Phish — Worcester Centrum Centre — Worcester, MA 11.27.1998
I Funky Bitch, Ya Mar, Carini, Jim, Meat>Reba, Old Home Place, DST, Vultures, Circus, BOAF
II Buried Alive>Wipe Out>CDT->Mirror in the Bathroom->CDT->Dog Log->CDT>Sanity>Buffalo Bill>Mike’s->H2>Weekapaug->Wipe Out->Weekapaug>Paug Reprise>Antelope
E Wading, Golgi>Wipe Out
Ah, Worcester. City of Seven Hills. Wormtown. Heart of the Commonwealth and the City of Dreams. The Woo! We have mentioned how certain cities and venues seem to bring out the best in Phish and our scene and Worcester, MA is right up there with Hampton, New York City, The Gorge, Colorado, Chicago, and more as a place Phish just seems to feel at home. Over the years Phish has played this town 18 times, first back at the Clark University Pub on 01.19.1990. That’s a venue that I am pretty certain does not exist anymore. But from there they take things bigger first with a New Year’s Eve show on 12.31.1991 at the old Worcester Memorial Auditorium which is a really cool building with a storied history. This article gives a glimpse into this now closed venue. I can imagine that those murals would have been fun to check out with Phish as your soundtrack. After that the band didn’t play here for two full years as they again graced a Worcester stage at the famed Centrum (now DCU Center) that has been home to so many great concerts over the years.
Phish’s first appearance there on 12.31.1993 is a show that many point to as a tipping point for the band (and a great tape to give people new to the band to give them a clue of what this band is all about). That show got a radio broadcast and their are remastered soundboards in circulation which helped to make this a very widespread and popular recording… though the music itself really tells the tale with stellar versions of Reba, Tweezer, YEM, and Hood (some hold this as their favorite Hood ever) as well as the debut of the jam that would become Down With Disease to celebrate the new year. Since that night Phish has been back to this venue fifteen more times first for a pair of shows on the NYE 1995 Run on 12.28.1995 (home to a fantastic Tweezer and more) and 12.29.1995 (ever hear of The Real Gin? Yeah.) preceding the two epic shows at MSG, three Thanksgiving weekend gems in 1997 (11.28.1997 where the Ghost gets the love but don’t miss the YEM and pretty much the whole 2nd set, 11.29.1997 with the longest jam in band history for Runaway Jim, and 11.30.1997 with the big first set Wolfman’s and the Stash->Free>Jam->Piper), the three big time shows from around Thanksgiving 1998 that we will cover here, a single night on the Winter 2003 Run 02.26.2003 perhaps best known for the solo band tunes featured in the first frame but the jams here are big too, another pair of pre-MSG NYE Run shows in 2010 (12.27.2010 accompanied by an epic blizzard that influenced song choices and 12.28.2010 which begat the magnificent plinko funk Hood), the two Summer 2012 Tour opening shows (06.07.2012 with that amazing Carini->Taste>Ghost>Boogie>If I Could segment to start the 2nd set and 06.08.2012 with the return of the Roses jam, the Sandy Kane jam and more), and a pair of Fall 2013 shows on the path to Atlantic City for Halloween (10.25.2013 with the Waves>Carini and 10.26.2013 with its great 2nd set highlighted by Drowned>Light not to mention the Kenwood Dennard sit-in in the encore). Here’s a jams-only playlist over at our friends www.phishjustjams.com for you to peruse if this Worcester stuff sounds interesting. I didn’t even mention any of the 1998 highlights and already I am like 1,000 words into this write-up without touching a note of the show above. I suppose I should get to that…
All of that background sets the stage here for high expectations out of the fanbase. Perhaps that could have been on the band’s minds in kicking off their second Turkey Run of shows in as many years here (and the final run of shows on the tour too) but if it was they sure didn’t show it on stage. Instead we are treated to “one of those shows” where everything seems to come together to produce something bigger than the sum of its highly segmented setlist parts. Just take a look at that setlist up there. Seriously. Check it out. Remind you of anything? Like one of those epic seguefest shows all the setlist geeks are always squealing about? Well here we have one of the biggies in Phish history. This is canon. I’ll do my best to work through everything here but you really need to just spin this show to get an idea of how it all went down.
The first set is a bit more traditional, starting off with two covers in Funky Bitch and Ya Mar. The Funky Bitch is fun and gets the crowd into it but the Ya Mar is our first highlight as they add on a cool little jam (with a I Dream of Jeannie tease by Mike along the way). A short Carini is next with a streaker reference and then they kick into Runaway Jim. At this point the crowd is wondering if it will be like the hour long epic from last year. It is not. BUT it does have a nice little Jim Jam at the end which is worth the listen. Our sixth Meat of the tour is next and this one lacks the coda ambient jam but does go right into Reba which is a perfectly acceptable replacement. Reba gets a fight bell *ting* at the drop into the jam and then they build to a predictably good peak. Trey is on point throughout this one with everyone else along for the ride. Nothing revolutionary in this one but definitely a pretty, clean version. A breather for our bluegrass slot tonight brings The Old Home Place in for the first time since the Bridge Benefit shows before this tour then a quick Dogs Stole Things and our first Vultures of the Fall. There’s something about that song that always makes me think it might blow up into a jam but, alas, that has yet to occur. The pre-closer ballad slot gets Los Lobos’ When The Circus Comes and then they bring the set home with a soaring if straight forward Birds of a Feather. Judging from this first set you can tell they came to play but at this stage they have yet to really open it up or give us a hint of what might be to come in the 2nd set. Perhaps better that they saved that surprise…
So after braving the horror that used to be the Centrum bathrooms (seriously, there are some legendary stories about how bad it used to be here before the recent renovations helped… somewhat) you settle back in for the second set and they kick into the second Buried Alive of the tour. Always a good one to kick off a set, tonight it drops into a massive bustout (722 shows!) as they head into the surf rock classic Wipeout. That’s the Surfaris version but I might prefer the Beach Boys/Fat Boys take on it. Ah, the 80s where questionable musical collaborations and funny music videos shaped the world for generations to come… In the Phish world the playing of this song was once a band in joke to make fun of a mistake (i.e. a “wipe out” similar to when a surfer loses it while attempting to catch a tube, as they might say. I’m sure you had trouble figuring that out all by yourself). There are several teases of the song noted throughout the years and two times it actually made it to a setlist in 1991. It was a direct reference in the Vibe of Life portion of the Forbin’s narration on 11.17.1994 so when it came up for the first time again here in the early part of this set it was definitely a head scratching move to the fans. After this they crank into Chalkdust Torture which has a bit more Wipeout in it not to mention Mike playing the baseline to another song familiar to those who matured in the 80s, Mirror in the Bathroom, the wonderfully catchy ska radio hit by The Beat (known here in the U S of A as The English Beat because apparently we need more specificity in differentiating between British ska bands and not really memorable late 70s pop rock bands – apologies if you are big on stuff like this but then if you are what the heck are you doing reading a Phish nerd blog??). That Mike tease is foreshadowing because pretty soon thereafter as they jam CDT the band turns on a dime to start up the debut of Mirror in the Bathroom in earnest before heading back to CDT. Again, they jam the CDT theme before dropping into a bluesy space and adding a few lines from Dog Log in for good measure. This bleeds right back into CDT for a few bars and then we dive into Sanity followed by Buffalo Bill (first one in 75 shows) as the segues keep coming. Catch your breath for a sec because we are only half way home.
Buffalo Bill (one of my longest sought after tunes that I finally caught at Magnaball this summer!) heads into Mike’s Song and now you are thinking, “okay, here we go! just jam, maaaaaaan!” and they do for a bit with a second jam that goes ambient with some nice effects by Trey and Page, leading to a lovely full segue into the “bustout” of I Am Hydrogen (first in 68 shows so the judges say it counts). This is a nice interlude and then we head right into Weekapaug Groove for a triumphant jam that heads to the mountain top peak (with a Nellie Kane tease by Trey in here) before they pull off a full segue back to Wipe Out and then again back to Weekapaug. Things really start getting interesting here as they go double time in bringing this to the apparent close for the song before diving back in to reprise the song with another full Paug jam. Trey first starts to attack and then backs off to set a sustain note/loop as he and Mike then play leads over that note that pierces through in the background. Things get a bit darker here as the continue in this vein for a few minutes before transitioning out to the Run Like An Antelope closer. This Antelope starts out patiently with a somewhat extended primary jam before rising to that frenetic peak and insanity that make this such a great set closing tune. It isn’t the best or most exploratory version you will ever hear but it is a shreddy Lope so who’s complaining?
For the encores it is pretty much gravy at this stage so when they start up Wading in the Velvetta Cheese you just kinda shrug and start to collect your marbles that have someone been scattered all over your section by this set. Admittedly, Trey plays a nice enough solo so you decide to stick around to see if they drop a big energy tune afterwards. You get that with Golgi Apparatus not to mention a final dip into Wipeout so I guess it was worth it. Besides, the Dirty Woo shakedown scene will go long into the night so there’s no rush needed, my friend. The Nitrous Mafia will be waiting for you. Oh, and there is some funny banter between Trey and Fish to be found here if you like that sort of thing.
So how did we like this one? This, like most if not all of the other famed “seguefest” shows (such as 02.20.1993, 05.07.1994, 06.22.1994, 07.27.2014, and on) is a highly beloved show in the fanbase. It combines high energy, stop on a dime musical changes, top notch playing, a few nice jams, and all of the intangibles that make IT all part of the experience. Sure, there is no transcendent monster jam but this is a show that is fun to the core without worry about anything but being in the moment with it. The band is arguably at their best when they are the most un-serious, allowing themselves to take chances they might otherwise think better of. The result is that this show stands as the seventh best rated show ever on .net behind such gems as Big Cypress’s Millenium Set, the amazing middle day of this year’s Magnaball Festival, one of the best two set shows ever from Denver ’97, the mountaintop performance that was NYE 1995 at MSG, one of the best 2.0 shows from Nassau Coliseum, and the ridiculous Drum Logos show from the Japan 2000 tour. There is rightfully a LivePhish release of this one (LP06) and the auds out there are great too so do yourself a favor and spin this one top to bottom to find out what all the fuss is about. And if you like the video check out this for the full second set (with sbd audio). Eagle eyed fans will know that in the start to Weekapaug (around the 42:50 mark) Trey has one of his biggest “Poor Sue” moments…. Of course, as we must do, here are your takeaways for the show: Ya Mar, Jim, Reba, perhaps BOAF if you like em shreddy, and the entirety of the second set. Believe me, it is worth the time as it will also help you to make more sense of the rest of this weekend of shows if you hear this one first. Now go get that balloon, wook. You’ve earned it.