Phish Fall 97: Remembering November 22nd In Hampton
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 Aaron “Neddy” Stein’s essay about the show that took place on this date in 1997 at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia. If you enjoy our article, please consider donating to the Mockingbird Foundation.
The thing about Hampton ‘97 is you don’t know it’s going to be Hampton ‘97 until it’s too late. You buy your tickets, wait for the date, hop in the car, drive to Virginia, wait in line, go to the show … of course, you’re hopeful and maybe even confident it will be noteworthy in some way, but you don’t expect a November 22nd show to manifest itself at the end of this journey, you don’t know. When it’s happening around you, it’s hard to realize that fall tour 1997 is actually Fall 1997! That’s why we do these things, because every once in awhile, this band that has surprised and blown you away so many times in the past manages to top themselves.
I certainly had no clue what awaited me. Looking back, the main reason I, in the midst of a challenging graduate program, decided to go to the Hampton shows was that they were the only shows that met a certain criteria: general admission shows, within driving distance, on a weekend. The fact that the shows were in Hampton was nice, I knew it was a special room, but that was mostly leftover Grateful Dead mythology. Phish playing Hampton Coliseum didn’t make these November ‘97 shows a thing, quite the opposite really, that weekend in November made Phish playing Hampton a thing. Oh and what a thing!
For me, the general admission part was the most important: shows where you could guarantee yourself a good spot up front simply by waiting longer to get in than everyone else were becoming a rarity and so when the opportunity presented itself, I took it. To me, that was what it was all about. I wasn’t just going to see Phish, I was going to ride the rail and, maybe, just maybe have my mind blown.
Friday’s show was glorious, the band unleashed like I had not seen them in my over five years of fandom, the room, electric, alive, in ways that mythology maybe undersold. What was it about this place? What undulations and perforations in the time-space continuum make Hampton, Virginia of all places the vortex of jam? More importantly for the matter at hand waiting to get in on a Saturday morning, giddy contemplation and setlist game theory … what would night two bring? So much time to contemplate, could they top Friday night? And if they could, would we be able to handle it?
Suffice it to say, November 22, 1997 was a pinnacle show. I choose my words carefully and do not exaggerate when I say it was a perfect Phish show. Opening with “Mike’s Song” is always a statement, regardless of era. Opening with that “Mike’s Song” was a reality-shifter, a throw-away-your-expectations-of-what-might-happen-next move. Calling it “funk” undersells the entire era. The “Mike’s” was 17 minutes of Phish perfection, four guys playing with a confidence that we would normally describe as irrationally high in any other situation, but here pushed the boundaries of what was possible. The crowd pulsed in response — did we appreciate what we were witnessing? I’d like to think we did, but mostly we just danced our asses off.
It’s cliche to say there are too many highlights to list, but damn if that ain’t true with this one. A prime example of a show whose setlist, that let-me-draw-up-my-fantasy setlist, a setlist that spread a thousand cases of FOMO, this no-they-didn’t! setlist actually undersells the jams.
So instead let me share a couple more personal memories that sum up the night for me. First was the audience’s attempt to get “Destiny Unbound” played. I’ve been a part of a few crowds that have tried to get the band to play or do something. Sometimes these work out spectacularly well and sometimes they fail miserably. This movement failed so miserably, that it actually ended up being a success. The ploy was for everyone to sing the first lines of the song, but it came off more as an indecipherable chant. What we had here was a failure to communicate. Still, it was unmistakably something that couldn’t be totally ignored, so Trey riffed on it being some sort of cannibalistic ritual or something. On one hand, a funny goof and some good banter from Anastasio. On the other hand, another signal of those bonds between audience and band, the fact that we’re on the same side of the curtain and on nights like that one, sometimes you felt it more strongly than others.
Trey joked that it was the “human sacrifice” part of the show, but maybe it was no joke, the “Halley’s Comet”that followed is 26 minutes of peak Phish bliss. The full power of a band at its apex in one track. Looking backward to their Vermont roots and then forward to today’s majestic mature version of the band, it’s maybe not too much to say that the Hampton “Halley’s” isn’t some sort of inflection point. It is the central theme of this everlasting spoof.
With all that, perhaps my strongest musical memories come from the two songs coming out of the excellent “Tweezer,” “Black-Eyed Katy” and “Piper.” The thing about “those days” is that you didn’t listen to every show in real time and as it so happened, I had never heard either of the latter two songs before the show. I had seen the titles written in setlists had heard they were “good” new songs, but, perhaps unforgivingly, I had not yet heard them, would have no way of picking them out of a line-up, so to speak. So, as “Tweezer” melted away into “Black-Eyed Katy,” there was a bit of a thrill of discovery as they unfolded this prepackaged bit of cow funk. Was this just a jam or was this something? The effect was magnified even more so with the following “Piper” that flipped the groove into an aspirational melody. “Piper’s” start from an absolute standstill and its slow, slow, slow building progression, I had never heard anything like that before and was convinced in my boogie-addled mind that it was being improvised on the spot. I mean, the crazy thing was that it was entirely possible that they were real-time composing something at that level, they had been doing it all night already. That’s the level of absurd musical credibility they were operating under. When I finally realized that this was the song, that the thing that was “Piper” actually started in that silence, assembling itself over the course of a few minutes, I was like whoa! a moment I will never forget.
Certain songs, like so many new things in life, you will never experience quite the way you did when you first experienced them, you really only have that one shot to appreciate and enjoy that moment of discovery, to cherish the surprises of the truly new. The second time, if there even is one, will never match that. It’s a feeling you chase at places like Phish shows, and when they come, the reward is a high that leaves a mark forever. So for all the superlative jams, the superb setlist, the supercharged energy of the crowd, the supernatural exhaustion in a body trying to keep up front and center all night, for the supremely long, blissed-out post-show overnight drive back home to reality, as all that fades into the blur of the past, it’s the feeling I got during that “Piper” that sticks with me 20 years later.
Thanks to Neddy for sharing his memories from 20 years ago today. Be sure to donate to The Mockingbird Foundation if you enjoy the series.
Hampton Coliseum [See upcoming shows]
3 shows — 11/25/1995, 10/25/1996, 11/21/1997
15 songs / 13 originals / 2 covers
5.2 [Gap chart]
Frankenstein, Halley's Comet, Tweezer Reprise
Frankenstein - 10 Shows (LTP - August 13, 1997)
Halley's Comet 26:00
Lawn Boy - 2, A Picture of Nectar - 2, Billy Breathes - 2, Misc. - 7, Covers - 2
59 °F Mean Temperature
Capacity 13,656 Attendance 13,656 Ticket Price $22.50 as per Pharmers Almanac
Elsewhere On November 22, 1997:
- Gov’t Mule at The Cabooze in Minneapolis, Minnesota (Setlist)
- Widespread Panic Bayou Palace Theater in Houston, Texas (Audio)
- Zero at The Catalyst in Santa Cruz, California (Audio)
- The String Cheese Incident at Electric Lounge in Austin, Texas (Audio)
- The Rolling Stones at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada (Setlist)
- Death Cab For Cutie at The Pacer House in Bellingham, Washington [Show Note: DCFC’s first live performance] (Audio)
- Blues Traveler at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, Illinois (Audio)
- Foo Fighters at Newport Centre in Newport, Wales (Setlist)
- Yo La Tengo at Zeche in Bochum, Germany (Setlist)
- Spin Doctors at House of Blues in Lake Buena Vista, Florida (Setlist)
- Saturday Night Live airs with host Rudy Giuliani and musical guest Sarah McLachlan (Video)
- INXS frontman Michael Hutchence dies at the age of 37.