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. Selector J Says:

    Have you guys seen this? The pie chart is a pretty good summary.
    Love the dude in the shirt with the airbrushed portrait of himself. Classic.

  2. Leo Weaver Says:

    @bk…re: your second paragraph…go check out Rising Sons (Taj Mahal and RY Cooder). Spin the whole thing and lemme know what you hear. I hear the Beatles, Dylan, GD, Stones, and other greats. Like AW comments, these greats were the first white boys playing this stuff and were the ones who got the mainstream credit (to an extent). My wife’s comment upon first listen was, “Damn Bob…way to rip ’em off.”

    What’s really interesting to me, considering blues/jazz is America’s only TRUE art form, is how the musical genre tree branched from there. It evolved into every distinct genre we have today…including country 😉

  3. albert walker Says:

    check out his #’s against the Hawks man

    we all know San Jose kills it during the regular season and rolls over in the play offs

    our lines are DEEP man.

    I’ll admit when I see trouble and i just don’t see it.

    Your 2nd line is playing great but like I said we are deep rolling 4 lines

    I’m just saying there was a time when Nabokov could carry a team
    these times are done

    that Buff goal was SOFT

    gonna get beat by a kid making $500k this year

    $100 donation to miners site Sharks win no more than one if you want to double down here

  4. Leo Weaver Says:

    Curious to find out more about those books @KWL and Halcy…lemme know titles if’n ya got ’em…

  5. albert walker Says:

    thanks for getting me fired up fool

    have 5 hours to kill till puck dropped

    great convos today
    train coming in

    off to walk the dog
    laterz ya’ll
    have a great night

  6. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    i’ll take that bet.

    and yes both goals nabby let in were shit.

  7. Robear Says:

    good stuff today kidz! big games 2 nite.

    bop, bop, ba da da dop ba dop

    thx. for the tunes aw and all

  8. kayatosh Says:

    aw: thinking of getting some short exposure after hours . thoughts?

  9. oneshowatatime Says:

    @selector j – thank you for posting the hipster blog, this is one of the best i’ve seen.

  10. garretc Says:


    As I read your comments about the loss of originality in music (and they’ve been plentiful), I can’t help but think about how I used to think the exact same thing. As soon as I discovered classic rock I thought “Now this is good stuff, everything now sucks!”, but as I’ve started expanding my tastes in every direction of time and space I learned something really important. Now, this may be something you already are hip to and just disregard or disagree or what not, but I know when I realized this the first time that it changed my worldview big time.

    The 60’s, 70’s, 1920’s, whenever, any era you want to point to as being a bastion of musical creativity, I can almost guarantee that a large portion of the top selling, popular, mainstream stuff was watered down crap. Look at the top 100 singles of 1973 for example. Sure, there some good stuff on there, but there’s a whole lot of lame shit. The top single was “Tie A Yellow Ribbon ‘Round The Old Oak Tree,” for goodness sakes. You can look at today much the same way. Just because the cool stuff isn’t on the radio doesn’t mean it isn’t out there. Looking back the stuff on the radio in 2000 was super lame, I heard a bunch of shit back then, before I was into music. But now I go back and there’s a ton of worthwhile music from that time.

    So that was just a long way of saying: hindsight is 20/20 in music too…

    Not that that you should take that as me saying you’re wrong, just something that needs to be considered…

  11. halcyon Says:

    LLFA @ Selector

    Garret C you didn’t mention the 80’s :rolls: 😕

  12. (Formally Known As) BrandonKayda Says:

    Yeah good point Garretc. I understand what you’re saying.

    All that I was trying to say was that, looking at mainstream music in general, there is a definite lack of creativity. Of course, there is great new music else where, but specifically looking at the mainstream (where most people listen if they are not super-into music) there is a definite lack of creativity and inspiration, IMO

    Every once in awhile, someone needs to push the envelope a little bit to keep people guessing. That is only in the mainstream anyways.

    Music seems to thrive the most when it is fueled by inspiration and heart, and that is what seems to be non-existent in the mainstream cycle of music (MTV, VH1, etc) I would just like to see somebody come and completely shake the minds of those listeners, and turn them onto something new and exciting and heartfelt etc. That is what i get the most of out of music – Be it in deep improvisation, or high energy or whatever, I am in it for the heart and inspiration of the music/if it broadens my perspective of a certain genre, etc whatever the case may be.

    I want to see this passed onto other “mainstream” listeners.

    Then again, not everyone will get “it”. For the people who do, they know that it (music) is definitely something special and irreplaceable. I would just love to see more people be turned on to more exciting and ground-breaking and thought-provoking ideas, be it in art or music or philosophy or whatever. That would be incredible.

    But some people don’t want to embrace more-challenging ideas or perspectives, and I guess that is their loss.

    Well, that is how I feel about it anyways. I’m rambling quite a bit, so I think I’ll stop here

  13. garretc Says:

    You’re right halcyon, but I could have! Maybe even should have… It certainly fits in with the argument!

  14. gavinsdad Says:

    looking forward to seeing your hawks vs the flyboys AW. we gotta push these Habs to the side first.

    BB – good stuff today….as it’s been stated already. many different types of people on here…lots of different opinions…i appreciate the leeway we’re giving one another to interpret the band as individuals. i continue to get blown away at peoples investment in this band…i feel like i’m invested, but i think my bar was and has been set slightly lower than some…I feel like after all this BB talk i’ve been a part of for almost a year i might have a slightly different filter approaching Summer ’10…perhaps a more astute and/or critical ear…but in my gut i know i’ll hear that “chicka chicka scratch” of a PYITE and any filter i think i’ve created will be immediately dissolved and i’ll go back to that pure place of simple love for the band and get the fuck down.

    getting more and more stoked.

    julius to open Toyo?

  15. garretc Says:


    Mmkay, we’re more or less on the same page then. As long as you remember that mainstream music sucking isn’t anything new! 🙂

  16. (Formally Known As) BrandonKayda Says:

    Yeah no doubt Garretc.

    “Mainstream is a stream because its so shallow” – George Carlin

    Or something like that…

  17. KWL Says:

    @Miner, I’m feeling vegas wolfman’s for tomorrow’s JOTD 8)

  18. BingosBrother Says:

    Right on Garret and BK. Great to see some optimism in you kids. Stay gold. I find it interesting to look in the back of each new Rolling Stone subscription and see what was supposedly hot 30 years ago today. You would think each year must of sucked for music based on those stats.

  19. Mr. Completely Says:

    When you worship at the altar of novelty instead of the shrine of beauty, you start getting onanistic,

    both false and mildly insulting.

    “onanistic” (== masturbatory) is doing the same thing over and over again. Like Divided Sky.

    novelty for its own sake only is obviously empty. this is art reduced to information theory and no one here has espoused it. straw man argument there, arguing against a point no one is supporting.

    10/31/98 Wolfman’s, 8/2/03 Waves jam that didn’t have enough melody or energy or pretty much anything to my ears…

    melody, no. and melody is great. but it’s just one kind of music and not inherently the most interesting or indeed beautiful. To my ears both of those jams have tremendous energy and a lot more going on than simple, and indeed often naive, melody.

    I agree that jams that improvise a melody are a very high form of art – that’s why I have that as #2 on my list. But music without melody can be great. I listen to plenty of rap and abstract jazz especially that are relatively amelodic…

  20. albert walker Says:

    in the early 70’s artists like Bowie, the Beatles, the Stones, The Band, Pink Floyd, the Grateful Dead

    Curtis Mayfield, Marvin Gaye

    I think that is the biggest difference actually

    back in the day there were mainstream musicians that were also artists pushing boundaries and creating intersting new music

    now you have to go to the under ground to find great artists

    most the bands I like from the 90’s are bands like Ghost and Royal Trux that were only printing a few thousand copies of each album

    the mainstream bands suck

    although it’s kind of funny cuz I hate em so much

    but I’d say bands like U2 and Pearl Jam are the closest things we have to mainstream artists making good (using the term very looseley here) music (using the term loosely here also)

  21. BingosBrother Says:

    Love me some PYITE gd. Better be in shape when that opens a show.

  22. Mr. Completely Says:

    But, I believe we are justified in placing and judging art. Art that is accused of being art for art’s sake, may in fact simply be masturbation.

    BUT, if someone can come up with a legitimate way of explaining in? and give a new perspective into the follies of our time?

    We need that art.

    Silly, this is certainly true, that the avant garde creates new technique without regard to content, and later the new technique can be applied to more, shall we say, “meaningful” endeavors.

    But that kind of art is basically for other artists. Usually you need to have a large artistic vocabulary or syntax to understand it. A lot of Knitting FActory music is like this.

    Art that’s expressly for small, highly educated audiences is inherently neither better or worse than art that is more accessible, contrary to strong opinions on both sides…

    It’s the rare artist, a Picasso, that can do both – introduce radically new artistic vocabulary that can be understood intuitively, without formalized education….

  23. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    Nothing to add besides the atta folks for folks on both sides of the diatribe. Good points around and constructive dialog.

  24. Mr. Completely Says:

    But a Stella Blue or Brokedown Palace floored me every time

    So maybe it is just phish

    I feel safe in saying that Phish simply doesn’t have any original ballads this profound, and that Jerry was a very gifted ballad singer.

    Corina moved the shit out of me and so did Shine A Light at Miami so maybe I’m coming around on the songs in my old age

    maybe so – also, those are better songs IMO than most phish ballads.

    (not a phish ballad hater at all – I love a few, am OK with most and hate a few – but Stella, Brokedown, Shine a Light is top level repertoire)

  25. gratefulcub Says:

    GDad, Which DeLorean album are you loving?

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