Four-song sets – ahh, the memories. During Phish’s creative peak of Fall 1997, the mystique of “the four-song set” was born. Infusing intrigue and wonder into Phish audiences, the adventure inherent in these improvisational odysseys made each night’s journey into the unknown even more unknown. Setlists could do nothing for Internet onlookers trying to determine what went down; four song titles could only speak so loudly. Fall ’97 has always been inaccurately painted as a “funk-only” era, and the diversity of jams added to the absolute mysteries wrapped around these four-piece poems. Throughout Fall ’97, the possibility of four-song sets lived vibrantly in every show, seducing the psychonaut in all of us.
Phish birthed this concept in West Valley, Utah, on the second night of fall tour, playing a staggering show that left people counting on one hand – one, two, three, four. The first Fall ’97 blowout had just gone down, foreshadowing a new phenomenon in live Phish. Opening with “Wolfman’s,” the band jammed off the song’s liquid grooves, drawing many parallels with the preceding version, two shows earlier, at The Great Went. Utah’s version even hinted at “Simple,” the combination that lit up the second set of The Went. But instead, Phish blended into their new melodic vehicle, “Piper.” Adhering to ’97’s template of the song – melodically cyclical and without the fury of latter years – the band provided a gorgeous resolution to “Wolfman’s” in the first-ever incarnation of “Wolfman’s >Piper,” a staple sequence of the late-90’s and beyond.
Another quintessential song pairing, “Piper” and “Twist,” continued to strengthen their bond in Utah, as the band coupled the songs for the fourth time in their young lives. This version of “Twist” saw things get straight cosmic in the E Centre, as Phish entered an excessively psychedelic soundscape over which Trey layered a unique and utterly face-melting solo, completely breaking form with the preceding jam. And out of this primordial soup, dripped a set-closing “Slave.” We weren’t in Vegas anymore, Fall ’97 had truly begun.
After two stellar shows in Denver, Phish got dialed up another four-song special in Champaign, Illinois. On this night, the band kicked off the second half with one of the most infectious “2001s” ever played. Carrying just the right tempo, and littered with disgusting licks by all, Phish started this Midwest party with spirit. Moving into “Wolfman’s,” which morphed from dance grooves into one of the defining, full-on, jams of the fall, Phish shredded some fast-paced, run-for-your-life psychedelia, annihilating this segment while passing through a break-neck “Crosseyed” jam along the way. To come down from this harrowing journey, the band landed in “Makisupa.” One might think any chance of a four-song stanza would end with the appearance of such a short piece, but not on this night. Instead, the band took the white-boy reggae into a galaxy far, far away. Ballooning this experiment into a supremely spaced-out realm, Phish returned to earth with a blistering “Taste” to close the frame.
And the band went right back to work in their next show at Hampton Coliseum on November 21, bringing down the house with a deep dive into four-song psychedelia that has always been unfairly overshadowed by the greatest-hits dance party of the following night. Phish led off with one of the more exploratory “Ghosts” of the fall, bringing the piece far beyond groove, into quieter realms of ambient and experimental playing. Treading on sacred ground early in the set, Phish was far off the deep end only eight minutes into the set. Emerging from the underworld with with a slowly-building, thematic jam, Phish took a turn for the nasty. An eventual, on-the-dime transition into “AC/DC Bag” infused some old-school energy into the distinctly new-school set. The band proceeded to take the classic Gamehendge piece on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, crafting the defining excursion of the set, another funk-less gem along the road of Fall ’97. The band let it all hang down during these 25 minutes of sublime, genre-defying improv. A perfectly-placed”Slave” came out of this menacing piece, bringing the set a light at the end of the tunnel. And only a set-ending “Loving Cup,” extended this frame to four.
Directly after the blowout in Hampton that created the myth of The Mothership, Phish took their overflowing creativity to Winston-Salem for an insane ride through another four-song set, and yet another defining piece of ’97 artwork in “Bathtub Gin.” While this show is always overshadowed by the previous two, the playing is every bit as strong throughout. When they kicked off the the second half with “Bathtub,” nobody could possibly know where the band was headed. Among the upper-echelon of Fall ’97 offerings, this multi-faceted version moved into some of the most connected and aggressive playing of tour. Taking the multi-faceted jam into savage, break-beat textures, Fishman absolutely owned this piece as the band explored many truly twisted places over the course of a sinister, half-hour. (I’ll put this one up as the jam of today to save some words.) Eventually reaching a settled plane, the band subtly infused the undertones of the intro to “Disease,” and pulled off a surprisingly sly segue. Taking their explosive energy right through their classic vehicle, the band brought the piece into another full-on excursion that had nothing to do with cowfunk.
As the band picked up the theme to “Low Rider” seemingly out of nowhere, they smoothly sailed into a jam around the ’70s anthem, providing comic relief with their lyrical offerings, and drawing a huge cheer for the line “Take a little trip with me.” Stopping off for some minutes of thick groove, Phish gradually revved back up into the ending of “Disease;” a truly transcendental hour of music. With an “Axis” closer, this set also added to four.
While Phish played several other five-song sets during the tour, some with short, insignificant set closers, these are the four-piece puzzles that drew so much attention along the road of Fall ’97. There would be a handful more through post-hiatus, peaking with Nassau’s 4.3 holy trek. (And if you don’t count a “Rotation Jam” as song, Deer Creek ’97’s first night holds the candle as the first incarnation of such a set.) But during Fall ’97, the term “four-song set” burst onto the scene, and the above evenings are the reasons why.
Audio Archive Links:
Jam of the Day:
“Bathtub Gin” 11.23.97 II
An instant classic from Winston-Salem.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
4.3.92 Hyatt Regency, Beaver Creek, CO < Megaupload
4.3.92 Hyatt Regency, Beaver Creek, CO < Torrent
Sticking to the soundboard train this week on Downloads of the Day, here’s another from Spring ’92.
I: The Landlady > Poor Heart, Stash, Rift, Guelah Papyrus, Sparkle, Maze, Fluffhead, All Things Reconsidered, Split Open and Melt, Golgi Apparatus
II: The Curtain > The Sloth, Possum, Mound, You Enjoy Myself, The Mango Song, Llama, Harry Hood, Suzy Greenberg
E: Rocky Top