Phish Fall 97: Remembering November 19th In Champaign

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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 Assembly Hall in Champaign, Illinois. If you enjoy our article, please consider donating to the Mockingbird Foundation.

I was anxious for my return to Assembly Hall on the campus of the University Of Illinois, the site of my first Phish show back in the fall of 1995. In the interim I’d seen a handful of shows, when my parents let their teenage highschooler and his friends set off on musical adventures.

High school responsibilities got in the way of my going to the 1996 Fall Tour show at Assembly Hall, but for the band’s 1997 Fall Tour stop I was determined – despite it being a school night – to make it back to Champaign. I got the parental approval to attend with one caveat: I had to make the 100 mile trek back home after the concert and be on time at school the next morning. Cutting class a little early, two friends and I set off toward Champaign, debating what was in store for us that Wednesday night.

Just a few days earlier we watched Phish debut a brand new song (“Farmhouse”) on Late Night With Conan O’Brien and thanks to updates on Andy Gadiel’s Phish page, we’d seen early-tour setlists featuring the intriguing rise in four and five-song sets being played. Although we knew what the band had played so far on the tour, we didn’t really know how they had been played. My prior experience seeing a four song set was the infamous “urinate into its fans ears” second set played a few miles to the east at Deer Creek during the recent Summer Tour. Though the tapes from two nights prior hadn’t reached our decks yet, that five song first set in Denver only added to our speculation.

Walking around the lot pre-show was a nostalgic reminder of the mind-blowing experience I had two years prior. The mid-size arena immediately seemed smaller than I’d remembered, perhaps influenced by the large outdoor sheds (Alpine Valley and Deer Creek) that I’d seen the band play at the previous summer.

Our seats were dead center in the first few rows of the upper bowl and with the start of “Julius” I was immediately floored by Chris Kuroda’s lights. This was my second indoor Phish performance and my mid-room placement positioned me perfectly to absorb all that CK5 was displaying. The rocking opener led to an early jam as Trey propelled the driving progression through an expansive 16-minute “Bathtub Gin,” adding some funky wah-wah riffs to Page’s clavinet work. A welcomed segue into “Llama” came hard charging out of the “Gin” jam and I was stoked to get to hear “Dirt” and “Limb By Limb” again, two songs that I’d first seen earlier that summer.

The first set also saw Mike lead covers of “Funky Bitch” and “Ginseng Sullivan” between a take on “Theme From The Bottom.” That night’s performance of “Fee” dissolved into a blissful improvised sequence that found Fish singing, “time for the meatstick,” “bury the meatstick” and “on a string” over the brief jam. At the time I thought he was riffing on the “Run Like An Antelope” lyrics, only later learning it was an early attempt at what would officially become “Meatstick.” The subsequent “Antelope” screamed to a frantic climax and Gordon dropped heavy bass bombs as the set drew to a rawkus end.

Setbreak was largely spent unsuccessfully trying to decipher what Fish had been singing at the end of “Fee.” And while we didn’t know it, our curiosity about what was going on during the tour’s recent compact sets was about to be answered over the next 66 minutes.

Hints that “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (“2001”) was becoming a true jam vehicle started to materialize in the summer of 1997. Those hints turned into a matter-of-fact statement with the second set opening “2001” in Champaign. Fish introduced the space funk that was to follow with a stuttered start to the four-on-the-floor rhythm kept for the remainder of the outstanding 17-minute rendition. Trey swirled the arena with siren loops as the “2001” jam delved into various territories, circling back to the song’s main theme and climax ahead of more jamming as Page added Fender Rhodes over Mike’s synthy bass lines.

A segue into “Wolfman’s Brother” was an entry into an engaging, patiently developed jam that for about 10 minutes found Trey, Mike, Page and Fish bouncing ideas off each other while maintaining a restrained groove. An assertive Anastasio then decided to abruptly shift into a rock motif that Fish picked up on and for the next 12 minutes the foursome powered through hard-charging (mid-size) arena rock with distinct elements of “Crosseyed & Painless.” The last six minutes of the 28-minute “Wolfman’s” settles into a bluesy jam established by Trey’s fuzzed out tone that soon picks up a drawn out segue into “Makisupa Policeman.”

Reggae vibes from “Makisupa” preceded a mellow, drawn out ambient work up dotted with angular sound effects blasting from the stage. The swelling soundscape pulsated to an intense build up of tension relieved by a reggae reprise of and the ending of “Makisupa.” The seamless offering of music passed the 55 minute mark and continued with a transition into “Taste,” another song I was excited to see live for a second time. This was a far different four song set than the one I’d seen in Noblesville that August. The audience was quick to clap along to the “Possum” encore, which brought a highly energetic end to the show.

The long journey home gave us a chance to digest and dissect the show we’d just seen: the “Gin,” the ending of “Fee” into “Antelope,” that “2001,” no really that “2001,” and what about the “Wolfman’s?,” those sounds in “Makisupa” were crazy!, another four song set!, what are they going to play next?

I slept in my own bed that night, got an early wake up call from my mom and foggily and groggily made it to school by first bell. Later that day I sat down in class next to a friend of mine. He wasn’t able to go to the show the night before but his mom was heading to Detroit in a couple of weeks and she said he could bring a few of his friends along to go to the Phish show. That concert at the Palace in Auburn Hills was on a weekend, and my parents couldn’t, and thankfully didn’t, say no.

The Palace was next …

Thanks to AK 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

State Farm Center (formerly Assembly Hall) [See upcoming shows]

2 shows — 10/22/95, 11/08/96

The Music

10 songs

5 songs

15 songs / 12 originals / 3 covers

1991

8.27 [Gap chart]

N/A

All except Funky Bitch, Theme, Antelope, 2001, Wolfman's & Taste

Fee - 48 Shows (LTP - February 25, 1997)

Junta - 1, Lawn Boy - 2, A Picture of Nectar - 1, Hoist - 2, Billy Breathes - 2, Misc. - 4, Covers - 3

The Rest

Mean Temperature 36 °F

KOA #1

Capacity 16,420 Attendance 16,420 Ticket Price $20 - $24.50 as per Pharmers Almanac

Elsewhere On November 19, 1997:

  • Gov’t Mule at Pomp Room in Sioux Falls, South Dakota (Setlist)
  • Blues Traveler at the Modjeska Theatre in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Audio)
  • moe. at Howlin’ Wolf in New Orleans (Setlist)
  • Beck at El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles (Setlist)
  • The Rolling Stones at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California (Setlist)
  • Pearl Jam at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum in Oakland, California (Setlist)
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