In light of the 11/29 Jim and the devastating 11/30 show (never mind the midweek triumph in Hartford), this show tends to be relegated to 'little brother' status. But it's a great concert - and one of very few Fall '97 shows for which tasty SBDs circulate. The first set is full of strong performances, particularly a YEM fit for the bomb squad, but the second set is just wall-to-wall improvisatory mastery.
The songs are self-contained (save for the Ghost > Johnny pairing), but the whole band plays dynamically and creatively throughout, enjoying the freedom of a night without a 300-mile commute to the next show. Those were the days of 12-15 minute LxL's (it's an 8-minute tune now); as in the breathtaking Went versions, the boys make the most of the extra breathing room. Timber goes dark and Slave shines a light, but the real show is the climactic Ghost, an exercise in pinpoint funk that seems to capture some of the band's freewheeling practice-room energy.
11/30 is the best show of the Worcester stand, I'd say, but considering the fidelity of available recordings and the quality of this second set, you shouldn't hesitate to track down this entire show.
I thought I would take the occasion of the fifteen year anniversary of this show to write a proper review, considering it was the only one I witnessed on the historic tour, and my first real venture to go see the band indoors. I was 17, and had just had my mind blown at the Great Went a couple months prior. After being initiated at 13 at a home-town show in Montreal in 94, and making my way across the border to the Clifford Ball in 96, 97 was the year I really got deep, and never went back. I had loved the band since first discovering them in 93 or so, but my youth, a relative inability to get to shows, and a general lack of exposure to what it was all about made for a more gradual descent into true fandom. I imagine that’s true for a lot of us in some capacity, especially in the early days of the internet. But it was the internet in ‘97 that really helped move things along. I still remember signing up for my first Hotmail account, and reading about these new songs the band had debuted in Europe: Ghost, Piper. Phish.net, Andy Gadiel’s Phish Page and RMP became daily destinations, and I was really doing my research, accumulating tapes. It was an even bigger pain for fans in Canada who didn’t have access to US stamps for B&Ps (that blanks and postage, kids!). You had to find US cash and send it instead, while sheepishly apologizing for bending the rules ever so slightly. No one seemed to mind much.
So I convinced a friend to finally come see Phish with me, who though also my age was a Deadhead holdout that insisted Phish could never be as good (even though he had never seen either band). We scored a mediocre pair of tickets from Ticketmaster, which didn’t seem easy. And we only opted for the one show, being fairly certain that weren’t going to get clearance from the family for an extended stay. Family drove us down from Montreal, through a snowstorm, and dropped us off.
What can I say? It was magic. That first indoor show where you finally feel like you’re really on the inside of something special. And a perfect Curtain opener. There’s a time in everyone’s fandom where you’re only vaguely aware of some of the rarer songs, and when they appear they just knock you off your feet. It was like that. The YEM that follows is still, to-date, one of my all-time favourites. The jam is the perfect marriage of Fall 97 funk and Trey-led YEM-solo vision. The whole stretch right up through the Crosseyed & Painless tease is flawless. It’s time-capsule-worthy Phish. The vocal jam segues right through into I Didn’t Know, leading to the first Henrietta appearance of the tour. That’s as strong and varied an opening sequence as any other show on the tour, which is certainly saying something.
The rest of the show doesn’t quite have the same caliber of flow as some the tour’s big-hitters (there’s almost no segues, for one), but there are still a ton of stellar moments. For one thing, the Black-Eyed Katy and Ghost are two of Fall 97s biggest, fattest funk-machines. (There’s even some speculation that the Ghost is the first instance of the full-on start/stop funk jam that they’d later revisit, most notably in the Dayton and MSG Tube). The whole band is incredibly locked in all night, and when they let loose and counter that with some sloppy funk it’s just perfect.
The other highlights are more of the tightly-executed in-the-box type variety: a menacing Maze and a gnarly Theme from the Bottom in the first set have their second set foils in Timber and Limb by Limb, respectively. The Timber in particular is a beautiful exercise in restraint, with Trey weaving in and out of major territory ever so slightly. And there’s the Slave.
My friend who I had brought with me still mentions it almost every time we’re at a show together. He was transfixed on Trey all night, a goner from the get-go. And when we talk about this Slave he mentions this one flailing “hippie” we was watching as the band dropped into it. Something about his enthusiasm, the moment; it stuck, it’s forever ingrained in his brain. “I’ll never forget that hippie,” he always says. It’s a great Slave, but those personal moments are really what puts it over the top in the end, aren’t they?
The moment I always remember from this show also has to do with another fan. After the show let out we were walking down those steep outdoor concrete steps of the Centrum that I’ve happily visited many times since. This slightly older guy, a little dirty but with-it and somewhat wise-seeming asked us if we had seen any other shows on this tour. “No,” I replied, “just this one.” There was nothing assuming about his tone, or condescending or anything. He just had a bit of a twinkle in his eye and kind of looked passed me and back at me and smiled and said “yeah, it’s been pretty great.”
Now if we were wiser we would have stuck around for the hour long Runaway Jim the next night, but instead we hopped on a bus to visit family in Boston for US Thanksgiving. I think we went to see Alien: Resurrection in the theatres that night. No big deal. We scored mail order tickets to all three nights at MSG a couple weeks later.
[Posted to rec.music.phish immediately following the show]
The Scene: Downtown Worcester does not make for a great scene. A lot of fans were chilling in the shopping mall nearby; while we were eating at the food court, some girl came up to us and offered us shrooms and kind buds. Oh yeah, we were accosted several times outside by people trying to sell us fake colonge and perfume. Weird.
Security: No problem getting in, dicks during the show. Nuff said.
The Crowd: Did anyone else think the crowd was really LOUD? Not during the songs or anything, but the cheers were crazy!
THE CURTAIN: I was pretty psyched they pulled this out of retirement for me. Nothing you haven't heard before, they may have been a bit rusty with this song on the shelf for so long...
YEM: Oh boy, I was excited to hear this as the second song. It was a DAMN good version too. Pretty standard opening section, and the tramps were in full effect. Once the jam got kicking though, things got interesting. The C&P jam was amazing; my friend and I both recognized it as a song, but it took us a couple minutes to figure it out. Trey jammed on the MELODY to C&P; not sure if the teases in other shows have been like this. Trey was ON FIRE during this part, and then they went into a stop jam like the 96 Vegas Weekapaug. Man, this YEM is a must-have! The jam kind of faded away and I heard some singing; at first I though it was Kung, but as I heard it more clearly it was...
I DIDN'T KNOW: I like vocal jams and all, but I'd rather hear I Didn't Know instead. It was the "Return of Henrietta" as Trey put it, and Fishman proved that he still had the skills on the electrolux. Was this song retired too?
MAZE: This was a great Maze, definitely above average. Much better then the Went, which is the last I'd heard. The energy was REALLY high throughout. Page really ripped it up on the keys during this Maze, as usual.
FARMHOUSE: A welcome respite from the intensity of Maze. I liked this version better than the Conan version, but it wasn't anything special.
BLACK-EYED KATY: This is the song that Phish will destroy America with. I couldn't possibly do it justice without the tapes, but it contained a long funky jam at the end that sounded like it could have come straight out of YEM. Jake, who had heard the Vegas version off the web said this one KICKED ITS ASS! This song is what I have been looking for from Phish for a long time. A song that is just a jam. No stupid words screwing it up ;-)
THEME: I don't remember much about this Theme, but I do remember enjoying the jam a lot. By now you should want this set anyway, so you can hear it yourself when you get the tape.
Rocky Top: Was Rocky Top. Not much to say here...
Set I rating: 8 (and I mean it!) The YEM and Black-Eyed Katy warrant this rating, and the Maze and Theme reinforce it.
Setbreak music: Some Irish-like stuff. Setbreak lasted around 45 min.
TIMBER HO!: This may just be the best Timber Ho! ever. It actually contained an extended jam segment, with Trey taking the lead, using effects to achieve that "textural" feel of the old-school Frees, but this jam was a lot more melodic. Type I all the way. If you've heard a better Timber, let me know, because I'd love to hear it.
LIMB BY LIMB: I love this song. This had a nice jam in the middle, as usual. I liked this jam better than the Went, it had a little less of the Circus guitar effect that Trey likes (I believe this effect raises the ptich an octave...) and a little more of a full-band approach. The ending with Fishman playing by himself seemed a little odd, he may have screwed up.
SLAVE: I have a tough time distinguishing between good and great Slaves. I do know that I experienced the same teary-eyed transcendence that I usually do during Slave. Trey circled his finger in the air at the end for the band to hold the last chord and they went into...
GHOST: You saw the notation in my setlist. I'm not kidding, this is the best Ghost that I have heard (and I've heard a bunch), and probably the best of all the Ghosts I haven't heard. The jam was ALL Page for about 5 min., using the synth on top of the baby grand. Mike was spanking the bass to accompany him, and Trey was strumming nearly inaudibly. But when Trey came in, the Jam TOOK OFF. Trey soloing, then the band all joined, them back to Trey alone. They threw everything into this jam. The Stop-Start thing. Nice Type III going on in here. This Ghost is what the new Phish is all about, IMNSHO. I might even call it the Albany YEM of Ghosts. Then, they segued into:
JOHNNY B. GOODE: I've only heard a couple other versions of this song, but I have never heard the energy level this high, nor the solos this fierce.
MY SOUL: Pretty standard, nowhere near the level of the Went. Frankly, Phish had amazed me enough for one night...
Second Set Rating: 8 (Ghost and Timber Ho take the cake)
Personally to me the 1st set is far superior to the 2nd in this show. The Curtain is a completely out of left field type opener. The YEM that follows is superb and includes a very clever vocal segue into I Didn't Know which is finally polished. Maze is always welcome and this one is complete and total fire. Farmhouse is still very young in this show but Trey plays it completely inspired I really like this version. It also has one of the better Black Eyed Katy's, Trey chops his guitar with nice funky licks. And as expected Theme is fantastic like every other version from '97.
The 2nd set is pretty meaty Timber and Limb by Limb have a nice little stretch to it but I feel like they don't go anywhere interesting really. Slave is pretty decent but not a top version from this year. Ghost is the highlight of the set it has some nice experimentation but is completely outshine by the majority of the version from this year.
Encore is straight forward.
Overall not a standout from this tour, but still worth checking out for the 1st set.
Easily a top 3 Fall '97 show for me. They come out of the gates swinging with a Curtain opener that crashes right into one of the best YEM's ever played in my opinion. This jam is just explosively funky and is a poster child for the Fall '97 sound.While there was no B n' D segment, it still brings the heat. The rest of set 1 is somewhat standard but still very strong, with a fantastic Maze and BEK. Then again most BEK were pretty damn good.. Timber is an amazing set 2 opener choice in my opinion and this version does not disappoint, clocking in at around 13 minutes and getting set 2 started on the right foot. LxL is nice in this slot I think and I always enjoy hearing early versions of songs. A treat of a mid second set Slave is always welcome, and this one has a great jam as well. Next is one of my favorite jams of the tour that doesn't seem to get the love it deserves. This Ghost is incredible and the start-stop jamming will get anybody up and shakin' their booty. Sometimes I don't know what I enjoy more, the jam in Ghost or the segue into Johnny B. Goode which comes out of no where and is incredibly fitting. My Soul isn't one of my favorite Phish tunes (It actually was when I first started listening to them ironically) but I think it puts a nice cherry on top of this gem of a show.
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