With all of the holiday hubbub, the anniversary of Worcester’s tremendous three-night run to close Fall ’98 passed right on by. Each of these shows had their own tour highlights, peaking with the last set of 11.29. Yet, when looking back at the most famous of these shows- the 11.27 “Wipe Out” saga- we see the band using all aspects of their repertoire to craft an ultimately Phishy evening. Many people remember this night fondly for different reasons, and it is the holistic combination of these reasons that mark this night special in Phish history, and illustrate why the live Phish phenomenon appealed to so many people.
When recalling this night, many remember the segues in and out of The Surfaris’ “Wipe Out” as the highlights of the show. Much like Deer Creek’s “Moby DIck” show in 2000, the band continued to integrate teases of the song many times after it was performed at the beginning of set two. Musically joking around, the consistent reprise of “Wipe Out” drew in the casual fans with a funny reference point, making even the local “one-show goer” feel part of the inside Phish experience.
Another way Phish integrated quirky humor into this show was the “Chalk Dust Torture” medley, featuring transitions in and out of The English Beat’s ska classic “Mirror In the Bathroom,” “Dog Log,” “Buffalo Bill,” and “Sanity.” By infusing their rock anthem with a first-time cover and three bust-outs, everyone in the building ballooned with enthusiasm from this zany segue-fest. The irony behind this musical segment is that it merely represents twenty minutes of a three hour show, yet it is this short, somewhat gimmicky section, that most fans immediately recall. No doubt fun and invigorating to witness, no musical blip in this section extended beyond five minutes. The improvised verses of “Mirror in the Bathroom” clocked in at exactly 58 seconds, while the other rarities of “Dog Log,” “Sanity,” and “Buffalo Bill,” were short composed pieces, sought after due to their elusiveness, not their musical journeys. Don’t get me wrong, hearing Phish twist unexpected classics out of their jams is always exciting, but that’s not the reason I see Phish. The reason I go to see this band is evidenced by everything that happened after this popular set-opening segment Phishiness.
After the dust had settled, and people had scribbled down the out-of-the-ordinary setlist, the real music began. With the opening notes of “Mike’s Song,” Trey initiated almost an hour of ungodly improv. Balancing out the humor and quirkiness of the first part of the set, Phish dug in for what would be a spectacular rest of the show. The Mike’s jam opened as if the band had something to prove, with Mike pounding away some slammin’ bass lines. The whole band jumped into this primordial musical soup, creating smooth yet militant marching grooves. Pumped up, themselves, from the wild beginning of the set, the band sat into the rest of the show with a sense of vigor and purpose.
Playing with the sharpness of a razor and the momentum of an oncoming rhinoceros, Phish navigated the dark textures of the Mike’s jam, bouncing the building more significantly than any previous moment in the show. Gathering a full head of steam, the band built a thick soundscape that grew in intensity as Trey dug into his sack of psychedelic sorcery.
As the bombast of Mike’s trailed away, an uncharacteristically ambient transition into Hydrogen unfolded. Hovering in an abstract musical space before descending into the classic melodies of the song, Phish lent a pensive and evil tone to the aftermath of this Mike’s jam. Fishman carried the backing beat of Hydrogen as the rest of the band evoked an eerie palate of psychedelic effects, stirring an improvised musical stew. Dropping gradually into Hydrogen, the provocative entry point provided a stark comparison to the melodic musical interlude.
Patiently working their way through the serenity of Hydrogen, Phish opened the first breathing point of the entire set. The slowed pace of this Hydrogen made it all the more poignant surrounded by powerful improv on either side. While Mike’s Song usually anchors a Mike’s Groove, Weekapaug stole the show on this night. With a blistering jam followed by a reprise section of improv sculpted from Phished-out psychedelia, this Weekapaug would carry its weight in Worcester.
The initial jam displayed four musicians chugging together on mission to bring musical catharsis to the enthralled crowd. With fast-paced communication, each member of the band contributed equally to this break-neck version of Weekapaug. Moving from uptempo soloing into some heavy clavinet and wah-pedal funk, Phish found their way through multiple sections of virtuoso improv. At the end of the Weekapaug, the band kicked into double and triple time, speeding up the composed ending of the song.
However, as the band collectively held the final note, Trey bust right back into the sprinting Weekapaug jam, and the band was off and running at a manic pace. Rhythmically rooted in the composition, this jam did not take long to build texture and begin to divert from the song’s musical path. Mike began to solo as Trey used a distorted tone to complement his quickened patterns. This section quickly developed into the best music played by the band all night. Taking on a course of its own, this improv got into some syncopated, Talking-Heads-esque grooves before entering abstract and down-tempo territory. Jams like this, that grow seemingly out of nowhere, are the stuff that long-term highlights are made of. Creatively assembling a unique musical puzzle, the band cultivated this jam into some crazy territory before using it as a bridge to a set ending Antelope.
As Phish initiated the song that everyone knew would end the set, adrenaline coarsed through people’s veins as they realized the second half of the set read “Mike’s > Hydrogen > Weekapaug > Antelope!” As the delicate musical depiction of an Antelope grazing the plains for food gave way to the aggression, the show spun as one. Page opened the jam with some menacing piano licks as the band hopped right into briskly moving grooves. The firey jam channeled the energy in The Centrum, creating a patient, funky and intricate piece of mastery. Clocking in at sixteen minutes, the band gave this Antelope plenty of time to run wild before corralling it. Without getting overzealous and chaotic, Phish crafted one of the best Antelopes of the tour using sinister and well-paced communication. Page absolutely killed it on the piano the entire time, complimenting Trey’s blistering lines and a tightly glued rhythmic pocket.
As the Antelope peaked, moving into the ending breakdown, people caught a hold of their minds, realizing what they had just witnessed over the past hour, rendering the Chalk Dust / “Wipe Out” segment a distant memory. Yet, as Phish does, they brought the show full circle, finishing with another chorus of “Wipe Out” out of the Golgi encore.
11.27.98 was a classic evening of Phish. Combining so many elements that define why they are the greatest musical act on the planet, this night in Worcester literally had something for everyone. This defines yet another aspect of Phish’s greatness- their ability to play to many different audience demographics during one show- or even one set. Whether you wanted bust-outs, imposing psychedelic jams, random covers, or classic Phish, everyone walked away happy from this night ten years ago.
I: Funky Bitch, Ya Mar, Carini, Runaway Jim, Meat, Reba, The Old Home Place, Dogs Stole Things, Vultures, When the Circus Comes, Birds of a Feather
II: Buried Alive, Wipe Out, Chalk Dust Torture* > Mirror in the Bathroom# > Chalk Dust Torture > Dog Log > Chalk Dust Torture > Sanity, Buffalo Bill, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove*, Run Like an Antelope
E: Wading in the Velvet Sea, Golgi Apparatus > Wipe Out
*With “Wipe Out” teases. #First time played
photo: picture man
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
Let’s take it back 13 years to the day for the second show of December ’95. This one, in my hometown, contains an all-time favorite “Tweezer” (don’t expect any funk in this one), a ripping “Maze,” and a first set that reads like a classic canon of Phish songs with a few newcomers crashing the party in “Prince Caspian” and “Free,” and Fog.
I: Prince Caspian, Runaway Jim, Mound, Guelah Papyrus, Reba, My Sweet One, Free, Fog that Surrounds, Bouncing Around the Room, Possum
II: Also Sprach Zarathustra, Maze, Simple, Faht, Tweezer, A Day in the Life, Golgi Apparatus, The Squirming Coil, Tweezer Reprise
E: Bold as LoveTags: 1998