It’s about freakin’ time! With all the Live Phish releases, I could never understand why they kept passing over this show. Finally, someone came to their senses. And a DVD taboot! Crazy that they have so much archival footage of so many/ all shows to take off the shelves like this. Anyone who was there on the twenty second of July in 1997 understands the absolute mastery that Phish displayed on this torrential night. For those that weren’t there, let’s reminisce for a second.
This was the second show of tour, yet Phish was not just warming up. Coming off a nineteen show European tour over late June and early July, Phish was plenty warm. Tales were coming from across the pond of deep extended funk explorations like nothing Phish had produced before. Tales of twenty plus minute “Story of the Ghost”s; slower playing, much slower. Stories of new songs. Stories about the back of the worm. Huge band groove. Tales of Phish funk- lots of it. US fans that didn’t make it to Europe were salivating with the coming of Virginia Beach. August 21st was marked with anticipation on all of our calendars as the beginning of what would be a new chapter in Phish’s career from 1997-1999. The time when they built themselves into an inter-galactic millennial groove machine. But it all started in the summer of ’97, the summer that brought us what Trey coined as “cow funk.” In America, started on the 21st, but let’s talk about the 22nd.
People always talk about the lightening. It couldn’t have hit further than a few hundred yards from the amphitheatre. The crackle was electrifying. You can hear the thunder on the audience tapes as the storm smashed Raleigh. The band intensely built the shortened first set closer of “Taste” in unison with what would soon be a monsoon of biblical proportions. With nothing much to speak of in the first set other than a pretty nice “Stash” and the US debut of “Vultures,” the lightening-laced “Taste” was certainly the experiential and musical highlight. The weather brought an abrupt end to the set, and during the break, many fans wondered if they would call the show and send everyone home because of this most ridiculous thunderstorm.
However, after what was truly a fifteen minute set break, the band emerged on stage to the excitement of the overcrowded pavilion with hundreds if not thousands fans packed in from the lawn for protection from the rain. The ambient opening dropped into the now famous version of “Down With Disease.” This jam showcased Phish’s improvisational mastery at a time of peak enthusiasm and creativity. With Mike, Page and Trey each weaving melodic phrases around each other, no member of the band was leading this jam any more then the next. This is truly an example of virtuoso on-stage communication, and four band members equaling far more than the sum of their parts. Mike’s bass lines were as melodic as Trey guitar lines. Page’s clavinet melodies and phrasing was perfect. The band was as locked in as it gets. When you listen back to the tape, the music exists as a ridiculous entity woven together by musical magicians.
As the jam slowed down, the band spent about four to five minutes setting up, teasing, and building an epic transition into “Mike’s Song.” All band members were hinting at it well before they decided to take the plunge, and it is just beautiful to hear. All members bouncing phrases of each others’ lines; moving as one. As they slowly cranked up the Mike’s melody, I distinctly remember a rush if energy surging through my soul, yet I couldn’t immediately tell what was coming. As they slowly sped up the intro, the entire crowd realized simultaneously what they were witnessing and with the collectively exploded.
It’s a beautiful thing when Phish follows up one huge jam with another. And this Mike’s is just that- a huge, multifaceted sinister jam. Toying with the unbelievable energy of the crowd, the band entered the jam with a deep funk section that typified the beginnings of all songs’ jams in 1997. The remastered soundboards will allow everyone to crisply hear Mike’s bass lines bounce off Trey’s thick rhythm licks, directing the early part of the jam with his bass work. (note: Mike’s playing throughout this set is particularly ridiculous.) The band sat in deep grooveland for some minutes before Trey launched into a solo line and the band changed gear into more evil territory. After moving through darkness, the band downshifted, and provided a perfect soundtrack for psychedelic swamp warfare. Your brain was minutes into the bog, up to your neck in thickness, when on a dime, they hit a note and relaunched into the Mikes>Simple transition, bringing some light to an otherwise very dark thirty five to forty minutes, some of the best stuff ever.
The smile inducing Simple dissolved gracefully into a dissonant place before whispering into Hydrogen, connecting the two typical Mike’s Groove links. The Weekapaug is another example of the band’s fully locked and loaded improvisation, and Mike is at it again during the high-powered set closer whose jam goes to very unique places. The whole set was just an hour- or a lifetime. You know, one of those sets. It was capped with an encore of Circus, almost always placed after some madness throughout their career, and a gorgeous Hood which on a night when the band could do no wrong, provided a blissful end to a best-ever evening. The Hood is often overlooked due to the raunchiness of the rest of the set, but if you don’t know it, check it out. It’s amazing.
Here are some clips that Phish released as a preview. I’m including the Taste, the Weekapaug, and the first set Bouncin’, but if you want to see the three minute out of context Mike’s intro that should never stand alone, search You Tube.
07/22/97 Walnut Creek Amphitheatre, Raleigh, NC
Set II: > > > > 1,
1 With “Hydrogen” teases> , , , , , ,