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Phish Destroys America: Fall 1997


These are bittersweet days for the nostalgic Phish fan. The tenth anniversary of the legendary Fall tour of 1997 is bringing a few things into sharp relief: how lost we are with Trey in rehab and Mike in hiding, how we still haven’t gotten over Coventry, and how embarrassed we still are by just how much we love this band. Mike was right: they had another 21 years in them, easily. That’s the bitter part.

And the sweet part? As always, the music. I’ve been embroiled in a fiendish listening orgy, making my way through the tour set by set, often dropping everything I was doing to stand in awe of the continuously developing sound and earth-shaking improvisation. Since they first graduated to arenas in 1994, Phish had perfected its tension-and-release jamming for big venues, but it wasn’t until the low-pressure European tour of 1997 that they discovered new spaces and rhythms in the music — a style that came to be known variously as cow funk, intergalactic space funk, and porno funk. Whatever you call it, it was groovy and psychedelic and very, very tasty. Bow-chicka-wow-wow!


At the time, that magnificent noise, sometimes driving, rising, sometimes standing still in imperceptibly morphing waves, sounded like the future to me: this was the mothership. Now it comes heavy with nostalgia for a season when I was setting off on a road trip from the Deep South to New York City with a new haircut and a brand-new girlfriend, a promising writer with a funny name and an even funnier sensibility. I met my future Schwiegereltern, saw movies that never made it to Mississippi, and crashed the Mayflower Hotel with Andy Gadiel‘s crew for an epic holiday run at the Garden — only the first of four memorable New Year’s Eves I spent with Phish. Ten years later, the band is gone but the girl’s still with me.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be listening to a lot more Fall 97, and I doubt I’ll be able to resist posting about it again. For now, here are a few tunes from the beginning of the tour, sorted by ascending dankness: Black-Eyed Katy is friendly enough, but anyone except the hettiest brahs might get hurt listening to Tweezer and Run Like an Antelope. (These are all audience recordings, which accounts for the somewhat muffled quality. Just turn it up. If you dig any of this, I highly recommend Live Phish 11, the official release of 11/17/97 Denver.)

From 11/13/97 Las Vegas, Black-Eyed Katy, a new song that defined the tour and later, with added lyrics, became The Moma Dance.

Gumbo from 11/14/97 Salt Lake City

Timber Ho! from 11/16/97 Denver

The half-hour Tweezer that opened 11/17/97 Denver, and a cover of Jimi Hendrix’ Fire. Again, you can get this in soundboard quality on Live Phish 11.

Also Sprach Zarathustra and Run Like An Antelope from 11/19/97 Champaign

11-13-97 Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas, NV

1: Chalk Dust Torture, Black-Eyed Katy*, Theme From the Bottom, Train Song, Split Open and Melt, Beauty of My Dreams, My Soul, You Enjoy Myself**, Character Zero

2: Stash, Punch You in the Eye, Prince Caspian, Bouncing Around the Room, Mike’s Song**-> I Am Hydrogen^-> Weekapaug Groove^^

E: Loving Cup

*First time played (original; funky instrumental; related to “The Moma Dance”). **Intro to “Green River” (Credence Clearwater Revival) before “I Am Hydrogen.” ^With “tweaked out” Trey solo stuff at start. ^^Fish started slowing down the beat, then Trey sped them up…to “double time.”

11-14-97 West Valley E Center, West Valley, UT

1: Runaway Jim, Gumbo, Maze*, Fast Enough For You, Also Sprach Zarathustra-> Funky Bitch, Guyute**, Run Like an Antelope#

2: Wolfman’s Brother-> Piper-> Twist, Space Jam^, Slave to the Traffic Light

E: Bold as Love

*Unfinished. **Dedicated to Paul Languedoc. #”Marco Esquandolas” part was whistled. ^Cool funky jam with lots of Trey solos

11-16-97 McNichols Arena, Denver, CO1: NICU, My Soul, Black-Eyed Katy, Farmhouse, The Old Home Place, Billy Breathes, Cars Trucks Buses, Scent of a Mule*, Poor Heart*, Taste, Hello My Baby

2: Timber (Jerry)-> Simple, Wilson-> Harry Hood, Izabella

E: David Bowie

*With Pete Wernick, aka “Dr. Banjo” on banjo. Wernick is a member of the Pete Wernick Live Five, a Colorado bluegrass band, and also produces instructional books and tapes for the banjo. He is a former member of Hot Rize (see 08-07-96).

11-17-97 McNichols Arena, Denver, CO

1: Tweezer, Reba, Train Song, Ghost*, Fire

2: Down With Disease-> Oblivious Fool-> Johnny B. Goode-> Space Jam-> Jesus Just Left Chicago, When the Circus Comes, You Enjoy Myself

E: Character Zero

*Jammed out “for your listening pleasure.”

11-19-97 Assembly Hall, Champaign, IL

1: Julius, Bathtub Gin-> Llama, Dirt, Limb By Limb, Funky Bitch, Theme From the Bottom, Ginseng Sullivan, Fee*-> Meatstick-> Run Like an Antelope

2: Also Sprach Zarathustra-> Wolfman’s Brother**-> Makisupa Policeman#, Taste

E: Possum

*Trey looked around the stage for the megaphone, but didn’t find it. **With “Walk Away,” “Tweezer,” and “I Feel Free” (Cream) teases; and with “Crosseyed and Painless” jam. #With space jam.

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