Phish — Worcester Centrum Centre — Worcester, MA 11.29.1998
I P&S, Axilla>Theme, Sparkle>Horn>LxL->Catapult->Kung>Maze, All The Pain Through The Years, Layla
II Roses>Simple, Makisupa, Possum->Wipeout->Possum, Gin, YEM
E Roggae, Hello My Baby
Tour ending shows, particularly Fall Tour closers, have a reputation as being pretty hot throwdowns where anything goes. Part of it is the band giving us one final thank you for yet another great tour. Seriously, outside of maybe the first Euro Tour in 1996 (which has its highlight moments…) has there ever really been a “bad” tour? Sure, there are those who will say some of the 2.0 tours were a bit rough but that’s more a combination of disparate factors than a comment on the music. In a way, the tour finale acts as a summary essay on the tour that just occurred while possibly looking forward towards what is to come. For Fall Tours that means you have the chance to wrap up the entire year with a nice Phishy bow before the celebration that will be the impending New Year’s Run.
Look back all the way to 1992 and you have the pair of shows in Canada that capped the Fall (both at venues called The Spectrum, oddly enough) and there’s the tight playing that would beget the Speed Jazz era that blossomed in 1993. There is no Fall Tour in 1993 since the year is front loaded with a 70+ show spring tour and a big summer but that final show from The Greek on 08.28.1993 you get the culmination of the 93 sound with some aspects of the more open psych to come. Fall 1994 ends in Santa Monica with a show opened by the Dave matthews Band that includes a fantastic Stash, the Simple you have memorized from A Live One, a call back to the Beatles cover set earlier that fall, and the debut of one of my favorite songs they have only ever played twice, Chalkdust Torture Reprise. The epic Fall 95 tour concludes just a scant eleven days before the NYE Run with a wonderfully boisterous show from Lake Placid that puts the exclamation point on the big arena psych rock sound so prevalent that year (and that Tweezer->Reprise is straight awesome). The 1996 Fall Tour ending show from Las Vegas should need no introduction but it too pulls together the massive psych and budding funk that made this tour so impressive in its variety while giving hints of the much much bigger things to come not to mention including a great Harpua encore that brought some friends to the stage to help out. Albany’s tour ender for Fall 97 might not be the biggest show on the tour where Phish destroyed America but the cowfunk is in full effect for this dance party show. I’ll skip 1998 since we are about to discuss that in detail but 1999 from the Mothership is a great example of the junction between the funk and ambience that was at the forefront throughout 1999 while also showing the budding Millennial Sound that would be explored in more greater depth at Big Cypress and beyond. From here it gets a bit more difficult to use these shows as boiler plates for the band as first you get Hiatus in 2000 then the start of less frequent touring during 2.0 followed by The Long Wait and finally the enigma that is 3.0. By that I mean that I think since we are still in the midst of it we are trying to determine what this period of Phish means in the larger context of the band’s legacy and potential future so understanding the impact of developments within the band’s sound is not as easy to do as when we look back ten or more years. There is also the fact that what Fall Tours we have had in 3.0 have been much shorter than in prior years meaning that any theories developed based on the music played therein suffers from lack of data. The important thing, I believe, is that Phish is still together and creating meaningful music which reminds me that I am getting really sidetracked here and need to get back to the matter at hand… eventually.
Along with being something of a celebratory culmination of the tour that preceded it there is something a bit melancholy about a tour ending show. It means the party is ending and it is time to get back to “real life”. It means there is no new Phish to look forward to, at least until you make the annual pilgrimage to whatever big arena or reservation they happen to be playing for the New Year’s Run to come. It also means parting ways with new friends and old perhaps after several weeks spent traveling and running into the same people over and over both on the lots and in those random moments in the hotels, rest stops, and other places we tend to frequent on tour. For these reasons the tour ender brings with it emotions of all kinds and offers one last chance to lose ourselves in the music before the stark white fluorescence of life gets in the way of the rainbows of our mind. Here in 1998 there is a bit of all of the above going on as we get a show that looks back while pushing things forward in certain ways as well.
Your first sign that things are a tad different here in the tour closer is the opening Paul and Silas, a song we grew quite familiar with in Spring ’93. This marks only the second one of the tour (and the second all year taboot taboot after its 115 show bustout in Chicago) and tonight the lyrics are a bit different as Trey adds a bit about Paul Languedoc‘s legal troubles from the night previous. Apparently the then soundman for the band (and luthier of the wonderful guitars that Trey uses and Mike used to) was arrested for failure to vacate a hotel bar in a timely manner the night before so Trey decided to give him some shit about it. Not knowing the reference, most of the fanbase would have been content with the bluegrass song opening a show for the first time but if you listen carefully he alters the lyrics in reference. Next is the more traditional opener Axilla which rocks along before giving way to our first opportunity to stretch out a bit for Theme From The Bottom. Both Trey and Mike are on fire here with Trey leading the band to a soaring peak all while Mike offers up some quite interesting bass work. A frenzied romp through Sparkle keeps the energy high as they almostbutnotquite lose it at the end before going into Horn for the second time this tour. This one is almost clean in the execution and then we head back to the heights for Limb By Limb. The jam here is mostly straight forward in that lovely LxL way that elevates to a big peak but instead of breaking down to the octopus Fish drum clinic outro they stay on the repeating line and hit an almost calypso groove. As you are zoning out to this beautiful music your eyes close and then you snap them back open once you realize that Mike is singing Catapult over this smile-inducing groove, busting out the song after its last appearance in the Fall Tour ending show from Albany 67 shows ago on 12.13.1997 in the midst of a big Weekapaug jam. After getting through the verses Mike voices his approval with several footbell *tings* in time with the beat before Trey comes in over that groove to start up the Kung chant (the only other time these two songs have been paired was in reverse as the coda to the Jim->Vibration of Life->Kung->Catapult sequence in a show best known for the epic sustained note crowd/band peak of Harry Hood). The groove is maintained as the backing music here which ramps up a bit following the intonation as Trey starts up a repeating lick to complement the polyrhythm of Mike and Fish and eventually they all give way to a transitional loop that Trey sets. Fish then comes with the high hat to get us into Bowie… or maybe Maze. Maybe that was more a thing people confused back in the day and I am really only joking because clearly Bowie goes “sika sika sika” while Maze goes “tske tske tske”. I mean, c’mon. It is sooooo obvious. Anyway, they dive into Maze and shred the shit out of it as they are wont to do with a Shafty tease in there for those looking.
From here the set takes a bit of a left turn as Trey introduces a guest who probably would not have been overly familiar to anyone who didn’t live at that time in Vermont (and honestly he is still not really very well known outside of the VT music world). Being that they all lived in Vermont at this point it is not surprising that they bring out Seth Yacovone to play on a couple of songs to end this set, though the very fact of bringing out a guest at all is perhaps the most surprising bit here. If you are not familiar with him, Seth has his own eponymously named band that is more on the hard bluesy side of improv rock with Seth being the guitar player for the power trio. Their first brush with Phish was when Trey met Seth at a guitar workshop. This was followed by Seth’s band being asked to play the lots at The Clifford Ball before eventually joining Phish for this appearance. Trey would end up sitting in with Seth and his band during Hiatus on the majority of the second set from 02.07.2002. Seth has also shared the stage with TAB during the famed Vermont Easter Jam show that saw all four members of Phish eventually have the stage to themselves for a few songs as well as an Amfibian show less than two weeks later where Mike also participated. But here in Worcester they had him up for the two songs to end the first set, first his composition All The Pain Through The Years and the only Phish performance of the Derek and the Dominoes classic Layla. The first song is straight up blues rock with Seth leading on vocals and lead guitar while the band lets him shine, Trey taking his solo turn as well and adding a quick Layla tease which would have been a good precursor of the next song if anyone was able to make that connection in the moment. Layla is pretty well by the numbers to the original you know so well with Trey and Seth trading off on the signature licks of the tune. Neither song elevates to anything otherworldly but it is an interesting sit-in all the same to once again confirm that in the end Phish is just better when we get the four playing without interference by other players. There are definitely some guests who work quite well with Phish (Bela Fleck, MMW, Santana, most of the various bluegrass luminaries who have joined them, and others) but the ones that work best are all world class musicians known for their ability to improvise. This is not to speak ill of Mr. Yacovone’s playing abilities as he is an accomplished player in his own right and perhaps it has something to do with the song choices but this sit-in falls a bit flat for me. The Layla in particular just doesn’t have much replay value considering it is a song everyone already knows every note to and this version does nothing to move the song forward. In the end this sit-in ends up being yet another geeky footnote in the band’s history rather than something we cherish for its greatness. And in closing the set with these two songs it provides a bit of fun but doesn’t exactly give the punch you might expect for the end to the penultimate set of this fine tour.
While you are still debating the merits of that sit-in with your friends the lights come down to get us moving into the second set. Tonight our opener is Roses Are Free, one of only three times they have opened the second set with the Ween tune with the others being the epic Island Tour version and the Desert Sky version from 10.01.2000 (there are also two show opening Roses out there in the 07.25.1998 one from Austin, TX and the 08.02.2009 one from the final show of that wonderful four night run at Red Rocks). Unfortunately, as with all but a scant few amazing versions there is no jam here as they instead start up Simple. There is promise here as Simple has been a consistently strong song on this tour and tonight is no different as from the start of the jam it is clear they mean to take this one for a ride. It stats out with some exploration around the Simple groove with Trey trying out different ideas along the way. Eventually they break down to a more sparse space leading to a searching jam that feels like transitional space but eventually settles into a hard edged, dissonant, and noisy adventure in distortion. This is a different type of ambient jamming than we have seen on this tour, relying more on the powerfully discordant drawn out notes from Trey to open up the portal to a darker sense of ambience instead of the generally blissy nature of the ambient texturing that Phish typically employs. Some may not be fans of this sort of music but it is very encouraging to hear them explore the other side to this ambient sound. The jam seemingly resolves itself into nothingness and they start into the second (this seems to be something of a theme tonight…) Makisupa Policeman of the tour. Tonight’s keyword is another nod to Paul’s arrest as Trey says, “hey Paul, can you pass me the soap?” to the confused delight of the crowd. There is a bit of drippy, loop’d “dub” to follow which is pretty darn cool if you like your music trippy and then they come back to wrap the song up.
When they next start up Possum you start thinking that they are probably just going to go high energy rock Phish on us for the rest of the set but when Trey lays down a final nod to Wipeout in the early part of the jam here you realize that maybe the fun isn’t quite over. This Possum is pretty much what you expect but the jolt of that quick run through Wipeout almost blows the roof off the building when the crowd pushes that energy back to the stage. Once returning to Possum they work it down to a whisper before coming back up to the typical Possum peak as Trey throws in some almost DEG phrasing along the way. Following this they could have gone any of a dozen directions but we are treated with a late second set Bathtub Gin, something not really too common. There are a good number of solid second set Gins but the song generally shows up in the first half of the set which is a bit odd considering that it is so often a first set closer. Well, tonight we get one of those late 2nd set versions and this one first starts out with a raging Gin jam that stays close to the main theme while chugging forth on the patient climb up towards the peak. But that peak never fully releases. Instead, Trey drops out to allow Page to offer up colorful fills before they all drop down to the lower register and head into another ambient jam this one more in the contemplative realm than the Simple jam earlier in this set. Over the next five minutes or so they move through a few different themes, the most engaging being a Mike-led segment that Trey accents with singular notes and Page drapes in spacey effects all while Fish keeps that beat going. This evolves into a sweet little groove pocket that feels like it is about to explode into a big time bliss jam buuuuuuuuut instead they pull back and move on to start up You Enjoy Myself.
This YEM might not end up being your favorite one even from this tour but as the set closer to the final night of Fall Tour you could do a heck of a lot worse. The funk is prevalent in this one early and often even without an end D&B section as Mike and Fish push the pocket higher and higher. Fish in particular is driving the bus in this one with a drum line that is hard to not just get up and dance to as the other players ride this rising wave to bring the room to collective release. Mike is in agreement of the merits of this one as he throws in a bunch of fightbell *tings* throughout. Trey chimes in with some Superbad similar to the one from Albany. This is a great dance party version of a song that brings the room to that final peak you know everyone was looking for having gotten several jams on the night that teased at the release and just built the tension up towards this moment. After the VJ we are on to the encores and, fittingly, we have a more subdued pair with another soulful take on Roggae before they end with one last a cappella song in Hello My Baby. From here we are left to the hugging before one last trip through Shakedown to capitalize on all of those “end of tour” deals the vendors were assuredly offering. I’m sure the nitrous mafia was really gracious in that regard.
Tour ending shows are somewhat difficult to evaluate as you get a bit of everything. There’s the emotional aspects at hand, the “tour summary” feel in certain places, and the overall celebratory feeling of being there for the end of it all. The band always offers up their big thanks to the fans and the crowd is giving it right back to them so in that sense the music sometimes gets elevated by everything contributing to it. This is not always the case, of course, but thankfully on this night it all seems to come together pretty well in providing us with a balanced show that has so many of the elements that make a Phish show great. I’m not saying this is an all-timer show but there is a unique setlist construction, a decent at worst sit-in, some bustouts, a bunch of solid jams, a bit of inside-joke humor, and several nods to the tour gone by. It is clear they had a great time on this tour and this show is a joyful example of that. There isn’t even a single ballad to mess with the flow of the sets. It might not have the highest highs or include everyone’s favorite tunes but it works in its role here as the tour finale. So with that all that is left is the takeaways from the night which tonight are rather a lot. There’s Theme, LxL->Catapult->Kung, Simple, Possum->Wipeout->Possum, Gin, and perhaps YEM with the Seth Yacovone sit-in stuff being interesting at least for a listen. All told, yet another fun night with this band called Phish.
On a final note, as I have mentioned in previous posts I will be doing a bit of summarizing for this tour over the next few posts. With Thanksgiving coming up I will probably get to that next week. So enjoy the holiday and give thanks that we are able to devote so much time and energy to this wonderfully oddball band we obsess over way too much. And thank you for joining me on this tour.