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. Gratefulcub Says:

    Can’t stop spinning the gorge gin

  2. SillyWilly Says:

    Thanks for those words, Mr. C.

    As I’ve said before, you guys all are still young enough that you maybe don’t feel like “role models” and I hate the connotations of that word, but I look at many of you (or read many of you) and I see that you guys truly have lived original/exciting lives and have emerged great fathers/husbands and cool cats.

    I don’t have many examples like this, and I value what you all have done.

    I really hope this doesn’t make anyone feel weird.

    No one ever really told me you could be a kid and a dad and a hugely productive contributor to life like many of you are doing.

    Oh and mothers (stitch, and she divides, and fee4zy!)

  3. Mr. Completely Says:

    more seriously – it might be worthwhile to get away from the highly intellectual context you’ve been in for awhile, once you hit a natural stopping place – kind of like sleeping lets memories set into place, taking some time away from absorbing new ideas all the time might let what you have crystallize a little

    plus sometimes it’s fun to just say “Let’s Go Do What Happens”

  4. Mr. Completely Says:


    “Can’t stop spinning!!!! the gorge gin!!!!”

  5. Chuck D Says:


  6. KWL Says:

    i’m an analytical guy, i analyze everything. i am slowly learning how to be less analytical, aka, surrender to the flow.

    but to me the best analysis is that which challenges our pre-existing categories, not the (more common) kind that uses entrenched categories of thought to interpret the world.

    in this scenario, both art *and* analysis can be used to challenge the norm and push boundaries

    saw a good quote recently–to paraphrase: both the critical theorists on one side and the meditators and psychedelic drug takers on the other are seeking to challenge the limits of the socially constructed mind

  7. Mr. Completely Says:

    Thank you very much for the compliment Silly. I really appreciate it, and it’s very meaningful to me.

    Please remember the stories I have often told in the past about what a dumbass I was most of the time, ok?

    If I’m right that wisdom is just learning from the mistakes of others, I’ve only approached wisdom in the last few years. Before that I made the mistakes firsthand.

    The #1 lesson of my life is that (at least some) people change, and sometimes for the better.

  8. Mr. Completely Says:

    another great @kwl post

    gotta go again

    will try to check in later, but Lost is on, so….

  9. Mr. Completely Says:

    if my mistakes can turn into someone else’s wisdom, that’s super sweet karma right there

  10. SillyWilly Says:

    I’ll try and keep it in mind, Mr. C.

    I feel like Ill see many of you out on tour over the next few years, and you all can help keep me line.

    Hell, AW already had to.

    I think Im going to take your step away advice right now.

    Can’t seem to get going on this paper (BB might be a little to blame)

    Gonna go hang out with my girl.

    Have a great night, everyone!

  11. (Formally Known As) BrandonKayda Says:

    Great conversation tonight from everybody, especially Mr C and Silly.

    Thanks for the chat tonight folks! I think I’m out for the night

  12. [Not Tom] Marshall Says:

    Good evening Blackboard?

  13. DaNcInG fOoL Says:

    good old gorge gin. best jam of 09

  14. purplehumpbackwhale 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.

  15. gavinsdad Says:

    less time doing, more time being.

    a grizzled old junkie said “i’d rather be with you”

    a slick pop/rock star that bouncin fan loves said “el-e-va-tion!”

    let’s do this this Summer.

  16. gavinsdad Says:

    purps: you tackling any other NE shows beyond the JBs in Aug? you comin down Camden way?

  17. purplehumpbackwhale Says:

    no camden, but both hartfords. por que? which shows are u doin

  18. gavinsdad Says:

    @purple: hershey, both camdens, both NCs, both JBs. see you up at JB.

  19. voopa Says:

    I like Phish.

  20. Mr. Completely Says:


  21. purplehumpbackwhale Says:

    i think he’s talking about Reel Big Phish

  22. voopa Says:

    Ha! I got that twice when I went to Tower Records on the day of sale to get Round Room.

  23. Mr.Miner Says:

    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.

    ^ I think electronic music is fascinating because it allows people to fully realize ideas, sounds, beats, effects, whatnots, that cannot be done live. I’m the first to admit that MOST of electronic music (which is saying “rock music” in its unmbrella-ness) is total crap. But when you have really talented thinker-muciscians making electronic music, the results can be staggering.

    But, 70s funk is pretty boring to me, so…. 😉

  24. Mr.Miner Says:

    btw, I go to an acupuncture appt. and miss a symposium on artistic interpretation…impressive.

  25. Mr.Miner Says:

    Miner shows up and the room clears…

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