Snapshot: Phish December1997 / January 1998
Phish Food was released days before the now legendary Fall 1997 Tour kicked off, and Phish played David Letterman to promote the product and the tour. It was another move in understanding a growing respect and larger base while still remaining unique and independent. They had done the Clifford Ball and the Great Went. They had sold out MSG, the Spectrum, and Boston Garden.This was no little band from Vermont. That night on Letterman they debuted "Farmhouse" and teased the viewing audience with the opening of "Mike's Song" as the show cut to commercial. Did they just play Mike's and we didn't get to hear it? What the fuck? What was that new song? They had us in the palms of their hands and were about to unleash a new groove on their audience that elevated the game again and propelled the band into a new spotlight.
While Phish's sound is morphing and evolving constantly, there was a distinct and intentional change that took place throughout 1997. If you listen to much of their music through 1996 it is all about tension and release. Whether it be the compositions themselves or the jams, there is underlying tension. Within the jams it is usually layered between Fish/Mike chopping up the rythm or Trey/Page offsetting and supporting each other. The end result in many of the earlier jams of Phish was either a breakdown to silence or a cathartic hose. The thing that made them stand alone from a rock perspective was that Trey's signature tones and reverb are so unique that no matter how odd the bed may have been that was created by the other three, Trey would find a way to balance it all. Rythmically, melodically, and harmonically Trey would surf that stretched out band of tension and then rip it with the Languedoc. This was the Phish through 1996. Listen to the YEM from 12/6 (the last theater size show in the US of 1.0 by the way) and hear the gradual and patient buildup of tension. Trey slices it with such perfection when he finally unleashes in the jam. It is primo Anastasio, but also drastically different from the Island Run YEM after a year of 1997 funk in the April of 1998 which is dramatically Mike led with Trey wah-wahing and looping in the shadows until he eventually gives it a run over a full funk jam. People speak of how Phish has more patient jamming in 3.0, and they are more comfortable, but they were confidently patient in the late 1990's. (Both fantastic in my opinion by the way.) They knew they were getting somewhere, and they were determined they were going to make it somewhere exciting and new. There was an obvious level of discontent from the Phish community to all other music. We hated the people who refused to accept the Glory of Phish, yet we wanted it to be our own little secret. The band knew that, and never truly commented about it, but played with a chip on their shoulder and reckless abandon intending to not only disprove the naysayers, but blow their fucking minds out.
Carlos Santana coined the term "the Hose" to Phish by commenting that the audience is the garden and the music is water, and Phish is the hose. When they are in free form rock and roll mode, there is no better description. The hose changed from 1996 to 1997 also. It changed from a firehose of Trey to a sprinkler of all four members by 1997, not quite as direct and intense when firing, but certainly covering more area at any given moment.
Billy Breathes had been the most recent album, and by 1997 those songs were well settled into the live rotation. A lot of new music had been played in preparation for Story of the Ghost. I was very excited about the potential for Phish's next studio album being that it would be the first since I started following them, and I had heard so many of the songs, but had very little recordings of them.
Tapes were awesome but still hard to come by in 1997 without a solid source and serious time involved. The only high quality CD Phish was A Live One, and it was recorded in 1994. I had met some tapers, but regularity was questionable, and the timing it took to burn a quality Memorex tape was always a pain. In 1997 Phish released Slip, Stitch, Pass. That was huge at the time. That album represented a major marker in the band time table. The first release with music all from a single show, recorded live in a club in Europe, covering a vast array of Phishy material including covers and teases, and "Mike's Song" for its first official released recording, and the debut of Mike's modulus bass that many have pointed to as one of the strongest factors in developing the funk sound that came out of 1997 and is still so strong today.
Think about that. On January 1, 1998 there were only two officially released high quality "Live" Phish CDs. That being said, their live sound was unquestioned as to what made them so unique and loved by their fans.
Favorites at the time:
Ghost - The symbolic new song representing the ambient funk grooves that infected Phish's style. After I heard the guy behind me say, "It can go anywhere..." during the ambient jam in the Hampton Ghost, I realized that the goal had been achieved in breaking new boundaries not only in their songs, but in carving out their own very unique rocking niche post grunge and vastly different from the Grateful Dead's jams and with an overwhelming joy not found in Pink Floyd's psychedelia.
Halleys / AC/DC Bag - old songs revived by the funk and ambient hose.
Guyute - the moment of resonance totally blew my mind and is a statement to Trey's talent as a composer for complete arcs and defined themes.
Emotional Rescue - I was 2/2 with Phish playing this new cover - there had been no Halloween shows in 1997, so covers of any sort were welcome, especially this one to me was the perfect song for the new sound and it provided instant satisfaction in the jam.
Best three shows for me musically:
Hampton 11/22, Hampton 11/21, Madison Square Garden 12/30
Full on hose funk and glorious blissful peaks throughout. There isn't much left to be said about these shows. Go listen and enjoy.
Most fun: tied between Hampton and the Gorge. Getting there is half the fun, and 1997 is when Phish laid its claim to these two venues. From this point forth when Phish scheduled shows here, you tried like hell to get there.
Regrets - none