A Three Day Weekend 10 Years ago

A week and a half into Fall 1998, a tour that had so many high points, Phish stopped in Chicago for a virtually unprecedented three night stand at the venue they tore apart in 1994, UIC Pavilion.  The only domestic three night run between New Year’s at MSG in 1997 and Deer Creek run in 2000, three night stands did not come often in the late ’90s. One aspect that made this stand so special was the intimacy of the venue. With a 10,000 person capacity and a fully GA policy, this stand had totally different feel than Worcester ’97, MSG, ’97, or Deer Creek ’00. The venue seemed even smaller with no behind-stage seating, taking on the feeling of our living room for three nights.

Responding to the Phishy confines and cozy space, the band crafted a coherent three chapter odyssey, each with a distinctly different musical vibe to their second set, climaxing in a final night party of Phish favorites.

11.7.98: The Abstract Psychedelic Night

The undeniable centerpiece of this show is the other-worldly twenty minute AC/DC Bag jam which segued into one of the most exciting Ghosts of the tour.  Starting out in a upbeat groove, the Bag jam bust of the gate like Secretariat at Churchill Downs.  Trey is the unquestionable leader of the first part of the jam as rest of the band begins to improvise a musical tapestry behind his lead lines.  Yet, the most engaging part of the jam comes when the band slows down and begins to take their music to the outer realms.  Switching to a shimmering, yet driving beat, Fishman slows down the rest of the band and the magic begins.  Getting into some transcendental jamming, this piece stood out immediately as a creative highlight of tour.  One of those truly spiritual passages of music, the band tread on sacred ground for some time.  Completely together in their exploration of this higher plane, this jam defines why we go see Phish.  One of the deepest psychedelic adventures in a Fall that featured many, this Phish epic is a portal directly to the spirit of the divine.

And that is all one song.  The whole set is only made up of four, and the closer is a concise “Farmhouse.”  The “AC/DC Bag > Ghost”, “Reba,” are the stuff legends are made of.  As the Bag wound down into ambient tones, Trey triggered his Ghost loop signaling there was no slowing down.  Quickly building the beginning of the song, the band launched into a searing adventure in rhythm and sound.  Initiating with some dark Ghost grooves, this version gradually, yet continuously, picked up steam until the lid was about to blow off the place.  One of the standout versions of the song in a tour that had several gems,  this initial forty minutes of music finally wound back into the slower beat of the song, as everyone was left in awe.  Wasting no time in the set, the band decided to jump into an unexpected “Reba.”  In a delicate and dramatic classic-sounding “Reba,” Trey spouted sublime melodies throughout the floating improvisation. With a first night that I think stole the entire run,  there was no space to even mention the  seven song Mike’s Groove sandwich in the first set!

II: My Soul, Mike’s Song, Driver*, Brian and Robert*, The Wedge, Limb by Limb, Fikus, Billy Breathes, Beauty of My Dreams, Weekapaug Groove

II: AC/DC Bag > Ghost, Reba, Farmhouse

E: Guyute, While My Guitar Gently Weeps

*Trey on acoustic guitar.

11.8.98: The Rock and Roll Night

Fall 1998 – photo: unk

With high-key, loud, and fast paced jams strewn about the second set, night two was unquestionably the “Saturday Night Phish Rock n Roll Extravaganza.”  Tearing through musical pieces like a NASCAR race, the theme of the show was Ricky Bobby’s “If you’re not first, your last,” as Phish played at a frenetic pace all night long.  The second set opening Chalkdust set the tone for the rest of the night with its typical shredding textures.  Pausing only briefly in “Meat,” the rest of the set was pure Phish fire.  The aptly placed “Rock N Roll” appeared for the first time since Halloween, providing its own springboard for guitar mayhem and up tempo jamming.  Sliding out of the Velvet Underground cover came the centerpiece of the night- “Disease > Piper” clocking in at forty minutes of balls-to-the-wall Phish improv.  Highlighted by urgent searing rock grooves, these two songs built one piece of music.  With a mere three minutes of quiet playing connecting the two songs, this segment was full throttle the whole way.  Trey finally took his foot off the pedal as the band waded in a perfectly placed Velvet Sea.  More often then not, when a late set Velvet Sea appeared, it was followed by a North American Pronghorn Antelope.  And sure enough, out came the blistering-set ending explosion.  Far groovier than much of the music that preceded it, the Antelope jam featured smoothly flowing Trey licks contributing to the appropriately nasty last segment of the night.  Climaxing at a dizzying point, this was the perfect cap for the magnified night of rock music.  As if that wasn’t enough bombast, the band encored with the second ever appearance of “Been Caught Stealin,” setting the roof on fire.

Ironically, the improvisational highlight of the night may lie in the first set “Stash.”  In an extended jam of psychedelic sorcery, Trey masterfully teases the”Fikus” melody from the night before, providing connection between the evenings.  Along with the standout “Stash,” the first set included a second song “Carini,” with the debut of the verse about the “naked dude” that jumped on stage the previous night in Madison and Carini had to corral.  The rare covers of “Love Me,” “Ride Captain Ride,” and “Paul & Silas” rounded out the notable music of the first set with the “Taste” opener.

I: Taste, Carini, Love Me, Ride Captain Ride, Fee, Paul and Silas, Roggae, Water in the Sky, Stash, Cavern

II: Chalk Dust Torture, Meat, Rock and Roll, Down With Disease > Piper, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Run Like an Antelope

E: Been Caught Stealing

11.9.98 The Night of Phish Anthems

“YEM” 11.19.98 – photo: unk

Following two high quality and thematic shows, Phish came right back on night three with their big guns loaded and ready for action.  The second set opened with a massive, celebratory “Bathtub Gin” that remains a highlight of the tour to this day.  This excursion is one that truly displays the improvisational chops of all the band members as they sculpted many fans’ favorite Gin of the year.  One of those second set opening masterpieces, this was a cathartic release of emotion and energy as everyone entered the sixth and final frame of the run.  Spanning diverse musical feels, this Gin moved from a climactic peak into a murky, quasi-ambient place for some time before dripping back into the melody of the song.  Trey is all over this entire jam, shredding lines of beauty with seemingly no effort.  With a sublime guitar exposition woven perfectly with the rest of the band’s playing, this one was an instant keeper.

Moving through the Phishy musical narrative of “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday,” the band infused this final set with some old school energy as the Gamehendge overture provided an ideal follow up to the monstrosity of the Gin.  When a “Moma Dance” comes out in the middle of the second set, you can be sure its going to thick and magnified.  This was the exact scenario, as the funk engulfed the arena with Mike’s bass bombs filling the room to the very last row.  The crowd danced in delight, sensing that Phish was in the middle of creating a really big set.  Following the standout Moma, the band ended the set with the combination of Slave, YEM.  Now that’s a way to close a run!  Seemingly working in one of everyone’s favorite songs, Phish closed out the show with two of their most hallowed anthems.  Both containing uplifting and life-affirming qualities, it was the quintessential combination of Phish magic for that moment, and it put an exclamation point on the three night stand.

The first set featured one of the meatiest and mechanically driven “Free”s of the year, a highlight of the run that is often overlooked due to its set placement.  In addition, a “Divided Sky” graced the first set with a fierce guitar solo at the peak of of the composition.

I: Llama, Horn, I Get a Kick Out of You*, The Divided Sky, Frankie Says, Dogs Stole Things, Poor Heart, Free, NICU, Bold as Love

II: Bathtub Gin, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, The Moma Dance, Slave to the Traffic Light, You Enjoy Myself

E: Frankenstein, Freebird**

*Cole Porter cover; second time played. **A cappella.

The diversity of music throughout these three nights touched on all aspects of Phish.  In a extended musical showcase, the three nights in the Midwestern capitol proved to be some of the most fun evenings of Fall ’98.  After the western leg of an incredible tour, the few nights to pause in one place seemed to do both the band and the fans just right.  This would be the final chapter of Phish’s legacy at UIC Pavilion, one which also included two ridiculous ’94 shows.  This venue will go down in Phish history batting a perfect 1.000, going 5 for 5 in its career.  Highly unlikely that the band will ever return to such a small arena, we will always have those five perfect nights in downtown Chicago.



Night 1: 11.7.98 UIC Pavilion, Chicago IL < LINK

I: My Soul, Mike’s Song > Driver*, Brian and Robert*, The Wedge, Limb by Limb, Fikus, Billy Breathes, Beauty of My Dreams, Weekapaug Groove

II: AC/DC Bag > Ghost, Reba, Farmhouse

E: Guyute, While My Guitar Gently Weeps

*Trey on acoustic guitar.

Look for nights 2 & 3 on Weekend Nuggets!

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