Phish Explores 20-Minute ‘Character Zero’ In Hartford On Fall Tour ‘97

Scott Marks shares his memories of his first Phish show.

By Scott Marks Nov 26, 2022 7:20 am PST

Originally published to mark the 20th anniversary of Phish Fall Tour 1997, this essay is being reshared in honor of the 25th anniversary of the seminal run in the band’s history. Listen to 25th-anniversary podcast episodes dedicated to each show presented by our friends at Undermine.

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 setlist team member Scott Marks’ essay about the show that took place on this date in 1997 at Hartford Civic Center in Hartford, Connecticut. If you enjoy our article, please consider donating to the Mockingbird Foundation.

Hartford was my first Phish show.

Taking place at Hartford Civic Center, this was as close to a hometown show as I’ve ever gotten, since in the spring of 1993 when they played in West Hartford (my true hometown) I hadn’t even heard of the band. Fifteen minutes away was pretty close and despite not having a car at the time, it was easy for me to pull off on the night before Thanksgiving.

Phish was popular among a lot of my classmates in high school and I had been listening to them on a regular basis since the spring of 1994. I cut my teeth on A Picture Of Nectar, loving it instantly. I quickly grabbed their other albums out at the time and had started to accumulate a small collection of tapes, so when the first notes of “Tweezer” hit, I wasn’t in completely foreign territory. I had wanted to see the band for the previous two years and hadn’t gotten the chance. I was familiar with their music unlike someone going to a first show having not heard a single note, but no amount of tapes could prepare me for the live experience I would take in that Wednesday night.

I walked through the doors with a small piece of paper and pen to write down the setlist. I tried my best with song names, occasionally asking people around me for whatever I might have missed. Hartford was the first show by any band that I kept a setlist for. The RA on my floor during my freshman year of college had written down the setlist at a Rolling Stones concert a few weeks earlier and I figured I’d give it a go. Over the years, I evolved from that tiny piece of paper to a small notebook, to Mead notebooks with years of setlists, timings, memories, and concert notes mixed in, but for show number one, this was barebones songs and segues.

Having been heavily involved in the Phish community over the years, I’m always with a bunch of people I know when the lights go down, but at the Civic Center, I was alone, a good year away from discovering Andy Gadiel’s message board and not aware of any of my friends at the show. To start my Phish concert career off, I was greeted by an 18-minute “Tweezer” that pulsated with the funk that had started over the summer and grown into a nightly ritual infiltrating multiple songs a night. “Sparkle” was a short interlude between exploratory jams with “Gumbo” showcasing more Type II (a concept I wasn’t familiar with at the time) improvisation. The 25th “My Soul” of 1997 segued out of “Gumbo.”

This being my first show and having heard few, if any, 1997 tapes, I wasn’t “sick” of this song or anything else played in Hartford. Everything was fresh for me, even a song that ended up appearing in almost 40 percent of the shows that year. Conversely, I didn’t realize how rare a treat it was to get “McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters,” – it was my first Gamehendge song and just another piece of the concert. Other than a solid “Split Open and Melt,” the rest of the first set was uneventful. As enjoyable as the first set was, the second set that began a short time later was a whole different level of excitement for me.

“Character Zero” started out the second set. A spacy intro eased the band into a 20-minute jammed-out rendition the likes of which had never been done previously, nor since. This was the only version in Phish history to surpass the 10-minute mark, let alone 20 minutes. “Zero” went off into a steady rock groove for several minutes before “Also Sprach Zarathustra” took over.

The funk returned midway through the song with Trey settling in on James Brown’s “Super Bad” for several measures and a spectacular jam ensuing. Mike and Fish stopped playing briefly to let Page and Trey stay in their groove before eventually returning to “Also Sprach Zarathustra.” It’s been [25] years since “Cities” appeared in the middle of the set and the 30 or so seconds of the slowed-down intro still sounds fantastic to my ears no matter how many times I replay it.

The segue out of “Cities” into “Ya Mar” was silky smooth. While the song ended the funk portion of the second set, “Ya Mar” fit perfectly into the music’s flow. “Punch You In The Eye” was a song that I liked immediately and one that would end up being stuck in my head for months after the show. The third Billy Breathes song of the night was “Prince Caspian.” It slowed the tempo down a bit before a quick burst of energy from “Poor Heart” into a set closing “Tweezer Reprise.” An atypical “Cavern” closed out the show with a slow drawn-out mid-section.

I imagine if you saw me that night walking out the door, I would have been grinning from ear to ear. I had no expectations going in, had finally seen my favorite band live, and loved every minute of it. Hartford was the only show I caught from the legendary Fall 1997 Tour. I was at the two Providence shows the following spring for the Island Tour en route to eight shows in 1998 and never looked back.

Thanks to Scott for sharing his memories from this day in 1997. Be sure to donate to The Mockingbird Foundation if you enjoy the series.

Audience Recording By Dave Flaschner & Gary Fox

The Skinny

The Setlist

Set 1: Tweezer > Sparkle > Gumbo > My Soul, McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters, Dirt, Split Open and Melt, The Horse > Silent in the Morning [1], Taste

Set 2: Character Zero [2] -> Also Sprach Zarathustra [3] -> Cities -> Ya Mar > Punch You in the Eye > Prince Caspian, Poor Heart [4] > Tweezer Reprise

Encore: Cavern [5]

Silent's lyrics were changed to "bask in morning sickness." Character Zero and 2001 were unfinished. Trey teased Super Bad in 2001. Poor Heart began as Rocky Top. Cavern included some of the original, alternate lyrics.

The Venue

XL Center [See upcoming shows]

1 show

The Music

10 songs

9 songs

19 songs
15 originals / 4 covers


5.89 [Gap chart]


McGrupp, The Horse, Silent In The Morning, Cities, Ya Mar, Cavern

Cavern 14 Shows (LTP – 8/10/1997)

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

The Rest

45 °F Mean Temperature

Koa 1

Capacity 16,500 Attendance 16,500 Ticket Price $27.50 as per Pharmers Almanac

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Elsewhere On November 26, 1997:

  • Widespread Panic at Union Hall in Phoenix, Arizona (Audio)
  • Max Creek at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island (Audio)
  • God Street Wine at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, New Jersey (Audio)
  • Keller Williams at Phil’s Grill in Virginia Beach, Virginia (Audio)
  • Conehead Buddha at The Wetlands Preserve in New York City, New York (Audio)
  • Blues Traveler at Metropolis in Montreal, Quebec (Setlist)
  • Washington Capitals retire defenseman Rod Langway’s #5 uniform number at the team’s final game held at The Capital Centre

[Updated article originally published November 26, 2017]

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