All Photos by Jesse Herzog
Beginning in 1997, whether they knew it or not, Phish began a tradition of throwing down a very significant jam on the first night of their tours. Sometimes they came amidst fiery tour openers and sometimes in lesser shows, but like clockwork, Phish announced the beginning of tour with a filthy jam that would most often hold up to anything played over the duration of the run. This unspoken ritual began in earnest in the summer of 1997, and that is where today’s playlist begins, tracing each tour through 2000. (Europe ’98 and Summer US 2000 were exceptions, thus not represented.)
When Phish came back from a month-long tour of Europe, in which they explored their new medium of cow funk, they were rearing to show their fans what they had going on. It didn’t take long for them to show off the goods at the first show of the US Summer tour in Virginia Beach, opening with a deeply jammed “Ghost.” Later in the first set, the band dropped the jam of the show in “Bathtub Gin.” Enjoy both jams below.
“Stash” 11.13.97 II, Las Vegas, NV
Phish opened up Fall ’97 with a strong overall performance at a shrunken Thomas and Mack Center (half of the venue was cut off by a curtain). The jam of the show was the first of several standout versions of “Stash” that would transpire over the following month. This ominous second-setter landed in a tribal-like ambiance while steering clear of any grooves in a deeply psychedelic journey.
Phish had barely any time between the last day of their European tour in Barcelona (7/10) and the first night of their US tour in Portland, Oregon (7/15), so you could say they were warmed up. The “Tweezer -> California Love -> Tweezer -> Free” that the band dropped in the second set of this tour opener needs to introduction—pure filth from a band on fire.
“Reba” 10.29.98 II, Los Angeles, CA
Phish dropped a monster second set at LA’s Greek Theatre to open Fall ’98, and this wide open “Reba” was its centerpiece. Introducing their new group-wide, ambient sound that would be expounded upon over Fall Tour, the band sculpted a mind-expanding masterpiece that deserves discussion amongst the all-time greats.
“Free” 6.30.99 II, Bonner Springs, KS
Perhaps the most polished, badass, groove-era version of the song ever played, the Bonner Springs “Free” is like a freight train in the living room of your mind. Methodically maniacal, this version carries the perfect pace from the start, featuring Mike in the middle of the formation for the first time. Trey’s solo possesses a generous amount of swagger.
Both of these tour-opening jams illustrate the dark, layered and ambient nature that characterized Phish’s late ’99 style. Each of these jams were immediate keepers and they have stood the test of time.
This scalding sequence got tour winter started quickly at the Palace in Auburn Hills.
“Tweezer” 6.9.00 II, Tokyo, JP
Phish landed in Japan and wasted no time getting down to business, dropping this monstrous and exploratory “Tweezer” on their first night in Tokyo.
“Ghost” 9.8.00 I, Albany, NY
This fuel injected version of the late-’90s groove vehicle came as the third song of the first set—of tour.
There’s nothing like making art compete, so welcome to this Fall’s Top Ten Jams! Trying to make this top ten list from was tougher than usual, because simply put, there weren’t that many great jams this tour. The guys did, however, churn out just enough high quality to make a solid top ten list. So without further ado, here we go…
Honorable Mention: “Carini -> Plasma” 10.17 II, “Light -> Cities” 10.18 II, “Harry Hood” 10.28 II, “Down with Disease” 10.29 II, “Twist” 11.1 II
10. “Harry Hood” 10.17 II, Eugene, OR
To cap Eugene’s second set, the band picked up with “Harry Hood” right where they left off this summer, playing another revitalized and wide-open version of their classic. After navigating multiple themes, the band concluded this version with a proper build and peak. Certainly lesser heard that the San Francisco and Vegas “Hoods,” Eugene’s version was the proverbial cherry on top of a pretty perfect second set and gets my pick for the best of Fall.
9.”Light” 10.29 II, San Francisco, CA
Much like Bill Graham’s “Twist” opened into a slow, dark lair, the next night’s “Light” followed a similar dynamic, traversing more than one ambient realm. This jam highlighted San Francisco’s final set with truly engaging interplay, but it met an awkward ending due to Trey’s hard-headed move into “Possum” as things were getting particularly nasty, costing this jam some serious style points.
8. “Down With Disease” 10.24 II, Los Angeles, CA
A jam that traverses several musical feels comes to a final peak with the same classic rock rhythm progression featured in this summer’s Merriweather “Ghost.” A solid, full-band jam through and through.
7. “Light -> Dogs” 11.1 II, Las Vegas, NV
Phish wasted no time digging into the new music they scribed for their Halloween set. On the next night, they combined “Light” and “Dogs” to form the improvisational centerpiece of the second set. Trey gets into a zone for the few minutes preceding the move into “Dogs,” unleashing a series of powerful leads with a hard-edged, digitally beserk guitar tone. The band expounded on “Dogs'” theme, jamming the piece out of structure and into “Lengthwise.” I believe this was only the beginning of a new chapter in Phish’s career.
This set-opening sequence from Santa Barbara’s second night totally smokes. “Drowned” moves from a melodic and ethereal space into a far darker second half, landing in “Theme From the Bottom.” Then, in perhaps the surprise move of tour, the band blew out the end of “Theme” into a sinister funk passage could rightfully accompany a bank robbing mission.
5. “Kill Devil Falls” 10.28 II, San Francisco, CA
Add Bill Graham’s second night to the short list of times Phish has blown out “Kill Devil Falls.” San Francisco’s outing got the full treatment in the band’s sharpest show of Fall Tour, opening the second set with a traipse into an abstraction. Though it had been years since the band improvised out of the Joy rocker, they promptly utilized it to sculpt one of the more progressive jams of Fall Tour.
4. “Twist” 10.28 II, San Francisco, CA
“Twist” followed its Fall ’13 renaissance with another strong campaign this Fall. Phish played three great renditions of “Twist” this run, but none reached a more profound place than the version from Bill Graham Civic Arena. What appeared to be a tight though standard run through the song completely opened up as it built towards its final theme. What transpired was several minutes of utter transcendence. The band downshifted into a creeping tempo in which Trey played some of his most mystical guitar of the tour. Completely connected, Phish explored this idea to its conclusion with music that likened ancient myth.
This Santa Barbara sequence stood out immediately, highlighted by a truly special “Ghost” which slowly slithers into a delicate space that matched the venue’s gorgeous surroundings. In comparison to Vegas’s version, the trajectory of this “Chalk Dust” jam remained a bit more standard, though the band’s interplay throughout is quite on point. It seemed like Trey went all out in this sequence and then ran out of gas for the rest of the set which fell pretty flat.
2. “Crosseyed and Painless” 10.17 II, Eugene, OR
In their first show—and one of the strongest second sets—of tour, Phish blew the doors off this “Crosseyed” jam in the fashion we hope they will every time they drop the Talking Heads’ cover. This multi-tiered excursion fluidly connects several themes, as the band set the bar quite high out of the gates this fall. Moving through a full-on plinko stage before morphing into a soundscaped ambient groove, the Eugene “Crossesyed” is the most accomplished stand-alone jam of Fall Tour.
Simply put, this sequence blows the rest of Fall Tour out of the water. Trey’s focus, energy and creativity finally reached the level of his bandmates, and the result was a jam that sounds far more locked and inspired than the rest of these pieces on this list. Quite honestly, it’s like night and day, illustrating the relative mediocrity of Fall tour. In this sequence, Phish (read: Trey) actually sounds like the sharpened musicians we know them to be, as it’s amazing what a fully dialed guitar player will do for the dynamic of the band. Both halves of this two-pronged attack thoroughly depart from their conventional jam spaces, providing refreshing takes on “Chalk Dust” and “Piper,” two jams that can often get caught in ruts. On this tour, Phish saved their best playing for the eleventh hour, but better late than never!
Well, they did IT again. Using Halloween as a platform for one of their most profound on stage achievements yet, Phish reinvented their own holiday tradition while playing a set of music pulled from our wildest dreams. Choosing to “cover” a Walt Disney album comprised only of sound effects and narration, the band wrote ten instrumental jams to accompany the record’s eerie vignettes in a complete blowout of the imagination. Morphing fantasy and psychedelia on a night scripted for such a mash-up, Phish played an absolutely masterful Halloween set, while pleasing every fan in attendance for—quite possibly—the first time in their 31-year career.
Nobody knew what to expect when handed a Phishbill that read “Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House.” A quick Wiki search informed that the album was a collection of sound effects from the vaults of Walt Disney. It had narration on one side but it contained no music?! It quickly became apparent that Phish would follow their own lead of 2013, and use Old Hallow’s Eve to debut a set of original music! But what form this music would take was anyone’s guess. And few could have imagined what would soon transpire.
As the lights came after the Halloween set, the most common thought heard muttered was, “What just happened?” Phish had dropped ten top-notch instrumental jams on the that were used to musically describe scenes set up by the Disney narration, and everyone was desperately trying to wrap their head around the pinnacle Phish experience that just went down. Via live sampling, Page incorporated the album’s sound effects and much of its narration into the set’s increasingly dancy jams, creating a hour-long mindfuck for the audience. Though most fans were mesmerized in a state that fused disorientation and disbelief, there was one thing that everyone knew in real time—“This was most definitely the shit!” The dark instrumentals grew funkier throughout the set, concluding in the non-stop dance party of “Chinese Water Torture,” “The Birds” and “Martian Monster.” Complete with dancing zombies for the first and last track and set in a faux graveyard, this was the band’s quintessential Halloween performance. Though their cover albums showcased a different kind of mastery, this year, Phish distilled the mystic and macabre nature of Halloween into a set of music like never before.
And it didn’t take long after the show was over to realize what was possible with these composed jams. These “songs” were the polar opposite of Fuego’s largely jamless material—they were already jams—composed themes for the band to expound on in the live setting! Now, if the guys wanted to keep the music moving with no stops, instead of necessarily jamming towards another song they could now simply jam into another jam—and keep jamming! Phish proved on be on board with such thinking, for the next night they seamlessly moved from “Light” into “Dogs” from the Halloween set, and then improvised upon its theme for a stretch before dripping into “Lengthwise.” As illustrated by this immediate example, these Halloween jams represent motifs that the band can weave into their improvisational storytelling. They may have just changed the game—once again—right in front of our eyes.
Phish in Las Vegas has always brought something memorable, but “Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House” was on a whole ‘nother level. Combining their career-long penchant for spectacle with their unparalleled musicianship and sense of the moment, Phish executed one of their finest sets of music in a career loaded with staggering performances. Furthermore, this set typified the artistic ethos of the entire Phish project over the course of 31 years. Never content with their laurels of yesteryear, the band has continuously infused innovative styles of music and performance into their live show throughout their career, leaving a legendary wake in the history of rock and roll.