Phish has explored their defining jam vehicles in so many ways, so many times throughout their career, it’s impossible to pin-point a “best version” of any song in their extended repertoire. It’s even hard to name a top five for any particular Phish classic. The best you can do is choose an era-1998 let’s say, or even a tour-Fall, and see what you can do from there. Of course, any type of version “ranking,” is wholly absurd, merely a matter of taste and opinion, and usually leads to lengthy and futile, yet fun, conversations among friends. However, ten years ago today, amidst a lackluster, nearly-jamless show in Madison, WI, Phish challenged this ranking theory by throwing down the objective “Best Split of 1998.”
On the first night of a four night run that would be completed with their stellar stand at UIC, Phish played a lot of fluff during this college town show. Only extending jams over ten minutes in “Maze,” “Simple,” Caspian, and Hood, this fifteen-minute set closing Split Open would steal the show like the Hamburgler pocketing beef patties. With nothing to speak of in the first set but a routinely intense “Maze,” Phish bust out of the end of “Sparkle” with the intro beat of “Split Open and Melt.” The composed section flowed with the perfect tempo, Fishman holding down the smooth jazz beat as Gordon already began to improvise some of his bass lines.
“Down, down, down, down, down, down, MELT…”
Boom! Before realizing what hit you, Trey attacked with lively staccato funk licks, as Page rolled around the clavinet with menacing mastery. Gordon was throwing down thundering lines from note one, and within ten seconds, you were in the midst of a ridiculous Phish jam. One of those musical segments you didn’t need to put any effort into dancing to, this machine like groove continued to grow as Trey moved into some new, funkier phrasing. Meanwhile, Fishman was slaughtering the beat, effortlessly glued to Mike’s uniquely sinister thoughts. I often reference the band being “locked in,” well in this jam, they are Krazy Glued together.
Responding to each other with fully complimentary and improvised melodies, Page, Mike and Trey engaged in one of the more interesting musical conversations of the entire tour. Collectively leading the jam, each of them completely knew what the other two were doing, as they all took center stage simultaneously, resulting one of the most intensely tight jams of the year. Fishman steered the musical conversation like a river guide at the back of the raft, moving it gently from place to place, always considering what his mates were saying. Often answering Trey’s patterns himself, Fishman made sure this jam got to where it needed to go.
With a continuously infectious groove, the music built in intensity as the band’s mind-bending improvisation never let up for a second. In what seemed like no more than a flash, Trey’s end-of jam lick rang in, reminding you where you were and what the hell was actually going on, as your mind and body were gone amidst astral rhythms.
And just like that it was over. Fifteen minutes of the best music from the tour passed by in a heartbeat. Reeling as the band built to their final three beats of the song, looking around at my friends who had the same look that I wore, we knew that was IT. So what if the rest of the show wasn’t that hot- none of us will ever forget the 11.6.98 Kohl Center Spilt. Ever.
LISTEN TO 11.6.98 SPLIT OPEN AND MELT NOW!
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
It’s about time I got a Gamehendge show up here! Today we have the classic Crest Theatre performance in March of 1993. The second set open with a Golgi before It’s Ice transforms into Lizards and the journey is on. After the band finishes the Gamehendge narration with McGrupp instead of Possum, they proceed throw down a classic Mike’s Groove to end the show. Rumored that the band decided to play the saga due to the audience’s extreme attentiveness, this one will live on in Phish history. This soundboard copy will make sure you can hear the whole story as well as the music. Enjoy!
I: Chalk Dust Torture, Guelah Papyrus, Uncle Pen, Stash, Bouncing Around the Room, Rift, Weigh, Reba, Sparkle, David Bowie
2: Golgi Apparatus, It’s Ice > Lizards > Tela > Wilson > AC/DC Bag > Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Fly Famous Mockingbird > The Sloth > McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove
E: Amazing Grace, Fire
Set 2 contained complete Gamehendge narration.