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.

Sit Up And Take Notice – Chicago, IL 11.07.1998

Phish — UIC Pavilion — Chicago, IL 11.07.1998

I  My Soul, Mike’s, Driver, B&R, Wedge, LxL, Fikus, Billy Breathes, Beauty of My Dreams, Weekapaug

II  Bag->Ghost, Reba, Farmhouse

E  Guyute, WMGGW

After the one night stop in Wisconsin Phish made the trip to a city where they have had a long history, having first played the Windy City on 03.30.1990 as opener for a band I doubt any of us has ever heard of, Bop (harvey), who have apparently been going strong for over 30 years just like a band we kinda are obsessed with here. Hey, maybe you know this band but they aren’t ringing any bells for me. Reading their website it looks like their shows are fun though so I guess check em out if you get the chance? Phish would play nine more shows in Chicago in the years preceding this three show run in Fall ’98, graduating from opening sets at the Lounge Axe (11.09.1990 they opened for Alex Chilton of the Box Tops, Big Star, and solo fame there) to bar venues like Biddy Mulligan’s (04.13.1991) and The Cubby Bear (10.02.1991) to rooms like the Caberet Metro (05.02.1992), The Vic (12.05/06.1992), and the venerable Aragon Ballroom (04.10.1993) and eventually to this very room for two quite memorable shows in June (06.18.1994, a day that also included an appearance on Danny Bonaduce’s radio show) and November (11.25.1994) of 1994 which were released in 2012 as a boxset. It should also be noted, with a big hat tip to GP420, that the band had played in the towns around Chicago several times over the years leading up to this run in places like The Gathering Place in Evanston (04.15.1991), Poplar Creek Music Center in Hoffman Estates (08.01.1992 as opener for Santana with the band coming out to play during the Santana headlining set as well), The Rosemont Horizon (10.31.1995, duh, how did I not include this after just going deep on a Halloween date??), and The World Music Theatre (08.14.1993, 08.08.1997, and the FarmAid concert on 10.03.1998 just a couple of weeks prior to this date – which we may cover on its own eventually). Over the years, Phish has continued to show their love for the Second City and its surroundings with many more shows including a couple of three night runs of great music (and sometimes horrible weather and questionable “guest” appearances…) that all started with these three from UIC.

These days the band is very good about their tour routing, generally having three night runs at a single venue start on Friday and run through Sunday night, allowing for travel days on each side – not to mention providing a little rest for all involved. On this tour the three night run in Chicago began on Saturday right on the heels of the Friday night show in Madison meaning that there would be a Monday show to cap the run before they headed up to Grand Rapids, MI for the Wednesday night special. But we have three nights of engaging Phish to discuss before we get to that.

Over the years, we as a fanbase have gotten pretty good at figuring out the various setlist signs that will clue you in even without hearing the show about some of what occurred that night.  Some of this is denotation (such as segue notation) and some of it is song choice (e.g. encores like Monkey>Rocky Top or Fire are generally good signs of a show that rips) or song placement (certain openers and closers can mean different things). I bring this up to highlight the history of the opener for this show, My Soul, a song that while nothing really too special on its own (it isn’t a jam vehicle and pretty well does the same thing most of the time) has been known to be the first set opener for some true classics over the years. Examples of this include 02.21.1997 with its jam-heavy first set (including the first YEM in Firenze ever) and the ‘heavy metal’ jamming and Reba of the second set, 11.23.1997 with the Theme>BEK and Stash->NICU in the first along with a seriously epic second frame anchored by Gin->Disease->Low Rider->Disease, 07.04.1999 with the Ya Mar and Ghost->Slave (listen for the notable teases) and the debut of WTU?, 05.22.2000 with what many consider their favorite Ghost ever (nothing wrong with that choice for sure), 10.20.2010 with the Guyutica fun and that second set, and 01.01.2011 with all that went down in that phenomenal night at MSG. Sure, there are times when the My Soul opener “rule” hasn’t held up but on this night that would not be the case.

So Phish took the stage at UIC for the first time in almost four years and cranked up the energy with the rocking My Soul we just mentioned. Things stay in the higher energy realm as the band then started up Mike’s for an early first set version. These days Mike’s Song has been a bit neutered compared to its time as one of the major jam vehicles in the repertoire – this past summer’s “return of the 2nd jam” notwithstanding – but in this time it was still a formidable tune. Tonight’s version has a first jam that chugs along through the power funk shred first jam before the band drops into a more subdued space, building the ambient motif that typifies this tour already. The resulting jam is quite beautiful and not what you expect out of Mike’s but it works well in providing transition to the songs that will bridge us from here to the Weekapaug we know is coming. I did say songS, and tonight the first of these is a pair with Trey on acoustic for Driver and Brian and Robert. The Wedge follows and does what it does in bringing the energy level up a bit from those acoustic tunes, not to mention being quite the far cry from the Slow Wedges of Spring ’93 even if it still isn’t a jammer. Limb by Limb follows and we get another lovely take on this song though perhaps not quite to the level of the one that preceded in Utah. By now you are starting to wonder just when they might wrap up this here Mike’s Groove considering we are four songs out from the beginning of the groove but this is starting to get to be a bit too much. Will the next song be the payoff?

Nope. Fikus it is here for what still stands as the final performance of the Story of the Ghost track. Sure, there are a couple of teases of the song later on in this tour but outside of that this dreamy escape has been relegated to the realms of super fan wishlists. Things stay in slower territory for Billy Breathes and then we get the grassy cover of Del McCoury’s Beauty of My Dreams and now FINALLY we get the set closing Weekapaug Groove we have been waiting for all set. We will get to the Paug in a second but first let’s talk about how we got here since this is not your standard Mike’s Groove by any means. For the majority of the suite’s existence I Am Hydrogen has graced the midground in the Groove with Spring ’93 being the first time since the pattern had settled for there to be any relatively frequent examples of the band deviating from the norm. This isn’t to say that Hydrogen disappeared entirely but that it couldn’t still be expected to definitely be the song to follow Mike’s on the way to Paug. I’m not going to detail every one of these deviations because they become more and more frequent throughout the mid and late 90s but it is interesting just how many songs the band plays here mid-groove, so to speak. I’m not really interested in taking the time to see just where this ranks in terms of distance between start and end of groove but I have to believe that sticking seven songs in there while also staying in the same set has to be up there in the rankings. So honestly, by the time they do get to this Paug set closer you have to wonder whether people had forgotten about the Mike’s being out there or if everyone was hanging on it in anticipation. Either way the payoff is worth it as they first build an engaging jam to punctuate the set before they drop down to allow Trey to speak over the rest of the band in thanking the crowd and mentioning the upcoming setbreak. Following this you know they will come back to a big peak and they do that but not before speeding everything up considerably and rocking the fuck out to close the set. This ends up being a fairly uneventful first set except for the Mike’s and Paug but the song choices are fresh and the playing is solid throughout. After a set like that though, one has to wonder what they have in store for after the break.

Well, one should have figured they were saving something for this set as they came out and dropped one of those good ol’ four song sets that get the kidz all riled up and frothing. Tonight the main attraction is the set opening ACDC Bag, a song that really came into its own as a jam vehicle about a year prior to this first with the multi-themed beast that came out of Ghost on 11.21.1997 in Hampton and then on that year’s NYE Run at MSG on 12.30.1997 with some of the same type of playing but even more to show as well. From then on the song has been considered a potential vehicle by fans as many often want, nay expect, that the song will stretch into a 20-minute juggernaut jam. While that may not be the case (especially here in 3.0) on this night in Chicago those wishes were heard as the band threw down a magical jam over more than twenty minutes of playing. Once the lyrical part of the song ends the band wastes no time in heading into the cowfunk on steroids beginning theme, eventually passing into that ambient space they have been exploring this tour. This first sounds familiar to what they have done with other jams of this kind in recent shows but eventually heads into a completely new space as they explore the ambience more deeply than any time previous on this tour, excepting perhaps the Vegas Wolfman’s though that goes in a decidedly different direction. Tonight everything is positive and glowing and the waves of musical ideas within the ambience further that feeling. If you know the comp that Mr. Miner put together under the moniker A Trip Through The Late 90s you will recognize some of the more melodic sections of this jam. Eventually, after several minutes of this bliss space they begin to build towards a transition which emerges as Ghost (matching the only other pairing of these songs in this order that occurred in another jam-heavy show from Prague on 07.06.1998. and to answer the obvious question, the only time Ghost has preceded Bag was in the aforementioned Hampton ’97 show. good company on both fronts…). Though this Ghost does not quite reach the heights of others in the history of the song it does get to several minutes of hardcore Phish funk. Shaking off the less dance-friendly aspects of the ambient jam that preceded it this jam will get you moving in that wonderful way, practicing all your deepest knee bends and funk’d up faces. Oddly though, rather than stretch this out into another segue or by moving back to the ambient they bring the song down by steps eventually simply fading out as if to say “okay, we’re good on that, let’s move on now”. But before doing so there is an almost familiar passage Trey throws in that hints heavily at Dear Prudence if not another Beatles tune. It almost feels like they will transition into something here but instead it fades out and we are on to the next song. (thanks to stapes for the reminder on this aspect of the Ghost)

At this stage you would be expecting a breather song or something at least a bit more in the box than what the prior 40-ish minutes had provided but instead they dive right into another meaty tune with our gal Reba. The song and first part of the jam are just fine and dandy but it is the back end of this jam that provides the payoff as they build and build to that satisfying peak of Reba that we all know and love. This not going to be a version you call out for the best ever conversation – looking at you, St. Denis Reba! (yes, I know there is a sbd version of this gem out there but I don’t have it upped anywhere right now so…) – but it does what you want in a Reba jam and that is a good thing.

We can even excuse the set closing Farmhouse that follows this (the only time it has ever filled the 2nd set closer slot, by the way…) because over the preceding 50 minutes or so Phish has just provided three great examples of the breadth of jamming styles that they are capable of in this era. SO with a bit of a letdown closer of sorts we head to the encore and tonight we get an interesting pair of not-similar-at-all songs in Guyute and While My Guitar Gently Weeps. The first rocks hard through its proggy progressions and then we get the mournful wail of the Beatles cover to send us home. These aren’t my favorite encores ever but really, how can one complain about encore selections? The whole point of an encore is to give a little more back to the fans once they have voiced their appreciation enough for the band to come back on stage (just ask Dean Ween about that – check the comments from Mickey on that post). And in Phish’s case the encore slots fill many different roles be it adding an exclamation point to a hot show, cooling the crowd down a tad before sending them off to Shakedown, or making a wry comment on one thing or another. I’d say that this encore accomplished the goal of giving everyone a bit more of what they wanted and sending things off on a high note (not literally though. WMGGW isn’t exactly a bliss peak type tune…). Anyway, the night was complete and we still have two more shows here to be played so let’s just move on.

Looking back over this one it is really a tale of two sets. The first set is a largely song-based affair but there is that one big highlight in Mike’s not to mention solid playing by the band throughout. The second set is all about the jam from the start with the only non-jammed tune being that odd closer choice. It would be interesting to hear what people would think of a show like this in 3.0 as it has a little bit of everything except maybe antics/humor. In the pantheon of great shows this one might not even crack the top 50 or 100 but it does give us a seminal jam that stands the test of time. I wouldn’t add this show to the canon of greats but I’ll gladly recommend it as a show that should be heard at least once. Your takeaways tonight are Mike’s, Bag->Ghost, and Reba with the Paug being one to add if you want to hear that frenetically fast finish.

Next up is the middle show of this run and it is a completely different sort of Phish than what we just covered. Should be interesting…

Provoking Dreams That Don’t Exist — Madison, WI 11.06.1998

Phish — Kohl Center — Madison, WI 11.06.1998

I  Possum, Wilson>Roggae, Maze, Meat>Sparkle>Melt

II  Makisupa>Funky Bitch, Simple->Caspian>Fluffhead, HYHU>Bike>HYHU, Hood

E  BOAF, Hello My Baby

Two nights later and close to a 1,000 miles from Denver Phish took the stage in Madison, WI on the first show of the Midwest section of this tour. This would be the first of seven shows over ten nights as they wound their way in a generally southeastern direction to the south of the Great Lakes before following the lines headed even further south. It is also the first of four shows in as many nights and the first time the band had played this college town since playing the Dane County Coliseum 10.24.1995 for a show that is long on great playing and big highlights, most notably the YEM->Monkey>Antelope. They had started playing Alpine Valley in the Summer of ’96 so this wasn’t the first time back in the state since then but it had been a few tours since the ‘Berkeley of the Midwest’ had been graced by the presence of Phish.

The first set kicks off with a punchy Possum where Trey gets the fingers warmed up nicely in running through the swampy twang rock of the setlist standard. They keep the energy waaaaaay up with a rocking Wilson that includes some of that ‘electro Trey’ playing in the pre-Blap Boom solo before heading into a curious segue to Roggae. The juxtaposition of these two songs is a bit jarring at first but once they get to the end jam all is good in the world. Maze follows and brings the energy back up again in a straight forward but typically frenetic version that has a solid organ solo from Page. Following the resolution of Maze they drop into the gooey funk humor of Meat before bringing out Sparkle for an uplifting if not FMS take on the staple. By this stage you get the point that they are building tension in the more subdued songs with the release payoff coming in the big peaks of the energy rockers in between so you look at the pattern and realize that with the Fast-Fast-Slow-Fast-Slow-Fast order we could be getting another big one to close the set and provide symmetry. Which is exactly what happens as they drop into what will be the set closing Melt. You should already know this version considering that it was released in its SBD glory as part of the second volume of the Superball FTA. If you are not familiar with it, go ahead and spin it because it is one to be heard. Here we get the Fall ’98 funk sound paired with one of the most psychedelic tunes in the catalog providing for a jam that begs you to move with it. The rhythm section is on point throughout here, never fully leaving the structure of the song as Trey solos around the theme over top of a chunky groove that you just don’t want to end. Unfortunately, it does end but not before we have been treated to a top notch Melt that showcases the ’98 sound quite well. Now it is off to setbreak to see if they serve cheese curds.

The second set, which you can view in its old VHS glory here, starts off with the first Makisupa Policeman of this tour and tonight’s key phrase is “university rent-a-cop”. The outro jam here keeps the lilting reggae beat while getting decidedly ambient which then leads to the first Funky Bitch of this young tour. Though about what you would expect here, Page goes on an organ bonanza (an organ-za, if you will) in taking the spotlight solo for tonight’s version of the Son Seals classic. Next up is Simple, the jam of which starts out in pure beautific style continuing on in this way for a bit before they head into some ambience that keeps the beauty flowing as Trey provides sonic color without overwhelming the music with too many loops and effects. This is bliss Phish without the resolving peak but once you hear the transition coming you understand why they do not pay this off within Simple. Instead we have a great segue into Caspian which is moving along as it does when – just as they are about to drop into the big solo out of Trey – a naked guy jumps up on stage (you can see it partially around 29:40 of that video linked above if you are so inclined). This spurs on Fish to repeatedly exclaim “bring him back!!” which along with the band building the crescendo whips the crowd into a bit of fervor. Things settle in for a jam that allows Trey to get his guitar god on as the band creates the envelope of sound around him before they drop it all down to some minimal space and Trey drops in the tell tale riff that brings us to Fluffhead (yet another first timer for this tour). This version is high on energy and is pretty well nailed by the band, something that becomes more and more rare as we head to late 1.0 and the full shelving of the song for 2.0. Here that is but a figment of future imaginations as it comes off quite nicely.

At this stage you have to think the band deserves a bit of a breather and we get that… kind of… as we have our first Fish Fun Time of the tour! WOOOOO!!!! ahem sorry. Just had to get that out of my system. I blame any leftover FFT joy from my daliances with the Spring ’93 stuff. Anyway, here we actually have a notable bit of HYHU as Page brings the theme back after the normal stopping point for another bit of the song. Not exactly the full band jam on HYHU like 05.07.1994 or something but a nice derivation. The Fish tune tonight is Bike and along with the expected vac solo we get introductions of the band members, though not like we typically enjoy. Tonight it is generic “drummer”, “bass player”, and “organ player” call outs.  After Bike as they do the kit switch in the outro HYHU Trey calls Fish “Bob Weaver” which was, of course, the preferred nom de plume of our oft-named octopus of a drummer throughout 1998. Incidentally, if you are looking for a pretty complete list of the nicknames that Fish has acquired over the years a good starting place is his bio on .net which also includes some other fun facts about the donut dress wearin’ dude. Once back to the kit Fish immediatley drops the opening beat for Harry Hood and we are back to the music. This set closing version is a nice uplifting take with a solid peak but it isn’t winning any awards in comparison to the many other Hoods it competes with from so many years of performances. It does provide a nice punctuation mark to the set though and sends us on our way to the encores which tonight include a quite spirited take on BOAF and the old a cappella ditty Hello My Baby. From there it is time to get to Chicago for tomorrow’s show which kicks off the three night run at the UIC Pavilion.

As with the preceding Denver show this one feels like something is left lacking but that is really only in comparison to the massively important shows that preceded it from Vegas and Utah. The reality is that this show has a solid first set capped by a wonderfully funky Split Open and Melt and a second set that never lags and is anchored by that Simple->Caspian>Fluffhead mid section. The band is definitely fully in the swing of this tour now and heading towards much bigger things as they go forward.  Your takeaways tonight are the Melt and the Simple->Caspian>Fluffhead but if you want more check out the Wilson>Roggae pairing and perhaps the Maki>Funky Bitch or the Hood. I’m trying to be a bit more conservative with what I recommend from these shows but considering the level of playing it is difficult to limit it without skipping songs I consider to be highlights. Oh well. I guess that means more Phish to spin. What a terrible fate…

The World Will Spin Beside Itself — Denver, CO 11.04.1998

Phish — McNichols Arena — Denver, CO 11.04.1998

I  Buried Alive>Zero, Guyute>Gin>Ya Mar, BOAF, B&R, Frankie->Bowie

II  Jim>Moma>Piper->2001>CDT, Cup

E  Coil

Finally, after another night off Phish has made their way to Colorado to catch up with the fans who did not join them for the stop in Utah that we kinda discussed a bit there. For that day off they popped into KBCO Studios for a little interview and a few acoustic live tracks. Nothing too major there, but a fun listen to get a sense of where the band is at this time, covering stuff like the Halloween cover tradition, their messy situation with Red Rocks at that time, and more. And then the following night they hit the stage for the third and final time at McNichols Arena, the non-demolished arena that once was home to the Denver Nuggets before the construction of the Pepsi Center where the band would play on the early Spring 2003 Tour. This was also the last show in Colorado by Phish until the one time performance at Fiddler’s Green, a venue that has been greatly improved since that appearance, though the music didn’t suffer too much as a result of the venue issues considering the second set they threw down that night. But that’s for another time.

This show continues the run of sports arena shows that started in Las Vegas on this tour, a run that will stretch for a bit since the band had a strong enough following at this stage to be able to carry the larger crowds needed for these bigger rooms. It is a big contrast to the small crowd of the tour opener in Los Angeles but more typical of the era for the band. Tonight’s show opens with a solid combo of Buried Alive>Zero and while nothing revelatory these two songs provide the energetic punch sought in the opening slots. I must say that Zero works quite well here as opposed to its typical set closing or even encore slotting. Incidentally, the song has only opened sets three times, one each for a first, second, and third set. There have been 41 encore performances of the song out of its 186 performances, a bunch of first and second set closing slots, a smattering of midset takes over the years in both first and second sets (most times ending up within one or two songs of the closer though it does have a number of right smack dab in the middle of the first set slottings), and just one other time that the song was the second song of a set as it fell in the two-hole of the second set from MSG on 12.31.1998. That’s way more detail than you wanted here but I was curious so now you know.

After this they keep things on the up for a fun romp through Guyute (one of those classic I-am-not-picking-it-but-if-they-play-it-I-enjoy-it kind of numbers) before heading into Gin. There are no major takeaways in the jam here but they get to a nice build section before fading it out into a series of loops as they transition to Ya Mar. This cover song has a long history with Phish, mostly being played straight up with some short solos and whatnot but in late ’97 and throughout ’98 the song has become more of a vehicle for exploration. While this version is perhaps not at lengthy or expansive as the one from Albany ’97 or the captivating Island Tour one it does stretch beyond Ya Mar proper as the band gets into a sparse, staccato-esque jam where Mike and Fish take over the lead duties for some bass work/footbell action and wood block stylings, respectively. The compact rocking BOAF fills the next slot before we have a cool down section with two songs from the recent album coming in flip flopped from their album tracking. First up is Brian and Robert, a ballad that was a staple in ’98 and the latter part of 1.0 before becoming something of a setlist rarity these days. Frankie Says pops in again after this and while also in the lower energy spectrum this one goes pretty deep in the outro ambient jam with the first half being Trey-led and in keeping with the song structure before they dive off into the murk in a jam that feels more Floydish than the other ambient stuff they have been putting out there this tour. There are not a lot of loops or effects here with Trey playing some interesting melody lines as the rest of the band provides setting. It allows for nice table setting in beginning the tension to eventually be released with the set closing punctuation mark that is Bowie. This Bowie is mainly about what you expect with no major left turns to speak of though Trey does quote Stash in the midst of the jam which is nice. Outside of that the song closes the set finely enough and we are off to the break.

The second set kicks off with a slightly extended, rocking Jim that chugs along quite competently before giving way to Moma for the third performance of the song already in just five shows. Nothing special here as they go through the funk number in a typical way before heading into Piper which is where the real heat of this set lies. This song is played quite energetically, leading to an upbeat and raucous jam that stays mainly within the framework of the song before they bring it down to a loop’d transitional space, building the framework for what will be a full segue into the subsequent 2001. After achieving this segue we have a straight forward 2001 (save for the fight bell *tings* out of Mike) that funks its way to another rocker with CDT fitting the bill. This one is a fiery little monster with a shreddy back end jam but no stretching out of the song. Which then brings us to the Cup closer and we all know what that does. Encore is the always lovely Squirming Coil and we are them off to make the trip up to Wisconsin for the show two nights from now.

All in all this show is just fine with a couple of decent highlight jams and solid playing overall. It pales in comparison to the nights that precede it but that is not to say there isn’t some value to be found here. For takeaways I’ll say check out the Gin>Ya Mar, Frankie->Bowie, and Piper->2001. Definitely not a bad way to have spent a Wednesday in Colorado… and I am sure you are all thrilled that I did not write 3,000+ words for the first time this tour. Enjoy the extra free time as you prep for our Midwest run to come.

There Is Time To Kill Today — West Valley City, UT 11.02.1998

Phish — The E Center — West Valley City, UT 11.02.1998

I  Tube->Drowned->JJLC, Driver, Bittersweet Motel, LxL, Wading>Sample

II  Disease, Mango>Moma, YEM, Harpua>Speak to Me->Breathe>On The Run, Time>GGITS>Money>Us and Them->Any Colour You Like->Brain Damage->Eclipse>Harpua

E  Smells Like Teen Spirit

Clearly we can excuse Phish for effectively taking the night off for this one night stop in Utah as they made their way from Las Vegas to Denver on this tour. Since most of the traveling fanbase skipped this one it makes sense that the band took it easy… hey, wait a minute…

::looks at setlist more closely::

::looks again because that can’t be right::

Um, yeah. So, we might not have covered it here yet but now is a good time to as there are a few axioms in the Phish World that almost always hold true. These include but are not limited to:

  1. One for three; two for five.
  2. Never miss a Sunday show.
  3. No talking during jams.
  4. Glowsticks are cool sometimes but not to be thrown at the band.
  5. Mike needs to be turned up.
  6. Always use the rock test to decide who drives home.
  7. The music is all that matters.
  8. Keep it positive.
  9. Seriously, no talking during jams.
  10. Pass the pre-rolls freely. Everyone will benefit.
  11. Never skip the ‘skip show’!

Some are more guideline than rule but that last one is the biggie as applies to our show up above. In the wake of the two shows in Las Vegas there sat this one that was a bit out of the way for those also hitting Denver considering that they all turned right in Sulphurdale, UT to pick up I-70 and head east rather than continuing on I-15 up to the Salt Lake City area for this show. This proved to be a major blunder on their part and the band made them pay for it in legendary fashion.

Now, if you the fan were really ambitious you would have gotten up there on the off night to catch Trey and Mike joining an ‘open mic’ night at the Dead Goat Saloon, a dive bar that has since closed its doors. More on this as we work through the set here but they played a decent number of tunes to a really really small crowd, from all accounts. It is highly doubtful that audio of that exists but here’s hoping it surfaces some time in the future because we are obsessive and need to hear every single last note any of these guys has ever played.

But had you at least made it to the Phish show the following night in West Valley City you would have been witness to one of the biggest jokes the band has ever played on the fanbase in a venue that holds over 12,000 which was perhaps a third full for that night’s show. This made that night ripe for Phish to do what they tend to in such circumstances when no one expects them to come out and lay waste to the lucky souls who made the commitment to be a part of IT. Examples abound from all over the band’s history including 09.14.1999 (Boise Bag is all I need to say but the subsequent Gumbo and Disease are fantastic as well), 08.14.1996 (Hershey show before The Clifford Ball. Jammed out Wilson opener, awesome Reba, open jamming in Jim, and a Tweezer that’ll get you moving), 10.20.2010 (The Guyutica show! My Soul openers generally mean good things and this is no exception what with the first set shenanigans and the Melt madness in the second)… I could keep going here but that’s how I end up with 4,000 word posts so let’s just say we will all do our homework on sleeper/skip shows and get to gettin’ here.

Obviously, where I am headed here is that this show stands as THE EXAMPLE for why the axiom exists. After playing two big shows that were both very difficult tickets to obtain — and throwing down some transcendent, wonderful music in the process — you had to have thought (these future past perfect* tenses get confusing some times) a breather is coming (particularly in Utah) before they go over to Colorado where they already had a long history of performing and playing quite well. Add on to it that a lot of fans didn’t want to deal with the hassles of potential law enforcement interactions and you have a recipe for an undersold show.

So what does Phish do to not only increase that FOMO (before the term was coined, of course, but a concept that has long been a part of our scene) and also to give back to the fans who did make it to this show? Oh, just throw down a bunch of sick jams and cover another full album (one that was so rumored to be the pick for the ’94 Halloween costume that they actually played the first track over the PA at the start of that costume set to mess with everyone) that they learned THAT DAY while waiting for the show. And that album cover didn’t even start until after they were close to 50 minutes into the second set already. But before we get to all that we have a great first set to discuss. I love when that happens.

These days, if you see Tube on a setlist you can expect it to have a tight little funk jam but to stay somewhere in the six to seven minute range in toto (the longest one of 3.0 is only a shade over seven minutes) but in the latter part of 1.0 and into 2.0 the song got a bit more time to stretch out, particularly in a few highly memorable versions that include the Tube “Reprise” section after the final verse and refrain. This night in Utah the show opening Tube is one of those instances and, to me, stands as one of the best takes on the song they have ever performed (special shout out to a few other notable ones though before we dive in here:  12.07.1997 Dayton, 12.29.1997 MSG, 02.22.2003 Cincinnati, and my personal favorite 09.15.2000 Hershey). The fun part about this one though is that it combines not just the swanky cowfunk of the ’97 sound but the emerging ambient funk that will come to typify Fall ’98. In the first part of the jam Trey starts the loops early and they romp through a highly danceable section with each player adding flourishes where they see fit. After the “napkin” section and final refrain they seem to wrap the song up only to get a Fish BLAP to kick off the reprise section and here things turn sideways in a hurry. The loops are more subdued but still there and Trey goes off on a long lead journey while the band builds the pocket around him. It is highly engaging stuff that seemingly brings together the last two album influences in leading to a bliss jam that is wholly not Tube. In the final minute or so you can tell they are clearly headed somewhere but it isn’t an obvious segue until Trey throws in the power chords over the rest of the band with Page adding the signature piano line for Drowned and we are off into our second jam vehicle just two songs into the show!

This Drowned is a triumphant rocker in the first half before they settle into an upbeat groove with Trey trying out several ideas – none of them ever really catching – while Fish pounds away Moon-like, Page comping along on the piano, and Mike matching Trey with ideas of his own. Eventually they all come together and eventually move into another bit of transition space for what one has to think will be a cool down tune, only to have them emerge into Jesus Just Left Chicago. Typically this song, while rooted in its blues foundation, gets a bit more rocking and almost funky when Phish plays it but tonight they keep it cerulean with Page and Trey trading enthusiastic solos on the organ and guitar, respectively. Coming after those first two jams it kind of is a bit of a cool down tune but at the same time has a great energy of its own.

Now we get that breather section first with a little dedication/anecdote from Trey to mention the prior night’s open mic fun and to thank the staff at the Dead Goat Saloon before playing a pair of songs with Trey on the acoustic, Driver and Bittersweet Motel. There is a bit more banter between those two songs and then they also use the big Freebird-esque ending to close it up. These two songs provide the necessary bathroom break after that 40+ minute three song onslaught to start the show and then we get another shot of energy with a really quite beautiful take on Limb by Limb. It never leaves the main structure of the song but Trey and Page keep it airy and light while Mike and Fish lay down the pocket, resulting in a smile-inducing jam that far outpaces the first LxL on this tour back at the Greek on night one. From here we get a Wading>Sample closing combo that is pretty much what it says on the box and we are off to setbreak where I am certain the conversation would have been around that Tube->Drowned->JJLC segment. At least that’s what my conversation would have included assuming my talk functions were active that night ifyouknowwhatimean.

After the break they come out firing with a fiery hot Disease that stays in bounds but elevates the energy well. The subsequent Mango Song is a well played version of a song (listen to Page in particular here) that is always nice to hear which tonight segues into Moma for our second funk workout of the evening. It is a fun version with a couple of Monkey Man teases but the real highlights of this set are yet to come. They kick into a mid-set YEM and almost immediately depart from form by stretching out the pre-Nirvana section with a captivating ambient soundscape that has all of the YEM elements present while stretching the tune out in building tension for the explosion of prog funk energy to come. The rest of this YEM is well done but largely what you expect out of the song and after that we get a few rare moments of the band collecting themselves in making the next song selection.

Here I should probably tell you that the song to come is a bit of an obsession of mine, as I have long been fascinated by the ever-evolving tale of that spastic dead-eyed hound Harpua and his foil Poster Nutbag, the cat that always dies. Except when he doesn’t but that’s for another time. Any time I see this song on a setlist I know there is a story to be heard that will tickle the imagination and offer up at least a tease of a non-Phish song we all know, often resulting in the crowd or even other band members wanting to keep that song going (such as Fish asking for more “Jimmy” when Trey rips up a bit of Voodoo Chile in the famed 06.17.1994 OJ Show version of Harpua). Add in the fact that they were coming off the run in Vegas where a pretty pretty pretty notable Harpua had gone down a little less than two years prior involving members of Primus, a bunch of Elvii, yodelers, and a wonderful yarn about our man Jimmy’s trip to Sin City and you have the potential for this one to get weird once again. Trey does in fact connect the two stories, after first making a knowing reference to the “E” Center in saying how full of love and warm he feels being there. You can tell he really cracks himself up with that. SO once he gets to the story he speaks perhaps a bit in a self-reflective manner by relating that Jimmy decides to get out of Vegas almost as soon as he gets there because it is just too crazy and he can’t take it so he hitches a ride with a guy to SLC. The guy puts on one of Jimmy’s favorite albums (it is always one of Jimmy’s favorites, isn’t it?) and then the band drops out and over the PA we get the start to Speak to Me! Well, that’s a pretty cool nod, isn’t it? Should be fun to hear them go back into Harpua after this little bit of… hang on. They played the whole song and THEY ARE GOING INTO BREATHE!! At this point, if you were in the crowd you have to be wondering whether they could possibly be going through with this. Normally you get a few bars of the song Trey mentions and then we are back to Harpua for the fight and resolution. NOPE!! Not tonight! Tonight we get the full album cover of Dark Side of the Moon, only one of the most seminal and widely lauded rock albums of the prior twenty-five years (yes, I am generalizing and I know there is a huge segment of people who prefer the older, Syd-influenced Pink Floyd sound – if they like PF at all – but considering that this album stayed on the Billboard Top 200 albums for an ungodly 861 weeks you have to acknowledge the touchpoint that this album was and continues to be).

So here we are with the second full album cover in as many shows, this time one that pretty well everyone in the room would have known — many having wanted this to be the album played on Halloween. Now, I was a huge Pink Floyd in my formative youth, using that band as one of my gateway bands into the world of psychedelic music and for that I will forever have an affinity for their music. And had I been there on this night I would have totally lost my shit and maybe even dropped to my knees with head in hands in awe of this band though that last part might be the result of… other factors. But the reality here is that as amazing as it is that they pulled this off after (as all of the legend around this show indicates) only buying the CD that day and learning it together for that night’s show it is all very down-the-middle stuff in playing the album pretty much straight to form.

Before the pitchforks come out and the torches get lit though let me state that I am not saying there is anything bad in this occurring as I really think this is the master stroke of pranking done by the band on their fanbase. It is a big middle finger to those who were perhaps not thrilled with the Velvet Underground choice for Halloween as well as to those who chose to skip this one-off show for whatever reason. It proves the notion that you are risking missing out on a peak experience every time you choose to not go to a show and once again shows just how in tune with the fanbase this band was and continues to be. But musically? It is pretty average. There are no real jams to speak of and the playing, while typically good Phish, is not anything you haven’t heard before and for that reason I’m not going to do a song-by-song breakdown of the DSOTM portion of the show except to say that if Trey wants to go ahead and drop Any Colour You Like into the middle of a hot jam or even sandwiched into a great set of segued music I am all for it and will woo louder than the Tahoe Tweezer woo brigade to here it go down.

All that said, in comparing it to the sonic landscapes they crafted just one night prior in drawing inspiration from the music of Loaded the performance of DSOTM just doesn’t stack up. I wrote a bit on this in the comment section of the previous post but I’ll lay it out here again because I think it speaks volumes about what both performances meant to the band. The DSOTM set was about doing it because they could but not necessarily about pushing that music forward or making it their own. In contrast, the performance of Loaded is all about putting their imprint on the music and drawing inspiration from the templates Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground set out for them to use as their starting point. Each song therein is something a bit more than just a replaying of the album; it is instead a retelling of it. Further, when you look at the songs on Loaded and which ones have become a part of the ongoing rotation to whatever frequency they tend to play them you have several songs with performances scattered over the years and one that has become a bona fide jam vehicle in Rock and Roll. Cool It Down, Oh! Sweet Nuthin, Lonesome Cowboy Bill, Sweet Jane, and Head Held High have all been performed in the years since 10.31.1998 (the last two only once) and Rock and Roll has graced the stage more than 70 times since. On the other hand, not a single song from DSOTM has been played since that night and the only tune off of that album to have been played prior to that set (excepting the jam on Breathe from St. Paul, MN 10.25.1995) is GGITS which we learned during its debut tour of Spring ’93 was a joke performance in the Fish Fun Time slot. This is quite telling to me because more than just being setlist oddity it speaks to what the band thinks of their relative connection with the music on each album, respectively, and how they wanted to use that music to push their own boundaries. As we will continue to see along this tour the impact of the Loaded set on Phish was definite and significant. The same cannot be said for DSOTM. Again, I am not deriding the performance of DSOTM because as a setlist writing geek fan I definitely love that they did it and would have been floored in the moment had I not been some 5,000 miles away at the time. But the set I will continue to spin of these two is Loaded because I both love the VU tracks and the Phishy spin that the band put on it that night, not to mention the sonic impact it had going forward.

So after that fantastically fun and awe-inspiring run through Dark Side of the Moon they come back for the resolution of Harpua, skipping the fight section since Poster apparently didn’t make the trip out of Gamehendge with Jimmy and Harpua was probably off chasing a heard of multibeasts or something. Oddly enough, this is one of 13 show closing Harpuas of the 60+ times the song has been played, not even including the handful of encores where the song has appeared. Following this one the encore seems like a big afterthought but surprise surprise they break out another debut by playing Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit to send everyone out with an even bigger smile on their pie-eyed faces. Sure, it isn’t the cleanest take ever and Trey flubs the lyrics a tad but it is just another dig at those who skipped this one. If ever anyone asks you to explain what you mean when you say “you just never know what could happen at a show and that’s why we keep going back” you can point to this night as a prime example for why that is our mindset.

So summing up we have some top notch jams for the listen back: Tube, Drowned, JJLC, LxL, YEM, and maybe the Disease if you like ’em compact and coming in hot. Plus if you have never heard it you really do need to listen to the entirety of the Harpua Suite to understand this night. Heaven forbid you skip out on the skip set to end them all…

*yeah, not certain that is a real verb tense but let’s just go with it. it sounds good, right?

Something’s Got A Hold On Me And I Don’t Know What — Las Vegas, NV 10.31.1998

Phish — Thomas & Mack Center — Las Vegas, NV 10.31.1998

I  Axilla>PYITE>Roggae, BOAF, Sally->CDT>Lawn Boy, Mike’s->Frankie Says>Weekapaug

II Who Loves the Sun, Sweet Jane, RnR, Cool It Down, New Age, Head Held High, Lonesome Cowboy Bill>I Found A Reason, Train Round the Bend, Oh! Sweet Nuthin

III Wolfman’s->Piper>Ghost

E  Monkey>Reprise

There are few days as special in the world of Phish as Halloween. It is a holiday that leans right into the path of so much that draws many of us to this band, what with the juxtaposition of dark and light, the opportunity to fool those around you — as well as to prank the unknowing in a somewhat playful/harmless manner, and the opportunity for some form of story telling or showmanship either by tale, costume, or other manifestation. Phish has made it a somewhat regular thing to capitalize on the potential of Halloween in taking their game to a different level having played shows on Halloween in 1986, 1987, 1989, 1990, and 1991 before really taking things up several notches to something we will get to shortly. Those early Halloween shows leaned on the antics and musical playfulness of the quartet, offering up unique takes on setlist construction not to mention some interesting teases, jams, and cover tunes. These are all fun shows but nothing you are putting on a top whatever list or recognizing as an evolutionary shift in the band’s outlook.

But that all changed in 1994 when they took on the challenge of playing a full three set show where the middle set was a musical costume of a classic album, in this case the wonderful White Album by The Beatles. This was a very important night for several reasons, not the least of which being that they took the time to learn an entire double LP’s worth of new songs (28 tunes if you are counting at home) during the course of a lengthy Fall Tour that saw them in the midst of further developing their already considerable skills at crafting engaging, psychedelic, improvised music. The next year the stakes got higher as they played on the fanbase’s predilection towards debate in teasing several songs over the Fall Tour that were not a part of the eventual Halloween album Quadrophenia, even going so far as to open the ‘costume set’ with a prerecorded bit of the fan favorite choice Thriller as one last ‘trick’ before diving headlong into the arena rock concept album (for what would be my 1st Halloween spent with Phish). That night was a game-changer of sorts as they were only really able to play that album once they had graduated to the large arenas that they were at that point finally popular enough to book and fill consistently and as such they chose a perfect album to mark the occasion. The following year they continued the trend of choosing albums that were influences on the band, playing the one that would begin a major transformation in the sound of the band, Remain in Light by The Talking Heads. Another thing that changed with this performance was the band handing out a “Phishbill” for the first time to fans attending the show as a way to get everyone ready for the set to come as well as to provide some of the band’s reasoning behind playing that album… not to mention some funny fake ads and such. Much can be (and has been) written about what this performance meant for the future sound of the band but we will leave that to others since our focus today is on the next album to come in the Halloween hit parade.

But before we get to that we should also note that in most cases, particularly since they began the album-as-costume phase of their career, the sets surrounding the costume set are filled with some of the highest level of Phish musicianship one could want. I’ll give you a few examples because I tend to do that…

  • 1994:  start with the Simple>Divided if you aren’t into raging Frankensteins to open shows.. the bliss starts in the Simple and the Divided takes off to the stratosphere. Julius goes full hose. Reba is quite possibly one of the best versions of the song ever. Bowie is strong though straight forward, Antelope elevates like it did back then, Harpua has a fun story about the Vibration of Death, and overall the playing here is about what you’d expect from Fall ’94 which is to say top notch.
  • 1995:  another high quality Divided after the only Icculus opener ever and a Harpua with Mike taking story telling duties for a quite memorable one bookend this energetic first frame and then after the theatrics of the costume we have a 40+ minute YEM for the ages, a rambunctious JJLC with fantastic horn work out of The Truth, one of those awesome horn-filled Suzys that make you wish every Suzy had horn accompaniment, and then an encore only Phish could dream up: bluegrass My Generation culminating in instrument destruction and Fish’s kit being blown up.
  • 1996:  Sanity>Highway to Hell opening combo should tell you where things are headed here. The uplift of the soaring Caspian gives way to a Reba that is downright devilish but it is really the third set here that captivates (to say nothing of the costume itself). Karl Perazzo sticks around for the whole third set adding extra sauce onto everything, particularly the groove clinic Simple and the show closing Suzy (with horns again).

So you can see how these three years of Halloween shows have set the fanbase up for some pretty lofty expectations heading into the 1998 — especially with the band having taken 1997 off from Halloween, starting tour about two weeks later in this venue we are discussing today.

Now, I was not at this show as I mentioned in an earlier post so I cannot personally speak to the experience but all of my friends who were as well as everything I have read indicates that this was an off-the-rails-careening-down-the-mountain-shouting-to-the-moon-through-the-open-window kind of night. In a certain sense, everything up to this point had led the band to this place. They had a track record of playing seminal albums quite well on this date, they had begun another sonic evolution, the fanbase was just about as big as it would get, they were hot on the release of a new album, and they had the confidence and swagger of a band that could try and succeed whenever they took the stage. Looking back this was a potential recipe for disaster and I think that may have contributed somewhat to the mixed bag of responses you will get if you poll fans about what they think of this show and also the album that they played.  But we will get to all of that…

The first set kicks off with an energetic combo of Axilla>PYITE to get everyone moving before heading into a relatively downtempo Roggae which shows off the new ambient feel while they work their way through the end jam. Nice version but feels like table setting at best. BOAF offers up a bit more than the version from LA two nights ago but is still firmly within the song structure. Just as you are starting to think this set may just lope along in setting up the costume they start up Sneakin’ Sally for a take that is a far cry from the funky versions of its resurgence starting on the NYE Run of 1997. Here the funk drops out fairly early for an atmospheric jam (with a quick Superbad tease out of Trey) that is definitely headed somewhere that isn’t patently clear until Trey starts to bring the energy up and up towards the full segue into Chalkdust Torture. This provides a rocking lift midset but even this does not have the normal edge that CDT carries, staying somewhat diminished until they head into the lounge act portion of the show for Page’s take on Lawn Boy. After that they crank up Mike’s for what should (and will) inevitably be the set closing suite of songs. Trey kicks in the loops right away after the lyrical portion of Mike’s and the band proceeds in a patient, almost purposefully plodding fashion with a Simple tease along the path before they make a nice transition into Frankie Says. This would be the first of two times Mike’s and Frankie are paired (07.14.2000 Polaris Amphitheatre) and it works, I suppose, though I personally would have liked more out of the Mike’s before they made the move. After that breezy interlude we get the punctuation mark on the set we wanted in an amped up Weekapaug closer that leaves nothing on the table. Trey goes electro in fitting in as many notes as possible to his solo and the crowd heads off to setbreak to try to figure out which songs from the Phishbill will make good jam vehicles.

Which brings us to the meat of the matter. For this costume set the band took on The Velvet Underground’s Loaded album which is in and of itself a controversial choice if you know the history of that band. If you read the linked allmusic summary in the previous sentence you will get the full story but the gist is that when VU made the shift to Atlantic Records they were asked to make an album “loaded with hits” and without the sex and drugs that typified their experience and thus their sound. Due to the politics of the band amongst other factors this album is heavy on Lou Reed with more polish than the “full band” albums that proceeded it. And to top it off, before it was released Lou left the band which pretty well sealed the deal on where they were at that stage. That being said, it is a solid album full of some great tracks and it is really a good entry point to this highly influential band. If you like it I would recommend digging into their back catalog to find the live stuff and other albums that are more in line with the reality that was VU.

In a way though this set up all makes the album choice a good one for Phish to try to play on Halloween. It is not so obscure that there are no tracks that someone who has listened to rock radio or went to college in the past 15 years or so would not be able to recognize at least one, probably Sweet Jane. The music presented here covers several different styles (sounds like a band we know…) and offers a template for further exploration if desired (again…). The subject matter in the lyrics is oddly appropriate when you consider where Lou Reed was mentally when writing these songs and compare that to where Phish is at this stage in their career, riding a peak with a big record contract and fabulous touring success but perhaps not necessarily as content as the surface suggests. And being an album that a sizable portion of their fanbase would not be familiar with it offered the opportunity to stretch outside of their norm a bit while exploring a new sound that felt more akin to this music than to what they had played only three and four years prior. Now, I have put this all into perspective by stating that I had already found VU long before this time, actually right around the time I discovered Phish back in 1990 because high school is a time when many of us start to really explore our options musically. I had always thought that there were songs that Phish should be covering by VU but it just never happened. And with that in mind my happiness in finding out the next day that they had covered this band just raised my opinion of Phish more if that is even possible.

The truth is that they had covered two songs from this album before. The most prevalent was Lonesome Cowboy Bill which popped up three times in the Fish Fun Time slot in 1995 (SEE! That slot still haunts us!!) with Sweet Jane being debuted earlier in 1998 at MPP (08.08.1998) along with another cover of an entirely different sort, Sabotage. Neither of these covers made much of an impression at the time though you have to wonder if playing it only a couple months before this set was any indication of what the album would be that fall. Tough to say considering that Summer 1998 is the Tour of Covers with at least one seeming to debut nightly but it does make you think in that wondering stoner kind of way. But outside of that and those throw away LCB covers this was all new to us.

The set starts out with a straight forward take on Who Loves the Sun?, a playful ditty that wonders about subjects darker than the music implies. Sweet Jane is next and while mostly about what you expect if you know the song Trey does take off for a blissy solo in the back half. Next up is a tune that is now quite familiar to Phish fans, Rock and Roll. Even here in the debut you can tell that this is a song they will enjoy playing as the elements are all there for what will become one of the more reliable cover jam vehicles Phish employs on a regular basis (74 total performances as of this writing). We get more of that electro trilling out of Trey (perhaps that was all setting up to this jam) and some brief full band exploration before they wrap it up nicely in getting to the next tune. That next song is Cool It Down, another tune that has had a bit of staying power considering it has graced six more setlists over the years. The feel here is almost CCR-ish at times, something they would clean up in subsequent performances but overall the performance is fine enough to keep everyone engaged. At this point even if you weren’t familiar with the songs I would think you would have to have liked what you heard but I’m not as jaded as some so maybe if you were expecting them to play Zappa or something you could be standing there with arms folded. Imagine how those guys felt in 2013!

Here in the midset they get a couple of songs to stretch out a bit starting with the aptly titled New Age. They play this true to form at first before elevating to a soaring full band jam. The performance here works on more than one level as they are paying homage to an influential band from their past while also looking ahead with the new sound they are forging on stage. I’m actually kind of surprised that this song has never been played again as it really fits in well with their sound and could be a great vehicle for improvisation if given the opportunity. Oh well. Next up is a punchy take on the rocking though oddly worded Head Held High which gets us to that Lonesome Cowboy Bill we have expected only this time it isn’t framed as an antic as it was three years ago. Here we have a faithful take on the song before they go beyond into a jam that ranges from groove-based rock to the ambient textures they have been developing of late, eventually leading right into a lovely, soft version of I Found A Reason. The ironic Train Round The Bend with its downtrodden lyrics counterpointing the uplifting melody and tone provides the intro to the set closing Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ that feels like it was written for this band to make their own. Listening here it is hard to believe this is the first time that they played the song. It is well executed with a soaring peak and quiet return that brings this set to a close quite nicely. Oddly enough it took until 3.0 for this song to come back with five performances between 2009 and 2013 before it hit the shelf again. And now everyone gets the lights shined on them to figure out what they thought of what went down in that second set and to prepare for what should (will) be a dichotomous set if ever there was one in Phish history.

But before we get to that let’s talk about this costume set which for quite some time was the worst received (overall) costume that the band ever assumed on stage. There are some who are not fans of the Velvet Underground’s music and that would be a perfectly acceptable reason for not preferring this set. And there are others who were not familiar with the band or album and therefore chose to not like it because why like something you don’t already know? I mean, why didn’t they play ::insert album of big band everyone has memorized from their youth here:: ? That would have been perfect! Except it wouldn’t have been perfect. You have to consider why Phish chose each album that they did to understand this I think, but the reality is that as much as the costume set is for the crowd it is also for the band. The White Album is the outlier a bit but it does fit in with the band in a lot of ways what with all of the different types of music on display and the way that they performed it. Quadrophenia is a direct link to that album having influenced them as kids and having the opportunity to play it loud and proud in a big, open arena. Remain In Light was the band adding more tricks to their bag, exploring the quirky polyphonic funk of The Talking Heads while simultaneously pushing their own music to much greater heights as a result. And here we have another formative album from their youth that offered an entirely new template to explore musically. More can be said about the Halloween cover albums to come in 3.0 but that is a long way down the line from this night.

And getting back to that night we have another set to discuss! If you thought that cover set was divisive wait until you start asking people about the Vegas Wolfman’s. To say that this version causes OPINIONS is an understatement. I could go through and give you a breakdown of what happens over this 30+ minute version but I really believe that this is one you need to hear and judge for yourself. Here is the PJJ version so that you can focus on the controversial jam itself. In some camps your take on this type of Phish jamming will either put you in good favor or remove you from it. This is not a jam that you kinda sorta maybe in the right mood like. You are either for deep, dark, hide-under-your-chair, ambient Phish or you are not. There really is no middle ground. Some people hate this type of Phish and point to it as an example of the band headed on the downward spiral that led us to Hiatus and eventually The Break Up. Others, like me, see it as a natural shift in exploring musical themes that they had previously overlooked or avoided for whatever reason. Here you get the band as patient as they ever could be, allowing the ideas to come to them rather than trying to force their ideas upon the music. There are lags and their are moments of true connection, there are a couple of teases (Lifeboy, Makisupa) and there and moments where Fish throws in some vocal tones, and overall it just works considering that it moves forward through several different phases on the path through the darkness. It is really about the best “Halloween” music they have ever played… until you factor in the 2014 album which is something else again that is not up for conversation here. Anyway, your opinion may vary from mine and that is totally fine because this band Phish is not one thing to all people. It is many different things to everyone, evolving to something else again as quickly as you become comfortable with what was the previous norm and for that we are all the better.

Towards the end of that aural adventure they build an uplifting groove before going into Piper and you may be thinking, “okay! here we go! let’s rock this shit!!” and it does in fact rock along quite nicely in the first jam. After the final refrain they follow that pulsating groove for a few minutes before they jump off and head into the start of Ghost. Things start off fine enough here in the first Ghost of the tour (with the last one in a show being a quite happy version at that surprise 10.15.1998 show) as Trey lays down the loops and they head into what seems like it will be a throw down version for the ages. But only a few minutes into the jam things get sparse before it just… ends. No journey, no peak, no resolution. Trey just leaves the stage. And everyone else eventually follows. Don’t believe me? Check out the video. Some will tell you Trey was pissed about how the crowd reacted to the VU set. Others will say he really had to pee and could not wait a second longer. Still others will claim that he was off his head on ::insert substance here:: that night and just lost focus and wandered off. True conspiratorians will watch the interaction between Trey and Mike around the 47:30 mark to point to how Trey had PLANNED IT ALL ALONG! IT WAS A PHALSE PHISH OPERATION!! I KNEW IT! Okay, wait. Let’s all just settle down here. The truth is obviously somewhere in between all of these rumors and theories. If he was really dosed as some suggest, why did he take the time to set all of his loops and grab the glass of water on his way by the back riser? And why does the rest of the band follow along with nary a double take or sideways look? And if he was really coming on that strong how does he play the encore so fluidly only a few minutes later? I think that what is really going on here is that they had a plan to leave this unfinished, perhaps to revisit it elsewhere along the tour (the next Ghost is a really good one a week from now in Chicago but we shall get to that). Musically, he had said what he wanted to in this show. Maybe there are other factors and it is a bit odd to just walk out like that mid song, but it wasn’t the first time and it wouldn’t be the last he did something like that. And with that the encores are the fun Monkey>Reprise pairing that caps this run at the Thomas & Mack quite nicely.

I have said a lot here and so I won’t go further into trying to deconstruct this show because I think it is clear where I stand here. I will tell you that for takeaways I would suggest Sally->CDT, Mike’s->Frankie>Paug (particularly the Paug), RnR, New Age, LCB>I Found a Reason, Oh! Sweet Nuthin’, and the entire third set. Yeah, there’s a lot but it is a three setter for Halloween. You should be spinning the entire show anyway. Now we have a night off and then a skip show up in Utah (he he he) before heading to Denver and off to the Midwest…

My Temperature Started To Rise — Las Vegas, NV 10.30.1998

Phish — Thomas & Mack Center — Las Vegas, NV 10.30.1998

I  Wilson>Meat>Mule>BATCS>Mule, Long Cool Woman, Antelope, Guelah, Lizards, Cavern

II  Stash->Manteca->Tweezer->NICU>Jam->Caspian>Golgi

E  Driver, Freebird

One night after the tour opener in Los Angeles the caravan had moved northwest along I-15 (or THE I-15 if you are of the west coast persuasion, I suppose) to that ode to human weakness in the desert, Las Vegas, for a pair of shows at the Thomas & Mack Center on the campus of UNLV, but a short distance from the main concentration of decadence along The Strip and its surroundings. This was the second time the band had played the venue (and city) and the second Fall Tour in a row to include this stop as they had opened the 1997 Fall Tour in this very place.  The pair of shows they threw down here in 1998 builds off of what began in LA (though really with the ambient set from Lemonwheel if we are being honest…) while diving even further into the deep end with several notable jams. The anticipation and demand were very high for these shows, considering that the second night fell on one of the high holidays in the world of Phish, Halloween. But prior to that night’s surprises we are treated to an opening night that holds its own tricks and treats.

This first set starts out innocently enough with Wilson — as if any set can be considered ‘innocent’ when the first song relays the tale of a despot who enslaved a race of people all due to his desire for a certain book (yes, I am vastly oversimplifying it but you know what I mean) — and this first one of the tour gets a little extra sauce in the Trey solo as he brings out that electro run of notes that popped up several times in the first show of tour. From here they dip into the languid funkiness of Meat for the first time this tour. This bleeds right into something of a different sort entirely as they bring the energy up a few notches for Scent of a Mule. The first half of this goes true to form but once Page enters his solo that typically evolves into the klezmer duel they drop into a quite familiar groove which I would expect that many in the audience did not immediately recognize to be the Phish debut of the Jimmy Smith classic Back At The Chicken Shack. Let’s be honest though, the real lack of recognition in this crowd would come the next night when they came out for the second set’s cover album of one of the seminal bands of the late 60s, but that’s getting ahead of ourselves a tad. This debut proves to be a pretty straight forward take on the funky organ-led track which would be sprinkled into seven more setlists over the next two years before hitting the shelf. After working their way through this they return to the Mule to finish up the klezmer duel and to catch their breath for the first real ‘stop’ in the set considering the songs up until now had all been segued together.

At this point Trey banters with the crowd, stating that “they tell us this is the fifteenth anniversary of our first show” (or something. close enough.) in introducing the next song to be played. Even though future research would prove this statement to be incorrect (the actual first show occurred 12.02.1983, some 30 plus days later) it was a nice way to get a performance of Long Cool Woman In A Black Dress (that title is waaaaaay toooo looooong) out of the band after, oh, only 1,207 shows. They rock their way quite well through the Hollies’ radio-friendly hit from back in 1971 and there is a funny moment at the end as Fish tries to get them to restart it since he enjoyed it so much. The band says no. Next up is a mid-set Antelope which is always nice considering its ubiquity in the first and second set closings slots these days. Tonight’s version has that evolving ’98 sound in spades, first in the initial build where they go away from the song structure for several bars before coming back around to the main theme and layering in that ambient sound. Trey adds some color that directly relates back to last night’s Reba awesomeness as they climb towards the ‘rye rye rocco’ section and the eventual peak of this Lope. This is clearly a concerted musical shift for the band here and something we will be hearing time and again throughout this tour. Lope leads us to our old friend Guelah Papyrus and tonight’s is about as unique as any of the plethora of times they played it back in that Spring ’93 tour which is to say it is not unique at all. A lovely run through Lizards follows this with a decent solo out of Trey before we get our third mostly formulaic tune for the set closing Cavern. At this point, a set break is well deserved considering we have gotten not just a bunch of cannon fodder but some quality jams and hints of where things are headed here both in the short and long term.

After what must have seemed like an endless setbreak (they all feel that way though when you are holding your thoughts in your hands and trying to keep your eyes from eating your toes, don’t they?) the band comes out and tinkles around a tad before — just like last night — dropping into a song that has traditionally been a first set tune. The placement within the set is not the same, but just like Reba Stash has been played many more times in setting the table than in the latter half of the show, having only appeared in the second set (75), third set (2), or encore (2) slots 79 out of 398 total performances. That’s 19.85% for those counting at home and I did remove as many of the ‘sandwich’ double mentions as I could in getting that figure. The Stash from this night is not really the main attraction here as the jam gets to some sparser space fairly quickly, leaving the tension & release for another night’s version. It becomes evident fairly quickly that there is something brewing here and once Trey hints at the melody to Manteca you realize this was coming long before then. The segue is flawless and we get a drone-heavy take on the bustout — 219 shows with the last being part of what many consider their favorite Stash ‘suites’ ever. and who would blame them for thinking that about THIS! — which includes the lyrics before dying down into the ambient drone once more. Trey plays around for a bit here and again we start to hear the next song before it arrives as they stick the landing on yet another perfect segue, this time into Tweezer.

If you are looking for a bombastic Tweezer with a massive blissy peak and a bunch of shred, this will not be the one for you. Nor is it an off-the-reservation-face-melting psychedelic juggernaut. But this is a great version for entirely different reasons. With the benefit of hindsight we can now understand what they were doing here (and in several of these jams we have mentioned from the prior show and the first set tonight) as it builds off of the ambient vibe they are laying down while also pretty well providing the blueprint of what the Halloween set will be, if you know anything about that band’s style and musical execution. I want to save the full discussion of that correlation for the next post where we will cover all of that but I cannot ignore it either. So let’s focus on the other aspects that make this a noteworthy jam. First, they play around the Tweezer theme for a bit in the typical way before Trey lays down a ‘drone’ loop that provides the background for everything to come. With this still in place the band begins adding more and more layers to this soundscape, Page providing dark intonations, Mike pulsating on the bass, Fish offering ideas and colorful fills/crashes, and Trey harkening back with Manteca teases and moving elsewhere with teases of the Joe Tex standard You Better Believe It Baby. That song doesn’t sound like something that would work in this context, but it does and you have to wonder if Trey was making a purposeful nod with the song title (as in “yeah, this is really happening. you better believe it, baby!”) or just riffing on the old soul tune as it happened since we all know he tends to bring things he had been listening to off stage up with him.

This jams proceeds for a bit before Trey changes his direction and gets more melodic hinting at another transition that eventually reveals itself to be (oh, just yet another) wonderful segue into NICU once Trey changes keys to get into the song properly. At this point you start to wonder if these were all planned out or if it occurred organically which would make them pretty much the only organic things in the venue that night, all things reconsidered…  Anyway, they run through the punchy tune in an almost lazy manner and you start to mentally think about what the end set will involve here but then instead of heading to the final “blap” moment Trey keeps the drone tone on, Page adds a bit, and Fish hits the kits a few times before they let the drone take over and then all dive back into the deep end for a few minutes of very very telling music (again with the foreshadowing!). They take this out a bit, with Trey providing melody and Page/Mike the baseline — honestly, at one point or another it feels like it could fully go into about four decidedly different songs (e.g. Norwegian Wood) — but then it gets quite dark and sparse and Trey brings us up into the light of Caspian.

Now, I am not exactly the biggest Fuckerpants out there (well, except for the Magna Tweezerpants, but THAT’S DIFFERENT and you should go spend the 34 plus minutes it takes to be changed by it if’n you aren’t already in the know) but this just works here. Song placement can often cause head scratching worse than a Head and Shoulders commercial but on this night and in this set in particular there is none of that. This is the resolution to the darkness we have had all set. It provides an uplifting exclamation point on what was a set quite unlike most in the past, which is not meant to put an arbitrary value or ranking on it. Trey has a nice solo here above the band and even here you can here the difference in the full sound they are putting out as Fish rides the crash cymbal and Mike has a diminished feel to his playing that somehow adds depth to counterbalance the uplifting notes coming from Trey, not to mention Page as he comps along on the baby grand. From here we have our last segue of the night in arriving to the Golgi closer that offers a happy exclamation point to the set and even though it isn’t really in congruence musically with everything that came before it, the placement is solid and the reference is clear as this was by all accounts a very difficult ticket to procure. Your encores tonight are another Trey-acoustic take on the new tune Driver followed by the hilarious a cappella of Free Bird, one of my personal favorite tongue-in-cheek tunes in the canon.

It is clear already that here two shows into this tour there are simply so many more things to cover than in the old, straight ahead shred days from five plus years prior. I would apologize for my typewritten vomiting of effusive praise but I am not sorry. For as much as I loved the old school Phish with their precision and attack it has also been their ability to evolve seemingly on a nightly basis that has kept me coming back again and again. And I know I am definitely not alone in that regard. So with that I’ll cap this show by saying that this one includes a lot of not-so-subtle hints as to what would occur the night following, both in the costume set and beyond. There is a lot to cover with those three sets so let’s bring this one home by saying if you do not spin this entire show you should at the very least hit the Antelope, Stash->Manteca->Tweezer->NICU>Jam->Caspian and if you want to stretch a bit the Mule>BATCS>Mule and perhaps the Long Cool Woman bustout.

Rest up. Halloween shows have a tendency to propagate my loquacious leanings.

You Know I Believe And How — Los Angeles, CA 10.29.1998

Phish — The Greek Theatre — Los Angeles, CA 10.29.1998

Julius, Roggae, Llama, LxL, Driver, Sleep, Frankie Says, BOAF, McGrupp>Zero

II  Possum>Moma>Reba->Walk Away>Simple>Albuquerque, Bowie

Something

First let’s just get this out of the way…

Phish in 1998 was a much different animal than the band we have been discussing up to this point. Instead of being an heavy-touring, up-and-coming, looking-to-gain-fans-by-barnstorming-the-country act this was a band who had arrived. They were deep into a multi-album deal with Elektra which began with A Picture of Nectar (and the re-releases of both Junta and Lawn Boy) but really blossomed with Rift, Hoist, A Live One, and Billy Breathes. The touring was still significant relative to most major acts (and definitely still the core of what this band is, was, and ever shall be) but the days of 100 plus shows a year (to say nothing of a 70 plus show tour like back in the early 90s…) were over. With the benefit of a large, dedicated, and then still growing fan base and greater cache allowing them to play larger venues they were able to craft tours that reduced their travel commitments while still hitting key areas and which worked for the devoted masses who had hopped on tour by now.

By the time the Fall 1998 Tour began they had already enjoyed a year that many groups would have considered enough to be successful but as we know that wasn’t enough for these now seasoned vets of the music world. Things started with a huge bang with what became known as The Island Tour, which was a quickly announced four show run comprised of two shows at Nassau Coliseum on Long Island and two shows at the Providence Civic Center in Rhode Island. The energy from those now legendary shows carried over into the recording/organizing of what would become The Story of The Ghost beginning only one day later (check out this post over on phishthoughts and the linked music therein for more on these great sessions at Bearsville Studios that would produce not only that album but the fantastic Siket Disc as well, not to mention this one that focuses on the album itself) with the album release coming just two days before the start of the Fall Tour we are here to discuss. Summer Tour came next, starting with nine shows in Europe that allowed the band to first test out some of that new material followed by twenty-one shows in the US of A (a tour that deserves its own reviews eventually…). This was capped by their third official festival, Lemonwheel, which was another high point in a year already full of of them. Between the festival and the start of Fall Tour they played a well received set at FarmAid with Neil Young joining for significant sections, a surprise show at the FillmoreTheatre in San Francisco heavy on the jams, two sets at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit at Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, CA (with several debuts and great guest sit-ins throughout), a set recorded for the PBS Sessions at West 54th showcasing the material off of the album to come as well as a great interview with host and major influence on the band David Byrne, and an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman to perform Birds of A Feather on the day of the album release. Not a bad month to get ready for tour! And I think I hit my monthly quota for links up there too.

All of this leads us to the start of this tour at the lovely outdoor venue that is The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, CA. I must say that the contrast of diving deep into a formative tour like Spring 1993 and then hitting up one like this is striking on many levels. First and foremost you have the size of the crowd and surrounding scene where we have gone from small theaters and clubs of 1,000-3,000 people up to amphitheaters and arenas approaching 20,000 and even higher, not to mention the 60,000 plus who ventured up to Limestone, ME for the festival. Granted, this tour opener was at a relatively intimate venue that held “only” 6,000 people or so but you get the point. This is not barroom Phish any more.  Then you have the more important musical evolution of the band which has gone from focusing on long composed pieces, energy rockers, straight ahead ‘type I’ jamming, antics and other humorous ‘show tune’ type stuff, and the beginnings of the open or ‘type II’ jamming to long for type II jams, cowfunk (‘type III’ jams), ambient soundscapes (just check out the late night set from Lemonwheel for the prime example of this), an even broader array of cover songs, and much much more. This is Phish with the full arsenal at their disposal. It is a band that could — and would — do anything they thought would help to foster the musical connection between the band members and the crowd. And that, my friends, is what makes a tour like this so enticing to dissect…

So on that first night of tour you could expect the band would focus on tracks from the album while also hoping for some interesting jams as well. If those were your only expectations you would be well served here but considering the fanbase we are dealing with there might be elements of this show some find lacking. The band came out with intent, sliding into a somewhat restrained Julius that gets us moving but largely does what one expects in the execution. Next we get a patient Roggae which while a lovely version doesn’t exactly elevate the energy in the room. Perhaps they were just trying to ease these West Coast fans into the newer material (but if you had kept track of Europe and the balance of Summer Tour that wouldn’t be an issue, which I suppose is assuming a lot about our wook friends). Besides, we can’t be harshing the brahs mellows now, can we? Then in the three hole we get that energy lift we were looking for with a Llama that rocks hard and relies on Trey’s nimble fingers for a solo that showcases his toys with some electro-esque lines coming from The Trza. You could almost say that this is the true show opener, at least in terms of the prototypical high energy you look for with this whole live music thing. But hey, they recently opened a show with that classic shredder The Line, so what do I know?

After this jolt of power we have Limb by Limb for a mainly straight forward version that has some punch but stays firmly within the construct of the song. The real notable aspect of this one is that Fish kinda doesn’t really do, well, anything with the ending where he typically goes all super-octopus-drummer-dude on us. Realizing this, Trey gives him another shot to finish it up, leading to a little humorous banter about that ending. Now we get to what could be considered the controversial part of the show and a section that I know would get torn apart on the various boards if it happened these days. The double dip offering of acoustic Driver and acoustic Sleep pretty much brings the momentum of the set to a halt, even though both are pretty takes on the tunes and there is a bit of fun banter in between the two songs from Trey about the subject matter of Driver (eliciting our first Fight Bell *ting* of the tour out of Mike — something he apparently got at a flea market across the street from a show in Florida some time in the mid 90s. If you weren’t familiar with this toy before you will now hear it all over tapes, primarily from ’97 on. You’re welcome?). Keep in mind that these two songs were only debuted 12 days prior at the Bridge School Benefit so I understand the pairing and the sparse instrumentation at this stage. It just kinda sucks the energy out of the place is all… So what do they do next? Ramp it up with a raging Chalkdust or something??? Um, no. We get Frankie Says which, while a nice tune and one many people have on their still-seeking list, is not the one to take things up after two acoustic tunes. The mellow vibe was perhaps fitting in Trey’s head at that moment but we are heading towards masses of folks sitting down at a Phish show if this keeps up here, people, and that shit simply won’t stand! Or sit. Whatever! Crises are averted, however, as they wrap up the singer songwriter portion of the set by playing that hip new single Birds of a Feather. Nothing special here apart from more of that tight electro-playing from Trey in the solo, as the tune is still mainly a straight ahead rocker with the exception of its second ever performance earlier this year in Providence — which is a version I implore you to hear if you are not already intimately familiar with it. Which you should be.

But let’s get back to our show here. After that BOAF we have one of my favorite tunes of the Gamehendge Suite, McGrupp. Tonight’s version has a bit of ambient texture (get used to this. it is the new motif they added on this tour and something we will discuss A LOT going forward) and is highlighted by an extended Page section that has some great Fish in it as well. I should probably note one of the things you will definitely notice from Fish’s sound in this tour that was not ever present in the olden times which is the abundant use of his crash cymbal in providing color and punctuation to jams. This is on full display in this McGrupp and will be noticeable in a major jam later on in the show as well. It isn’t a huge thing but it adds something to the mix that no longer occurs since he has again gone down to a more minimalist setup here in 3.0. McGrupp heads right into the set closing Zero (which also has some of that ‘electro’ playing from Trey that we heard previously in the set) and we are off to relax for a few while soaking in the lovely California Fall weather. DOn’t worry, I checked. It was gorgeous that day.

And as happens, after some head scratching and trying to figure what might happen next in the course of discussing the first set, the band came out with vigor and dropped an almost seamless second frame that holds a top notch jam, a major bustout, and more. Kicking into one of the oldest tunes in the catalog, Phish ripped up Possum to get things moving before dropping into one of the newer funk numbers, Moma Dance. This one punches the funk button hard while staying mainly in the box, getting the crowd bouncing and moving in ways they never considered before the show began. Trey throws a Super Bad tease in for good measure and eventually we wind down to the start of… Reba! A second set Reba can only mean good things considering the song has only been placed in the second second (or later) 49 times out of 371 total performances. That’s a 13.2% hit rate for those doing math at home. And if you take out the four encores and one third setter we are down to 12.1%. That’s nothing! But it shows that when they do decide to put our girl in the second set things inevitably get good. And tonight’s version is one of the best of those in my humble opinion. Once through the composed section of the song we drop into a patient, building jam with Trey offering ideas on top of that groove pocket. Others (i.e. Miner) have described this jam more effectively than I can, so let’s just get one more (last?) link in here, mm’kay? I promise I won’t link anything else. Maybe. SO, the first signs that things are different tonight come when Fish changes cadence slightly and Trey offers up a couple of loops while Mike and Page go into ambient drone territory. The four combine to create an intriguing space that gets downright dark and dirty, eventually arriving into a grimy groove that pulsates and hints at… wait, it can’t be, could it? HO-LY HEY! and BOOM! we have a major bustout with a full segue into Walk Away! That’s 367 shows since they played it last at the famed Bomb Factory show of 05.07.1994. I’ve linked enough already, you know where to find that gem. This take on the James Gang tune is straight ahead and fun, bringing the crowd up from the depths of that sinister Reba before a crunchy bridge jam heading into a late set Simple that continues the fun. This one is not overly extended but succeeds in doing what it can before we get the first/only cool down song of the set in the lovely Neil Young tune Albuquerque which the band debuted only a few months previous in Dallas. After this we get Fish Fun Time and hey… wait! This isn’t 1993. Fish Fun Time is much less a regular thing and almost a bustout now so we won’t be needing to detail all of that so much anymore… Instead we get a punchy and rightfully rocking Bowie that isn’t super special — but it is perhaps a little lightly regarded for what actually occurs. The jam is nothing overly new but does continue the idea of more ambient space being added to the jam texture of these songs. It is definitely worth the listen if nothing else than for the swirling peak they arrive at out of the murk of the jam. And hey, let’s see if we can get a little trivia going here. Can anyone tell me where the sonic tapestry in this Bowie intro section was used by the band in the future?

I probably need a paragraph break by now so let’s just put one in there. After the big Bowie closer we have a nice debut with the encore Something, a Beatles tune that would get four cracks out of the band on this tour before disappearing forever. So it goes. And with that we have our show. It is perhaps a bit uneven, particularly in the first set, but overall you really cannot complain about a show like this for a tour opener. The band already sounds connected and we have at least one major highlight jam with several other items of note in what appears to be a fairly nondescript setlist on paper. Which is why we listen. Because the setlist only tells part of the story. Knowing what is coming up in the next few shows there are some things that seem to hint at the musical costume (and more) to come but I’ll leave that for y’all to bring forth as I have written waaaaaaaaay too much here. At this rate, I’ll match the word count for both of the Spring ’93 tour legs I have done before finishing up this relatively short tour’s reviews. A lot of this was table setting though so you can expect a return to form from here on out. Mostly.

In summing up, let’s get to the highlights. For this show you definitely will want to hear the McGrupp, the Reba->Walk Away>Simple section, and the Bowie. If you want more without spinning the whole thing, add in the Llama, BOAF, and Zero to hear that newer Trey playing I mentioned (which will come up almost nightly on this tour) and if you like the tender stuff throw on Driver, Sleep, Albuquerque, and Something and maybe even Frankie Says for good measure. Have I included all of the tracks yet?

And we are off and running. Next up is the pair of shows from Las Vegas for Halloween. Spooooooooooky!