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. Mr. Completely Says:

    to me, phish have long been the masters of straddling this threshold.

    the threshold between chaos and order is where all the really interesting structure lies.

    If you look at the arc of most artists as they learn to improvise and go outside existing boundaries, they often go very far into full abstraction, then pull back and find a more modulated, sophisticated intermediate style. The John Coltrane catalog is one of the more interesting historical records of this process. He kept stepping back and forth across the line in deifferent ways.

  2. BingosBrother Says:

    Phish also doesn’t have Robert Hunter. I do think Tom can do better than Sailboat Man though.

  3. Mr. Completely Says:

    great “neuroscience and the brain” post by @KWL

    and @brandon’s “He not busy being born is busy dying” – APT!

  4. jay Says:

    I have always loved Waste and Dirt. Love Joy now as well. Used to love Fast Enough For You and would be stoked now a days to see it.

  5. jay Says:

    Speaking of Coltrane, I just read The Making Of Kind Of Blue. Set Coltrane on his path.

  6. Mr. Completely Says:

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

    stop reading my fucking mind, I was thinking about that last night

  7. gratefulcub Says:

    Stop harshing on AutoTune, I use AutoTune for every post.

  8. gavinsdad Says:

    @TPain, err…GCub:

    I’m listening to Delorean’s “subiza”

  9. BingosBrother Says:

    It was a lot easier to be a mainstream musician when people actually paid for music. Kind of unfair to compare.

  10. SillyWilly Says:

    I completely agree with what you just said, Mr. C.

    There is certainly art that is expressly for small, highly educated audiences.

    There is also art accused of being expressly for small, highly educated audiences by people who don’t understand it.

    I agree, again, with you that many of the greatest artists can be understood intuitively as well as by the most highly educated.

    The problem is when people use either one as an excuse not to TRY to understand what the artist is communicating.

    At some point we can assign values to art. I do not subscribe to the perspective that ALL art is subjective and therefore anything goes. We cannot make sweeping general remarks like that. We have the ability to say this is better than that because of this…and we must constantly be trying to state why this is so. When we decide this it must simply be viewed not as THE TRUTH but as something similar to “most likely” or this is “closest to the right answer.”

    To bring it back, I do not have an inherent mistrust for the highly educated and more than I do for those with no formal education.

    However, I have no time for discussions that end with “This is just how I feel…” Many will say this is all the better we can do, so why go further? and I reply if we can simply live in that barren desert where we reject the meaningless and strive for a better understanding, then we will be doing something noble.

    Im not really saying anything different than you did, Mr. C. In fact, do not read my passion for this as opposed to your thought. Its just passion for discussing these things because I know you all will listen and provide sincere feedback.

    I just see so much potential in human thought, and debates like these lead me to preach about the bravery of those who dare to accept meaningless with their right hand and construct meaning with their left.

    After all, all of us who get out of bed in the morning are doing this.

  11. gavinsdad Says:

    @Jay: i’m with you man…i’m all for waste and dirt. I’ll take em every time…If I Could…FEFY….count me in.

  12. SillyWilly Says:

    I meant “ANY more than I do for those with no formal education.”

  13. gratefulcub Says:

    I like it THunter. Something completely different than what I usually. Caribou was a little to electro pop for my taste, but I did enjoy Blitzen Trapper.

    I’ve been lurking for music recs today.

  14. Mr. Completely Says:

    we can discuss the theory of why we like this or that all we want, I have certainly typed my share of words, and we can ponder things like deferral of expectations and there’s a lot of truth to that

    and certainly some music just sucks – for example a tightly composed song played sloppily, so I’m not about to make the case for pure subjectivity

    but at the same time, bottom line really just is: I like what I like. It moves me. The Vegas Wolfman’s and IT Waves both put my mind and soul in pleasant and interesting states, so I enjoy them. Everything else is just after the fact theorizing.

    I’m just saying this so it’s clear to everyone (including zyzzx if he reads this) that I don’t think I’m “right” in any sense that makes anyone else “wrong”

    It’s like when I listen to all this african music. It’s totally new to me and I have little frame of reference. The Orchestre is a particularly good example becuase their rhythms are so alien and out of my experience. I have no analytical way of explaining why I like track 3 better than track 5, but I do. After eight or ten listens, my iTunes playlist is fully rated: 4 stars, 5, 3, 3, 4, 4, 5, 3 etc. (no 2 or 1-star songs from the Tout Puissant Orchestre Poly-Rhythmo de Cotonou!)

    It used to bother me, but I adjusted to it when digging through hundreds of funk tracks to make the first version of that What It Is mix. I wanted to know what made one track funky and another similar one not so much.

    Then I realized that was stupid. Funk is in the butt of the beholder.

    Since then I’ve tried to understand as well as I can, but when I can’t, I just roll with it.

  15. garretc Says:

    Hey @GD, when are you gonna be down here in LA again? Next week?

  16. SillyWilly Says:

    re: Phish ballads

    I used to wonder who I liked more:

    Phish or the Grateful Dead? of course, before ’09.

    Not having a chance to see the Dead ended it.

    I dig the folky side to the Dead. But, this is based purely off aesthetic taste. I simply cannot relate to that side of them.

    I think more than anything its the loss of folk in today’s consciousness – Or just in my consciousness.

    For most people my age:

    Cowboy movies are mostly gone. The Civil War died with the Civil Rights Movement. We have such a deep mistrust of history that we do not relate to nostalgic practices.

    The old has become synonymous with the bad.

    I think post-modernism explains this. The new generation doesn’t get it anymore.

  17. gratefulcub Says:

    “Funk is in the butt of the beholder.”

    I think I will use that tonight when my slightly older, slightly whiter boss tells me: “This isn’t Funky”

    “Sir, with all due respect, Funk is in the Butt of the Beholder, and this is Sly MF’ing Stone, and just because this track is R&Bish, it does not mean that your Butt is not utterly confused.”

  18. gratefulcub Says:

    “The Civil War died with the Civil Rights Movement”

    Whoooaaa there cowboy……That war isn’t over everywhere.

  19. Mr. Completely Says:

    we’re thinking in parallel lines right now Silly

    “There is also art accused of being expressly for small, highly educated audiences by people who don’t understand it. ”

    ^^^^ very, very very important point

    there’s an aspect of what we’re talking about that is dependent on the medium – for example instrumental music doesn’t automatically carry inherent meaning the way a novel or a representative painting does – in that sense it is more like abstract visual art. So the subjective component is larger.

    In verbal or representative art forms there is both the stylistic choice within the medium – the structure of the work – and the artist’s intent to express an overt idea, and people will have different reactions to each component.

    (not that abstract art or instrumental music doesn’t contain ideas, but they are usually not obvious to the average listener)

    Again the african music is interesting, because there are vocals – the artist is saying something specific – but to me it’s essentially another abstract component – so I am appreciating the art in a very different way than a person who understands the language might – I am missing the intended meaning entirely.

    So I truly think there are some things that just are what they are, and can only be appreciated subjectively.

    I basically can’t listen to any kind of electronic dance music. I think it’s terrible and boring. There are exceptions that are few and far between. I have a friend who I like and respect that loves that shit, and thinks 70s funk and soul is boring and trite. Somehow I have not killed him yet.

  20. gratefulcub Says:

    ^Sorry Silly, I just had the urge to call someone cowboy. Even in the youngest of ages, the CivilWar/CivilRights fight continues to this day. The War of Northern Aggression will not be tolerated!!

  21. locust the lurker Says:

    what do you think of Sound Tribe Sector 9, Mr. C?

  22. (Formally Known As) BrandonKayda Says:

    Hey Silly!

    Nice to see you joining in on this conversation. How have you been? Through with school yet?

  23. gavinsdad Says:

    “Funk is in the butt of the beholder.”

    ^this. thank you C…sometimes i think there are a few too many misinterpreted definitives here on the BB…we’re just who we are and taste as related to consumption is far too vast to put into words…we like what we like…thx for boiling it down. works for me.

    @GarretC: flying in tomorrow…will get to hotel late…holler at my email with your cell # and i’ll give you a ring. i actually have a fair amount of work and then i leave early Sun but it’d be nice to exchange (exbange?) a hello at some point. edlooram AT yahoo DOT com

  24. kayatosh Says:

    if you need a serious belly laugh (very short):

  25. Jtran Says:

    Let’s go Habs!

    I’ll be back later tonight to listen to Halloween 98 Wolfman’s

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