHU all had runs of five or more shows, including three such runs by BBJ and two by HYHU including one run of 22 straight shows. Seven songs had gaps of at least 21 shows within this tour (Lifeboy, Tela, Weigh, TMWSIY, Aveenu Malkenu, Walk Away, and Harpua) and 18 songs were debuted (Loving Cup, Wedge, Lifeboy, Amazing Grace, Sample, Moby Dick, RnR All Night, Pig in a Pen, Nellie Kane, It’s My Life, Choo Choo Cha Boogie, Loup Garou, Spooky, GGITS, You Gotta See Mama Every Night, Sweet Emotion, My Life as a Pez, and Psycho Killer) though several of those were one-off songs played during sit-ins and at least four others were effectively “jams” rather than full performances of the songs. Lots more detail to be found in the stats but I think you get the point.

Thanks for reading and we will see you on the other side…