Phish Fall 97: Remembering December 7th In Dayton
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 co-founder Andy Gadiel’s essay about the show that took place on this date in 1997 at the Ervin J. Nutter Center in Dayton, Ohio. If you enjoy our article, please consider donating to the Mockingbird Foundation.
Most Phish fans will agree that these words evoke feelings and memories of the band at the peak of their game, of renewed newness, of creative juices flowing out of the stage every night as the setlist rule book got thrown out the window.
What was it about that time that feels so special now that we look back on it 20 years later? Was it the Great Went after-glow? No album to tour new songs on? No-analysis, anything-goes rules? Cow funk? All of the above.
I had graduated college earlier that year but had to stay an extra session in order to complete my credits by taking a few electives: philosophy, acting and bowling. It was a fun start to the summer.
I hit the road that July and headed out on a Summer Tour adventure from coast to coast to coast, landing at The Great Went. I Went “Gin.”
I returned home to Chicago and moved into an apartment in the city with DBaum while delivering pizza in the burbs (Piero’s, still best in the Midwest game). At the same time I worked at a small internet website hosting company and kept up my Phish page in between tours. On September 4, 1997 I registered Gadiel.com and migrated off cps.msu.edu/~gadielan servers. I had officially graduated.
A couple of weeks later my brother Aaron got married. I sang “She Belongs to Me” by Bob Dylan with Joe Iudice to him and his new wife, Judy, after giving the best man speech. Later that night The Mighty Manatees wedding band sang “Boogie On Reggae Woman” while we all danced.
After Fall Tour was announced I picked just a few shows to hit as I was settling into a post-college routine at home. November 19th at Assembly Hall in Champaign and the December 6th Palace and 7th Nutter weekend shows seemed perfect to keep me tapped in.
I experienced most of Fall ‘97 by getting phone calls in between sets while eager fans refreshed the internet waiting for the next song to post to the setlist page. It was fun to be along for the ride, and the community which bonded online on the message board at that time was a strong antidote for the nightly F.O.M.O.
Friends would call in with the setlist news as every show seemed better than the next. A five song second set the first night of Denver, followed by a five song first set the next night. I got to re-bliss on a post-Went “Gin” in Champaign and freak out to the “Wolfman’s Brother” with my brother and his wife.
I missed the Hampton shows along with the whole East Coast run, but it seemed like I was there by just keeping up with friends on tour. It started to feel like honorable duty to be documenting what was happening from the home office so others could read about it and the word could spread.
By the time they came back around to the Midwest it was already clear to us watching that this was a tour like no other and any night could bring something never before seen. I drove back to Michigan for the Palace show and reconnected with old college friends.
Already being the setlist geeks we were, the rarity of “Reba” was starting to become conspicuous as it had only been played once so far on tour during the faithful Denver night two first set. Twelve shows later we were still looking for it again, which was an odd gap that made it feel as though they may have officially shelved it from rotation. The Palace show was phenomenal, as you already know and hopefully have heard and read about it. For me the whole first set was great, but the “Tweezer” > “Isabella” was one for the ages. Though, still no “Reba.”
That night after the show as I was heading back to the car I found myself at the back of the venue by the fence where the band busses were idling. At that moment Fishman emerged from the building and made his way toward the bus door. I did what any self respecting Phish geek would do at that moment, I yelled “REBA!” He turned, smiled, and walked onto the bus …
The Wright State University Nutter Center (originally Ervin J. Nutter Center and commonly Nutter Center) is a multi-purpose arena located at Wright State University, in the Dayton, Ohio suburb of Fairborn. In addition to hosting the Wright State Raiders basketball teams, the Nutter Center serves as a music venue for touring concerts and shows. High schools in the area also commonly use the arena to host graduation ceremonies. (Source: Wikipedia)
December 7, 1997 felt like a graduation ceremony.
It was a cold and snowy night in the Midwest, but the Nutter Center was an intimate warm venue, a semi-circle with the stage on one side against the wall. It was smaller than The Palace the night before, which felt more special with its closer sense of connection to the band and the audience around us.
What more can be said about this infamous show that hasn’t already been said? I’ll try, but please do yourself a favor and (re)listen for yourself. It really stands the test of time 20 years later.
The “AC/DC Bag” gets the show on the road and goes into an immediate groove (the chase!) before segueing seamlessly into Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer,” which hadn’t been played since ‘93. We already knew we were in for another night of treats.
“Jesus Left Chicago,” and headed down to Dayton, Ohio. “My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own.”
“It’s Ice” > “Swept Away” > “Steep” > “It’s Ice” seemed special at the time, maybe if only for the lack of screaming at the end of “Steep.” It’s the little things.
“Theme From The Bottom.” It opened my first set 39 shows earlier, and always makes me feel like I’m coming home for the first time.
“Tube” (just listen).
After “Tube” ends, so stupendously, the band takes a pause and Fishman asks, “You wanna start that jam again?” to which Trey and the rest of the band gladly oblige. The next six minutes is perfect Phish Fall ’97. A reprise of the groove they achieved during the “Tube” that preceded, they simply had to play again. That they could just play it again, and go back to that zone on a dime, that they can take anyone back to that place in time and space and remember what it felt like to be on the crest of a wave crashing over the shores onto unsuspected and welcoming fans cheering their heroes onto victory, night after night. This was the “Jam.”
“The Dayton ‘Tube’ is pure Luke and Hans running through the Death Star fighting off Storm Troopers with blasters Jedi space funk” – Neags99.
But wait, what’s that we hear? The sweetly strum teasings of a familiar friend off in the distance. A flicker of a light coming out of the groove and showing the way towards the end of the tunnel. As we approach the five minute mark we can clearly hear the wave reaching new heights with hands raised in glory. The tension is building and the skies are opening. It could be, it might be, it is … “Slave to the Traffic Light!”
Ahhh … “Slave.” And what a “Slave.” Perfectly patient, building, over and over, peaking at all the right points, again and again, and just one more time for good measure to bring to a close one of the best first sets I’ve ever witnessed.
Set break, who knows what happened?
Set two starts with a ferocious “Timber Ho!” that quickly goes into deep and dark territory before flying off the charts and finally settling back into familiar landscape.
“Wolfman’s Brother” always reminds me of my brother, which seems appropriate in retrospect since as they got into a serious groove and segued into the “Boogie On Reggae Woman” bust-out, I started looking around wondering if this was some sort of synchronic and amazing moment. Even though it had been over 900 shows since Phish had played it live, I had just heard it a couple of months earlier at my brother’s wedding. I will gleefully admit now that I really had no idea what was going on at the time. My 22-year-old self had not yet been fully exposed to a broader musical world, and when Phish launched into the Stevie Wonder classic I did truly think they were covering The Manatees. It seemed perfect at the time, and still does now.
As “Boogie On” slowed you could hear the strums of a potential “Ghost” emerging out of the jam, but just as they’re about to commit to it …
Out of nowhere. A second set appearance seemed like a rarity unto itself, not to mention the perceived shelving at the time. Either way, it was a gift from the heavens, as though they heard our prayers and screams from the night before. Who knows? Who cares?
I can see it so perfectly today as I did that night. Dancing, smiling, crying with good friends as our favorite band absolutely crushes us with one of our favorite songs. These are the moments of perfection we chase, when the world stands still as we bask in the glow of atonal sounds in perfect synchronization, raining bliss. This is why we do what we do, so we can do this. “Reba” had returned.
“Possum” closer, classic.
“A Day In The Life” encore, just like my first show. Such sweet bookends.
As if they hadn’t completed engulfed my psyche from the 39 shows I’d seen in two years up to that night, December 7th at Nutter solidified Phish as “my” band. Driving home through the blizzard that night I was on a mission to get back to the computer and report on what had happened myself. Honored to be a scribe and reporter from the front lines on Fall Tour ‘97 where Phish Destroys America.
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.
Nutter Center [See upcoming shows]
1 shows — 11/30/1995
17 songs / 11 originals / 6 covers
93.39 [Gap chart]
Psycho Killer, My Mind's Got A Mind Of Its Own, It's Ice, Swept Away, Steep, Tube, Boogie On Reggae Woman, A Day In The Life
Boogie On Reggae Woman - 989 Shows (LTP - 09/13/1988)
Swept Away 1:05
Lawn Boy - 1, Rift - 1, Hoist - 1, Billy Breathes - 3, Misc. - 5, Covers - 6
Mean Temperature 30 °F
Capacity 11,447 Attendance 11,447 Ticket Price $22.50 - $25
Elsewhere On December 7, 1997:
- Robert Plant & Jimmy Page at Café de Paris in London, England (Video)
- The Rolling Stones at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida (Setlist)
- Santana at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida (Setlist)
- David Bowie at Kezar Pavilion in San Francisco, California (Setlist)
- Medeski, Martin & Wood at Atlanta Symphony Hall in Atlanta, Georgia (Setlist)
- Bob Dylan received the Kennedy Center Honors Lifetime Achievement Award featuring a performance by Bruce Springsteen (Video)