During the transformative year of 1997, Phish didn’t only make a seismic shift in musical style, they also revamped their song rotation, favoring vehicles for heavy grooves. Songs like “Free,” “Gumbo,” and “Wolfman’s” took on completely new musical contours, while the band also added pieces to their repertoire that catered to their new rhythmic style. “Ghost,” and “Twist” provided, open-ended jams, and “Black-Eyed Katy” provided a vehicle for straight funk improv. In addition to these originals, the band also revived two ancient covers – “Sneakin Sally” and, more significantly, “Cities.” Upon its inclusion in Europe’s setlists during Summer ’97, “Cities” immediately became a fitting musical springboard with its slowed-down, bass-led grooves. Boasting significant versions all summer long and in the years to come, “Cities” represented one of the greatest song developments during the era of groove.
Phish featured The Talking Heads’ cover in the summer of 1988 somewhat frequently, but shelved the song before the year ended. “Cities” didn’t see the stage lights again until Summer 1994 when the band, completely out of nowhere, broke it out in Ottawa, Ontario for a four-minute stint, never to be seen again until 1997. But when the song re-emerged, it remained in the band’s loose rotation for the late ’90s, providing more than a few outrageous dance parties and diverse escapades. Here, in chronological order, are some of the most significant versions of “Cities” ever played.
Phish began 1997’s summer tour in Europe, exploring the molasses-funk they had discovered just months before. “Cities” proved to be a perfect vehicle to explore these new overtly rhythmic textures. Appearing four times over their three-week tour, “Cities” nudged its way into rotation with its dripping grooves. This version from Paradiso was the last rendition before the band returned stateside. In its combination with “Bathtub Gin,” the song showcased Phish’s excessively slow-paced jamming that typified their ground-breaking European vacation. After reaching a segment of distorted guitar-led jamming, the band settled into “Gin’s” structure for a few measures before moving into a slow funk jam that, minutes later, morphed into “Cities.” As slow as they come, and moving beyond mere groove, this version is quintessesntial Europe ’97.
While “Cities” popped out across the pond, its US comeback came in the middle of one of Summer ’97’s eternal highlights – “Bowie > Cities > Bowie,” from Ventura, CA. Emerging out of “Bowie” and sliding right back into the larger song, Phish made the transitions in and out of “Cities” patiently and masterfully. 17 minutes into a dynamic “Bowie,” the band broke down their chaotic communication into a rhythmic realm that seemed to suggest a new segment of the jam. But as Trey began scratching his guitar, the band took notice, setting up a sparser pattern through which Trey led them into a series of crack-like Phish grooves, eventually blending into a surprise appearance of “Cities.” Moving more briskly than any European rendition, the band played a more authentically paced version of the cover. Transforming the jam’s ending into an intricate pattern, the band rejoined “Bowie,” forming the talking point of the west coast swing. This jam made ripples through the scene all summer long, and when listening back, one can hear why.
The very next time Phish broke out the song after its US debut, it opened the second set of Deer Creek in style. As soon as the song dropped, its medium tempo foreshadowed great things on the horizon – and were they ever! Stretching out “Cities” into its longest-ever exploration, Mike and Trey led the band through a section of furious funk that stood out as among the absolute cream of the Summer 97’s crop. The band locked in and let loose, creating an enduring memory that built through several stages of thematic improv before splashing into a sublime melodic ending, resolving the disgusting grooves. In my opinion, this represents Phish at their finest during an exciting tour.
“Cities“ 7.31.98 I Columbus, OH I
This standalone version, in the first set of Polaris ’98, blew the roof off the pavilion. Innocently creeping out of the gates with chunky Summer ’98 funk textures, Trey led off with a repetitive riff over the band’s swanky pattern, transforming the music into some ridiculously slammin’ grooves! As Trey finally broke his line, the band began to climb alongside his guitar licks, building momentum behind the crack-like, whole-band groove. Eventually the band found their way out of their straight rhythmic playing into a soaring peak; providing all the funk and a whole lot more!
Fast forwarding two years, this version of “Cities” finds us in Minneapolis during Fall 2000. When Phish opened the second set of the beloved Target Center’s 1.0 finale with “Cities,” conventional wisdom said we were in for a lengthy groove-fest, but Phish had other plans. After a brief run through some song-based rhythms, the band took a left turn into one of the lushest ambient soundscapes of tour. Delving into eerie-space and layered psychedelia, this version delivered something completely different altogether. Phish had veered from raw funk by this point in time, incorporating ambient playing as a prominent feature in their music, and this “Cities” couldn’t be a better example.
Jam of the Day:
Another blowout “Disease” before the band reined in the song’s improv to fast-paced, type-I territory throughout 1996.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
10.27.94 University Hall, UVA, Charlottesville, VA < Megaupload
As Phish prepares for a fall finale in Charlottesville, VA, let’s take a look back at the last time they played at The University of Virginia. A scintillating setlist was punctuated by an extended encore after a band-student miscommunication ended the second set prematurely. The band came back with one of their most legendary encores ever. The first set includes the Phishy combo of “Forbin’s > Vibration of Life > Mockingbird.”
I: Wilson, Sparkle, Maze, Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > The Vibration of Life > Fly Famous Mockingbird, The Divided Sky, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Poor Heart, Cavern
II: Julius, Ya Mar, Tweezer, Contact, Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Down with Disease, Sweet Adeline
E: Slave to the Traffic Light > Icculus, Tweezer Reprise
Source: AKG 460B (in X-Y pattern) > Shure PreAmp > DAP-20Tags: Jams, Songs