Phish — New Haven Veterans Memorial Coliseum — New Haven, CT 11.24.1998
I Disease, Moma>Ginseng, Stash, B&R, LxL, Sample, Tela, CDT
II Ghost>Halley’s>Tweezer->Possum, Wading>Zero
Do you hear that? Come closer. Closer… Now you hear it? Yeah, that’s the collective exhale of a band moving on from a weekend with extremely high expectations back to the normal goings on of a midweek stop in the Phish-friendly climes of southern Connecticut. That is not to say that Hampton is not also Phish-friendly but that maybe just maybe the weight of the prior year’s performance in The Mothership influenced the band to the effect that what we got was two solid if not remarkable shows devoid of many “all star” jams (save the Simple, of course) as had occurred in 1997. I cannot verify the band’s mindset here some 18 years in the future, obviously, but all you have to do is listen to the very next show they performed in New Haven, CT and it sure seems pretty clear that they simply allowed this one to flow after having thrown a lot of songs out there over the prior two shows. The end result is a Tuesday night throw down where the playing is white hot, the jams come early and often, and there is nary a wasted moment in getting to the point of the endeavor.
In all the years since its debut — first as the celebratory New Year’s Jam on 12.31.1993 — Down with Disease has been played 250 times with only 19 of those being show openers (it has opened 74 2nd sets and one 3rd set for the Halloween 2010 show which featured the cover of Little Feat’s Waiting For Columbus). In most cases this song as show opener acts as a big energy burst to set the stage for bigger things to come. On this night the energy coming from the show opening Disease is big but so is the jam. This is not just a shred clinic even though that is on display here. This is a triumphant, patient, building jam that reaches its first peak to the elation of the crowd but just keeps going, eventually covering close to 14 minutes as it begs to blow the roof on the joint clear off just as things get going before finally coming around to the full Disease ending that is now so rare to hear. Oh, and lest we forget to mention it, Trey teased Stash a bit in the intro to that Disease. Keeping everyone on their toes, the band starts up Moma Dance after a brief pause, diving into the funk early in this show. They are really starting to put a little extra stank on this tune of late and this version fits that mold perfectly. There is nothing but deep groove going on here but, man, they hit that pocket hard. If you can’t get down to a version like this one then I’m not sure what to say because this is a clinic in Phish Funk. Trey is using the wah pedal to great effect in coloring the groove all while Mike and Fish hammer at that beat and Page comps along. It feels like a groove that could keep on going but they bring it down and head into Ginseng Sullivan for the three slot grassy tune on the evening.
After the brief interlude about the perils of being a valuable root scrounger trying to make his way back home we return to the jam for the Stash that Trey teased at the start of the set. Similar to the first two songs of the evening we stay firmly within the song itself but Trey plays an interesting staccato lead as they patiently work their way through the tension-building exercise that is Stash. Fish pounds us to the release of the peak and we are left with a third quality jam just four songs into the set. Now we get our first real breather tune with Brian & Robert but we are quickly back to it with Limb by Limb. I feel like I am beating the horse here but this is yet another solid jam that does not stray from the song but features Trey reaching high towards to peak. Here in the back half of the first set there has yet to be any one song that is going to make it on to some fan’s jamcharts but there is very little wasted either. Of course, as soon as we are able to turn and hug our neighbors to celebrate that LxL they start up Sample In A Jar to shut me up. Now, I’ve read some who say that Trey takes a “real solo” here but I don’t hear it and I will continue to maintain my position regarding this song because I am right and I have 278 examples to back me up here. Shit, even having Carl Perazzo sitting in doesn’t help and don’t try to tell me that one from Copenhagen 03.02.1997 counts either because a quick quote of Radiohead’s Creep isn’t gonna count here, bucko.
Moving on, we have a lovely Tela where Trey hits all the right notes in the end solo. This is what you want out of this song since even though it is like Sample in the fact that they never “jam” it here at least you have an interesting piece of music that is made better by the performance of it. As if to counterpoint the beauty of Tela they follow it by closing the set with a punishing, rocking take on Chalkdust Torture, one that will send you off to setbreak hooting and hollering about this band and how they came to melt faces before getting into a rambling almost incoherent rant about how THIS is Phish and THIS is them showing everyone why they are the best band on earth as you recap the highlights of the set for everyone in your section. Naturally, all of those people start to slowly back away as they understand the state of mind you are in and they make excuses about how they need to go get a beer or get some air — anything to escape the black hole that is this conversation — and eventually you are left standing there with your back to the stage as you continue to espouse on the wonder that is this set.
Hopefully it isn’t the house lights eventually going down again that snaps you out of it because that would probably mean your whole crew and everyone around you will have left to find somewhere else to dance for the second set to come. But hey, maybe that is what you needed to cleanse your mind a bit on this night so when they come back out and drop that telling loop to kick off Ghost it flips the switch and you shut the hell up for once and lose yourself in yet another high quality jam. Trey takes the helm here at the start, pushing a growly tone over the beat all while the loop persists and Page offers up some crunchy organ to augment Trey. Similar to the Disease that started the show, this one patiently builds with Trey holding his notes longer as Fish picks up the pace. Trey then takes things higher, teasing us with a lead line that gets more and more involved yet still stays true to its Ghost roots, building tension towards a release that hits more than one false peak along the path. Trey throws in some “Foxy Lady” style phrasing as this progresses and there is never a full release bliss peak as we get in many Ghosts but instead heads towards the typical outro space that this song begets. Page is on top here and Trey sets a new loop as they hit the breakdown and look to transition to the next song. Here’s a crappy old video of that one if you are so inclined where perhaps you can find the San Ho Zay and Psycho Killer teases that are hidden within. As a bit of an aside, if you have never read the wonderful Daily Ghost Project by lawnmemo you should go ahead and do that already. He does a fantastic job breaking down so much in those posts. He is also currently working through 2001 too if you like the Ghost stuff. Now back to the show…
The transition from Ghost gets us to Halley’s Comet which tonight does not include a jam but rather serves as the bridge to our next vehicle, Tweezer. The tempo here is a bit slower than “normal” at the start but as they enter the jam space Mike hits the fight bell multiple times (in time with the beat, no less) and then they head off into the ether. Mike takes the clear lead here, building a Tweezer-ish line that Trey picks up and elevates with some more growl tone. This evolves into a serious bit of groove that never really leaves Tweezer with Trey soloing on top, Page added flavors to complement him, and Mike and Fish pushing the groove to greater heights. This is the four-headed monster Phish where all of the players are contributing to the jam while no one is ever wanking out a big solo or anything. This is the type of Phish jam that in the moment has you doing your best dance moves, making knowing eye contact with perfect strangers who feel that connection and reflect it right back to you. Trey eventually brings us all home with some more growly, electro lead lines that bring us to a small bit of dark ambience before Trey kicks into the old school slow down ending to wrap it up. But before fully closing things out Trey stretches out the last note and then they ramp up to punch into the start of Possum. Even before the lyrics you can tell this version is a bit more than your standard Possum fare as Trey plays the slightly off key lead line from “Born on the Bayou” (last teased 11.13.1997 in Mike’s Song) in the intro. Once they get to the jam Trey plays around the Possum theme for a few minutes, offering up an almost staccato version of the normal Possum lead and then solos out of that as Page tinkles away with his own line on the baby grand. This all follows the typical pattern for Possum in getting to the peak but they extend it for several minutes with Trey alternately playing a direct lead and a dissonant “un- jam” (not really too unlike the “un-jams” that Possum enjoyed in Summer 2012) that serves to build tension towards the release peak where he comes back immediately to the Possum theme. It may not be the best Possum ever but it sure is more interesting than the swamp music normalcy of the song.
You could pretty well expect that here some 55 minutes into a set heavy on the jams they would play a bathroom break song next and they do with a serviceable Wading In The Velvet Sea that has a nice outro solo if that is your bag. This is followed by yet another fiery Character Zero on this tour which while pretty much what you expect rocks quite hard in capping this set. In coming out for the encore Phish had a bit of a surprise up their sleeves as they brought out an old friend to assist for the first Suzy Greenberg of this tour, not to mention the ensuing Tweezer Reprise. Everyone by now would have known who the Dude of Life is but might not have been prepared for him to give us some alternate lyrics to Suzy and Reprise. This offers some reason to check these versions out but otherwise it is just another brief visit from a vision of their past which included backing him for his album Crimes of the Mind (an album that offers us the music of Chalkdust Torture as backing to another song entirely amongst other “gems”). He is something of an acquired taste but you cannot deny his place in phishtory so there it is.
Perhaps I am over-fluffing this show due to its juxtaposition with the preceding Hampton run that didn’t exactly elevate this tour to greater heights. Again, I am not saying that the Hampton shows were bad by any means just that they may not have hit the extremely high expectations of the fanbase. This New Haven show is another type of Phish from the one we saw in Hampton, one that is more about taking songs to their logical conclusion by playing around the theme while searching for inspiration towards new music. Honestly, this show is heavy on what would be deemed “type I” jams but it is also showcasing the sound the band had developed in getting to this point on the tour. Being 18 shows into the tour with four to go (including the three night finale in Worcester) they were operating at full capacity. Outside of the Suzy every song in this show had been played within the preceding two weeks, showing that they were familiar with the material and willing to stretch their legs a bit. They also returned to the pattern of less-songs-played, back to the tour average of 9 first set songs after both Hampton shows had 13 song first sets (and below the tour average of 18.9 songs for the whole show by playing just 16 after nights of 22 and 23 in Hampton). All told, this one is a show that I will respin more frequently than those Hampton shows due to the interesting jams that go along with all of the other “standard” factors at play. Just putting together the takeaways proves that as we have Disease, Moma, Stash, LxL, Ghost, and Tweezer->Possum as definites and Suzy>Reprise for the unique offerings they are. I wish all my Tuesdays could be so fruitful. So to return to the question, am I being a bit to fluffy here? Yeah, sure, fine, but I’ll gladly wear that mantle for a show like this one.