Upon picking up the first edition of The Phish Companion, I eventually came across a review of the show that sold me on Phish: November 25, 1998 at the Knickerbocker Arena (OK, I know, the Pepsi Arena, but any local with a sense of pride didn’t call it that) in Albany, NY. I was dismayed and frankly angered by the poor review that was contained in these pages. No mention of anything in the second set because the person left early and no mention of it being the night before Thanksgiving when Phish was playing music and not at home with their families and the fans with theirs. I wanted to write the review immediately, but I waited. I waited so long, the 2nd edition came out and I missed my chance. So the following is a COMPLETE review of the 11/25/98 show in Albany, NY.
It was November 24th, the final day of classes at Syracuse University, as well as many others throughout the nation, and I was preparing to head home to Albany via my friend Matt. He was going to stay at my folks place just outside Albany Tuesday night and Wednesday night and make it home in time for Thanksgiving the 26th. Since neither of us were 21 yet, we couldn’t go out to the bars that Tuesday or Wednesday but I was well aware of the Phish show in Albany, but as I had only seen them 3 times and Matt 4 times, we were not accustomed to things like PTBM, scalping, fingers in the air, miracles, the outside the concert ritual we all have become accustomed to in the past few decades of Phish and even before then with the Grateful Dead and acts of the same caliber. So when we went to the arena that chilly Wednesday night, we walked around hoping to find someone selling tickets. Our luck was great at first – a few guys had tickets to sell, but we found out immediately that they were for Friday and Saturday in Worcester and we were interested only in tonight’s show. So, we did what any two guys not knowing what they were getting into with Phish would do – we wandered around, had a beer in the labyrinth of parking garages that surround the Knick and the Empire State Plaza, and held out hope.
We learned pretty quickly that we had to keep the finger in the air in order to get any sort of recognition that we were in need of a ticket, and this made sense. Oh, to be that naïve again! We waited and finally Matt decided we should split up and meet back at a specified location every 10 minutes till we found a pair. Well, as luck would have it, Matt stumbled upon someone with one ticket right away, and snatched it up for $50. I had no luck, being a bit more reserved and shy at the time, I just couldn’t be more forthcoming even when I knew it would get me inside the arena where I had seen many shows before in my life, including my first Phish show the year before, 12/13/97. I had to get in.
Then I find a guy who has a ticket, but not for sale, only for trade. This baffled the shit out of me – I have $60 and he has a ticket. That’s more than double the cost! But no, he wanted a ticket for Worcester. So the plot thickened and Matt and I found a guy selling a ticket for Worcester for $60, and I RAN AS FAST AS I COULD to find the guy with my golden Albany ticket and BAM, made the trade and I was IN!
Not being 21, waiting in line for beer wasn’t an option and Matt and I got a snack and went to where his seat was and found our area of the arena – the mid 200’s, straight across from the stage, to be pretty solid and sparsely seated. The lights went down and the show began. While Matt and I had tried to do our Phish homework, it didn’t quite pan out so well for us in terms of knowing the material in the first set. More or less, we enjoyed it, but didn’t know what it was we were enjoying. Looking back in retrospect, the first four songs – Punch, My Soul, Roggae and AC/DC Bag got the show rolling, and even a casual fan who has missed listening to this show somehow would agree. Nothing spectacular yet, but you must have some patience – if you know anything about Phish, its that if they don’t give you the jams and improv you seek right away, just wait.
The Lifeboy was an almost sleepy tune, that much I recall, and the placement is peculiar, followed by a rockin’ Bowie and then, two more chill acoustic tunes? Driver was great, I loved those lyrics then as I do now, but still, song placement guys!!! GTBT ended the set for the 2nd show in a row at the Knick.
During setbreak, I was getting a little bit anxious frankly. I had waited since the Lemonwheel to see these guys and wanted to hear more songs than they could fit into the next 90+ minutes. DWD, Fee, Free, Golgi, Dinner and a Movie – that’s what I was convinced we could hear. When we got one of these, you know I wasn’t the least bit disappointed.
The second set started out with a solid 2001, which I caught onto about eight8 minutes into the tune, realizing I had heard that somewhere before… Then I got my Golgi – a solid song, but not exactly something people chase at Phish shows – and then Drowned, which had some amazing jamming to follow the end of the lyrics before it devolved into Prince Caspian, which I truly enjoyed and now I am not sure why, I just liked it. But hey, when you’re young and in love with a band, even the little things please you. The show continued to get better with the slow build up of Piper, which got me the hell up out of my seat and getting into the acceleration put forth by Trey as the song peaked into the lyrics and BAM, a musical explosion of lights! I was loving this band!
Had I ever listened to YEM in between my first show and this one, I would have been into it, but alas, I was not. It is very worth listening to, with a great deal of loose improv post tramps, and a decent vocal jam. I did like when the trampolines came out though, that made me enjoy these guys on stage – if they can do crazy shit like that, what else could they do? I was determined to find out. Then they go and blow me away with Been Caught Stealin’, a helluva version to please my ears. I was a HUGE Jane’s Addition fan and to hear this get busted out by my new favorite band, well, you can just guess at how happy I was. I had a perma-grin and let it continue to grow through Llama. A great set closer, and a truly great set overall. Even Fuckerpants was decent.
The encore though might be the moment that made me say ‘Yeah, I need to find these guys around the area more often’, as I got not one song like some bands did, not two as they did the year before at my first show (My Soul, Squirming Coil), but three songs. I couldn’t believe it. What a Thanksgiving Eve treat! First, Something by the Beatles. “Who would have thought they covered the Beatles?”, I said to myself at the time, not knowing about 10/31/94 or anything else of that proportion. I loved that song and my, how well sung and played! Then they threw a Guyute at us, which started my love affair with this song that continues till today. Simply some fantastic songwriting in my opinion.
Then, when you thought they were ready to leave the stage, no, they were crowding to the front near one microphone – I had no clue what the fuck was about to happen. And then what do I hear? Something Skynyrd, barbershop quarter style and OH MY GOD, IS THIS FREEBIRD? I was just in awe! And for the next 15 minutes while they sang (yes, I know 5 minutes, but it felt like 15) they sang that whole song, harmony, vocals and music altogether as one, acapella at that! I was ecstatic! Finally, a band I could go see again and again and never get the same shit each night. Oh my lord, what a concert!
Matt and I headed back to my folks place, got some sleep as he had to head home early for dinner in Rhode Island, while I slept the next day away till dinner, with a giant smile still on my face. This show got me hooked, plain and simple. I needed no more convincing that Phish was a great band to check out, just more shows! I only wish I made it to Worcester…