, attached to 1997-11-14

Review by waxbanks

waxbanks Been revisiting this show lately for a variety of reasons, and I wanted to add a couple of things to my earlier review. First of all, I'd like to strengthen my recommendation: any other year but 1997 we'd be talking about 11/14/97 as a Best of Tour candidate, if we talked that way at all, but it continues to hide out in the shadow of 11/22, 12/6, 11/17, 12/7, 11/29 -- not coincidentally the shows that have gotten official soundboard releases over the years. It is every bit as good as the rest of Fall Tour, and sets the *mood* for the rest of the November/December shows: dream-music, lullabies and nocturnes, smooth emergent musical-emotional contours, extraordinarily patient psychedelic soundscapes. What's more, every single improvisation is gifted with something unusual -- the grand segue into Piper and that melodramatic extended opening (with Mike pinning down the midtempo beat and the music washing against and around it like a river cruelly dammed); deeply Weird sounds in the FEFY > 2001 transition; a Slave jam that seems to unwind over hours or years, mutating slowly into coronation music; Trey's decision to leave a deranged version of Maze unfinished, flowing into Fast Enough for You instead...and of course marquee performances of Wolfman's Brother (lurching funk, unresolved, backlights a coiled creature whose angel form would emerge two weeks later in Worcester) and Twist. Of course. Twist, the first 'space jam' of fall, is the moment when the rhythmic/erotic gravity of Phish's yearlong experiment in funk finally loses its hold on the band, Trey especially, and we hear the natural consequence of Phish's still-new minimalist method: a dense rich sonic sculpture, minimal form and maximal colour, light tumbling down an irresistible gradient of want (void's horizon, final event) to die within a dark made of *all* dark, a literal timeless place if it's a place at all...

This was the moment when Phish stopped giving their fans a Great Value for the Money, stopped being the Best Night Out in Rock, and transformed into something deeper and stranger. It seems to me this music could only have come out of the band consciously rejecting the urge, the felt need, to be anything in particular. Having burnt fuel at an extraordinary rate in 1994-96 and consciously reached for a rhythmic-experimental lifeline in spring and summer '97, the band came to the desert able (because for the very first time *willing*) to glide noiselessly through space, to listen hard to starlight rather than needing to throw off sparks. They're not showing off here, not even a little bit. Can you imagine how hard that must have been for someone like Trey Anastasio? For a mind like his to quiet down to this degree? But here they are moving beyond funk as *style* to minimalism of every sort as *method*, and finding the opposite of the academic austerity that 'minimalism' seems to imply -- an intense negative pressure that pulls from them something theretofore hidden and secret.

The difference between the breakthroughs of Fall 97 and Phish's previous 'psychedelic' playing is that there isn't a hint of forebrain in these shows. They move logically from tune to tune, but it's an emotional logic, joyfully (and darkly) irrational. Wonderland is a scary place, ask Alice. The intuitive group movement and deliberate unself-conscious evolution within and between improvisations, sets, and whole shows is the main thing separating the dark spaces of Fall 97 from previous experiments that could be antagonistic, or cute, or narrowly representational. I think I've said this before: old Phish could sound like what sad lonely music sounds like, but by Fall 97 the music could finally just be sad and lonely (and much else besides). Maybe that's the essence of their maturity as artists. 'The *biggest* idea...communication.' You can hear some of that in the Vegas show, to be sure -- there's a reason folks get weepy about the Vegas Stash -- but something emerged full grown on this night. Not just a dreamy second set, but an enveloping nightlong experience that moved from effortless mastery to a frightening intensity of engagement in the first set, and then to (what I hear as) perfect presentness in the strange winding road of the second set.

You may prefer other shows from this monthlong journey -- Everyone Knows 12/6 Is the Best, and so ploddingly forth -- but listening now I'm startled by the rapidity of the band's transformation, these first few nights of tour, from the guys who played that heartbreaking Gin and asswiggling 2001 at the Great Went to the ghost travellers darkly whispering on this night. Ultimately it's not about 'funk' at all, but about the natural consequences of embracing musical democracy and patient beat-first groove building and intense emotional presence as first principles and just seeing where it took them.

I know I should write more about other things, and let Fall 97 be, but as much as this 'review' is about the music (which is quite good, y'know; you can tell your friends quite confidently it's *good music*), it's about recognizing when four human beings, Artists almost incidentally, are undergoing a scary, thrilling transformation among strangers, and emerging -- constantly; still emerging, in fact -- as a new greater body, more robust and capable and complexly alive than ever before. You should listen to this show sometime because everything about it is, in some way, strange and new. It's brave as hell.

Our favourite band is four very brave guys. They brought back a beautiful piece of darkness to share among friends. How darkly deadly dreamily swell of them.


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