Today we find ourselves on the anniversary of a couple very Phishy shows. In addition to the Cumberland County ’95 show (up for download yesterday), this date brought us two monsters in 1997 and in 1999. These two shows, Rochester and Philly, were both instant fan favorites of their respective tours, and both are vibrant illustrations of where the band stood at that time. Happy 12.11! (Both shows are available for download below their setlist.)
First, let’s circle back to a cold and dreary winter day in 1997. Phish was on the brink of finishing their undeniably exciting and now legendary Fall tour. On the heels of an epic weekend in the Midwest and a stop at State College, Phish pulled into the classic War Memorial Auditorium, a room that hosted the Dead on many occasions. The show proved to fall right in to the pattern of colossal Fall ’97 outings, with one of the best second sets of the month
The show opened bursting at the seems with energy with the three song combo of “Punch, Disease > Maze.” Punch, one of the great openers in the band’s catalog, was a mere table-setter on this night for a phenomenal “Down With Disease”– an excursion that firmly tore apart the thematic jam for ten minutes before getting into slowed down rhythms that quickly brought the music to a much deeper place. It seemed quite apparent from moment one, that the band was tapped in on this evening. As the jam developed, Trey began soloing with a menacing musical scowl, while the entire band dropped into a sublime and patient groove around his lines. This is stuff that you have to hear, and most everyone already has. This Disease is a huge tour highlight mere minutes into the show. The switch was flicked on, and would stay that way for the duration of the evening.
The jam’s delicate dance patterns brought the music to a slow and winding close, without a return to Disease, as the band seamlessly dripped into the intro to “Maze.” Bringing maniacal psychedelic madness into the mix, Phish took the energy already in the room, and channeled it directly into their improv, creating a forty minute set-opening segment of music that jumped off the stage and directly down your throat. Allowing little time for warm up, the band reserved their mellower moments for the end of the set, decelerating with “Dirt, “Limb by Limb” and “Loving Cup,” before closing with a randomly placed “Rocky Top.”
The improvisation continued in mind-bending fashion in the non-stop second set. The band quickly upped the ante with a twenty-minute “Drowned” opener that was among the heaviest psychedelia dropped during the tour. Beginning in completely shredding fashion, the band slammed their foot back on the gas pedal quickly after taking the stage for set two. About halfway through this jam, the band gradually started to move away from the song’s progression into some straight Phish improv. Moving from uptempo ferocity into distinctly slower and murkier textures, the jam all of a sudden became a lot more interesting. For the duration of the song, the band would explore musical places of the dark and other. With the patience and precision of a surgeon, they slowly created the perfect juxtaposition to the initial half of the jam. With some crack Trey licks played over a thick groove, this jam soon morphed into a much more ambient affair, with loops and effects galore, as Trey continued to slowly sprawl his thoughts.
Famously, this standout portion of improv beautifully weaved its way into Ween’s “Roses Are Free,” a performance made famous by Bittersweet Motel. While few were familiar with the song on this evening, all would come to know it as sacred Phish territory in Nassau, merely four months from this debut. The ending riff of the song proved a perfect launching point for the rare “Big Black Furry Creatures From Mars.” The lights went dark with white strobes, and the band dove into the quirky Phish-metal composition. Trey took it upon himself to run laps around the stage amidst the maddening music, lending a deranged and Phishy tone to the already standout show. A version that lasted eight minutes, full of dissonant build and distorted climax, this was not your average BBFCFM! As if the band had gone temporarily insane, the asylum’s jam morphed into a excessively slow and heavy groove, not unlike the ending of Axilla for a period of minutes. Creating a dark and eerie musical palate, Phish reveled in forcing the crowd to the brink. After a two-minute ending of beat-less distortion, the band dropped a meticulously placed Ghost.
Giving the crowd exactly what we needed, this highlight rendition of Ghost is among the upper echelon in a standout year. Providing the show with a much needed release pf flowing Phish grooves, the band took the liberty to precisely rip the only true Fall ’97 funk jam of the night- something that made Rochester so unique. A perfect “Disease Reprise” emerged out of this multi-dimensional psychedelic odyssey, artistically closing the musical ideas sparked at the beginning of the show.
I: Punch You in the Eye > Down With Disease > Maze, Dirt, Limb By Limb, Loving Cup, Rocky Top
II: Drowned > Roses Are Free* > Big Black Furry Creature From Mars > Ghost > Down With Disease (Reprise) > Johnny B. Goode
*Ween cover, first time played
As Phish came back to The Spectrum for the second consecutive night, in December of ’99, they had a little redeeming to do. After a botched transition from “Have Mercy” back into “David Bowie” the night before, the band bailed on the idea and awkwardly moved into a Fishman interlude of “Cracklin’ Rosie,” all but killing the momentum of the set. The band stumbled to the finish line with a quick and low-energy “Twist” and “Waste.” Yet what a difference a night can make!
1999’s version of 12.11 was arguably the band’s strongest outing of their climactic December 1999 tour. Opening with “Harry Hood” for the first time in almost ten years (1.20.90), the twenty-minute version let us know immediately that we were in we were in for a treat! Obviously expecting something more chill to follow the huge Hood jam, Phish brought Mike’s. Gotta’ love it! Giving the Groove the full treatment, the band segued from the evil bombastic soup into Simple then Hydrogen before closing the segment with hugely climactic Weekapaug. After a reflective moment in “When the Circus Come to Town,” the band leapt into Gordon’s rare, “Scent of a Mule”- all in the first set! The Spectrum buzzed loudly during setbreak, with the feeling that set two would be other-worldly. And it was.
In one of the tightest sets of 1999, Phish would destroy their classic Philly haunt with a frame of celebratory segues, creating a set of pure Phish dance madness. If you liked to move at Phish shows, the Sally > Ghost > 2001 > Disease was as good as anything you had ever heard. Packed to the hilt with dense Phish grooves and a huge ambient jam before a stellar 2001, this segment was as hot as anything that reared its head in ’99. The Ghost and the 2001, individually, are up there in the top versions ever. The infectious 2001 spun the Spectrum with the ease of the Globetrotters spinning Spaldings to “Sweet Georgia Brown.” The entire segment totaled 55 minutes of pure Phish crack, and it was one of those sets that when over, you knew that you had been a witness to something special; that was what it was all about.
An incredibly well-played show that was comprised of virtually all improvisation, this one will always be remembered by all in attendance. You can hear the crowd roaring all night on the recordings, responding to a completely full-on Phish experience. This was a night of beauty in a the City of Brotherly Love, and arguably the greatest Phish show ever dropped in the building. (12.15.95 would be the only contender.)
I: Harry Hood, Mike’s Song > Simple > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, When the Circus Comes, Scent of a Mule, Cavern
II: Boogie On Reggae Woman > Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley > Ghost > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Down with Disease
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
There is nothing like a little slice of summer in the middle of December, and where better to grab it from than 1998? This show has been requested a number of times, and is certainly worthy of all praise it receives. The second set alone boasts Summer ’98’s best “AC/DC Bag,” a sick “Antelope,” and a mid-set “You Enjoy Myself.” With two ninety-minute sets, you got your money’s worth out of this night in Virgina. And to top it all off, “Terrapin Station” to honor the third anniversary of Jerry’s passing, and so much more.
I: Punch You in the Eye, Bathtub Gin, Lizards, The Moma Dance, Birds of a Feather, Esther, Roggae, Bouncing Around the Room, David Bowie
II: AC/DC Bag > Sparkle, Run Like an Antelope, Brian and Robert, Waste, Somewhere Over The Rainbow, You Enjoy Myself, Frankenstein, Chalkdust Torture, Hello My Baby
E: Terrapin Station