Phish — Hampton Coliseum — Hampton, VA 11.21.1998
I Wilson>BBFCFM, Lawn Boy, Divided, Cry Baby Cry>Boogie On>NICU, DST, Nellie Kane, Foam, Wading, Guyute, Bold as Love
II Sabotage>Mike’s>Simple>Wedge>Mango>Free->Ha Ha Ha->Free, Weekapaug
The second night of this Hampton ’98 run starts out much like the first one in that we have a first set that offers up a lot of songs that are played well but without a whole lot of real jamming going on. That is oversimplifying it, of course, but looking at that setlist above produces thoughts of “jukebox Phish” jibes from the jaded vets. I would encourage you to spin it though because while being primarily song-based fare there are some fun bustouts, at least one nice jam, and some great energy out of the band. And that’s not even mentioning the more interesting second set.
Tonight they come out with a rocking pair of Wilson>BBFCFM, setting the stage with the big power chords and audience response of Wilson before the mini-bustout of one of the more uniquely disturbing songs in their repertoire, Big Black Furry Creature From Mars. There is a ‘Leave It to Beaver’ tease to be found here (by Mike) and Fish nods back to the night prior with a little ‘Getting Jiggy’ quote but otherwise this is the typically deranged tune that causes head banging and head scratching almost simultaneously. Next they bring it down for Lawn Boy and after Page’s crooning we get the Mike solo tonight. Divided Sky follows for a soaring version that invigorates the crowd greatly (with a 1:41 pause tonight for those keeping track which while far above the accepted average of 35.94 seconds as determined by The Divided Sky Pause Project is pretty well in line with the timing for the era). Another bustout comes in as they then play the Beatles’ classic Cry Baby Cry for the first time in 278 shows. This stands as the last ever version of the song which was played four times between its debut 10.31.1994 and this show here. Keeping things moving, they head right into Boogie On Reggae Woman for the first time this tour and finish up a little three pack by heading directly into NICU from there. After these two dance numbers they bring it back down for Dogs Stole Things and then we get our grassy tune in the bustout of Nellie Kane after 293 shows and close to four years on the shelf. I was witness to many of those 1994 versions having caught seven on Fall ’94 tour alone and perhaps for that reason it is nice to hear them play it again as it is one of my favorite of the bevy of bluegrass covers they do so well.
This brings us to Foam and this is a version I recommend seeking out if you are at all a fan of the tune originally known as “Marijuana Hot Chocolate”. Seriously. Listen to the banter between Fire and Alumni Blues on the 04.22.1988 tape if you don’t believe me as Trey gives the name and Mike plays the bassline that will eventually be Foam. Fun little bit of trivia to wow your stoner friends with, right there. Anyway, the song itself is not some big open jam or anything but Page takes a really nice solo before Trey comes in with a really nice bit of playing. It all has a little more juice to it than your typical Foam and for the first one of the tour it is quite well played. Continuing the see-saw nature of this set we come down for Wading In The Velvet Sea then back up for a run through the rocking Guyute suite before they punctuate the set with the deservedly loved cover Bold As Love. I’ve probably commented on this before but I really dig this song what with the evocative lyrics, swirling build, and overall psychedelic rocking nature of the tune. Considering the impact Jimi Hendrix clearly has had on Trey it is always surprising to me that they do not play more covers of his work though that is admittedly a daunting task to undertake so I suppose it might not be as surprising as I think. Either way, we are glad to have this one in the stable. And with that we are off to the break.
Keeping everyone on their toes, Phish comes back for the second set and gives us another cover, this time one debuted only that summer in The Beastie Boys Sabotage. This is a fun if a bit sloppy one but that’s pretty much in line with the song itself so the impact of the energy it offers up is what is important in this context. They would not play the song again after this until 3.0 so at the time it was pretty big to have this open up the set (it had previously been debuted in the encore at MPP on 08.08.1998 and as the third set open at Lemonwheel on 08.16.1998 and made its return after this night 318 shows later at the new Colorado home base for the band Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on 09.02.2011 to cap the “S” show in fine fashion). Trey sets up a loop at the end here and this keys them into Mike’s for the first real meaty jam vehicle of the show. By the time they get through the verses of the song Trey has more than one loop going and things get dark and menacing in a hurry here. Trey is playing around the Mike’s theme while Page whirls about on the organ and Fish and Mike lay down a punishing rhythm. They ride this demonic groove for a bit before wrapping up and heading into Simple, foregoing any thoughts of a second jam in the process. Not that anyone at that time really focused on the Mike’s 2nd Jam like they do these days but it was a lot more common then for sure.
And I don’t think anyone was complaining about it once this Simple got going. The jam here starts out in the typically blissy fashion, kind of plodding along towards more open waters. About halfway through things get a bit more ambient, never fully leaving Simple but providing an ethereal atmosphere to the bliss rock being played. This version is something of a culmination of the different aspects of their then-juvenile ambient jamming style, bringing the soundscape and more melodic elements together for a fully realized dip into something that is not-quite-Simple but still reminiscent of the song at the same time. By the time this one peters out with some colored accents by Page and then the transition to The Wedge you are left swaying and smiling, maybe even hugging your neighbors in acknowledgement for where that took you. Fair warning though, I wouldn’t go hugging your cubicle mate or the person next to you on the train if you are listening to this while commuting because they might not be on the same page as you. So then we keep it happy with the buoyant Wedge (a bit peppier than all of those slow Wedges from Spring ’93, huh?) and this is followed by another happy-time-party Phish tune in The Mango Song. Perhaps not a lineup of jam titans but this run of tunes should get you moving. A late set Free kicks in next and the hopes for another big jam arise once more only to be derailed after a little over a minute of crunchy rock they slide right into the first Ha Ha Ha of this tour. Maybe this is a nod to the shenanigans of the run and maybe it is a fakeout as if to say “you thought we were gonna jam this, didn’t you? HA HA HA!” I like to think it is the former but it could be the latter and in the end it doesn’t matter right, Bug fans? Yes, I know Bug wouldn’t be debuted for another seven months. Back off. I’m just using the lyrical reference, poindexter. Besides, the Ha Ha Ha is probably foreshadowing for the encore which we will get to shortly anyway. So they return to finish up Free (pretty much coming back exactly where they left) and then we get the anticipated Weekapaug Groove to wrap this set up. Mike hits the footbell in the intro and there’s a Mango Song tease by Trey as they bring the set to a high note in closing things up. For the encore they had one last trick up their sleeves in debuting yet another cover, Tubthumping, the Chumbawamba radio hit from 1997/98 that will get stuck in your head yet again because of this. Tom Marshall joins to help with the singing and Gears is back for the trumpet parts as they played a faithful cover of the song. Fish adds in one last ‘Getting Jiggy’ quote for good measure and we are off into the night to get ready for the trip up to New England and the final shows of this tour.
So what to make of this one? Again, this has the benefit of an official release (despite the protestations of the entitled who don’t think it is worthy of it) and so it is quite well known. The show (and run) are not known for the big jams as much as the overall vibe and the variety of playing styles on display with everything from rock to psych to bluegrass to loungy crooning to hip hop to pure Phish with more I haven’t even mentioned. This is not the high point of the tour but rather a celebratory stop along the way which showcases who Phish was in this time period (and continues to be, quite frankly). You may not like these shows in comparison to others and that is fine but you cannot deny that these shows are a great example of the band up there doing what they do best: playing the music they want in the way that works for them and bringing us all along for the ride. While there are no great videos out there from this run what is available plainly shows how much fun they were having and it is audible in the music as well. You will want to listen to the Foam, Mike’s>Simple, and Tubthumping (because it is pretty fun) at least but you would be forgiven for letting that whole second set run as it is a joyful reminder of the wonderful place Phish occupied in Fall 1998. The takeaways might be fewer than the shows that surround it but they are high quality all the same. Every once in a while you need an energy show or two to just go out there, rock the fuck out, party down with friends, and maybe cleanse the soul a bit in the process. So enjoy these for what they are and get ready to dive deep again as after two nights off to travel north Phish lays down an entirely different type of Phish show altogether…