Phish Fall 97: Remembering November 16th In Denver


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 team members, JamBase contributors and more. We continue with JamBase staffer Jon McLennand’s essay about the show that took place on this date in 1997 at McNichols Arena in Denver. If you enjoy our article, please consider donating to the Mockingbird Foundation.

Upon arriving for my freshman year at the University Of Illinois, I posted on looking for fans on campus to trade tapes. In no way could I have realized what an impact that post would have on my life that school year and, really, the 20 years since. Not only did I meet some campus friends and acquire scores of new shows, it also opened up travel opportunities for my careless-self that would eventually provide me with memories I’ll cherish until the end.

Already anxious for the impending show at Assembly Hall happening down the street, one of my new friends offered space in his car to drive the 15 hours to Denver. We only had time to catch the first night, as other riders had to get back for class. One show, 30 hours of driving, and I would miss a Japanese midterm. The right thing would have been to go to the midterm, but often times in life, the answer isn’t anything you learned in class.

We took off late Friday night and arrived a day early to a town that felt closed. Winter had already established its dominance over the mile-high landscape. Nothing was happening so we piddled around for a day, waiting for the show. There’s not much of a lot scene on Planet Hoth, I hear. McNichols’ lot was desolate, with bundled up fans scurrying from warm cars to the venue entrances.

Once inside we found our spot: front row directly behind the stage. This would be my sixth show. I hadn’t yet seen one of *those* shows but I was patient, still in that early phase of fandom when each show was a gift to be cherished. It hadn’t occurred to me until writing this that November 16 was a Sunday show, years before that day of the week turned into something of fan lore. Yes, that’s right, Fall ’97 Denver was the elusive Sunday/Monday two-night run.

First set is real first setty. The large arena wasn’t particularly full and it was understandably chilly in there. Even though there’s a guest, a debut, and the second performance of a song that remains a marquee entry in the band’s catalog of originals, it was a run-through-the-motions warm-up.

A few memorable moments, for sure. First, my vantage point. I’d spent four shows that summer on the lawn seeing the spectacle as it unfolded toward me. This evening, I chose to focus on new stimuli of the show experience. Watching the spectacle of the writhing crowd and dancing lights, I acquired a new appreciation for the exchange of energy between the band and the crowd. And then “Black-Eyed Katy” dropped in the three-slot. Even with the existence of Sugarmegs (fresh) streaming Phish was a rarity, so all but the tour opener’s attendees had ever heard it before. We still deduced it was “BEK,” based on RMP reviews of the Vegas show that we read before hitting the road. Two things became apparent, both of which felt new for a Phish show (to me): the funk and the urge to dance. This wasn’t the head bobbing of my grunge/alternative high school years, but the urge to move my entire body, hips and feet now figuring in to this new equation. I’m sure it was akin to a fawn attempting to stand on its legs for the first time. Antelopes have to learn to walk before they run, too.

After that, the concert debut of “Farmhouse”(which I’d VHS taped off Late Night and was already jokingly singing “No Woman, No Cry” on top of it) and the sit-in of Hot Rize’s Pete Wernick during “Scent Of A Mule” and “Poor Heart” are also noteworthy. The latter was interesting but didn’t seem to really connect with the audience. A strong “Taste” and a capella “Hello My Baby” brought the set to a close. It didn’t feel worthy of 30 hours in the car and a missed midterm, but the trip had already been so much fun I wasn’t concerned.

And then came the second set. For 20 years now I’ve felt that this is the underrated set of the tour. It’s hard to stand out when you’re born into a family of geniuses. Five songs, 53 minutes, zero pauses. It wasn’t just short, It was downright economical. Quality over quantity.

The set began with the low rumbling of Fish’s floor toms. It was dark, tribal. “Timber Ho!” wouldn’t let itself be known just yet, it had other things on its mind. Trey waded into the mix with spacey effects pedals and those era-defining loops screeching around the mix like vultures encircling their prey waiting for its final moments to pass before it slips into the darkness. They remained ever-present through the meat of the song while the band went deep into a propulsively evil groove, which eventually peeled away its layers into a sublime, dream-like section. Several months later I found out that this was a pre-debut jam on “Frankie Says.”

[11/16/1997 Audience Recording By Gotfob | Shared by From The Aquarium]

At this point, I think it’s up to you, the reader, to just throw the set on and appreciate it in its unified glory (see above). But here’s a quick rundown of the rest: an effective “Simple” made way for an unexpected “Wilson” bursting its anthemic-rock edge into the middle of the psychedelic set before abruptly dropping into “Harry Hood.” A patient version, providing a few extra measures of bliss before closing and just before it did, the Hendrix riffing of “Izabella” sent the place off into a frenzy. Fifty-three minutes of madness. To make sure no one felt like they got short-changed in the deal, the “David Bowie” encore left the house satisfied.

The long drive back gave us a lot to talk about and helped build even more anticipation for the Assembly Hall show when we returned. And hey, it turns out I wound up with the opportunity to “retake” the midterm. I did OK but I doubt I remember any of that material anymore. However, the knowledge I acquired on the trip lasted me far beyond that semester.

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

The Skinny

The Setlist

The Venue

McNichols Sports Arena [See upcoming shows]

The Music

11 songs / 7:58 pm to 9:08 pm (70 minutes)

6 songs / 9:49 pm to 11:04 pm (75 minutes)

17 songs / 12 originals / 5 covers


6.25 [Gap chart]


All except My Soul and Black-Eyed Katy,

The Old Home Place - 25 Shows (LTP - 07/06/1997)

Junta - 1, A Picture of Nectar - 1, Hoist - 1, Billy Breathes - 3, Misc. - 6, Covers - 5

The Rest

24° F Mean Temperature

Koa 1

Capacity 17,650 / Attendance 12,902 / Ticket Price $25 - $27.50 via Pharmer's Almanac

Elsewhere On November 16, 1997:

  • Widespread Panic at Liberty Hall in Lawrence, Kansas (Setlist)
  • Gov’t Mule at The Galaxy in St. Louis (Setlist)
  • Primus at the Hollywood Palladium in Hollywood (Setlist)
  • moe. at Five Points South Music Hall in Birmingham, Alabama(Setlist)
  • Little Feat at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg, Florida (Setlist)
  • Greyboy Allstars at Wilbert’s in Cleveland, Ohio (Audio)
  • Fairy Gangstas at The Lionheart in Albany, New York (Audio)
  • Racecar driver Jeff Gordon wwon the NASCAR Winston Cup Series
  • The Canadian Football League’s Toronto Argonauts defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders to win the CFL’s 85th Grey Cup