Phish Fall 97: Remembering December 5th In Cleveland
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 Jeremy Welsh’s essay about the show that took place on this date in 1997 at CSU Convocation Center in Cleveland, Ohio. If you enjoy our article, please consider donating to the Mockingbird Foundation.
“How well does a show hold up on tape?” In an attempt to separate the experience of seeing Phish live and in person (or even from a couch) from the actual music itself, we fans of Phish often fall back on that disclaimer. Well, how good does the show sound after the fact? Or 20 years after the fact? One might often assume that the memories of a concert and that singular live experience would more often come out on top, that the energy and lights and indescribable feeling of being at a Phish show would color a memory.
But every so often, revisiting a show so many years later provide you with a pleasant surprise. And Phish’s concert from December 5, 1997 was one of those surprises for me. I have always remembered it as “Oh, that show in Cleveland with the ‘Julius.’” But it has been a treat to relisten to recordings and hear things that I had missed at the time. (Especially in light of reading my “jaded” notes from the show that I posted to rec.music.phish a few days later, thanks to the power of Google.)
Phish’s show at the Cleveland State Convocation Center that Friday in December would be my only show of the Fall Tour. In looking at the tour dates, I must have felt that a four-hour drive from South Bend would work best. No matter the reasoning, I remember feeling excited to see at least one show after the reviews that were coming out from the previous few weeks.
My girlfriend (now wife) and I, along with two freshmen who somehow tagged along, headed out east along I-80/90 for Cleveland in the late afternoon. And since we were already cutting it close, I remember L pushing the speed limit in her Jeep Cherokee — to the point that we were pulled over by a friendly Ohio state trooper. God bless the trooper’s naivety as, despite her acknowledgement that we were off to see a concert in Cleveland that evening, she let us off without a ticket (or a search — who knows what those freshmen had on them).
Upon arrival, and after making sure the freshmen knew where we parked and when we were leaving, we quickly made our way inside and to our seats. At the time, the arena now known as Wolstein Center still felt quite new and I remember it feeling intimate for an arena. “My seats were really good; though not floor, I was third row up, Fishman side, even with the board.”
The show started off strong with an extended 16-minute “Ghost.” While never truly leaving Type I, it is hard to argue with this as an opener. “‘Ghost’ was a nice opener – around 16 minutes long, with Page doing some nice stuff on the piano at the end.”
And before “Ghost” had a chance to fade out, Trey strummed the immediately recognizable chords to “Wilson.” Now for a “true” opener, in the second slot. “The Wilson sounded a little sloppy to me, but was a nice compliment to the huge sign.”
“‘Funky Bich’ was a lot of fun, gettin’ down”
Little did I know at the time, but the “Black Eyed Katy” that would come next would be Phish’s penultimate version, only to reappear as “The Moma Dance” the following year. I know there are some who whish that transition never occurred. I miss the short tinkling runs that Trey would throw in. “First time hearing it, and although I liked it, I didn’t think it was as amazing as everyone keeps saying. Really cool seven minute instrumental, that, IMO, sounds like ‘Cities’ in the beginning and the end.”
A rousing “Runaway Jim” would follow the “Sparkle.” Certainly not the legendary version that was played a week before, I was still quite excited to hear “my favorite song.” “I was not expecting much, after the last one, but hit a little spaciness at about 11 minutes and took off for a bit . . .” Opening up ever so slightly with Page on the piano, building into what almost sounds like “I Am Hydrogen,” before sliding into this wonderful transition, “into My Friend! My first since last year Buffalo [10/19/96], it put a great smile on my face. I actually was hoping/expecting it.” The pairing of “Jim” and “My Friend” is one of the highlights of the first set for me.
The set would close with “Ginseng Sullivan” followed by a well-played “Limb by Limb” into “Character Zero.” “‘Character Zero’s’ lights, played off of that little triangular screen reminded me of a slot machine.
”Break was about 45 minutes long, and they played Luscious Jackson over the PA.
The second set opened with a nicely played “Stash.” “I was expecting ‘Timber Ho!’” And despite what I reported to rmp at the time, the band did not “completely drop out of the ‘Stash’ theme, and slowly made their way back to it as it lasted for a nice 15 minutes.” Rather, they offered the Type I standard (great) “Stash” jam.
“One thing about ‘Sparkle’ and ‘Bouncin’’ in the same show – Trey looked to be having a blast, dancing around and almost Berry duck-walking; the band seems to have fun playing these songs, so I won’t hold it against them – I guess.
“Now ‘Julius’ – I was pretty bummed at the beginning, thinking to myself – ‘Julius’ after ‘Bouncin’!’ I kept looking for horns or something to make it cool . . . little did I know! It just kept going and going . . . fattest ‘Julius’ I have heard! Just a nice jam all the way through, going off at about 20 minutes.”
It is the “Julius” (and the “Slave To The Traffic Light” to follow) that really make this show. The band simply did not want to stop playing, so for 13 minutes they danced around the main “Julius” melody, pushed on by outcries from Fishman. They swung and bounced and stretched the “Julius” past anything they had ever done — or have done since — with that song until they segued into “Slave To The Traffic Light.”
As the Phish.net “Julius” Jam Chart states: “Perhaps fitting that the only, truly exploratory “Julius” transitions to the only, truly exploratory “Slave.”
“‘Slave,’ in my opinion, is Phish’s prettiest song. And Cleveland was no exception – until about 10 minutes or so, when Trey slowly moved his hand across his body and the distortion fuzzed rock jam ensued for about five more minutes. Although it was no longer pretty – it was kinda cool.”
It appears I was focused on underplaying everything at the time, as the “Slave” from this evening was quite a bit more than “kinda cool.” As noted above, the “prettiness” that we all have grown to expect from “Slave” began to crumble as Trey became more and more demonstrative with his strumming and effects, to be followed by Fishman and Page it appears, building into an unexpected cacophony. (I can just imagine Trey leaning over his guitar, wrestling out those notes.)
The second set is rounded out by “Lizards,” an oddly placed “Loving Cup” with just a little extra mustard, and an even more oddly placed closing “Chalkdust Torture” that “just flew out of ‘Cup’ – blitzkreig version of ‘Chalkdust;’ really fast!” Here is one moment where I didn’t undersell, as this version has this fun push-and-pull of Trey almost whispering the lyrics between eruptions of music.
The “Bold As Love” encore was a nice way to send us off into the cold Lake Erie air. After gathering up the freshmen, we got back on the road and drove back to South Bend. No troopers, this time.
At first glance, December 5th may not hold up to the rest of the fall tour, especially in light of the shows that were to follow (the second set from the 6th, all of the 7th, parts of the 9th, and all of the 11th — I sure was jealous of my brother who attended the Rochester show). But upon relistens, this show was one of those rare moments where I believe the “tape” has held up better than my memory. The highlights are better than I remember them, and there are moments that I wish I had remembered. And in light of the recent Baker’s Dozen festivities, and the fun and playfulness and surprises that the band offered all of us fans, part of me feels this show would have fit in perfectly.
As I wrote 20 years ago: “All in all, I wish I saw more this tour and wish I was a little luckier – BUT, it was a fun show, and am really glad I went.” Ain’t that the truth.
Thanks to Jeremy for sharing his memories from 20 years ago today. Be sure to donate to The Mockingbird Foundation if you enjoy the series.
Cleveland State University Woodling Gym [See upcoming shows]
1 shows — 12/08/1995
18 songs / 14 originals / 4 covers
8.28 [Gap chart]
My Friend My Friend, The Lizards
My Friend My Friend - 57 Shows (LTP - 2/26/97)
Lawn Boy - 1, A Picture of Nectar - 2, Rift - 2, Hoist - 1, Billy Breathes - 1, Misc. - 7, Covers - 4
Mean Temperature 38 °F
Capacity 13,238 Attendance 13,238 Ticket Price $22.50 - $25 as per Pharmers Almanac
Elsewhere On December 5, 1997:
- The Rolling Stones at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida (Setlist)
- Dave Matthews Band at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida (Setlist)
- The Smashing Pumpkins at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida (Audio)
- Bob Dylan at 9:30 Club in Washington D.C. (Setlist)
- The String Cheese Incident at Fox Theatre in Boulder, Colorado (Audio)
- Medeski, Martin & Wood at Ritz Theater in Raleigh, North Carolina (Setlist)
- Strangefolk at The Met Cafe in Providence, Rhode Island (Audio)
- Black Sabbath at NEC Arena in Birmingham, England (Setlist)