Phish Fall 97: Remembering December 2nd In Philadelphia

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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 Surrender to the Flow’s Christy Articola’s essay about the show that took place on this date in 1997 at CoreStates Spectrum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. If you enjoy our article, please consider donating to the Mockingbird Foundation.

I looked at my watch, and rested my head on the steering wheel. Then I looked up the path to the parking lot for the 50th time. Still no sign of them.

C’mon, I thought. Let’s GO!

I had scheduled myself for Tuesdays (and Fridays) off that semester (a big part of my grand scheme to see as many shows as possible that tour), but I didn’t want to drive all the way down to Philly and back alone, so I knew I’d just have to keep waiting. Anyway, I didn’t want to ditch them, either, but what on earth was taking so long? I had told Jill, Andrew and Chris to meet me at my car in the lot at Fordham University at 2:00 p.m sharp. It was 2:07. I was beyond ready to get on the road. The drive from the Bronx, through Jersey, and into Philly was going to take forever. Rush hour would be starting soon, and I wanted to get ahead of it – and we still had to stop in Queens to pick up Andrew’s friend. Ugh. I thought. Why did I agree to that?

All three got out of class at 1:45, and I simply could not understand their delay in getting to the parking lot for departure. Suddenly, they came into view at the top of the hill. I waved at them frantically and made myself look as annoyed as possible. Once in earshot, they apologized profusely. I smiled – everything was fine, now. We could go. They piled into my 1989 Plymouth Voyager, which I’d bought the previous June specifically with Phish tour in mind, and off we went.

The Fall of 1997 was an important time in my life. I was a senior in college, and was ready to graduate and be done with it. I was enjoying everything about being a senior, of course, but every corner of my mind and body felt it was time for my many years of schooling to come to an end. I’d done Summer Tour that year – my first true tour – and I had Phish on my mind constantly. My 50th show was rapidly approaching — it would be in Rochester the following week. I was proud of myself for organizing my life in a way in which I could attend 11 Phish shows that Fall Tour while I was a full time student. When my report card later arrived, I was happy to learn it was one of my best semesters grade-wise. Knowing I had so many shows to attend in late November and early December had kept me on top of all readings and assignments earlier that fall, and I had even pre-written papers in advance so I wouldn’t have to think about them while commuting to Hampton, Winston-Salem, Worcester, Philly, State College, Rochester and Albany. I had it all figured out.

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That fall was also an extremely important time in the history of Phish, although it was hard to fully grasp that at the time. I’d been seeing Phish since 1994 and each year I was seeing more of their offerings – but was eager to start seeing even more shows after graduation – I wanted to attend all of them, if possible! I knew their sound was evolving constantly, and I recognized even then that there was something different and special about Fall 1997, even in the midst of it. But I don’t think any of us fully grasped exactly how big of a deal Fall 1997 would be in retrospect, until years later. Although I was blown away nightly, we didn’t have the ability to easily relisten and heavily analyze each moment back then. It could be weeks or even months or in some cases years until we got our hands on the tapes of a specific show to give it a second pass through our ears. I was so impressed by Phish at this point and I was at a point personally where I could recognize most of their songs within a few notes and had seen the majority of songs in their catalog performed at least once. I think at the time I felt that I was becoming more impressed with Phish every day simply because I was developing a true understanding of their music and its place in my life for the long haul ahead, not because they really were actually honestly and truly getting better every day. Both were true, but the latter factor was bigger than I realized at the time.

Even though Phish was well into their second decade as a band in 1997, and had already been playing large arenas and amphitheaters as the only performer on the ticket for a while, this was a year and a tour in which they really took the bull by the horns and showed their fans what they could do when they were really IN IT and ON for several weeks at a time. They had done this in previous tours as well – during Summer 1994 and Fall 1995, for two strong examples – but this was a whole different animal. Fall 1997 was a tour in which they evolved in so many ways and it demonstrated a change in confidence for them as well as an evolution of style and sound and energy. Things were getting very, very serious. Phish, as a band, was on top of the world in the fall of 1997, and it showed. I don’t think even they knew it would happen that way, despite the tour being subtitled “Phish Destroys America” before it even began. It’s funny – Phish generally doesn’t name their tours – but that one had a name on their advertising materials, and what a fitting name it turned out to be.

After picking up John in Queens, the drive to Philadelphia DID take forever, but we finally arrived a bit after sunset. I had a mail order ticket in my pocket and was ready. We worked together to get tickets for the rest of us and headed in. I’d been to the Spectrum a few times before, on December 15, 1995, and again for two nights during the 1996 New Year’s Run. I was beginning to know venues around the country at this point, and despite being a little grimy and dated, this one was already one of my favorites.

Soon, the lights went down and it all began. The “Buried Alive” opener, still one of my favorite openers to this day, was a good sign of things to come. First set progressed through a number of fan favorites including “Down With Disease,” “Makisupa Policeman,” “Chalkdust Torture,” and the relatively new “Ghost” among others, ending with an a capella version of “The Star Spangled Banner,” which they had sung the previous night in the same room at the start of that night’s Sabres vs. Flyers NHL game.

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It was a solid first set, but second set is where it really went down. This show is often overlooked, but it shouldn’t be. It’s hard to say why. Perhaps it’s because this show was on a Tuesday, and was therefore less attended by ravenous fans than Fall 1997’s weekend shows in places like Hampton, Worcester, Albany and Dayton and so it therefore quickly became overlooked in the period that immediately followed. In any other tour, December 2, 1997 would shine and be the talk of the town, but in 1997 – it seems it was simply par for the course.

A funky, and dark-and-dirty-yet-bright-and-luminous twenty-one minute “Mike’s Song” opened set two and it was ON. They took no time getting to the jam here, and just like the name implies – Mike really shines throughout this one. It is highly danceable throughout, and there are no breaks offered, other than a brief airy respite for a minute or two around the 12-minute mark. This “Mike’s” really embodies everything that Fall 1997 was, and usually does not get the recognition it deserves. The 10-minute “Simple” that follows is, in contrast, light and dreamlike, and although it is not chock full of that typical ’97 cow funk we all remember so fondly, it is about as Phishy as it gets, and it, too, is a notable version worth revisiting again and again. A breathtaking transition into “Dog Faced Boy” (which had not been played in over a year prior) evokes the emotions and feelings which I often refer to as “Phish Glory” and even on the recording it’s obvious that the audience was riveted and absolutely in love with our favorite band in that moment and place in time, and not surprisingly so. Trey’s voice is practically angelic.

A second set “Ya Mar” appeared at the end of “Dog Faced Boy,” and after I quickly scrawled its title in my trusty set list book, it was again time to dance. This funky and joyous 13-minute version – with traditional Phish goofiness, taboot, including some alternate lyrics passed between Trey and Mike, made this a welcome part of an already fabulous second set, even before it went Type II in the jam. They don’t make “Ya Mars” like this one, anymore, folks. If they did, we’d all be talking about it for weeks or months to come.

The “Ya Mar” was enough to make us forget that “Weekpaug Groove” was coming, so when it arrived, the place exploded. The transition is beautiful and perfect and entirely unexpected. The fairly lengthy, fast and complex “Weekapaug” and jam that follows could have easily closed the set. Soaring guitar tones and extremely fast fretwork from Trey and impressive, intense key pounding by Page, a resonant bass line from Mike, and thick drum beats from Fish implied the end was coming – but not yet. “Bouncing Around the Room” followed and seemed to be the ethereal true end, but still no! “Character Zero” came out of nowhere and closed the set. It’s not my favorite tune and certainly wasn’t even then – but it was fitting here, and left the audience screaming for more as the band left the stage before encore. We were all sweaty, amazed, and still ready for more.

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The double encore of “Ginseng Sullivan” > “Sample in a Jar” allowed us all to catch our collective breath before being sent out into the night. This encore was perhaps a bit of a letdown after all we had just witnessed, but we needed that breather before being released back into the public, real world, with all the normies – or else we would scare them, certainly. Even Philadelphia couldn’t handle a bunch of Phish fans this amped up by the best band on earth, so it was truly for the best that we were calmed down a bit before being discharged from the Spectrum that night.

As we poured out into the cool darkness, spirits and energy were high. After I quickly sold some drinks out of the cooler to thirsty fans (which I’d bought — or stole?– with my meal card from our on-campus convenience store), it was time to head back to the Bronx. I had class at 9:00 a.m. the next morning, and two more to follow before I could turn around and head back to Philly again for night two. I was so hooked, and so deeply and intensely and thoroughly in love with a band. I was starry-eyed, to say the least. I’d found my calling, and knew this was where I needed to be, and what I needed to be doing. I was sure that Phish was what life was all about. I had five more shows to go planned for Fall ‘97, and was already looking forward to the New Year’s Run in a few weeks, too. It was a magical time, for me, and for all of us.

December 2, 1997 is one of the most underrated shows of Fall 1997, and of 1997 in general, and if you haven’t given it a spin, I suggest you do so right now – whether you were there or not. I am glad to count it, and the other 10 shows I saw that tour, among the shows I was lucky enough to attend way back when. It seems like yesterday and a 100 years ago at the same time. What a show, what a tour, what a band. Phish Destroys America, indeed.

Thanks to Christy for sharing her memories from 20 years ago today. Be sure to donate to The Mockingbird Foundation if you enjoy the series.

[December 2, 1997 Audience Recording By Craig Hillwig | Shared by From The Aquarium]

The Skinny

The Setlist

The Venue

Wells Fargo Center [See upcoming shows]

19500

3 shows — 12/15/1995, 12/28/1996, 12/29/1996

The Music

9 songs

9 songs

18 songs / 15 originals / 3 covers

1992

18.5 [Gap chart]

N/A

Buried Alive, Divided Sky, The Star Spangled Banner, Dog Faced Boy, Sample In A Jar

Dog Faced Boy - 109 Shows (LTP 8/12/1996)

Junta - 1, Lawn Boy - 1, A Picture of Nectar - 1, Hoist - 3, Billy Breathes - 2, Misc. - 7, Covers - 3

The Rest

Mean Temperature 40 °F

KOA #1

Capacity 29,640 Attendance 16,090 Ticket Price $25 - $27.50 as per Pharmers Almanac

Elsewhere On December 2, 1997:

  • the Disco Biscuits at Theater Of Living Arts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Audio)
  • Bob Dylan at the Roxy in Atlanta, Georgia (Setlist)
  • The Rolling Stones at Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan (Setlist)
  • RatDog at The Fillmore in San Francisco, California (Audio)
  • Ween at Markthalle in Hamburg, Germany (Setlist)
  • Dark Star Orchestra at Martyrs’ in Chicago, Illinois (Setlist)
  • Guitarist Michael Hedges dies in a car accident at the age of 43.
  • The Washington Wizards host the Seattle SuperSonics at the first NBA game held at the newly opened MCI Center in Washington D.C.

Tour Dates for Phish