December 28th has often served as an appetizer for the musical main courses of the next three nights of holiday runs. But in 1998, the Phish came out on the first night at MSG locked and loaded, and in the second set dropped the filthiest jam sequence of the entire four-night fiesta. Almost a year to the day ago, Phish had played the first domestic “Carini” to the shock and delight of all on 12.30.97 in an encore for the ages. But when they unveiled the sinister anthem after a Fall ’98 tour that was laced with ambient-psychedelic jamming, they were playing with a beast of a different nature. Never had the band jammed on “Carini” other than its Amsterdam debut in which the band essentially turned on a dime and started a smoking but non-“Carini” themed segment that would become the a centerpiece of the set. But when they launched off the song on the first night at MSG in ’98, that would all change drastically.
Taking the jam out with a slow-paced, screaming psychedelia, the band sat into the song’s menacing textures for a solid period of time before seamlessly blending into a far more exploratory and abstract section. The band had experimented with ambient playing throughout their Fall Tour, but more often than not it was of the melodic variety. In this piece of music, however, the band’s Jedi-like powers turned to those of the Sith as they embarked on an eerie jaunt through the dark side of the universe. Layered and searing effects, methodical rhythms and filthy textures characterized the music as the band’s dove through this wormhole. And as they did, green worms—part of a choreographed performance art—crawled through the stage in a freaked-out illusion. And as the band settled down from their furiously evil, they slid into a slow and collaborative groove that emphasized the massive space in the music as much as each part of the rhythm. And the worms ate through the stage, these monstrous grooves ate through the brains of the audience in one of the frozen moments of the jam. Spilling from the outer realms of the cosmos into hard dance patterns, Phish had MSG rocking and the audience in awe. As the crunchy rhythms echoed through the spacious round room, the band had arrived at the landing point of one of their darkest jams of the season. And as these grooves came to a natural conclusion, without missing a beat, Page hit the intro to a slow-paced “Wolfman’s Brother.” Coming off such a profound musical journey, something hinted that this jam wouldn’t stay within straight funk.
Oozing into the jam at an infectious pace, the groove parade began with thick rhythms and beefy bass lines while Page and Trey collaborated up top. Increasing in dissonance as it progressed, this jam would be a natural continuation of the ominous jamming that had just concluded. The band toyed with the “Wolfman’s” theme amidst this heavy medium as Trey unleashed a variety of infectious licks. Growling with sonic size and intensity, the guys finally spilled out of the song’s rhythm with a series of licks that led Trey through a quicksand-like groove session. Again, the band was exploring the dark side of things with the spirit of Lewis and Clark. And in this section, Trey began a series of slinky leads that gave the larger-than-life dance session a melodic top half. This was sinister Phish crack in slow motion and it felt like being surrounded in musical molasses. Combining a eerie feel with a hard rhythmic focus, the band was creating some of their most engaging music of the year on the very first night of the New Year’s Run. Fishman altered his beat and the rest of the band followed along, creating an harrowing and danceable texture that spoke to the exact elements that I crave for in Phish music. Drifting from these patterns to a more ambient-drenched experiment, the methodical pocket and cymbal crashes never stopped as Trey and Page dug into space-aged effects that brought an enhanced sense of the occult back into play. Morphing into an experiment in sound and fury, Phish were letting it all hang out in this jam sequence in a way that they wouldn’t replicate for the rest of the run. And they wrapped up “Wolfman’s” with the most dissonant, abstract and engaging segments of music they had played all night.
And when the band brought the jam to silence after nearly forty minutes of the darkest and most exploratory music of the year—mind-fuck Phish at its finest—I exchanged glances of disbelief with several friends—this was why we were there! With a magnifying lens on the dark half of the psyche, Phish wove a tale of dark-themed danceable music of the likes that we had dreamed. Walking back to the hotel though the massive metropolis of the New York, we were floored. After a spectacular Fall ’98, for Phish to come out and drop such a piece on the first night of the New Year’s Run was staggering. Stemming from the first truly jammed out “Carini,” the band wove a blissful horror story of magnificent proportions. Though many fans favor the happier, uplifting side of Phish, for me, this was the ultimate type of throwdown—a sequence that wouldn’t be matched over the next three nights of music for me. Though each night provided spectacular moments of its own, I’ll never forget the sinister escapade and green worms of “Carini > Wolfman’s”—another untouchable piece of MSG lore.
Jam of the Day:
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