After a full year of concentrating almost exclusively on collaborative band grooves, Fall ’98 represented a shift towards a new style of play for Phish. Come the end of summer and beginning of fall, the band began to infuse layered “ambient” improv into their repertoire. Moving beyond rhythmic and melodic conventions, the band engaged in selfless, amorphous jamming that resulted in many sublime musical trips over the course of this month. Without any true lead, all members pushed and pulled at the sonic brew, growing an organic musical amoeba. Representing the next evolution in Phish’s sound, Fall ’98 offered a new flavor alternative to the chewy funk of summer.
Taking no time to introduce this new musical plane, the band kicked off fall tour with an other-worldly ambient excursion of “Reba > Walk Away” at the Greek Theatre, leaving all in wonder of what had transpired. Moving directly to Las Vegas, the band cranked out one of the defining psychedelic opuses of their career in Halloween’s third set “Wolfman’s.” While some consider this a “polarizing” version, I consider it one of the most sacred treks the band has ever taken. Diving fearlessly into the void, Phish harnessed the other side in molding one of the eeriest passages of their career. Oozing with mind-bending energy and exploration, this still holds up as the deepest dive into the occult the band has ever taken on All Hallow’s Eve.
As they continued along the path of Fall, the band consistently included this type of playing in many jams. In Denver, this sound grew out of “Frankie Sez” into “Bowie.” At UIC, this ambient style underlined the most creative and cathartic jam of the run in “AC/DC Bag.” While Grand Rapid’s “Halley’s Comet” contained passages in this vein, Greenville’s “Wolfman’s” and Hampton’s “Simple” highlighted this amoeba-like psychedelia. And in Worcester’s three-night finale, the jam between “Weekapaug” and Antelope” moved through this territory, while the “Simple” of the tour’s finale explored the dark side of this improv. Blending passages and hints of this style throughout the tour, Phish’s evolving ambient playing became more ingrained in the norm.
When Phish returned in ’99, they would build on this ambient style, adding thicker layers of effects and dissonance, developing their “millennial” sound that evolved throughout the year. Fall ’98 represents a moment in time when Phish dynamically navigated the musical ground between laid-back funk of summer and the searing psychedelia that lurked around the corner, leaving a legacy of excellent exploration along the way.
Below are five jams that chronicle the evolution of Phish’s ambient style of Fall ’98:
Starting with the first show of tour, Phish began to explore this new style of jamming.
One of the band’s career highlights, and a journey into places unimaginable.
“AC/DC Bag” 11.7 II Chicago, IL
Overshadowed in the first show of UIC’s three-night stand, this “AC/DC Bag” holds up to anything from Fall ’98.
“Simple” 11.21 II Hampton, VA
A gorgeous ambient excursion with all members working in sync to form a stunning piece of music.
“Simple” 11.29 II Worcester, MA
If Hampton’s “Simple” sounded like an ascension into heaven, this version depicts a descent into Hades.
Jam of the Day:
“Bathtub Gin” 2.14.03 I
Phish’s “Welcome Back” jam in the first set of Winter ’03.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
6.23.95 Waterloo Village, Stanhope, NJ < Torrent
6.23.95 Waterloo Village, Stanhope, NJ < Megaupload
I: Simple, Chalk Dust Torture, Prince Caspian, Reba, Ginseng Sullivan, Free, Taste, You Enjoy Myself
II: Runaway Jim > The Lizards, The Wedge, Run Like an Antelope, Harpua* > Jam** > Llama**, Good Times Bad Times**
E: A Day in the Life
*Unfinished; with Abba’s Waterloo
**John Popper on harmonica
Source: AKG 460b > Sony D10 Pro II