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Permalink Posted by waxbanks on , attached to 1997-11-22
waxbanksFor many fans this show was the Big Deal of the tour, and its reputation hasn't diminished over time, though other shows (11/23, 11/29, 12/6) now compete for the title. The setlist is ridiculous, of course - really, a Mike's Groove/Hood combo in Set One?! - but the Halley's Comet jam marks a turning point for the band, the moment (actually the 24-minute rock song) when the evolving 'space jams' of fall (cf. 11/17 II), the empathetic melodic playing of summer (check out the Went Disease and Gin), and the band's yearlong experiment in nasty minimalist funk (cf. every Ghost of 1997) seemed to crash together into a new hybrid form. Space is a chaotic funk function here, and time is fragmentary; the constant crosstalk dissolves into pure feeling and every technical tool seems to be instantly available to all four players.

And that's just the second set *opener*. The Tweezer > BEK transition brings some of the most unapologetically pornographic cow-funk of a year not exactly short on that sort of thing, and while the screaming climax of BEK would have dissolved most bands into a puddle, at that point we've still got fine versions of Piper and Antelope to come. The most incredible thing about this show is that, having hit this creative/empathetic peak, the band somehow managed to stay there for a few weeks, cranking out a run of shows with no rival in their catalogue. In fact this second set probably isn't even the best of the tour (let's give the nod to 12/6/97 II), though 11/22 and 11/17 are probably the sharpest turns on the winding road from the Went to the Island Tour.

Phish archivist Kevin Shapiro included a tasty SBD of the Halley's jam on the 12/20/07 Archives show, and if you listen closely you can hear Trey call out to Mike as the jam kicks off: 'Hey Mike, just stay in F!' The minimalist approach liberates the band - you can almost hear their musical support structures fall away as the song starts growing, morphing, involuting, then expanding.

What remains is pure communication.

It's hard to say whether this is a 'rock and roll' show, in the end. The name doesn't really matter. This is creative improvised music of the highest order, some of the most dramatic, delicate, empathetic, nuanced, unabashedly emotional (and intellectual) music to emerge from the last few years of a pretty screwy millennium. Fans love playing the 'Best Show Ever?' game; there's no right choice but the exercise itself is pleasurable and even productive. 11/22/97 is a better answer to that question than most.
Score: 32

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