, attached to 1997-11-14

Review by waxbanks

waxbanks Historical note: Fall '97 was a great time for Wolfman's Brother. Though it's a standalone tune now as it was in 1999-2000, the Wolf's Bro was a 'Type II' vehicle in 1997-98, and all four Fall versions (11/14, 11/19, 11/30, 12/7) end in gin-u-wine segue arrows, and earn them. In those days the song's sly minimalist funk was central to the band's improvisatory approach - for the first time Phish weren't afraid to play sexy dance music and MEAN it, so their dance tunes could integrate smoothly into the overall flow of a long-form improvisatory set.

(Compare to the awkward, clattering stop/start Tweezer experiments of 1993-94, say, before the boys were able to play dance-funk without placing tongue firmly in cheek; look too at the number of early YEMs that swerved off into clever quote-a-thons and ancient riffs, as opposed to the slinky late-90's style and today's dead serious rock approach.)

Now for this transcendent show...

The second set really is what it looks like: Wolfman's > Piper > Twist > Slave, blending together the ethereal delicacy and enveloping darkness of late 1997 before a tiny, attentive crowd. Wolfman's Brother clonks back and for for a while before developing a spacey echt-'97 groove, all hazy atmospherics and feathery drumbeats; as the jam opens up a welcoming major-chord pattern evolves, and Piper bubbles up in its own time. It's a lovely Piper, building slowly to a midtempo climax - the song hadn't yet turned into a musical greyhound race in those days. After the late lamented Piper coda, Trey starts up the haunting original Twist arrangement...

...and (surprise surprise) Fall '97 was a good time for Twist too. Trey keeps things mellow with his guitar comping, Mike lets some weird dissonant chords loose from his bass, Page plays some tricks on the piano, Fishman is his usual larking-gnome self behind the drumkit, and the groove involutes and complicates into a gorgeous full-band statement - a futuristic precursor to 11/22's 'space jam' out of Halley's Comet. Trey hangs out in the ionosphere, soloing for several minutes, as the other players drop out. This is the template: between this Twist jam and the ambient Stash from the previous night in Vegas you can discern the outline of the whole tour's weeks-long subterranean melody. It's a powerfully emotional moment wholly distinct from, say, Trey's digital delay loop jams from Back in the Day (e.g. 12/31/95, 5/7/94).

The opening chords of Slave coalesce out of the mist, and the next 15 minutes are sublime. It's a short set (less than an hour!), but the music flows so effortlessly that it seems like one long song. This is dream-music - musical psychedelia in the truest sense of the word.

And the first set? Every minute of it is excellent, from the swamp funk of Gumbo to the startling Maze > FEFY > 2001 sequence (yes those are proper segues) to an atomic Antelope closer. If you only know post-hiatus Phish, an opening frame like this one might come as a revelation, and even for relatively experienced fans this is a treasure.

Phish just didn't play bad music in Fall '97; this show doesn't get the same attention as Denver or Hampton or Dayton, but it's every bit as good as the rest of the tour - a single cohesive musical statement to reward a tiny out-of-the-way audience. Other shows can claim to be Greater in some sense, but this is the deep stuff right here. The purest essence.
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