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:

    or – not can only be appreciated subjectively – maybe it can but analyzed – I just think the attempt is missing the point

    I think it’s worth the time to try and break down “what is funky and what isn’t” to a formula or science, if it’s possible

    as the man said when asked “what is jazz?”

    “If you have to ask the question, you ain’t never gonna understand the answer”

    so yeah, we can talk about is this well composed and performed, or is this well written, and that can be legit. and you can talk about the content, the intended meaning.

    But not all art is aimed at the mind, nor is it accessible to the mind. It can’t be turned into words.

    If Kind of Blue could have been expressed as an essay, Miles would have written an essay.

  2. Mr. Completely Says:

    oops – I **don’t** think it’s worth the time, etc

  3. garretc Says:

    @Mr. C

    “If Kind of Blue could have been expressed as an essay, Miles would have written an essay”

    Reminds me of a quote from some famous ballerina, who said essentially the same thing when asked what she was trying to convey in her dance. She said that “If I could have said it I wouldn’t have danced it…”

    You should have an email real soon… I’m always down for some baneage, and I can’t imagine you have your own source down here, so I’d be glad to make that happen for you!

  4. kayatosh Says:

    “But not all art is aimed at the mind, nor is it accessible to the mind. It can’t be turned into words.

    If Kind of Blue could have been expressed as an essay, Miles would have written an essay.”

    ^^^^^On the $. Post of the day.

  5. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    it’s not that mainstream music sucks, it’s that the music that gets played on the mainstream sucks

  6. bouncin fan Says:

    Board on fire today

    Like some old school early 09 phish thoughts

    Good stuff

  7. SillyWilly Says:


    schools over. Now Im trying write on to a law journal. I feel like if I could just get to a point where they’d let me say what I think I’d be happy.

    But, again, as Im in the process I feel very unfulfilled. Trying to follow Mr. C’s advice that you have to play by the rules for awhile so one day you can work for the change that you want to see made.

    just a side note, BK. I feel more frustrated with the maturation process now than I ever did in high school. Its weird how they never tell you its going to be like this.


    I dig. I was reminded of that everyday working in Atlanta. Somehow Sherman was involved in every conversation revolving around politics or culture.

    @Mr. C

    I must confess that I feel deeply immature for busting out my thoughts like that.

    I’ve been thinking a ton lately and I realize Im always saying crazy things and I must look like a little kid running his mouth.

    Not sure when Ill learn to be comfortable in my opinions.

    Struggling hard to understand if “comfortable” is worth pursuing.

  8. Lycanthropist Says:

    it was definitely a good day on the board

  9. bouncin fan Says:

    Got my tinariwen imidiwan:companions on vinyl today

    Got killed on the Exchange rate and postage coming from across the pond

    But Damn shit sounds fresh pumping

    Hope the neighbors dig it

  10. Mr. Completely Says:

    thinking everything can be re-interpreted analytically is the #1 mistake of the highly intelligent

    but it’s a simple category error

    love being the trite but brutally potent counterxample (

    (works both ways: you can’t solve a math or engineering problem with love, either)

    there are levels of being both above and below rational thought, and any time you relate to one level in terms of another, you’re always going to have translation errors at best, and catastrophic failures of understanding at worst.

  11. Chuck D Says:

    mainstream people suck.

  12. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    and especially these days, if mainstream musicians start to push boundaries and do something really original, they no longer get played on the mainstream (eg. MGMT’s new album)

  13. garretc Says:

    streams suck

    it’s all about brooks

    the babblinger the better

  14. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    what chuck D said

  15. BingosBrother Says:

    Thanks kaya.

    Every great work of art has two faces, one toward its own time and one toward the future, toward eternity.
    Lester Bangs

  16. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    wow lester bangs would make an amazing pornstar name

  17. SillyWilly Says:

    @Mr. C

    had a good friend once who said that this (analysis can’t solve everything) lead him to phenomenology.

  18. Mr. Completely Says:

    I’ve been thinking a ton lately and I realize Im always saying crazy things and I must look like a little kid running his mouth.

    pffffftttt quite the opposite, you seem like a smart as hell young man working his way through large and complex ideas

    very much like our other younger posters, though in a different way – an impressive group altogether

    I don’t know why you are so self conscious about your opinions, except that it is the mark of the sensitive and insightful younger person to be that way – and certainly having self-doubt is much better than being arrogant

    nonetheless, to be clear, I and the other posters here engage you on the level we do out of respect and nothing else

    I can tell when young intellectuals are just spouting smart sounding crap they read in a textbook

    that’s not what you’re doing at all

    you’re trying to figure out how to be in the world, be an authentic person, and maybe make a difference at some level

    a highly laudable endeavor

  19. Mr. Completely Says:

    yeah “bouncin fan”

    I listened all the way through all those Tinariwen albums again and Imidiwan is at least as good as any of the others

    very stoked to see them this summer!

  20. Chuck D Says:

    Incase you’re bored:

    Phish – Ghost Jam 7-6-98 Prague SBD

    gotta be one of my favorite phish things ever.

  21. bouncin fan Says:

    Now you just need to drop out, travel America seeing live music, and experiment with psychadellics for a while

    That’s where the answers lie

    Actually there are no answers there. I’m still dumb as shit.

    But it will be fun as hell

  22. Mr. Completely Says:

    well silly, analysis can solve a lot of things. I’m never sure what any given person means by “phenomenology” because there are a lot of nuances and variations of meaning to that term.

    Physics teaches us that some things simply are; and are even exact. There are very, very few of these things: the constants of nature. 20 or 30 depending on how you count them. The speed of light is the most well known.

    When you can reproducably measure a quantity to an accuracy of fifteen decimal places, regardless of where and when the experiment is done, there is no room for interpretation…

    Analysis built the computers we’re typing all this on…and the internet…etc

    Again, it’s just about being situationally appropriate, and not making category errors.

    Interpret things according to the level they address. Kind of Blue, the General Theory of Relativity, legal case histories, and Shakespeare’s sonnets are all about different aspects of reality and you have to see each through the appropriate lens.

  23. Gratefulcub Says:

    Funny bouncing. Truth lies in between, there are SOME answers there, for some of us. But not for everyone.

  24. Mr. Completely Says:

    I agree with bouncin’ fan

    the time we spent together on DMB tour is a treasured memory…til that fucker dropped off to see the Cheese of course

  25. KWL Says:

    i hear what you’re saying @C about analysis

    music is good because it moves you somehow: to think, feel, perceive, dance, all of the above

    on some level the neuro-scientific study of the brain is a pretty ridiculous project to me, one which seeks to codify the un-codifiable

    but there were a few good insights here and there, and you have to pick out the good and leave the bad.

    setting up, deferring, and meeting expectations struck me as something phish was pretty good at, and really put in a different (scientific) language what i have long thought about boundaries and pushing them (if you would have asked me 5 years ago why i loved phish, i would say b/c they push boundaries).

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