"I hadn’t even known about Phish for long. My mate Stuart had given me a compilation tape “1 Hour Of Phish” that I listened to in my car a few times on my daily commute to work and found it strangely growing on me - despite not being at all like my usual preference for all things Brit Invasion-influenced and power-pop. The songs were long, and veered dangerously close to unhip prog, and where there were lyrics I found them a bit silly if not to say embarrassing. Oh, and the singer didn’t have much of a voice either.... but still I kept being drawn back to this tape and particularly the longest track “You Enjoy Myself”. How do you describe this music? It’s not really a ‘song’ is it – certainly not in the classic verse/chorus/middle eight/chorus sense.
I was unaware that they had already played in London twice in the preceding 12 months and was again (and eternally) indebted to Stuart who bought prime location box tickets for their Summer Tour ’97 show at the Royal Albert Hall. I still knew nothing really about the band although by now I had copies of Billy Breathes and Hoist.
My memory of the night has faded over time – of course we were pretty smoked up by showtime – but what stuck in my head was....
- An unusual (but nice) vibe outside the venue. An earlier start time than I was used to – still light outside on a pleasant Summer evening – and a ‘different’ crowd milling around. A lot of American accents , a lot of college kids on tour, plenty of girls, and a smattering of ‘hippies’
- A great vantage point from our box on stage right. Box 32 is recognised as one of the best tickets in the Albert Hall - perfect for a group of friends to see all the action, in comfort, without distraction
- I recognised almost none of the songs, didn’t get the YEM or Stash that I’d been hoping for, and my concentration drifted for long periods at a time as I looked around the hall and just thought how strangely different this was to the last time I was there, or to a typical gig experience of the time which would have been something like Oasis or Primal Scream.
- I strongly remember the red-uniformed old men and ladies trying to make everyone sit down in their seats and how unjust it was when they occasionally escorted someone out for smoking in the hallowed hall. What a pisser to miss the gig just for smoking a bowl – at a Phish concert… c’mon…
- I came away thinking that I’d seen something I’d never seen before. Now, I would describe it in terms of ‘tension and release’ and I would have much more of a sense of the song selection, and the crowd’s awareness of old classics, bustouts, debuts, and the general flow of the set, but then I was left fascinated by what it was that the band were doing that caused a song to slowly and almost imperceptibly rise up in intensity, carrying the audience mood with it, with the band and the audience feeding off each other, until hitting an orgasmic peak... then calming again until at some point later slowly building again. How did they know to come back in from a jam at just the right moment? They seemed to have a telepathic understanding with each other.
- I tried to describe to people afterwards how this was such an unlikely band to have such a devoted following. This was not a hot-looking NME band of trend-setters. This was 4 scruffy, bearded, relatively-old (or old-looking) musos, with very little ‘show’ and virtually no spoken interaction with the audience.... yet there seemed to be an unusually high percentage of females in the audience. The thing I find most strange now is that I don’t particularly remember anything regarding the lightshow. Was CK5 around for that tour?
Looking back on it now with the benefit of another fifteen years and an audience tape of that night, what an amazing show to be at.... and a stat collector’s dream. 19 songs – 8 of which hadn’t been played before the two Dublin shows a few days earlier. The first (and there has only been 1 other ever) performance of ‘I Don’t Care’, the second-ever performances of ‘Water In The Sky’, ‘Olivia’s Pool’ (or ‘Oblivious Fool’ at this point), Ghost’, ‘Wading In The Velvet Sea’ and ‘Dirt’, and the third-ever performances of ‘Dogs Stole things’ and ‘Limb By Limb’ – not to mention only the seventh-ever performance of ‘Beauty Of My Dreams’. Have there ever been shows with anything like the number of bustouts as those first three Summer ’97 shows?!?
Highlight of the show is a Reba, which is just beautiful and is the jewel of a second set of all new songs before closing with a majestic Hood. Everyone was convinced they would encore with ‘A Day In The Life’ but having done that at the Shepherds Bush show the previous July they went for Cities instead - “Think of London...” - before a romp through Poor Heart to close.
A review on Phish.net says “….Overall not a bad show, playing was good I just thought it lacked inspiration which I thought would be the easy part being in Royal Albert Hall”...... and it does feel slightly lack-lustre, which may actually have had something to do with the setting. The Albert Hall is an amazing venue in many ways –– after ‘Taste’, Trey says “Thank you, what a beautiful room, thank you for being here, it’s just incredible...” - but it can also be a bit intimidating and sterile. It is also almost-always a sellout, but for this show was only half-full (max capacity 5,250 – on return to the States, Phish would go back to playing to 20,000 every night).
Outside afterwards, I scored a Doniac Schvice – very impressed that this ‘unknown’ band had such a cool publication. I don’t think we hung around long and I don’t remember us talking with any of the heads thereabouts so I didn’t really appreciate how many of them must have already been to the two Dublin shows and would be setting off in the morning for the next show, 3 days later in Vienna. I was also unaware at that point that I was on my way down the rabbit hole towards a full-scale addiction to the Phish"