Phish Fall 97: Remembering December 6th In Auburn Hills

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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 JamBase associate editor Andy Kahn’s essay about the show that took place on this date in 1997 at The Palace in Aurburn Hills, Michigan. If you enjoy our article, please consider donating to the Mockingbird Foundation.

I was a junior in high school in Central Illinois in the fall of 1997 and as luck would have it, a buddy of mine’s mother was planning to visit a friend living in the Detroit area the same weekend Phish was playing The Palace in the Auburn Hills suburb. A group of us piled into her minivan after school on Friday to make the long drive up to a hotel not far from the arena. The next day my friend’s mom — who also happened to have been my P.E. teacher in grade school — dropped us off at the parking lot of the Palace with instructions to take a cab home after the show.

I’d been to the recent Champaign show and I had other friends that had been to and were raving about the instant-classic Hampton shows, so by the time I got through the doors and to my seat at The Palace my excitement was bubbling. It was young and early in my Phish-fandom, but I had been seeing shows for a couple of years and the concert on December 6th would be my fifth of 1997. At that point it was the furthest I’d traveled for a single show and in the ensuing years I would travel thousands of miles in search of experiences similar to the ones I had that night in Michigan.

As luck would also have it, my grade school basketball coach’s older son was my gateway to Phish. Following a series of Grateful Dead tape trades, Adam gave me my first Phish mixtape that started with the studio recording of “Golgi Apparatus” from the band’s debut album Junta. Forever marked as a special song, “Golgi” also opened the first set at The Palace and immediately I was enthralled and caught up in the sights, sounds and smells of being at a show. The swirling sirens I’d been mesmerized by from Trey’s guitar a few nights prior were soon back entangling my mind as the quartet patiently developed a funky groove in the unexpectedly placed “Run Like An Antelope.”

Mike’s short and sweet “Train Song” was followed by “Bathtub Gin.” An always welcome helping of first set improvisation, the “Gin” jam stays Type I and dissolves into a brilliantly seamless transition into “Foam” led by Mike’s slappy bass. “Sample In A Jar” was placed behind the well-executed “Foam” and the third Junta song of the set, “Fee,” also marked the third song that was in the first set at the show in Champaign I was at on November 19. A wild “Maze” and concise “Cavern” closed out the opening half.

[Set One Video]

An essay could be entirely devoted to the “Tweezer” that opened the second set. It’s among the most quintessential Fall ‘97 jams that truly destroyed this part of America. The improvisation finds the foursome in full a on James Brown band imitation mode, later shifting to more straight-ahead rock during the outstanding 20+ minute sequence. The band finally collectively lands on the Jimi Hendrix rocker “Izabella.” The unicorn cover rarity quickly shifts into the funkiest of the funk as Trey dances and struts along to Page’s chunky clavinet work while leading breakdowns and start-stop syncopations.

The impressively effortless collective drop into “Twist” would seem 100 percent pre-planned to the untrained listener. The loose structure of the song debuted earlier that year made for a quick and easy return to the funkiness that preceded its start. I’d loved everything about the set so far and following my first “Twist” I was ready for another “Piper,” which had blown me away the first time I saw it earlier that summer.

The Palace “Piper” is far from the greatest jam Phish has ever played, and I’m not here to make that case. But the “Piper” that night was the first time I had the experience at a live concert of completely connecting with the energy of the room and escaping everything else but the music. I locked-in like never before and everything else but the music faded away. It’s the feeling I’ve been chasing — successfully and not — ever since. It’s essentially why I go see live music — to have that experience, or something close to it (or even better) again.

The first jammed-out “Piper” was trailed by the tongue-in-cheek ballad “Sleeping Monkey.” Trey then decided that a moment such as this, there is only one thing to do: strut around the Palace stage while ripping up “Tweezer Reprise.” The animated Anastasio hopped and danced around with joyous enthusiasm as he and the band brought the set to a close. I have a distinct memory of thinking during the “Rocky Top” encore that it was strange that after that second set and that show that a classic bluegrass song filled the finale role so fittingly.

[Set Two Video]

My high school buddies and I wandered around the lot in post-show glow, naively trying to score a taxi home. After several unsuccessful attempts we found a willing driver who ended up providing the most memorable cab ride of my life. He’d been driving other fans home from the venue and they’d shared some of their remaining party favors with him. Joking swerves into opposing traffic, requests for (more) drugs, a claim of a driver-side hose connected to a keg of beer in the trunk and glove box donut maker (for the police), were just a few of the colorful things that cabbie had to say.

My grade school Phys Ed teacher took me to The Palace and a hardly sober taxi driver was my lift home from after the show. Between those unusual trips, I went on an even more memorable journey along with 17,000 other people while never leaving confines of the suburban arena.

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

[December 6, 1997 Audience Recording by Mark Lamke | Shared by From The Aquarium]

The Skinny

The Setlist

The Venue

The Palace of Auburn Hills [See upcoming shows]

2 shows — 10/28/1995, 11/09/1996

The Music

9 songs

7 songs

16 songs / 14 originals / 2 covers

1991

8.25 [Gap chart]

N/A

Golgi Apparatus, Sleeping Monkey

Golgi Apparatus, Sleeping Monkey - 19 Shows (LTP - 8/13/1997)

Tweezer 22:25

Train Song 2:44

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

The Rest

Mean Temperature 32 °F

KOA #1

Capacity 17,666 Attendance 17,666 Ticket Price $23.50 - $25

Elsewhere On December 6, 1997:

  • Santana at Lee Civic Centre in Fort Myers, Florida (Setlist)
  • David Bowie at Universal Amphitheatre, Universal City, California (Setlist)
  • Steve Kimock at Fourth Street Tavern in San Rafael, California (Audio)
  • Bruce Hornsby at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, Washington (Setlist)
  • The String Cheese Incident at Fox Theatre in Boulder, Colorado (Audio)
  • Medeski, Martin & Wood at Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville, Tennessee (Setlist)
  • Max Creek at The Globe Theatre in Norwalk, Connecticut (Audio)
  • Strangefolk at The State Theatre in Portland, Maine (Audio)
  • Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons at The Roosevelt in Ketchum, Idaho (Audio)
  • Schleigho at Elk’s Lodge in Butler, Pennsylvania (Audio)
  • The Mountain Goats at The Empty Bottle in Chicago, Illinois (Audio)
  • Yo La Tengo at Rock School Barbey in Bordeaux, France (Setlist)
  • Composer Eliot Daniel who wrote the I Love Lucy theme, died at the age of 89.
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