Streaming out of the venue after the show, silent disbelief fell over most everyone. What had just happened? That wasn’t just good, that was IT; but Phish was now calling it quits? This inner mounting conflict swirled in so many minds after the first night of SPAC. What had suddenly come over the band? Would this type of playing continue for the rest of tour? It was all a big mystery to which another clue couldn’t be discovered until Phish took the stage again. After such a performance on night one, something hinted to us that night two would also be something to behold. And it was.
Following another hot first set that featured smoking segments of improv out of “Waves” and “Drowned,” Phish prepared to play their final set of the weekend. With echoes of Oceans and ‘Piper’ bouncing in the recesses of our minds, we readied ourselves to receive what Phish had left to give.
As the opening licks of “Seven Below” emanated from the stage, the seminal post-hiatus song enveloped the summer evening with new crystals of snow. Having worked itself into Phish’s regular rotation, “Seven Below” had already produced several monster jams, and as this one opened the second night in Saratoga, everyone knew we were in for an improvisational beast. As they began to move beyond the song’s chord progression, the playing moved from a rhythmic palate to a slower more amorphous place. Phish smoothly slid into an overtly psychedelic melange of sound, beats and dissonance. The jam had taken a turn for the dark side and began to explore a beautifully demented soundscape, neither led by nor devoid of groove. Phish was happening once again. Right in front of our eyes, the band engaged in a compelling journey that cast a spell on the legions of fans who willingly surrendered their souls to the extraordinary improv.
Picking up the pace, Phish emerged from the murky textures with a head of steam, tightly chugging away while hinting at the original composition. Having no intention of conventionally wrapping up “Seven Below,” the band took this momentum and transformed it into a slowed down groove that somewhat abruptly moved into “Ghost.” It was apparently just as on as it was the night before. The band oozed into the “Ghost” jam favoring a slower playing, utilizing the pace to assemble musical phrasing that brought them back to the ambient and psychedelic realm. Transforming into a stunningly amorphous and cooperative work of art, this jam moved far away from what you’d expect to hear from any “Ghost” jam. Entering truly beautiful and transcendent territory, this jam conveyed both mystery and beauty simultaneously. Skyscraping in scope, this divergent path was crafted with utmost care and delicacy, and was very much a continuation of the musical ideas presented in “Seven Below.”
Having been taken for an abstract ride through Phishy psychedelia for the first 30+ minutes of the set, Phish patiently transformed their playing into a groove that seamlessly entered “Twist.” Far smoother than the initial transition of the set, it seemed as the band was working on a subconscious level at this point. Flowing effortlessly, the band continued to produce music as if there was no separation between themselves and their instruments. Completely connected and moving on sheer instinct, this “Twist” turned into an intricate masterpiece that would hold up to anything played over the two nights.
Using conventional “Twist” patterns, the band dove into the jam. Swimming in the shallow end for the beginning of the jam, the band soon pushed off into deeper waters led by a thumping bass line that the entire band hooked onto. Immediately, the jam took on an entirely new life with infectious and quickened staccato dance grooves bubbling from Phish’s cauldron. The entire band jumped on the bus and went on a fifteen- minute joyride through some of the best music you’ll ever hear.
Busting into an outright Phish groove, the music grew in stature as Trey and Page delicately tickled the rhythmic canvas. Just when you thought things couldn’t get better, Trey quietly began strumming some of the most delicate rhythm licks ever played, and the band moved directly into the center of IT. Completely lost in their fantasy world once again, this moment is what it was all about. Pure Phish improv showered down from above, lifting us to unimaginable heights. As the band painted a surreal portrait of psychedelic groove, the crowd body-surfed the vibrant rainbow of Phish.
Tearing into the peak of the jam, Trey shredded as if there was no tomorrow, while the entire venue seemed to float. Descending from the apex of the jam, the band concluded this journey with some slowed down, menacing funk grooves, letting the last note carry out into silence. The crowd quickly picked their jaws up off the floor to fill that silence with boisterous applause and enthusiastic cheers for the perfect 50 minutes of music they had just witnessed. Two nights in a row?!
Before we had time to process, the band dropped the opening melodies to “You Enjoy Myself.” Of course. What better way to end the weekend than a massive dance session to Phish’s most definitive piece. The entire composed section was another one of those times that your cheeks began to cramp from the involuntary smiles. As the drop of the jam hit, it felt as the entire audience was moving in unison as if some experiment in collective consciousness. The dancing paradise that is YEM overtook SPAC for the final twenty minutes of the set, offering a catalog of grooves. Straight Phish crack was this jam, and nothing could have been better to finish off this two-night other-worldly excursion into the depths of Phish’s universe. Bringing it all back home, YEM centered us with a dose of classic Phish to bring out into the night with us. The band put their signature at the bottom of the two night document that was SPAC. A high-energy encore of “Good Times, Bad Times,” kept everyone’s spirits high while lyrically suggesting the ups and downs of life that the band was simultaneously experiencing.
Capping two of the best nights of Phish ever, the “four-song set” had returned, rearing its uber-improvisational head for the first time in 2004. Thematic in nature and traveling an adventurous path, this set existed as one inseparable piece of music. Like a psychedelic symphony, Phish delivered one of the most magical movements of the summer. Rivaled only by the night before, these sets at SPAC suggested that Phish still had a hell of a lot of music left in their tank. Unfortunately, it was their energy and motivation to produce that music that had been compromised.
The rest of the summer would wind up with the Midwest run and then the final farewell shows up the east coast. Those SPAC shows must have been listened to more times than I can remember during that last month, because no matter how sad we felt, no matter how bittersweet everything grew to be, we would always have those two nights in Saratoga.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
11.15.98 Murfreesboro, TN < LINK
One of the smallest shows of Fall ’98, this took place in a college field house– bleachers and all. The retro environment didn’t impede Phish from throwing down some nasty jams, something that was seemingly involuntary during Fall ’98. A great opening combo of “My Friend,” “Ghost” got things started quickly. The entire second set is great, highlighted by the opening triumvirate of “Runaway Jim,” Stash,” and “Mike’s.”
I: My Friend My Friend, Ghost, Driver, Scent of a Mule, Cavern, Limb by Limb, Roggae, La Grange
II: Runaway Jim, Stash, Mike’s Song > Simple, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Loving Cup, Weekapaug Groove
E: Rocky Top