Phish Fall 97: Remembering December 13th In Albany
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Phish Fall Tour 1997, a seminal run in the band’s history. JamBase teamed with The Mockingbird Foundation to celebrate the historic tour. On the anniversary of each of the 21 shows JamBase will publish a remembrance of the concert penned by a variety of Phish.net team members, JamBase contributors and more. We continue with Mr. Miner’s Phish Thoughts’ Dave Calarco’s essay about the show that took place on this date in 1997 at the Pepsi Arena in Albany, New York. If you enjoy our article, please consider donating to the Mockingbird Foundation.
One can only guess what was coursing through the minds of Trey, Mike, Page and Fish as they stepped on stage at Albany’s Knickerbocker Arena for the closing performance of their instantly legendary 1997 Fall Tour. Over the previous month, the quartet forever redefined itself, plunging the depths of musical creativity with renewed exuberance, and reaching a new level of artistry. December 13th represented the final step of a career-defining tour de force that eternally raised the bar for what was possible within a Phish show.
In Joseph Campbell’s 1949 work The Hero with a Thousand Faces, he codified a template for the “Hero’s Journey,” the common narrative arc that unites mythological tales of the Hero archetype across time and culture. The structure is divided into three acts — Departure, Initiation and Return — with many sub-stages within. In the first stage of this journey, the hero receives a “Call to Adventure” out of his “Ordinary World.” Something rises from deep within and he feels a pull towards a fundamental shift in his destiny.
Back in March of 1997, in Hamburg, Germany, Phish received their call. In a small club called, Markthalle, during “Wolfman’s Brother,” the band realized a new style of jamming that had been developing since their revolutionary 1996 Halloween set that saw them cover the Talking Heads’ Remain in Light. This night in Germany, as documented on Slip Stitch and Pass, crystallized a focus on collaborative rhythmic exchanges and exercises in groove. The band had discovered a new path and adventure awaited. Per Campbell’s outline, once the hero accepts his quest he, “crosses the threshold” moving, “beyond the veil of the known into the unknown.” In their crossing, Phish departed from their known, well-oiled, frenetic style of jamming that peaked during Fall 1995 and carried through most of 1996, and embarked on an uncharted musical course in 1997.
Once in the realm of the unknown, the hero, “moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where he must survive a succession of trials.” The dream landscape was that of Phish tour, the fluid and ambiguous forms were their jams, and the shows of their European and U.S. Summer Tours provided trials of their burgeoning skill and their exploratory spirit. The band spent the summer exploring a raw, slowed-down style of dance music. They took the stage each night with a sense of gusto, eager to see what they could discover within each three-hour concert. By the time The Great Went closed out the season, Phish had honed this new style of funk jamming and were ready to incorporate it into their greater psychedelic program. With three tours already under their belt in 1997, Fall Tour was set up to be a culmination of Phish’s year-long metamorphosis, but what transpired over this month-long odyssey far exceeded anyone’s expectations, perhaps even their own.
Once the hero has passed several preliminary trials in the land of the unknown, he must face what Campbell calls the “Resurrection” — his final ordeal where everything is at stake and he must use all that he has learned to achieve his destiny and garner the grace of the all-powerful deities. All of his previous tests have served to prepare and purify him for this final rite of passage. This is the climax of the story. If he succeeds in this supreme challenge, the gods will bestow upon him the “Ultimate Boon” — a transcendent reward such as the elixir of immortality, omniscience, a holy grail, or the meaning of life. The hero, transformed, will then share this reward with the people of his Ordinary World upon his return.
Phish’s Resurrection — their final challenge — came in a 21-date cross-country trek with a plot yet unwritten, a series of psycho-musicological tests within an aural dream world more fantastic than any they had ever known. Night after night, the band answered their summons with diverse musical onslaughts, facing each show with improvisational wizardry. Phish navigated this tour with a shrewdness, spirit and heart rarely seen in even the most esteemed heroes of lore. Passing each test one by one, they fused a sophisticated style of funk with full-throttle, psych-jamming, inching closer and closer to immortality.
Over the month, Phish didn’t just capture a single “holy grail,” but collected grail after grail in the form of transcendent jams such as Denver’s “Ghost,” Hampton’s “Halley’s Comet,” Worcester’s “Runaway Jim” and Auburn Hills’ “Tweezer.” Their tour reaped overflowing rewards as they played with elegance and passion, crafting timeless music that is celebrated 20 years later as much as, if not more than, it was when it happened. In the hallowed year of 1997, the band met their call to adventure, triumphantly passed their ultimate trial, and transformed into heroes of lore. The journey was nothing short of epic — the high-water mark for a band that had consistently upped the ante since their inception.
Once the hero has achieved his destiny, he embarks on his journey home. And on December 13th at Knickerbocker Arena in Albany, New York, this is where we meet our heroes on their journey home. With nothing left to prove and their legend cemented in history, Phish had one more night of music — their victory lap, medal ceremony and coronation all in one. Within a stone’s throw of their birthplace of Vermont, they had made it back to their Ordinary World and were ready for their final act.
Having once more delved into dark and uncharted waters the previous night in December 12’s uber-exploratory second set, Phish would close their tour with a more celebratory affair, as if greeting their people as they sailed into shore from an arduous month at sea.
Perhaps the most creative jam of the night took place right off the bat in the form of a show-opening “Ya Mar.” As the band was wrapping up a seemingly succinct rendition, Trey hit the song’s opening rhythm chords, resetting the improvisational palette. Instantly departing the song structure into a silky-smooth exchange, Phish enraptured their audience from moment one of their tour-closer. Fusing a full-band groove with powerful guitar leads, the band set forth with a swagger in the jam’s opening half. Minutes later, they downshifted into an ensuing passage of sparser, bass-heavy funk rhythms that echoed the endless groove sessions of Fall ‘97.
The rest of the first frame remained true to form until a late-set “Tube” — the second of tour and first since Dayton’s revelation — dropped. Phish had exploded the perennial fan favorite just one week prior, improvising an extended jam on the song for the first time in history, so when this version kicked off anticipation was high. The band did not disappoint, sculpting a dynamic funk excursion that passed through multiple sections en route to their second ear-popping highlight of the set.
Whereas the majority of Phish’s second sets of Fall ‘97 were sculpted psychedelic statements of art, the band’s final set of tour unfolded less like a mind-bending saga and more like an all-out party. Injected with an immense amount of energy, the band absolutely let loose in the Knick, leaving nothing on the table. The set’s central sequence of “Ghost” > “Mike’s Song” -> “Llama” brought the building to the brink of implosion. “Ghost,” the primary jam of this trifecta, commenced with several minutes of slow, velvety funk before seeing its tempo increase, eventually morphing into a snarling piece of hard-edged improv. This two-pronged “Ghost” illustrated the yin and the yang of the band’s Fall sound, the slow grooves that are remembered so fondly, and the seething wall-of-sound crusades laced with six-string fireworks of a guitarist harnessing his inner Hendrix.
After dismounting from the “Ghost” peak, Phish bridged a minute of time with some minimalist interplay before Trey hit the opening lick of “Mike’s Song.” If the energy in the room was already at 10, this “Mike’s” jam, in which the band members took turns “bringing in the Dude,” cranked it to 11. Nobody knew what the band’s verbal antics were about at the time, but the playfulness in which they were delivered coupled with the outright fury of their musical accompaniment sent the crowd into a frenzy. Phish moved into a final stop/start funk sequence of tour, and each time they dropped back into the menacing groove the intensity of the room ratcheted up another notch. Capitalizing on this vibe, the band ripped out of the “Mike’s” jam into a torrid version of “Llama” amidst maniacal screams from Trey and Fish.
Following an exhale in “When The Circus Comes To Town,” the band closed “Mike’s Groove” with a spirited, all-out sprint through “Weekapaug Groove” -> “Catapult” -> “Weekapaug.” Though the show could have easily ended there, what better way to close the tour than “Harry Hood?” In this extended version the band passed through some atypical tangents en route to a creative and cathartic final highlight of Fall ’97. Putting an exclamation point on a run of otherworldly concerts, Phish told us we could feel good about Hood, but, there was so much more to feel good about on that cold Albany night. Phish had just provided their fans with an unforgettable month of sublime musical experiences, memories of a lifetime. And in only two weeks they would play a New Year’s Run that would finish the year with three nights in Madison Square Garden. Things were as bright as ever in the Phish universe.
When the hero returns home, he is forever changed. He has learned about himself and grown through his experience, acquiring wisdom and heightened self-confidence along the way. He has been reborn. He will proceed to integrate his knowledge gained into his new life and world at large. Phish went forward to infuse their future with much of the musical style they discovered during 1997, as subsequent years, 1998 and 1999, would also be characterized by groove-oriented jamming. Though they added new elements and layers to their playing over these years, their heroic transformation of 1997 would inform their larger-than-life music through the millennium and beyond.
The music of Fall ’97, however, remains immortal and holds an esteemed and untouchable place in Phish history. One result of the hero’s journey is that neither he nor his world will ever be the same again, and in the case of Phish, their fan base and Fall ’97, that sentiment rings forever true.
Thanks to Mr. Miner for sharing his memories from 20 years ago today. Be sure to donate to The Mockingbird Foundation if you enjoy the series.
Times Union Center [See upcoming shows]
2 shows — 12/09/1995, 12/12/1997
20 songs / 15 originals / 5 covers
9.81 [Gap chart]
Vultures, Good Times Bad Times, Catapult
Catapult - 60 Shows (LTP - 3/2/1997)
Lawn Boy - 1, A Picture of Nectar - 1, Hoist - 1, Billy Breathes - 2, Misc. - 10, Covers - 5
Mean Temperature 33 °F
Capacity 17,000 Attendance 17,000 Ticket Price $25 as per Pharmers Almanac
Elsewhere On December 13, 1997:
- Schleigho at Valentines in Albany, New York (Audio)
- Conehead Buddah at Valentines in Albany, New York (Audio)
- Bob Dylan at Metro in Chicago, Illinois (Setlist)
- RatDog at Wiltern Theatre in Los Angeles, California (Audio)
- Prince at Five Seasons Center in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (Setlist)
- Zero at Double Diamond in Aspen, Colorado (Audio)
- Leftover Salmon Moontime Grill in Nederland, Colorado (Audio)
- Galactic at Bluebird Theater in Denver, Colorado (Setlist)
- Max Creek at Pearl Street in Northampton, Massachusetts (Audio)
- Donna The Buffalo at Key West in Ithaca, New York (Audio)
- Larry Keel at Klondike Cafe in Boone, North Carolina (Audio)
- Agents of Good Roots at The Flood Zone in Richmond, Virginia (Audio)
- University of Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson becomes the first and only primarily defensive player to be awarded the Heisman Trophy.