Another December Holiday

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.)

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“Two Anniversaries”

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.

11.24.09 (C.Garber)

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.

Bittersweet Motel DVD

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

E: Waste

*Ween cover, first time played

FLAC Torrent (SBD/AUD Matrix) < Link

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12.11.99 The Spectrum Philadelphia, PA

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

E: Possum

DOWNLOAD 12.11. REMASTER! < Link

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Saturday Jams: December 11th Highlights

Drowned > Roses Are Free” 12.11. 97 II

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Sally > Ghost > 2001” 12.11.99 II

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Reba” 12.11.95 I

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The Curtain > Bowie” 12.11.95 II

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280 Responses to “Another December Holiday”

  1. garretc Says:

    @Mr. P

    That’s weird, I never have dreams about things like that…

    I did however, have a dream recently in which my fiancee (in the dream, not real life) got killed cause we were witnessing a coke deal, then I killed one of the dealers, then spent the rest of the dream driving around a dream version of my hometown in Thomas Magnums red Ferrari convertible while the drug dealers followed me with the intention of killing me…

    Which, thankfully, is just as based on fiction as your dreams… LLFA

  2. Jtran Says:

    @halcyon

    Thanks! If that works out that’d be cool.

    Just finishing this 12/12/97 now after watching the Pats destroy da Bears. Ouch.

    Gonna have to start from the beginning of set II again in a second. Cool, very different set.

  3. JeffieM Says:

    @Palmer, I tend to have the opposite problem… not waking up when I do have a paper to be working on!

  4. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    hahaha garret

  5. BingosBrother Says:

    Fuckin New England gets all the Phish, all the Furthur, and now this? i’d watch your back y’all. A big front has a big back.

    And the Bears D coaches should all be fired for allowing Tom Brady to throw Hail mary’s with under 5 left and up by 30. you send 4 at him? Really? Send 11 and knock the shit outta him! You lost, he’s still in and passing deep! Where is your pride?

  6. BingosBrother Says:

    Looks kinda harsh there. The first sentence is totally in jest, I love willowed and all the rest of you bastards. 2nd sentence not in jest though, Bear D looked like a buncha pussies.

  7. plord Says:

    So much for the new and improved Cutler.

    Headed off to grab a bite and see the Alpine DVD previewed on the big screen in Burlington. A big screen and loud soundtrack seems like a pretty ok middle ground between tunes at home and a real show 🙂

  8. Gavinsdad Says:

    Deep breaths. Go Iggles.

  9. Andrew Says:

    Listening to the Drowned > Roses from the JOTD, and just caught starting around the 7:30 mark Trey wanted to jump into what seems I Saw It Again, but no takers.

    What’s amazing about his playing is the ability to process so many avenues in such a quick span, actively moving forward yet able to slot himself wherever creativity arises.

    No wonder Mike yapped he played too many notes, but you got to give him credit for being open and pushing.

  10. Mr.Palmer Says:

    The 12.12.95 Disease is one i’ve never heard till now. Wow. 1/2 hour well spent. get on it!

  11. JeffieM Says:

    I’m on it Palmer. Always up for an out there DWD.

  12. Jtran Says:

    That jam never feels like 30 minutes

  13. garretc Says:

    So the most recent addition to my list of Grateful Dead songs that I really like:

    Let It Grow

  14. BingosBrother Says:

    Heads up 7up. “Grandma’s Boy” is on sale at KMart for $5. Bring it home and bane up. Funniest movie I have ever seen while on the neemsbane.

  15. plord Says:

    @garretc there’s a lot to really like in Let it Grow. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but 6/28/74 for a complete WRS into my favorite and possibly the best MLBJ. Definitely the most famous one.
    “Setbreak” of the Alpine DVD. First set sounded good but projection was screwed; shots with like, Pages’s head, half of Trey’s mic stand, and a lot of empty space. Looks like it’s fixed now 🙂

  16. garretc Says:

    @plord

    So, basically, it sounds like what we’d be likely to see at a Phish show in real life too!

    And no, I actually haven’t heard that show, I’m criminally lacking in ’74 shows…

  17. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    anyone have the roxy bonus disc, March 28th, 1992: Variety Playhouse – Atlanta, GA? i’m clearly on a mission here to make sure i have every official SBD lol

  18. joechip Says:

    To find a really great latter-day “Let it Grow”, check out 9/19/90 from the MSG run, first shows with Bruce Hornsby. A rare 2nd set version that melted into a beautifully melodic duet between Garcia and Hornsby. Really excellent.

  19. JeffieM Says:

    rocking Simple on this 12/12/95

  20. Gavinsdad Says:

    Exhale. Big one against @palmers gmen next wknd.

  21. DukeOfLizards Says:

    @Df

    I have it.

    itbofthement AT gmail DOT com

  22. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    thanks, mail sent

  23. BrandonKayda Says:

    12.1.95 Mike’s->Weekapaug is incredible.

  24. DukeOfLizards Says:

    @Df

    Got it – taking forever to upload, but check my orangeness in a half hour or so and it should be there.

    On a related note – if any other NYCers want to storm Time Warner headquarters Bastille-style, I am totally, totally down.

  25. joechip Says:

    Just noticed that the 9/19/90 show I was recommending has been pulled from SBD circulation, since it was commercially released in the Road Trips series. Fortunately, there is an AUD that is absolutely exemplary…just stellar, clear sound. Listening to it on the archive right now.
    http://www.archive.org/details/gd1990-09-19.bk4011.tdarian.french.88969.sbeok.flac16
    carry on…

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