The Four-Song Sets of Fall ’97

Summer 1997 (S.Nissman)

Summer 1997 (S.Nissman)

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.

Fall '97 (Unknown)

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.

1997 (R.Bleckman)

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.

1997 Advertisement

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

Audio Archive Links:

11.14.97 E Centre, West Valley, UT

11.19.97 Assembly Hall, Champaign, IL

11.21.97 Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA

11.23.97 LJVM Coliseum, Winston-Salem, NC

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Jam of the Day:

Bathtub Gin” 11.23.97 II

An instant classic from Winston-Salem.

[audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/05/ph97-11-23d3t01.mp3]

=====

DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:

4.3.92 Hyatt Regency, Beaver Creek, CO < Megaupload

4.3.92 Hyatt Regency, Beaver Creek, CO < Torrent

Hyatt Regency - Beaver Creek, CO

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

Source: SBD

796 Responses to “The Four-Song Sets of Fall ’97”

  1. Stupendous Says:

    Like the Birds from Deer Creek 99
    phenomenal! theres just a few notes in there with a changing bassline that
    create the most powerful few second segment Ive ever listened to.
    It just touches my heart n soul. When a structured song does that I feel a bit sappy, eventhough I feel it, it might slowly fade. In the context of a jam
    it becomes legendary. imo

  2. carleethian Says:

    whoa whoa whoa whoa whoa… STUBB’S?

    That would be the hardest ticket to get since Radio City in 2000. I know that it’s a great venue ( http://austinist.com/2008/04/23/rolling_stone_d.php ) and my favorite place in the city but I think it would cause riots on Red River when people don’t get in.

    I’m loving the possibility, I’m just not sure how feasible it is…

  3. KWL Says:

    was recently reading some stuff on neuroscience and the brain

    the over simplified version of some of brain science’s recent research on music and why we like it so much:

    the brain reacts in ways that cause pleasure when our expectations are met. Expectations in music are largely created through socialization, i.e., we learn and learn to like the music of our culture (for the sake of simplification i’m going to say ‘the music of our culture’ is based on blues structures).

    we find it especially pleasurable when those expectations are deferred before they are met, i.e., if a song deviates from the standard blues pattern for a few measures before finally ‘resolving’ back into the standard pattern. Excitement and pleasure comes from the interplay of setting up, deferring, and finally meeting expectations.

    phish are masters of setting up, deferring, sometimes violating, then resolving expectations. The resolution often takes the form of a big shreddy peak, but not always–it can come from, say, a beautiful melodic jam after a boundary-pushing jam, or it can come in the next song. or it can come when the crazy-ass stash or melt seamlessly falls into the song’s outro. chaos over. expectations blown away, and then met.

    i think some people have more tolerance for having their expectations deferred than others. there wasn’t a whole lot of resolution (return to the norm) in the vegas wolfman’s, if any…

    hope that made sense

  4. KWL Says:

    ^first sentence should read ‘on neuroscience and music’

  5. Stupendous Says:

    Well Said KWL

  6. (Formally Known As) BrandonKayda Says:

    Great point there Silly.

    Art definitely has to push boundaries in order to keep creativity alive and well. People who are pushing musical boundaries with avant-garde pieces are in reality doing the best thing for art – They are keeping it thought-provoking and interesting. Sure, it may not be loved by all but it did get a response out of people.

    The problem that I have with mainstream music today is that it is too formulatic – with the rise of auto-tune and studio equipment making people sing better than they actually can, and managers and executives just trying to make the next “hit song”, it has taken the heart out of the music. I’m sure it has been this way for awhile, but in this day and age it seems to have gotten worse than ever before. The arrival of the “3-minute rock song” has definitely taken a toll on the originality of the music and that is terrible. I feel that this music cannot count as art because it is only trying to copy off of a popular trend such as auto-tune, etc or trying to sell to a specific demographic (mostly teenagers)

    This is why those keeping music thought provoking are helping it most – Even if they are hated by everybody, they are pushing the envelope and are challenging their listeners to stop listening to what they are used to (mainstream generic “rock bands”) and widen their perspective and enhance their mind to new things.

    There are many examples of musicians who have done this (Debussy, Bartok, Mingus, Phish, GD, etc) but the most important thing is that we have to keep pushing the limits of what people can handle, even if it sounds terrible, because that is the only way art and music can expand. For if music (atleast in the mainstream) continues down the path that it is on of mundane, dull, monotonous rock/hip hop, then it may ultimately simmer out.

    “He not busy being born is busy dying”

  7. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    “Art definitely has to push boundaries in order to keep creativity alive and well. People who are pushing musical boundaries with avant-garde pieces are in reality doing the best thing for art – They are keeping it thought-provoking and interesting. Sure, it may not be loved by all but it did get a response out of people.”

    hm well, the band did the complete opposite of this in the late 60’s, which led to some of the greatest music ever made. nothing wrong with going back to your roots

  8. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    The problem that I have with mainstream music today is that it is too formulatic – with the rise of auto-tune and studio equipment making people sing better than they actually can, and managers and executives just trying to make the next “hit song”, it has taken the heart out of the music. I’m sure it has been this way for awhile, but in this day and age it seems to have gotten worse than ever before. The arrival of the “3-minute rock song” has definitely taken a toll on the originality of the music and that is terrible. I feel that this music cannot count as art because it is only trying to copy off of a popular trend such as auto-tune, etc or trying to sell to a specific demographic (mostly teenagers)

    3 minute rock song is nothing new. see the beatles for example.

    also i thought most/all new music sucked until recently. i’ve taken a phish break and have discovered a shitload of amazing new music

  9. halcyon Says:

    KWL….which book is that….I am currently reading (along with 4 other books) Musicophilia by Oliver Sachs which is all about music, neuroscience, and the brain

  10. albert walker Says:

    but the Dead and the Band playing roots music was what was new

    same reason Gram Parsons was so hip

    not cuz his shit was new but cuz it was a white hippy from Yale doing it

    the hippy, young, white take on American roots music was def ground breaking at the time

    also combining dif elements of jazz, bluegrass, country, and blues was also very original at the time

  11. Selector J Says:

    I once heard a jazz critic refer to Ornette Coleman’s music as “important but unlistenable.”
    Thought it was funny. Maybe that’s how some people feel about that Wolfman’s?

    fwiw After re-listening to that Wolfman’s from 10-31-98 it’s not going in my stack of personal favorite jams. I wouldn’t quite call it unlistenable… maybe incohesive, tho.

  12. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    AW what are you still doing here lol

  13. albert walker Says:

    on the train man

    just chillin

    getting ready for Hawks San Jose tonight

    BB blew up today
    haven’t had this good convo going in a long time

    can’t get away

  14. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    GO SHARKSSSSSSSSSSSSSs

  15. (Formally Known As) BrandonKayda Says:

    I am not saying that all mainstream music is terrible – that is most definitely NOT true – The Beatles, The Band are a great example – all I was trying to say was that in order to keep art alive there has to be someone there to push the boundaries every once and awhile

  16. Lycanthropist Says:

    so @AW

    would you consider my Grunge-Jam a new way of thinking? 😉 LLFA

  17. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    yeah, there’s PLENTY of bands pushing the boundaries right now. but you’re right, you won’t find that in new mainstream music, but who cares where it is?

  18. albert walker Says:

    Good luck with that man

    Don’t think San Jose can run with the big boys

    Nabokov is past his prime

    Thorton is -8

    And the hawks won game 1 without being on the power play once

    Always thought Vancouver would be the toughest opponent in the west

    Bring on Philly

  19. kayatosh Says:

    That 12-05-97 recording (fob) in the megatorrent is very very enjoyable. 12-5 is a somewhat disregarded show. i like the ghost and the julius jam works. but regardless, great recording.

  20. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    phuck that, i’ve got a bass guitar riding on the sharks

  21. albert walker Says:

    yes the grunge take on jamming is quite original

    the mudhoney meets SCI sound is def ground breaking

    who would have thought it would work so well

  22. Lycanthropist Says:

    bwah ha ha

  23. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    and 44 wins and a career high in save percentage does not usually mean a goalie is past their prime

  24. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    yes work is over. im out. time to bump the new LCD soundsystem album on the subway. BK check it out. brand new album and great.

  25. KWL Says:

    @halcy, i checked out a couple books in that same vein, forget what they were… one was your brain on music i think? i’ll see if i can dig them up…

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