The beginning of Fall ’98 was an exciting time in the Phish world. The band had recently concluded a triumphant summer tour, capped with the festivities at Lemonwheel in Limestone. While laid-back funk was certainly the theme of Summer ’98, the band began to approach a new style of playing toward the end of the summer. On the hallowed Air Force base in the corner of America, a more abstract and ambient style began to emerge in earnest. The best examples of this burgeoning style were the “Ghost jam” and the “Ambient Jam,” or the fourth set of the first night. This style was less rhythmic and focused more on collective dissonant harmonies and exploratory soundscapes. Less reliant on beats and more on flowing intuition, the band began creating jams that adapted the philosophy behind collaborative groove into the realm of ambient music. Each member was responsible for pushing the music ever so subtly, and together, the band could move mountains. After that weekend in Maine, it was clear that Phish would be entering new territory come fall, but how quickly that would develop was quite a surprise.
Opening the tour in the serene setting of LA’s Greek Theatre, Phish came out with a discombobulated first set that featured several songs from their new release, The Story of the Ghost. Without any true flow to the set, the band warmed up their chops for what would certainly be a more impressive set two.
As the second set got underway with the diverse combo of “Possum,” “Moma,” the amphitheatre began to pulsate with life, and Fall ’98 was officially underway. After the sinfully thick funk jam, Phish revved up the beginning of “Reba.” Always a second-set highlight when placed there, this version would transcend anyone’s wildest dreams.
As the band moved through their pristine classic jam section, it was magic to our ears in the impeccable sounding Greek Theatre. Trey’s delicate solo on top of the band’s relaxed groove was truly blissful as he improvised sublime melodies with masterful phrasing. Yet, sailing blissfully through this gorgeous segment of the jam, nobody in the venue expected the psychedelia which was just around the corner.
At the point where this jam diverges, Fishman initiates a more complex, less flowing, beat and the band begins to fade from groove into a more drone sonic canvas. As soon as this shift is made, all band members hop onto this idea and begin to create an alternate path filled with ambient effects and heavy textures. The normally light Reba jam all of a sudden becomes incredibly dark as the band dove head first into their alternate experiment. With layered effects and a far different beat, Phish entered the clutches of the eerie, creating a haunting jam that carried a different sort of beauty.
Using alternate sounds, Phish created a creeping and delicate jam that proved to be a precursor for similar exploration along their fall tour- most immediately two days later with the Vegas “Wolfman’s.” With a sonic mixture that sounded more like the laboratory of a mad scientist than a Phish show, the band created a completely unique jam that continued to grow deeper and darker, moving far away from anything ever heard in a “Reba” jam. Jaw hanging, eyes closed, I followed this divergent path into the throes of abstract madness. This was pure unadulterated IT, and this was only the second set of tour!
This alternate jam began to build until the band began attacking the music with more aggression, creating a supremely different sound; locked together like crazy glue and in your face. Just as the band hit the most sinister part of their excursion, they gradually build a slow groove, taking them out of the fiery dungeon, and segueing, out of the blue, into “Walk Away” for the first time since The Bomb Factory on May 7, 1994. Taking everyone by surprise with the landing point of their other-worldly excursion, the combination made for the outright highlight of the show, and one of the best moments of the entire tour.
Not letting go of the musical momentum that was created over this adventure, Phish built up the end of “Walk Away” to a grungy, dissonant climax out of which they released into the melodic anthem, “Simple.” (You can listen to the entire triumvirate below.)
Pulling out of the Greek and heading for a Halloween bash in Sin City, we popped in the DAT and relived the stunning jam in silence, still holding the magic energy inside, listening in disbelief. This “Reba” was the first, and one of the best, abstract jams that would grace Fall ’98. With many more to follow, this got the ball rolling for what would be an unforgettable month on the road with Phish.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
10.29.98 Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, CA < TORRENT LINK
In addition to the “Reba >Walk Away,” this show followed a pattern set at The Fillmore of big second set “Moma Dances,” a pattern that would hold true for Fall ’98. A beautifully flowing second set was capped with a frantic, well-played “Bowie.” The encore brought the sublime debut of The Beatles, “Something;” a perfect launch into a great tour.
II: Possum, Moma Dance, Reba > Walk Away > Simple, Albuquerque, David Bowie
*Trey on acoustic guitar **First time played