Phish Plays Memorable ‘Piper’ > ‘2001’ In Denver On Fall Tour 1998

By Andy Kahn Nov 4, 2020 6:32 am PST

This year marks 25 years since Phish’s historic Fall Tour 1995. In recognition of that noteworthy tour and to make up for the lack of shows this fall, JamBase presents a daily retrospective highlighting a noteworthy moment from a Phish fall tour concert that took place on that date over the past 25 years (read a note on Fall 1997 here). The 25 Years Of Phish Fall Tour series runs each day between the start of Phish Fall Tour 1995 on September 27 through that tour’s finale on December 17.

The only time in the past 25 years that Phish played a show on November 4th occurred on Fall Tour 1998 when the band returned to Denver’s McNichols Arena. The show was their final appearance at the since-demolished venue, after also playing a memorable two-night stand there on Fall Tour 1997.

Leading up to Phish’s final night at McNichols was the band’s October 31 show in Las Vegas featuring their Halloween musical costume cover of The Velvet Underground’s Loaded. After a day off, there was a show on November 2 in Utah where they surprised the few fans at the under-sold venue with a complete cover of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side Of The Moon Album.

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There were likely plenty of people who were at Halloween in Las Vegas but regretfully skipped the Utah concert and went straight to Denver for the November 4 concert. While the performance at McNichols broke Phish’s full album cover streak after two shows, it still delivered memorable moments, particularly the “Piper” into “Also Sprach Zarathustra (2001)” from the second set.

Phish, who got into Denver on November 3 and played an acoustic session at a local radio station, opened their concert the following night with the impactful pairing of “Buried Alive” into “Character Zero,” the latter being the last song they played during their ‘97 visit. A satisfying trifecta of “Guyute,” “Bathtub Gin” and “Ya Mar” propelled the set along ahead of a standalone “Birds Of A Feather” and the rarely played ballad “Brian and Robert.” A spaced-out jam connected a well-executed “Frankie Says” with the set-closing “David Bowie.”

The second set started with “Runaway Jim,” out of which they carved a few minutes of improvising. The foursome then landed on the relatively-new-at-the-time “The Moma Dance” that saw plenty of Fall 1998 action, including at the show prior in Utah. The band then hinted at what was to come next as the sparse notes that signaled “Piper” sailed around the arena.

Debuted in 1997 and recorded for the band’s 2000 album Farmhouse, “Piper” has continuously evolved over its 170+ performances, at times providing a launching pad to expansive improvisation and other times merely providing a pathway between songs. A second set staple, “Piper” grew in stature throughout the summer and fall of 1998 as Phish increasingly delivered memorable renditions.

Part of the “Piper” evolution is the song’s introduction, a sequence that has dramatically changed over the past two decades. Early versions, like the November 4, 1998 offering, began with patiently built up sequences, slowly and steadily gaining intensity before guitarist Trey Anastasio started to sing the repetitive lyrics, adding to the accumulation of tension. The best versions of “Piper” explode with an exhilarating release of that anxious energy and lead to several minutes of inspired jamming.

That describes the McNichols “Piper,” which might not be the best of ‘98, but in a year full of standout versions, it holds up impressively alongside the others. There’s a patiently developed intro, a tension-filled lyrics section, followed by an eruption of high-intensity improv that takes several gratifying twists and turns and a cool tempo downshift before segueing smoothly into “2001.”

Indicative of the ambient, spaciness prevalent in 1998, the emergence of “2001” was preceded by layers of alien-like tones. Once drummer Jon Fishman kicked into the disco rhythm, the ambience was swapped for bassist Mike Gordon’s infectious groove and keyboardist Page McConnell’s synthesized embellishments. Like the “Piper” before it, “2001” rolls to a slow boil, steadily keeping a propelling pulse toward the song’s signature climactic peaks.

The Denver ’98 show was the first time “Piper” was immediately followed by “2001,” a pairing they have since pulled off an additional four times. Taken together, the “Piper” into “2001” is 26 minutes that exemplifies both songs being played in interesting and exciting ways and demonstrates how Phish’s approach to each continues to evolve.

The second set in Denver 22 years ago wrapped with “Chalk Dust Torture” and “Loving Cup” and a “The Squirming Coil” encore. Listen to Phish’s Fall Tour 1998 concert on November 4 at McNichols Arena (click to start with “Piper”):

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