Phish — Hampton Coliseum — Hampton, VA 11.20.1998
I Rock & Roll Part II>Tube>Quinn>Funky Bitch, Guelah, Rift, Meat>Stash, Train Song, Possum, Roggae, Driver, Melt
II Gin>Piper, Axilla>Roses, Farmhouse, HYHU>Gettin’ Jiggy With It>HYHU, Hood>Zero
Let’s just get this out of the way from the start. This is not the 1997 Hampton run. Quite well known throughout the fanbase due to the eventual release of Hampton Comes Alive, the pair of shows that we are here to discuss has an image problem due to the constant comparison they endure to their older siblings from the same venue one year earlier. Is that unfair? Perhaps, as these shows often get criticized for not being deserving of the box set treatment they enjoy. But as we will see some of that criticism is warranted even when factoring in those pesky lofty expectations that came from revisiting a venue which had become a home away from home due to top notch shows dating back to their debut here in Fall 1995. Coming back almost a year to the day after having thrown down two complete shows of stellar playing here the stage was set for Phish to either add to the growing legacy of this venue or fall on their faces in the trying. The reality, however, is somewhere between those two extremes.
How exactly do you follow up two of the more highly regarded shows in that era? I mean, seriously, we are talking about 11.21.1997 and 11.22.1997 here. If you don’t already know those two shows inside and out by now (either via the tapes that quickly appeared with high quality aud pulls for all to enjoy or via the fantastic sounding boxset that also includes the Winston-Salem, NC show from 11.23.1997) I’m not really sure what you are doing here on a nerd phish blog read my bloviations about tours gone by but that’s your deal, man. I’ll just keep with the writing and asking oddly specific rhetorical questions. So yeah. Right. The review.
Knowing full well as they did that the fans would be expecting Phish to come out and lay waste to The Mothership yet again, it is pretty clear the tack they chose to take in crafting the setlist and flow for this first show. In 1997 they opened with a debut cover and big jam of a classic rock artist’s tune (the phenomenally out there Emotional Rescue) and so tonight they chose another classic rock cover to debut in Rock and Roll Part II, the glam rock/jock jams (many of the songs included there have not exactly aged well…) anthem by Gary Glitter that has pretty much disappeared from the jukebox of public opinion due to Mr. Glitter’s rather displeasing backstory. But in ’98 this was not a known thing and it served as a good way to wake up the crowd while perhaps throwing in a little tongue in cheek nod to the prior year’s goings on. This heads right into our first Tube since the funky, jammed out one from Utah which tonight stays in “single” mode before giving way to a MASSIVE bustout of Quinn the Eskimo. The song made its first appearance in 1,151 shows after having last been played 08.10.1987 at Nectar’s. Here in 3.0 it has become almost common, having appeared in 22 shows between 2010 and 2014. Many in the room probably only knew this as a Grateful Dead cover of the Bob Dylan song if they knew it at all considering how scarce the history was for the song up to this point. Riding the energy of these opening numbers, they added Funky Bitch to the string for a punchy bit of bluesy playing before finally coming up for air for a few seconds.
This breath allows them to reel it back a tad to give us Guelah Papyrus before they amp it up once again for Rift. By now you are starting to realize that they sure are playing a lot of songs in this set which is a bit off script for this tour so far. Allowing that thought to pass you are brought back into the music by Meat and here the set really begins to take some shape as they let this one breath out into an ambient soup jam that embraces you like a warm blanket on a wet, cold Fall day. Knowing they are probably going to use this to segue into something else it is still a little jarring when Trey stumbles into the start of Stash but outside of that small misstep they toy around with the reliable vehicle in building some tension for this jam. There is a brief Fikus tease in here (the last known direct reference to the song on stage by the band, sadly) and Trey has something of a train horn sound going as they hit the peak but otherwise this is straight forward Stash fare. Not a bad thing by any means but nothing new for us to learn. Train Song pops in next for the cool down/bathroom slot and we are back on our feet for a rowdy Possum. Again, they follow this with something a bit slower in tempo as they start up Roggae for a slightly extended (compared to others this tour) take on the still young tune. Pay particular attention to Mike in this version as he helps to build the jam with a lovely set of notes. Trey then pulls out the acoustic for Driver and finally we get Split Open and Melt to close up shop for the set. This Melt stays firmly at home but offers up a nice groove pocket for Trey to use in soloing over while working towards the eventual return. While that may make it sound like there isn’t much to this Melt but with the electro Trey soloing at the peak this one can get you closing your eyes, shaking that head back and forth, and rocking out for a bit which is always nice. And as you look at the setlist when the lights come on you realize they have already played thirteen songs which is a number we might blush at even in 3.0 (for reference, most first sets in this tour run 8-9 songs so that is a considerable increase).
Following the setbreak Phish came out and wasted no time in getting to the matter at hand by playing the second 2nd set opening Bathtub Gin of this tour. The previous one was something of a revelation and second set Gins generally can get a bit open so there was good reason to think that this one would follow suit. While more contained than its sister from Chicago this jam to elevate for one of those straight-shot-for-the-summit versions that might not make the arty rankin list for best versions of the song but will definitely get you moving and wooing at the show. Okay, maybe you aren’t into the woo necessarily but even the most stoic dancers might have at least raised a fist to the sky at the peak here. They play with the Gin theme in building towards that end as both Trey and Mike slowly tighten around it (not to mention Page throwing in a Tequila tease) until erupting into the screaming climax. Similar to the Stash and Melt of the first set this isn’t a revelatory Gin but it is one that will move your feet.
And then rather than returning to the standard Gin close they comp out for a bit and eventually drop into a quite patient slow build intro for Piper. It takes a full two and a half minutes before they are in the song proper and from there they build it up to a frenzied peak, resolving it without any jam to speak of at all. Next up is that odd song about armpits, Axilla, which gets the psychedelic Axilla II outro tonight before giving way to the sixth ever Roses Are Free, the well loved Ween cover that fans have long pined to have include another jam even close to the epic that emerged out of the first version from this year on The Island Tour. We have since had two dips back into the jam pool for this song (the long form Big Cypress version tucked late into the Millennium set and the pint-sized bit of jam from the Worcester shows that opened Summer 2012) but alas, this would not be one of those. It is well played but straight to form and then we get Farmhouse’d.
After this the set could have gone in several directions, be it a mid-late set big time jam vehicle or perhaps a string of rockers to set up a big closer or maybe some storytelling or hijinx. The latter would be the case here once the telling organ of Hold Your Head Up keys us into the start of Fish Fun Time. Thinking perhaps that we might get a standard Bike, Terrapin, or maybe even Great Gig in the Sky or If I Only Had a Brain, we are surprised when Trey and Mike start up the Will Smith chart topper Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It. Yeah, I know. But he actually pulls it off better than he should have (even though SOME PEOPLE think this was one of the worst covers ever – #4 on their list of the “worst 50” with some particularly uninformed and blatantly snide comments about the band and their music thrown in for good measure), using cue cards to get through the lines and even tossing in a reference to one of his aliases, Bob Weaver. I recommend checking out that video because you can tell how much fun they are having with it all. If you can’t find humor in that perhaps you are following the wrong band here because the image of a portly bearded dude wearing a dress, plastic viking helmet, white socks and black sneakers while singing a mainstream radio hit (and taking a vac solo too) is funny no matter how you slice it. After rocking out the reentry HYHU a bit and normalcy (well, at least what passes for it at a Phish show anyway) is restored Fish hits the opening run for Harry Hood and we are off into a nice but linear take on the Phish setlist staple. They wrap this up pretty quickly and head to the raucous Character Zero closer to put the finish to this set. The encore Cavern gets some help from Carl Gerhard on trumpet and we are out of here to catch some sleep (yeah, right…) before the next show.
I think we all know this show pretty well so I won’t belabor it to much but this is not exactly the high point people were pointing to when looking at the routing ahead of this tour. I firmly believe that the band was trying to offset the lofty expectations set by the prior year’s jam-heavy juggernauts by offering a wholly different sort of Phish show, one that a large segment of the fanbase seeks out as their ideal type of show. For the jam seekers this means you are left wanting but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t have had a good time at this show all the same. This is a party atmosphere show that has a highly unique setlist, solid and energetic playing throughout, a few takeaway jams, and one of the funnier Fish antics you could dream up outside of a NYE gag. My personal history with this show (and the one the night following) is that I got the boxset when it came out and I was living in bum-fuck western Ohio so I ended up spinning it a lot, learning the ins and outs of this show much like we did when a tape got stuck in the car deck for a while and you just “had” to listen to that old Dead set over and over until you knew every squeal out of Donna backwards and forwards. This doesn’t make it a great show for me but it stands as the one I know the best from this tour and as a result I have been able to find the positives for me in it. Even on paper it isn’t the most exciting show but once you start listening you realize that this is the gelling of the Fall ’98 sound. While we still have six more shows to come after this one by now they are playing at a fully connected level, sharing ideas freely and quickly in moving through the music. Sure, it is more likely a tape you give to a noob to give them an introductory taste to the band than one you keep in regular rotation but even in having it be somewhat ubiquitous there is always a case where throwing it on for music in the background is not a bad thing. And realistically, it is perhaps that ubiquity that turns people off to these shows since part of our obsession with this band is finding the gems that others have yet to unearth either to be able to share them with others, hoard them for our own joy, or maybe a little bit of both. So with all of that your takeaways for this one are not big time and stay mainly in the box but include Roggae, Melt, Gin, Gettin’ Jiggy (because, c’mon, it is fucking hilarious), maybe the Stash, and maybe the Cavern if you like the added horn line that reminds you of the GCH Summer ’91 tour (kinda). So not too bad in the end, I guess…