Phish — LJVM Coliseum — Winston-Salem, NC 11.19.1998
I Cities, Curtain>Sample, Ginseng, Bouncin’, Maze, Something, Ghost>Golgi
II 2001>RnR->Taste, Frankie Says, Gumbo->CDT, Frankenstein, Been Caught Stealing
Heading out of South Carolina on their way northeast towards the final batch of shows on this Fall tour, Phish made a one night stop in Winston-Salem to visit a venue (for the last time, sadly) that seemingly always ended up having a strong outing by the band. The first of these back in Spring 1994 is probably most notable for the Mike’s Song and Possum along with a sit-in for the encore by that night’s opening band (yes, once upon a time you could sometimes get an opening act with this band). The opener that night happened to be the then up and coming Dave Matthews Band (back when Phish was a much bigger act and DMB was still something of a real live jamband) and that encore goes Drums->Jam->Watchtower which is something to hear if you haven’t before. The next year they came back in the Fall and laid waste to the venue with a massive show highlighted by the 2nd set opening sequence of Simple->Bowie->Take Me to the River->Bowie. This is the band at one of their peaks as they were about to head into what would become one of the more storied months in their history December 1995. Two years later they again visited this venue on another highly lauded tour (and following the legendary Hampton run) for a show big on the cowfunk and jams. Everything cooks in that one as well but the Gin->Disease->Low Rider->Disease that makes up the bulk of the second set is master class Phish (though skip the first set Theme>BEK and Stash->NICU at your peril). With all of that history as set up, hopes were undoubtedly high for Phish to drop yet another classic on the North Carolina faithful.
The show opens in a promising manner as they pulled out Cities for the first time this tour. While this one does not elevate to epic status it does its job in warming everyone up and getting the funk going before they wrap it up and play another tour debut in The Curtain. At this time we were still firmly in the “without” period for the song as the bustout and eventual re-normalling of The Curtain (With) would not occur until 07.12.2000. So in 1998 we would be thinking about what the song would open the door for instead of whether it would be “with” or “without” considering that over the years The Curtain has been a kick start to numerous sets and the door opener for many big versions of songs like Tweezer and Mike’s though it also can be a fake out into something a bit more on the contained end such as this evening where they go into Sample in a Jar and we will just move on from that. Ginseng Sullivan fulfills the bluegrass quota tonight and then we have Bouncin’ preceding Maze for what seems like the 1,000,000th time. Shockingly, it has only occurred 17 times and for today’s deep geekery the most frequent dance partners with Bouncin’ out of its 451 performances are: Rift (20), Stash (20), YEM (19), It’s Ice (19), Antelope (18), Maze (17), Foam (16), Possum (16), Landlady (15), Tweezer (14), and Bowie (14). Those eleven songs account for almost 42% of all Bouncin’s which is… something.
Tonight’s Maze has a bit of a loopy intro and then they get into it with aplomb, first with Page soloing on the organ and then with Trey putting on a shred clinic in working through the jam and sticking the landing. This is not going to win any awards but you could do worse than to have a version like this one as your early morning alarm. The third ever Something gives us a breather and then we get another set up loop though this time more recognizable as the intro to another late first set Ghost. They start out in a low key manner, funking along as Trey flavors things with some San Ho Zay which kind of serves to kick off the next section as they begin to slowly build their crescendo. Over the next several minutes there are numerous ideas being thrown out by various band members without anything sticking in taking them down a different path so they instead head for the peak. Trey is driving things here but Page is right there with him and as they get close to a full peak the music stays about where it was as Page throws colorful comps in and Trey devolves the jam towards transitional space. They quickly move out of this into Golgi Apparatus which while a rocking closer is not exactly where we would have liked that whole thing to go. In the alternative we are left to dance and scratch our heads for what might have been as the lights come on and the band leaves the stage. This ends up being a perfectly fine though mostly un-noteworthy set as a result but it is still a solid Phish set all the same.
Coming back from the break the band comes out and immediately begins at building a soundscape with Trey putting out some big loops and Fish eventually kicking in the tell tale hits for the start of 2001 which, similar to The Curtain, is often the lead-in to bigger things. Always a good way to start a second set (there have been 72 in the 204 times the song has been played), they take their time here as the sonic build takes close to seven minutes before Page enters the song “verse” proper. This build has many of the elements of the Fall ’98 sound what with the loops (both siren and drone), ambient wash, and funk comping not to mention a little Crosseyed and Painless tease for good measure. They ride the dance party anthem (well, it’s a dance party anthem for us anyway, right?) to the obvious peak and then drop right into Rock and Roll for the third ever performance of the song. While still mostly contained at this early age they do add in a little electro rock jam out of the verses which drops down to a groove rock section that eventually works its way to a full segue into Taste. Though the composed section of Taste here is not flawless once they hit Trey’s solo that is but a fleeting memory and it elevates to the peak you know so well to complete this three pack of set opening tunes.
Now about a half hour into the set we get our lone ‘breather’ tune in Frankie Says which is a perfectly fine choice by me for that slot any time they want to go ahead and keep doing that. This one lacks any form of outro jam but serves its purpose well and now we are ready to tackle the back half of the set with empty bladders and loaded lungs. Not that we are using empty bladders and loaded lungs to tackle the back half of the set because that would be weird but dangling participles aside I think you know what I meant here. Gumbo starts up and here in 1998 you just know that they will jam it because that is what they did with the song back then. I am not even kidding. Look at every version from mid-1997 (including every domestic version that year) through the early part of 2.0 and without fail they all include at least something of a jam. I’m not here to pin down when the peak for the song was but 1998 sure seems to fall somewhere right in the middle of it. This version from Winston-Salem is right in the wheelhouse of the punchy funk versions of the Fish-penned tune that emit wafts of Manteca throughout but after a few minutes of working the room Trey drops things down to a more sparse bit of playing that triggers a move towards ambience. Rather than go the melodic route, Trey then triggers a grating, noisy loop (you’ll know it. you’ve heard it before) that Page adds to with some interstellar sounds. This has some promise but alas, they use it to transition to Chalkdust Torture rather than to go out further so we are left to wonder about what might have been. The resulting Chalkdust rips hard and fast but stays at home in the song before giving way to Frankenstein for another fun rocker. Then, as if to attempt to blow the roof clean off the place they crank into the set closing cover of Been Caught Stealing which is quite well received by the enthusiastic crowd.
Following all of that you rockin’ could excuse them if they kept it light for the encore but noooooo they have to go and start up You Enjoy Myself instead. We again get the slightly extended ambience in the pre-Nirvana section and then a funky jam in the middle but the notable aspect of this YEM quite frankly is the guest who joins for the vocal jam. Now more reasonably known for her electro pop band Heloise and the Savoir Faire (maybe you know this song? I’ll admit that I didn’t…), Heloise Williams was at this time the lead singer and flutist for the Vermont collective Viperhouse. They toured around the Northeast and had a couple of releases before going their separate ways. Being a VT band there was enough of a crossover with our boys Phish that Heloise here has a backing vocal credit on The Story of the Ghost, that album which came out preceding this tour. She would also later provide vocals on Mike’s Inside In album but that is getting ahead of ourselves. Lo and behold, Viperhouse was on a tour of their own that matched up with Phish in more than one town (they had been in Greenville, SC when Phish played there the previous night). With a late show at the famed Ziggy’s (home to a fun old school Phish show once upon a time and a Jazz Mandolin Project show with Fish about three years later on from this night) set to follow Phish’s show here she ended up joining the band for the aforementioned encore. Where things get really interesting is that Trey then went to the Viperhouse show and sat in for the whole second set. And this is important for us because that was apparently the night Trey met the organ player for Viperhouse who would soon become his organ man in the many iterations of TAB, Ray Paczkowski. So that’s a pretty neat way for all of that to come together.
Okay, getting back to our show here, overall we get a solid Thursday night affair that kind of feels like table setting for the pair in Hampton to come. Maybe they were amping up for those shows or something but this one never really takes off like most of the shows before it. There is no major centerpiece jam in the second set which is not to say there isn’t good music to be heard but just that nothing really pushes things too far forward. The first set is a bit song-y (though will pale in comparison to such song-based sets soon enough…) and while somewhat engaging the Ghost and Maze jams don’t push this to great heights. The second set gets into it a tad more but it is still relatively contained, particularly when you look at all of those lovely 20+ minute jams to start several of these sets in the recent past. Definitely one where a fun night would have been had but outside of the few takeaways here I’m not rushing to go back to spin this one again. So for those takeaways we will say Maze (though admittedly this is just padding the list), Ghost, 2001>RnR->Taste, and Gumbo->CDT. The YEM is not quite interesting enough to add in because, really, who is going to spin a YEM just to hear a somewhat unique VJ? Don’t answer that.