Phish — Murphy Center — Murfreesboro, TN 11.15.1998
I MFMF, Ghost>Driver, SOAMule, Cavern>LxL, Roggae>La Grange
II Jim>Stash, Mike’s>Simple>Wading>Cup>Weekapaug
E Rocky Top
Stopping next in one of the more hard to pronounce US towns that the band has ever played, Phish played a Sunday night show on the back end of three straight nights to an enthusiastic crowd at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN. Okay, maybe I’m the only one who finds ‘Murfreesboro’ to be a tongue-twisting town name. Anyway, while this might not be a Sunday night skip show for the ages it does offer up some items for discussion and provides more to add to our ever-growing “takeaways” list. Speaking of, just a site note here, I wanted to mention that once I wrap up the tour I’ll do a few summary posts including at least one that highlights all of the takeaways so that we can then dance the night away about architecture. Now back to the show!
Things get started off in a dark way as they cue up the not-nearly-as-rare-as-you-think My Friend, My Friend opener. By contrast, the song has only opened 8 2nd sets and encored one show. This tune sets the tone for the set by staying a bit on the slower side while pushing that demonic feel that is furthered by a loop-aided crawl through the ending ‘Myfe’ section. Trey starts up another, more telltale loop at the end and we on our way to Ghost. You can tell from the start they are playing patiently tonight as they let this one seep into the jam, funking along and searching together for something bigger (there’s a San Ho Zay tease in here too if you like that sort of thing). Trey starts up an interesting melodic lead around 8:40 or so and the band catches on as they ride this to something of a peak though in reality they never bring that build to full fruition. This gives way to a static section where Trey and Page are basically comping along until it drops into some transitional ambient space. Mike is offering up the most in this section (and I must say that throughout this show Mike has some very strong playing though that might be as much a factor of his forward presence on the tapes as anything else) before we get that transition to Driver. Tonight’s version is nice enough with Trey on the acoustic once more but the highlight is probably after when Trey jokes that they were going to call it “The Driver In Fish’s Head” but decided that would have been too much, eliciting a subdued rimshot out of Fish in response. Funny guys.
Taking the energy up a bit with Scent of a Mule, Mike offers up some footbell action as Page takes over to solo. Trey comes in to parrot his line and they build to the klezmer finale you know so well. A mid set Cavern is next and at this point I should probably note that thus far (and really, continuing throughout the show) everything has felt to be played at a slower tempo than “normal”. This Cavern is a good example as it is plodding in comparison to what you expect out of the song. Limb by Limb comes in as a shot of energy following this, however, and all of that patient playing pays off as they really go for it in building a smile-inducing peak that shows off Trey pushing it higher while playing what seems to be an impossible number of notes along the way. He even gets in the peak run from Taste at the 8:00 mark which is pretty cool. They take things down again for a nice run through Roggae which then cranks into the start of the tour debut of the old rocker La Grange, a song that has now dropped into the where-are-they-now file (perhaps due to its ubiquity on tv commercials these days…). Now, even in being that crunchy Texas rock it feels slow somehow but it pays off and sends everyone off to setbreak in a good mood, capping a set that doesn’t have much standing out but that flows well and has that top notch playing on display throughout.
The second set could have gone a lot of ways following that adagio first set. Not that it was bad by any means, just that the pace of some of these tunes moves like molasses as if it were a Dead & Company show or something. This carries over to the second set as well as even in the set opening Runaway Jim they don’t exactly rush things. The jam here is nice and to the point without much wasted on searching or comping along waiting for someone to put forth an idea but it also doesn’t move the song too far forward either. They wrap this one up pretty quickly though and head into Stash for one of those rare second set takes on the tune. Here the slower pace is more noticeable than in the preceding Jim but once they get to the jam that all takes a back seat to Mike first laying down a line that really moves this sideways before they go into the dissonant T&R build section in the back half. Trey takes the forefront here and they tie it up nicely for a relatively short but succinct jam. This one deserves a respin or two if only to hear how Mike takes charge. Next up is Mike’s which starts you wondering how they will fill up this Groove but then they get to the jam and you forget all that for a bit while you ride the backwards loop into the pocket they craft here. Still working patiently, Trey puts together a captivating lead line that hugs that chugging groove while Page swirls away on the organ. Soon they set up to head into the second jam but instead opt for Simple, playing a lovely version that has several “scaled” runs by Trey in bringing the mood up and then back down towards a move into Wading in the Velvet Sea via a brief Page-only section for what appears to be our mid set cool down number.
Now, I am generally not a big Wading fan as the repetitive, weepy lyrics just don’t do much for me and the end solo is usually pretty standard but tonight things are a bit different. After working through the song and sticking the landing on that solo they drop into some of that Fall ’98 ambience though tonight it is almost uplifting, hinting back to Wading at points. There are those who say this music feels a lot like the end of the Bethel Tech Rehearsal Waves and I really can’t deny the similarity even if that is probably purely coincidental. This is a somewhat abbreviated ambient space though as fairly quickly Page lays down the chords indicating the start of Loving Cup. This version cranks up in a hurry with Trey taking charge in leading the band through the song with a screaming solo all while the rest of the band pounds on behind him. It is a pretty solid version of this song that kinda sorta always sounds the same — and I say that having recently covered the tour where it debuted and in which they played it quite a bit. I mean, it’s no Indio Halloween show closing Cup with horns and Sharon Jones BUT it rages all the same. Mike then keeps it on the up by starting up that Paug we have just been waiting for and now we know we are in closer territory (if it wasn’t already obvious by the double closer pairing here…). Once again Mike is driving the bus a bit here, punishing that bass in bringing the pace up (these last two songs are the most energetically paced of the night easily). As they elevate here in building tension they are playing what feels like double time to the rest of the set, eventually paying off the build with a shreddy peak before coming back around to the final chorus and wrapping up the set. As one could expect the encore tonight is Rocky Top, the state song here in Tennessee. Okay, let’s be honest. It is one of TEN official state songs for Tennessee which is so perfectly Tennessean I can’t even stand it. In case you are wondering, the other ones are My Homeland, Tennessee, When It’s Iris Time in Tennessee, My Tennessee (1992), the Tennessee Waltz (here’s a nice version with Bonnie Raitt and Norah Jones), Tennessee, The Pride of Tennessee, A Bicentennial Rap: 1796-1996, Tennessee (2012), and Smoky Mountain Rain (a fantastically Ronnie Milsapian tune). I shit you not, that Bicentennial Rap song is real and it is hilariously bad. I couldn’t find the others on a quick youtube search but you are perhaps better off listening to the Arrested Development song Tennessee or maybe a high quality Tennessee Jed from the good old Grateful Dead than diving too deep here. Either of those would have been interesting covers for Phish to try out, eh? All that to say that this version of Rocky Top is pretty good considering the high energy of the crowd and the band playing to that.
So what to make of this show… On one hand it feels like there isn’t much here as there really isn’t a “must hear” jam to be had and the slow pace keeps the energy level a bit subdued throughout the show. Perhaps that is due to playing their third venue in as many nights (with about 550 miles of driving between the three stops) and being a bit tired but I really don’t hear it that way. The other hand says there isn’t anything bad here and the playing throughout is solid at worst. They are clearly connected at this point in the tour and the ideas come freely. This show is one you won’t hear people point to, particularly with all of the great stuff in the days around it. I maintain that it is worth a listen. I enjoyed this one and was a bit surprised to have that realization. I’m not putting it ahead of the top shows here and the takeaways are fewer than most shows so far this tour but you could do worse than to spend the two plus hours it takes to get through this relatively short show. So let’s get to those takeaways. Tonight we have the Ghost, Mule, LxL, Stash, and Wading>Cup>Paug with the Mike’s being one to add if you are feeling generous. Now we have a couple of off days to rest up before we get to South Cackalacky for the last appearance to date in the Upcountry.