As Phish progressed through their career, each tour seemed to add a new element to their music. Constantly evolving their sound, the band kept fans engaged not only with new songs and new jams, but new styles of playing. In ’93 they peaked all that had come before with the ferocious “speedjazz” era. In ’94 their jamming grew far more exploratory and adventurous, combined with the aggression of a wild hyena. ’95 brought extended abstract spacescapes in the summer and moved into blistering tight arena rock in the fall. 1996 was a year of transition, moving from their style of Fall ’95 towards whole-band groove, and in 1997 this transition was completed. With the rawest funk grooves coming in the summer, Fall ’97 brought a refined James Brown-esque disco-funk into the mix, living symbiotically with outlandish psychedelia. Phish never grew complacent with their music, and never stopped pushing themselves out of their comfort zone into different milieus.
As 1997 came to a close, the community was on cloud nine, having just finished one of the outstanding years in Phish history- yet what laid ahead? First came the Island Run, which was a sublime aberration all to its own. And after a brief stint in Europe, the band returned to the west coast to showcase their new summer style. If we traced the rhythmic playing of the band from raw to refined, this summer represented a nuanced shift to a slower and beefier relaxed style of jamming. Congruent with the feeling of summer, Phish engaged in plentiful sessions of patient funk grooves. While many people remember the summer of ’98 for all of the one-time covers busted out by Phish, the band’s primary focus of the season was creating thick textures that blossomed in the summer air.
Starting off in Portland, OR, they made no bones about what the central theme of the tour would be, opening with “Wolfman’s,” followed two songs later by the first stateside “Moma Dance.” This focus would emerge more obviously in the second set with the now-famous segment of “Tweezer > California Love > Tweezer > Free, Meat.” The funk was deep; the funk was relaxed; the funk was infectious- and this would be the overwhelming trend for the rest of Summer ’98.
In a summer that oozed fun, Phish seemed to have a ball creating sweltering dance sessions amidst their favorite songs. The enthusiasm was contagious, as every night brought addictive fun and more surprises. The Summer ’98 sound featured prominent, yet slowed-down, lead bass lines from Gordon, favoring a soft and round tone- our ears were bouncing on trampolines all night. The pace of the tour’s definitive improv was brought to a far slower tempo. Trey utilized tar-thick wah-grooves all summer long to rhythmically and delicately dance around Mike’s patterns. Also guiding the band with danceable leads, Trey was focused on rhythmic playing for the whole tour. Page shied from his piano in favor of more textured sounds that enhanced their funk canvas. The clavinet and the Fender Rhodes grew more prominent in his sound. Fishman held down an incredibly deep pocket with Gordon, and was a band leader within this beat focused era.
The laid back music of ’98s summer tour supported the concept of Phish as maestro mood matchers- always fitting their music to their locale. The improv discussed herein would have never taken place indoors during a fall tour- that wasn’t the place for this type of music. The amphitheatres and open-air venues that made up the summer circuit allowed the slower music to bellow across the crowd, especially in the roofless venues. When playing these stops- like Portland Meadows, The Gorge, and Sandstone- the sound dynamic coaxed the band to delve into even slower tempos. Each night, as the sun set, you could be sure that you’d be dancing to some seriously thick Phish for most of the night, and the tour took on a character of its own.
Throughout this summer, the band played incredibly well together, forming cohesive jams all over the place. Even if their improv wasn’t always straight-laced groove, there was always a certain rhythmic quality that marked their playing. In one of Phish’s most well-loved tours, you knew that every show would bring a different dance party centered around this style.
Some of the highlights from this tour that defined this playing were the aforementioned “Tweezer > Free” from Portland, the Shoreline “YEM,” the Austin “Tweezer,” the Deer Creek “Gumbo,” the Merriweather “Sneakin’ Sally, and the Lemonwheel “Gumbo.” And those are just some of the most significant episodes. When aurally perusing the entire tour, this pattern of laid back funk clearly emerges. And, naturally, as the summer was coming to a close, the band began to drift into more layered, ambient style, foreshadowing their musical evolution of the upcoming fall.
To chronicle Phish’s very own “Summer of Love,” I have selected one representative jam from every US show during this special era of Phish. Totaling over seven hours of music from Summer ’98, this collection should keep the grooves going until the break of dawn. Chronologically combined into one compilation, I present to you “Miner’s Picks: Laid Back Funk ’98.” There are a few song repeats, due to the band’s song rotation over the summer. (And I forgot to add the Deer Creek “Gumbo!” It will be linked below.) The tracks and download links are below. Relax, kick back, and enjoy!
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1-4. “Tweezer > California Love > Tweezer > Free” 7.15, Portland, OR
5. “Reba” 7.16, The Gorge, WA
6. “Gumbo” 7.17, The Gorge, WA
7. “YEM” 7.19, Shoreline, CA
8. “Bathtub Gin” 7.20, Ventura, CA
9,10. “Ghost > She Caught The Katy” 7.21, Phoenix, AZ
11,12. “Wolfman’s > 2001” 7.24, Houston, TX
13. “Tweezer” 7.25, Austin, TX
14. “YEM” 7.26, Dallas, TX
15. “The Moma Dance” 7.28, Bonner Springs, KS
16. “Tube” 7.29, Riverport, MO
17,18. “Curtain > Free” 7.31, Columbus, OH
19. “Mike’s Song” 8.1, Alpine Valley, WI
20. “Ghost” 8.2, Deer Creek, IN
21. “Halley’s Comet” 8.3, Deer Creek, IN (Forgot the “Gumbo!”)
22. “Wolfman’s” 8.6, Atlanta, GA
23. “Ghost” 8.7, Raleigh, NC
24. “Sneakin’ Sally” 8.8, Merriweather Post, MD
25. “YEM” 8.9, Va.Beach, VA
26,27. “Wolfman’s > Time Loves a Hero” 8.11, Star Lake, PA
28. “YEM” 8.12, Vernon Downs, NY
29,30. “Gumbo > Sanity” 8.15, The Lemonwheel
31. “2001” 8.16, The Lemonwheel1998, Miner's Picks