The second set ends with a very fine Bowie, but the show's reputation rests on the terrifying Carini > Jam > Wolfman's Bro. The first segment morphs from howls of rage to The Distance Between Mars and Earth to industrial electronic noise to something like a knotty involuted Llama variation before returning home. Wolfman's Brother heads out at a plodding tempo and gets noisily abstract right at the start; when an aggressive rock groove appears after about ten minutes the boys immediately drown it in interruptions, eerie effects, musical refusals and counteroffers...the groove is intense but deliberately unsatisfying, and it's almost a relief when Fishman smears the beat around 15:30 into a 'space jam' reminiscent of the darkest Fall '97 stuff. My mp3 version separates the last two minutes of this jam into another track, and it's a dense, tense, spooky coda - very much in the eerie Fall '98 ambient style but with an edge of danger.
If your idea of the perfect Phish set is 10/31/98 III, or you relax after work to the 46 Days from IT, then this set will have you howling and gnashing your teeth with pleasure. If you're looking to chill out with a bit of Wolfman's funk, look elsewhere. This is raw experimental late-nite music from a band searching for a new path, an open question that would be answered by the electronica-influenced textures and cavernous grooves of 1999, culminating in the distended hypnagogic experience at Big Cypress.
The 12/29 show is 'better' by some standards - it's a hell of a lot more fun, for one thing - but this is the deepest, gnarliest, most important show of the 1998 NYE run. That the band encored with (of all things) the mercifully brief idiot-anthem singalong 'Been Caught Stealing' is just one of the many complications of Phish '98. The crowd seemed to enjoy it - indeed the kids in Madison Square Garden cheered longer and louder for it than for the Wolfman's Bro. Well, ours isn't a perfect world. Ho hum.