On September 30, 2000, nine years ago today, Phish played Las Vegas on Trey’s birthday while sitting on the brink of extinction. Sure, they were proclaiming a “hiatus,” but who knew what would actually transpire. The band had finally run out of gas. Throughout Fall 2000, there were still moments of brilliance (see “Bathtub Gin” from the previous night), but they were fewer and further between. Improvisation remained adhered to song structure, and by the time the band reached the west coast, there were several nights, in retrospect, that Phish was simply going through the motions.
It’s an interesting time to reflect upon, because as I was going to every show – still having a blast nightly – the musical stagnation wasn’t as apparent as it became years later listening back. One might think the opposite; if I’d seen shows for years, wouldn’t the changes be more apparent? Well, not really. Busy living each and every Phish moment as if it was my last, I have nothing but fond memories of that last tour. But that final west coast run after Vegas certainly felt different. Defined by a bittersweet helplessness, we went to those last four, but this night in Vegas was the last show that carried the sense of still being on tour without the end yet in sight. There was still a show in Phoenix and a four-night run up the coast, but needless to say, emotions ran deep as the lights dropped on the last indoor Phish show.
Interestingly, I went back to listen to what has always been the musical highlight of the evening for me – “Twist > Sand” – only to discover that my memory was far brighter than the actual music. I hadn’t listened to it in years, though I certainly had heard it plenty of times. But juxtaposed with today’s Phish that I’ve been cranking lately, this time through, the band sounded pretty lazy; the period of decline had set in.
While much attention has been given to this Vegas evening due to Trey’s birthday and the copious bustouts, I’ve always found its only improvisational merit buried deep in the second set. After the appearances of “Walfredo” (244 shows), “Esther” (142 shows), and “Forbin’s > Mockingbird” (144 shows), but before “A Day in the Life” (166 shows) and “Emotional Rescue” (151 shows), Phish sank into a chunk of improv for the only time in the second set, combining “Twist” and “Sand.” After the “Forbin’s > Mockingbird” narration, referencing the band’s upcoming break, the musical highlight of the show unfolded – though on this particular night, that wasn’t saying all too much.
Introduced by Mike’s bass lines, the opening of “Twist” subtly emanated from beneath the boisterous arena crowd. As the jam gets underway, the band enters some pretty standard Santana-esque “Twist” grooves, with Trey flowing particularly well. Remaining anchored to the template of “Twist,” the band creates a minimalist backing that Trey and Page toy over collectively. Before they approach anywhere significant, the lyrical reprise returns, ending what could have been. But when the song ends, the band sustains a drone soundscape that Fish cuts through with the opening beats of “Sand.”
Adapting a laid back vibe throughout its composition, the rhythmic juggernaut seemed to be saving its wrath for the jam. But launching into a relaxed groove with Trey starting out on keys, maybe there would be no wrath at all. The band layers textures and effects instead of offering any melodic leads, creating a spaced-out vibe to the improv. Mike and Fish drive the jam behind the sonic layers before Trey even picks up his Languedoc.
Hitting some heavily altered notes, Trey uses his guitar to add another layer of sound rather than a distinct pattern. Without ever building the jam vertically, Phish explores spacier realms in a song usually reserved for ballistic exploration. I can dig on this version, but I can certainly understand those who can’t. As I said, it’s an interesting time to look back on.
For some reason that I am still trying to figure out, this show became Phish’s first full-show DVD release, showcasing the band at one of the very few downtimes in their career. This show always seemed like an odd choice, somehow over-hyped, especially since the night before – despite the Kid Rock fiasco – was far more musically engaging. Some things I’ll never understand. Nonetheless, make your own decision on this Vegas 2000 “Twist > Sand” by clicking play below.
Jam of the Day:
Fourteen years ago today, Phish started a small tradition of dropping large Shoreline “Mike’s Grooves.” (The tracking is weird on this, and “Mike’s” actually goes four minutes into the second track.)
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
8.12.98 Vernon Downs, Vernon, NY < Torrent
8.12.98 Vernon Downs, Vernon, NY < Megaupload
Another Phish tradition is to play a massive show right before a festival, causing many a fan prioritizing a good camping spot to miss the throw down. In ’96 it was the vastly underrated Hershey show, in ’97 it was Darien’s Bozo-laced adventure, and in ’98 it was this show at Vernon Downs. The last show before Lemonwheel, Phish threw down the a two-set effort that featured more than a few highlights. The “Ramble On > Slave” is a must hear, while the band kills the entire second set. Prepare to get bassed with these chunky FOBs!
I: La Grange, Makisupa Policeman, Funky Bitch, Possum, Roggae, Character Zero, Ramble On > Slave to the Traffic Light
II: Mike’s Song > Simple > Rift, Loving Cup, Sleeping Monkey, Weekapaug Groove, The Squirming Coil
E: Burning Down the House*, You Enjoy Myself
Source: (FOB/BTP) Schoeps CMC6/MK41 > Sonosax SX-M2 > DA-P1