I was blindsided at the gym this weekend. No, not by some musclehead in a roid rage, but by an aggressively improvisational “Antelope” that might as well have been on the cream and the clear. I had been continuously working my way through a Phish playlist from a friend, and as I was finishing the cardio portion of my workout, the old school version of “Oblivious Fool” came on. Not particularly suitable for working out, and an odd addition to the playlist altogether, I skipped directly to the next song- Antelope.
I didn’t bother to look at the date or anything, I just kept going. Since I consider myself pretty well-versed in Phish, especially Phish highlights, I thought I’d figure out what I was listening to. Yet, as the jam progressed, it was raging, and though I could tell it was from ’97 or ’98, it didn’t ring a bell.
During the late ’90s, Antelope’s jams generally remained within their predestined structure. While there was never any lack of improvisational madness, Anetlope jams rarely went “way out” there, or really anywhere except where you thought they would go. In no way is this a knock on the song; the same holds true for “Harry Hood” or “Slave.” That’s just the way some Phish jams are. There was no shortage of huge Antelope’s in the late ’90s, but the song didn’t necessarily possess the adventure it did in ’94 and ’95. It’s just the way things were. But this version blaring in my ears was different.
As this mystery Antelope raged on, Trey annihilated the early jam with soaring evil licks, before moving into more intricate patterns of notes. All the while, the band was knee deep in a heavy, sinister groove. This music began moving in an alternate direction as Fish and Mike switched up the rhythm; less straight ahead than most Antelopes, and as I was doing sit-ups, my ears perked up and took notice of the diverging musical course.
Pretty quickly the improv got really dark and the entire band began jamming out of the song’s structure. Entering a quiet and murky musical pond, Mike’s bass lines lead the way. The music continued progressing “way out” of “Antelope” and into some insane Phish improv. “What!?” I thought. Quickly flipping over my iPod to see what I was listening to and why I wasn’t fully cognizant of this epic jam I was immediately foiled- no date, Damn! I decided to ride it out.
Moving deeper in, the music got into some slower melodic places that do not really come out of Antelopes. Straight up mystical, transcendent Phish- this was crazy! It was like hearing a brand new Phish jam for the first time; and that hadn’t happened in eons. The band built the jam into a faster affair with all members just shredding at insane speeds, gradually merging paths with the original course of the song. As the band built towards the Antelope peak, the playing was particularly frenetic, yet beautifully coherent- one of those things that Phish does masterfully. To an untrained ear, it sounds like cacophony, but when you hear what they are actually doing at the peak of an Antelope, it’s just absurd.
The jam finally dropped into the post-peak funk at the seventeen minute mark to the monstrous roar of the crowd. The band continued to heavily improvise throughout the “composed” ending, as they tended to to when they were feeling the flow. This normally routine section became quite interesting with heavy effects from Page, Mike and Trey, and then they popped into the final chorus with more spunk than usual. This was my new favorite Antelope, but what was it? As I looked back at the playlist menu, it was listed under 7.29.97. A ha! Desert Sky. I had a huge “Oh yeah!” moment, as I remembered the magnitude of this Antelope that batted second in set two.
I wasn’t at that Phoenix show, and for some reason, I hadn’t heard the jam since the late ’90s. A pretty high key show to have just forgotten about, but aside for the first set “Gumbo,” I had. That’s what’s so great about Phish- just when you think you’ve heard it all, you’ll hear a new jam that absolutely floors you. There are just so many out there, and soon, there will be so many more.
LISTEN TO 7.29.97’s Antelope now! < LINK (Roll over link and press play)
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
Here is the show you just read about, and I forgot about. It’s a certain keeper from the Summer of ’97. With one of the great “Gumbos,” a classic-sounding “Ghost,” an early, yet all-time great version of “Twist,” and of course the epic “Antelope,” this show was as hot as the weather it was played in.
I: Theme From the Bottom, Beauty of My Dreams, Gumbo, Dirt, Sparkle, Ghost, Swept Away > Steep > Loving Cup
II: Oblivious Fool, Run Like an Antelope, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Twist, Taste, Sample in a Jar, Rocky Top, The Squirming Coil
HELP SAVE THE ANTELOPE!