Phish’s Last Stand

Something was in the air at SPAC on those June nights five years ago.  In the woods of upstate New York, Phish would throw down the gauntlet one more time before calling it quits.  Sure, Coney Island was a great time with the huge movie broadcast, the baseball field, and Jay-Z’s appearance, but musically, nothing from ’04 can compare to SPAC.  Deer Creek and Alpine would go on to provide us with fabulous music and moments, but it was in the intimacy the New York forest where the band last dipped their golden ladle.  On June 19th and 20th, Phish delivered the last opuses of their career.

6.19.04 (Mark Terry)

6.19.04 SPAC (Mark Terry)

The 2004 summer run was surrounded by a bittersweet aura.  Knowing this was gonna be it, we wanted to savor every last drop, but that unspoken feeling of imminent loss lingered.  We didn’t want to mourn something that we still had, but the knowledge that this would be the end of the road wouldn’t disappear.  After two exciting nights in Coney Island, the caravan headed north to Saratoga Springs for the first time since Summer ’95.  Following issues with management, the band was not invited back after until nine years later under new ownership.  The whole community knew that these shows would be special, but we didn’t know the half of it.  Once Phish hopped onstage in the beautiful northern setting, the magic hose would be turned on, and left on full blast for two straight days.  Phish would tap into the universal spirit more coherently than any other time in 2004, providing the audience with two final nights of cosmic communication to hold in our hearts.

While all four sets of this weekend were out of hand, this is a story about the second sets of 6.19 and 6.20, two of the greatest, if not the greatest, post-hiatus frames of music created by the band.  Whether it was the light at the end of the tunnel or just the the inspiration of performing their final run, Phish dug in and played their souls out.

"A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing"

"A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing"

As the lights dropped signifying the start of the second set, we assumed our places.  After a stellar first half, highlighted by an opening “Reba” and a sublime ambient jam bringing “Walls of the Cave” into “David Bowie,” we knew that what was about to drop would be special, yet how special, we didn’t know.  Launching the set with the opening drum beats of Undermind‘s “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing,” Phish chose one of their most sought after new songs to sculpt into a masterpiece.  As soon as the song started, everyone knew the jam would be huge, but the sheer perfection of it would be uncovered slowly.  After an abbreviated first-set “album version” at Coney Island, this second-set opener would clearly take a different course.

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SPAC '04

Following Trey’s Hendrix-esque guitar solo, the jam began in earnest, and one could tell it was on.  The twisting and sinister music soon settled into a space where the whole band hopped into a collective jam rather than merely supporting Trey.  This is where the shit began to go down.  Improvising on the future epic for the first and only time, Phish created a menacing, yet uplifting, jam that would immediately vault into the annals of Phish history.  The exuberance of hearing the band absolutely slaughter this new favorite, combined with their absolutely locked and flawless playing, resulted in one of my top Phish experiences ever.

14071878106_0_albThe band connected several directed sections of improv, building a monstrosity.  By merging hard groove with searing evil psychedelia, Phish created a beast we had never seen before.  About half-way through the jam, the band snapped into some collaborative playing that set the table for the unbelievably spiritual jamming that would follow. This is where the magic began to blossom at an alarming rate, infusing the menacing piece with a sense of redemption and hope.  The band garnished a serious Pink Floyd vibe at this point, creating a beautifully  intense soundscape that was led to a cathartic release by Trey’s surreal and triumphant melodic licks.  This jam defines epic; for those looking to start listening to post-hiatus, start here.  As the only improvisational version of the song, Phish went all out and created a masterpiece.

6.19.04

6.19.04

As the twenty-minute jam closed, Phish moved directly into the opening of a superbly unique 32-minute “Piper.”  Using the popular jam vehicle to blow out any of the song’s conventions, the band took the momentum from their opening jam and kept it rolling.  As “Piper’s” scorching path left a wake of fire in its trail, it wasn’t long before the band broke down the jam into a more percussive place, stirring more musical creativity and diversity into the mix.  Bass-led grooves began to boom as Trey initiated some highly-addictive rhythm licks; where were we headed?  The pace slowed a bit, allowing for more spacious improv from all band members.  Following minutes of this polyrhythmic playing, Phish settled the music down again, creating an ominous tone before dropping into an “Tweezer Reprise” themed jam.  Starting with slow infectious patterns, the band built a completely unique jam into a straight dance-a-thon.  Gripping us with their imagination, the entire venue was soon bumping to the otherworldly rhythms.  Infusing an edgier tone to the music, the band built towards the Tweezer-laced peak.  This was heaven; one of those times where you danced so hard you knew not where you were, and you smiled so hard that your face muscles began to cramp.  This was IT, plain and simple, and everyone knew it.  IT was unmistakable.  With Trey wailing with the enjoyment of 1995, we all seemed to jump into a time warp to a place where things were firing on all cylinders again.  Were they really stopping in a month?  That didn’t make any sense now.

SPAC '04 (Mike Piera)

SPAC '04 (Mike Piera)

As if the “Reprise” peak wasn’t high enough, the band eventually morphed into the third section of this “Piper.”  Peeling away some of the layers of sonic residue, the band stripped the music down to some heavy drum and bass patterns.  Soon Trey and Page jumped into the mix and the band was locked into another infectious piece of improv, this time a down-tempo bulbous groove.  At this point, everyone’s minds were shattered to smithereens.  We were 40 minutes into the set and the entire time had been filled with some of the best Phish improvisation ever.  Before we knew it, we were coaxed into a funky and accented rhythm that delivered us right into the bouncing beginning of “Jibboo.”

3176382207_0d3c0e8ddaAt this point, we all knew we were in the grips of the Phish on an incredibly special night of music.  The jam stemming from “Jibboo” provided the us with the tight and uplifting candy-grooving that was much-needed after such a long and ominous period of improv.  Returning our brains to some sense of normalcy, this “Jibboo” was placed at the perfect point in the set, bridging the dark and the light.  With none of their impeccable tightness lost, Phish lept from their melodic relief into a late-set “Limb By Limb” that turned into yet another indelible 6.19 memory.  Transcending the general path of Limb jams, this version blossomed with patience and beauty into some truly delicate Phish.  As the jam reached its midpoint, the music gained some swing and built into something far greater than an average Limb peak.  In a geyser-like eruption of melody, Trey led the band towards spiritual apex that echoed of The Grateful Dead’s rolling melodic peak of “The Eleven.”  This was pure hose, and it was good. Perfection, beauty, and symmetry are all words that could describe this musical arrival, putting an exclamation point to this set of utter insanity.

With the classic set closer of “Cavern,” everyone’s brains came back to earth and realized the enormity of the Phish they had just experienced.  This was a perfect set; the type that didn’t come around all that often in the post-hiatus period.  As the set ended and Phish came back for an encore, there was nothing they could do to upstage what had just happened. Fully cognizant of this, they elected for one of the classiest encores in their repertoire, “Wading In the Velvet Sea.”  Reserved for post-epic situations just like this one, Velvet Sea provided the perfect reflective denouement to a show that no one would ever forget.

And this was only night one.  To be continued…

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ironmountain_archive2ARCHIVE REMINDER: I know there are a lot of new readers lately, and I wanted to remind everyone that there is over 150 articles archived on Phish Thoughts.  You can use the orange “tag cloud” on the bottom right of the page to search by category (right above this paragraph), or you can search for any term using the search bar on the top of the page.  The search bar is especially useful when looking for particular show downloads.  You can always just click on a particular month of the archive, and all the articles should appear chronologically.  Also, the entire “Miner’s Picks” series is linked at the right side of the page as well, for quick access to the goods.  All links are always active.  If you find a broken link, please let me know via email.  Thanks so much, and enjoy!

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DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:

Markthalle - Hamburg, GR

Markthalle - Hamburg, GR

7.23.96 Markthalle, Hamburg, GR < LINK

Dipping back into Phish’s oft-overlooked Europe ’96 tour, this show was their last headlining gig, and a fan favorite from the tour,  A standout show from start to finish, this should fill in a gap in many collections.

I: AC/DC Bag > Foam, Theme From the Bottom, Gumbo, Scent of a Mule* > Down With Disease > McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters > Stash, Hello My Baby

II: Also Sprach Zarathustra > Runaway Jim, Loving Cup, Sparkle, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Bike, Slave to the Traffic Light

E: Rocky Top

*Contained an a capella solo by Trey.

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120 Responses to “Phish’s Last Stand”

  1. MP Says:

    2 SPACtacular nights of music! Phish so loud you can feel it in your bones is right around the corner!

  2. guyforget Says:

    i think the balls chant went on at lemonwheel (or oswego) too if my memory serves me correctly….so it was probably summer 98 or 99 leading up to the festival..

  3. full tour: ANNOUNCED! Says:

    lol at……harry….BALLS! 🙂

  4. camman the kid Says:

    we should prepare some chants for hampton…. i always thought the 1..2..3.. strikes your out was a cool chant to welcome the band from set break on 6/16/2004

  5. hairy pood Says:

    you can pheel good about balls

  6. full tour: ANNOUNCED! Says:

    nothing beats a classic CHEESECAKE chant…..i was right up front at cypress in the section which basically started the entire YEM cheesecake interaction. Our section started chanting it and like wildfire it spread around the entire field until there were 90,000 people doing it! It got to the point where it started to sound like cheeseSTEAK…lol

    the cheesecake chant lingered onward throughtout summer 2000….after the 6/23/00 atlanta “heavy things” we responded with the cheesecake seal of approval.

  7. Jer Says:

    I think I really need to listen to 6/19/04 again because I don’t remember the second set being as good as you describe it here. I do remember Mike just killing the WOTC jam prior to the Bowie segue. However, I don’t remember anything about the Piper other than wishing that Trey would take the screaming guitar solos down a few notches because what Mike and Fish were playing was much more interesting and innovative to my ears. I remember thinking that Trey was feeding off of the energy from the crowd and subsequently reveling in the rock star aura that went along with the loud, distorted, raucous soloing and his lifestyle at the time. It was a completely different feeling than when I witnessed Trey (and band) shred through segments of the 11/23/97 Gin also in rock-star fashion. I think a lot of my frustration while at SPAC was related to the knowledge of (at least) Trey’s “health problem”, and how that seemingly hampered the continued improvement of Mike and Fish within the framework of the band. As with anything, you’re only as good as your weakest link.

    As for SPAC, that venue is awesome. 2004 was my only visit, and thinking about the surrounding area (the golf course, the large lockerroomesque park buildings, the expansive wooded areas, and the venue that just sinks right into the earth) is so surreal at this point. As I said, I’d love to hear 6/19 again if only to hear Mike’s brilliance during that WOTC and to listen to what my ignorance and frustration prevented me from hearing during the second set.

  8. Mr.Miner Says:

    Camman, use the search bar to find those downloads…

  9. TJ Says:

    I’ve been telling all of my friends this since I went to these shows.

    This was the best post-hiatus Phish that I saw. Both nights were GREAT, creative, well-played and they had direction when jamming. The music was always moving forward.

    I am excited for them to read this and remember how much I trumpted the sickness of these shows. They are up there in the Pantheon of recordings that need to be revisited in all of Phishtory. They are representative of a time to be sure, but shows what they were still capable of on tour which many consider to have been on the downside of their career.

  10. guyforget Says:

    camman, i just emailed you the room info at your gmail account. nice work, tix and a hotel in one day.

  11. WALSH Says:

    camman…here is the page of the spreadsheet that show is on. it is only 128 bitrate…but it’s something.

    http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=p8WKkpP-TKpO1VnQgcff6EQ&gid=14

    Also, you could always request a reseed at week4paug.net…there is a source floating around that they had in the Project ’92. Which is still barely alive a bt.etree.org also.

  12. Brad Says:

    Thanks for the Saratoga shout out. Curious about what your thoughts are about a return to SPAC. Because after the ’04 show the management said that they would never have Phish back, but Trey has been there twice since.

  13. camman the kid Says:

    i cannot say that you enough to everyone on this site, especially to Congressmen, Guyforget, and Mr. Miner…. you are all about to seriously make my wildest dreams become a reality

  14. camman the kid Says:

    so now.. how doe a 17 year old kid with tickets and a room get from Columbia, MO to Hampton, Virginia, that can only miss 3 full days of school….. any suggestions as always would be greatly apperciated and considered

  15. snigglebeach Says:

    Don’t know what about that weekend sticks out most.

    The interesting parking arrangements. Parked in a golf course first night. and a musuem??? lawn the second. (right next to a man-made pond and courtyard) .

    Lee’s Campground. Non-stop party (except for show time i assume). Totally like the lot at a festival. all the goodies, with the only security measure seeming to be making sure only paying campers were on the grounds.

    Or last but not least the Incredible music and positive Aura that was at both those shows. Start to finish, song selection was not as important as the burning groove they held all weekend. I have been guilty at more than a few shows questioning setlists, but the great shows, you dance all night and then look at the list and think “huh, sounded a lot better than it looks on paper.

  16. boomsato Says:

    Manatee…I believe it was at this show we were getting our groove on lower pavillion, Mike side. Tons of good space. I turned to you and said, “You know what would be nice, a sick Twist.” Lo and behold…the next song didn’t dissappoint.

    Keep the ’04 love coming!

  17. camman the kid Says:

    50 days……

    just 50 freaking days…….

    1204 hours until they take stage…..

  18. guyforget Says:

    camman, check gmail and reply

  19. camman the kid Says:

    will do, im having internet problmes, also MINER!!! please check your email

  20. camman the kid Says:

    guy! ther was a problem wiith the hotel reservation, they misspelled my name, will that be a problem?

  21. Chalkdustin Says:

    Holy Icculus, Camman, you scored tickets?! And a hotel?! I couldn’t be happier for you. If I had extras, you would have been the first person I’d given them to and it’s so good to see that someone else is sharing the groove with you in March.

  22. Chalkdustin Says:

    Major applause to Congressmen and guyforget for hooking a phan up. I admire you both.

  23. guyforget Says:

    now all camman need to do today is get laid!

  24. Chalkdustin Says:

    Now wouldn’t that be the cherry on top.

  25. camman the kid Says:

    yea man i go9t the hook-up! the hotel is offically in my name now… well actually they slightly misspelled my name but i dont think its that big of a deal.. HELL yea…. its starting to sink in.. and im truly beginning to freak out….

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