A Stairway to the Stars – Cleveland, OH 11.13.1998

Phish – CSU Convocation Center – Cleveland, OH 11.13.1998

I  CDT, Wolfman’s->MLB, Roggae, Ginseng, Ice>CTB, Farmhouse, WITS, Sloth, Antelope

II  Disease>sample, Dirt, BOAF, Meat>Hood


Following another one night for travel between western Michigan and northeastern Ohio (those big lake thingies kinda get in the way) Phish hit the stage once more for the first of two shows in the Buckeye State over the weekend. This first one took place in Cleveland, a city with a pretty okay history with Phish considering they have played 16 of their 48 Ohio shows in and around the city. The rest of the shows in the state are scattered between Cincinnati (14 shows), Columbus (9 shows), and Dayton (4 shows) with the other five spread between various college towns around the state. Tonight’s show would be the last at CSU Convocation Center as since then they have only come back to play the beautiful Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls.

Things kick off with an energetic Chalkdust to get everyone warmed up and moving and then they drop into Wolfman’s Brother for what you have to think will be a pretty straight forward second song first set take on the tune. Well, yeah, no. After the lyrics they drop immediately into a gooey funk pocket so good it would be a crime to not dance to such music. This continues for several minutes before Trey starts toying with his lead line and eventually brings in a melody that is oh so familiar… wait. Hang on. Is he really playing it? Naaaaaah it can’t be… but but but it is! As the band continues the undercurrent funk stylings Trey plays the signature melody to only one of the most debated jams/teases/quotes/whatever in both the Phish and Dead canons: Mind Left Body, alternately known as an “MLB Jam”, a “baseball jam” (get it? MLB/baseball? clever…), or “that jam that everyone is always on about but never seems to materialize”. Now, it could be said that this is just a simple progression that mirrors the intention at least of the old Paul Kanter, Grace Slick, and David Freiberg song Your Mind Has Left Your Body which appeared first on the album Baron Von Tollbooth & the Chrome Nun but has since become something of a live staple for the Jefferson Starship. I’m not going to get into the full debate about this one as there are disciples to this tease/jam who seemingly hear it all over the Dead catalog and in several places with Phish as well but I will say that there are a few examples that are difficult to discount as being anything but a reference to MLB. Leaving out the numerous denoted teases (such as the one from the Magnaball Cities that I don’t really hear but maybe if I went looking specifically for it I would) there are two other prime examples besides this Wolfman’s of MLB popping into Phish songs: 08.21.1993 in the middle of Bowie and 06.18.1994 also in Bowie. The latter one is the example people point to most often and for good reason as it is a fantastic Bowie that only gets better when you add in this layer of mythos. The Dead had a much larger history with this jam motif but we aren’t here to discuss them now are we? Anyway, back to our show here, I’ll definitely say that this is a real live actual MLB jam (352 show gap before this, no less). The added funk pushing it along works perfectly and after about four minutes of playing around with this they come to a point of resolution and wrap it all up rather succinctly without ever returning to Wolfman’s. Don’t believe the setlists that you read about this because they all note a return to Wolfman’s which is not there. But we don’t abide that kind of sloppiness here, do we?

How do you follow up a second song jam like that? Well, if you are Fall ’98 Phish you play the ethereal Roggae and nail the end jam with a pretty rendition. Then you play a well loved bluegrass cover in Ginseng Sullivan before dropping into a purely Phishy song. I mean, seriously, can you ever really see another band playing It’s Ice and pulling it off without it sound a bit contrived? This is just one of those tunes that sums up Phish to me for some reason. Tonight’s take on the tune drops into a fairly dark outro jam that includes some of Trey’s ascending lick loop (the same lick he played in setting up several of the dark jams from the start of this tour including the Vegas Wolfman’s). They don’t take this too far out but it is a nice little bit of depth before popping out into the first performance of Cars Trucks Buses on this tour. It is a typically bouncy and fun rendition (nice counterpoint to where Ice was headed) and then we are off to sing the words to popular Bob Marley songs that match up perfectly to Farmhouse. Quick runs through Water in the Sky and a somewhat sloppy but always nice to hear Sloth bring us to the closing Antelope which tonight gets a patient and well constructed pre-Rocco jam. It has that frenetic build energy but feels pretty dialed in at the same time and then Trey drops the rare “suck the deer shit from the side of this hole” alternate lyrics which is always a treat. This is a pretty engaging Lope overall which perhaps Trey thought as well in laying down that deer shit line. It caps the set nicely and we are off to the break to see just how many heads are freaking out about that MLB jam.

After the setbreak Trey has a little banter about a crew member being late to work that day due to overindulging at a local bar the previous night as well as relating that Mike wants the lights to stay the way they are all set before they start up Disease. This Disease, while not in the 20+ minute category of several of the recent 2nd set openers, offers up a quite engaging jam that runs through several sections. First we have the straight ahead rock of Disease with Trey leading the way with trilling lines and tension building rises towards a peak that never matures. Fish then pounds on the crash cymbal during the cacophony of noise rock that the band has built before they head out into a section of sparser playing that hints towards a move to ambience but then Trey begins a line of chords that settle things into a happy, chugging rock groove that picks up speed and energy before returning to the Disease ending. This is fun time Phish spurting joy onto the crowd with their playing. Perhaps not the most notable Disease ever but damn if it isn’t one to get you moving. In the aftermath of the Disease coda they crash into a segue with Sample… ugh. I just can’t with this song. It is the same thing every single time (and don’t give me any of that “yeah but Trey really played the solo with extra gusto that time!” crap because you and I both know that solo by heart at this point). So that happens and then we have a Dirt interlude before they crank up the energy again for BOAF. Just when you are thinking this will be more of the same out of the new showcase tune they put a little extra mustard on the hot dog and we have a fiery version that hugs the structure of the song but offers up some exploration into murkier waters.  They are really starting to push the boundaries on this song as it feels set to explode into something much bigger here though the real period of exploration for this song won’t come until the year following.  For now we will just have to enjoy Trey pulling at the edges of BOAF. As if to catch their breath following this raging version they start up Meat and you have to think we are in for another bit of the weirdness without much to take home musically but after the lyric section Trey adds in a siren loop to accompany the odd time signature and we are off to play. There is an ambient feel to this but all the same Fish and Mike are laying down the gist of the Meat beat while Trey adds lead color and Page provides atmosphere. As Trey develops this lead Mike mimics him at points all while that loop and Fish keep us rooted in the Meat jam (meat jam sounds like a disgusting thing your grandmother used to make every fall in preparation for the long winter ahead that you had to eat when she came over since it was such a thoughtful gift from her to your family. mmmm… jellied pig…). As a group they tinker about for a few more minutes and then they end up with the loop soundscape providing the perfect entry point for Fish to drop the signature hits for Harry Hood to begin. The first bit of this Hood feel like it could just as easily slide right back to that Meaty jam goodness but they get into the anthem/PSA about keeping yourself out of closed refrigerators. Seriously kids, don’t do it. Recondo is right! What did we do without GI Joe to keep us in the know? Though I will say that this version is more amusing… Anywho, the Hood here is about what you would expect assuming you like beautiful, patient, well crafted Hood jams. You could do worse than to have a version like this cap a second set. After that we have a rocking GTBT encore and we are headed south for the next night’s show at The Crown or whatever they were calling it at that point.

This show does not have the major highs of some of the past few nights but the first set catches your attention from that jammed out Wolfman’s through the end and the second set is all well played with a good variety of music on display. Your takeaways here are Wolfman’s->MLB, Ice>CTB, Antelope, Disease, BOAF, and Meat>Hood. You could probably leave out the CTB but it flows right out of that dank Ice jam so you might as well just let it run. There ends up being a lot of highlights here now that I look at it. Good sign of where the trajectory for this tour is considering we are not even halfway home yet.

12 thoughts on “A Stairway to the Stars – Cleveland, OH 11.13.1998

  1. “The Dead had a much larger history with this jam motif but we aren’t here to discuss them now are we?”

    No, that’s what that other place is for now!


  2. Need to dive back into this one more, but I remember getting a nice crispy XLII of this show shortly afterwards. It was in frequent rotation for awhile. MLB jam!!


  3. I will be revisiting the Wolfman’s for sure. This Disease didn’t really move me much when I was doing my Disease review but when you listen to a bunch of them in a row sometimes unless they go off the reservation they don’t really stand out. Will give it another spin and see what I think.

    And I couldn’t agree more about Sample. I’d be fine if you agreed never to mention that song again on this site. In more than 20 years of playing that song I defy anyone to point out even a single version that is in any way different than any other version. I’m not even talking about a weird one-off jam, like the Horn from 7/15/98, or a couple ambient jamlets like Fee (for crying out loud!), just a ripping version. It doesn’t exist. Even Julius has a bunch of versions that you can point to that absolutely smoke without being a 20 min jam. Not Sample. Not even in ’97 or ’98, when literally any song could be jammed out of nowhere, did Sample get any special treatment. I think we’ll get a jammed out Brian & Robert before we get a Sample that is worth listening to. Where’s my 15 minute Driver, yo?!?!

    Sorry, I have major issues with Sample


  4. verno, I put a post on r/phish in a thread asking for the best Sparkle (!) that it was like asking for the best Sample and got a couple negative responses defending the song for some reason. that and the unreasonably high appreciation for The Line on that sub are highly questionable to me.

    not every song needs to be an open jam but you’d think that that song would have had at least one version a bit different from the other 277 versions of it. and to think, we were so worried that it would be the song to bring them mainstream. EFF THAT!


  5. Exactly! It doesn’t need to have an open jam, like Disease or something. Even Character Zero has versions that rip more than the others. There seriously is not even one version that someone could say “yeah but they rage this version.” Its baffling.


  6. Spun that Disease again last night. Total straight ahead version that doesn’t deviate from the basic structure much at all, which is why I didn’t think much of it at the time. It seems like something I would have enjoyed a bunch at the show but doesn’t have an awful lot of respin value for me. The Wolfman’s, however, is a keeper.


  7. this was my first show indoors since 12/31/96! imagine that. i have pretty good memories of this one, especially the Wolfman and the Meat. I’ll have to say i think this first set was straight up murky, and trippy. Qualifies for #overyourhead status if you weren’t there. ha. Def one of the better first sets of this tour up to this point, IMO. The Wolfman’s is redic. I’ll take an Ice>CTB all day. CTB is one of my personal favs, and this one gets some love. The second set is so weird compared to what’s transpired on the tour, so far. listening back to all this, i’m a little salty my first show back indoors was this, and not, say… the previous show??!! anyway, i think the last 4 mins of this Disease are pretty awesome, and deserve a bit more love than that @verno. but i hear ya, not an all-timer or anything. def not a Polaris ’00 or Rosemont ’00 Disease (mentioning well above avg versions, but not agreed upon all-timers). The BOAF def wants to fall off the cliff. can’t believe they held it together. the famous Meat ambient jam, highlight of the set for me. BUT upon playback of this Hood, it’s pretty damn good. didn’t remember it that way. The set was weird though. That Sample, Dirt killed the flow, It feels like a short set. Nice review T3.


  8. Yeah I don’t mean to sound negative about the Disease. It’s a fun listen and definitely would have been a blast in person but I can’t put it as top shelf or I’d have to get a bigger shelf.


  9. I hear ya @verno. it is pretty difficult to pull out the really stellar stuff from these shows considering the playing overall is at such a high level (whereas these days it is easier to spot the big time winners). I am hesitant to note everything as that shows the difference between then and now even more but at the same time it is hard to ignore when they are flowing like they did back then.


  10. Definitely. I saw the Greenville and Winston-Salem shows on this tour and while I don’t think they stand out from the rest of this tour they both are really good shows that each have some interesting moments, When the base line is set so high it takes something historical to stand out, while something from ’09 or ’10 can stand out without it being an all-time keeper.


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