The Island Run: Nassau
It all started with a surprise announcement in the beginning of March. Phish was so juiced and inspired by the music of their epic Fall and New Years ’97 runs that they just couldn’t sit around and wait for their July European tour. They were “bored,” as Trey would explain. I remember exactly where I was in my buddy’s house in Philly when I heard the news- Phish would play a four-show run at the beginning of April in Nassau and Providence! There was no mail order for these spontaneously announced shows; there simply wasn’t enough turn-around time. Tickets would be sold via Ticketmaster, and that was it. The excitement that prompted the band to announce these shows was fully ingrained in the Phish community after the end of 1997. It seemed that nobody could wait for the next show– and now, we wouldn’t have to.
Two at Long Island’s legendary Nassau Coliseum and two at Providence’s Civic Center- The Island Run- as it was dubbed, would immediately vault into the upper-echelon of all-time Phish performances. Never has there been such a dynamic four-show run– ever. You can put up any four consecutive shows against them, and they would get beaten down like Peter McNeeley against Mike Tyson. There is simply no contest.
My friends and I used to posit theories as to why these shows stood out so brightly amongst all others. Maybe Phish had time-traveled back from the future to play these gigs, showing us what we had to look forward to? Perhaps that was the reason for the quick, out-of-nowhere, announcement? Although we sought explanations to this one continuous four-night super-highlight, we never came to a definitive conclusion (theories are still welcomed!) Needless to say, these were four of the most powerful, magical, and transportive nights of the band’s two-decade career.
No one knew quite what to expect as we entered Nassau’s Thursday night show, but everyone was overflowing with adrenaline. As soon as the lights went off, there was a mad rush of fans climbing onto the soon-crowded GA floor. Yet, before anyone even had their bearings straight, Phish bust into the run with an opening “Tube.” OK! “This is gonna be a fun four days,” I thought to myself. But I didn’t even know the half of it. As the “Tube” provided a kick-start to the weekend, the crowd was lifted back to that emotional place we had all been jonesing for since the end of ’97. This jam hinted at a groove plate that would be the launching point for the other-worldly “Roses Are Free” the following night. Whipping the crowd into an immediate frenzy, the whole building nearly burst with energy upon this asteroid’s crash.
While much of this initial set was comprised of mild-rarities like, “My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own,” “The Sloth,” and “Horn,” the undeniable highlight of the set, and arguably the show, came in the form of a twenty-minute, supremely psychedelic “Stash.” The improv started immediately as the band drifted into the jam with Trey taking the lead with some staccato melodies over the menacing pattern. The band seemed to be communicating without thinking, fully tapped in and feeling the flow, only songs into their first set. This adventure continued to build in intensity, creating an undeniable musical tension, spiraling upward. Easily one of the top “Stash’s” ever played, this version contained mind-numbing playing and went directly for the jugular. But just as the music couldn’t have grown any more intense, with Trey wailing subconsciously, the entire band connected as one, and with the peak of the jam imminent, the band allowed the tense textures to settle, and Phish entered one of the most beautiful musical passages of the weekend.
This “Stash,” all of a sudden, became a delicate palate for spiritual work. Trey shifted his tone and began to play improvised melodies that you could have sworn you’d heard before. He was channeling the powers of the universe directly through his guitar and into our minds; an incredibly powerful moment. The dark and twisted took a turn for the sublime and inspired, creating one of the highest points of the four nights right off the bat.
The Coliseum buzzed with excitement during setbreak, mostly regarding the insane “Stash” that had just gone down, but more generally about the undeniable collective vibe in the room. Everyone seemed to be on the same revelatory and exploratory page; all in it for the same reason, band included. And that was only the first set!
As the band came out for their second frame, the high-energy combo of “Punch,” “Simple” got the arena rocking, while setting up the debut of “Birds of a Feather.” A song that had grown out of a jam from 12.12.97 in Albany, the song’s rhythms reached out and grabbed the audience, urging them to move to the high-paced and boisterous rock textures. While this was a noble debut of the song, two nights later in Providence, the song would explode, immediately discovering its improvisational potential.
But the true fireworks of this set came after the first three songs. As the band sank into a warm and groovy “Wolfman’s Brother,” the audience basked in the thick grooves that they had grown so accustomed to the previous fall. As the smooth patterns washed over the audience, prompting all sort of funkified movement, the band methodically churned away, creating a series of infectious rhythms. Intentionally, yet subtly, the band set up a seamless transition into “Sneaking Sally Through the Alley,” a song that brought our collective consciousness back to that crazy night of 12.30.97. Combining these two funk springboards, the band created an incredibly infectious dance session with their precise and collaborative playing. This was some addictive music.
Interestingly, following the rhythmic pop-off, the band transitioned into another debut, “Frankie Sez” (though no one really knew the name at the time). An enchanting and mystical tune about the earth’s natural movements and its relationship to humanity, its first performance was a gripping juxtaposition amidst this phenomenal set.
The highest point of this set, however, was about to drop– “Twist.” Taking this song further out than ever before, the band created an astounding psychedelic journey of melodic space-groove. This is pure Phish crack, the stuff that just reaches out and grabs a hold of your heart without letting go. This was IT. About halfway through the jam Kuroda hopped on board, creating perhaps his best lighting performance ever (see below.) This jam is an essential piece of Phish history, illustrating the improvisational chops of the band and Kuroda, all at once. A blissful amalgamation of melody, harmony, and rhythm, this set the bar for the following three nights- a bar that would readily be demolished with the following show.
4.2.98 “Twist” Jam (Kuroda’s Finest Moment)
Simply put, this is my favorite Phish show ever played. With two sets of pure fire, and a second set that represents the ultimate in Phish improvisation, the numbers 4.3.98 will always hold a special and unique place in my heart.
On the second night of our island adventure, the band chose to begin with a full-on “Mike’s Groove.” (They opened the four shows with “Tube,” “Mike’s,” “Tweezer,” and “Oh Kee Pah > YEM”…’nuff said!) Building on every bit of energy from the previous night, the band busted out of the gate like Secretariat with a booming “Mike’s Song.” Like most Fall ’97 versions, this one included a distinct funk jam before it dove into its more seething psychedelia. Mike was straight thumping as Trey joined in with perfectly complementary wah-grooves. Page fit in playing short organ patterns without dominating the texture. The band entered in a dance groove that seemed like we were deep in the second set. Before long, Trey began playing leads over the bulbous and layered grooves, sounding as if his playing was composed. Trey was flowing like lava from his first note on this special evening, and he never stopped.
As this “Mike’s” grew more engaging with each passing moment, it was quite evident that the band had something special going on this evening. With one screaming lick, Trey initiated the darker half of the jam, leaving the sparse funk behind and heading for dirty psychedelia. Oddly enough, this “Mike’s” segued into “My Old Home Place” rather abruptly. But following the down-home ditty, the band tore into a multi-faceted twenty-minute “Weekapaug” that would normally stand out as the highlight of any show; but not on 4.3.98.
The band didn’t take long to improvise away from “Weekapaug’s” typical path, heading for much more percussive territory. With each member using their instrument as a rhythmic tool, a polyrhythmic groove emerged. At this point, the band dove into some extremely Talking-Heads-esque playing; some of the most interesting bass-led music of the evening. The band entrenched themselves deeper in their percussive experiment, creating some phenomenally tight patterns. Soon, the band found themselves chanting the “Crosseyed and Painless” melody over the insane grooves. What the hell was going on!? The band was this deep twenty minutes into the show?! Yes; that they were. Trey took the “Crosseyed” melody to his guitar, artistically peaking the section of the jam and landing perfectly back in “Weekapaug.” These were some amazing musical acrobatics, pulled off right at the onset of the show. After the 35 minute “Mike’s Groove” ended with an unconventional double-time musical sprint without a lyrical reprise, the crowd was floored. Was the band serious?! This is when I started to ponder what was really going on at these shows- the band might as well have been a four-headed monster rather than four individual humans. This was different than the previous fall.
The remaining highlight of the set, as if it needed any, was a sublime trip through an extended “Reba.” Phish pulled out many heavy hitters, and the quality of the playing was extraordinary; perfect in a way I had never heard before. So many of the jams from this night are so together and tight they sound rehearsed. With transcendent melodies effortlessly rolling off the stage, the band was in a place of supreme musical comfort, and we were blessed to be a part of it. It’s no wonder they were bored up in Vermont with this type of energy bubbling inside them.
However, for every bit as good as the first set was, this night’s second frame would go down in history as one of the best ever played. I am hesitant to even attempt to write about this set of music, knowing whatever words I devise can not come close to describing its majesty. The 40+ minutes that made up “Roses Are Free > Piper” passed through so many Phishy realms- grooves, bliss, ambient space, and evil darkness- all wrapped into one jam, it was literally a dream come true. Exploratory, yet cohesive; out there, yet directed, this segment of music contained unbridled power. Initiating the improv with an extended set of to-die-for Phish grooves, Trey and Mike absolutely crushed it, wrapping their minds and musical ideas tightly around each other. Page and Fish framed their grooves, contributing as two complementary cogs in the machine. After this period of sublime rhythmic focus, Trey transcended the patterns with ridiculously flowing improvised leads that sounded completely pre-written. How could everything be so perfect?!
Soon the jam traveled into an abstract Phishy-ambient space. With Fishman bringing the music deeper with shimmering beats, Page, Mike and Trey transformed into an amorphous ball of harmony and melody. When the jam finally seemed as if it could be heading for a calm landing point in “Piper,” the whole band jumped on a new idea and took the abstract jam to a much darker place. Before long, the music built into one of those delicate and sacred places where the band just oozes IT. Trey ascended to his “spiritual” tone with divine phrases and licks, bringing everyone along for the ride. Things then became subconscious- for them, for me, for everyone- the unifying spirit; a completely unique experience. Led by improvisation that was not heard every day, and was most definitely worth writing home about, this jam possessed at least some of the answers to the universal questions. Phish then somehow crept the music, unsuspectingly, back from the depths, right back to where it was headed in the first place, landing in “Piper.”
Seamlessly transitioning into the song, they band absolutely nailed it, and just as the adventure was winding down, there sparked a new beginning! For the first, and only time in the band’s career, they improvised out of the melodic denouement of “Piper.” From the first time I heard this song in Virginia Beach, I always knew it could reach another level if they used the ending as a springboard, and they finally did! This was my perfect world. The progressed from this beauty back into even darker and heavier abstract places- stuff you’d never really imagined. Spirits of the universe groaned awake after a slumber of a million years. They band channeled extra-terrestrial energy, providing a psychedelic trampoline to face your inner-self amidst this celestial sludge; confronting your fears and realizing your dreams. Building to a frightening peak in this alternate universe, the music finally trickled back down to earth. This was the ultimate.
As my my brain slowly slid back to Nassau, NY, Page began a celebratory “Loving Cup” that seemed so perfectly placed after the unrelenting and gorgeous psychedelia that preceded it. Yet what happened during this “Loving Cup” turned out to be more significant than the song itself.
Toward the end of the song, a fan jumped on stage, and narrowly avoided being caught by drum tech and stage security guy, Pete Carini. The crowd roared as the the fan hurled himself back into the crowd untouched, and as the song ended with the crowd deafening, the band started up an “Antelope.” This intro had the now famous, “Carini’s gonna get you!” joke, started by Fishman and carried out by the rest of the band. You could feel the overwhelming energy of the audience bubbling up with each repetition of the line. The place was about to explode, and it did with a ridiculously fierce set-closing “Antelope.” Phish had the the venue literally going berserk when this set ended.
Although the band had just played a career-defining concert, this massive surge of energy certainly came from this late set stage jumping episode. Had it not been for his antics, the encore most likely would have taken another route. But with the building vibrating with enthusiasm, the band came out and dropped the second ever domestic “Carini,” only three shows after dropping the first (12.30.97). The show could have ended here, but instead, surfing the emotional wave, Phish dropped into “Halley’s Comet” to the delight of all! As the time came for the jam, the band cut right into “Tweezer Reprise”- but there was never any “Tweezer!” Breaking out their ultimate tool of adrenaline when it was most appropriate, they would follow up the improvised “Reprise” with a set-opening “Tweezer” in Providence the next night. This “Reprise” found Trey aggressively marching in circles on stage, knowing they were putting the stamp on one of the best nights of their career.
“Tweezer Reprise” 4.3.98
WEST COAST SUMMER ’09 RUMOR MILL:
7.30 – 8.2: Red Rocks, Morrison, CO
8.5: Coors Amp. Chula Vista, CA
8.7 – 8.8: Hollywood Bowl, LA, CA
8.11 – 8.12: Shoreline, Mountain View, CA
8.14 – 8.15: The Gorge, George, WA
PHISH THOUGHTS TICKET EXCHANGE:
The board is up and running with well over 200 users having posted requests or tickets. I am putting a permalink in the upper right hand corner of the home page, so you can always access the board from there. Remember, you need an invite in order to post on the board. To get one, send an email to email@example.com with your email address as the subject line and a funny joke in the text. Thanks!
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
The initial show of Summer ’97 featured the debut of seven originals and two covers, comprising almost half the show. Along with their new host of songs, Phish squeezed in great versions of “Stash,” “Maze,” and “Slave.” The highlight of the show, however, came when “Chalk Dust” morphed into an atypical funk jam which led into the first-ever “Ghost.”
I: Theme from the Bottom, Dogs Stole Things*, Beauty of My Dreams, Billy Breathes, Limb By Limb*, Wolfman’s Brother > Wading in the Velvet Sea*, Taste
II: Stash, Maze, Water in the Sky*, Vultures*, Slave to the Traffic Light, Chalk Dust Torture > Ghost*, Oblivious Fool*, Character Zero
E: Stand!#, Izabella##
*First time played. #First time played (Sly and the Family Stone cover) ##First time played (Jimi Hendrix Experience cover)