The Four-Song Sets of Fall ’97

Summer 1997 (S.Nissman)

Summer 1997 (S.Nissman)

Four-song sets – ahh, the memories. During Phish’s creative peak of Fall 1997, the mystique of “the four-song set” was born. Infusing intrigue and wonder into Phish audiences, the adventure inherent in these improvisational odysseys made each night’s journey into the unknown even more unknown. Setlists could do nothing for Internet onlookers trying to determine what went down; four song titles could only speak so loudly. Fall ’97 has always been inaccurately painted as a “funk-only” era, and the diversity of jams added to the absolute mysteries wrapped around these four-piece poems. Throughout Fall ’97, the possibility of four-song sets lived vibrantly in every show, seducing the psychonaut in all of us.

Phish birthed this concept in West Valley, Utah, on the second night of fall tour, playing a staggering show that left people counting on one hand – one, two, three, four. The first Fall ’97 blowout had just gone down, foreshadowing a new phenomenon in live Phish. Opening with “Wolfman’s,” the band jammed off the song’s liquid grooves, drawing many parallels with the preceding version, two shows earlier, at The Great Went. Utah’s version even hinted at “Simple,” the combination that lit up the second set of The Went. But instead, Phish blended into their new melodic vehicle, “Piper.” Adhering to ’97’s template of the song – melodically cyclical and without the fury of latter years – the band provided a gorgeous resolution to “Wolfman’s” in the first-ever incarnation of “Wolfman’s >Piper,” a staple sequence of the late-90’s and beyond.

Fall '97 (Unknown)

Another quintessential song pairing, “Piper” and “Twist,” continued to strengthen their bond in Utah, as the band coupled the songs for the fourth time in their young lives. This version of “Twist” saw things get straight cosmic in the E Centre, as Phish entered an excessively psychedelic soundscape over which Trey layered a unique and utterly face-melting solo, completely breaking form with the preceding jam. And out of this primordial soup, dripped a set-closing “Slave.” We weren’t in Vegas anymore, Fall ’97 had truly begun.

After two stellar shows in Denver, Phish got dialed up another four-song special in Champaign, Illinois. On this night, the band kicked off the second half with one of the most infectious “2001s” ever played. Carrying just the right tempo, and littered with disgusting licks by all, Phish started this Midwest party with spirit. Moving into “Wolfman’s,” which morphed from dance grooves into one of the defining, full-on, jams of the fall, Phish shredded some fast-paced, run-for-your-life psychedelia, annihilating this segment while passing through a break-neck “Crosseyed” jam along the way. To come down from this harrowing journey, the band landed in “Makisupa.” One might think any chance of a four-song stanza would end with the appearance of such a short piece, but not on this night. Instead, the band took the white-boy reggae into a galaxy far, far away. Ballooning this experiment into a supremely spaced-out realm, Phish returned to earth with a blistering “Taste” to close the frame.

1997 (R.Bleckman)

And the band went right back to work in their next show at Hampton Coliseum on November 21, bringing down the house with a deep dive into four-song psychedelia that has always been unfairly overshadowed by the greatest-hits dance party of the following night. Phish led off with one of the more exploratory “Ghosts” of the fall, bringing the piece far beyond groove, into quieter realms of ambient and experimental playing. Treading on sacred ground early in the set, Phish was far off the deep end only eight minutes into the set. Emerging from the underworld with with a slowly-building, thematic jam, Phish took a turn for the nasty. An eventual, on-the-dime transition into “AC/DC Bag” infused some old-school energy into the distinctly new-school set. The band proceeded to take the classic Gamehendge piece on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, crafting the defining excursion of the set, another funk-less gem along the road of Fall ’97. The band let it all hang down during these 25 minutes of sublime, genre-defying improv. A perfectly-placed”Slave” came out of this menacing piece, bringing the set a light at the end of the tunnel. And only a set-ending “Loving Cup,” extended this frame to four.

Directly after the blowout in Hampton that created the myth of The Mothership, Phish took their overflowing creativity to Winston-Salem for an insane ride through another four-song set, and yet another defining piece of ’97 artwork in “Bathtub Gin.” While this show is always overshadowed by the previous two, the playing is every bit as strong throughout. When they kicked off the the second half with “Bathtub,” nobody could possibly know where the band was headed. Among the upper-echelon of Fall ’97 offerings, this multi-faceted version moved into some of the most connected and aggressive playing of tour. Taking the multi-faceted jam into savage, break-beat textures, Fishman absolutely owned this piece as the band explored many truly twisted places over the course of a sinister, half-hour. (I’ll put this one up as the jam of today to save some words.) Eventually reaching a settled plane, the band subtly infused the undertones of the intro to “Disease,” and pulled off a surprisingly sly segue. Taking their explosive energy right through their classic vehicle, the band brought the piece into another full-on excursion that had nothing to do with cowfunk.

1997 Advertisement

As the band picked up the theme to “Low Rider” seemingly out of nowhere, they smoothly sailed into a jam around the ’70s anthem, providing comic relief with their lyrical offerings, and drawing a huge cheer for the line “Take a little trip with me.” Stopping off for some minutes of thick groove, Phish gradually revved back up into the ending of “Disease;” a truly transcendental hour of music. With an “Axis” closer, this set also added to four.

While Phish played several other five-song sets during the tour, some with short, insignificant set closers, these are the four-piece puzzles that drew so much attention along the road of Fall ’97. There would be a handful more through post-hiatus, peaking with Nassau’s 4.3 holy trek. (And if you don’t count a “Rotation Jam” as song, Deer Creek ’97’s first night holds the candle as the first incarnation of such a set.) But during Fall ’97, the term “four-song set” burst onto the scene, and the above evenings are the reasons why.


Audio Archive

Audio Archive Links:

11.14.97 E Centre, West Valley, UT

11.19.97 Assembly Hall, Champaign, IL

11.21.97 Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA

11.23.97 LJVM Coliseum, Winston-Salem, NC


Jam of the Day:

Bathtub Gin” 11.23.97 II

An instant classic from Winston-Salem.




4.3.92 Hyatt Regency, Beaver Creek, CO < Megaupload

4.3.92 Hyatt Regency, Beaver Creek, CO < Torrent

Hyatt Regency - Beaver Creek, CO

Sticking to the soundboard train this week on Downloads of the Day, here’s another from Spring ’92.

I: The Landlady > Poor Heart, Stash, Rift, Guelah Papyrus, Sparkle, Maze, Fluffhead, All Things Reconsidered, Split Open and Melt, Golgi Apparatus

II: The Curtain > The Sloth, Possum, Mound, You Enjoy Myself, The Mango Song, Llama, Harry Hood, Suzy Greenberg

E: Rocky Top

Source: SBD

796 Responses to “The Four-Song Sets of Fall ’97”

  1. flarrdogg Says:

    haly- I read back over comments from last night and had completely missed your All That/ Rogan Davis post. Knew him well. Surprised he’s still alive. He had what some might refer to as a little bit of a ‘drug problem’. Hopefully he was also able to get clean- must have if he’s an advisor to David Simon. At any rate, I still haven’t seen Treme, but I’ll snatch it when it comes out on DVD. Had no idea there was a character based on him. I wouldn’t really call him “famous”. All That is a hilariously bad band (IMO). Not to offend, but seeing them live countless times has cemented this as fact for me. Small world. I hadn’t thought about that dude since pre katrina. Thanks for the trip back.

  2. butter Says:

    right Mr. C – you have always been a proponent of “if you thought is was

    great , it was great”

  3. flarrdogg Says:

    yeah but,

    VEGAS WOLFMANS. Come on now!

  4. halcyon Says:

    Yeah Flarr

    Definitely watch Treme when you can. I have enjoyed it so far. I am sure you will as well.

  5. butter Says:

    yea Z has said some pretty wack shit, but it gives us something to type about

    it was pretty funny reading back the other day when he thought it was sad that Miner goes to every show looking for type 2 improv

    Miner says….

    ” in fact i find it so sad that i want to go to every show”


    i was smoking some seriously strong hash oil during that Wolfman’s and trying to dance thru it and remember thinking what the hell is going on… and how do you dance to this….maybe i should stop smoking these hash oil soaked joints?

  6. butter Says:

    Love Treme, great city , great musicians = fun show

  7. flarrdogg Says:

    Haly- Word ’em up. Did I read correctly that Davis is played by Steve Zahn?!?

    That is awesome. I need to get a fucking tv. The novelty of not having one has officially worn off. Missing hoops/baseball, and Steve Zahn playing a dude I used to do the dirt with has inspired me.

  8. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    “dancing fool… you better give a relisten to miami tweezer and bott, dwd’s from hampton and msg, albany -7>ghost, and quite a few other things. didn’t think the gorge gin of 09 came even close to any of those things.”

    i was at those miami shows, listened to all those jams mentioned many many times, gorge gin is still my fav

  9. butter Says:

    yea flarr – the ” i don’t have a tv ” is fun for a while

    Maybe Z’s stopwatch couldn’t fit the whole Wolfman’s on it

  10. halcyon Says:

    Yeah Steve Zahn is great in the show. John Goodman is in it, Kermit Ruffins, Dr. John and I can’t remember who else at this point, but a whole slew of people all locals to NOLA

    Z is a cool cat, varied and unflinching in his opinions. Definitely another welcome member here, and a super fan taboot.

  11. flarrdogg Says:

    Something totally unique and new is what I’m chasing. Always. And I love the compositions, but watching them take the plunge into the deep end without a net is what PH is about for this guy.

    Vegas Wolfmans- How about that land into Piper. Neck hairs standing straight out- every time.

  12. butter Says:

    Galactic guys have been in Treme, as well as Trombone Shorty, Big Sam, Elvis Costello

  13. halcyon Says:

    Yeah Flarr 10-31-98 3rd set is deep, in over your head deep

  14. halcyon Says:

    Parents wanting to bring their littlest ones to Phish….
    Though we have talked about it here plenty of times, here is a guide.

  15. butter Says:

    and they actually play music on Treme too, sure its a little staged/ studio style but some quality music from quality musicians

  16. flarrdogg Says:


    I was in the house for that one, so I have euphoric recall whenever I listen.

    As good as remembered.

    Going in for a closer look. G’night all.

  17. halcyon Says:

    Good Nite all!

  18. Corey Says:

    Donald Harrison played on Sunday’s episode. Best hour of tv music on tv, at least as far as what comcast dishes out. My wife and I are hooked. Lots of good memories from that place.

  19. Jtran Says:

    Back home, listening to the Wolfman’s. YEa

  20. Jkzen Says:

    Wow! Just spent the past hour reading back through the days’ posts. Though I have been a dabbler (lurker!) I really appreciate and connect to a lot of what us going on here. Some days I quickly browse around for (please don’t feel left out or minimized here) posts from Mr C, AW, Lycan, Neemor, Halcyon, KWL, Miner, etc, but mad respect to all! I fully concur with the deep, slow nod to IT Waves exploration, brings me right into the present every time! Thank you!! The Whats The Use from 12/30/09 sent me from nibbling the baggie to peaking within 10 minutes (still dies upon re-listen). Wish this song was pushed way out as well. Don’t need the deep dark and scary like I did in 94, but rather the introspective awareness trips. The sound of 09 is very (IMO) west coast, sun-lit, pre-exploration (just getting the sea legs back type thing) positive, light celebration sort of sound.

  21. Mr.Miner Says:

    re: electronic music. Anyone try listening to Shpongle or Younger Brother (same musician behind both)? I like it a whole lot.

    ^ NOW we are talking. Posford is a genius….and most stuff form his label Twisted is spot on.

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