Jesus! I never did give this show a proper listen, just a 'Yep another great Fall 1997 show' spin back in those glorious Maxell XLII days, but thanks to the Demon What Is Called the Internet, I'm finally digging this special outing.
The first thing to say (first point to belabor?) is that no Phish tour can touch Fall '97 for overall, across-the-board quality. Of course all four guys were better musicians, individually and collectively, in 1997 than (say) 1995, as you'd expect. But the music itself had changed too, in ways that go well beyond technical facility. In late '96 and early '97 they'd hit upon a solution to the problem of what to do next after the stylistic exhaustion of Fall '95, and their shaggy-minimalist funk approach led to deeper improvisations, more fluid and gradual transitions between jam 'movements,' and more tightly integrated generic elements throughout their performances. Fall '97 featured more patient improvisation than ever before; Trey stepped back from his onstage leadership role a little, letting the music breathe and transform in performance rather than chasing every idea-rabbit that came within view.
So instead of the maniacally experimental jams of 1994-95, Phish '97 would flow organically from dance rhythms and ambient washes to open improvisatory spaces that preserved familiar or at least accessible elements, preserving the emotional pulse of each jam's source material (i.e. the Song) while still responding authentically to each new musical impulse of opportunity.
The best-known Fall '97 shows - 11/17, 12/6, Hampton, Dayton, the Jim Symphony - are Phish scripture at this point. This one doesn't feature a set-long run of segues, but it certainly deserves to be talked about in the same breath as the best shows of that canonical tour. Like 11/30 Worcester, this is a free-flowing affair in which all four musicians are wholly in tune with the Moment and with one another from the very first note. Even with a half-hour Simple in the middle of the second set, the show isn't dominated by a single jam - it's all of a piece.
The specifics seem less important than the feel of the whole thing, but that's not to say the songs simply blend into one. The jam out of Mike's Song rises from stripped-down cow funk, crests, fluidly changes key, then recedes quietly - making way for Chalkdust via a sparse dancefloor outro and an eerie solo breakdown from Page. Chalkdust is explosive as always, with Trey's solo breaking cleanly into two parts (listen for the lightning-quick Alumni Blues tease). Everyone's listening closely, keeping technique in check, playing quickly as the music demands but never overbearing...Stash is 'unfinished,' which is to say it flames out magnificently, then cools into a crystalline ambient interlude from which H2 emerges. The playing is so empathetic and restrained, especially for a first set! But that's how Fall '97 was - there were so few 'warmup' periods, and no wasted spaces or throwaway notes...
The rest of the set is just as well-played (Weeeeeekapaug!). Presumably no one feels as strongly about Dogs Stole Things as about, say, Mike's Groove. The meat of Set II is the 37-minute Simple > Timber, a completely *seamless* multipart improvisation that evolves from the delicate Simple outro form to a more assertive one-chord rock-anthem groove and beyond. After one of those nervewracking funk grooves that so often acted as bridging passages in those days (the way complex ambient spaces have lately served as musical glue in 2009-10), the jam cools back down. Fish suggests Bowie; Trey has other ideas; amid the resulting engine-room noise Fish transforms the Bowie hi-hat line into the Timber drumbeat, the whole band picks up on the suggestion, and we're right into a slightly mutated take on that song. The Timber jam is, as ever, an eerie minor-key stomp - and it ends wonderfully, in quiet.
Hood must be heard to be believed. I can't quite bring myself to talk about it in any detail, but that's OK. For what it's worth, it's one of the finest renditions I've heard, a closely-held late-autumn secret that's miles away from (say) the joyous, spacious Great Went version of just four months prior. When your friends ask why you need forty live versions of the same song, try playing those two versions for comparison - or forget it, just grant yourself the indulgence of a private smile, turn inward/outward and away, let this singular music welcome you as it always has and will...
One point to make about this show is that the stellar and super Funky Mike's that opens the show continues the start/stop funk jam that was so big a part of the monster Tube two nights earlier at the Nutter Ctr. Worth a listen - stylistically identical and both phenomenal. I remember this Mike's jam wore out on my cassette of this show before anything else did.
And yeah, it was damned smoky in there. And there were near-pscyhadelic rice krispie treats circulating the lot. Mine kicked in with a 'Whoa..." moment during Chalk Dust.... :)
The venue was brand new... SOOOO clean and new! i dont think the security was ready for the smoke screen. The Nutter Center was off the hook the 2 nights before. Over all good show, but nothing compared to the 12-7 show in Dayton, Ohio. Oh and it was a huge drive From Dayton to State college. thank's for the one day inbetween to travel !!! '97-'98 what a great time to tour !!!
Originally posted at: http://kipsphishreviews.tumblr.com/post/40454660895/phish-penn-state-97
Almost a year since my first show and the difference a year makes in how a song like Mike’s Song can sound is why we go see this band. After the standard F# minor jamming, they change key and into a funk groove. As mentioned in the 12/3/97 review, this tour brought out the funky side in the band (hence the Phillly Funk jam). Here we get more start/stop funk but unlike the Philly jam, this is short lived. Overall this was no “must hear” Mike’s Song. The version from first night of Philly (12/2) or Albany (12/13) during this same tour is worthy of a listen if you have the time.
The jump into Chalk Dust feels forced but it’s hard to not give into the energy from one of the best rock songs in their book. An abnormal slot makes it a fun appearance version to see and hear live. In fact it is only one of two that have followed Mike’s Song ever. The other being at MSG on 12/29/2011.
My Soul as mentioned in my 12/3/97 review is not one of my favorites. The repetitive chorus lines, "my my my my my soul it's my soul, my my my my my my soul it's my soul", always rubs me the wrong way for some reason. The only thing really going for it is the bass line that Mike so eloquent lays down with his modulus bass.
Then we hit Stash. I have often used Stash has a measuring stick for how well the band is playing at any given moment in their career. If they nail the composed section, build the tension in the jam to a point of utter frustration in the part of the listener only to explode at the right moment, then I know Phish is in a good state of mind. No secret here that Phish in 1997 was in a good state of mind so as to be expected this version has that slowly built tension drawn out to perfection. It’s not a long jam. Nothing like earlier versions from this same tour (11/13, 11/23 or 11/30) but still packs a nice punch. It slowly oozes at the end into the H2 section of Mike’s Groove. Really nice segue.
A well played I Am Hydrogen. You’d be surprised how many versions of this song they flubbed, especially in years to follow (especially in 99). With no flubs to mention, it sets up a standard yet funky run through Weekapaug Groove.
Dogs Stole Things and Beauty of My Dreams add the standard cool down to the first set. Not a fan of the former but definitely of the latter. Wish they played this more often in the 3.0 era (only once so far on 12/31/2010). I love me some bluegrass and the original outfit, Del McCoury Band, is as bluegrass as it gets.
Horn merely is a setup for the rocking version of Loving Cup that ends the set. A set full of mixed emotions where everything was played perfectly. Nothing was extended and even when things seemed promising, such as with the Mike’s funk, they pulled back, which is rare for this era.
Set 2: Julius > Simple -> Timber (Jerry) > Contact, Axilla > Harry Hood
Ending the first set with Loving Cup then opening the second with Julius feels more like the end of a show then the middle but with the high octane energy on display all fall tour, this isn’t too out of the ordinary. What takes place next is the heart and soul of this show.
Simple is, well, a simple song but often it’s the simplest of ideas that spawn creativity. This version of Simple does it’s thing for about 8 minutes, and right around 8:30 is when they find it; that special moment in a song when the band has completely left the boundaries of the stage and are now exploring where to go next.
This exploration goes on for a few minutes and then around 12 minutes it seems like it could all collapse but then Fishman brings in a dark drum beat that Trey grabs a hold off and then we are off on our first real change from the slow Simple groove and into a brand new space. This new space grows quickly into a kaleidoscope of sounds, with Fishman and Trey leading the charge. This would go on until 17 minutes when Fishman once again leads the band into a new section, with Gordon and Page adding a soft groove to the background with Trey remaining silent until he grabs a hold of what his band mates are laying down. Trey lays on top of the groove some funky chords and we enter into a little bit of very soft, laid back cow funk.
After a few minutes of funk we enter into a spacey section, with Page using his synth and Trey using his digital delay loop, we get a real Star Trekky vibe. At one point it sounds like the song is ending with only the digital delay vamping from the speakers, but they decide it’s not over yet. This section is real eerie and it ends with Fishman hitting the standard David Bowie symbols and at this point it’s clear they are heading into Bowie. But they keep going and going and going with this eerie intro, especially Trey and his loops. Finally Fishman decides to throw a wrench into the situation and beats on his bass drum like he’s an African tribal chief. This tribal beat segues perfectly into Timber Ho and what do you know, we have ourselves a Ho.
Everyone in the venue is clearly perplexed at this point as preparing for a Bowie is much different from preparing for a Timber Ho throw down. The Timber itself is not the best Timber. While the evilness of the song fit perfectly into the ending of Simple, the song itself fell a bit flat and even when they end the jam and re-enter the lyrical portion of the song the crowd didn’t seem too in to the moment.
They lighten the mood considerably with the always fun yet awkwardly childish song Contact. The best part of Contact, besides the spinning wheel lights that Kuroda throws up on the crowd, is the funk break down where Page rails on his clav and Gordon slaps the heck out of his bass. The energy feels a bit flat, hinting that the Dave Matthews Band type frat boy crowd that is prevalent at Penn State gigs wasn’t totally digging what the band was pumping out from the stage.
Sensing this lack of energy, they rip out Axilla. But it’s not clear whether this may be too little too late at this point to revive the lack of energy. After a quick romp, they back peddle into Harry Hood. Another awkward energy stop and once again sensing this energy drop, Trey pops back into the Axilla riff right in the middle of the Hood intro. This is only a short stint back into the song but clearly it was meant to WAKE UP THE CROWD!
Energy or no energy, it takes a lot to keep a Harry Hood ending from exploding. For a solid 4 or so minutes, this Hood ends very strong with tons of energy to go around.
They must have known coming back for the encore that anything other then Hendrix was unacceptable for this energy deficient crowd so yeah, they come out firing with Fire! A great cover that has been mostly shelved since this 97 tour, only coming out 13 times since.
I would have given this show a 6 or 6.5 due to the lack of cohesiveness and off and on energy if it weren't for the Simple. That jam on it’s own bumps this show up a whole point. But the show is otherwise an off night for a band at an all time high in their career in terms of energy and performance.
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