Phish — The Crown — Cincinnati, OH 11.14.1998
I Funky Bitch>My Soul, Reba, Bouncin, Tweezer>Moma>Sparkle>Zero
II Bowie, Something, Piper, Golgi, Guyute, HYHU>Sexual Healing>HYHU, YEM, Julius, Hello My Baby
E So Lonely>Reprise
As we have been finding, some locations just have a knack for producing high quality Phish shows. In general terms the frequency with which the band has played a particular locale plays a big role in that because obviously with more performances comes more opportunity for greatness. One such venue that holds strong history for the band is The Crown in Cincinnati, OH. It was originally called Riverfront Coliseum, then The Crown, then Firstar Center, and now US Bank Arena but we like stuff the way we like it so just as with Great Woods, Pine Knob, Deer Creek, and so many other corporately overtaken venues using the “classic” name is preferred by many including myself. This show in Fall 1998 would be the first time Phish would perform in the venue and since then they have played six more shows to date though they have yet to return since the pair in Fall 2009. But back in the year we are dealing with they set the bar for years to come in this musically storied venue* by putting together a complete show full of strong playing, quality jams, some hilarity, and a few curveball song choices.
The first set starts off in a good mood with a rocking Funky Bitch>My Soul pairing to get everyone up and moving. Neither of these two songs is anything more than you would expect but from the start the band comes in hot, showing off the polish of being almost two weeks deep into tour. Our gal Reba comes in next and here we get one of those classically underrated versions that no one seems to ever mention (at least not in my experience) but that does pretty much exactly what we want. The composed section is well executed and then once they drop into the jam we are treated to a pert and pure edition where Trey puts forth quite a few notes. Page and Mike accent this lead well as Fish rides that crash cymbal while waiting for the right time to signal it all to wrap up. This isn’t a Reba that strays from the format (perhaps part of why it isn’t very highly lauded?) but it reaches a quite satisfying peak that should buckle the knees of even the jadiest of jadersons though in all honesty those guys probably already scoffed at yet another Reba anyway (woo! third one this tour!) so whatever with them. At the worst this is a Reba that opens the door for bigger things to come in the set and that’s really the point, eh? The ever catchy Bouncin provides a bridge from that to the next fun part of this show… a first set Tweezer! That has only happened 74 times out of the 346 total performances for the song, though admittedly it had become a bit more frequent in later 1.0 as 21 of those would occur between 1996 and Hiatus. All that said, it still isn’t something you expect going into a show and it isn’t like they make stickers for this sort of thing.
Okay, right, back to the song. From the get go you can tell they are ready to jump all over this Tweezer and boy oh boy do they ever. Trey first lays down the screech loop and piles on the crunchy lead as the rest of the band follows into romping through this rocking version. This continues for a few minutes before Fish pounds on that crash to almost signal the change that comes next into a more sparse groove landscape. That loop is still going strong as Trey plays over top the rest of the band, eventually hitting on some familiar tones around the twelve minutes mark. At first it feels like he wants to drop into TMWSIY and then he gets into a bit of melody that could easily be mistaken as Manteca-ish if you are looking for that type of thing (and sometimes it feels like many people are…). After toying around here for a bit Trey sets up what I’ll call a “transitional loop” while Page is playing what sure sounds like it could be pulled straight from No Quarter. Next thing you know they have made the move and we are on to the dripping funk of yet another Moma Dance. Someone (okay, it was Tela’sMuff) rightfully noted in an earlier post’s discussion that these Fall ’98 Momas feel pretty loose and jammy and this one fits that bill nicely, with a gooey jam that while not revealing musically funks along oh so well. Sparkle is our filler/amp up tune next and then we get the rote rock of Charac… hang on! This one has some extra stank on it. I mean, yeah, it is still Zero and they follow the pattern here but Trey just DESTROYS his solo in this version. Pure guitar god shred on display for all to hear. At the end he offers up a few band nicknames for intros. I can pick out the ‘Chairman of the Boards’ (Page, natch) and ‘Sammy Hagar the Horrible on drums’ (ha! funny for Fish!) but the Mike one is eluding me (Fat Tyler, maybe?). Anyone know what he says here? Maybe it was all a ploy to give people something to discuss over setbreak. I dunno.
So after debating that and dissecting the Tweezer jam the lights go back down and we are ready to dive deep as we have pretty much every night so far this tour. With a somewhat stretched out intro section they start up one of only 28 2nd set opening Bowies (out of 435 total which tells you just how rare that is). Now, by Fall 1998 Bowie was not quite the jam monster it had been during its heyday in 94-95 but it was still a song that offered up a lot of potential. This is not an exploratory version by any means but instead they opt for the balls out (sorry, ladies) shred attack type I style. There’s ample tension built here before they reach the summit with Trey and Page both toying around each other’s notes and then they carry it all through to that T&R peak that makes Bowie what it is. Similar to the Reba in the first set this might not be a version you go back to again and again but I can think of much much worse ways to start out a set (yes I know that is a first set in 3.0 from a show that has one of the better sets of that tour but the point is valid. VALID I tell you!). They follow this up with a cool down tune in the second ever ‘Something’. Again it stays true to the song in the playing for this one-tour-and-done song that saw four performances before hitting the shelf. Honestly I kind of understand why they only played this a few times even though it is a nice tune. There’s just not much there to build on for the band and they have other Beatles covers that most people enjoy.
Moving on, we now get into a pretty jukebox-y remainder of the set which is fine unless you came only for the jams in which case you might not be too thrilled. First up is a short and to the point Piper that barely has much of a solo outside of the rise toward the small peak and old ending. Then we get Golgi, that setlist standard about which no one ever says “hey that Golgi was my favorite part of the show tonight”. Next we have that ugly pig Guyute which, while also not the most open tune in the catalog (or at all) does get the crowd amped every time you hear it live. Must be something about the big power chords and soaring solo Trey plays. People seem to like rock music. And now we get to the humorous part of the set as HYHU signals only our second Fish Fun Time of the tour (back in Spring ’93 we would already be up over ten if not batting 1.000). Tonight’s schtick is vacuum-light (for this song his vac solo is kinda melodic in a weird way rather than fart noise/grating) but it is no less funny to simply think about a dad-bod-sporting dude wearing a donut dress (and perhaps the viking horn helmet since he had that this tour but I’d need in person confirmation on that though Trey’s joke post HYHU about the “horn section” sure seems to indicate he had it on) singing the classic Marvin Gaye between the sheets number Sexual Healing. Maybe they didn’t think it was quite as funny as I do (even if Fish does note the vac as being the ‘sounds of love’) though considering that this stands as the final performance for the song by the band. Oh well. Next up in the playlist is YEM and this one gets a bit more of the somewhat extended ambient pre-Nirvana section as Trey stretches out his tone with some effects pedals and adds that ascending loop as well, though perhaps not as elongated as the past two versions. Mike has a bit of a footbell romp at the start of the jam too either indicating his desire to take this big or maybe as a shout out to the Sexual Healing performance or something else entirely. We may never know. This YEM isn’t really that notable otherwise (though Trey does have a fun little solo in the funk section that Mike and Page add color to quite nicely…) but I’m not ever one to really complain about YEM being played because it hits on pretty much all of the stuff that makes Phish Phish. I think you know what I mean here. So back to the jukebox, we get a fun if not special Julius which is another one of those songs that when it starts you kind of say “eh, I’d have preferred something else here” but then they get into it and you are dancing and next thing you know you are singing “don’t take another step!” and wagging your finger as you spin around with that big smile on your face… wait. Am I the only one who does that? Don’t answer that! This is our fakeout closer since tonight gets the a capella ‘Hello My Baby’ closer and we are headed to the encore. For this we have a song I have always loved and one I was stoked to see that Phish (finally!) had covered in The Police’s ‘So Lonely’. It is such a fun tune and one I wish they would have played more than this one time. Maybe it isn’t the easiest song to pull off though so I can understand it, particularly in this the Year of Covers. This heads into the expected raucousness of Reprise and we are on our way to Tennessee.
Look, I’m not going to sugar coat it. This is the weakest overall show so far this tour. It is not about the playing itself as much as the song choices and lack of jamming. Yes, they rocked out a bunch of stuff and not every show needs to be a four song second set fully segued jamfest to the max (sorry for the early 90s reference there) but even in a Saturday night special like this one for 1998 I just expected a bit more. There are takeaways here, for sure, but outside of a handful of things I am just not going back to this show. Those takeaways for me are the Reba, Tweezer>Moma, maybe the Bowie if you like ’em shred ahead, and the So Lonely encore. That’s it. And even that might be generous. But whatever, it is one show on a great tour. Not everyone needs to be the best show ever, unless you were there in which case don’t let your attendance bias cloud your vision here. Let’s just take what we can and move on like we do. After all, the next show IS the best show…
*If you don’t know the history of Riverfront Coliseum/The Crown/Corporate name of the Month Club Winner then here’s a little primer. The first event ever here was an Allman Brothers/Muddy Waters show on 09.09.1975 (incidentally, the Allmans were also a part of the Superdome grand opening weekend in New Orleans only a week or so earlier so that was a fun time for them I’m sure). It was also the site for the second-to-last Elvis Presley concert ever (06.25.1977). Over the years all sorts of sports, music, and other events have taken place in the venue but easily the most infamous are the events that led to the deaths of 11 fans trying to get into the venue to see The Who on 12.03.1979. Others have written more eloquently than I can about that tragedy but the impact of it was lasting, considering that it caused the cancellation of several future concerts here and resulted in the city of Cincinnati enacting a ban on “festival” seating (i.e. GA) that would last until 2004.