Phish — Worcester Centrum Centre — Worcester, MA 11.28.1998
I Gumbo, Tube>Disease, Guyute, Albuquerque, Foam, Moma, Melt
II Julius, Wolfman’s>Timber Ho>Cup>Mule, Caspian>Crossroads, Tweezer, Cavern
Following up a legendary show can be something of a challenge as you have now increased the already lofty expectations of the fans who want you to “beat” that one with something even more memorable. But it also presents opportunity as when Phish is playing well and connecting with the crowd it can lead to great things as well. Sometimes the show following one of the great ones can fall flat or at least be received more reservedly in being compared to its predecessor. But being Phish, where each night produces its own unique snowflake of musical intrigue, the surest bet is that the show following will be nothing like the one before it which is what makes it all so exciting to experience.
For this middle night of the Turkey Run in Worcester there was definitely a lot of buzz after the Wipeout show from the night before. That show was a seguefest punctuated by a few key jams but really most notable for the setlist construction and don’t-leave-the-room-cuz-you-might-miss-something feel of the way they threw down that second set. On this Saturday night we are treated to a different form of Phish one that is not quite the full jamnation of something like 11.17.1997 but that is also not just an energy rock show full of fun songs and solid playing. This is a hybrid type show with a setlist that might not set the world on fire but that continues the theme of Phish playing whatever they tackle extremely well. I’d also recommend watching the often times dizzying, other times Zapruder-esque fanshot video of this one (from the upper deck, no less) to get a good glimpse into the band’s playing and interactions (including some fun stuff between Mike and Fish during Mule but I’m getting ahead of myself). This is the first set and here is the second. Just warning ya though. You might want some Dramamine.
The show starts out well with a return to jam form from the get go as they open up with a stretched out Gumbo. Tonight they leave the Manteca theme out and we get a thick groove that plods on for a few minutes with Trey sharing ideas over top before they dive into the soup for a bit of loop’d, ambient goo that eventually resolves to our next song on the evening. That song is Tube and even in being a quite compact version has a bit of a min-jamlet in the middle before the final verse. I kept waiting for the Tube Reprise jam to kick in as we got in Utah earlier this tour but alas that was not to be here in Wootown. Instead they head to the murky beginnings of a third song Down With Disease to the delight of the crowd. While perhaps not as triumphant as the Disease that preceded it from New Haven tonight’s version has the inevitably wonderful peaky Trey shining forth above the cacophony of noisy rock groove the band develops here. This is not an exploratory version of the song but gets to that major mode shred quite well for a version that will definitely get you moving. Doubling down on the peak energy we get our 7th Guyute of the tour (in 21 shows to date) making this song one of three that sit in the #2 spot for most times played this tour (and just because the question has been begged, the three most played songs at eight so far are BOAF, Roggae, and Moma Dance with all three of those songs being featured as they are included on the then recently released The Story of the Ghost album). Guyute is its typically rocking self here and gets the crowd even more engaged which means they will probably play a slower, bathroom-break-friendly tune in its wake.
When your one true cool down tune of the show occurs mid first set, that is a good thing (not that you would have known that this would be the case during the show but just work with me here). This is not to say that there would not be other opportunities to take care of business but the ballad-esque nature of Albuquerque just lends itself well to making that quick run out to the concourse to reload the nachos and maybe get a soft pretzel and a beer and maybe some candy… anyone else have the munchies? Just me then? Hmmm, maybe I should have gotten that burrito on lot preshow after all. Lord knows I wouldn’t have been able to find any fried eggs and country ham which reminds me I am supposed to be talking about the slow tune they played here, Albuquerque. Yeah, so they played Alburquerque to follow that Guyute. Right. Moving on. Then they go back out for some more energetic music by kicking into Foam for only the second time this tour. For as little as they played the song this tour it sure sounds good here as they keep it it bouncy and tight, bringing back the rocking dance party that this set began as. That aforementioned eighth Moma Dance of the tour pops in next and (again) while not a massive version just drips with the languid funk that they have been exploring with this song on the tour. Then to cap the set we get Split Open And Melt (3rd 1st closing Melt of the tour and just the third time they played the song as well). There is some very nice exploration going on in this jam within the construct of Melt itself resulting in a satisfying version that doesn’t beg you to hide under your seat like some of those mid-90s versions at its peak but sends everyone off to setbreak saying “okay, that was nice, let’s have some more in the 2nd set, please!” Looking back at the setlist once the lights come up you are hard pressed to find anything really lacking here. It is a set full of well-loved tunes played well and the only “lull” in the action comes in the form of the only cover song played in the set. If more first sets were like this one there would be a lot less complaining about them.
Eventually they come back out for the second set and continue right where they left off by getting the room up and bouncing for Julius. While never a song that will stretch its boundaries musically it can often be a quite spirited ‘type I’ platform for Trey to lay waste on the guitar while the band provides that wonderful swing beat groove in the back. Tonight’s version is a good example of that as Trey lords over the jam with Mike and Fish providing that pocket and Page interjecting with piano fills and comping to accent Mike more than anyone. Julius is happy time bubbly Phish and I’ve always thought it makes for a great wedding reception dance song for a band to cover though I haven’t ever heard of that actually occurring. So instead we are left with Phish to make the Centrum the wedding venue of our minds with beautiful women twirling about in flowing dresses of floral print, patchwork, and other more abstract patterning replacing visions of the bride and her attendants spinning about on the temporary “wood” dancefloor all while cagey wook ‘groomsmen’ groove out and share a smoke with questionable intents in mind. This heart-pumping dance party gives way to Wolfman’s Brother and based on what we have already gotten from this song here in Fall ’98 you have to think another solid version is coming. We aren’t expecting the second coming of the Vegas Wolfman’s here but it is clear they intend to play with this one as once through the lyrics they first start with some exploration on the Wolf funk theme before taking a turn towards dark waters. Trey is offering up some great ideas here and Page is adding effects to the great, um, effect. The groove devolves into dark ambience in that Fall ’98 way with some loops accenting the drone and effect soundscape they put together. Eventually Trey plays some recognizable chords to trigger our transition into a (semi) bustout (62 shows) of Timber (Jerry) the Josh White penned classic that Phish has taken and turned into a springboard for dark improv over the course of making the song their own. Seriously, listen to the original and then one of Phish’s big jam versions of it and tell me they are being true to the original structure of the song. Fans colloquially refer to the song as Timber Ho! (sometimes with parentheses and/or exclamation point and sometimes not) which is more a reference to the words in the refrain than anything. Here in 3.0 the song largely lacks the improv jam that would generally grow out of this one but it is a sought after tune to catch all the same. If you go looking for the key versions of this song check out some from its peak year of 1995 like the Hampton 11.25.1995 take that hints towards MLB, Nashville 11.29.1995 version, the famed 12.14.1995 version which resides in the middle of a great Tweezer, and the super dark one from 12.28.1995 also from here at The Centrum or the stretched out versions from 1997 like Austin 07.26.1997 with Bob Gullotti on the second drum kit, the effects-laden beaut from Denver 11.16.1997 that segues into Simple, or the linear shred of the 11.28.1997 version yet again from here in Worcester. This one in 1998 lives up to the rep it has gained in this venue by going down the hole once more with layered dark ambient washes providing the backdrop for Trey and Mike to solo over while Page adds flashes of bright piano to counterpoint the depth of the jam. Fish is crushing it as always and hitting the crash cymbal with abandon as they bring it up to the peak and circle back to the main theme of the song and final verse/refrain. It kind of leaves you wanting more in a good way but we are soon off into Loving Cup so there’s not much time to play the woe card for what might have been. The rocking energy of the Rolling Stones cover gets us back to that Julius-type headspace after two pretty dark jams and after a fine run through this one they start up the bane of the jam chasing jaded vet’s existence, Scent Of A Mule. Now, before we go deriding this as a mid-second-set-waste-of-ten-minutes let’s considering a few things. First, it is a tune that A LOT of people really like (just watch videos of it on youtube and you’ll see) and, personally, it is one I never complain about hearing considering that it combines their humor, oddball lyrics, and some pretty impressive musicianship over the course of the song and duel/jam. I’m not going to sit here and say that it is transcendent music by any means but I’ve seen a few that pretty well made me laugh out loud in lysergic enjoyment of the antics going down. And someone over at .net really likes the song or at least wanted to be complete with it as there is a quite large jamchart devoted to a song that isn’t exactly a jam vehicle. Plus there are many instances, such as the one during the first show from Vegas here in Fall ’98, where they have used it as a means to play for a bit either in debuting a song, dive into a rare song like Catapult or Digital Delay Loop Jam or otherwise have a bit of fun. Considering the dark nature of the jams earlier in this set this song pops in at a time when they were building back towards a peak of sorts in the setlist construction. This song provides a bit of breathing room and rest for all while still moving things forward. And tonight it goes a bit further than normal with Page and Trey interactively soloing in the typical Mule Duel manner before Mike takes over and then Fish joins him for their own duel, with Mike donning the Viking Helmet to mirror Fish no less (the song starts around the 36:00 mark of that second set video I linked way up top). It is one of those funny things that happen at shows that you really can’t explain well to people after the fact and possibly part of why when you start detailing what goes down at Phish shows to your non-phan friends they start to get that concerned look in their eyes while backing away slowly and looking for a way to change the conversation. Oh well. Some will never understand why we do it all.
So after our antics/humor portion of the set — and let’s be honest with ourselves, would you rather a Mule or some Fish vac tune or (gasp!) a Big Ball Jam? — we head back to the songs with Prince Caspian starting up. Now, some will say that gives us two bathroom break tunes in a row while also debunking my one-ballad-only show theory about this night but you just go ahead and listen to this Fuckerpants and come back with that theory, mister, and I’ll say you probably didn’t really listen to it. This is a Caspian that displays the power of what this song can be with Trey annihilating his end solo by playing a Hendrix-inspired clinic in shred. Caspian is not a song I go seeking but this is a version I would gladly spin again, though perhaps that also has something to do with the fact that they head right from the peak to a small bustout (64 shows) with the Robert Johnson song Crossroads (probably most famous as an Eric Clapton/Cream cover). Phish has some history of their own with the song as it was first teased as part of Harpua on 05.07.1993 before being fully debuted the following night during the tour closing show 05.08.1993 from Durham, NH. It popped up again four times in 1995 and three times in 1997 before the final (for now) version from this night in Worcester. It is a faithful cover of the blues standard with Trey taking a nice solo that he clearly is enjoying playing but otherwise it is mainly notable for the song chasers trying to tick this one off their personal checklists.
At this point in the show you have to think they will head to the closing numbers and they do in a way but the ‘false closer’ tonight just happens to be Tweezer (!). While perhaps not a massive version it does reach into the Fall ’98 bag to chug through the jam that progresses from straight up arena rock in the lyrical portion of the song straight down towards the ambient depths once more. I’m not kidding. As soon as they finish up the last refrain Trey drops down his tone, sets a siren loop and then he and Mike start to work over top, hugging the Tweezer theme while begging to go deeper. I will warn you that if you are watching the video at this stage the dude holding the camera is clearly more interested in dancing than in getting a good shot as it might as well be a POV cam. Not sure if he realizes this, but most people watching a video of the band don’t need nausea and headaches as a side effect. Trey screeches out a bunch of sustained notes here as they stretch for the peak, never fully resolving it as they instead turn back towards the deep end. Stuck in a bit of a search mode here Trey plays a ton of notes before dropping to full sustain and a loop or two as they look to be headed into the ambient world and WHOA WAIT. Just when things are really starting to potentially get interesting it inexplicably ends. Like just plain stops with Trey walking over to Mike and telling him the next song. And we get Cavern’d for the closer. Great. Then we have a rather uninspiring Sample>Reprise encore and we are out into the night. This is not to say the Reprise doesn’t rock but I have never liked pairing anything with Sample so it gets pulled down as well. Kind of a weird ending to an otherwise quite solid show.
This is an oft overlooked show sitting between the gem that is the Wipeout show and the tour closer that we will cover next. I think it is undervalued as a result and in listening to it this one plays out more in line with how the tour has gone than the one preceding (or the one following, honestly, but that’s for another post). That first set even on paper is quite strong and there is nothing in the playing that would cause you to downvalue it either unless you just really don’t like those songs for whatever reason. The Gumbo starts the jamming early and aside from the minor lull for a well played Albuquerque every song in that set is engaging music. The second set reads a bit oddly but again the playing is on point and there are some definite takeaway jams to be had here. I would have been quite happy with having seen this show and for takeaways I’ll point to Gumbo, Disease, Melt, Wolfman’s>Timber, Caspian>Crossroads, and Tweezer with add-ins being Foam and Moma. The Mule is a personal preference thing so you will either want to hear that or not and that’s your thing. In summing up it is hard to discount this show as being one of the stronger complete shows of the tour considering just how strong both sets are without one being noticeably good or bad. This show is a good sign of where the band was at this stage both on this tour and in their career arc and another I’d add to the ever-growing list of shows-you-could-spin-for-a-noob to give them a taste of what this band is all about. To me, that’s a sign that this show holds up quite nicely.