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Permalink Posted by CraigSKnowlton on , attached to 1998-08-12
CraigSKnowltonDuring the summer after high school before heading off to college, my long-time Phish traveling companion, Devin Lacey, and I took a Greyhound bus from Port Authority in New York City to Syracuse for this show on our way to the Lemonwheel. We each had giant camping backpacks filled with gear, and in those pre-9/11 days security let us walk right into the venue, which was the center field of a harness-racing track.

The show began with a mean Mike sung "La Grange" into "Makisupa Policeman" where Trey woke up this morning 'Burning Down'--a double entendre, whose full meaning emerged during the encore. Fishman grew up nearby the venue, and Trey's onstage chat before "Possum" referred to him as the 'hometown boy' and quizzed the audience about Fish's high school band, Frodo. Trey also dedicated the song to the song's author and former Phish bandmate, Jeff Holdsworth. Devoted fans probably knew these fun facts before the show, but hearing the band banter about them onstage added a special nostalgia to the atmosphere. The spotlight fell on Fishman during "Roggae" and a rare mid-set, mid-Mike's Groove "Sleeping Monkey," but explosive cover songs and big jams defined the show as a highlight of summer 1998.

One of the goofy joys of being a Phish phan is sitting around a room compiling a wish list of the songs that, in an ideal world, the band would cover. As a classic rock obsessed eighteen-year old, Led Zeppelin's "Ramble On" topped my list. When Trey started this tune's soft opening licks and Page began to sing, the crowd went absolutely NUTS. Trey's guitar powered through Jimmy Page's fierce licks long past the well-memorized peaks of Zeppelin II's version before Page's piano tickling brought the jam into a mellow but driven exploration of the song's softer melody. Then they transitioned flawlessly into a gorgeous Set I closing "Slave to the Traffic Light."

The "Mike's Song" that opened Set II dropped into deep funk quickly with Trey's crunchy notes encircling Page's dark organ swirls. One of the show-making versions that haven't occurred in 3.0 yet, this song reached multiple peaks before slipping into a "Simple" that matches the delicacy of 2011 versions with a headier drive at the end that melted into ambience as Trey led the band into "Rift." The rest of the set balanced between hard-driven rock and calming classics, but the encore brought the moments that would stand out in every attendees' memory.

"Burning Down the House" fulfilled its title. Trey swapped "Vernon Down" for the true lyrics, but the band remained true to the rest of the Talking Heads classic, including the soaring keyboard-funk bridge. On an ordinary night, a one-off cover might seem sufficient, but this was 1998, and the audience sensed that the band wanted to keep the party going. After teasing Fish some more with "HYHU," Trey announced they'd play 'one more song that Fish wanted to do for his friends and family': YOU ENJOY MYSELF! This 'one more song' turned into a 20-minute monster with HYHU and Mission Impossible teases and an insane, Kuroda light's-driven 'whose your daddy' vocal jam.

The next day we headed north to Maine for the Lemonwheel excited for the festival craziness ahead but knowing that we'd, perhaps, experienced the summer tour's high water mark. In a year that I consider as the musical peak of the band's career, the experience of attending this show remains my favorite moment of the summer.
Score: 11

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