Ten years ago today, we made our way into Oswego County Airport in Volney, NY for Phish’s only mid-tour festival of their career. As the band was churning out an excellent summer of shows, this weekend stop looked very promising. Over two sweltering days in upstate New York, Phish played set after set of quality music in easily the most overlooked festival to date. Yet as the idyllic weekend was all but over, with only one set left to go, nobody knew that the best was yet to come.
As Phish opened the third set with “My Soul, ” we seemed to be heading for one of the band’s quintessential anti-climaxes. But as “Piper” started, everyone turned an open ear to the massive stacks, curious what might become of the airport-sized version. And with a paved airstrip to dance on for the only festival ever, we were ready for anything. As the intro started, the band seemed very deliberate in their playing, taking things incredibly slow as they built the song’s opening. This mellow introduction developed into focused piece of improv with real intentionality behind the band’s playing, forming some engaging contours before the song kicked in.
The lyrics finally came at the five minute mark after the band laid down a substantial musical framework. Moving through the composition, the actual “song” felt like a mere passage- a puzzle piece in a much larger musical adventure. Within a couple of minutes, the band was out of the song and neck deep in some of the most redonkulous, full-on psychedelia you’ll hear from Phish. In your face- roaring out of the speaker towers- the band challenged our psyches with some of the heaviest, all-out improv of the summer. Beneath the layers of textures and dissonance, Mike was absolutely killing it with unique bass lines that kept the jam rhythmically dynamic while the band annihilated the festival-sized piece.
Sprinting and screaming, Trey was off to the races with break-neck leads and searing sheets of sound, as the band’s “millennial” sound continued to emerge. Playing as if possessed by Lucifer himself, Trey continued with some of his darkest, and most overwhelming, playing of the year. With a brief rhythmic breakdown, the band took a lone breath before diving right back into their maddening psychedelia. As intense as any Phish jam you’ll ever hear, this “Piper” continued growing through many sections of bombastically shredding improv.
Fishman altered the feel of things deep into the jam as he initiated a series of up-tempo breakbeats, pulling the band into a unique pattern of grooves. This “breakbeat-funk” flowed easily between band members, as their musical reaction time had become negligible. Completely connected, fifteen minutes in, the band was like an amoeba, stretching as one and never losing their whole. Trey then began to solo over this sparser groove, like he was narrating an animated tale with his quick and expressive phrasing. As his story finished, the band converged briefly into some collective mid-tempo, patterns, but Fishman decided he would keep things ratcheted up, and the band hopped back onboard, opening the vault one more time for another section of full-on improv.
As the band dripped into “Caspian” after the half-hour odyssey, it was one of those moments when you opened your eyes to find your jaw on the ground and everything around you slightly different than before. You couldn’t help but get completely lost in the maniacal music that was dropped on your dome; there was no space for thoughts. You had to take a minute to reconcile what just happened with your reality, but when everything finally lined up- you realized that you’d just lived a dream.
“Piper” 7.18.99 III
Jam of the Day:
“Split Open and Melt” 12.4.99 Cincy, OH
A snarling version from the outstanding run of December ’99, this “Split” ventures into some severe psychedelia. This is one of those versions you need to listen to a couple times to fully appreciate.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
7.1.1998 Den Gra Hal, Christiania, Copenhagen < MEGAUPLOAD
This download comes from multiple reader requests after its “Tweezer > 2001″ odyssey was posted last week. The second show of Phish’s Europe ’98 tour showcased one of the summer’s defining jam segments in the aforementioned second set highlight, but also featured the second-ever “Moma” in which they botched the lyrics and dove into a fifteen minute funk jam- probably my favorite version. Don’t sleep on the first set combo of “Disease > Dog-Faced > Piper” or the “Hood “encore either! Enjoy the summer weekend with this one pumping through your speakers.
I: NICU, Sample in a Jar, My Mind’s Got a Mind of It’s Own, The Moma Dance, Down with Disease > Dog-Faced Boy > Piper, Waste, Chalk Dust Torture
II: Tweezer > Also Sprach Zarathustra > Loving Cup, My Soul, Sweet Adeline
E: Harry Hood