Weekend Nuggets: Phish Returns!

As excitement continues to fill the air around us, and our hearts inside, this weekend, instead of putting up a show, I compiled some of my personal favorite Phish jams into a nice 4.5 hour compilation called “Miner’s Picks: Phish Returns! ’08” With no lens on any specific time period, this is just a collection of top notch Phish.  Let’s look at each selection, and understand the context of each.

1. 2001 11.19.97 II Champaign, IL

This killer version of 2001 is the first really big one of Fall ’97 after it was busted out in Utah a few shows earlier.  The tempo of these Champaign grooves are infectious and this almost twenty minute version kicked off a magnificent second set following two stellar nights in Denver.  Mike is thumping away unique and complimentary bass lines to Trey and Page’s funk licks, and Fish is just holding it all perfectly.  This one is smooth as silk.

2. Tweezer 7.25.98 II Austin, TX

In a summer of amazing Tweezers, this Austin version often goes overlooked.  Paced more slowly with the open-air sound of South Park Meadows, this jam starts out by settling into some psychedelic layering with Mike leading the way.  Trey joins in with his “yo-yo” wah guitar licks,  and all of a sudden the band is locked in a tar-thick groove that you can swim in.  A perfect example of cooperative playing, the band absolutely nails this version, and while not the longest ever, this Tweezer is an example of a version without one wasted note.  A dance-party favorite!

3. Stash > Free 11.30.97 II Worcester, MA

This segment of this standout second set is a magnificently dark inward journey.  The Stash reaches a unique place that fuses evil exploration with rhythmic patterns that is rarely seen in Phish jams.  Getting to a very deep place, with some truly unique improvisation, this Stash eventually segues seamlessly, in ambient fashion, into the opening licks of Free.  A powerful transition, this Free features some excessively nasty Fall ’97 funk, while still maintaining the dark overall vibe from the Stash.  Fish owns this Free jam as the band produces some vintage grooves that provide a glimpse into the darker side of Fall ’97.  This overall 30 minute adventure is among the best of the tour.

4. Reba > Walk Away > Simple 10.29.98 II Los Angeles, CA

This segment was by far the highlight of Fall ’98’s tour opener.  Placed into a magnified slot in the second set, the band started off in conventionally gorgeous Reba territory before using the jam as a platform to launch into the most extraordinary psychedelic and eerie textures ever produced out of the song.  Introducing their new abstract style that would work its way into Fall ’98, this Reba was a highlight of the entire tour that took place on night one.  If you’ve never heard this, you won’t believe how ridiculous it is, and if you have heard it, you’ve listened to it a thousand times.  A true Phish masterpiece, this Reba will live on in the annals of Phish history forever.  A pure gem.

5. Wolfman’s Brother 11.13.98 I Cleveland, OH

This Wolfman’s, dropped early in the first set of an oft overlooked show, is a diamond in the rough.  Though, this Cleveland stop wasn’t one of the band’s stronger efforts of the fall, the first set Wolfman’s enters some directed funk that gives way to the descending chord progression that the Dead popularized as the “Mind Left Body Jam.”  Appearing a few times in Phish’s career, this Wolfman’s is one of the clearest examples of the band paying this jam.  Other notable Phish Mind Left Body Jams exist in the 6.18.94 UIC intro to Bowie and the Great Went’s Scent of a Mule.  If you were ever confused about what this “jam” was, this Wolfman’s should clear it up.

6. Split > Catapult 12.31.99 I Big Cypress

A highlight from the entire Florida weekend, this daytime Split set the tone for the evening, and was a hot topic of conversation between the day and night sets.  The initial grooves give way to aggressive improvisation, eventually building to a crescendo and transitioning into some incredibly spiritual and melodic playing by Trey.  As the band locks into this delicate vibe, the jam resolves in a very divine and Phishy place, yet Fish soon picks up the beat and Mike starts a bassline that drives the band out into some completely chunky and blissful territory.  This results in the band honoring the “crack-groove” with the lyrics of Catapult layered atop.  Again, a can’t miss classic!

7. Ghost > Rock and Roll 5.22.00 II Radio City, NY

Perhaps the most transcendent Ghost ever played, this version is atop many fans’ lists.  Placed late in the second set, the heavy intro shook the foundation of the Music Hall to its core as Phish entered the jam exploring the hyper-complexities of groove.  Entering a Phish-disco feel, this Ghost spins in perfect pace and rhythm as Mike simply lays it down.  The band was focused in this hallowed venue, and tore through, in my opinion, the most adventurous version of Ghost ever.  Not settling simply in funk, the band progresses into a melodic and reflective portion of the jam, just as tight as the funk they left behind.  This second segment of the jam gives it a genuine flow and resolution to the odyssey, creating a journey that touches on a spectrum of emotions, and is not just an all out dance fest.

8. Halley’s Comet 12.7.99 I Portland, ME

This Halley’s is a true dark horse version that I rarely hear or see discussed.  Coming in the first set of the first night of a great Cumberland County two-night stand, I think this jam is often just forgotten.  However, it should not be.  Covering a great deal of territory and diverse textures, this jam extends to almost 30 minutes as it chugs into various realm.   The jam starts off mellow and builds in intensity as it moves along, before settling into a quiet and ambient section about two-thirds of the way in.  The band sits in this darker section, as if searching a cave for a hidden treasure.  After some intense introspection, they find entry into an incredibly triumphant ending segment of the jam.  This Halley’s really touches on all things Phishy, and for some reason, it often gets left behind.  Let’s take it out, and honor it for being a top-notch nugget of December ’99.

9. Bathtub Gin > YEM 11.29.98 II Worcester, MA

This is the ending sequence to Phish’s superb Fall Tour  of 1998.  Often using Bathtub Gin to welcome us to tour or to say good-bye, this version reaches some emotional segments that communicate the bittersweet feelings everyone felt during the last show of tour.  A standout version , this Gin hits its peak, and then moves into seven minutes of quieter shimmering exploration without ever losing its beat.  This latter portion served as a calm reflective segment of music to think back over the wonders of the previous month.  Eventually, this builds back into some high-paced pronounced Phish grooves, with the band returning to their energetic jamming before finally quieting into the opening notes of the tour ending You Enjoy Myself.  A perfect combination of huge jams to end a magnificent run, the band lets loose on this YEM, tearing it apart and bouncing the Centrum like a basketball with the precision of an Allen Iverson crossover.  This 40 minute combination of improvisation is as good as it gets.

10. David Bowie 6.24.95 II Philadelphia, PA

This classic rendition of Bowie defines the song’s psychedelic and elegant nature.  Masterfully building the tension of this jam as a band, and letting it out slowly, Phish has complete control throughout this much acclaimed version.  Illustrating the style of Summer ’95, this Bowie was one in a long string of Summer ’95 Bowie adventures, yet, the absolute control and direction the band demonstrates during this improvisation separates it from the more exploratory and meandering versions.  Another can’t miss gem, this Bowie is Phish during a musically crazy time of their career.

11. Run Like an Antelope: 8.20.93 I Red Rocks, CO

In their first visit to Red Rocks, Phish closed the first set with a blistering version of Antelope.  Featuring classic “speed jazz” improvisation from the legendary month of August ’93, this soundboard recording allows you to the intricacies of their playing as they build the jam to a dizzying peak.  A perfect example of the style Phish swam in at this time, this Antelope put a bold exclamation point at the end of their first set in the powerful Morrison amphitheatre.


1. 2001 11.19.97 II Champaign, IL

2. Tweezer 7.25.98 II Austin, TX

3,4. Stash > Free 11.30.97 II Worcester MA

5,6. Reba > Walk Away > Simple 10.29.98 II Los Angeles, CA

7. Wolfman’s Brother 11.13.98 I Cleveland, OH

8,9. Split Open and Melt > Catapult 12.31.99 Big Cypress, FL

10,11. Ghost > Rock and Roll 5.22.00 II Radio City, NYC

12. Halley’s Comet 12.7.99 I Portland, ME

13,14. Bathtub Gin > YEM 11.29.98 II Worcester, MA

15. David Bowie 6.24.95 II Philadelphia, PA

16. Run Like an Antelope 8.20.93 I Red Rocks, CO

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