Phish — Knickerbocker Arena — Albany, NY 11.25.1998
I PYITE>My Soul, Roggae, Bag, Lifeboy, Bowie, Sleep, Driver, GTBT
II 2001>Golgi, Drowned->Caspian>Piper, YEM, Been Caught Stealing>Llama
E Something>Guyute, Free Bird
Once again we have a venue that has gone through several names in its sponsored history. I still refer to it at the Knick (you know, short for Knickerbocker?) but in 1997 the naming rights were sold and it became Pepsi Arena for about 10 years before that contract expired and the current one making it the Times-Union Center began. Perhaps a minor issue for some but there are lots of venues that have been subject to this sort of thing and keeping them all straight can get wonky when you have several Verizon venues for example that could be on a single tour. So we will continue to call some places by the names that made them great like Deer Creek, Great Woods, Pine Knob, Star Lake, and The Knick (amongst so many others). Because, honestly, having a concert album called “Dozin’ at the Pepsi Arena” just doesn’t ring quite as well as Dozin’ at the Knick, right? And we can use The Knick for Phish too because they had played the venue first when it had the original name back on 12.09.1995 with a show that includes a YEM that really shouldn’t need any introduction. They came back again for a pair of shows to cap the Fall ’97 Tour with two highlight-filled nights that I highly recommend you spinning once you are all caught up on your outstanding Fall ’98 homework. We’re getting close to Finals here, people, no time for slacking.
So here was Phish in the final run of shows for this Fall ’98 Tour stopping in for a single Wednesday night show on the way to Worcester. Which is not to say that Albany is on the way from New Haven to Worcester — far from it, in fact — but that this is the show between the now-demolished New Haven Coliseum one we covered quite recently and the three pack at the venerable Worcester Centrum (yes, yet another venue that now sports a corporate name…). There seems to be something of a carryover of the refreshed energy of the band from last night as they come out hot with a fiery combo of Punch You In The Eye>My Soul, two rocking numbers that while quite straight forward in the execution certainly do their part in getting everyone up and moving. A contemplative take on Roggae fills the three slot tonight and while still about what you would expect from this tune they are definitely quite comfortable with where to take it as the end jam gets to some beautifully ethereal space. Trey and Mike are on top here, offering up complimentary lines that take this version higher and higher. This is a song that has really grown on me in 3.0 as I think they really know now how to capture the emotional aspect of the song better now with that reflection back on their past but even in this first year of the song’s existence you can hear the foundation of what the song would eventually become.
Next it is back to sing along time for the cliche-filled, almost-musically-accurately-named Gamehendge classic AC/DC Bag, that sometimes shelved (recall that it sat waiting for 75 shows between 1991 and 1992 and then another 84 shows until popping up again in Spring 1993) and sometimes jammed tune about the mechanical executioner employed by Wilson. Tonight’s version would not match the jammery of the prior version in Chicago but it does have a rocking outro jam that pretty well sends the crowd into a frenzy at the peak. We then catch our breath a bit with another of the better “power ballads” in the song book as Lifeboy hits the stage for only the second time in 1998 and for the final time until returning 133 shows later on 02.21.2003 in Cincinnati. This version has that cathartic build and resolution that makes the song so beloved in the fanbase and then we are on to our first real highlight of the show when — with a lengthy, loop and effect laden intro — David Bowie starts up to the joy of the crowd. This is not a total mindfuck version like something out of the song’s peak years in late 1994 and throughout 1995 (cuz, yeah, Orpheum and Providence in Fall/Winter 1994 or any of a number of Summer 1995 versions like Lakewood, The Mann, Jones Beach, and Deer Creek) but the jam while somewhat linear does have a patient feel to it that is accented well with the loops Trey employs along the way. This one won’t make the Big List Of Best Bowies but in the moment it is a fun ride through a swirling bit of tension and release where Page and Trey dominate the action.
Now we get the unplugged part of the show as Trey straps on the acoustic for Sleep and Driver. While perhaps not the most exciting part of these shows, this interlude served its purpose well in providing a breather slot to “reset” things and to highlight a couple of the less jam-friendly tunes they had brought to the stage in recent months. This wasn’t something they did every show of the tour (like our friend the ubiquitous Big Ball Jam that was a part of practically every show there for a while) but usually when they did Driver or Sleep were one of the songs involved with the two appearing together in two shows on this tour not to mention two stand alone shows prior to tour (for their shared debut on 10.17.1998 as well as in the recording of the Sessions at West 54th performance on 10.20.1998) not to mention again during the NYE Run at MSG. Coming out of this pairing you would expect something big and raucous as we have to be getting close to setbreak, right? So Trey straps back on the ‘doc and warms up with a few casual strums before hitting those easily recognizable notes for Good Times Bad Times, one of the most reliable set/show closing cover rockers in the repertoire. The Led Zeppelin tune was debuted only 50 shows into Phish’s existence and since then has never gone longer than 66 without being played (with only two other gaps of 30 shows or longer). At 214 times played it is the most common cover song Phish plays with the caveat that I do not count HYHU because they have never played the song in its entirety and it solely exists here as a joke on Fish. A few songs are closing in fast (Ya Mar, Uncle Pen, 2001) but for now that place is safe. Tonight’s set ending version has a whirling, noisy, extended jam in the middle before the final return to the powerful chords that signify the close, making this the fourth longest version ever behind one from 1997 (they tended to play it a bit longer then when Trey was showing off his wonderful Hendrixxian chops in lieu of funking it up) and two from 2003. With that we are off to setbreak and tonight, maybe, you decided to take it a little easier after going big last night and hearing about it the whole two and a half hour drive up from New Haven so that means you are the one here rolling your eyes and making the trek out to the concourse to escape the raving mess that is your tour buddy Pauly the Tree. Sure, Pauly is a great guy who gives the best bear hugs to everyone he meets but he gave you so much shit last night that you are just waiting for the post show lot and hotel time to give it right back to him. Tonight is his night to be #1 just as last night was yours. The question then becomes who will be the “winner” in Worcester?
Eventually the setbreak ends your internal conflicts and scheming to bring us more Phish and out of the murk of the set’s start we get the languid funk of Phish’s delightful cover of Deodato’s take on Also Spake Zarathustra, or as we all know it “2001”. There are some debates as to when the peak for this song was, be it the cowfunk monsters of Fall 1997 or the more exploratory juggernauts of 1999 but I’d put 1998 right up there as by now they had the funk thing down and were starting to really tinker with this song. This version is not one I would put on the top of the heap but it has a great wah funk intro with Trey toying around on various lead lines throughout until a loop’d outro drops us into Golgi Apparatus. Wait what? Hang on. 2001 is a set starting tune that drops us into a big jam vehicle, right? RIGHT?? Ah ,well, they can’t all be winners so I guess we just have to deal with the fact that they doubled up on the energy building with the old tune about ticket stubs and cell structures (clearly as a nod to the tough ticket situation for those looking here preshow) before getting to the real meat of the matter here.
After Golgi we are dropped into the first Drowned since the first set one from 11.02.1998. This Albany version follows a similar pattern to that one in that the jam starts out as a high powered explosion of arena rock riffs as Page and Fish add to the cacophony of noise. However, instead of sliding into the groove space that took that Utah one ‘next level’ we get a less noisy but still rocking section where Trey sustains his notes in amping up the dissonant nature of the music before they bring it all down to a nice segue to Prince Caspian. The Caspian is pretty standard for Fall ’98 which means you get a lovely lyrical section followed by Trey just straight annihilating the end solo. You know, ho hum average guitar god stuff. Caspian bleeds right into the slow intro to Piper and, again, while nothing epic it shreds in the way those Fall ’98 Pipers did (excepting the Denver one which went much bigger) in a compact version that hits and runs in just over seven and a half minutes with close to half of that coming in the slow build intro.
Looking to perhaps stretch out a bit following this shredder, Trey starts up You Enjoy Myself which proceeds as it does with a nice though ambient-lacking pre-Nirvana section and then all the prog funk you could want in the balance of the song. Trey throws in a Super Bad tease along the way but overall this version isn’t very noteworthy. The crowd pleasing cover of Been Caught Stealing ramps up next and is paired with Llama for a double closer punch and we are off to the encores. First up would be the final performance of The Beatles’ Something which is somewhat oddly followed up with Guyute. This rocks the joint the way Guyute tends to and then we are treated to my favorite a cappella cover, Free Bird. Kind of a weird three pack for the encore but whaddyagonnado. At the least it sends everyone out on a high note laughing at that Free Bird so there’s that.
I’m not really sure how to evaluate this one as a whole. There is no big standout jam (or three) to point to but to my ear the playing is perfectly fine throughout the show (though some of the reviews out there for this one on .net and in other places do not paint quite as rosy a picture about the show). The song choices and placement are a bit… interesting… what with number of ballad-y tunes in the first set and overall reliance on rockers in the place of true jam vehicles but that’s just quibbling at a certain point. The crowd seems to be really into it (though, honestly, when are they not?) and the band sounds like they are fully engaged so who are we to complain? Okay, sure, fine, maybe there’s a flub or three in Guyute and perhaps in a couple other places but whatever! We will just take our takeaways and move on to Worcester. And with that, your takeaways tonight are Bowie, Drowned->Caspian, and perhaps Roggae and maybe the GTBT if you are feeling gracious. Not a whole lot here but better than nothing. I am confident we will have a lot more to take away once we get to Worcester once we’ve wiped out the midweek malaise from this hump day affair.