Sitting amidst the ongoing anniversary of one of Phish’s most revered tours, I can not help but broach the topic of Fall ’97. A tour that featured too many outlandish highlights to list or describe, this month-long run remains a defining point in the band’s career. Always revered for its infectious funk jams, Fall ’97 was so much more. Some of the most impressive and psychedelic jams the band has ever played are lifted from this month long trek of musical nirvana.
Yet, as we zoom in closer, we are amidst an even more impressive anniversary within the same tour. The week-long stretch of 11.17 to 11.23 can make a strong case for the greatest week of Phish ever. Beginning in Denver and ending in Winston-Salem, this seven day stretch represented the band at the top if their game, and contained many jams that deserve their own plaque in Phish’s Hall of Fame. These shows are household names- Denver, Champaign, and Hampton ’97- hero’s from an age gone by. Although sandwiched by continuous standout shows, when looking back over this epic week of music, the memories still leave the jaw resting comfortably on the floor below.
(11.16 &) 11.17: McNichols Arena, Denver, CO
Hot off the heels of their first visit to the E Center in Salt Lake City, Phish arrived in the Rocky Mountain State for two nights that would become forever immortalized. The first night of this stand featured an impressive second set with the improvised opener of “Timber Ho!” that morphed into a vastly different musical palate favoring melody over darkness, before twisting into the crowd-favorite “Simple.” A twenty-minute intense and inspiring Hood provided the other true highlight of the evening before they dusted off “David Bowie” as an encore for its first appearance of the fall.
But whenever the term “Denver ’97” gets mentioned, visions of Tweezers and Ghosts begin to twirl in our heads. While the first night was a great Phish show, the second night was one of legend. When all was said and done, it would be the “Ghost” from first set of 11.17 that the band would incessantly listen to on their tour bus for the rest of the run, the show from 11.17 would be released as LIVE PHISH 11, and the sublime jamming throughout the night that would be talked about by fans forever.
Before the crowd even had a chance to get settled, Phish was dropping one of the best Tweezers of a Tweezer-heavy tour. Opening the show, this funk odyssey grew into some certifiable Fall ’97 Phish crack. As the grooves ended, the opening of “Reba” began. “Tweezer, Reba?!”- that’s one way to open a show! As the fugue opened the gates for the flood of colorful groove, the crowd soon found themselves floating in another huge Phish jam. Quickly developing into an absurd first set, a mere breath of “Trainsong” gave way to the career-highlight version of “Ghost.” The first fall appearance of the new Phish jam vehicle proved to be the one that Phish had been waiting to play since the song’s inception. Transcending the raw Cow Funk that typified its summer incarnations, this “Ghost” took off into driving dance textures, fusing melody, harmony, and groove in a way the band had never done before, and rarely since. This jam featured virtuoso playing by all four members, and truly created a whole greater than the sum of its parts. This “Ghost” is characterized by the simultaneous and symbiotic combination of to-die-for groove and spiritual cathartic release. Add some of Trey’s most inspired playing into the mix, and you’ve got one for the record books. A legend in its own time, the Denver ’97 “Ghost” will properly put any pretenders to rest.
And that’s all the first set! Set break gave way to a unique exploration of uptempo Phish rock rhythms utilizing the random triumvirate of “Down With Disease,” “Olivia’s Pool,” and “Johnny B Goode.” On a night like this, the band used any song to get directly into the thick of things, and the obvious example would be the jam out of “Johnny B. Goode,” as creative and psychedelic as anything they played all night. Topping the stand with a monster YEM, the band littered the jam with the disgusting grooves that would soon define the era.
11.19.97 Assembly Hall, Champaign, IL
Stopping in the Midwest for one show on the way to Hampton, the magic from Denver was still oozing in Illinois. The first “Bathtub Gin” of the fall kick started the the show with its second slot placement. With a gorgeous meshing of piano, guitar, and bass, the band improvised amorphously as one throughout this rendition. A tour highlight that is often forgotten due the abundance of tour highlights, this Gin’s ocean of vibrant waves eventually breaks down into some funk rhythms before picking up steam and segueing perfectly into “Llama.” This Phishy juxtaposition of musical feels weighted the first half of the set, while the final combination of Fee > Meatstick > Antelope held down the end. The band moved into a dreamy jam out of “Fee” in which Trey began to play the vocal melody of “Meatstick” (the song had only been sung once over a chugging jam in Lille, France over the summer). The band soon hopped on board and played a mini three minute Meatstick jam, complete with barely discernible vocals, before delicately transitioning into a blistering set ending Antelope.
Phish was on fire. It didn’t matter what set it was, what song they were playing, they could do no wrong this week. It was as if they were set on cruise control at 120 mph. Communicating masterfully and effortlessly, the band was having so much fun at this point and it was so obvious. Each night, each set was another odyssey. You had to strap your seat belt tight because you simply never knew what was coming. The new term of Fall ’97 was “four song set” as the band played several second sets of few heavily improvised pieces. The second set of Champaign would be one of these sets.
Coming out with no ambient build up, Fishman kicked right into the opening of 2001, transforming the venue into a futuristic dance hall for the next twenty minutes. The first 2001 of such length since the revelation at the Great Went, this version had the perfect tempo to it, creating a wide-open spacescape of Phish grooves. A personal favorite version, the band was so locked yet loose during this one, they truly nailed the essence of the cover in Champaign. As this Hall of Fame version climaxed, it led right into another first-ballot inductee in “Wolfman’s Brother.” Totaling a half-hour of spectacular playing, this version moved from the smoothest funk into more ambient realms before shifting into part two of the jam. With an aggressive high speed chase through the Phish universe on the magic carpet of a Crosseyed jam, the second segment of this jam is better suited for warfare then for casual listening. Existing as some of the deepest and most impressive music to emerge from Wolfman’s in its career, this jam is the type of evidence I present when people claim Fall ’97 was all about the funk.
As the Wolfman’s wound into some slower rhythms, the band seamlessly slid into Makisupa. An excessively dubbed out version would bring the all-star Phish jamming to a non-stop total of one hour. While most Makisupas exist as a fun ganja reference with some token reggae rhythms, the band created something much more significant this time around. Moving from dub into deep space, the band explored the beat-less realm as they created ethereal textures. A smashing version of “Tatse” ended the set of distinctly “other” type of jamming. As the crew packed their gear after the show, someone remembered to grab the vat of magic dust from backstage and put it on the bus for Hampton.
11.21 & 11.22 Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA
What more can be said about this weekend that hasn’t already been said. The two shows that stamped the Phish logo on the Mothership would go down as two of the best in the history. Below is the mini two-night review from the “Tour Stop: Hampton” post:
1997 would be a different story all together. In the most epic Hampton installment ever, Phish gave a nod to the celestial portal by gracing it with it’s first two-night stand. It would be over the 21st and 22nd of November that Hampton Coliseum would officially become Phish’s personal playground. With two shows that were as good as any, on a tour that is sometimes overwhelming with all of its magnificent music, Phish threw down four sets for the ages that still live in legend today. The first night, the deeper more truly psychedelic performance, gave way to one of the best Phish shows in history on the second night. With the debut of the Stone’s “Emotional Rescue” to start the stand and jamming into an dark and nasty Split as the second song of the stand- Phish wasted no time in getting to business. The three-song sequence of Ghost > AC/DC Bag > Slave comprised the entire second set, less a Loving Cup closer. This hour plus of straight Phish imrov is some of the most magical to come out of Fall ‘97. Delving into various styles and textures, this jam sequence was a trek through Phish’s imagination and was brought to fruition by a poignant Slave. Moving through funk, rock, and straight madness, this set was an archetypal “night one” of a two night stand- going deep with no regard for time or space, playing what comes. A four song masterpiece, this second set left fans wondering what could possibly come out of the next night.
11.22.97. The date needs no introduction. The best Phish dance party ever thrown, a night with more grooves than a 33 rpm record, it is up there with the the band’s elite performances ever. Starting with a supremely thick Fall ‘97 Mike’s Song, containing full band hints at Black-Eyed Katy, this show was off and running in no time. Just after the massive Mike’s Groove ended with the last hits of Weekapaug, the rolling reggae intro of Harry Hood began. Really!? Now?! Yes. Really. A phenomenal version of Hood left the crowd stunned and speechless for Train Song and Billy Breathes, before the set closed with the rocking combo of Frankenstein, Izabella. After such an ludicrous first set, the crowd was left aglow, without words to describe what was unfolding. One of the quietest set breaks ever gave way to one of the loudest sets of the band’s career.
Halley’s > Tweezer > Black Eyed Katy, Piper, Antelope. The rest is history. With utter command over the room, the band brought the audience through a clinic of Phish improvisation. The most delicate and spiritually inspiring moments of the set came toward the end of the “best ever” Halley’s, while the band soon had the entire spaceship bouncing through the quintessential fall swamp funk of ‘97- Tweezer> Katy. Pure Phish crack. Not letting up for a second, the blistering combo of Piper, Antelope provided the musical balance to the molasses that had preceded. Universally regarded as one of the best nights in the twenty years of Phish, you have all heard this one as much as I have. From that night on, every trip back to Hampton would be significant, and marked on everyone’s calendar.
11.23.97: LJVM Coliseum, Winston-Salem, NC
The show after consensus classics are often overlooked, unless they become classics themselves! Having produced an unfathomable amount of standout music over the previous six nights, the seventh had them scheduled to play in Winston-Salem. With just as much fired up enthusiasm, the band took the stage to follow up what many thought they could not follow up. While the first frame was more conventional in composition, it did contain the fall’s most bombastic “Black-Eyed Katy,” one of the tour’s best versions of “Stash,” and a late set “Fluffhead,” ta boot. But the best was yet to come.
As the band geared up for their eighth set of the week, there seemed to be a limitless pot of inspiration they were drawing from as one majestic piece of music continued to flow right into another. Seemingly trying to top themselves every single night, Phish set off into a 30+ minute excursion of “Bathtub Gin” that descended into some of the darkest, most psychedelic music all tour. Held cohesively by Fish’s insane break beat work, the band dove into some improvisation that could not have been created on any other night. One of the most formidable segments from the tour, an argument could easily be made that this Gin was better than anything at Hampton. Winding into some space improvisation, the band found themselves in the intro of Disease. Providing a soaring heap of upbeat rock and roll, this jam seemed like a musical celebration of the majesty of the weekend, if not the entire week. Not finished with their fun, the band masterfully wove their way from Disease into “Low Rider” back into Disease, completing the 50 minute non-stop journey from the beginning of the set. This sequence symbolically marked the adventurous end of the week that was, as the band went on to close with “Bold As Love” and encore with a ridiculously shredding “Julius.”
As typified by this week of absolute magic, Fall ’97 had a unique sense of excitement and discovery from both the band and their fans as they collectively broke new ground nightly. With monster jams and mega sets, Phish was improvising with an intensity not seen in almost two years. While the shows of this historic week, and the tour, were accented by heroic dosages of refined funk exploits, the tour was similarly characterized by overt psychedelia and abstract exploration. All of these trends were visible during one of the band’s best weeks of playing in their career, and we celebrate it now, eleven years later.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
11.19.97 Assembly Hall, Champaign, IL < LINK (missing Wolfman’s>Makisupa)
With the goal of getting this entire week up for download, here is the ridiculous Champaign show. Denver’s first night was yesterday, and there is no reason to post an AUD of the Live Phish release from 11.17. The Hampton shows are up on Weekend Nuggets, and I will get the Winston-Salem show up tomorrow. ’97 doesn’t get much better than this folks.
I: Julius, Bathtub Gin > Llama, Dirt, Limb By Limb, Funky Bitch, Theme From the Bottom, Ginseng Sullivan, Fee > Meatstick > Run Like an Antelope
II: Also Sprach Zarathustra > Wolfman’s Brother* > Makisupa Policeman#, Taste
* “Crosseyed and Painless” jam #With space jamTags: 1997