Exiting the Coliseum at Nassau and preparing for our trip north, spirits could not have been higher. We were smack dab in the middle of some crazy-ass Phish, and we just left one of the most transcendent musical experiences of our lives. The drive through the night to Rhode Island was fun and refreshing, trying to replay the nights events in our mind. As The Beatles once sang, “It [was] all too much.” The entire community was juiced after the first two episodes of The Island Run, and they brought every ounce of that juice up to New England.
There was quite the scene outside the Civic Center on Saturday night, as fans congregated in the streets and lots surrounding the venue. The hardest ticket of the four, many sought out extras to get themselves into what would surely be another outlandish event. Never were you so sure that a show would blow up than this one on 4.4.98. Following Nassau, everyone knew Phish were knee deep in IT, effortlessly creating masterful music. Everyone wanted in, and those who found their way through the threshold were treated to a show they would never forget.
As many fans predicted from Nassau’s closing “Reprise,” the band opened up the Providence weekend with “Tweezer.” But this was no standard “set-opening” jam, rather a deep exploration into the groove-based ethos of the song. Complete with multiple improvisational segments, much like the Nassau “Mike’s” did, this “Tweezer” gave us the impression we were far into the show already. Phish didn’t need to warm up for these nights, they were feeling IT, they were living IT, they were IT. As soon as the jam dropped, Mike led the band out of the gate in a patient opening before the band dove in earnestly. What came out was a near twenty-minute groove-fest that sparked the Providence crowd, catching them up to what went down in Long Island.
Trey stepped in, providing guiding rhythm guitar patterns that framed the jam flawlessly. This was one of those moments that I couldn’t help letting out a somewhat maniacal laugh while raging, just pondering the sheer absurdity of this colossal opener. This jam existed as a measure of how balanced the band’s playing was at this time, with no one member dominating the textures, yet churning out amazing music like a machine. Interestingly, Trey introduced a melody in this jam that he would toy with and carry throughout most jams in this show- a sort of themed lick for the evening. (For those who care, it comes at about 12:25 on the SBD). This “Tweezer” grew out of the funk and into its more climactic space. Once the jam peaked, the band settled into some late ’97 stop/start solos before dripping into a smoking version of “Taste.” Despite a nice “Limb by Limb,” the rest of the set was filled with fun, yet composed pieces. The stage was set for what was sure to be an epic second half.
The buzz that had began in Nassau had traveled to Providence. Setbreak had a tangible vibe of excitement as everyone knew that the second set would be epic- there was no doubt. And everyone was right. The upcoming frame would be composed of some of Phish’s biggest songs, all magnified under the almighty lens of The Island Run.
They opened with the quickened drum beats of “Birds of a Feather,” and it took a moment to place the song, due to hearing it for the first time only two nights before. They never repeated songs over four nights, so if Phish was opening this second set of this show with a song they debuted in Nassau, you knew there had to be a reason. Over the course of the next 17 minutes, the reason became evident as the improvisational potential of “Birds” was wholly uncovered in a fiercely psychedelic odyssey.
Creating an intense jam that went beyond the typical aggressive rock rhythms of “Birds,” Phish engaged in some intergalactic communication, playing one of the definitive jams of the run. As the band engaged in improv, it was as if they were collectively sailing the smooth strings of the universe, playing with no hesitation whatsoever. About halfway through, when the band diverted their course into some chunky and locked music, effects were layered onto the jam and it adopted a certain outer-space quality. Possibly foreshadowing the upcoming “2001,” it was at this point that Trey returned to his “4.4.98″ melody, integrating it into this building jam artistically and with slower phrasing. The band was passing musical ideas as easily as a spliff, tearing through sublime improvisational planes at a breakneck speed. Gradually, they brought the music back to the song’s lyrical refrain, completing the high-speed chase through spacetime, and leaving the arena drenched in sonic residue.
Yet, these residual textures soon developed into an intro to a larger-than-life “2001.” As the band brewed their aural stew, the crowd was perched at the edge, waiting for Fish’s snare hit to transform the Civic Center into a space-aged dance hall. And then it happened- the band entered the crack-groove as the lights dropped; only colored rays danced around the arena (see video below). The grooves were straight slammin’; the band was subconscious yet again, effortlessly creating some of the best music of their career. This “2001″ doesn’t get mentioned nearly enough with top versions, but I would challenge anyone to find 20 more intense and coherent minutes to ever come out of the song. Sure, there are longer renditions (The Went, The Gorge), but they don’t hold up to the insane tightness and urgency of this version. This was a perfect example of the band members playing as one entity- they may as well have had one brain- as they flew through grooves like never before. Trey absolutely annihilated this jam with far more aggressive leads than usual for the song.
Ironically, one of the best versions of “2001″ ever unveiled only moved through the theme once. The band spent most all of their time improvising like never before. The post-theme section of the jam was fairly succinct, as they created a sparser palate colored by Page’s Rhodes washes. Cleverly, the band broke down the groove piece by piece, eventually landing in a vocal jam!? Yes, this is how spontaneous the band felt during these nights, bringing one of their most intense jams to a quirky conclusion before Trey, in rhythm, strummed the beginning chords to “Brother!”
While most renditions of “Brother” focused on brain swelling intensity and seeing how far the music could be pushed before it imploded, this version grew quite differently. Following the initial high-paced section, the band entered some surreal improvisation that brought the maniacal jam to a place of beauty with its odd time signature; like a ride on a psychedelic swing set. Leaving the song far behind, this turned into a completely original jam, and one of the true highlights of the show. Beauty and delicacy after such bombast lifted up people’s souls. It’s hard to claim any band member “stood out” in such a collective effort; this was pure Phish, plain and simple. Ending in cacophonous dissonance before returning to the song’s theme, this was a bona fide Phish adventure.
Following a second 15-second “radio friendly” version of “Brother,” Trey explained that the next song was “radio unfriendly” because it was “really long and really slow.” Following the build-up, Phish dropped into the old-school opening of “Ghost,” automatically upping the ante of the set. Often overlooked due to the plethora of stand-out “Ghosts” in this era, the Island version deserves its proper credit. This 4.4 rendition didn’t focus on thick funk, but rather an eerie climbing melodic theme. Ridiculously patient, the band allowed the jam to evolve organically, again complementing each other as if using ESP. Latching onto each other’s phrases, and building the jam like a psychedelic construction crew, Phish built a swirling peak of harmonic melodies, seemingly levitating the venue. Quickly popping from his plane, the band segued jokingly into the “Blues Brother’s” theme they had bust out during the 12.29.97, telling us they hadn’t forgot about those MSG shows either.
Following the non-stop hour of intense psychedelia, the band used a Gamehendge centerpieces, “Lizards,” to provide for some breathing space and reflection. As we tried to wrap our minds around the madness, Trey’s “If I Were a Dog” solo in the second part of the song gave every one the space to move inward. This song couldn’t have been more randomly placed, and it couldn’t have been placed more perfectly. Everything was clicking, we were fully immersed in Phish’s power.
This marathon set had to be coming to a close soon. And with the signature cymbal hits of “David Bowie,” we knew how things would wrap up- with another dark journey. The entire set had an “unknown space-age” feel to it, with each jam more unique than the next. This set created a powerful counterpart to the previous night’s in Nassau . The band’s enthusiasm was indicative by the fact that every song in this set, with the exception of “Lizards,” extended beyond fifteen minutes.
“Bowie” was the ideal closer for this set of super-stardom. The effortless quality of their jamming continued, quickly translating into a vintage version of the classic song. In a set that favored darkness over light and madness over calm, “Bowie” served as the only fitting punctuation to the set. With the encore drop of “Harry Hood,” the crowd exalted in what was to come. A twenty-minute pristine “Hood” put a sublime exclamation point to a night of menacing mania. It was crystal clear that Trey ‘s melodies were flowing directly from his soul as he gazed up into the rafters while losing himself in the music’s majesty. Intricate and perfectly played from note one, this fantastic voyage landed us exactly where we needed to be. As the poignant music washed over me, I felt so lucky to be there. Not just “there” as in Providence, but “there” as in the era of the Phish. As my mind spun with dizzying realizations and was flooded with sublime music, I felt an overwhelming sense of bliss and an appreciation for life in all its majesty. I was alive, Phish was alive and things had, literally, never been better for me in my entire life.
It felt so strange to be entering the fourth show already; the first three blurred together like a dream. Following up their “Tube,” “Mike’s” and “Tweezer” openers from the first three nights, the band raised the proverbial curtain with another huge bomb- “Oh Kee Pah > YEM.” With everyone in the venue expecting a transition to “Suzy” or “Bag,” Phish surprised all with the opening to “You Enjoy Myself.” Not only did the band open with “YEM,” they opened with one of the most defining “YEMs” of the late ’90s; the show’s highest highlight came right off the bat on this night!
With the dive into the jam, the Civic Center exploded. Laying back and listening to his bandmates set up an insane groove, Trey entered the jam with a set of rhythm licks that could not have been conceived any better if composed. This was some funky Phish music, far beyond a conventional “YEM’s” rhythmic patterns. Subtly adding layers to the jam, the band set up Trey’s entrance. Using the space perfectly, he brought some infectious rhythm playing to the onset of the jam, before his licks gave way to a sublime guitar narration. Sounding as if telling a story to a group of children, Trey delicately accented his phrasings, lending emotional meaning to his notes. If I were to pick one “YEM” to listen to for the rest of my life, this would be the one. Yup, it’s that good. It is so coherent and smoothness is surreal without being in your face. There are so many distinct parts of the jam that we used to have own ideas on which part was the sickest, and the choices were manifold. This was a huge highlight of the run.
A serene “Theme,” “McGrupp” combo brought the aqua blue lights out and chilled the arena with soothing songs before the next significant improvisational segment of “Bathtub Gin > Cities” took over. While not incredibly extended, the “Gin” featured tight playing and a feel-good vibe that infused the audience. The band’s methodical playing stood out during this jam which remained harnessed to the song’s melodic theme. Yet, instead of returning to the original melody at end the song, Phish spent the last couple minutes of the jam improvising away from “Gin’s” structure, creating a funked out texture that seemed to be heading elsewhere. Pretty quickly, Trey started slowly playing the chords of “Cities” over this canvas, and the band gradually all caught on, creating a less-than-perfect transition into the Talking Heads cover. But once the opening groove hit, any small stumble was meaningless. The composed section of the song featured many subtle improvised variations that always stood out so vividly in Phish songs. Mike hits up a melodic bass line at the end of the jam that sounds like it belongs in a Wu-Tang verse; it’s quite nasty. This wonderfully satiating dose of dance grooves absolutely hit the spot, as everyone wanted to hear “Cities” any time possible over ’97 and ’98.
“Sparkle” was the calm before the set-ending storm of “Split Open and Melt.” A menacing jam saw the band play with the same effortlessness that had defined this entire run. As if the instruments were playing them, there was no separation between thought and musical expression. Basking in IT for four straight days, the band could do no wrong, regardless of what song they chose to play, and that is an absolutely literal statement. There are simply no low-lights from the run, and this “Split” fit right into character. A ridiculously coherent jam, it is almost hard to distinguish any of the member’s playing as their musical offerings morphed into a complete whole; moving, twisting, and growing as one.
When the lights came on after yet another absurd set, we looked at each other glowing, yet realizing there was only one set to go in this extraordinary place called “The Island Run.” Yet savoring the moment, we tried to fathom what musical feats the band could possibly still pull out. The last set grew in theme, favoring melody and triumph over rhythms and psychedelic dance music. The set-opening “Disease” felt like a community celebration of all that had happened over these four nights. Completely ripping joyful Phish rock carried the beginning of the set. Yet, the jam grew dirtier for the second half, with the entire band crushing far more improvisational patterns. This “Disease” moved from a gleeful stomp through the meadows to a brisk walk through the urban nighttime, growing in intrigue as it progressed. Winding up in completely improvisational land, Phish finally left all traces of the song behind, creating an eerie canvas. Just as we thought we might be heading way out into the stratosphere of psychedelia, the jam came to a natural end in silence.
Out of the silence came a change of vibe with the opening guitar chords of “Yamar.” While this seemed like rather odd placement for the island cover, it kept the set moving along its upbeat theme. Once the band entered the improv, this “Yamar” became magic. Trey absolutely slaughtered this, playing lines as if they were coming off a record. It was a joke; he was spewing gorgeous melodies as easily taking a pee. Completely going off, Trey mesmerized the crowd, and his own band with his work. Mike, Fish and Page quickly stepped out of the jam’s prominence, and then into silence, allowing Trey’s quiet solo melodies to take this version to the bank. The whole arena was silent, listening to Trey play exactly what was in his heart at that moment of glory, his emotions to pour directly out though his guitar. The band emerged from the darkness with a stunning musical bliss, sounding like we were gradually headed for “Slave.” The following portion of music is some of the most soulful of the weekend, as the band complemented each other subtly, flawlessly and beautifully.
This segment ended in some more solo playing by Trey that instead of leading into “Slave,” brought us into a classic second set “Prince Caspian.” Love it, or hate it, late second set of a great show is when “Caspian” appears. Bringing us childhood memories of Narnia, the band unleashed an awe-striking jam. With stellar piano work by Page, classic Gordeaux bass lines, crashing cymbal work, and Trey wailing in a distorted tone, this wasn’t your every day “Caspian,” it was Island “Caspian;” there is a huge difference.
The rest of the set unfolded quite unexpectedly. “Maze” thumped into play, seeming to not fit with the set’s or weekend’s feel, but Phish had a different plan; wanting to return to the funk, but in the Phishiest of ways. Using “Maze” and “Possum,” two of the least funky songs in their repertoire, the band segued creatively into two last doses of dance music. As “Maze” raged along as expected, the band used one of the “white-light crescendos” to smash into a bass-led song that was unrecognizable at first. But as the band began to sing, it was apparent that they had re-arranged “Oblivious Fool” more than a little bit, transforming it into the bizarre and funky song we were seeing. Even in the last minutes of their run, Phish was bubbling with tricks and energy.
Smack in the middle of what seemed to be a shredding set-ending “Possum,” the band pulled a similar stunt, transitioning on a dime into one of the most memorable jams of the weekend. All off a sudden, Trey was tickling the crowd with his rhythm licks and the band cannon-balled into the jam with some the thickest funk of the weekend. Trey summed up everyone’s feeling in his classic speech:
So it’s getting near the end of this little four day run. It’s been really fun, and its kind of weird having to stop after four days…And i started this little funk groove because we can’t end this whole thing without a little bit more funk, since that’s kinda been the theme. So for those of you want to take off, take off, but for those of you who want to just dance to the funk, we’re gonna stay around and keep grooving.
4.3.98 (Joel Price)
Igniting the crowd to its highest possible point of energy, this banter will live eternally in Phish history. The band proceeded to play the deepest funk of the weekend, cleverly building into “Cavern.” Moving into the classic set-closer, the crowd was blindsided one last time, and roared in response. Ending the run with possibly the Phishiest moment of the four nights, the bittersweet reality had come to light, the run was indeed over.
The Island Run remains a pinnacle of Phish’s career; a moment defined by such communal energy and enthusiasm, from the audience and band, alike. The supreme magic of those nights remains a lingering mystery. Never to be approached by another run for the rest of their career, these four nights were of another dimension. The music created over those four nights is timeless, needing only a reference by song combos for everyone to understand what you are talking about. “Roses > Piper,” “Birds >2001 > Brother” “Oh Kee Pah > Yem,” “Wolfman’s > Sally,” Mike’s > My Old home Place,” “Gin > Cities,” “Disease > Yamar,” “Maze >Shafty”- you get the drift. This was not everyday Phish; these were the best four consecutive shows ever played. This was The Island Run.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
4.25.92 Evergreen College Rec Center, Olympia, WA SBD < LINK
Here we dip into the standout month of April ’92 when Phish visited Evergreen before their legendary Fall ’94 gig. The setlist reads like a cannon of old-school Phish, and the second set is anchored by the “Bathtub Gin,” “YEM” combination. A great SBD nugget for your Friday afternoon. Enjoy!
I: Suzy Greenberg, My Friend My Friend, Paul and Silas, Reba, Brother, Tela, Chalk Dust Torture, Bouncing Around the Room, Rift, Magilla, Run Like an Antelope
II: Maze, Bathtub Gin, You Enjoy Myself, Silent in the Morning, All Things Reconsidered, Dinner and a Movie, Harry Hood, Weigh
E: Cold as Ice > Terrapin > Cold as Ice, Poor Heart