Deer Creek Music Center, Noblesville, IN
Soundcheck: Dog Log, Paul and Silas, Funky Bitch (slow), She Caught the Katy and Left Me a Mule to Ride, Star Trek theme jam (Page on Theremin).
Average Song Gap: 10.56
Notes: The long, involved Rotation Jam to set up Rock A William started when Page went to the theremin for a solo. Soon after, Trey took up the keys and Mike went to play guitar. Page eventually picked up Mike’s bass. After they jammed a bit longer, Mike went to join Trey on the keys. Trey then joined Fish on the drums. The two of them played on the same drum set and Mike took a piano solo. Trey eventually kicked Fish off the drum stool, and Fish picked up Trey’s guitar. SOAM contained a Third Stone from the Sun tease as well as a Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part Two jam.
Songs by Debut Year:
This show was part of the "1997 Summer U.S. Tour."
“Here comes the joker / we all must laugh / cause we're all in this together / and we love to take a bath.”
Deer Creek is more than just a concert: it’s an event. This is a result of many factors, including the numerous places to camp nearby. It feels like you are camping in the middle of nowhere, while many of theses campsites are actually the private homes of kind local Noblesville residents. These camping locations themselves become the scene, with great vibes and few hassles.
The main reason the venue is held in such high esteem is the caliber of shows that have occurred here in the past. A typical Deer Creek show is never typical. I was lucky enough to see Dead play here from ’91 through ‘94, as well as Phish’s debut in ’95. Inside the pavilion is the best sound, always crisp and clear. While it’s great for the audience, it’s also a favorite among the musicians who play here.
This is a smoking first set that tops most second sets as far as setlist. Four powerhouse jams carry the set with a rare “Bathtub Gin” opener (only the sixth one ever), “Down with Disease”, “Split Open and Melt”, and “Harry Hood”. The “SOAM” has a large, spacey section, foreshadowing versions played in ’99. The “Hood” is one of the best versions of the tour, and one of my all-time favorites. There is a point deep in the jam where Mike’s bass becomes prominent, sounding moody and reflective. This mood eventually changes, and as the music converges you will be feeling good.
We were lucky enough to have second-row seats for this one, but by set break everyone had collapsed the seats of the first five rows and it became standing-room only. The set opened with the Talking Heads’ “Cities”, catching me off guard. We were celebrating, but most people seemed to have no idea what was going on. This song was rare (the first East Coast “Cities” in three years) and after Ventura I didn’t expect to see it a second time on the tour, and certainly not as an opener.
The song starts out with a slow groove, and has a very spatial sound. As Trey develops a solo, Mike pushes the jam along. At six minutes, the song takes a turn as Mike changes the tempo and Fishman tightens up. This jam slowly becomes funkier, as Trey weaves in and out of the locked rhythm section. At eleven minutes, Trey begins to layer his guitar with a sound reminiscent of “Free”.
At fourteen minutes, the jam collapses. Trey then begins to strum a beautiful rhythm pattern, one that I have subsequently heard at other shows in different songs. It is defiantly a semi-composed jam that the band is familiar with. After Trey’s intro, and on cue, Mike starts up a flowing bass line and the rest of the band dive in behind him. Page begins to overlay nicely sparse chords, leading to a long beautiful piano piece over Trey’s rhythm. At twenty minutes, the jam begins to peak. As Trey begins to turn up the fuzz, Fishman breaks down the beat and becomes focused on the one.
At twenty-three minutes, the one smoothly becomes the opening notes of Led Zeppelin’s “Good Times/ Bad Times”! The audience went crazy, and the energy in the pavilion was intense. The jam out of “GT/BT” is very similar to the early jam on “Cities”, again with laces of “Free”. At twenty-nine minutes, Page gets up from the keyboards and takes a solo on the Theremin.
The music then turns spacey as Trey sets a delay loop on his guitar, and instigates an instrument-switch jam! In Page’s absence, Trey takes over on keyboards, and Mike takes over on guitar. At thirty-three minutes, Page ends this highly experimental Theremin space jam, and takes over on bass.
Mike soon puts down the guitar and kicks Trey off the keyboards. Trey walks over to Fishman, ready to switch instruments. The crowd loved every minute, and the noise built in anticipation of Fishman coming to the front of the stage. But nothing happened! Fishman just kept drumming, acting as if Trey was not even there. It was bizarre, and felt like we had hit a skip in the record. This moment of Trey hovering over Fishman was stuck.
This is when I started to analyze things, mainly because I had all the time in the world. This was going to be Fishman’s first time to coming to the front of the stage in the fifteen shows so far this tour. Although he had sung “Bye Bye Foot” three times, that’s not a cover song with a vacuum solo! His last cover song performed in the U.S. was Syd Barrett’s “Bike” on 11/7/96. Another thought was Fishman’s dress. He hadn’t worn it all tour. He came out on stage every night in a three-piece suit. Was he looking for respect with this new look? Was he giving up on the goofy cover songs and playing a vacuum?
It is my theory that the band instigated this instrument-switch jam in a sure attempt to get Fishman to the front of the stage. I believe he had no idea this was going to happen, and in retaliation he was contemplating not getting up from the drums. As time passed, I was able to watch the band's facial expressions closely from the front row. Page kept looking over at Mike, both looking annoyed. Their music even begins to convey this sense of annoyance.
“Where I end and you begin / I want to find that line / and cross it back and forth / until it's erased.” So how would this deadlock end? Would Fishman get up and sing? What would happen if he didn’t get up? How long would Trey wait, and just stand there? Eventually someone would have to give, right? I started to think about how stupid Trey might look if, after standing there all this time, he walks back over to the guitar. These were the things I was thinking about, and vocalizing to my friend. You could feel the tension growing on stage. The audience was confused.
Over seven minutes later (at forty minutes), Fishman bows down from the duel and gets up. What had just happened? My favorite aspect of this sequence is that for one brief moment, Fishman was in total control of the band with the other members at his mercy. Although they may have instigated this switch, they underestimated the ease of ambushing Fishman.
To my delight the band broke into “Rocko William”; this is the first time they played it in the U.S. Fishman picked up the guitar while Mike remained on keyboards and Page on bass. Fishman’s humorous singing talents are at their best on this song, and his guitar playing is pretty funny as well. I would give anything for a photo of the band on stage during this song. For most of the song I exaggerated worshipping Fishman to help fulfill his Johnny B. Goode fantasy. It was so much fun!
At forty-six minutes into the set, the song comes to a close and the opening beats of “Bowie” begin shortly. I do not remember this, but from the tapes it sounds as if Trey starts the opening drum beat of “Bowie” before handing over the sticks. This would make sense because this is where things get even more peculiar. Fishman's (and the rest of the band's), first attempt to start the main section of “David Bowie” is purposely flubbed by Trey. I’ll never forget the evil look Page gave Trey, as if to say "don’t involve us in your games." The main section of “David Bowie” just happens to begin with a sequence that is started by Trey. Suddenly it was clear, Trey turned the tables on the band and now they were eating out of his hand. Fishman made a number of attempts to get the song started, but they were stuck in the pre-“Bowie” space babble, with Trey nowhere to be found. At fifty-one minutes into the set, it appears that the song is going to start, but Trey fools them again and the music falls apart.
Over nine minutes later and suspiciously a few minutes longer than Fishman’s previous antics, my theory grows more evidence. In reflecting on these events over two years later, I feel even stronger about my interpretation of the events that happened at this show. Until now, I had never broken down the set by minute and I had no idea that Trey’s hold up of the band was longer than Fishman’s. The music before “Rocko William” and after “David Bowie” is not like normal Phish space segments. There is essentially nothing going on with the band for seventeen minutes of the set. Why would the band waste so much time on this argument in front of the audience? What statement was Fishman making by not getting up? Who was it directed at? And what was Trey’s follow up all about? Was he really getting even with Fishman by outdoing him by a few minutes? Unfortunately, we will probably never have the answers to these questions.
“David Bowie” suffers as a result. Trey sounds uninspired, while Mike and Page carry the song to its end. (The set ends at seventy minutes.) This is one of my favorite songs and this version is still very disappointing. Even more frustrating is the fact that it had the potential to be a monster ending to one of the hottest shows of the year. Although I find the whole shenanigan a little disturbing now that I know they wasted seventeen minutes, at the time of the first incident I was rooting for Fishman and on cloud nine.
The “Cavern” encore seems a little fitting. I have no idea what the song means, or what anything I had just seen means. Oddly, when Trey sang, “Take care of your shoes,” someone decided not to take the advice and threw a pair on stage.
Cities is absolutely excellent, the Ramble On-Esque jam towards the end is the sound of summer boiled down into 5 beautiful, breezy minutes. The drop into GTBT is a trip if you think you're hearing Ramble On, but it fits in perfectly. The biggest hiccup of the set in my opinion is that Trey seemed to think they were going to ride the breakbeat of the "I know what it means to be alone!" segment out into a funky jam, a slight miscommunication ensues but they recover nicely. Fish is throwing down some awesome beats, Trey unleashes some scintillating evil riffs and eventually the theremin kicks in. Lke most theremin jams, they get into some cool spaces that don't sound much like normal Phish. Great stuff.
Now for the bone of contention.
In 1997, Fishmans suit and lack of mums and vacuum was viewed as an expression of a maturing band who wasn't into shenanigans. Forget Europe and all the batshit crazy stuff that happened there, forget Walfredo and Rock A William. Fishman wore a suit and had no time for jokes!
So in the middle of maybe the 2nd weirdest set of the US Tour up until that point (va beach 2, though this one out-weirdos it eventually), Trey abandons his guitar about 12 minutes into GTBT, goes to steal suited up Fish's drums and Fish won't let him! This doesn't feel like a stunt to people? Or a James Brownian tension heightener before the greeziest man in show biz takes center stage? Nevermind that the Rotation Jam sounds totally awesome. It was all in fun! Rock A William makes its US debut and absolutely SLAYS. I'd take this over a vacuum solo 100/100 times.
The other 60% of "dead time" in the set is even more excellent. One of, if not THE longest Bowie intros ever, complete with an old school digital delay loop jam dragged out and twisted into a psychedelic masterpiece.
Don't sleep on this show. It's different, and that's what we see them for, isn't it? There's nothing like the Pranksters 4 days later bringing the show to a staggering halt for awhile. Just crazy improvisation bursting out of what is basically a 3.5 song set.
I'd give this show a 4.5/5 on any scale. One of the most unique second sets ever, one that proves that Phish didn't have to lose their sense of humor in order to lose themselves in the improv. And didn't need to skimp on the jams in order to have good gimmicky fun.
So, those are the must-hears, but this show also has a nice Bathtub Gin opener, a flowing Down with Disease, a Billy Breathes with a BEAUTIFUL Trey solo, and Harry Hood's darn near perfect as far as I can tell.
The second set, as some folks above have mentioned, is a different kind of creature, but give that David Bowie a listen. There aren't many like that one, where Phish takes their sweet time getting to the song, and set up some interesting sound scapes in the process. As for Good Times Bad Times>Rock A William, you know, it was more about the moment when it was done, not about hearing it 14 years later on tape, but how many Theremin solos have you heard from Page? Give it one listen, I won't hold it against you if you don't give it two.
Great show, highly recommended.
they came out guns blazing with a nice bathtub gin opener. page destroyed the keys in the intro. after a pretty typical but solid bathtub gin, they find their way into sparkle. i lively sparkle leads into a nice first set down with disease. this one does not go out too far, but it entertains none the less. dirt is a nice little cool down, and ctb gets the crowd up and moving again. this momentum is promptly killed by billy breathes. a good song, but maybe not the best spot for it. soa melt makes up for it though. they really hit a free rolling, hendrix'esque jam before they roll into bye bye foot. good to get fishman on stage. ginseng was a nice up beat break before they delved into a monster harry hood. gordon sounded very strong on this hood.
the cities set opener is a real barn burner. they take this one way out there going through funk, to space, and back up to rock and roll before slamming into good times bad times. this good times gets into a very cool weird jam, especially when page moves to the theremin. unfortunately, they move to the rotation jam, which causes some weird inner band turmoil. you can read the review pulled from the phishing companion. it about covers the rest of the set.
there are some great jams in the first set, especially the back half. meanwhile, the quality in the second set is very much front loaded. cities kills!
bt gin, melt, hood
cities>good times bad times
Bye Bye Foot— I’m glad I got to be there for this little Fishman delight. This was the last of 4 total times played. I’m not sure why this never developed beyond Summer 97.
The 2nd set is very hot and cold throughout. Cities and Bowie are obvious highlights, both being over 20 minutes. Back in these days it took the band longer to get to that place of total improvisational bliss. I’m not entirely sure these got there but they are still nice to listen to and great reminders of the buzz surrounding these late Summer 97 shows.
The Rotation Jam was very fun to watch more than anything. Listening back I’m not sure there is anything worth documenting here. Rock A William was actually pretty funny at the show. This is another Fishman creation and the last of 5 total times played. So yeah, this was a big night to retire some of Fish’s compositions.
Good Times Bad Times in deed on this night. From the dark jam in Bathtub it was clear this was not going to be an ordinary show. This was my first show since the holiday 96 run and it was obvious to me at least that this band was in a big transitional period. I love the Summer 97 shows. This was the most explorational phase in their 30 year (at the time of this review) career. As with any exploration you are not always going to find gold and rainbows along the way. However, it is the path taken that defines the outcome…er something like that. Fall 97 was just around the corner but still a thousand miles away.
A must hear version at all costs!
This goes down as one of the most UNIQUE shows I've ever seen, along with the "Merry Pranksters" show a few days later in NY and the "Phil" show in 99 at Shoreline.
In many ways, the 1st set was superior to the 2nd; with a monterous SOAM, Bathtub Gin, and a rare 1st set Hood.
The 2nd set is much more memorable, however, with the long, crazy rotation jam, culminating to what? .... Rocka William? I was not familiar with this song as they had only played it once or twice before and I had not yet heard the tapes. But... it was awesome! Fishman is not a great singer, as we all know, but he sounds great when paired with the right song, and this was one of those.