Phish Fall 97: Remembering November 29th In Worcester

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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 Jeremy D. Goodwin’s essay about the show that took place on this date in 1997 at Worcester Centrum Centre in Worcester, Massachusetts. If you enjoy our article, please consider donating to the Mockingbird Foundation.

I was sitting on the front porch when the mail arrived, containing the Fall 1997 Doniac Schvice. It must have been sometime in late August, since I wasn’t yet away at school for the fall semester. Even in those days, with the online Phish community in full swing, the hard copy of Phish’s newsletter was the main way to discover upcoming tour dates. I remember looking at the Fall Tour calendar and instantly sizing up a run of six shows I could hit, spanning nine days.

I’d never gone to that many shows in one tour, never mind one week. It was my third year of fandom, and though I was well versed in Phish history and 100 percent tuned in to the latest developments, I was still a newbie in terms of actual road miles. I’d seen just 14 shows, and had stayed in a hotel (OK, motel) for Phish only a few times. But I remember seeing those fall dates and just knowing that I would see those six shows. I wasn’t sure where my rides would come from, or how exactly I’d fund the trip, but I knew enough to know that I’d make it happen.

As an undergrad at The George Washington University, two shows in Hampton, Virginia would be feasible after having seen Phish at the venue the year before. And as a resident of Massachusetts, one show in Hartford just before Thanksgiving and three in Worcester just after would be a breeze to catch while I was back home on break.

The strange thing about the tour dates was that the New Year’s Run (aka Holiday Tour) was skipping Boston entirely. So these three shows at the Worcester Centrum seemed like a makeup call for fans in Phish’s original home territory of New England.

Though the only shows I’d seen so far that year were the two nights of the Great Went, I was caught up on the major jams in Europe and the U.S. over the previous winter and summer, and my fandom was at its peak just as the band crested on a surge of creativity and boundless confidence that left many of us in the community convinced that we were witnessing (and, sure, a part of) a high point in the history of this band. When Phish rolled into Worcester for those three shows they did so in the midst of one of their most remarkable stretches of shows ever.

I went to the Hartford and Worcester shows with my friend Christian, who provided the ride to many of the Northeast shows I caught in 1.0. Our first time ever hanging out, other than at the parking lot of the closest Dunkin Donuts, was when he drove me to see Phish in Worcester on December 29, 1995. On that drive, he gave me my first listen to the Providence “David Bowie” played exactly one year earlier, and I remember being pleasantly frightened by the spacy jam on the dark highway. For each of the drives to and from the three Worcester shows in ’97, we listened to at least one side of Pavement’s “Brighten The Corners,” which was released earlier that year.

Though the Hampton and Hartford shows all opened with big jams (and the first night of Worcester opened with a mighty “The Curtain” > “You Enjoy Myself” combo), November 29th had a very “song-y” start. It opened on a promising note with “The Wedge,” which at that point had the mystique of a fairly rare song. An outstanding “Foam” came in the two-hole, followed by an early-show “Simple.” If “You Enjoy Myself” is “the national anthem of Phish,” as Trey described it sometime during the Phish “breakup” (aka second hiatus), then “Simple” is its Pledge of Allegiance — a taking of roll, a declaration of intent.

There were more high-protein song choices, like “The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday” and “The Sloth,” which imparted the sense of a special show, albeit not one that felt particularly like its neighbors on this particular tour. The set lost steam in the late-going, but rebounded with an above-average “David Bowie” to close.

Fall 1997 introduced the idea of four-or-five-song second sets, though in fairness some of those clocked in at just under an hour in total. On the second night in Worcester, Phish could have gotten away with a one-song second set. The “Runaway Jim” is the single longest jam played in a proper Phish show, lasting a little under 59 minutes. There was still more to come that night, but the legacy of this show rests on its centerpiece, known immediately as simply “The Worcester ‘Jim.’”

Listening to it with the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to hear that something special was in the offing from the get-go. The between-verses instrumental break is exceptionally relaxed, at one point quieting down almost to a silent pause. The four band members sound entirely locked-in from the outset, and at about seven minutes in they are in full-on raging “Runaway Jim” mode. At about 11 minutes in, Trey seems to suggest a return to the “Jim” theme, perhaps out of an ingrained impulse, but things are too intense to reign in and he launches into a fresh solo. At about 14:30 into the jam, all four band members spontaneously wrap around a slow and bluesy groove almost instantaneously.

I remember this change of pace, and the blue and violet lights that accompanied it, happening at the time. It was one of those moments when you look around the room, maybe make eye contact with your friends or the other people around you, and acknowledge that a song has broken from its tethers and is roaming free. I’d taken note of the time at the start of the song on my watch, an analog variety, and around here I probably first looked at it again and saw that we were 15 minutes into the jam.

Six minutes later, Trey sidestepped out of the pleasing groove and suddenly into an epic rock jam. Another one of those herd-of-buffalo moments when the members of Phish suddenly go from being intensely locked into one mode of jamming to intensely locked into an entirely different-sounding piece of music.

The band maintains a full head of steam for 30 minutes at the outset of this performance before things quiet down and enter an extended, spacy jam, heavy on Trey’s effects pedals and delay techniques. Different tempos and moods are explored, but the overall mode stays in place for 12-15 minutes, when Trey leads a ferocious build and, seemingly out of nowhere, introduces a jam on “Weekapaug Groove.” This overflows into an intense and explosive full-band rock peak that just reaches a different level from the Trey-led peaks of 2017.

I remember checking my watch throughout the jam. 15 minutes. 30 minutes. 45 minutes. Around here I started doubting myself, and kept re-figuring the elapsed time from the beginning. Wait, the set started then, right? Yeah, I’m pretty sure. I showed the watch to Christian and pointed at the time. This “Runaway Jim” has been going for 45 minutes. Things got really surreal near the end of the jam, when it was looking like a full hour. The little hand had performed a complete circle around the watch face. Who measures Phish jams in hours?

For some fans, the Worcester “Jim” is a jam they respect more than they enjoy. I don’t quite get that. I revisit it at least once a year and I love it, from front to back. On its surface it sounds little like the funk-rock jams then in ascendance, but even in its extended sequences of deep exploration, it doesn’t sound anything like the experimental jams of Fall 1994 and Summer 1995, either. It’s entirely creative and doesn’t lean on any gimmicks or go-to moves.

There was more to come in the set, and the encore was outstanding, highlighted by the ultra-rare “Buffalo Bill” (offering another weird echo with the second day of The Great Went) and a fun (OK, hilarious) nod to Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham showcase “Moby Dick.”

But on the way home, I’m sure we were mostly buzzing about one thing. That jam was an hour long! And damn was it good.

Thanks to Jeremy D. Goodwin for sharing his memories from 20 years ago today. Jeremy is a former longtime member of The Mockingbird Foundation’s Board of Directors, a chapter editor and contributor to The Phish Companion, and has written about Phish extensively over the years. He interviewed Trey Anastasio in New York about Hands On A Hardbody in 2012, and again for a story in The Boston Globe in 2014. His Phish.net recap of the July 27, 2014 show is among the most popular blog posts in the site’s history. His recap of June 15, 2011 is among the site’s most disliked posts. Be sure to donate to The Mockingbird Foundation if you enjoy the series.

[11/29/1997 Audience Recording By Felix Delguisemo & Jason Sobel | Shared by From The Aquarium]

The Skinny

The Setlist

The Venue

DCU Center [See upcoming shows]

4 shows — 12/31/1993, 12/28/1995, 12/29/1995, 11/28/1997

The Music

11 songs / 8:07 pm to 9:26 pm (79 minutes)

8 songs / 10:04 pm to 11:59 pm (115 minutes)

19 songs / 15 originals / 4 covers

1991

42 [Gap chart]

N/A

The Wedge, Foam, TMWSIY, Avenu Malkenu, The Sloth, Saw It Again, Horn, Water In The Sky, Strange Design, Suzy Greenberg, Buffalo Bill, Moby Dick

Moby Dick - 435 Shows (LTP - 2/19/1993)

Junta - 2, Rift - 2, Billy Breathes - 2, Misc. - 9, Covers - 4

The Rest

36 °F Mean Temperature

KOA #1

Capacity 14,198 Attendance 14,198 Ticket Price $25 as per Pharmers Almanac

Elsewhere On November 29, 1997:

  • Widespread Panic at the Warfield in San Francisco, California (Audio>)
  • The String Cheese Incident at East High Auditorium in Salt Lake City, Utah (Audio)
  • Blues Traveler at Electric Factory in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Audio)
  • moe. at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, New York (Audio)
  • Ominous Seapods at Ventura Theater in Ventura, California (Audio)
  • Max Creek at The Studio in Northampton, Massachusetts (Audio)
  • Medeski, Martin & Wood at BAM Opera House in Brooklyn, New York (Setlist)
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