After a high-quality Twitter exchange with TJ Scheu (@Lyfeboi) yesterday morning, I re-spun 7.10.99 from Camden, New Jersey, and developed a new strand of thought about one of the musical narratives of 1999. TJ asserted that “a huge thing happened” in Camden’s “Chalk Dust” that the band continued to build on and reference throughout the year. While I certainly knew that something huge happened in Camden’s “Chalk Dust,” I never, necessarily, put the jam in the context of its entire year. While listening intently to this all-time version in this way, I had an organizing thought: Camden’s “Chalk Dust” was the first signpost on the road to Big Cypress.
Within the Camden “Chalk Dust” jam, Trey leads the band to a truly cathartic peak—one of those Phish moments that are hard to believe at the time and give you chills for the rest of your lifetime. It’s not just that the music is incredible—Phish has many virtuoso conversations—this jam is drenched in emotion, the likes of which you don’t quite experience in everyday life. The Jedi-like guitar work of Mr. Anastasio led to a sublime, whole-band arrival that invoked communal elation among the 25,004 involved. This musical theme of ”soul emoting” or “ultra bliss” as illustrated by Trey, with the support of his bandmates, in this “Chalk Dust” jam, provided a narrative string that would carry throughout 1999. As his band set its sights on December 31st—the biggest night of their lives—Trey returned to this style of play throughout the year, expressing indescribable emotions through his guitar like only he can.
I distinctly remember feeling momentum build throughout ’99, most distinctly through Fall Tour and the December run. Summer was fun, but once Fall started, it felt like a mission to the Everglades, one show at a time. The anticipatory emotion, excitement and sense of wonder surrounding Big Cypress was palpable, and it increased each and every time the band took the stage during this momentous year. I can only imagine that if the fans felt this energy pulsing through themselves and the community during this time, that the band members felt it several times more intensely. In many ways, Phish’s entire career had led them to this point—the year of 1999 and the brink of the new millennium. In retrospective interviews, the band has openly discussed how after Big Cypress, the crest of the wave had broken. They weren’t sure what was supposed to come next and, not surprisingly, in less than a year, they’d be gone.
I have assembled a playlist that follows this, largely, Trey-anchored narrative through 1999. While his style of “soul emoting” wasn’t a nightly occurance, it happened enough times to establish a legitimate pattern. The following jams become fully structured around this style of play, and represent the most significant examples from the year. Not all of these jams sound exactly the same, but they reach that special place and share a common emotional power that, I propose, came directly from their specific point in time for Phish. As Cypress crept closer, these jams waned in favor of darker, more ominous ones that emerged towards the end of fall and in December. Even at Big Cypress, the band tapped into the source with mostly different, far more relaxed feels, but the following pieces represent their building energy and incredible sense of purpose as they neared their date with destiny.
“Chalk Dust Torture” 7.10.99 I, Camden, NJ
Following a”Wilson” opener, Phish tore into this monumental jam—the first brick laid on the golden road that would end up in Alligator Alley.
“Birds of a Feather” 7.10.99 II, Camden, NJ
Brick two was unfurled only a set later in “Birds”—Camden “Chalk Dust’s” kid brother.
“My Left Toe” 7.21.99 II, Burgettstown, PA
Music that is as glorious and emotive as any ever played. By anyone.
“Tweezer” 8.1.99 II, Niigata, JP
The final “Tweezer” of the Summer, performed in the shadow of Mt. Fuji on the “Field of Heaven,” certainly illustrates Trey’s emerging “soul emoting” of ’99.
“AC/DC Bag” Boise 9.14.99 II, Boise, ID
This household jam needs no introduction, but when looked as a part of this larger narrative, it becomes even more poignant.
“Boogie On” 9.18.99 II, Chula Vista, CA
Towards the beginning of Fall Tour, this second set opener brought the audience to a dizzying plane of catharsis in the middle of the warm California desert. On a side note, can we please go back to Coors Amphitheatre as soon as possible?
“Wolfman’s Brother” 9.24.99 II, Austin, TX
This dark-horse Fall ’99 jam elevates about halfway through and never looks back.
“Tweezer” 12.16.99 II, Raleigh, NC
Raleigh’s to-die-for “Tweezer” represents an intersection of December’s slower, heavier and more ambient style with the “ultra-bliss” feel established during the summer months.
Perhaps the most iconic jam that came out of Big Cypress, this “Split” represents the culmination of this anticipatory musical narrative on the road to Big Cypress. In this piece, Trey is speaking directly from his soul hours before the biggest night of his life.
“Down With Disease” 12.31.99 II, Big Cypress
You can, literally, hear the excitement, relief and relaxation in Trey’s guitar tone in this jam—he is so happy to have finally arrived on the stage he had been looking towards all year long. All the pressure had been lifted, and this “Disease” provided the portal into a night that nobody present would ever forget.