Friday 06/26/2015 by phishnet

BEST OF 1997 (5-1)

This week at Phish.Net, we're counting down the twenty best shows of 1997, as decided by members of the Phish.Net team. We've finally made it to the end, but if you're just tuning in, you may want to start with the posts linked below. Now, without further ado, the top 5 shows of 1997 after the jump... [SP]

Previously:
Honorable Mentions
Shows 20-16
Shows 15-11
Shows 10-6

5. 12/30/97 Madison Square Garden, New York, NY (Dan Mielcarz)

There were some surprises when compiling this list; 12/30/97 scoring highly was not one of them. No matter who you ask, it is seen as an all-time classic. The “Sneaking Sally” opener is one of the all-time great bustouts (a 920 show gap) and not just played for novelty - there is a great little funk jam in there with a smooth segue into a absolutely ripping “Taste.” “Stash” is sneaky good - not the best of 97, but must hear nonetheless! A dark and broody meditation that ends in a very smooth chill-out. Trey shreds the hell out of his “Chalk Dust” solo, and “ADITL” closes out a fun first set.



"AC/DC Bag" -- 12/30/97 New York, NY

But of course, no one who talks about 12/30/97 talks about Set I. On the excellent LivePhish release of this show, you can hear Trey asking the others “Bag?” as he strums a couple licks. They agree, and kick off one of the greatest “AC/DC Bag”s ever. Starts slow and funky, with Page patiently leading the jam on clavinet. The tempo and volume slowly increases. As soon as Trey takes over though, the jam finds another gear. Trey lays down some porno-funk licks but quickly builds to a beautiful anthemic peak. The trip down the the mountain from the peak is just as thrilling, with Mike taking more of a lead. But Trey decides he isn’t quite done, and has a raging final solo that gives the whole band an opportunity to get a bit dark. The jam fades out and into a solid “McGrupp.” Now, if this jam, and the very good first set were all this show had, it would probably still be a top 20 1997 show. But this set just goes on FOREVER. An udderly hilarious “Harpua.” “Izabella”! And an amazing “Harry Hood.” The one misstep - and it is a big one that probably kept this show out of the top three - is the stunning call to segue from the aforementioned “Hood” into one of the worst songs in the Phish catalog, “My Soul.” Not that the segue wasn’t ably executed, but come on, “My Soul”? That’s the type of nitpick we had to make to rank these shows. Anyway, at the show all was forgiven, because they went on to play the best encore ever. Four songs, all amazing, playing until midnight just because they felt like it. It was loose and funky and fantastic, and a fitting capstone to a great year of Phish.

4. 11/23/97 Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Winston-Salem, NC (Jeremy D. Goodwin)

This was my pick for best show of the year. The second set is simply unimpeachable—almost an hour of uproarious hose. Some will complain that the improv doesn’t have enough variety, compared to the twists and turns of 11/21 II or 12/30 II. But how can you complain that the band simply gets it so right and then stays there? I hear this as a more “together” take on the rage jam from the 11/19Wolfman’s,” but this set is less face-melting and more focused. The segue in and out of the “Low Rider Jam” adds some extra spontaneity and uniqueness to an unparalleled set with no slow moments.

The first set has one of the better versions of “Stash” in the year (though it would be soundly eclipsed the next week in Worcester) a very nice, if not overly long “Twist,” a smoking “Black Eyed Katy” and a “Fluffhead.” But basically all the first set has to do is give you a keeper or two and not throw up all over itself in order to seal the show as the best show in one of the best years of Phish.

3. 11/22/97 Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA (Chris Glushko)

Among the most extreme Phish Nerds (myself included), 11/22/97 has historically been one of the most controversial shows to rank. Its proponents will call it a clear top 5 show of the year, citing the near-perfect setlist and brilliant “Halley’s.” Its opponents make the claim that it’s not even in the top two shows of the weekend. They say the “Mike’s Song” and “Weekapaug Groove” don’t stand out for 1997, and complain about the truncated versions of “Tweezer” and “Black-Eyed Katy.” For more than 17 years of my life, I fell into the latter category.



"Halley's Comet" -- 11/22/97 Hampton, VA

I’m here today to apologize to you, 11/22/97. I had you wrong all along. Instead of celebrating your near-perfect setlist, I used it as an excuse to think others overrated you. Instead of looking at the brilliance of the “Mike’s Song” through “Harry Hood” opening segment as a whole, I chose to break down and nitpick each piece. I refused to acknowledge that closing a first set with “Frankenstein” and “Izabella” likely set fire to the building. I would play your magnificent “Halley’s Comet” and note that it wasn’t as good as the previous night’s “AC/DC Bag.” Instead of looking at the perfect segue from “Tweezer” to “Black-Eyed Katy,” I complained the Tweezer was too short. I had a beautiful forest in front of me, but I couldn’t see it because I was searching for imperfections in each individual tree. 11/22/97, I’m sorry. I hope you can forgive me.

2. 12/6/97 The Palace of Auburn Hills, Auburn Hills, MI (Steve Paolini)

Most of the shows at the top of this list are fairly "balanced," offering highlights in both the first and second sets. This is not really one of those shows. The first set isn't bad per se; the competition is way too stiff up here to allow for that. It has a nice second song "Antelope," a cool segue from "Gin" into "Foam" and one of the better '97 versions of "Maze." But the first set isn't why we're here.



"Izabella -- 12/6/97 Auburn Hills, MI

We're here to celebrate probably the best full set Phish played in what many consider to be their best year. To start, the two minutes before the set-opening “Tweezer” begins make me jump out of my chair EVERY DAMN TIME I LISTEN TO IT. “Tweezer” starts off as vintage ‘97 cowfunk but moves through several themes before raging into “Izabella.” Rather than ending, “Izabella” transforms into perhaps the purest expression of the ‘97 cowfunk sound. When someone mentions cowfunk, this is the music I hear in my head. After a fun but too brief “Twist,” Page leads the band into the first-ever jammed out “Piper.” After 55 minutes of pure heat, we get a “Sleeping Monkey” breather before the “Tweeprise” exclamation point closes the set. Put it all together, and one need not employ any interpretive jiggery-pokery to see this is one of the top shows of the year. An unfortunate byproduct of the age of the MP3 is that I often opt for instant gratification rather than listening to full sets (or shows). But when I put on 12/6 II, more often than not, I play out the full set. I’m not necessarily proud of that fact, but it’s one of the best endorsements I can give this show.

1. 11/17/97 McNichols Arena, Denver, CO (Dan Purcell)

The race for the top spot was a runaway. There were a couple of heretics who hate “Jesus Just Left Chicago” too much to give this show its proper due, but most of us bowed to the inescapable. More distance separated this show in our rankings from our worthy, but very back-end heavy, runner-up than separated Detroit and the rest of the top six. It’s not hard to understand why. On the second of two nights in Denver, Monday evening in an old hockey arena soon to be replaced, Phish delivered possibly the best first set of their entire career, and almost certainly their finest first set to that date, highlighted by a “Ghost” that is arguably the finest ever and for most of us on the panel ranks with Atlanta and Radio City and very few others. It’s not even that long by the relevant standard, just 21 minutes, but that’s all the band needs to take you on a tour of 1997, showing you style after style. The set also has a “Tweezer” opener that starts slow and deliberate but lets loose the juice in the latter minutes, plus a happy, spiraling “Reba” to satisfy your jones for Trey’s labyrinthine compositional achievements.

Set two is not the best second set of the year, and is not close. So that’s an argument against it if you’re looking for one. But it does kick off with a “Down with Disease” that does nothing but generate forward momentum in its 16 minutes before the band jumps without looking off the segue cliff into … well, for 20 seconds or so it’s unclear, could go any number of directions. Finally Trey and Fish come to a consensus on “Olivia’s Pool,” the band’s long-lost jump-boogie tune. It’s over quick, and the second it ends Trey engages the turbo and plunges the band into “Johnny B. Goode.” Phish in 1997 still felt a need to prove their orthodox rock chops; you can see it in how so many big, exploratory jams resolved into “JBG” or “Izabella,” as opposed to something softer. “JBG” takes a couple minutes to feel natural but after that it’s cake, eventually going full-on type II excursionary and no slouch as the second-best jam of the night. The “Jesus” is slow and sleepy and patient and I have no problem whatsoever with it and don’t really get why anyone would. Finally: set-closing “YEM,” and – only 90s kids will get this – this was in the era when Trey used to take a guitar solo before the vocal jam.

It’s not for nothing that Phish themselves chose this as the first 1997 show released under the LivePhish banner. Perhaps it’s the obvious choice, and we’re crowning the equivalent of the “Guernica” or King Lear or Citizen Kane, but it’s how the numbers added up. I actually like “Guernica” and King Lear and Citizen Kane, anyway. This show offers wall-to-wall heat with huge peaks and at least one all-time top 50 Phish jam. It was the kickoff show of the single best week of Phish of all time, at least according to the voters in this poll. I can’t complain; it was my choice too.

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Comments

, comment by therealburnham
therealburnham You know what I love about 11/17/97 and 11/22/97? It's that if you switched the two sets you'd still have amazing shows and the first sets aren't just ok by first set standards, it's that they would hold their own as all-time second sets. That's something that 1997 had in spades which contributes to it being "the" year.
, comment by MiguelSanchez
MiguelSanchez Let the bitching and butt hurt begin....NOW
, comment by johnnyd
johnnyd @MiguelSanchez said:
Let the bitching and butt hurt begin....NOW
Please!
Thats what we've been waiting for, and our fair readers have pretty much responded with thoughtful articulate comments.

The community butthurt and outrage is not at all commensurate with what went into and resulted from this project on the part of the site team.
, comment by MiguelSanchez
MiguelSanchez @johnnyd said:
@MiguelSanchez said:
Let the bitching and butt hurt begin....NOW
Please!
Thats what we've been waiting for, and our fair readers have pretty much responded with thoughtful articulate comments.

The community butthurt and outrage is not at all commensurate with what went into and resulted from this project on the part of the site team.
If there's anyone that thought 4 out of 5 of these weren't going to land in the top 5 right out of the gate is a bit out of touch. Out of the gate, I wouldn't have predicted 11/23 making it in the top 5, but if I were to compile a "personal list," I'd probably have it in my top 5.

Generally, I don't have much disagreement with the top 20 compiled by ye 'ol tribal council. There are a few that would've been high on my list that didn't make the top 20 or honorable mention. The biggies for me are 7/23, 11/26, 6/25, and 2/26...off the top of my head.
, comment by sirhotpants
sirhotpants Really enjoyed reading this countdown all week, and happy to take the stroll down memory lane. I'll forever kick myself that we went to 12/29 instead of 12/30, but both of those CD's are staples in my household, so at this point I've heard that Sneakin' Sally, AC DC Bag, and Harpua so many times it feels like I practically did go!

Funny that, at the time, my friends and I were somewhat perplexed by the transition to cow funk. We went to the US opening 7/21 and 7/22 and felt the new sound was less raucous, less technical, and too druggy... not being into drugs ourselves, the drawn out Ghosts and Ebm9 vamps made us scratch our heads. Compare the tempo of the 12/6 Tweezer to, I don't know, 12/14/95 and it's startling. I believe it was during the fall tour when Fishman was interviewed about his adoration of The Meters, and how he'd try to play along with Meters songs, keeping the tempo as slow as them, but then turning up the CD at the end of the track and realizing he'd sped it up. (Anyone know where I can find this? I'm not imagining it. I'll be embarrassed if it's from Bittersweet Motel or something.) Now I've grown to love that vibe, of course, and wholeheartedly agree with the choices that made it to the top 20. Each show on the whole list is remarkable in its own right, so hopefully people won't be butt hurt by the numerical ranking of their favorites.

FWIW, that high school crew of mine pretty much got off the train around this time--I remember one buddy shaking his head in disdain during 12/29/97 (quite a fun vacuum sitting next to that! Now I listen and wonder what the hell he was so bent out of shape about)--and they haven't been into Phish since. Love those guys, but sucks for them. Thanks for putting this together!
, comment by MiguelSanchez
MiguelSanchez @MiguelSanchez said:
@johnnyd said:
@MiguelSanchez said:
Let the bitching and butt hurt begin....NOW
Please!
Thats what we've been waiting for, and our fair readers have pretty much responded with thoughtful articulate comments.

The community butthurt and outrage is not at all commensurate with what went into and resulted from this project on the part of the site team.
If there's anyone that thought 4 out of 5 of these weren't going to land in the top 5 right out of the gate is a bit out of touch. Out of the gate, I wouldn't have predicted 11/23 making it in the top 5, but if I were to compile a "personal list," I'd probably have it in my top 5.

Generally, I don't have much disagreement with the top 20 compiled by ye 'ol tribal council. There are a few that would've been high on my list that didn't make the top 20 or honorable mention. The biggies for me are 7/23, 11/26, 6/25, and 2/26...off the top of my head.
Oh yeah, 11/30 is one that I thought was in the big for the top 20, but I'm a big homer for the Worcester run.
, comment by frankstallone
frankstallone :: pours one out for Lakewood 97 ::

Image
, comment by J_D_G
J_D_G 11/17/97 is a great show. It's also one of the most overrated shows in Phish history, a process to which this list unfortunately contributes.

This show fools you into thinking it's better than it is. The five-song first set looks a lot like the epic four and five-song second sets from this tour, which are among the best sets in history. But it's nowhere in the league of things like the second sets on 11/19, 11/21, 11/22, 11/23, 12/30 or any of the other top-ten second sets of the year. And unlike many of those sets, it doesn't have unexpected between-song jams that link everything into a suite. There are just two jam songs nestled in a set that happens to have merely five songs.

That first set has a very good (but not great) Tweezer, and a Ghost with a very exciting and uplifting jam, but not conclusively better than 7/23, for instance. It's a fantastic listen, but just not a groundbreaking event. So: great stuff for a first set, but not enough to carry a best of year contention.

Here's the important part: Even 11/17 supporters concede that the second set is not even in the conversation for the best, say, 20 sets of the year. Think about that for a second. It's among the weakest second sets of the tour, for instance, which is more of an amazing statement about Phish's greatest-ever tour than a knock on the show itself. It has a type I Disease in a year with many great versions that far surpass it, and a no-big-deal YEM. The spacey jam out of Johnny B. Goode is the musical highlight of the show, and it's great! A very '97 moment. A really nice set, but one that gets completely elbowed away by at least 30 (no hyperbole) better second sets in 1997.

In a year with so many stacked second sets, this one jam out of JBG doesn't merit a high enough ranking for this set, or show. And though 11/17 is a pleasant listen all the way through, and deserves great respect for its depth, it lacks dramatic high points to compare with the other elite shows of the year. That Ghost is just no Hampton Bag, Winston-Salem Gin, Auburn Hills Tweezer, MSG Bag, 11/19 Wolfman's, 11/22 Haley's, 7/1 Cities, etc etc etc. Basically, the 1 ranking for this show rests on a raging Ghost that alone is not among the year's very best jams, and a deep supporting cast of jams even further down the totem pole.

In a year with so many amazing second sets, how can a show with a merely-average second set be the best show of the year? The answer is: It can't.

I'm not saying not to love the show. Love it, it's great! But we're talking about the best show of the year here. When you break it down, 11/17 just doesn't add up. It's a safe but awful pick for best show of the year.
, comment by MiguelSanchez
MiguelSanchez @J_D_G

That's one of the best critiques pertaining to the overrating of 11/17 I've ever read. Bravo sir.
, comment by Sprachtor
Sprachtor @MiguelSanchez said:
@J_D_G

That's one of the best critiques pertaining to the overrating of 11/17 I've ever read. Bravo sir.
11/22 would have been safer, and even more expected.
, comment by lumpblockclod
lumpblockclod Pure applesauce, @J_D_G. First off, you underrate the Ghost. You're right, of course that 11/17 II can't compare with those tier 1 second sets, but we're dealing with the whole show and 11/17 I stakes out a virtually insurmountable lead on most of those shows while the second set does just enough to hold on (mostly due to the JBG jam which is a criminally underrated Fall 97 jam). I'll admit there's something unsettling about having a show with a more middle-of-the-road second set atop the rankings, but when I match each of the shows below against it, I just can't push any of them over it.
, comment by MiguelSanchez
MiguelSanchez @Sprachtor said:
@MiguelSanchez said:
@J_D_G

That's one of the best critiques pertaining to the overrating of 11/17 I've ever read. Bravo sir.
11/22 would have been safer, and even more expected.
I don't know. Around these parts, 11/17 is held in pretty high regard, but having either one in the #1 spot for this wouldn't have surprised me. For me, I probably wouldn't have 11/17 or 11/22 in my top 5 for '97, but you probably already knew that.
, comment by pikepredator
pikepredator @J_D_G thanks for all you've contributed over the years. I've been reading your stuff or what feels like forever (for better and worse for both of us I suppose . . .)

the lack of consensus on '97 is interesting. seems like everybody would write their "X better than Y" differently.

The disjointed 11/19 wolfman's (which has one of my favorite haze-peak moments) lacks the smooth fluidity of the 11/17 ghost . . . the 11/23 second set doesn't have the same diversity of creative jamming that the more successful set IIs (such as 08/16) have, it picks an idea and hammers it into the ground."

this definitely isn't '99 where there's 09/14, 12/11, 07/25, and the rest. just compelling show after compelling show.

Even 11/22 II . . . outside of the Halley's, it's a lot of fun dance-fluffery. but, an iconic jam plus another 40 minutes of dancetastic phish is a killer set!!

97 was an amazing year. thanks to the .net team for giving us the discussion fodder.

07/25 . . . 08/09 . . . ah well.
, comment by RoundTheRoom
RoundTheRoom 11/22 Mike's Song isn't getting its due in here. I like that version.
, comment by Lee_Fordham
Lee_Fordham Thanks dot net team. I've enjoyed reading this all week.
, comment by TheEmu
TheEmu @lumpblockclod said:
Pure applesauce
Dude.

Scalia'd.
, comment by frankstallone
frankstallone The top spot should have gone to a show from '96

Then everyone would have been all like whaaaaaaaaaaat?
, comment by Squirming
Squirming Where is @n00b100 I am super exicted to hear his response....I have a feeling he'll put in a good word for 12/6!!
, comment by n00b100
n00b100 @Squirming said:
Where is @n00b100 I am super exicted to hear his response....I have a feeling he'll put in a good word for 12/6!!
My feelings are that I'm not too surprised (other than I figured 12/30 would be higher than 5th).

I get 12/6 being 2nd due to its second set, which is my pick for greatest set of all time. I don't really agree with @Sprachtor (quelle surprise) that 11/22 would be a safer pick for #1 than 11/17; quite frankly, I feel kinda dumb I didn't predict 11/17 would be #1 from the start. The arguments against 11/17 are covered by @J_D_G, so I'll leave that aside.

11/22/97 is my favorite show of all time, mainly because it is *such* a prototypical show. Me and @Sprachtor (again) dispute its greatness, because he feels that it's just a *consistent* show without anything being truly great. My feeling is that its consistency is *exactly* why it's my pick for the best show ever - we can all rattle off plenty of shows with 1-2 great jams and nothing else to speak on, but a show that is at least pretty good *all the way through both sets* (and extremely good w/r/t the Halley's and maybe the Hood) does not just float on down the pike every day. It's the same reason why I love 12/11/99 so much.

Anyway, this was a clear labor of love from the .net team, and to everyone that participated, I say a) kudos, and b) I'm still mad 12/29's not on the master list. :)
, comment by jibler
jibler this list is dildonic

11.23.97 features a fairly flat bathtub gin - and should in no way be in the top 10 let alone top five

this is the glaring flaw in this list

and no I'm not bitter about 11.14.97 -
, comment by nichobert
nichobert Good for 12/6 and 11/22 being the only shows in the top 5 that belong in the top 10

It is unreal that people like 11/17 this much. But i've been thinking that for over half of my life at this point.
, comment by Dressed_In_Gray
Dressed_In_Gray "...one of the worst songs in the Phish catalog, My Soul..."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Excellent job compiling this list to everyone involved. You showed your excellent Phish appreciation by including 7/10/97. Cheers!
, comment by nichobert
nichobert and yeah 11/22 Mikes is great. The extended slow jam before Hydrogen is delicious
, comment by frankstallone
frankstallone So the word "dildonic" just entered my vocabulary
, comment by Sprachtor
Sprachtor @n00b100 said:
@Squirming said:
Where is @n00b100 I am super exicted to hear his response....I have a feeling he'll put in a good word for 12/6!!
b) I'm still mad 12/29's not on the master list. :)
Agreed :)
, comment by Choda
Choda I love you guys but think outside the box sometime.
, comment by johnnyd
johnnyd @jibler said:
this list is dildonic
In that it gives great pleasure...?
, comment by Mattisupa
Mattisupa Enjoyed this thoroughly, thanks!

While there was some love for 6/25/97, what about 2/26/97?

Longhorn, Stuttgart, Germany
Set 1: Camel Walk, Llama, My Friend, My Friend, Harry Hood > My Soul > Tube > Carini, Rock A William, Dog Log, While My Guitar Gently Weeps

Set 2: Buried Alive > Poor Heart > Ha Ha Ha[1] > You Enjoy Myself -> Kung -> Theme From the Bottom > Scent of a Mule > Jam -> Magilla > Scent of a Mule, Slave to the Traffic Light

Encore: Highway to Hell

Also, was there any discussion about Island Tour as a continuation of 97, and that each of those shows (in your preferred order) would make up the top 4?

Chew on that....
, comment by lumpblockclod
lumpblockclod The Island Tour would certainly not make up my top 4, though I could certainly see 4/3 in the top spot, 4/2 in the top 5 and the Providence shows falling somewhere else in the Top 20.

I think 6/25 was hurt by the lackluster first set. You could argue that the set II is the second best set of Euro97 though. 2/26 is a fun show but just not top 20 material IMO.
, comment by GreatWent19
GreatWent19 My word, 1997 is a beast. That's the real lesson here.

12.30.97 is still #1 in my heart. And set II on 8.17.97 is the best set of the year...
, comment by piper24
piper24 '97 is full of great shows. All of these deserve to be in a best of list. I don't agree at all with the top 5 though. I feel you guys took the easy way out by picking the shows that are the most accessible. If you took the time and dug a little deeper I think you would find that there are way better shows. I also find it strange that every show you picked in the top 5 is available for purchase at livephish.com
, comment by pistilstamen
pistilstamen What is even more remarkable about 1997 is that many of the best jams of the year came in shows which are not at all represented in this list. Off of the top of my head:

7-23 Ghost
7-25 Gin
7-29 Gumbo
7-30 Bowie -> Cities -> Bowie
11-13 Stash
11-14 Wolfman's
11-16 Timber
11-26 Tweezer, Character Zero
11-30 Funky Bitch
12-9 Simple
12-13 Ya Mar

LONG LIVE 1997!!
, comment by pistilstamen
pistilstamen My case against 11-17 is simple: I have listened to the second set of 11-16 more frequently on a scale of several orders of magnitude. Then again, I fucking love the 11-16 second set/encore.
, comment by therealburnham
therealburnham @lumpblockclod said:
The Island Tour would certainly not make up my top 4, though I could certainly see 4/3 in the top spot, 4/2 in the top 5 and the Providence shows falling somewhere else in the Top 20.

I think 6/25 was hurt by the lackluster first set. You could argue that the set II is the second best set of Euro97 though. 2/26 is a fun show but just not top 20 material IMO.
Yeah that's my take on it too. I'd seriously put up Piper> DWD> Meatstick> McGrupp> Makisupa against any other second set suite in 1997. That first set is just so pedestrian though that it doesn't even begin to elevate.
, comment by MiguelSanchez
MiguelSanchez @pistilstamen said:
My case against 11-17 is simple: I have listened to the second set of 11-16 more frequently on a scale of several orders of magnitude. Then again, I fucking love the 11-16 second set/encore.
11/16 is criminally underrated.
, comment by n00b100
n00b100 @piper24 said:
'97 is full of great shows. All of these deserve to be in a best of list. I don't agree at all with the top 5 though. I feel you guys took the easy way out by picking the shows that are the most accessible. If you took the time and dug a little deeper I think you would find that there are way better shows. I also find it strange that every show you picked in the top 5 is available for purchase at livephish.com
I really can't agree with this - all five of these shows have been well-known and beloved for *years*, even beyond official release. I'd heard of 11/22/97 long before I was even a big Phish fan, let alone before the box set came out. Same with 11/23/97. These shows have not been out on soundboard since the day they were played, y'know?

Also, I'd probably be a little hesitant to tell *the moderators of a website dedicated to Phish* to "take the time and dig a little deeper" with something like this. I have no doubt that these guys have heard 2/26 or 6/25 or 11/30 or whatever other dark horses you'd throw out there.
, comment by raidcehlalred
raidcehlalred complain about the truncated versions of Tweezer....

Right. Or, conversely, there are some great shows that, while great, are redundant.

Like Nichobert, who seems to really dig some of the summer shows (like Dallas); or those clamoring for a bit more Europe; it seems as through a bit more variety would be welcome, and not out of place.

Rochester, which, the other day, gets a nice review, jumps out because it was so punishing.

And sure the Colorado Ghost is great, but, at the time (which should be taken into account) it sort of rolls along with the month, as opposed to Lakewood, which, walking out of Lakewood, has you going: Woah. Even the YEM from that show surprised.

You guys did a great job, and it was fun to check in every day: But something other than a December or November - and this has nothing to do with being "safe" - would have been just treatment of a justifiably memorable year.
, comment by GhostBuster
GhostBuster Fuck you I like My Soul! Although it seems I'm the only one. And okay I don't like it that much and I can see how it was hard to hear at the end of 1997, but c'mon its not that bad. To me its what Possum was from 2011-2012, some people hated it because it got played so much but if you could get past that its a fun song to groove to.

But I do think this is a good list and as long as 12/30/97 is in the top 5 I think thats fair. Like you said ranking these shows comes down to some nitpicking so its tough but this list looks about right to me. Gonna have to revisit these shows, haven't listened to 97 (except for 12/6/97 - my favorite) in awhile.
, comment by lumpblockclod
lumpblockclod As a group, there is no question that we prefer Fall 97 to Summer (and Summer to Winter). That shows up in the rankings. The intent was never to present a balanced list, only a list of the "best" shows and, collectively, we think the majority of those occurred in Nov/Dec.
, comment by Harveyglobetrotter
Harveyglobetrotter A fairly predictable top 5 as everyone has already mentioned but that doesn't mean these shows are necessarily "undeserving". '97 was just that good. I did find the posting of 11/17/97 at #1 to be a reflection of "widely accepted fact", meaning that for whatever reason, a lot of people just really, really like it. Before Halloween last year and the suddent realization that 12/31/99 was pretty fucking amazing in the grand scheme of things (alos possibly a reaction to 10/31/14...), 11/17/97 was rated as the best Phish show of all time on this site. A designation which lasted for quite a long time. After a while it just became dogma.

Do I think 11/17/97 is overrated? In this context, yes, but it is still a top fiver for me. Say what you will but on a purely subjective level, that Ghost is probably the best I've ever heard and I used to say the same thing about that Tweezer for many, many years. That is to say nothing of the Reba, JBG and YEM.

That being said, I always had a bone to pick with this show's insistent veering towards "Boogie Woogie" type shit. Half the show they're playing minimalist, futuristic soundscapes and the other half is composed of "Oblivious Fool" (Shafty is one of the best decisions the band has ever made), "Fire" and "Jesus Left Chicago". Eh. At least they didn't play "My Soul" (the write up on 12/30/97 regarding that song is SPOT ON). Overall, it's kind of a scattershot show with no through line. To me, onsistency a big factor when considering best show of all time status.

Anyway, enough of my bitching. All in all, this was a fun little exercise and a great read. I thank everyone involved for doing this and for putting up with the ensuing criticism from a bunch of nerds like me. Kudos.
, comment by Choda
Choda @n00b100 said:
@piper24 said:
'97 is full of great shows. All of these deserve to be in a best of list. I don't agree at all with the top 5 though. I feel you guys took the easy way out by picking the shows that are the most accessible. If you took the time and dug a little deeper I think you would find that there are way better shows. I also find it strange that every show you picked in the top 5 is available for purchase at livephish.com
I really can't agree with this - all five of these shows have been well-known and beloved for *years*, even beyond official release. I'd heard of 11/22/97 long before I was even a big Phish fan, let alone before the box set came out. Same with 11/23/97. These shows have not been out on soundboard since the day they were played, y'know?

Also, I'd probably be a little hesitant to tell *the moderators of a website dedicated to Phish* to "take the time and dig a little deeper" with something like this. I have no doubt that these guys have heard 2/26 or 6/25 or 11/30 or whatever other dark horses you'd throw out there.
I think some of us have been seeing phish as long or maybe longer than them.
, comment by HarborSeal
HarborSeal I posted something yesterday but looking back, I realized I missed something:

11/13 and 11/30 are also huge omissions. I'm not really questioning the conclusions -- I get that there are many, many great shows from 97 -- but both of those are really special. 11/13 features an excellent first set with the debut of Black Eyed Katy and a fantastic, funky YEM. Second set is a monster, with a fantastic Stash, great Mike's Song, and a Weekapaug that starts off slow and then explodes into one of the very few best closing segments for any 'Paug ever. I prefer to lots of shows on the list, and I regard it as absolutely must-hear.

11/30 is maybe the most surprising omissions from the list. I think that it's the strongest of the three Worcester shows. First set has all-time versions of Funky Bitch and Wolfman's (2nd best FB ever, and one of the top 5 Wolfmanses imo -- though I get it if people are bored by parts of Wolfman's). I would put it very close to 11/17 in the ranking of first sets. Second set isn't as stand-out, but Stash and Free are both phenomenal. And Them Changes is a great encore! I guess it's kind of a short set, but it has some real merit, especially in Stash and the jam out of Free. I'm surprised it didn't even get an honorable mention.

Honesty, every show from Fall 97 has a pretty strong case, except maybe 11/16 and 12/9 - and even those have some great moments. There are a few more shows from summer US that aren't so stellar (7/26, 8/6, 8/8, 8/11, 8/14), but really, Phish 97 is amazing.

Now do 95! Really!
, comment by raidcehlalred
raidcehlalred True, Seal -

95 would be cool, because the year would invite variety.

You can go to - or listen to - show after show, and be totally surprised. Take a listen to a Tweezer and it's not going to sound like five minutes of BEK.... Hell, if you're at Jones Beach, you'll get DEG AND Cannonball. If I remember correctly, Tweezer ends up in Lake Placid, far removed from the shore, and makes its way into Reprise, with Page soloing, a sign of things to come.

And you were grateful for the tapes you could get when you could get them.* Crisp - what a loosely defined term.

For sure, 11 and 12/97 are great. Stellar, as is said. But:

7/26 - Energy, energy, energy: Percussion driving the band (and SONGS) in entirely different directions, and this in places other than those afforded to the run leading to 10/31/96;

8/11 - Despite what happens the night before, a great Maze and Lope (to end a first set, which was cool); and while Timber is always cool (and dark - which is what got me into the band in the first place; and far, far removed from the 8/10 set II opener) Vultures is interesting, but, more importantly, leads to a YEM which, while weird, if you were there, or if there were a crisp recording*, you'd find to be totally cool and rife with sonic relief (were you to tire of nightly forays into 'funk,' which is mastered in the months to come**);

8/14 - This will never translate to tape (nor should it, really) but, following PA, and before the Went, more fun and surprises. Technically not the same thing, obviously, but the Jam coming out of the Kesey moment is akin to hearing, without expecting to, a well-executed Pebbles, or 03 Scents.

Of course it sounds this way, but none of this is to be a Summer apologist. Phish, in my opinion, is at its best when rehearsed AND adventurous. 11 and 12 are totally cool, but the shows grew to be just a bit self-congratulatory - one too many victory laps**. It was awesome to see them having fun; but even in the moment it grew wearing knowing what to anticipate.

Which is why I think a lot of you who point to spots in 98 and 99 get it right.

*More than the wealth of great existing sound from that tour, the absence of great sound from the mos. before skews perception. Cool Chalkdust's, Gin's, Drums', Foam's, Limb's; for now, these get listened to less than 2012 KDF's.

A long way of saying that there was a lot of repetition. And forget Foams.... Waiting for Makisupa's.

Do love this site. Read forever and never before felt compelled to write; so many of you have do it longer and much better.
, comment by ninebyframe
ninebyframe Not sure/too lazy to figure what shows should be displaced, but 12/7 and 12/29 as HM = nans.

I'll give you the weak second set argument on 12/7 but I'll also give you that argument on the #1 show on this list. Personally I don't feel it detracts that much from either show and I was confident McNichols would be #1 in spite of the fact that it is similarly top-heavy.

12/29 I can't really figure a rationale for dissing and I utterly disagree with the anaolgy to 'base-hits' rather than home runs. For one, base-hits, when strung together properly, win games and that writer of that particular blurb may be outing the arbiters of this list as being overly susceptible to the 'big jam' factor, which is pretty evident in 11/17 Ghost carrying it more-or-less single-handedly to the top spot. While I can grant you there are no 'big jams' in the first set, it's blisteringly well-played and does contain excellent - if not all-time - versions of Theme and Antelope. The second set, however, is all-time from front (almost) to back, and I'm really surprised at both the curators of the list and the responses of many forum members at how much their opinions differ from mine. In the specific cases of Possum and Tube, these are my favorite versions of both tunes, played consecutively, so I can't every well endorse the idea that there are a handful of better versions that year, or any year. Bowie may not have the kind of gimmicky, over-long and frankly often unlistenable diversions that many classic versions boast, rather it's just pure high-octane Phish, and the segue into Possum carries so much surprise and fun through into the raucous version to follow. While 12/3's (quite different) take on that move might be preferable to some as it showcases that set's more languid '97-esque' style, the momentum generated by the 12/29 segue seems tailored to the energy of the holiday run and the Garden perfectly, when everything ought to have just a little more pop. This is all not to mention a top-notch DWD that incorporates hard rock, funk, and ambient textures all seamlessly, and an average-great YEM. All killer, zero filler and in a distinctly lean style that is almost like a synthesis of the groove-oriented style of the late 90s with the muscular rock chops of the early 90s.

So yeah, I disagree brahs.
, comment by n00b100
n00b100 @Choda said:
I think some of us have been seeing phish as long or maybe longer than them.
Yes, of this I have no doubt, but it was not you vets's fandom that was being questioned, but the fandom of the moderators of the board. I've been listening to Phish for at least a decade less than you and I've heard 7/23/97; I would be extremely surprised if any of the people that voted in this had not.
, comment by Metalphan
Metalphan The top 5 weren't exactly shocking. I was surprised by some of the placements in the top 5, though. Not sure if I would've put 12/6 over 12/30, but that's just me being nick-picky. As far as the overall list, I would've rated 7/1 over 7/2. Both great shows in their own right, but I'd give the edge to 7/1. Just my 2 pennies.
, comment by CreatureoftheNight
CreatureoftheNight @frankstallone said:
:: pours one out for Lakewood 97 ::

http://media.giphy.com/media/3xz2BPbIqcqpFDKXsI/giphy.gif
Agreed. This one got the shaft (y)
, comment by TheFunkSiren
TheFunkSiren OK why does no one ever give credit to the 11/17 tweezer. this is IMO a top 5 version of all time no joke. every note is absolutely perfectly placed, the completely organic rise to the peak, the delicious stop start jam at the end. and then one of the the greatest ghosts ever. that is why people love this show.
, comment by ericwyman
ericwyman @n00b100 said:
@Choda said:
I think some of us have been seeing phish as long or maybe longer than them.
Yes, of this I have no doubt, but it was not you vets's fandom that was being questioned, but the fandom of the moderators of the board. I've been listening to Phish for at least a decade less than you and I've heard 7/23/97; I would be extremely surprised if any of the people that voted in this had not.
I only listen to livephish releases, because that's all Phish will let me listen to as a mindless corporate Schill. It's a bitter pill for sure, but the fringe benefits are a-Maze-innnnnggggg!!!!!!
, comment by dscott
dscott @nichobert said:
Good for 12/6 and 11/22 being the only shows in the top 5 that belong in the top 10
Those are the two among the top 5 that wouldn't be among my top 10. Both would be in my top 20, though.

Yet another example of the varied mileage that is inevitable when we have so many remarkable shows to work with!
, comment by Doctor_Smarty
Doctor_Smarty I had 11/13 and 11/30 making my top 20 instead of the two Rectum shows, 12/11 at #1, and 8/17 well within the top 10.
, comment by 12_29_97_4eva
12_29_97_4eva @ninebyframe said:
Not sure/too lazy to figure what shows should be displaced, but 12/7 and 12/29 as HM = nans.

I'll give you the weak second set argument on 12/7 but I'll also give you that argument on the #1 show on this list. Personally I don't feel it detracts that much from either show and I was confident McNichols would be #1 in spite of the fact that it is similarly top-heavy.

12/29 I can't really figure a rationale for dissing and I utterly disagree with the anaolgy to 'base-hits' rather than home runs. For one, base-hits, when strung together properly, win games and that writer of that particular blurb may be outing the arbiters of this list as being overly susceptible to the 'big jam' factor, which is pretty evident in 11/17 Ghost carrying it more-or-less single-handedly to the top spot. While I can grant you there are no 'big jams' in the first set, it's blisteringly well-played and does contain excellent - if not all-time - versions of Theme and Antelope. The second set, however, is all-time from front (almost) to back, and I'm really surprised at both the curators of the list and the responses of many forum members at how much their opinions differ from mine. In the specific cases of Possum and Tube, these are my favorite versions of both tunes, played consecutively, so I can't every well endorse the idea that there are a handful of better versions that year, or any year. Bowie may not have the kind of gimmicky, over-long and frankly often unlistenable diversions that many classic versions boast, rather it's just pure high-octane Phish, and the segue into Possum carries so much surprise and fun through into the raucous version to follow. While 12/3's (quite different) take on that move might be preferable to some as it showcases that set's more languid '97-esque' style, the momentum generated by the 12/29 segue seems tailored to the energy of the holiday run and the Garden perfectly, when everything ought to have just a little more pop. This is all not to mention a top-notch DWD that incorporates hard rock, funk, and ambient textures all seamlessly, and an average-great YEM. All killer, zero filler and in a distinctly lean style that is almost like a synthesis of the groove-oriented style of the late 90s with the muscular rock chops of the early 90s.

So yeah, I disagree brahs.
I couldn't have written it better myself. Many of the arguments in favor of shows on this list - solid first sets punctuated by well-played versions of anthemic songs and second sets that flow mesmerizingly from start to finish - could easily be applied to 12/29/97. @Ninebyframe just captured it more eloquently than I could.

I have nothing but the utmost respect for the .net team that invested a lot of time and love into parsing through our favorite year of Phish, and while I will never hide my bias, I think leaving 12/29 off was an oversight. As @ninebyframe mentioned, this show boasts stellar (and perhaps all-time best) versions of Theme, Antelope, Possum, and Tube, and I feel like the reviewers glossed over that, if not outright dismissed the fact.

Anyhow, I can't quarrel with the Top 5 and most of the Top 10. All of these shows are worthy of the praise the reviewers have bestowed upon them. Cheers!
, comment by ckess22
ckess22 Number one is the right pick, IMO. Livephish 11 is what got me truly hooked back when it was released. The fact that most criminally underrate the tweezer (I say criminally bc people say things like 'third best jam of the night'...unreal) and it's still the top choice says it all to me.
That said, this show benefits a bit from the old Cornell 5/8/77 argument...ie it gets a reputation boost because of the sbd treatment (or in the case of 5/8/77 one of the best sounding unreleased boards ever). This doesn't so much negate its choice here as I think ensures that some other shows just haven't been as poured over analytically (read 11/19, 12/2, and 12/3). Anyhow, a fine choice.
, comment by earlytimes
earlytimes While the list is more or less what I expected, I'm surprised no one's mentioned the bias of quality of recording. There was notice of the fact that the top 5 are all Live Phish releases, but they were all huge shows in 1997 so that's not a big surprise. However, I've never heard a good recording of 2/26/97 or 6/25/97 and while I'm not sure they're top 5 (or top 10 worthy), clearly there is some serious interest there. I've always felt quality of recording had a lot to do with how highly shows were regarded.
, comment by spac_melt
spac_melt @sirhotpants said:
Really enjoyed reading this countdown all week, and happy to take the stroll down memory lane. I'll forever kick myself that we went to 12/29 instead of 12/30, but both of those CD's are staples in my household, so at this point I've heard that Sneakin' Sally, AC DC Bag, and Harpua so many times it feels like I practically did go!

Funny that, at the time, my friends and I were somewhat perplexed by the transition to cow funk. We went to the US opening 7/21 and 7/22 and felt the new sound was less raucous, less technical, and too druggy... not being into drugs ourselves, the drawn out Ghosts and Ebm9 vamps made us scratch our heads. Compare the tempo of the 12/6 Tweezer to, I don't know, 12/14/95 and it's startling. I believe it was during the fall tour when Fishman was interviewed about his adoration of The Meters, and how he'd try to play along with Meters songs, keeping the tempo as slow as them, but then turning up the CD at the end of the track and realizing he'd sped it up. (Anyone know where I can find this? I'm not imagining it. I'll be embarrassed if it's from Bittersweet Motel or something.) Now I've grown to love that vibe, of course, and wholeheartedly agree with the choices that made it to the top 20. Each show on the whole list is remarkable in its own right, so hopefully people won't be butt hurt by the numerical ranking of their favorites.

FWIW, that high school crew of mine pretty much got off the train around this time--I remember one buddy shaking his head in disdain during 12/29/97 (quite a fun vacuum sitting next to that! Now I listen and wonder what the hell he was so bent out of shape about)--and they haven't been into Phish since. Love those guys, but sucks for them. Thanks for putting this together!
It's in The Phish Book :)
, comment by SikeMo
SikeMo I was one of those people shaking my head in disdain in 1997. I remember walking out of 11/21 thinking that it was the worst Phish show I had seen to date. I never imagined that any of these shows would have captured the praise that they have received over the last 18 years. At the time, the shows were just too mellow for me. I was also upset with the overall sloppiness and Trey's, at times, excessive blues wanking. What happened to the masterful tension and release, the jazz influenced playing, the start stop madness, even the 'hey hole'?

What I often come back for now is the quiet spaces, for example the last 4-5 minutes of the 11/23 Gin. Or maybe it's the groove, as in the 12/7 Psycho Killer. These are things that Phish hadn't really brought before. And, it's often some of the most danceable and accessible Phish of any year.

Still, where were the raging Bowies and beautiful, soaring Rebas a la 12/7/95? I'm afraid they were gone forever as those songs would never hit the peaks they had in prior years again. That brought me great disappointment back in the day. Just compare a Hood from fall '94 to anything from '97 and you'll get it.

Still, this is a great list. Out of the top five, I just don't understand the presence of 12/6 and don't really buy 11/17 as numero uno. I've actually come to appreciate summer more than ever before and I think the Ventura boxed set is a great example. Probably the best sounding recording of pre livephish Phish.
, comment by Rick_Shrickter
Rick_Shrickter I don't know about best show of '97, but the best jam of '97, and the best phish jam of all time was the 12-6-97 Tweezer into Isabella. There's so much patience and tension by Trey in that jam. In my opinion Phish is at it's best when Trey lays back, plays rhythm and adds texture instead of shredding. Sort of like the 95-96 Free jams (which I don't know why they stopped playing Free that way because it was so gosh darn psychedelic). And the '97 summer tour was great too. I don't know about how they measure up listening now, but I was at several summer '97 shows and there was a general feeling that everyone was traversing new musical terrain. The band, the audience. Yeah...those were good times.
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