Continuing our run through Decembers of legend, today I am re-posting an article originally published on December 11, 2008, called “Two Anniversaries.” Discussed are the insane shows of 12.11.97 in Rochester and 12.11.99 in Philadelphia. Had I more time, the article might as well have been called “Three Anniversaries” and included the Phish’s top-shelf stop at Portland, Maine’s Cumberland County Civic Center on the same day in 1995. Audio highlights from all three standout 12.11’s are included below in “Saturday Jams.” (Click show dates for direct download, torrent and grab a 12.11 remaster below the setlists.)
Today we find ourselves on the anniversary of a couple very Phishy shows. In addition to the Cumberland County ’95 show, this date brought two monsters in 1997 and in 1999. These two nights in Rochester and Philly were both instant fan favorites of their respective tours, and both are vibrant illustrations of where the band stood at that time. Happy 12.11!
12.11.97 War Memorial Auditorium, Rochester, New York (SBD)
First, let’s circle back to a cold and dreary winter day December 1997. Phish was on the brink of finishing their now legendary fall tour. On the heels of a monumental Midwestern weekend and a stop at State College, Phish pulled into the Rochester’s War Memorial Auditorium, a room that hosted the Grateful Dead on several occasions. The show proved to fall right in line with Fall ’97’s colossal outings featuring one of the best second sets of the month.
The night opened up with the energetic three-song combo of “Punch, Disease > Maze.” “Punch,” one of the great openers in the band’s catalog, set the table on this night for a phenomenal “Down With Disease.” Within this upper-echelon excursion, Phish tore apart the song’s thematic jam for ten minutes before slowing down into syrupy rhythms that quickly brought the music to a far deeper place. From this juncture forwards, it grew quite apparent that Phish was tapped into greater energies on this evening. As the piece developed, Trey began to solo with a menacing musical scowl while the band dropped into a dripping groove around him. This now-famous “Disease” became a significant tour highlight mere minutes into the first set. Phish flicked the switch on early in the night, and it remained locked in position for the duration of the evening.
Phish brought “Disease’s” delicate dance patterns to a slow and winding close, as they seamlessly morphed into “Maze.” Bringing maniacal madness into the mix, Phish took the energy already in the room, and channeled it directly into their harrowing improv, creating a forty-minute set-opening segment that jumped off the stage and directly down the throats of the audience. Allowing little time for warm up, the band reserved their mellower moments for the end of the set, decelerating with “Dirt, “Limb by Limb” and “Loving Cup” before closing with an out of place “Rocky Top.”
This mind-bending improvisation continued throughout the standout second set. Phish quickly upped the ante with a twenty-minute “Drowned” opener that immediately sat among the heaviest, most creative, and darkest slices of psychedelia dropped during the tour. After jump-starting the show in shredding fashion, the band put the pedal back to the metal as soon as set two began. About halfway through “Drowned,” the band gradually moved away from the song structure into original improv. Moving from uptempo ferocity into slow and murky textures, this jaunt, all of a sudden, became a lot more interesting. For the duration of the piece, the band explored eerie musical planes with the patience and precision of a surgeon, methodically juxtaposing the two halves of the jam. As Trey layered infectious licks over a thickening groove, this jam soon tramsformed into an ambient affair with loops and effects galore.
In a now-famous moment, this standout jam wove its way into the debut of Ween’s “Roses Are Free,” a performance made famous by the documentary, Bittersweet Motel. While few were familiar with the song on this evening, all would come to know it as sacred ground come Nassau merely four months from this debut. The ending riff to the song proved a perfect launching point for the rare “Big Black Furry Creatures From Mars.” The lights went dark with white strobes, and the band dove into the quirky Phish-metal. Trey ran laps around the stage amidst the maddening music, lending a deranged and tone to the already standout show. A version that lasted eight minutes, full of dissonant build and distorted climax, this was not your average “BBFCFM!” As if the band had gone temporarily insane, the asylum’s soundtrack morphed into an excessively slow and heavy groove, not unlike the ending of “Axilla.” Painting a sinister musical backdrop, Phish reveled in pushing the crowd to the brink. After a two-minute ending of beatless distortion, the band dropped into a perfectly placed funk-relief in “Ghost.”
Giving the crowd exactly what they needed, this “Ghost” leaped onto the top shelf of all-star versions in a standout year for the song. Providing the show with a much needed release of flowing Phish grooves, the band took liberty in precisely ripping the only “Fall ’97 funk jam” of the night – another factor that made Rochester so unique. A seamless “Disease Reprise” emerged out of this multi-dimensional odyssey, artistically closing the musical ideas sparked at the beginning of the show, and bringing the evening full circle.
I: Punch You in the Eye > Down With Disease > Maze, Dirt, Limb By Limb, Loving Cup, Rocky Top
II: Drowned > Roses Are Free* > Big Black Furry Creature From Mars > Ghost > Down With Disease (Reprise) > Johnny B. Goode
*Ween cover, first time played
12.11.99 The Spectrum Philadelphia, PA
When Phish came back to The Spectrum for the second consecutive night in December ’99, they had a little redeeming to do. After a botched transition from “Have Mercy” back into “David Bowie” the night before, the band bailed on the idea in full and awkwardly moved into a Fishman interlude of “Cracklin’ Rosie,” all but killing the momentum of the set. The band stumbled to the finish line with low-energy versions of “Twist” and “Waste,” but what a difference a night can make!
1999’s version of December 11 presented, arguably, Phish’s strongest outing of their climactic December 1999 tour. Opening with “Harry Hood” for the first time in almost ten years (1.20.90), the twenty-minute version let everyone know they we were in for a treat! Expecting a breather to follow the intense “Hood,” Phish brought “Mike’s Groove” – ya’ gotta’ love it! Giving the “Groove” full treatment, the band migrated from the evil soup into “Simple” then “Hydrogen” before closing the segment with a smoking “Weekapaug.” After a reflective moment in “When the Circus Come to Town,” Phish leapt into Gordon’s rarity, “Scent of a Mule”- all in the first set! The Spectrum buzzed loudly during setbreak with the feeling that set two would be extraordinary. And it was.
In one of the tightest sets of 1999, Phish destroyed their classic Philly haunt with a frame of celebratory segues and pure dance madness. If you liked to move at Phish shows, then “Sally > Ghost > 2001 > Disease” provided the perfect soundtrack. Packed to the hilt with dense Phish grooves and a complex ambient build before “2001,” this sequence stood on par with any music that reared its head in ’99. “Ghost” and “2001” were both top-notch versions, and the latter space odyssey spun The Spectrum with the ease of Medowlark Lemons, Spaldings and “Sweet Georgia Brown.” The entire segment totaled 55 minutes of pure Phish crack; one of those unquestionably special sets that everyone agreed upon when it ended.
An incredibly well played show comprised of almost all improvisation, December 11, 1999 was an unforgettable night. One can hear the crowd roaring on the tapes, responding to the full-on Phish carpet bombing all night long. A night of beauty in a the City of Brotherly Love, December 11 brought, perhaps, Phish’s greatest performance in The Spectrum (with 12.15.95 as the only contender).
I: Harry Hood, Mike’s Song > Simple > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, When the Circus Comes, Scent of a Mule, Cavern
II: Boogie On Reggae Woman , Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley > Ghost > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Down with Disease
DOWNLOAD 12.11. REMASTER! < Link
“Reba” 12.11.95 I
Tags: 1997, 1999, Jams