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 Luke Sacks’ essay about the show that took place on this date in 1997 at The “E” Centre in West Valley City, just outside Salt Lake City, Utah. Luke is a longtime Phish fan who caught multiple shows during Fall ’97 and still loves and follows the band all these years later. If you enjoy our article, please consider donating to the Mockingbird Foundation.
The previous night in Vegas was spent with about a dozen friends — some old and some new — and included everything Las Vegas has to offer. The show itself was just a part of the festivities and wasn’t particularly memorable for me other than a great version of “Stash” and the first time we had heard a funky new tune called “Black-Eyed Katy.”
When it came time to commit to making the 400-mile drive from Vegas to Salt Lake City, the party went from a dozen to just two. So the morning of November 14 Eric “Sloth” Rubin and I shook off the previous night’s headaches and hopped into my car and headed out.
The first vivid memory of the day takes place on that drive. When we were getting off the highway to gas up, a car coming the opposite way, going the wrong way down a one-way street, came barreling toward us and wasn’t slowing down. I very quickly, and luckily, was able to steer my car up over the curb and onto the median allowing that car to whiz by. Eric and I looked at each other and without saying anything had that “Are you ok? Yeah, I’m ok” exchange. It was scary as hell. But we recovered, gassed up and got back on the road.
Before we left Vegas we had done the math and figured to have about 90 minutes to relax and settle in to our hotel in Utah upon arrival. However when we got there, we realized we had forgotten to account for the one-hour time difference between the cities and were down to a matter of minutes before the scheduled ticket time. We also realized, upon walking back out to the car, we had forgotten to account for the huge temperature swing and found ourselves freezing our asses off walking from the parking lot into the venue.
Despite those hiccups we made it and were settled into our seats when the lights went down.
While the first set was pretty “standard” for Phish 1.0, it is worth checking out. The “Gumbo,” which clocks in at 11 minutes — jammed out by today’s standards, finds the band dipping their toes into the funk swamp starting at around the seven-minute mark. Page’s piano outro is replaced by a spiraling groove that leads right into a demonic, unfinished “Maze” that bled right into “Fast Enough For You.”
Other first set highlights include an oddly placed but highly danceable mid-set “2001” and a heavier than usual “Run Like An Antelope” set closer that included whistling, in a nod to the “Guyute” (dedicated to sound engineer Paul Languedoc) that came before it.
But the four-song second set of this show is the true birth of what fans are talking about when ranking this tour among the best ever. The entire set is a massive highlight overflowing with exploratory jamming, patient and passionate playing, and strong band interplay throughout.
“Wolfman’s Brother” opened the set and had just started to find its way as a jam vehicle in 1997. The four versions played on U.S. soil that summer took the song to new heights, peaking with the nearly 20-minute version played at the Great Went.
This version was more spacey than funky but the ending allowed for the intro to “Piper” to slowly unfold. Like many other fans I wish they would bring back the slow-build intro to “Piper” rather than just rushing to the soaring jam as they have the last few years.
The “Piper” melted seamlessly into the old, somewhat clunky opening to “Twist” which serves as the backbone of the set. Approximately four minutes in Trey finds a nice groove and works it for several passages, changing ever so slightly along the way. At around the eight-minute mark Gordon announces his presence with some deep bass notes while Trey layers some choppy guitar riffs on top. Trey holds a long sustained note that draws a roar from the crowd before settling into another lick that starts to build toward a peak but never quite gets there. Instead the band, led by Fishman, gets more “noisy” (in a good way) before eventually dropping out entirely leaving Trey to solo. Page slowly starts an ambient sound underneath Trey’s solo and there is a brief moment where it sounds like Darth Vader is taking a few breathes into the microphone. Trey continues to noodle while Gordon throws down sparse but powerful notes. There is a brief segment of beautiful interplay between Trey and Mike before the band locks into the opening notes of “Slave To The Traffic Light.”
“Slave” has always been a personal favorite of mine with this version, along with December 14, 1995, August 17, 1996 and July 4, 1999 ranking at the top of my list. The E Centre “Slave” is the perfect mix of delicate and aggressive with a strong peak to close out the set.
The second set was short – clocking in less than an hour but it was a powerful statement about how the band would approach many of the shows that tour. It would have been mighty difficult to follow that massive jam sandwich of “Wolfman’s > “Piper” > “Twist” > “Slave” up with another tune. It was better that the band left the stage having blown us away with four completely locked-in songs versus throwing in another song to close the set.
The minute the lights came up following the “Bold As Love” encore it started to sink in that I had witnessed a Phish show unlike any I had seen before. The frenetic goofiness of 1994, when I saw my first show, felt like a thousand miles away.
I obviously had no idea that the tour would reveal itself as the band’s strongest ever, but it was clear they had found a new level of creativity within their jamming and were taking things in a new direction.
Thanks to Luke Sacks for sharing his memories from 20 years ago today. Be sure to donate to The Mockingbird Foundation if you enjoy the series.
Maverik Center [See upcoming shows]
13 songs / 10 originals / 3 covers
12.54 [Gap chart]
Fast Enough For You - 68 Shows (LTP - November 22, 1996)
Lawn Boy - 1, Rift - 2, Hoist - 1, Misc. - 6, Covers - 3
33° F Mean Temperature
Capacity: 8,400 / Attendance 8,325 / Ticket Price $21.50 - $23 via Pharmer's Almanac
Elsewhere On November 14, 1997:
- The String Cheese Incident at Exit Inn in Nashville, Tennessee (Audio)
- Pearl Jam at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Stadium in Oakland, California (Video)
- Blues Traveler at University of North Florida Arena in Jacksonville, Florida (Audio)
- moe. at Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, Georica (Audio)
- God Street Wine at Key Largo in Portland, Oregon (Audio)
- Elliott Smith at La Luna in Portland, Oregon (Audio)
- Percy Hill at The Atomic Club in East Hartford, Connnecticut (Audio)
- Radiators at Irving Plaza in New York City, New York (Audio)
- Schleigho at Cabaloosa’s in New Paltz, New York (Audio)
- Smokin’ Grass at Styleen’s Rhythm Palace in Syracuse, New York (Audio)
- Major League Baseball player Larry Walker of the National League’s Colorado Rockies became the first Canadian-born MVP award winner.