Few evenings have gone down in Phish history like the night of November 2, 1998. Ten years ago yesterday, following their high-key sold out Vegas Halloween weekend, Phish pulled into the desolate E Center of Salt Lake City, Utah on a Monday night. As the weekend warriors happily dispersed across the country with the sounds of Velvet Underground’s Loaded floating through their heads, others on tour chose to skip Utah in favor or driving the more direct route to the following show in Denver. Ever since Phish began donning musical costumes in 1994, covering Pink Floyd’s seminal work, Dark Side of the Moon, was an idea and rumor that consistently permeated the community. Always brought up in conversations regarding potential cover albums, Dark Side was seen as the ultimate choice the band could make. Arguably the best album ever made by the best studio band in history, many thought Phish would never attempt at reproducing such an epic; the counter-argument always being- “They are Phish.”
Upon entering the frigid lot, one thing was abundantly clear- there was no one there. This fact was confirmed once entering the arena. With the seats virtually empty and the floor sparsely populated, everyone had the ability to roam freely throughout the venue. This was the polar opposite of the densely packed Thomas & Mack Center, where you had to be a detective to find a few square feet of dance space. With a totally divergent atmosphere from the opening weekend of tour, this evening had one of the loosest, mellow feelings of any post-1996 Phish show. Something musically significant was bound to happen, but who knew?
As everyone chose their spot for the show easily and without hassle, Phish greeted the miniature 4000 person audience with something to dance to right off the bat. Opening with a oft-looked over thirty minute combination of Tube > Drowned, Phish began to shred as soon as the lights dropped. With so much focus duly placed on the other-wordly second set, this opening sequence consistently gets forgotten, but it is one of the best show-opening sequences of latter-day Phish. A Tube jam that was sculpted by the band before Trey began painting their canvas with rhythm licks, this rendition kicked into overdrive when Trey and Page began to flow with complimentary lead lines. Also standing out for its post-Tube jam similar to the classic Dayton ’97 version, this section differs in feel and grows beyond mere groove. Far more than prototypical Phish funk, this jam evolved into improvised transcendent territory with Trey soloing majestically. Finalizing itself with a smooth drop into Drowned, this Tube had the show off to the races.
Moving from its standard upbeat rock ‘n’ roll into some driving full-band improv, Drowned continued the bombastic beginning before slowing down and smoothly segueing into ZZ Top’s “Jesus Left Chicago.” Calming down into the blues number, the small crowd responded in a big way to the opening half-hour of the set, but it was not near the ovation that occurred when the band stopped for the first time at the end of the song-40 minutes into the set. Knowing they were witnessing some special Phish, the small crowd exuded big energy.
With a string of more mellow songs filling out the set, the band dove deep once more before the break, with a fifteen minute excursion into the poly-rhythmic textures of Limb by Limb. With many standout Phish jams in the first set, it is interesting that it hasn’t attracted more attention over the years. Understandably overshadowed by what would happen later in the show, the first set remained one of the best opening frames of tour.
With three relatively quick versions of Disease, Mango and Moma after half time, Phish sat into a mid-set YEM dance session to the delight of the few thousand sharing the more than ample arena space. Seemingly going all out on this evening, as the band worked through the vocal jam with lots of time left to go, many wondered what would come next.
With the opening Oom Pah Pah’s of “Harpua,” the “special out-of-the-way show” stamp was indelibly printed on the evening. As the song entered its middle story telling part, Trey creatively crafted a tale that paralleled the fate of so many fans in attendance. Jimmy decided to leave his house with Poster to go to Las Vegas, but upon reaching the city, he became overwhelmed by the number of people and chaos, and he just couldn’t take it. Jimmy wanted to see a concert in Vegas, but he just couldn’t find a ticket- eliciting large cheers from the crowd. Jimmy then hitched a ride back across the desert with a guy heading to Salt Lake City for a concert the following night. As the guy puts on one of Jimmy’s “favorite albums,” the surreal quality of the night began.
With the unmistakable opening heartbeat of Dark Side coming through the PA, the few thousand erupted before a note was even played. Sitting into the opening of “Breathe,” all were in disbelief of what was going down. As Phish had often covered songs within the story of Harpua, the question of the moment was, “Were they playing the whole thing!?” A piece of art that truly can not be broken up, it sure seemed like it was about to unfold. Having decided to play the album only hours before the show, and “re-learning” it backstage, the band smoothly segued into “On the Run,” the ambient psychedelic buildup to “Time.” If those bells rang, everyone in the building knew the band was going the distance. The anticipation was intense, as they could have easily slid back into Harpua out of the space. But sure enough, out of the silence came the barrage of alarm clocks- it was on!
Fans were shocked as they strapped themselves in for what would surely be one of the more memorable rides of the band’s career. Sounding eerily similar to the original, Phish moved through the masterpiece of psychedelic culture with astounding proficiency only two days after playing one of the defining cover sets of their career. “Time,” the first lyrical piece of the album, initiated everyone into the proceedings as the well known song set up the metaphysical themes of the album.
As the record progressed, the band continually nailed the vocal harmonies of each song, while being treated to a valiant effort by Fishman trying to reproduce the operatic solo in “Great Gig in the Sky.” Certainly fluctuating between impressive and hard to listen to, this would have to be the obvious speed bump in an otherwise spot on performance. Without anyone who could truly do the part justice, Fishman stepped up and certainly gave it his all.
The classic “Us and Them” immediately turned into a show highlight as the band treated the liquid composition with delicate reverence. Floating through the mind-altering bliss of the album’s slower centerpiece, Phish absolutely nailed this nugget of rock history, with Trey filling in smoothly for the missing saxophone solo. After the song’s dramatic crescendo, the band seamlessly oozed into the slowed down grooves of “Any Colour You Like.” Absolutely owning this segment of the album, the band collectively built the instrumental peak before sliding into the epic ending of “Brain Damage > Eclipse.”
Methodically progressing through the climax of the album, jaws hung wide as Phish played this transcendent sequence of music’s past. They had done it; pulled off one of the Phishiest moves in history, treating the smallest crowd of tour to the set that everyone had been dying to hear for four years. As the magnificent ending of “Eclipse” came to a head, and the “sun [was] eclipsed by the moon,” the band did not hesitate in moving directly back into the ending of Harpua, something most of the crowd had already forgotten about.
Moving through the magical ending melodies of the song, the band reminded us that despite their two musical costumes in consecutive shows, Phish would always be Phish. On a night where nobody needed to be reminded of the band’s versatility, the band came out and jokingly threw down a one-time sloppy cover of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” A random ending to a once in a lifetime evening, the fans in attendance navigated the Utah cold with both an inner and outer glow that permeated the rest of the evening, the day off, and the entire drive to Denver. A night no one would ever forget, many stories would be told about the night Phish covered Dark Side of the Moon, and nobody was there to see it.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
Check it out in all its glory. A great show even without Dark Side, this one is chock full of ’98 Phish improv. You need no more description of this night of pure Phish mayhem, just listen.
I: Tube, Tube Jam > Drowned > Jesus Just Left Chicago, Driver*, Bittersweet Motel**, Limb by Limb, Wading in the Velvet Sea, Sample in a Jar
II: Down with Disease, The Mango Song, The Moma Dance, You Enjoy Myself, Harpua > Speak to Me, Breathe, On the Run, Time, The Great Gig in the Sky, Money, Us and Them, Any Colour You Like, Brain Damage, Eclipse > Harpua#
E: Smells Like Teen Spirit##
Only about 4000 in attendance. *Acoustic; dedicated to Wendy and Lisa, two women whom Trey and Mike met the night before. **Acoustic; with a “Freebird ending”, similar to the 07-20-98 “Poor Heart.” Trey dedicated it to the people at the Dead Goat Saloon, and talked about getting free drinks and karoake. He also discussed the band picturing what it would be like if the entire audience were on stage with them, with no one in the audience. So they played it with this image in mind. #One verse sung twice; another omitted ##First time played