"Worm" banter.
 The second set began with a Fish piano solo that evolved into a jam, as the rest of the band eventually joined the stage and Fish moved to his drum kit.
Ghost began the first of two nights of the infamous "Worm" banter, with Fish saying "I think you know where you are" and Trey responding with "You're on the back of the worm!" The "Worm" was also mentioned in Ya Mar, Saw It Again, and the jam out of Cities, which also included When the Saints Go Marching In and Santa Claus is Coming to Town teases by Trey. Mike teased Time Loves A Hero in Ghost. Dirt was introduced as "Green Grass High Tides Forever." The second set began with a Fish piano solo that evolved into a jam, as the rest of the band eventually joined the stage and Fish moved to his drum kit. Bathtub Gin contained a Little Drummer Boy tease from Trey and a Simpsons Theme tease from Mike. Loving Cup contained a Frankenstein tease from Mike. This show was officially released as part of the Amsterdam box set.
The second set is justly praised for its 40-minute Gin > Cities > Jam(s) and startling Timber opener, which are as good as their reputation, but the first set shouldn't be overlooked. The new tunes make a strong showing, and the audience pays rapt attention: Ghost gets an early workout (though the explosion came two days later), you can hear a pin drop during the delicate transition from Limb to Ain't Love Funny, and the rest of the set is just top-drawer small-venue Phish, all detailed miniatures and pregnant pauses. The 'When the Circus Comes' encore would be a weirdly dispiriting choice at a stateside show, but it's perfect here - which, if you know the song, should give you a decent idea of the show's vibe. The two Amsterdam shows really stand alone in the middle of a generative Europe tour; the Paradiso brings something out of Phish which (luckily) translates to tape, and 7/1 and 7/2 are the deep dark must-hear shows of early summer '97.
It's plain and simple: this show and the next night's are the peak of Phish's European Summer tour in 1997. The Ghost opener wastes no time getting funky and far out -- by the 8 minute mark we get the "I think you know where you are! You're on the back of the worm!", which, in conjunction with the references later in the night lead us to believe that Trey consumed some psychedelics the previous night and had a tough time using the public restrooms on the streets of 'sterdam. Ya Mar gives us some more Wormtowning -- and though the actual mentions of the large worm don't come till tonight, the types of jams associated with the worm were sprinkled across the non-festival sets all tour. Jams like the second set opener, the jam out of Cities, and the end of Stash the next night are all very specific to this pre-Fall '97 (but definitely post-1996) sound. LxL is very very good and they let the drum beat fade away and give way for Ain't Love Funny which is just beautiful. They should bring it back (I think I might say that too much). This is a random analogy that not many folks will get, but Phish doing Ain't Love Funny reminds me of moe. doing Cape Cod Girls. Saw It Again is jarring and excellent, with more "YOU'RE ON THE BACK OF THE WORM!", and Reba is well-placed and beautiful, warts and all. This first set kills the rest of the first sets from the tour to date, and we arguably haven't even gotten to the best part of the show yet!
Timber roams all over, covering that awesome, dark, space that Timber so often explores, and the ensuing Gin has got to be one of the darkest, scary-psychedelic Gins of all time. Creepy as hell Little Drummer Boy tease (influenced by Hendrix's LDB tease from 12/31/69, a show Trey said he listened to all the time in 1997?) in there -- I'd love to know what really happened on the proverbial 31st of June when Trey got trapped in time... speaking of creepy, that segue from the dust of Gin into Cities is painstakingly beautiful. Talk about a sneak attack! This is a slow Cities -- contrast this one to the last one they played on 6/20 and you have two different tunes altogether. This one pretty much ends before giving way to a far out there psychedelic story highly affected by the worms, with some more creepy teases: Santa Claus is Coming to Town and When the Saints Go Marching In. Is there another Phish show like this, where they randomly drift off to faraway lands, almost like they have no control over what they're doing and songs as we know them are escaping them altogether?! This is fucking amazing. The post-Cities jam IS a ride on the back of a worm cast into an improvised piece of music. Close your eyes and enjoy the ride. After what sounds like the beginning of Taste, that idea is trashed and Loving Cup brings us back to earth, and a slow-building, majestic Slave brings us to a close. As @waxbanks points out, Circus works *so well* here. The Circus definitely was in town this weekend in Amsterdam, and for the benefit of Mr. Mike, they melted some fucking faces onto the floor. This show is 5 stars, straight up. Oh, and there's a remastered AUD floating around out there that is top grade dank. Find that, turn it up, and tune out. Did I mention they played another show on 7/2 as well?
The Paradiso shows are, in my estimation, as close as we'll get to the oft-speculated question "what if Phish played a whole show the way they play soundchecks?" Both shows, the unquestioned kings of Summer '97 (even if you throw in the US shows, I'd think) are chock full of great jams, weirdness, and moments where the band just totally goes off the reservation in ways they wouldn't dream of doing in the US. Both of them are well worth your time and really should be at or near the top of your wishlists for the next LivePhish remaster.
Night One kicks off in audacious fashion with Ghost, then still a new song (only its seventh airing, although they were playing it with a frequency that would make Fuego blush), and it moves from funk into a churning, dark jam (with the infamous Worm yelling) and back to melodic upbeat hose - lots of it, too, like it's 2004 or something - before clanging to a fine finish. But don't skip the rest of the set - Ya Mar is fun, LxL soars before cooling down and segueing masterfully into Ain't Love Funny, and the Reba really does find a nice peak to make us forget the composed section bobbles. Lots of shows would kill for a second set that matches this first one.
Set 2 starts with a "solo" from Fish on the organ that morphs into a deliberate and typically dark Timber, then gives way to a monster Gin, and I use the term "monster" in the scary sense rather than the massive sense. Things move along at the usual Gin speed before Trey flips on his "1980s hair metal" effect and the band moves into a darker and funkier and very Europe '97 space before segueing wonderfully into Cities. And this Cities is one for the record books and the night's highlight, as they first run through a molasses-slow version of the tune, then kick into a pulsing, downright *weird* jam that rolls forward with an unhurried menace before Trey moves things into a more upbeat zone (it's here that you get the teases mentioned above) and the band charges to the finish line with another dose of funk. Loving Cup and a ghostly, ethereal Slave make a fine finish to the set, and Circus is the cherry on top.
Final thoughts: the better of the two shows; really one of their finest shows, and one as out of step with Phish's usual methodology as Fukuoka or 7/27/14 or even any of the Gamehendge shows are. Strongest possible recommendation - hell, this and the next night all by themselves are arguments for why you need to listen to AUDs.
7/1 and 7/2 have all kinds of crazy "Worm Banter," in addition to great jams that show up all over the sets. The first set on 7/1 starts with a laid-back 20 minute Ghost jam, and also has good versions of Ya Mar, Limb by Limb, and Reba. Saw it Again is always fun to hear, as well. The second set of 7/1 begins very unusually, with Fishman playing solo on the piano, which leads into Timber. The bulk of the second set includes a run of Bathtub Gin->Cities->Jam that feels like one continuous jam, and the set concludes with a nice Slave.
First of all, the Paradiso is an old church that has been converted into a performance space, replete with stained glass windows and an ornate double balcony, all in the confines of a building that holds no more than a thousand people. It was a very intimate place indeed, and the energy of the crowd was intense and intent.
The opener, "Ghost", got things off to an easy, "Wolfman's"-type groove. The jam out of this tune developed significantly, and altogether "Ghost" clocked in just over twenty minutes. At one point, Trey and Fish were singing their favorite brand-new lyric over a jammed groove, "I think you know where you are"...you're on the back of a worm!" It was an auspicious start to the show, even shutting up some of the cynics around me that were sick of seeing the new tunes over and over.
"Horn" was next and then "Ya Mar" followed, with a particularly cool drum segment featuring delicate work by Fishman and a hushed audience. "Limb By Limb" was next, which also proved to be an excellent new song. The vocals are all divergent while at the same time convergent, and the lyrics are actually quite cool. Mike has a really cool background vocal that totally stands out in a killer way. The jam out of this tune was damn impressive; I was finding myself lost in rhythms that are not typical to your standard Phish jam.
After a brief respite in bass space, with Mike doing washes of sound while Page tweaked his Moogs, they segued into the vaguely Celtic lullaby cadence of "Funny As It Seems". Frankly, this song is a disappointment. The J.J. Cale lyrics have just too much of a straight-ahead cheese "lovey-dovey" feel to them, especially coming from a funkster like Mike. Still, it provided some rest for the next selection, "Saw it Again". This tune kicks, with two separate sections. In the first, there are killer "wah" effects from Trey and a totally punchy arrangement of the background vocals. The second section features a slower, harder groove with everyone singing with gospel's conviction, "I saw it again!" An absolutely killer rock and roll song! Trey was yelling about being on the back of the worm again during this one also.
"Dirt" followed, a Beatles sounding-ballad that was maybe placed a little closer to the also-slow "Funny as it Seems" than I would've preferred. "Dirt" has a nice instrumental ending with Trey following the lyric melody. Of all the songs that seem appropriate for the mention of worms, "Dirt" didn't get one.
Next, they broke into the old bag of tricks and pulled out a magical "Reba". Trey was just soaring as Chris Kuroda began involving the stained glass for the first time, lighting up the glass from behind with pulses of light. Full of nuance and melodic expression, this was a truly heavenly "Reba". Which brings me to a digression: is Trey God?
"Dogs Stole Things" closed out the exhaustive eighty-nine-minute set. This is a standard rocker that doesn't seem like it has much room to go anywhere; the groove didn't even seem that cool, kind of stale. Maybe Trey isn't God.
The music of Set II was so good, it surpasses my ability to be objective. Being in Amsterdam brings with it certain advantages, and those advantages tend to manifest themselves most intensely during a set break. So take my review with a grain of salt, or whatever else is handy.
To begin the second set, Fishman stepped out alone on stage, walked over to Page's electric piano, and started playing a little repetitive ditty. At first I thought that it was actually John Medeski (MMW were playing a week later at a Dutch jazz festival) because Fishman looks like him now, with his crewcut. This is the first time that I've heard Fishman play keyboards in a way that is listenable. Improvement is a good thing.
The rest of the guys then came out, and Trey began the opening to "Timber Ho" while Fishman made his way back to his set. "Timber Ho" was just ridiculous, with Trey busting out otherworldly noises and fat chunks, along with killer support from the Chairman of the Boards.
I was floored that my favorite cover tune of theirs ("Timber") would be followed by one of my favorite originals, "Bathtub Gin"! In forty-five shows, I have only seen "Bathtub" three times, so I'm still totally batty when they start into it. This version is truly a top five of all-time - œtype affair - full-on "synthoslinky" bass from Mike at one point that will blow your mind when you hear the tape. The syncopated beats that Mike found late in this jam is just further evidence that the man is grounded in his own, uniquely satisfying groove.
The "Bathtub" jam then led into a superslow sex-groove jam version of "Cities", slowed down considerably. In fact, the "Bathtub" jam was just kind of going along, slowing down, and then Trey just kept hammering this one chord slower and slower (it was the "Cities" chord, but with the effects it sounded totally different) and then eventually he just spoke into the mic, "Think of London!" and the roof just about came down.
Aside from playing it at such a slow beat, they were leaving a lot of space around the music (not spacey, but sparse) of the composed part and the initial part of the jam followed this effect. It had sort of a slow blues feel, again, with nice space around the music. The blues feel then sort of absorbed the psychedelic vibe in the room and began mutating into a jam that reminded me of the liquid blues feel that they had in the thirty-five-minute "Free" from 11/22/95 Landover, MD.
Eight minutes into "Cities" the jam loses the more straightforward feeling of the blues jam and sinks down into another wash of sounds, similar to the Mike and Page volume-swell jam from the legendary Providence 12/29/94 "Bowie". There were massive blocks of sound swelling out and in, sometimes with simulated Doppler effect. At one point, when the jam was getting that "weeble-wobble" feel, Trey yelled out, to everyone's bewilderment (once again), "I think you know where you are"...you're on the back of the worm!"
So, twenty minutes after "Cities" began, we're still rolling with this whacked jam happening and no clear direction in sight. It was sweet! "Cities" wound up clocking in at twenty-three minutes, but it's hard to tell if the last fifteen minutes might have been something distinct. The "back of the worm jam" perhaps? Raging versions of "Loving Cup" and "Slave" closed out the set. Not a weak link in Set II! I could have sworn they were putting more emphasis on "Oh, what a beautiful buzz." Ahh, Amsterdam"...
"When the Circus Comes" seemed like an appropriately laid-back encore for such an exhausting evening. Sent home for a night of rest, we were psyched that we still had one more to go.
This is an amazing show all around. They really need to bring back Saw It Again, this version is a smoker. Reba is very nice as usual. The meat of this show is definetley in the second set. They start out with a nice smooth jam into Timber. Timber then melts away into Gin, which starts to get nice and spacy towards the end. My tracklisting has Gin->Jam even to show how far away they get from the main theme. As the band seamlessly shifts into the key of D, Trey just hammers away on that opening chord. This starts probably the slowest and funkiest Cities I have ever heard. The Jam afterwards takes on a life of its own. Mike lays down a sweet groove followed by some more space. Then Trey comes back with a The Saints Go Marching In tease with the high picked whammy sound. After noodling a little bit longer with his effects, the jam goes back to straight rock and roll. I think everyone can tell what my favorite part of this show is. A well placed Loving Cup follows and cools the entire place down. If that wasnt enough Slave ends the set on an awesome note. If you havent listened to this show DO IT!
This show has been mercifully released in the stellar Amsterdam '97 box set. All the shows are classics, with the February set II and Stash wormtown madness representing sublime Phish.
The question becomes is this the best top to bottom show of the release? Well you be the judge, because you really cant go wrong.
Ghost opens the show and this version is fantastic. It features a fine melodic back on the worm jam. Plenty of shredding to be found here, and also plenty of awesome '97 funk! This beast clocks in around 20 minutes and is more than worth a listen or two.
Horn serves as a cooldown after that monster opener.
Ya Mar features another nod to the Worm, and also some great jamming! Very good version.
Limb By Limb is up next and is also a great listen. This song was pretty new, but they nailed this one for sure. Great jam -> A'int Love Funny.
The -> is immaculate and quiet and you can really feel the power, even through the playback on the box set. It's a pretty awesome moment and A'int Love Funny is nice.
Saw It Again is cool and has another Worm mention.
Dirt is a nice cooldown - well - placed.
Reba is a slop fest, but the jam proper is actually quite good and very interesting. It's absolutely worth a listen, although you have to get through a poorly played composed section. That said, I'll take this all day!
Dogs Stole Things is sort of an odd closer, but it caps off a great set.
Overall: A fantastic set I, probably the best first set of the release, although the Mike's Groove first set the following night is also great. Definitely grab Ghost, Limb->Aint Love Funny, Reba and throw in the Ya Mar.
Set II opens with the Fishman keyboard jam, which is more akin the the Jam that opened SBIX day I set II - which is to say it's cool, but not particularly musical, until they kick into Timber.
Timber is phenomenal. It's not overly ambitious at under ten minutes, but it's one of my favorite versions of the song. Just great playing, and an absolutely killer jam. Must Hear.
>Bathtub Gin is up next and it's another monster. This one covers a on of ground and hits some really cool segments, including a dark jam that is a personal favorite moment. There's a nice funky ending jam that slides perfectly ->Cities.
Cities is slooowww and funky. They plod along into an extremely patient jam and explore tons of space. There's some teasing if that's your thing and some more worm banter, but generally this is good stuff indeed. The opening three tunes are rightly considered great great Phish.
Loving Cup fills the "song" slot of this show and is appropriately fun and rocking.
Slave is the perfect closer and this version is strong, if not a true seminole version. It's still very very satisfying, particularly after the darkness theme of the rest of the set.
Encore is Circus, which I love. Reminds me of the scene from Bittersweet Motel when they are playing it in the small club. (even though that version was from Barcelona). It's a powerful moment.
Overall: easy 5/5 - from the box set my favorite jams are Stash the next night and the DWD->Carini from February, but this might be my favorite all around show! So much incredible music. It's all very interesting and unique to my ears as well.
This review is based upon the Amsterdam archival release. I don't know how I heard about the Wormtown shows originally, but they have more than lived up to the hype. Ghost opens, which we would give our left nuts for in the current era. It's a mighty Ghost, with 10 or so minutes of funk segueing into the Worm banter that then yields a still-funky yet slightly more ambient and non-typical-for-Ghost jam. I'm not good with music theory but I think the last 10 minutes or so are in a different mode--or modes. Right around 18:30 (going by the Amsterdam recording) listen closely to Mike for what sounds like a Time Loves a Hero tease to these ears. Ghost concludes to an appreciative audience and then we get Horn, a limber Ya Mar, and even limberer (by limb?) Limb by Limb. Limb was also a freshly minted song at this point, and it concludes with a feedbacky ambient jam that kind of slinks into J. J. Cale's Ain't Love Funny (though before the song proper kicks in Trey almost jumps the gun into Saw It Again.) The vocals are particularly evocative, even haunting, in this version. It's a song I wish Phish would make come alive again. Two more new-for-1997 songs follow with Saw It Again and Dirt. Dirt has a slightly different structure than is de rigeur today, possibly just a working out of the kinks through early live performance. Reba follows! Not the light-speed Reba I am most fond of (Cf. 12/31/95 or 12/7/95) but the jam--though plaintive throughout, in my opinion, kind of like 9/14/00 but with the "mycological languor" of 1997 best described by @waxbanks--peaks pretty intensely, and is capped off by whistling. The first set closes with Dogs Stole Valuable Playing Time in the Setlist (Dogs Stole Things by the name given it by @Icculus years ago.) Pretty standard closer; perhaps not by 3.0 standards, but it's guaranteed to satisfy. Any Phish is good Phish.
The second set opens with Fish playing keys, eventually resolving into Timber (Jerry.) This Timber is a great example of how 8 minutes or so can pack a real wallop; it gets spacey without losing focus, and wraps up with characteristic panache. Bathtub Gin sees the first long jam of the set, and wades into some pretty interesting territory even with Mike probably thinking at the time that Trey was "play(ing) too many notes." In other words, it's a rocking, powerful Gin. Segue into Cities, and oh, what a Cities! It's extremely multifaceted in much a similar character to a Fall '94 or Summer '95 Tweezer, but with textures that integrate the cowfunk and synthwork from MC Neon Cell Gap before almost moving into Limb by Limb again (again, to my ears) though they decide to settle into Stone(s): Loving Cup. Slave is the set closer, and I have a dirty little secret: Slave to the Traffic Light is probably my least favorite of Phish's "big guns." I can enjoy one, no problemo Bartdude, but I'd rather hear Harry Hood in the set closer slot or at all in a show. Needless to say, I don't have much to say about this Slave. When the Circus Comes closes the show, and I feel like this a lot about ballady type (read: slower, more traditionally emotive) songs, but Trey's vocals could almost bring me to bittersweet tears depending upon the circumstances.
I've rated this show 5 stars, because of all the noteworthy jams but also for the sheer exuberance on display, particularly in the Wormier segments of the show. Must-listen quality Phish.
As a connoisseur of Reba jams - of which there are many great ones - I'd simply like to mention that the patient and pensive notes between the 8 and 9 minute marks of this Reba are some of the best the band has thought up. The release of the Amsterdam box makes it even more apparent. 97 Phish still strikes me as the finest vintage.
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