July 4th Phish- an idea as American as apple pie- yet throughout their entire career, Phish and The 4th of July only met twice. While New Year’s Eve and Halloween were sacred placeholders in the Phish calender, the band traditionally skipped the summer holiday. From their inception through 1998, they had never hosted a birthday party for America. But finally, in 1999, the band changed this pattern and merged two of our favorite summertime celebrations. Once announced in ’99, everyone circled the two-night stand at Lakewood as must see shows, marking the first occurrence of patriotic Phish.
Coincidentally, July 4th was the fourth show of the tour, and the band followed up a strong July 3rd outing with a classic second set to celebrate our freedom and our way of life. Foll0wing an underwhelming first set, everyone knew the second half was going to blow up huge. There is a certain excitement to a set break after the band has played a straight-forward opening frame. On this night, you just knew that the second set would be one to remember. Throw in the significance of the national holiday and you had a recipe for some Phishy fireworks.
The opening “Ghost > Slave” combination of the second set traveled the spectrum of Phish music, from the darkest dance grooves to the most cathartic peak. An adventure all unto itself, this portion of the show was a high point of the entire summer. Transforming the patient bulbous rhythms of “Ghost” into the sublime opening melodies of “Slave,” Phish passed through some of the most stunning musical moments to emanate from their stage and accomplished one of the greatest segues in band history. As they slid into the beginning of “Slave,” the transition was so smooth you almost didn’t realize it was happening- then just like that- you found yourself swimming in the song. This was one of those moments that was so surreal, you couldn’t really know what was happening. Akin to the emotional dynamic of “Disease > Mike’s” from Raleigh ’97, thoughts ceased and feelings flowed. Pure inner emotion rose as Phish orchestrated the masterful transition while channeling the higher powers. It was this psychedelic joyride that provided the poignant musical depths of the second set; from here on out, things would feel more like a party.
Using “Horse > Silent” as a composed interlude, Phish promptly moved into one of the summer’s staple soundscapes- “What’s the Use?” Off the recently released “Siket Disc,” Phish used the eerie song to create an ominous, post-apocalyptic vibe. Answering their own call, the band followed with a rare, mid-set “Wilson,” getting the crowd re-juiced for what was to come. Getting downright dirty in the “metal” section, the energy at Lakewood took on an entirely new quality at this point. About midway through the song, I thought that it was the perfect set up for the drop into a late-set “Mike’s”- and lo and behold, the band and I were on the same page.
Imploding the pavilion with its opening riffs, “Mike’s Song” had everyone primed for blast off. And when we launched, it was good. Progressing from sinister to straight up candy-grooves, the “Mike’s” jam provided the most slammin’ dance music of the night to cap the show. Moving into “Sleeping Monkey” then “Weekapaug,” Phish had put on quite the celebratory bash. Returning for the encore, they segued out of “Carini” into a “Meatstick Reprise,” returning from its debut the night before. Wrapping up the weekend in fine style, Phish emerged for their second encore in stars and stripes to wish the country a happy birthday with “The Star Spangled Banner.” Following a night full of musical fireworks, there were some real ones, taboot.
Phish followed up their lone July 4th performance with another the very next year. This time, capping a two-night stand at Camden, Phish churned out one of the most improvisational sets of the summer as a tribute to Uncle Sam and the birthplace of America across the river in Philadelphia. On the heels of ’99’s July 4th throwdown, one could sense this would be more than your normal show.
Phish’s second consecutive July 4th set differed from the heavy song-based jamming in ’99, and morphed into an improvisational journey through several Phishy realms. Seemingly a joke, the band opened their holiday set with the 108th “Gotta Jibboo” of the summer. Pushing this tune as if it were a top forty hit, the band was bringing it out every other night of tour. One might have thought that July 4th would have been an exception, but it wasn’t. However, the constant repetition of the song was soon forgotten when the jam kicked in. Spring-boarding into a high paced and celebratory jam, the band stayed within the song structure for a while before departing into some faster, funk-based, rhythms resembling a summertime “Antelope.” This section of the jam highlighted hard-hitting grooves before giving way to a darker and more abstract feel. Gradually spinning this jam into the introductory rhythms of “I Saw It Again,” Phish had taken the most commonplace song of the tour and turned it into a 30 minute epic.
Juxtaposing the grooves of “Jibboo” withe the heavy rock and roll of “I Saw It Again,” the band continued their musical contrast as they wound their improv towards hints of “Magilla?!” Yup- right out of 40 minutes of madness, Phish slid into Page’s jazz composition; some cool relief to the hairy adventure that had preceded. As the bebop subsided, the band opened the ambient intro to another Summer 2000 anthem, “Twist.” Wrapping up the standard “Twist” textures, the band continued to improvise into a dark and slow medium, potentially hinting at a colossal July 4th Free. This ominous music progressed into seemingly composed improv, as the band offered evil and abstract music on this celebratory day.
Yet, when the darkness wound down into a dronish silence, the opening notes of “Slave” were barely made out behind the sonic residue. Returning the set to a point of triumph, this “Slave” provided the melodic peak to the entire set. Nodding at ’99’s epic version, Phish built the set-closer while raising the roof with their musical arrival. Chock full of improvisation and supported by the biggest anthems of Summer 2000, this set never lagged for a second. Topped with a double encore of “Lawnboy” and “Good Times, Bad Times” (complete with an in-pavilion rhythmic fireworks intro!), this July 4th show was one that would go down in history.
With Phish’s flair for the dramatic, it is certainly odd that we haven’t seen more July 4th parties over the years. Perhaps the band always reserved the date for their own backyard barbecues; we will never really know. With no show scheduled this July 4th, 2009, one wonders if we will ever see another Phish show on America’s birthday. Regardless, no one can take away our two outstanding evenings of patriotic revelry in Atlanta and Camden in the waning years of the 20th century.
DOWNLOADS OF THE DAY:
7.4.99 Lakewood, Atlanta, GA < TORRENT LINK
I: My Soul, Ya Mar, Farmhouse, The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony > AC/DC Bag, The Wedge, Vultures, I Didn’t Know, Fast Enough For You, David Bowie (1:23)
II: Ghost > Slave to the Traffic Light, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, What’s the Use, Wilson, Mike’s Song > Sleeping Monkey > Weekapaug Groove
E1: Carini, Meatstick Reprise*
E2: The Star Spangled Banner#
*Chorus-only reprise; with crew and fans on stage doing “The Meatstick Dance”; after the song, others leave Trey and Mike on-stage to do the dance alone. #A cappella; band in stars-and-stripes (Fish: boxers; Trey and Page: pants and vests; Mike: tank-top underneath, revealed during the song); ended with eruption of fireworks.
Source: Schoeps cmc6/mk4v > Lunatec V2 > Tascam DA-P1 (@ 48 kHz)
7.4.00 E Center, Camden, NJ < TORRENT LINK
I: Star-Spangled Banner*, Farmhouse, Rift, It’s Ice**, Bouncing Round the Room, Stash, Lizards, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, Julius
II: Gotta Jibboo > I Saw It Again > Magilla > Twist, Slave to the Traffic Light
E: Lawn Boy##, Good Times Bad Times
*A cappella. **With “Star-Spangled Banner” teases by Trey. ##Page wished everyone a Happy 4; then pyrotechnics went off on stage and in pavilion.