Here We Shower Ourselves With Lightness – Worcester, MA 11.28.1998

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

E  Sample>Reprise

 

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.

And They’re Pushing Me Further From Shore – New Haven, CT 11.24.1998

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

E  Suzy>Reprise

 

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.

Dancin’ The Night Away – Hampton, VA 11.21.1998

Phish — Hampton Coliseum — Hampton, VA 11.21.1998

I  Wilson>BBFCFM, Lawn Boy, Divided, Cry Baby Cry>Boogie On>NICU, DST, Nellie Kane, Foam, Wading, Guyute, Bold as Love

II  Sabotage>Mike’s>Simple>Wedge>Mango>Free->Ha Ha Ha->Free, Weekapaug

E  Tubthumping

The second night of this Hampton ’98 run starts out much like the first one in that we have a first set that offers up a lot of songs that are played well but without a whole lot of real jamming going on. That is oversimplifying it, of course, but looking at that setlist above produces thoughts of “jukebox Phish” jibes from the jaded vets. I would encourage you to spin it though because while being primarily song-based fare there are some fun bustouts, at least one nice jam, and some great energy out of the band. And that’s not even mentioning the more interesting second set.

Tonight they come out with a rocking pair of Wilson>BBFCFM, setting the stage with the big power chords and audience response of Wilson before the mini-bustout of one of the more uniquely disturbing songs in their repertoire, Big Black Furry Creature From Mars. There is a ‘Leave It to Beaver’ tease to be found here (by Mike) and Fish nods back to the night prior with a little ‘Getting Jiggy’ quote but otherwise this is the typically deranged tune that causes head banging and head scratching almost simultaneously. Next they bring it down for Lawn Boy and after Page’s crooning we get the Mike solo tonight. Divided Sky follows for a soaring version that invigorates the crowd greatly (with a 1:41 pause tonight for those keeping track which while far above the accepted average of 35.94 seconds as determined by The Divided Sky Pause Project is pretty well in line with the timing for the era). Another bustout comes in as they then play the Beatles’ classic Cry Baby Cry for the first time in 278 shows. This stands as the last ever version of the song which was played four times between its debut 10.31.1994 and this show here. Keeping things moving, they head right into Boogie On Reggae Woman for the first time this tour and finish up a little three pack by heading directly into NICU from there. After these two dance numbers they bring it back down for Dogs Stole Things and then we get our grassy tune in the bustout of Nellie Kane after 293 shows and close to four years on the shelf. I was witness to many of those 1994 versions having caught seven on Fall ’94 tour alone and perhaps for that reason it is nice to hear them play it again as it is one of my favorite of the bevy of bluegrass covers they do so well.

This brings us to Foam and this is a version I recommend seeking out if you are at all a fan of the tune originally known as “Marijuana Hot Chocolate”. Seriously. Listen to the banter between Fire and Alumni Blues on the 04.22.1988 tape if you don’t believe me as Trey gives the name and Mike plays the bassline that will eventually be Foam. Fun little bit of trivia to wow your stoner friends with, right there. Anyway, the song itself is not some big open jam or anything but Page takes a really nice solo before Trey comes in with a really nice bit of playing. It all has a little more juice to it than your typical Foam and for the first one of the tour it is quite well played. Continuing the see-saw nature of this set we come down for Wading In The Velvet Sea then back up for a run through the rocking Guyute suite before they punctuate the set with the deservedly loved cover Bold As Love. I’ve probably commented on this before but I really dig this song what with the evocative lyrics, swirling build, and overall psychedelic rocking nature of the tune. Considering the impact Jimi Hendrix clearly has had on Trey it is always surprising to me that they do not play more covers of his work though that is admittedly a daunting task to undertake so I suppose it might not be as surprising as I think. Either way, we are glad to have this one in the stable. And with that we are off to the break.

Keeping everyone on their toes, Phish comes back for the second set and gives us another cover, this time one debuted only that summer in The Beastie Boys Sabotage. This is a fun if a bit sloppy one but that’s pretty much in line with the song itself so the impact of the energy it offers up is what is important in this context. They would not play the song again after this until 3.0 so at the time it was pretty big to have this open up the set (it had previously been debuted in the encore at MPP on 08.08.1998 and as the third set open at Lemonwheel on 08.16.1998 and made its return after this night 318 shows later at the new Colorado home base for the band Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on 09.02.2011 to cap the “S” show in fine fashion). Trey sets up a loop at the end here and this keys them into Mike’s for the first real meaty jam vehicle of the show. By the time they get through the verses of the song Trey has more than one loop going and things get dark and menacing in a hurry here. Trey is playing around the Mike’s theme while Page whirls about on the organ and Fish and Mike lay down a punishing rhythm. They ride this demonic groove for a bit before wrapping up and heading into Simple, foregoing any thoughts of a second jam in the process. Not that anyone at that time really focused on the Mike’s 2nd Jam like they do these days but it was a lot more common then for sure.

And I don’t think anyone was complaining about it once this Simple got going. The jam here starts out in the typically blissy fashion, kind of plodding along towards more open waters. About halfway through things get a bit more ambient, never fully leaving Simple but providing an ethereal atmosphere to the bliss rock being played. This version is something of a culmination of the different aspects of their then-juvenile ambient jamming style, bringing the soundscape and more melodic elements together for a fully realized dip into something that is not-quite-Simple but still reminiscent of the song at the same time. By the time this one peters out with some colored accents by Page and then the transition to The Wedge you are left swaying and smiling, maybe even hugging your neighbors in acknowledgement for where that took you. Fair warning though, I wouldn’t go hugging your cubicle mate or the person next to you on the train if you are listening to this while commuting because they might not be on the same page as you. So then we keep it happy with the buoyant Wedge (a bit peppier than all of those slow Wedges from Spring ’93, huh?) and this is followed by another happy-time-party Phish tune in The Mango Song. Perhaps not a lineup of jam titans but this run of tunes should get you moving. A late set Free kicks in next and the hopes for another big jam arise once more only to be derailed after a little over a minute of crunchy rock they slide right into the first Ha Ha Ha of this tour. Maybe this is a nod to the shenanigans of the run and maybe it is a fakeout as if to say “you thought we were gonna jam this, didn’t you? HA HA HA!” I like to think it is the former but it could be the latter and in the end it doesn’t matter right, Bug fans? Yes, I know Bug wouldn’t be debuted for another seven months. Back off. I’m just using the lyrical reference, poindexter. Besides, the Ha Ha Ha is probably foreshadowing for the encore which we will get to shortly anyway. So they return to finish up Free (pretty much coming back exactly where they left) and then we get the anticipated Weekapaug Groove to wrap this set up. Mike hits the footbell in the intro and there’s a Mango Song tease by Trey as they bring the set to a high note in closing things up. For the encore they had one last trick up their sleeves in debuting yet another cover, Tubthumping, the Chumbawamba radio hit from 1997/98 that will get stuck in your head yet again because of this. Tom Marshall joins to help with the singing and Gears is back for the trumpet parts as they played a faithful cover of the song. Fish adds in one last ‘Getting Jiggy’ quote for good measure and we are off into the night to get ready for the trip up to New England and the final shows of this tour.

So what to make of this one? Again, this has the benefit of an official release (despite the protestations of the entitled who don’t think it is worthy of it) and so it is quite well known. The show (and run) are not known for the big jams as much as the overall vibe and the variety of playing styles on display with everything from rock to psych to bluegrass to loungy crooning to hip hop to pure Phish with more I haven’t even mentioned. This is not the high point of the tour but rather a celebratory stop along the way which showcases who Phish was in this time period (and continues to be, quite frankly). You may not like these shows in comparison to others and that is fine but you cannot deny that these shows are a great example of the band up there doing what they do best: playing the music they want in the way that works for them and bringing us all along for the ride. While there are no great videos out there from this run what is available plainly shows how much fun they were having and it is audible in the music as well. You will want to listen to the Foam, Mike’s>Simple, and Tubthumping (because it is pretty fun) at least but you would be forgiven for letting that whole second set run as it is a joyful reminder of the wonderful place Phish occupied in Fall 1998. The takeaways might be fewer than the shows that surround it but they are high quality all the same. Every once in a while you need an energy show or two to just go out there, rock the fuck out, party down with friends, and maybe cleanse the soul a bit in the process. So enjoy these for what they are and get ready to dive deep again as after two nights off to travel north Phish lays down an entirely different type of Phish show altogether…

Then Reveling In Mirror Mask — Hampton, VA 11.20.1998

Phish — Hampton Coliseum — Hampton, VA 11.20.1998

I  Rock & Roll Part II>Tube>Quinn>Funky Bitch, Guelah, Rift, Meat>Stash, Train Song, Possum, Roggae, Driver, Melt

II  Gin>Piper, Axilla>Roses, Farmhouse, HYHU>Gettin’ Jiggy With It>HYHU, Hood>Zero

E  Cavern

Let’s just get this out of the way from the start. This is not the 1997 Hampton run. Quite well known throughout the fanbase due to the eventual release of Hampton Comes Alive, the pair of shows that we are here to discuss has an image problem due to the constant comparison they endure to their older siblings from the same venue one year earlier. Is that unfair? Perhaps, as these shows often get criticized for not being deserving of the box set treatment they enjoy. But as we will see some of that criticism is warranted even when factoring in those pesky lofty expectations that came from revisiting a venue which had become a home away from home due to top notch shows dating back to their debut here in Fall 1995. Coming back almost a year to the day after having thrown down two complete shows of stellar playing here the stage was set for Phish to either add to the growing legacy of this venue or fall on their faces in the trying. The reality, however, is somewhere between those two extremes.

How exactly do you follow up two of the more highly regarded shows in that era? I mean, seriously, we are talking about 11.21.1997 and 11.22.1997 here. If you don’t already know those two shows inside and out by now (either via the tapes that quickly appeared with high quality aud pulls for all to enjoy or via the fantastic sounding boxset that also includes the Winston-Salem, NC show from 11.23.1997) I’m not really sure what you are doing here on a nerd phish blog read my bloviations about tours gone by but that’s your deal, man. I’ll just keep with the writing and asking oddly specific rhetorical questions. So yeah. Right. The review.

Knowing full well as they did that the fans would be expecting Phish to come out and lay waste to The Mothership yet again, it is pretty clear the tack they chose to take in crafting the setlist and flow for this first show. In 1997 they opened with a debut cover and big jam of a classic rock artist’s tune (the phenomenally out there Emotional Rescue) and so tonight they chose another classic rock cover to debut in Rock and Roll Part II, the glam rock/jock jams (many of the songs included there have not exactly aged well…) anthem by Gary Glitter that has pretty much disappeared from the jukebox of public opinion due to Mr. Glitter’s rather displeasing backstory. But in ’98 this was not a known thing and it served as a good way to wake up the crowd while perhaps throwing in a little tongue in cheek nod to the prior year’s goings on. This heads right into our first Tube since the funky, jammed out one from Utah which tonight stays in “single” mode before giving way to a MASSIVE bustout of Quinn the Eskimo. The song made its first appearance in 1,151 shows after having last been played 08.10.1987 at Nectar’s. Here in 3.0 it has become almost common, having appeared in 22 shows between 2010 and 2014. Many in the room probably only knew this as a Grateful Dead cover of the Bob Dylan song if they knew it at all considering how scarce the history was for the song up to this point. Riding the energy of these opening numbers, they added Funky Bitch to the string for a punchy bit of bluesy playing before finally coming up for air for a few seconds.

This breath allows them to reel it back a tad to give us Guelah Papyrus before they amp it up once again for Rift. By now you are starting to realize that they sure are playing a lot of songs in this set which is a bit off script for this tour so far. Allowing that thought to pass you are brought back into the music by Meat and here the set really begins to take some shape as they let this one breath out into an ambient soup jam that embraces you like a warm blanket on a wet, cold Fall day. Knowing they are probably going to use this to segue into something else it is still a little jarring when Trey stumbles into the start of Stash but outside of that small misstep they toy around with the reliable vehicle in building some tension for this jam. There is a brief Fikus tease in here (the last known direct reference to the song on stage by the band, sadly) and Trey has something of a train horn sound going as they hit the peak but otherwise this is straight forward Stash fare. Not a bad thing by any means but nothing new for us to learn. Train Song pops in next for the cool down/bathroom slot and we are back on our feet for a rowdy Possum. Again, they follow this with something a bit slower in tempo as they start up Roggae for a slightly extended (compared to others this tour) take on the still young tune. Pay particular attention to Mike in this version as he helps to build the jam with a lovely set of notes. Trey then pulls out the acoustic for Driver and finally we get Split Open and Melt to close up shop for the set. This Melt stays firmly at home but offers up a nice groove pocket for Trey to use in soloing over while working towards the eventual return. While that may make it sound like there isn’t much to this Melt but with the electro Trey soloing at the peak this one can get you closing your eyes, shaking that head back and forth, and rocking out for a bit which is always nice. And as you look at the setlist when the lights come on you realize they have already played thirteen songs which is a number we might blush at even in 3.0 (for reference, most first sets in this tour run 8-9 songs so that is a considerable increase).

Following the setbreak Phish came out and wasted no time in getting to the matter at hand by playing the second 2nd set opening Bathtub Gin of this tour. The previous one was something of a revelation and second set Gins generally can get a bit open so there was good reason to think that this one would follow suit. While more contained than its sister from Chicago this jam to elevate for one of those straight-shot-for-the-summit versions that might not make the arty rankin list for best versions of the song but will definitely get you moving and wooing at the show. Okay, maybe you aren’t into the woo necessarily but even the most stoic dancers might have at least raised a fist to the sky at the peak here. They play with the Gin theme in building towards that end as both Trey and Mike slowly tighten around it (not to mention Page throwing in a Tequila tease) until erupting into the screaming climax. Similar to the Stash and Melt of the first set this isn’t a revelatory Gin but it is one that will move your feet.

And then rather than returning to the standard Gin close they comp out for a bit and eventually drop into a quite patient slow build intro for Piper. It takes a full two and a half minutes before they are in the song proper and from there they build it up to a frenzied peak, resolving it without any jam to speak of at all. Next up is that odd song about armpits, Axilla, which gets the psychedelic Axilla II outro tonight before giving way to the sixth ever Roses Are Free, the well loved Ween cover that fans have long pined to have include another jam even close to the epic that emerged out of the first version from this year on The Island Tour. We have since had two dips back into the jam pool for this song (the long form Big Cypress version tucked late into the Millennium set and the pint-sized bit of jam from the Worcester shows that opened Summer 2012) but alas, this would not be one of those. It is well played but straight to form and then we get Farmhouse’d.

After this the set could have gone in several directions, be it a mid-late set big time jam vehicle or perhaps a string of rockers to set up a big closer or maybe some storytelling or hijinx. The latter would be the case here once the telling organ of Hold Your Head Up keys us into the start of Fish Fun Time. Thinking perhaps that we might get a standard Bike, Terrapin, or maybe even Great Gig in the Sky or If I Only Had a Brain, we are surprised when Trey and Mike start up the Will Smith chart topper Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It. Yeah, I know. But he actually pulls it off better than he should have (even though SOME PEOPLE think this was one of the worst covers ever – #4 on their list of the “worst 50” with some particularly uninformed and blatantly snide comments about the band and their music thrown in for good measure), using cue cards to get through the lines and even tossing in a reference to one of his aliases, Bob Weaver. I recommend checking out that video because you can tell how much fun they are having with it all. If you can’t find humor in that perhaps you are following the wrong band here because the image of a portly bearded dude wearing a dress, plastic viking helmet, white socks and black sneakers while singing a mainstream radio hit (and taking a vac solo too) is funny no matter how you slice it. After rocking out the reentry HYHU a bit and normalcy (well, at least what passes for it at a Phish show anyway) is restored Fish hits the opening run for Harry Hood and we are off into a nice but linear take on the Phish setlist staple. They wrap this up pretty quickly and head to the raucous Character Zero closer to put the finish to this set. The encore Cavern gets some help from Carl Gerhard on trumpet and we are out of here to catch some sleep (yeah, right…) before the next show.

I think we all know this show pretty well so I won’t belabor it to much but this is not exactly the high point people were pointing to when looking at the routing ahead of this tour. I firmly believe that the band was trying to offset the lofty expectations set by the prior year’s jam-heavy juggernauts by offering a wholly different sort of Phish show, one that a large segment of the fanbase seeks out as their ideal type of show. For the jam seekers this means you are left wanting but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t have had a good time at this show all the same. This is a party atmosphere show that has a highly unique setlist, solid and energetic playing throughout, a few takeaway jams, and one of the funnier Fish antics you could dream up outside of a NYE gag.  My personal history with this show (and the one the night following) is that I got the boxset when it came out and I was living in bum-fuck western Ohio so I ended up spinning it a lot, learning the ins and outs of this show much like we did when a tape got stuck in the car deck for a while and you just “had” to listen to that old Dead set over and over until you knew every squeal out of Donna backwards and forwards. This doesn’t make it a great show for me but it stands as the one I know the best from this tour and as a result I have been able to find the positives for me in it. Even on paper it isn’t the most exciting show but once you start listening you realize that this is the gelling of the Fall ’98 sound. While we still have six more shows to come after this one by now they are playing at a fully connected level, sharing ideas freely and quickly in moving through the music. Sure, it is more likely a tape you give to a noob to give them an introductory taste to the band than one you keep in regular rotation but even in having it be somewhat ubiquitous there is always a case where throwing it on for music in the background is not a bad thing. And realistically, it is perhaps that ubiquity that turns people off to these shows since part of our obsession with this band is finding the gems that others have yet to unearth either to be able to share them with others, hoard them for our own joy, or maybe a little bit of both. So with all of that your takeaways for this one are not big time and stay mainly in the box but include Roggae, Melt, Gin, Gettin’ Jiggy (because, c’mon, it is fucking hilarious), maybe the Stash, and maybe the Cavern if you like the added horn line that reminds you of the GCH Summer ’91 tour (kinda). So not too bad in the end, I guess…

Mixed In With The Signal You’re Sending — Winston-Salem, NC 11.19.1998

Phish — LJVM Coliseum — Winston-Salem, NC 11.19.1998

I  Cities, Curtain>Sample, Ginseng, Bouncin’, Maze, Something, Ghost>Golgi

II  2001>RnR->Taste, Frankie Says, Gumbo->CDT, Frankenstein, Been Caught Stealing

E  YEM

Heading out of South Carolina on their way northeast towards the final batch of shows on this Fall tour, Phish made a one night stop in Winston-Salem to visit a venue (for the last time, sadly) that seemingly always ended up having a strong outing by the band. The first of these back in Spring 1994 is probably most notable for the Mike’s Song and Possum along with a sit-in for the encore by that night’s opening band (yes, once upon a time you could sometimes get an opening act with this band). The opener that night happened to be the then up and coming Dave Matthews Band (back when Phish was a much bigger act and DMB was still something of a real live jamband) and that encore goes Drums->Jam->Watchtower which is something to hear if you haven’t before. The next year they came back in the Fall and laid waste to the venue with a massive show highlighted by the 2nd set opening sequence of Simple->Bowie->Take Me to the River->Bowie. This is the band at one of their peaks as they were about to head into what would become one of the more storied months in their history December 1995. Two years later they again visited this venue on another highly lauded tour (and following the legendary Hampton run) for a show big on the cowfunk and jams. Everything cooks in that one as well but the Gin->Disease->Low Rider->Disease that makes up the bulk of the second set is master class Phish (though skip the first set Theme>BEK and Stash->NICU at your peril). With all of that history as set up, hopes were undoubtedly high for Phish to drop yet another classic on the North Carolina faithful.

The show opens in a promising manner as they pulled out Cities for the first time this tour. While this one does not elevate to epic status it does its job in warming everyone up and getting the funk going before they wrap it up and play another tour debut in The Curtain. At this time we were still firmly in the “without” period for the song as the bustout and eventual re-normalling of The Curtain (With) would not occur until 07.12.2000. So in 1998 we would be thinking about what the song would open the door for instead of whether it would be “with” or “without” considering that over the years The Curtain has been a kick start to numerous sets and the door opener for many big versions of songs like Tweezer and Mike’s though it also can be a fake out into something a bit more on the contained end such as this evening where they go into Sample in a Jar and we will just move on from that. Ginseng Sullivan fulfills the bluegrass quota tonight and then we have Bouncin’ preceding Maze for what seems like the 1,000,000th time. Shockingly, it has only occurred 17 times and for today’s deep geekery the most frequent dance partners with Bouncin’ out of its 451 performances are:  Rift (20), Stash (20), YEM (19), It’s Ice (19), Antelope (18), Maze (17), Foam (16), Possum (16), Landlady (15), Tweezer (14), and Bowie (14). Those eleven songs account for almost 42% of all Bouncin’s which is… something.

Tonight’s Maze has a bit of a loopy intro and then they get into it with aplomb, first with Page soloing on the organ and then with Trey putting on a shred clinic in working through the jam and sticking the landing. This is not going to win any awards but you could do worse than to have a version like this one as your early morning alarm. The third ever Something gives us a breather and then we get another set up loop though this time more recognizable as the intro to another late first set Ghost. They start out in a low key manner, funking along as Trey flavors things with some San Ho Zay which kind of serves to kick off the next section as they begin to slowly build their crescendo. Over the next several minutes there are numerous ideas being thrown out by various band members without anything sticking in taking them down a different path so they instead head for the peak. Trey is driving things here but Page is right there with him and as they get close to a full peak the music stays about where it was as Page throws colorful comps in and Trey devolves the jam towards transitional space. They quickly move out of this into Golgi Apparatus which while a rocking closer is not exactly where we would have liked that whole thing to go. In the alternative we are left to dance and scratch our heads for what might have been as the lights come on and the band leaves the stage. This ends up being a perfectly fine though mostly un-noteworthy set as a result but it is still a solid Phish set all the same.

Coming back from the break the band comes out and immediately begins at building a soundscape with Trey putting out some big loops and Fish eventually kicking in the tell tale hits for the start of 2001 which, similar to The Curtain, is often the lead-in to bigger things. Always a good way to start a second set (there have been 72 in the 204 times the song has been played), they take their time here as the sonic build takes close to seven minutes before Page enters the song “verse” proper. This build has many of the elements of the Fall ’98 sound what with the loops (both siren and drone), ambient wash, and funk comping not to mention a little Crosseyed and Painless tease for good measure. They ride the dance party anthem (well, it’s a dance party anthem for us anyway, right?) to the obvious peak and then drop right into Rock and Roll for the third ever performance of the song. While still mostly contained at this early age they do add in a little electro rock jam out of the verses which drops down to a groove rock section that eventually works its way to a full segue into Taste. Though the composed section of Taste here is not flawless once they hit Trey’s solo that is but a fleeting memory and it elevates to the peak you know so well to complete this three pack of set opening tunes.

Now about a half hour into the set we get our lone ‘breather’ tune in Frankie Says which is a perfectly fine choice by me for that slot any time they want to go ahead and keep doing that. This one lacks any form of outro jam but serves its purpose well and now we are ready to tackle the back half of the set with empty bladders and loaded lungs. Not that we are using empty bladders and loaded lungs to tackle the back half of the set because that would be weird but dangling participles aside I think you know what I meant here. Gumbo starts up and here in 1998 you just know that they will jam it because that is what they did with the song back then. I am not even kidding. Look at every version from mid-1997 (including every domestic version that year) through the early part of 2.0 and without fail they all include at least something of a jam. I’m not here to pin down when the peak for the song was but 1998 sure seems to fall somewhere right in the middle of it. This version from Winston-Salem is right in the wheelhouse of the punchy funk versions of the Fish-penned tune that emit wafts of Manteca throughout but after a few minutes of working the room Trey drops things down to a more sparse bit of playing that triggers a move towards ambience. Rather than go the melodic route, Trey then triggers a grating, noisy loop (you’ll know it. you’ve heard it before) that Page adds to with some interstellar sounds. This has some promise but alas, they use it to transition to Chalkdust Torture rather than to go out further so we are left to wonder about what might have been. The resulting Chalkdust rips hard and fast but stays at home in the song before giving way to Frankenstein for another fun rocker. Then, as if to attempt to blow the roof clean off the place they crank into the set closing cover of Been Caught Stealing which is quite well received by the enthusiastic crowd.

Following all of that you rockin’ could excuse them if they kept it light for the encore but noooooo they have to go and start up You Enjoy Myself instead. We again get the slightly extended ambience in the pre-Nirvana section and then a funky jam in the middle but the notable aspect of this YEM quite frankly is the guest who joins for the vocal jam. Now more reasonably known for her electro pop band Heloise and the Savoir Faire (maybe you know this song? I’ll admit that I didn’t…), Heloise Williams was at this time the lead singer and flutist for the Vermont collective Viperhouse. They toured around the Northeast and had a couple of releases before going their separate ways. Being a VT band there was enough of a crossover with our boys Phish that Heloise here has a backing vocal credit on The Story of the Ghost, that album which came out preceding this tour. She would also later provide vocals on Mike’s Inside In album but that is getting ahead of ourselves. Lo and behold, Viperhouse was on a tour of their own that matched up with Phish in more than one town (they had been in Greenville, SC when Phish played there the previous night). With a late show at the famed Ziggy’s (home to a fun old school Phish show once upon a time and a Jazz Mandolin Project show with Fish about three years later on from this night) set to follow Phish’s show here she ended up joining the band for the aforementioned encore. Where things get really interesting is that Trey then went to the Viperhouse show and sat in for the whole second set. And this is important for us because that was apparently the night Trey met the organ player for Viperhouse who would soon become his organ man in the many iterations of TAB, Ray Paczkowski. So that’s a pretty neat way for all of that to come together.

Okay, getting back to our show here, overall we get a solid Thursday night affair that kind of feels like table setting for the pair in Hampton to come. Maybe they were amping up for those shows or something but this one never really takes off like most of the shows before it. There is no major centerpiece jam in the second set which is not to say there isn’t good music to be heard but just that nothing really pushes things too far forward. The first set is a bit song-y (though will pale in comparison to such song-based sets soon enough…) and while somewhat engaging the Ghost and Maze jams don’t push this to great heights. The second set gets into it a tad more but it is still relatively contained, particularly when you look at all of those lovely 20+ minute jams to start several of these sets in the recent past. Definitely one where a fun night would have been had but outside of the few takeaways here I’m not rushing to go back to spin this one again. So for those takeaways we will say Maze (though admittedly this is just padding the list), Ghost, 2001>RnR->Taste, and Gumbo->CDT. The YEM is not quite interesting enough to add in because, really, who is going to spin a YEM just to hear a somewhat unique VJ? Don’t answer that.

That’s When It All Began Then — Greenville, SC 11.18.1998

Phish — BI-LO Center — Greenville, SC 11.18.1998

I  BATCS, BOAF, Farmhouse>My Soul, Guyute, Lawn Boy, Love Me, Bowie, Carolina

II  Wolfman’s->Lizards, Moma>Albuquerque, Slave, Fluffhead>Zero

E  B&R, Sleep, DFB, Coil

After a couple of nights off to navigate in a generally easterly direction through the Blue Ridge Mountains Phish found themselves back in the Upcountry of South Carolina for the first time since a quite spectacular show in Spartanburg that preceded the legendary Glens Falls Halloween show. They had played other shows in the Palmetto State in the years between but those were down state at the North Charleston Coliseum (11.18.1995 and 10.26.1996) some 200 miles away. Incidentally, the show this night would take place three years to the day from that first stop at the Coliseum, a venue they have now played four times in total as they again visited for a pair of shows during the Fall 2010 tour. But for Greenville this show stands as the only time the band has played here and it is one that has some very high highs.

Things start out well with the second ever cover of Back At The Chicken Shack as the band warms up and lets Page take center focus on the Jimmy Smith classic. This may have been a sign about where the show is headed as we will see but no matter what it is a fresh tune to slot there and comes off as well received. Next up is BOAF and while this stays firmly within the confines of the song structure it straight rocks and cranks the energy level in the room up several notches. Close to the peak of the jam Trey hits a note/chord on his guitar that almost sounds like a train horn blast which only furthers that high energy feel. Solid version here aaaaaaand then we get Farmhouse. While well played this serves to sap the room of energy for a bit until they head right into My Soul, rocking the rafters once more. And then when they start up Guyute to follow it becomes plain that this set will be a high energy rocking affair that stays pretty close to the script. And that’s a pretty fun thing to have for a first set sometimes. Guyute peaks well and then they belie that sentence I just wrote by playing two ‘crooner’ numbers in Lawn Boy (with Gordeaux solo) and the final (to date) version of Elvis’ Love Me. Following this interlude they set out into Bowie and your fears of the rock set being derailed are put aside once again. As with most Bowies of this era the song is largely a showcase in tension and release, staying pretty close to the song itself while elevating to a big peak. There’s a lot of shred and big time playing from Page on display over the 19+ minutes of this version and fans of the big arena rock sound of Phish will be happy with this one. Then the band comes out front to do a little a cappella with Carolina being the fitting geographical choice for the evening. Page manages to mess up the cue so they restart it but otherwise it offers up a nice cap to a rocking set.

Sometimes it is difficult to gauge what you might get following a set like that first one. It could be more of the same which is perfectly fine unless you came to hear them stretch outside of their norms. Other times they go an entirely different direction, be it a segue-filled set full of numerous head fakes, teases, and other fun. And then there are the times where that second set feels like it is plucked from a different show because it just all comes together so fittingly. Tonight is one of those. The set kicks off with Wolfman’s Brother and if we are going off of the past several of performances of the tune you have to be excited about what might happen. Keep in mind that Wolfman’s was arguably at its peak in 97/98 so they seemed to hit on a stellar version of the tune almost every time out but in particular the last six times the song was performed included the MLB jam in Cleveland, THE Vegas Wolfman’s (accept no substitutes), a funky contained one from that “secret” show at the Fillmore in San Francisco, a pretty swell one from Star Lake on 08.11.1998, an ambient groove monster from Lakewood Amphitheater on 08.06.1998, and a 22+ minute epic from The Woodlands on 07.24.1998. I didn’t skip a single performance there. That’s six straight top notch versions and then if you keep going back you eventually get to even more heavy hitters in early 1998 and throughout 1997. Look, let’s just say that they really knew what to do with the song in this era, okay?

So when they start up Wolfman’s to kick off the 2nd set here in Greenville you have to have high hopes (even though we all know what happens with high expectations and all that) particularly since there have only been 14 times that the song has graced that slot. Ever. The song itself is fine enough but as soon as they drop into the jam they mean business, first punching out the funk and obligating you to move with it or get trampled. After only a couple of minutes they leave the song entirely with all four sharing ideas freely. Trey adds in an atmospheric loop as the groove gets more and more ambient even while Fish continues to push the funk with a clever line of attack. Pretty soon it is clear they have caught on to a theme and by about the 11:00 mark we are on our way up into an exuberant, melodic, yet still ambient build of straight awesome bliss playing. They are very patient in working this motif and bring it up to the peak in that way that makes you cock your head and wonder if it was planned the whole time. Spoiler alert: it wasn’t; they are just that good.

As if to just leave you laughing and shaking your head (a reaction I love to have to their jams) they then execute a flawless transition into The Lizards for a spot on take on the Gamehendge tune. Moma Dance is up next and here we are treated to another loose yet contained bit of this gooey funk. This serves to set us up nicely for the mid set cool down which tonight is Albuquerque (yet another of those late 90s ballads I really appreciate). Rather than heading right into a big number to amp things back up they opt to slowly bring the energy back with a patient Slave to the Traffic Light that fits the mood of the set perfectly. Now we are about ready to explode with pent up energy and they provide it by playing the double closer pairing of Fluffhead>Character Zero. The Fluffhead is played well and blows up in that wonderful way that the old school song does before they finish up the set with another strong version of Zero. And before you think it is time to head out to get that lot burrito we are treated to a four song encore featuring three quieter numbers in Brian and Robert, Sleep, and a mini-bustout (49 shows) of Dog Faced Boy (the latter two songs featuring Trey on acoustic) before Page sends us into the night with the deservedly loved Squirming Coil. For some reason this provides just the right form of punctuation on a show that offers up two very different types of Phish sets and adds to the notion that this (and many if not all shows in South Carolina) are big time Page shows. I didn’t really mention it too much above but he is on top of his game throughout this one, adding color and flourish to pretty well everything while being a major part of that Wolfman’s jam as well. We often talk about how much the impact of Trey’s playing has on the show but often it is one of the other guys stepping up above their norm that really takes things next level. This is a quality example of one of those times where it is Page’s turn to hold the mantle.

Perhaps I am overselling this one a bit but this is a show that really seems to hold up as one that is greater than its parts. Looking only at the setlist you may think it looks okay, perhaps solid but nothing really sticks out as a harbinger of great things to come. And realistically, outside of that Wolfman’s nothing is truly “great” top level stuff here but as we all know you don’t know if you don’t go. So listen if you can and tell me if I just was hearing the imaginary orchestra more than normal or if you are catching any of what I did with this one. Your takeaways tonight are the Bowie, Wolfman’s->Lizards, and perhaps the Slave with additions being the BOAF, Moma, and Fluffhead>Zero if you want to bring the rawk. This was our first of four nights in a row so strap in as we head to Winston-Salem and Hampton for a reverse ordered run of the three nights in those venues just one year prior. That run in 1997 produced some pretty okay music, right?

If Life Were Easy And Not So Fast — Murfreesboro, TN 11.15.1998

Phish — Murphy Center — Murfreesboro, TN 11.15.1998

I  MFMF, Ghost>Driver, SOAMule, Cavern>LxL, Roggae>La Grange

II Jim>Stash, Mike’s>Simple>Wading>Cup>Weekapaug

E  Rocky Top

Stopping next in one of the more hard to pronounce US towns that the band has ever played, Phish played a Sunday night show on the back end of three straight nights to an enthusiastic crowd at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN. Okay, maybe I’m the only one who finds ‘Murfreesboro’ to be a tongue-twisting town name. Anyway, while this might not be a Sunday night skip show for the ages it does offer up some items for discussion and provides more to add to our ever-growing “takeaways” list. Speaking of, just a site note here, I wanted to mention that once I wrap up the tour I’ll do a few summary posts including at least one that highlights all of the takeaways so that we can then dance the night away about architecture. Now back to the show!

Things get started off in a dark way as they cue up the not-nearly-as-rare-as-you-think My Friend, My Friend opener. By contrast, the song has only opened 8 2nd sets and encored one show. This tune sets the tone for the set by staying a bit on the slower side while pushing that demonic feel that is furthered by a loop-aided crawl through the ending ‘Myfe’ section. Trey starts up another, more telltale loop at the end and we on our way to Ghost. You can tell from the start they are playing patiently tonight as they let this one seep into the jam, funking along and searching together for something bigger (there’s a San Ho Zay tease in here too if you like that sort of thing). Trey starts up an interesting melodic lead around 8:40 or so and the band catches on as they ride this to something of a peak though in reality they never bring that build to full fruition. This gives way to a static section where Trey and Page are basically comping along until it drops into some transitional ambient space. Mike is offering up the most in this section (and I must say that throughout this show Mike has some very strong playing though that might be as much a factor of his forward presence on the tapes as anything else) before we get that transition to Driver. Tonight’s version is nice enough with Trey on the acoustic once more but the highlight is probably after when Trey jokes that they were going to call it “The Driver In Fish’s Head” but decided that would have been too much, eliciting a subdued rimshot out of Fish in response. Funny guys.

Taking the energy up a bit with Scent of a Mule, Mike offers up some footbell action as Page takes over to solo. Trey comes in to parrot his line and they build to the klezmer finale you know so well. A mid set Cavern is next and at this point I should probably note that thus far (and really, continuing throughout the show) everything has felt to be played at a slower tempo than “normal”. This Cavern is a good example as it is plodding in comparison to what you expect out of the song. Limb by Limb comes in as a shot of energy following this, however, and all of that patient playing pays off as they really go for it in building a smile-inducing peak that shows off Trey pushing it higher while playing what seems to be an impossible number of notes along the way. He even gets in the peak run from Taste at the 8:00 mark  which is pretty cool. They take things down again for a nice run through Roggae which then cranks into the start of the tour debut of the old rocker La Grange, a song that has now dropped into the where-are-they-now file (perhaps due to its ubiquity on tv commercials these days…). Now, even in being that crunchy Texas rock it feels slow somehow but it pays off and sends everyone off to setbreak in a good mood, capping a set that doesn’t have much standing out but that flows well and has that top notch playing on display throughout.

The second set could have gone a lot of ways following that adagio first set. Not that it was bad by any means, just that the pace of some of these tunes moves like molasses as if it were a Dead & Company show or something. This carries over to the second set as well as even in the set opening Runaway Jim they don’t exactly rush things. The jam here is nice and to the point without much wasted on searching or comping along waiting for someone to put forth an idea but it also doesn’t move the song too far forward either. They wrap this one up pretty quickly though and head into Stash for one of those rare second set takes on the tune. Here the slower pace is more noticeable than in the preceding Jim but once they get to the jam that all takes a back seat to Mike first laying down a line that really moves this sideways before they go into the dissonant T&R build section in the back half. Trey takes the forefront here and they tie it up nicely for a relatively short but succinct jam. This one deserves a respin or two if only to hear how Mike takes charge. Next up is Mike’s which starts you wondering how they will fill up this Groove but then they get to the jam and you forget all that for a bit while you ride the backwards loop into the pocket they craft here. Still working patiently, Trey puts together a captivating lead line that hugs that chugging groove while Page swirls away on the organ. Soon they set up to head into the second jam but instead opt for Simple, playing a lovely version that has several “scaled” runs by Trey in bringing the mood up and then back down towards a move into Wading in the Velvet Sea via a brief Page-only section for what appears to be our mid set cool down number.

Now, I am generally not a big Wading fan as the repetitive, weepy lyrics just don’t do much for me and the end solo is usually pretty standard but tonight things are a bit different. After working through the song and sticking the landing on that solo they drop into some of that Fall ’98 ambience though tonight it is almost uplifting, hinting back to Wading at points. There are those who say this music feels a lot like the end of the Bethel Tech Rehearsal Waves and I really can’t deny the similarity even if that is probably purely coincidental. This is a somewhat abbreviated ambient space though as fairly quickly Page lays down the chords indicating the start of Loving Cup. This version cranks up in a hurry with Trey taking charge in leading the band through the song with a screaming solo all while the rest of the band pounds on behind him. It is a pretty solid version of this song that kinda sorta always sounds the same — and I say that having recently covered the tour where it debuted and in which they played it quite a bit. I mean, it’s no Indio Halloween show closing Cup with horns and Sharon Jones BUT it rages all the same. Mike then keeps it on the up by starting up that Paug we have just been waiting for and now we know we are in closer territory (if it wasn’t already obvious by the double closer pairing here…). Once again Mike is driving the bus a bit here, punishing that bass in bringing the pace up (these last two songs are the most energetically paced of the night easily). As they elevate here in building tension they are playing what feels like double time to the rest of the set, eventually paying off the build with a shreddy peak before coming back around to the final chorus and wrapping up the set. As one could expect the encore tonight is Rocky Top, the state song here in Tennessee. Okay, let’s be honest. It is one of TEN official state songs for Tennessee which is so perfectly Tennessean I can’t even stand it. In case you are wondering, the other ones are My Homeland, Tennessee, When It’s Iris Time in Tennessee, My Tennessee (1992), the Tennessee Waltz (here’s a nice version with Bonnie Raitt and Norah Jones), Tennessee, The Pride of Tennessee, A Bicentennial Rap: 1796-1996, Tennessee (2012), and Smoky Mountain Rain (a fantastically Ronnie Milsapian tune). I shit you not, that Bicentennial Rap song is real and it is hilariously bad. I couldn’t find the others on a quick youtube search but you are perhaps better off listening to the Arrested Development song Tennessee or maybe a high quality Tennessee Jed from the good old Grateful Dead than diving too deep here. Either of those would have been interesting covers for Phish to try out, eh? All that to say that this version of Rocky Top is pretty good considering the high energy of the crowd and the band playing to that.

So what to make of this show…  On one hand it feels like there isn’t much here as there really isn’t a “must hear” jam to be had and the slow pace keeps the energy level a bit subdued throughout the show. Perhaps that is due to playing their third venue in as many nights (with about 550 miles of driving between the three stops) and being a bit tired but I really don’t hear it that way. The other hand says there isn’t anything bad here and the playing throughout is solid at worst. They are clearly connected at this point in the tour and the ideas come freely. This show is one you won’t hear people point to, particularly with all of the great stuff in the days around it. I maintain that it is worth a listen. I enjoyed this one and was a bit surprised to have that realization. I’m not putting it ahead of the top shows here and the takeaways are fewer than most shows so far this tour but you could do worse than to spend the two plus hours it takes to get through this relatively short show. So let’s get to those takeaways. Tonight we have the Ghost, Mule, LxL, Stash, and Wading>Cup>Paug with the Mike’s being one to add if you are feeling generous. Now we have a couple of off days to rest up before we get to South Cackalacky for the last appearance to date in the Upcountry.

A Stairway to the Stars – Cleveland, OH 11.13.1998

Phish – CSU Convocation Center – Cleveland, OH 11.13.1998

I  CDT, Wolfman’s->MLB, Roggae, Ginseng, Ice>CTB, Farmhouse, WITS, Sloth, Antelope

II  Disease>sample, Dirt, BOAF, Meat>Hood

E  GTBT

Following another one night for travel between western Michigan and northeastern Ohio (those big lake thingies kinda get in the way) Phish hit the stage once more for the first of two shows in the Buckeye State over the weekend. This first one took place in Cleveland, a city with a pretty okay history with Phish considering they have played 16 of their 48 Ohio shows in and around the city. The rest of the shows in the state are scattered between Cincinnati (14 shows), Columbus (9 shows), and Dayton (4 shows) with the other five spread between various college towns around the state. Tonight’s show would be the last at CSU Convocation Center as since then they have only come back to play the beautiful Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls.

Things kick off with an energetic Chalkdust to get everyone warmed up and moving and then they drop into Wolfman’s Brother for what you have to think will be a pretty straight forward second song first set take on the tune. Well, yeah, no. After the lyrics they drop immediately into a gooey funk pocket so good it would be a crime to not dance to such music. This continues for several minutes before Trey starts toying with his lead line and eventually brings in a melody that is oh so familiar… wait. Hang on. Is he really playing it? Naaaaaah it can’t be… but but but it is! As the band continues the undercurrent funk stylings Trey plays the signature melody to only one of the most debated jams/teases/quotes/whatever in both the Phish and Dead canons: Mind Left Body, alternately known as an “MLB Jam”, a “baseball jam” (get it? MLB/baseball? clever…), or “that jam that everyone is always on about but never seems to materialize”. Now, it could be said that this is just a simple progression that mirrors the intention at least of the old Paul Kanter, Grace Slick, and David Freiberg song Your Mind Has Left Your Body which appeared first on the album Baron Von Tollbooth & the Chrome Nun but has since become something of a live staple for the Jefferson Starship. I’m not going to get into the full debate about this one as there are disciples to this tease/jam who seemingly hear it all over the Dead catalog and in several places with Phish as well but I will say that there are a few examples that are difficult to discount as being anything but a reference to MLB. Leaving out the numerous denoted teases (such as the one from the Magnaball Cities that I don’t really hear but maybe if I went looking specifically for it I would) there are two other prime examples besides this Wolfman’s of MLB popping into Phish songs: 08.21.1993 in the middle of Bowie and 06.18.1994 also in Bowie. The latter one is the example people point to most often and for good reason as it is a fantastic Bowie that only gets better when you add in this layer of mythos. The Dead had a much larger history with this jam motif but we aren’t here to discuss them now are we? Anyway, back to our show here, I’ll definitely say that this is a real live actual MLB jam (352 show gap before this, no less). The added funk pushing it along works perfectly and after about four minutes of playing around with this they come to a point of resolution and wrap it all up rather succinctly without ever returning to Wolfman’s. Don’t believe the setlists that you read about this because they all note a return to Wolfman’s which is not there. But we don’t abide that kind of sloppiness here, do we?

How do you follow up a second song jam like that? Well, if you are Fall ’98 Phish you play the ethereal Roggae and nail the end jam with a pretty rendition. Then you play a well loved bluegrass cover in Ginseng Sullivan before dropping into a purely Phishy song. I mean, seriously, can you ever really see another band playing It’s Ice and pulling it off without it sound a bit contrived? This is just one of those tunes that sums up Phish to me for some reason. Tonight’s take on the tune drops into a fairly dark outro jam that includes some of Trey’s ascending lick loop (the same lick he played in setting up several of the dark jams from the start of this tour including the Vegas Wolfman’s). They don’t take this too far out but it is a nice little bit of depth before popping out into the first performance of Cars Trucks Buses on this tour. It is a typically bouncy and fun rendition (nice counterpoint to where Ice was headed) and then we are off to sing the words to popular Bob Marley songs that match up perfectly to Farmhouse. Quick runs through Water in the Sky and a somewhat sloppy but always nice to hear Sloth bring us to the closing Antelope which tonight gets a patient and well constructed pre-Rocco jam. It has that frenetic build energy but feels pretty dialed in at the same time and then Trey drops the rare “suck the deer shit from the side of this hole” alternate lyrics which is always a treat. This is a pretty engaging Lope overall which perhaps Trey thought as well in laying down that deer shit line. It caps the set nicely and we are off to the break to see just how many heads are freaking out about that MLB jam.

After the setbreak Trey has a little banter about a crew member being late to work that day due to overindulging at a local bar the previous night as well as relating that Mike wants the lights to stay the way they are all set before they start up Disease. This Disease, while not in the 20+ minute category of several of the recent 2nd set openers, offers up a quite engaging jam that runs through several sections. First we have the straight ahead rock of Disease with Trey leading the way with trilling lines and tension building rises towards a peak that never matures. Fish then pounds on the crash cymbal during the cacophony of noise rock that the band has built before they head out into a section of sparser playing that hints towards a move to ambience but then Trey begins a line of chords that settle things into a happy, chugging rock groove that picks up speed and energy before returning to the Disease ending. This is fun time Phish spurting joy onto the crowd with their playing. Perhaps not the most notable Disease ever but damn if it isn’t one to get you moving. In the aftermath of the Disease coda they crash into a segue with Sample… ugh. I just can’t with this song. It is the same thing every single time (and don’t give me any of that “yeah but Trey really played the solo with extra gusto that time!” crap because you and I both know that solo by heart at this point). So that happens and then we have a Dirt interlude before they crank up the energy again for BOAF. Just when you are thinking this will be more of the same out of the new showcase tune they put a little extra mustard on the hot dog and we have a fiery version that hugs the structure of the song but offers up some exploration into murkier waters.  They are really starting to push the boundaries on this song as it feels set to explode into something much bigger here though the real period of exploration for this song won’t come until the year following.  For now we will just have to enjoy Trey pulling at the edges of BOAF. As if to catch their breath following this raging version they start up Meat and you have to think we are in for another bit of the weirdness without much to take home musically but after the lyric section Trey adds in a siren loop to accompany the odd time signature and we are off to play. There is an ambient feel to this but all the same Fish and Mike are laying down the gist of the Meat beat while Trey adds lead color and Page provides atmosphere. As Trey develops this lead Mike mimics him at points all while that loop and Fish keep us rooted in the Meat jam (meat jam sounds like a disgusting thing your grandmother used to make every fall in preparation for the long winter ahead that you had to eat when she came over since it was such a thoughtful gift from her to your family. mmmm… jellied pig…). As a group they tinker about for a few more minutes and then they end up with the loop soundscape providing the perfect entry point for Fish to drop the signature hits for Harry Hood to begin. The first bit of this Hood feel like it could just as easily slide right back to that Meaty jam goodness but they get into the anthem/PSA about keeping yourself out of closed refrigerators. Seriously kids, don’t do it. Recondo is right! What did we do without GI Joe to keep us in the know? Though I will say that this version is more amusing… Anywho, the Hood here is about what you would expect assuming you like beautiful, patient, well crafted Hood jams. You could do worse than to have a version like this cap a second set. After that we have a rocking GTBT encore and we are headed south for the next night’s show at The Crown or whatever they were calling it at that point.

This show does not have the major highs of some of the past few nights but the first set catches your attention from that jammed out Wolfman’s through the end and the second set is all well played with a good variety of music on display. Your takeaways here are Wolfman’s->MLB, Ice>CTB, Antelope, Disease, BOAF, and Meat>Hood. You could probably leave out the CTB but it flows right out of that dank Ice jam so you might as well just let it run. There ends up being a lot of highlights here now that I look at it. Good sign of where the trajectory for this tour is considering we are not even halfway home yet.

I’m Sinking Down, It’s a Glorious Feeling — Grand Rapids, MI 11.11.1998

Phish – Van Andel Arena – Grand Rapids, MI 11.11.1998

I  PYITE, Gumbo, If You Need A Fool, Sleep, Tela, BOAF, Theme, Julius

II  Halley’s>Simple>Walk Away>LxL, Circus, Ghost

E  Contact>Rocky Top>Funky Bitch

Certain parts of the country seem to be something of a catalyst for Phish to consistently play top quality shows. New York, particularly NYC, has quite a few notable shows from over the years. Colorado holds a special place for the band having been the destination on those first road trips away from New England. New Jersey gets the love because Trey and Page both grew up there. Connecticut seems to get good shows too, perhaps due to Trey’s time at Taft or maybe just because the good people of the Constitution State (or the Nutmeg State if you are more into that) bring the energy and attention the band appreciates. There are many examples of this type of “bias” and I bring it up to note that Michigan is also one of those lucky places. The band has now performed 25 times in The Mitten, starting humbly enough at Rick’s Cafe in Ann Arbor and eventually graduating up to arenas and sheds such as The Palace of Auburn Hills and the now renamed Pine Knob Music Theatre. Many of these well loved shows from The Great Lakes State are throwdowns from the many colleges here as Phish included several stops at various institutions of higher learning in the state along the path of their early 90s tours. In the mid 90s they started playing the hockey arenas in the western part of the state with notable shows at Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo on 10.27.1995 (check out the Bowie from that show for starters) and one from Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids (11.11.1996) that is relatively underrated on that Fall Tour. Two years to the day later they returned to this town on the heels of their three night run in Chicago and laid out a classic midweek sleeper show that has big jams in both sets and a lot more.

After the night off to travel and rest up after four straight shows the band comes out seemingly well rested with a clean and popping PYITE, amping up the energy from the get go. Gumbo, another song that could be argued hit its peak here in 1998, slinks in next and here we get our first bit of extra flavor as they take this one out for a slow ride through the funk accompanied by loops and effects. This is the evolving funk sound of ’98 which has a lot of Page up front on the clavinet followed by the dive into more ambient waters in the back half. Many of the notable Gumbos include Manteca teases or at least hint towards that song but this one avoids that almost entirely. This is a swanky jam that implores you to move with it albeit somewhat slowly since this one is just thick until they hit the ambient space. I challenge you to listen and not be moved! Well, at least until it kind of just ends there, I guess.

Following the rocking PYITE opener and that dank dance party Gumbo they break out the ol’ third slot bluegrass song for the second (of three ever) performances of the Steve Earle penned and Del McCoury popularized tune If You Need A Fool. This isn’t the best bluegrass cover they ever did (and it isn’t the worst either) but it suits its purpose just fine here. If you aren’t familiar with this song it sounds a lot like MMGAMOIO except for that whole different lyrics and a Page solo instead of Trey but yeah. Next up is one of my personal favorite of the late 90s ballads Sleep, a tune that had just been debuted three weeks prior at the first Bridge School Benefit show. This is paired up with Tela in providing the mid set breather tunes and tonight’s Tela comes off well with Page doing his thing and Trey playing a nice solo in the end. From here we have a positively white hot BOAF with Trey sounding the shred alert in going big on his solo. The song is still all straight ahead rock here but when they nail it like this there is definitely nothing wrong with that. Theme From The Bottom follows and this is a version that if you haven’t heard it may surprise you a bit as along with the typically soaring peak they reach for there is a harder edge to this jam, still though in the vein of the song. Some people are not huge fans of this song for whatever reason but this might be the type of version to change minds. The set is capped by a joyous romp through Julius and we are then off to the break.

I hope that those who were in attendance for this one took advantage of that break because the second set wasn’t going to provide it for them. It will be close to an hour into the set before we get the one breather tune and everything leading up to it is top shelf Fall ’98 Phish. First we have a song much like that first set Gumbo where jamming comes and goes — and its peak period is also in this late 90s/early aughts time frame. For the bulk of its history Halley’s Comet has been a lead-in, setting the table as a starting out point for bigger things. Aside from a few versions here and there over the years (like the 12.14.1995 version from Binghamton, NY) this held true for over a decade, though that time period did include a 475 show break from the Summer of ’89 (ha!) to Spring ’93. Everything changed for Halley’s with one magical and understandably highly praised version from Hampton ’97 which you all should already know by now so I will just assume you have that one memorized. Development of this song as a jam vehicle continued throughout 1998 with this version from Grand Rapids being the capstone take on the song for the year. Though perhaps not THE best version ever it is certainly in the conversation — and for good reason. After working through the song itself the band sets out right away with a punchy jam that is impossible to not move to as it gets funkier and funkier as it progresses. Page is all over this version, providing great accents on top of the wicked groove Mike and Fish lay down all while Trey comps along. This continues for a bit and then around the 16:00 mark we head out into space funk until going sideways after a minute or so. Things stay weird for a bit, hinting at a turn towards the ambient, but then they hit on a punishing rawk groove that Trey takes and solos over with a lot of distortion and drone mixed in until they somewhat abruptly segue into Simple. This makes for the third show in the last four where the second set opener stretches out over 20 minutes. And the best part of that statement is that each of these is wholly unique in comparison to each other, shining a different light on the varied jamming styles of the band.

A jam like that will make the night for a lot of folks but we aren’t finished yet. Simple ends up being a short but sweet version that segues into our second Walk Away of the tour which then segues into Limb by Limb. This version moves along much like most others with the Type I jam going as it does (Trey is really on point here) until everyone drops out except for Page. He solos within the framework of the song for a bit and then each band member comes back in to add to the build towards a very satisfying peak.  It is a unique version with this solo and something I wouldn’t mind hearing them do again some time as it comes off nicely. Now we get that breather tune with When The Circus Comes To Town (another of those late 90s ballads I appreciate – though in this case it is a cover of a Los Lobos song from several years prior) and this is nice enough in allowing for a bit of bathroom time for all. By now you have to expect we are headed towards the closer which is true but you wouldn’t necessarily think that is what we are getting when Ghost starts up (with the full, slow, looped out intro too so that’s fun). This one starts out as a funky groove monster and they keep pushing up the energy level higher as they go. Page unleashes his arsenal of effects on this jam (perhaps the first full display of such on this tour excepting the Vegas Wolfman’s?) and eventually Trey takes charge and they head up the mountain towards the summit, tackling a few false peaks along the way. It is a triumphant version in the mode of the Holy Ghost and other similar bliss-laden Ghost jams and here it provides a big exclamation point on the end of this great set. The encores tonight are Contact>Rocky Top>Funky Bitch, offering a road song for the trip ahead, the classic Rocky Top nod to a good show, and a somewhat rare encore slotting of the bluesy rock of Funky Bitch (one of only 19 times it has appeared as an encore).

For a Wednesday night one-off show in the western part of Michigan, there is a lot to like here. As we will see this may end up being one of the better overall shows of the tour as there are notable jams in both sets including one of the best versions of Halley’s Comet ever. This is just another example of Phish making people realize that you should never skip the show that is the obvious one to skip as there are definitely people who — potentially for the second time already this tour — skipped this one to get a head start on heading to the next venue further east (in this case Cleveland). Their loss, of course, but those that made that trip north instead of heading east from Chicago were rewarded quite well. Your takeaways from this show are Gumbo, Theme, BOAF, Halley’s, LxL, and Ghost. Not a bad night in a town now known for beer as much as anything — and it is a worthy reputation. I highly recommend a trip to Grand Rapids to taste some of the wonderful offerings here… but that’s maybe for another blog or at least another time…

So now that we have hit ten shows played on this tour, let’s do a little stat geekin’, shall we? Here we are having had shows in seven states including in all four time zones with the added oddity that each venue played has been in a different state. There have already been 132 songs played with 95 of those being one timers (the Loaded and DSOTM sets obviously factor in here as that provides 20 songs and only one – Rock and Roll – that has been played again so far. Additionally, a total of 20 songs have debuted this tour with Something and Smells Like Teen Spirit joining the tunes from those albums that had not yet been played by Phish). With this many songs played there is not any clear leader in terms of number of performances though several songs have been played at least four times: BOAF (5 times), Driver, Frankie Says, LxL, Roggae, and Moma Dance. Interestingly, we have only seen one Tweezer so far (in the second show of tour) and the next one is still another show away. We also have yet to see several setlist standards as songs like Bouncin’, Suzy, Foam, IDK, Rift, and MSO have not been played to date. There have been no repeats for show openers and only two repeats for first set closers (Cavern, Weekapaug). Second sets are just as diverse as no song has repeated as either 2nd set opener or closer. For encores, the only song repeated so far is surprising: Free Bird. We will get to dive deeper in the stats as the tour progresses but this does appear to be a quite diverse tour so far. Personally I think this simply shows just how damn good this band was at this point considering that they aren’t exactly mailing in the setlists or the performances for that matter. All signs point towards more heat to come as they drop down through Ohio and into the Southeast portion of the tour. Yay, stats!

Making Soup for the Ambassadors – Chicago, IL 11.09.1998

Phish – UIC Pavilion – Chicago, IL 11.09.1998

I  Llama, Horn, I Get A Kick Out Of You, Divided, Frankie, DST, Poor Heart>Free, NICU, Bold as Love

II  Gin, TMWSIY>Avenu Malkenu>TMWSIY>Moma>Slave>YEM

E  Frankenstein, Freebird

The third night of a run can go a lot of different directions. Sometimes you get the undersold sleeper show that makes people regret not sticking it out for the whole run. Other times you get a high energy affair perhaps light on jams but well received by the fans. And there are also times when that third night falls flat whether it be due to the band, crowd, or some combination of the two being a bit tired and not bringing it. This last night in Chicago was not one of those nights.

First up is a fiery Llama opener which gets a bit of that electro Trey shred in the solo before giving way to a perfectly serviceable take on the setlist staple Horn. Trey has a nice solo here but this is one doesn’t get any extra sauce (like the 07.15.1998 one with its ambient outro jam on the way to Chalkdust). Next up we have the third Mike tune in the early part of the first set in as many nights as they play what will end up being the second and currently final version of ‘I Get A Kick Out of You’, the Cole Porter jazz standard. Last night we had ‘Love Me’ and the first night of the run got that lovely Mike’s Song. Hey, it is a Mike tune, right? Maybe not a crooner but, really, which would you prefer? This version is a bit loose with Mike almost over-singing the words as it comes off a bit joke-y in the execution. From here the band straps in for bigger things, starting first with a clean and triumphant take on Divided Sky. It isn’t the best version you will ever hear but it is always nice to hear them nail this classic. Frankie Says pops in next with a straight forward version that lacks the outro ambience they have occasionally tacked on to the end of this song. After Frankie relaxes us we have the first Dogs Stole Things of the tour which goes how it does and then we get our old pal Poor Heart to bring the energy up a bit. Nothing special here but it does slam right into the start of Free which will provide us with our first real highlight of the show. Everything stays within the construct of the song but it gets pretty raucous and funky as they chunk their way through this jam. It is more akin to the latter day pinner Free jams than the early percussive, multi-themed giants of ’95 but with a dirtier feel that precedes the uncompressed tone of the 2.0 versions… if all that makes sense. Whatever, just listen to it. You’ll like it. After that we have NICU and one of my favorite cover closers, Bold As Love. This is the first Bold as Love of the tour and it rises to that swirling peak that makes it oh so good to hear and now we are on to setbreak after a largely average but overall well played first set.

Considering that the past three sets have been mostly straight forward without too many left turns into open jamming, you have to think by this point it is about time they took something out a bit at least at the start of this second set. And you would be right as they come out with the always welcome second set opening Bathtub Gin. Now, 1998 is arguably the best year for Gin overall with 1997 and 1999 having solid arguments in their favor as well. But considering some of the versions we have from 1998 (Prague, Barcelona, Ventura, this one, Hampton, Worcester, and of course The Riverport Gin, not to mention a few others…) it is hard to argue against it being in the conversation for this being the “BYE” (best year ever) for Gin. Tonight’s version starts off innocently enough as they search around the Gin theme. Around the 7:30 mark Trey doubles up his lead line and we kick into a higher gear that plugs along with that funky vibe until Trey takes a firm lead and adds new ideas on top of the pocket. Around the 13:00 mark Trey comes back to the Gin theme and then goes out from there to explore some more. Eventually, Mike throws in a few footbell *tings* which kind of signals the start of the transition to a quieter space where they are all still grooving along and exploring, even hinting at some Manteca-ish tones as they make their way towards the ambient realm. A loop starts up and Trey adds the drone tone and after wading here for a bit we return to the full Gin ending. I am pretty well oversimplifying this here but this is a jam that goes through several distinct phases while staying pretty close to the song itself. That is not atypical for Gin, of course, as many of the more notable versions of the song are mainly ‘type I’ jamming with some ‘type II’ sections. Here we have a prime example of that motif.

So now I am going to make a pretty bold statement which is to say that if you take this Gin and put it up against the all but universally lauded Riverport Gin from a few months prior I prefer this one from Chicago. At first I thought this was just recency bias but I listened to both versions more than once, alternating between the two, to check myself. The result for me is that this version is just more interesting with the creative paths they take in weaving in and out of the Gin theme. Don’t get me wrong, I really like the Riverport Gin but it feels a bit static (or maybe linear is the right word?) at times when you compare it to the breadth of scope that this one includes. And hey, it is a worthwhile discussion point so there’s that for us to look forward to here.

After collectively catching our breath from that 23+ minute journey Trey starts up one of the older originals in the catalog for our first TMWSIY>Avenu Malkenu>TMWSIY sighting of the tour. This is well played, as always, and then it gives way to our fourth Moma Dance in just nine shows. Things get funky in that Moma way here before they make a transition out into Slave for a nice, uplifting version of that song that always seems to pop into setlists preceding everyone getting on the road again. After resolving this one with a nice peak we head into YEM for what will inevitably be the set closer. Similar to the prior version from Utah tonight’s YEM has a somewhat extended pre-Nirvana section that gets into a little bit of ambient texturing but then once they take off this one gets seriously funk’d in a hurry. On the way there we get an interesting occurrence in the build towards the big jam where Trey is playing the chords for that build while Page is still soloing over top, creating a mashed up feeling to this section. Once through that the jam includes some hints of ‘Things That Make You Go Hmmm”, that classic C+C Music Factory dance anthem from the early 90s. Eventually we peak out to the VJ and that’s a wrap because the lights come up early without an encore.

But wait! That was just those guys being oh so funny and instead they rip into a particularly spirited Frankenstein. After this first encore Trey thanks everyone for coming out the past three nights and asks what a cappella tune they want to hear and thankfully everyone in the crowd seems to agree to shout out “FREEBIRD!” at the same time so that we don’t have conflicting opinions on that. And after that hilarious homage to both barbershop quartet and southern rock we are out of here to head northeast to Grand Rapids to visit one of those old hockey arenas once again. Your takeaways tonight are the Free, Gin, and YEM with additions of Divided and maybe Moma>Slave if you are feeling like listening to more.

This show provides a solid bookend to this three night run where the meat (jams) is more on the outside of the sandwich with the bread (staple songs) being the filler in between. That sounds messy but it really is quite tasty. That first night produced the big Bag>Ghost highlight and this one has the Gin while the middle show is more about songs and taking care of business with rocking jams rather than looking outside of the sandbox. All told, this is a great three night run that stands the test of time and should hopefully get its own release some day, perhaps in conjunction with the run they did here in 2011. No matter what, getting more tracks from this out there on SBD should happen hopefully sooner than later.