December ’99: Millennial Momentum

The fall of 1999 was a special time in the Phish universe.  The band had a more rigorous schedule than any fall since 1995, featuring 38 shows split into two tours.  The initial longer tour would traverse the country during the month of September, while the latter two-week run would focus on the northeast in preparation for the most anticipated event of the Phish’s career- Big Cypress.  Throughout this December run, there lived a sense of uncontrollable momentum, building to the crest of the 21st century.  Each show, each jam, each groove inched closer to the band’s ultimate night-long destiny.  A renewed excitement oozed infectiously during an outstanding run of shows, as the band and their community careened toward the millennium.

palace

12.2.99 Auburn Hills, MI

The previous three years had led up to this point.  From the time Phish shifted their playing to a slower, more groove-based style in early ’97, the band had consistently refined and evolved their sound, adding new musical textures each tour, while focusing less on others.  If ’97 brought the funk, ’98 brought ambient psychedelia, and ’99 brought searing soundscapes strewn with dissonance and distortion.  Finding a balance between these elements, Phish entered this December run having notched copious dark adventures over the the year’s two tours.  Building towards a musical peak in congruence with the change of time, there existed a sense of something greater than usual on this tour- a sense that we were all riding the similar wave of fate.  As the world braced itself for Y2K and a goodbye to the 1900s, our course was for the Everglades, as we prepared for what would surely be the most significant event of our Phish lives.

The proverbial ball was pushed off the top the hill on the second of December in Auburn Hills, Michigan.  Launched by a phenomenal Bathtub > 2001 >YEM, we were off.  It all seemed so close now, a few weeks of shows, Christmas time, and then we would all follow the lines going South.  But there was some business to tend to first.  Minus an off night on 12.10 in Philly, Phish created a fortnight of sparkling memories that took us through the Northeast, while making stops in the Midwest and the Mid-Atlantic.

12.15.99 Washington, DC

12.15.99 Washington, DC

Over these shows, Phish wove tales of mastery with their fully developed “millennial” late-’99 sound.  Often favoring tonal color and dissonance over solo melodies, Trey enhanced his playing during this year and come these shows, was in full throttle, using jams as his personal canvas for abstract art.  Page followed this trend, favoring effect laden washes and psychedelic sounds that complemented Trey’s avant garde creations.  Improv often passed through periods of groove before climbing into these intensified, distorted realms, catering to the most prevalent song of the run, “Sand.”

A depiction of a dark reality, “Sand,” debuted only months earlier at The Gorge, had already grown into a Phish staple.  All five versions of “Sand” played in these two weeks were immediate tour highlights.  From the millennial madness of Cincy and Portland, to the half-hour dance party in Providence; from the best version in Raleigh, with Trey using his mini-keyboard better than ever, to the “2001 > Sand”  marathon that opened the last set at Hampton, this song was the unanimous MVP.  As these renditions continued to grow in stature, it felt as though they were building to something.  If we didn’t know where this momentum was leading at the time, in the wee hours of the first day of 2000, we discovered.

Andy

Big Cypress - photo: Andy

As Mike’s bassline pounded through the speaker towers, we knew we were in for something special- something we had been feeling for so long.  Phish initiated the most extended and sublime exploration of groove in their career, resulting in forty-five minutes of absolutely to-die-for music.  Comfortably achieving complex places previously untouched, the band tore through the darkness with some of the most driving rhythmic music of their career, “Sand > Quadrophonic Toppling.”

Along this concise path of musical ascension, 12.11 in Philly and 12.16 in Raleigh proved to be two of the best shows of the year.  With a second set that was hard to reckon with, The Spectrum’s show brought the heat in the ridiculous triumvirate “Sally > Ghost > 2001.”  With some of the best improv of the tour, this was truly a space-aged sock hop.  Both the “Sand” and the “Tweezer” from Reynolds Coliseum upstaged anything the band would drop at Hampton over the next two nights.  Both are colossal pieces of quintessential late-’99 improv, defining the style of music I have tried to describe.

Chris Heppner

12.18.99 Hampton, VA - photo: Chris Heppner

The tour also saw the band’s return to the Phishy venue of Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland Maine for the first time since 12.11.95.  A two night stand in the intimate venue boasted two great second sets- the first highlighted with a gorgeous ambient exploration of “Bathtub Gin” and the second by the aforementioned “Sand” and a very atypical “Piper” jam.

phish-hampton-99pollockQuite fittingly, the last two shows before Cypress took place at Hampton.  The building that grew to symbolize Phish’s psychedelic power, would host the band one last time in the 1900s, a two-night stand that brought the year to a head.  What started with a big “Bathtub Gin” at Bonner Springs had led up to this, as the band stepped out for their final set.  Gratifying the crowd with the “2001″ that everyone had tasted the previous night during post-Moma jam, Phish launched into an almost forty minute carnival ride of “2001 > Sand,” the ultimate pairing of Phish-generated crack grooves.  The audience delighted in the overwhelming non-stop party.  Closing the set with a heavy Mike’s Groove, Phish provided yet another journey into the shadowed forests of space before resolving with a tour ending Weekapaug> Buffalo Bill > Weekapaug.

And that was it.  Cypress was less than two weeks away.  A brief visit home with our families, and into the nether world we would go, knowing not what to expect from Phish’s greatest mystery yet.  As the entire community celebrated the holidays and prepared for the ultimate, anyone who had seen this run of shows knew the band was ready.  All things were set for the ride of a lifetime.

To celebrate the nine year anniversary of this climactic run of shows, I have put together an extensive compilation of tracks from these two weeks.  Highlighting at least one jam from every show of tour, “Miner’s Picks: December ’99″ totals ten hours of can’t miss psychedelic relaxation.  The tracks and links are below!

Post your own memories of December ’99 in Comments below!

DOWNLOAD MINER’S PICKS: DECEMBER ’99 PT. 1 < LINK

DOWNLOAD MINER’S PICKS: DECEMBER ’99 PT. 2 < LINK

DOWNLOAD MINER’S PICKS: DECEMBER ’99 PT. 3 < LINK

1,2,3. Bathtub Gin > 2001 > YEM 12.2 II Auburn Hills, MI

4. Sand 12.3 II Cincinnati, OH

5. Limb By Limb 12.3 II

6. Split Open and Melt 12.4 II Cincinnati, OH

7-10. Mike’s > Meatstick > H2 > Weekapaug 12.5 II Rochester, NY

11. Halley’s Comet 12.7 I Portland, ME

13,14,15. Baththub Gin > Simple, Free 12.7 II

15. Run Like an Antelope 12.8 I Portland, ME

16-19. Sand, Dirt, Piper > Dog-Faced Boy 12.8 II

20,21. David Bowie > Have Mercy 12.10 II Philadelphia, PA

22-25. Sally > Ghost > 2001 > Disease 12.11 II Philadelphia, PA

26,27. Drowned > Prince Caspian 12.12 II Hartford, CT

28. Sand 12.13 II Providence, RI

29. Free 12.15 II Washington, DC

30. Reba 12.15 II

31. Sand 12.16 II Raleigh, NC

32,33. Wading In the Velvet Sea > Tweezer 12.16 II

34,35,36.  Moma Dance > jam > Bug 12.17 II Hampton, VA

37. Split Open and Melt 12.17 II

38. Harry Hood 12.18 I Hampton, VA

39. Tube 12.18 I

40,41. 2001 > Sand 12.18 II

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21 Responses to “December ’99: Millennial Momentum”

  1. Jeff Says:

    Let me be the first to comment that in my humble opinion, the Cincy Melt is a top 5 all-time version, and it’s my personal favorite. I really loved this December run, the grooves and space the band explored were fun. The 12/3 Cincy show was my first exposure to First Tube, and that about knocked me on my ass! But the Melt on 12/4 was simply incredible. It was a perfect example of when the band just locks into some weird groove, (in this case brought on by Page), that the band, Kuroda, and the phans all kind of get hooked on the same frequency and there is this collective expression of approval. Not in a peak explosion that you get from a tension release moment, but this just sense of wonder that something magical is happening at that very moment. That was the Melt that night.

  2. MistaWard Says:

    Slightly off-topic, but for me, the December tour was the first time that shows got spread to the masses really quickly. As recently as summer ’99, I was still trading tapes and there was at least a month-long lag before the majority of the shows would be readily available from kind folks on rmp. By fall and definitely Dec. I was hooked up on etree and able to grab shows within 10 days, and sometimes in only a couple of days. This made the drive from Tampa –> Big Cypress all the sweeter, as we grooved to the second Hampton show and knew we were in for crazy times in the everglades.

  3. Panda Says:

    This was a FUN time indeedy! 99 was not that sick until this Fall run and the December tour was amazing! The energy at Hampton was some of the sickest ever! Those shows were so tight and we all knew Big Cypro was next! There was definte feeling that we were all going into the unknown after those two shows. The good vibes and freindly feelings between the band and phans were everywhere. This was truely a time to remeber being with Phish!

  4. Woodrow Wilson Says:

    A quick story- With no previous exposure to Phish, i received a ticket to Alpine 99 for a high school graduation present. I loved the diversity of the lot scene, ate some mushies, and quickly realized what the Phish were all about with a 30 minute Fluffhead 2nd song. I fell in love with the band and only got to see them 5 more times before hiatus, but back on topic, i loved the ’99-00 sound that they brought. I’ll live with an occasional flub since they were bringing silly jams almost nightly. Miner, i can’t imagine not having this site to look at every day, and constantly listening to these sick jams as i go about my dailey activities-Thank you supremely

  5. rb Says:

    12.11 in Philly was sick. Already running LATE up I-95 from DE, a wicked multi-car spinout accident happened right in front of me. Luckily, I was able to avoid the wreck (who says the dank slows your reaction time!?!). Being a responsible citizen, I stopped to check on everybody’s well being, of course, having the idea of missing the show, or at least set I, on my mind. All must have been right in the universe that night becuase EVERBODY in the 6 or 7 cars involved were perfectly fine!! With a clear mind I was able to get right back on my way, just in time to arrive at my seat for the opening beats of Hood. Good times…

  6. Jacob Says:

    As usual, awesome post. Dec.99, at least in person for me, was the Cincinnati weekend, which I think you covered pretty well, Miner. Limb by Limb on 12.3 is fascinating, and as was posted earlier the Split from 12.4.99 remains one of my favorite Phish jams to see live. Phish, Chris Kuroda and much of the audience were one grooving organism for that jam.

    I received 12.16.99 in a tape trade the following summer, with the note: This is a must-hear show. I still pull out that second set pretty often.

  7. In Flagrante Delicto Says:

    1998 and 1999 were the two years I caught the most shows, and should be the tapes I’m most personally invested in. Don’t get me worng; bad Phish is good. But I’ve got to say that, with limited exceptions (some of which Minor nails in the post, of course), I did not think that 1999 was Phish in its prime. I think they were starting to tire, and the weight imposed by the sheer size of the scene (and the zize of Phish’s internal operation) was starting to show. The same thing happened to the Dead, as I recall.

    I wonder how, in the newest incarnation, they’re taking steps to keep things from becoming similarly unweildy, or at least to shelter the band from it. It’s one thing for fans like myself to hop onto, and then off of, the biggest roaming party on the planet. It is another thing entirely to live in that world – to be responsible for that world, for paychecks for your friends, their health insurance, operating budgets, etc. Frankly, the rumors about Bonnaroo and other “mainstream” outlets worry me. Keep it small. Keep it weird. Keep it special. And keep the hard drugs away. Do all of those things, and I’ll have greater expectations, musically, than what Phish was up to in 1999.

  8. WiggetyWack Says:

    Limb by Limb on 12/3/99 is hands down the most incredible song I have ever seen live. The ‘inhuman’ drumbeat section by Fishman, while Page explores the full range of his keys, and Kuroda drops the spinning floor lights over the floor crowd making them invisible to the rest of the arena, all almost made me swallow my tongue. The intricate shredding by Trey boasts more deep emotion than I have ever witnessed from a guitar.

    This song is glorious, and victorious.

    The Sand and Split Open are also Gems.

    Other highlights for me were DC Free, and 12/18 Tube.

    Enjoy.

  9. Jeff Says:

    ^^^^ hmm. not sure I agree. I feel that Big Cypress may have many of the bands greatest all-time jams, including the Sand mentioned by Mr. Minor, the Twist while not super lengthy, was near perfection in it’s presentation, the YEM was sick besides the cheesecake chant, the Rock and Roll & C&P were both epic. The point being that the groove and space that the band developed during that Dec. run which Minor speaks of, were the roots of what was played during Cypress. The organization was what produced the pinnacle of all Phish festivals, 80,000 in a swamp, hundreds of miles away from most peeps homes. It wasn’t a hinderance, yet. There was nothing but positive energy flowing in that Dec. run and into Cypress. The beginning of the end was after. If I could pull up a post I made the week after Cypress on Phantasy Phish I would because I knew then that the band would be over soon. They reached the peak and there was no way to capture that energy again. It was all a burden and a letdown afterwards (even though 2000 had some great shows). Also, in light of the family style organization that became “unsteerable”, it doesn’t help when you have people with massive drug problems. In hindsight 1999 is a great year for the band, and still has my all-time favorite show in 7-25-99.

  10. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^^ agreed. There was NO letdown until after Japan ’00. I agree with Jeff 100%. 1999 represents some AMAZING Phish all the way through.

  11. lanser Says:

    at auburn hills, judd and i were sitting with some canadian friends. and we were right on the aisle. every time the guard would come down the aisle the kid in front of me would goose the guy! and he was dancing hard. so as soon as he would stop and look back the kid would go right back to raging! it was so funny! and he never got caught. i almost peed my pants i was laughing so hard. and the YEM jam is so epic!!!! whoooooooooaaaaaaa!!!!!!!

  12. Jeff Says:

    by the way. last thing. When they played After Midnight to end the final set before New Years, that was maybe the single most electric moment I’ve experienced at a show. The crowds energy leading back tot he capsites was off the hook. That may the best song placement in all of the years of shows the band played.

  13. Los Says:

    I was taught a month ago
    to bide my time and take it slow
    but than I learned just yesterday
    to rush and never waste the day…
    now Im convinced the whole day long
    that all Ive learned is always wrong
    and things are true that I forget
    but no ones taught that to me yet

    Thanks minor

  14. John Tesh Says:

    ^^^^^ totally agree about the after midnight placement…i went into a frenzy because i absolutely love the song anyway, but it was also just off-the-charts energy once they ripped into it!!!

    i remember running back to the campsite and there was a huge line to get into the “gates”. i didn’t want to wait in that cow herd, so i decided to hope the little fences they had setup with either orange or pink plastic strip…little did i know that they were barbed wire fences and i proceeded to get caught in the fence and rip a hole in my shirt and slice myself up pretty good…

    all of it didn’t matter though…soon i was going to be witnessing the midnight set…which was definitely a let down in a lot of ways

    do any of you actually like the slave from that set? just curious

  15. Mr.Miner Says:

    To be honest, I agree that the Midnight set could have been so much more. BUt that’s what happens when you go into Phish with expectations. That being said, the set was great with some to die for music. And yes, I LOVE the Slave- so patient and so shimmering…..I just thought, well, that there wouldn’t be songs. silly me

  16. burndog Says:

    I was only at Big Cypress, so I cannot comment on the tour leading up to it. I flew down to Ft. Lauderdale and rented a car a couple of days before we were allow to drive in. Camped in Chokoloskee Island Park (RV park). I was with my gf at the time and we met a couple guys that drove with us. You hear of all the nightmares from people getting stuck in traffic for hours or days. We all woke up early and packed up. Stopped at a Kwik Stop for gas and beverages and made our way to the entrance. I had a feeling that we were going to be dealing with a lot of traffic. We started getting closer to the exit and we were not seeing any cars. We were probably 100 feet away from the exit off of Alligator Alley. Sorry, tangent, Frankenstein just came on the radio. We had enough time to get out and stretch our legs and throw the frisbee around. Enough time for me to throw it into the Everglades. There was a brave sole to climb under the fence and get it. We got in no problem…fast forward to 12/30. I went to go get beers for everyone and I tried to figure out the best way to get out and back so I didn’t get lost. Well, you guessed it, I got lost. I thought that I was headed in right direction. I came upon a group and and looked more closely. It was some phriends from Wauwatosa, WI (hometown). I ended up staying with them for the first set cause there was no way I could find my way back in the crowd. These guys had rented an RV that had a TV and everything. I asked them what their address was and met up with them later. Those that were there or not there, understand that I do not have to repeat how awesome NYE was. We stayed an extra day to let the traffic filter out. I went to my friends RV to watch the Badgers beat Stanford in the Rose Bowl. Funny part about the TV. We were having trouble getting reception. I noticed that I had the same TV back home. I did some fine tuning and finally the game is in perfect view. Free Beverages all day!!!!! I love everyone’s Phish stories! Even my own, hahahaha

  17. Jwfold Says:

    Dec. 1999 was a killer run of shows for sure. I have always described the playing as “millenium-style” THe YEM at Auburn Hills on 12.2.99 is perhaps my favorite YEM jam of all time. Completley amazing, epic, unique finish to the song as it melts into Little Drummer Boy. great post!!

  18. Hazel Says:

    first night hampton was the worst Phish show i had seen. I had seen the first leg of the fall tour out west and took a break from late september till this mid december date. I drove with a friend 33 hours from Colorado. I remember saying after the first show in hampton that there was no way i was going to go to big cypress. Well, the 2nd night made up for the first night, and 11 days later i was in the middle of a swamp off of alligator alley. Yay phish

  19. Jawn Says:

    Hampton was a bit of a letdown for me because the Raleigh show was one of THE standout nights of my Phish-going days – here we were in this (for Phish in 1999) very tiny venue, and the crowd was just SO damn loud. I will always believe that’s why they opened with “Wilson,” because the cheers were so loud Trey wanted to hear everyone in that loud-ass crowd do the Wilson chant. I realized, really, even before the show began that I’d never see another one like it, and the show definitely didn’t disappoint musically.

    I kept thinking before the show started about all the basketball history that’d been made in this little gym – and I’m not even a basketball fan – and I kinda compared the crowd’s loudness to a “playoff atmosphere.” Everyone was so psyched, it was mahvelous.

    The second night of Hampton was fun, but it all seemed kinda like an afterthought after Raleigh.

  20. Wax Banks Says:

    Hey thanks for this collection – I’m short on ’99 knowledge, having lost a lot of interest after seeing the show with Seth Yacovone at Worcester in late ’98 and feeling disconnected from the scene (who knows why). I don’t think I saw *any* shows in 1999. Well other things intruded, I suppose.

    Parts 2 and 3 are downloading at lightning speed (several MB/sec) but part 1 is a paltry 40KB/sec or something. Any idea what’s up with mediafire?

  21. eric Says:

    Thanks! There is more awesome Phish on here than I time to listen! I have eagerly been anticipating Mr. Miner’s December ’99 Picks.

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