"A lot of people ask us what our favorite place to play is... I have to say, this is pretty much it."
-Trey Anastasio, 10/25/96
6 CD box set released by Phish in November 1999. It was the first of their live albums to document a full show from start to finish, and not just one, either, but two: 11/20/98 and 11/21/98. By including both shows of the two-night stand at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia, the band tried to show how they unite neighboring shows to create a more powerful experience, assuming all able fans will attend both. Unfortunately, this particular example doesn't contain much in the way of shared musical ideas carrying over. In fact, many fans were disappointed with this choice for release, because it really doesn't feature much jamming, especially compared to the '97 Hampton two-night stand. However, when listened to alongside Live Phish 06: 11/27/98, which has a few of the same songs, it makes very clear how different types of spontaneity can grip the band in the course of a week.
The title is a pun in reference to Frampton Comes Alive, the infamous live album by Peter Frampton. The design of the packaging is uniquely clever, and possibly the smallest box ever to fit six CDs inside. Both sides of the white cardboard box are held shut with hidden magnets and open to reveal three individual cardboard slipcovers containing the three discs for each show. The slipcovers, and the booklets inside them, display one-sixth of a different photograph on each face, and can be arranged in a grid to solve jigsaw puzzles, like so:
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| 1 | 2 | 3 |
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| 4 | 5 | 6 |
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This diagram also appears on each individual disc, with one of the blocks shaded in, letting you know where you are in the overall saga.
- Rock and Roll Part 2 (2:04)
- Tube (4:13)
- Quinn the Eskimo (4:29)
- Funky Bitch (6:38)
- Guelah Papyrus (6:12)
- Rift (5:59)
- Meat (6:17)
- Stash (12:45)
Set One continued
- Train Song (3:31)
- Possum (10:03)
- Roggae (8:15)
- Driver (3:58)
- Split Open and Melt (12:51)
- Bathtub Gin (14:13)
- Piper (7:05)
- Axilla (4:43)
- Roses Are Free (5:22)
- Farmhouse (4:59)
- Gettin Jiggy Wit It(7:13)
- Harry Hood (12:49)
- Character Zero (7:38)
- Cavern (4:48)
- Wilson (7:03)
- Big Black Furry Creatures From Mars (5:09)
- Lawn Boy (2:50)
- The Divided Sky (15:12)
- Cry Baby Cry (3:06)
- Boogie On Reggae Woman (6:13)
- NICU (5:34)
Set One continued
- Dogs Stole Things (4:35)
- Nellie Kane (3:20)
- Foam (9:51)
- Wading in the Velvet Sea (6:30)
- Guyute (10:17)
- Bold As Love (6:46)
- Sabotage (3:08)
- Mike's Song (11:51)
- Simple (15:28)
- The Wedge (5:56)
- The Mango Song (7:44)
- Free (4:48)
- Ha Ha Ha (1:34)
- Free (5:15)
- Weekapaug Groove (8:36)
- Tubthumping (5:20)
Rock and Roll Part Two is a song that you know, even if you don't recognize the title. It's the sports one. "Nana nana na--HEY!" Yeah, that one. Whenever Phish opens the show with a song they've never played before, you know some seriously wacky stuff is gonna go down that night. (Trey played along when Paul broadcast it over the PA on 12/31/94, but that doesn't count as a full band performance.) Some suspect Trey and Fish just whipped this one up on the spot-- Page doesn't really seem to know what to do. It's fun for a couple minutes and gets the crowd chanting, but it doesn't really go anywhere and after two choruses they wind it down.
Then Trey shouts, "Tube! Tube!" Since it's one of the few Phish tunes that begins with a drum cue, not a guitar part, Trey, as the guitarist and bandleader, has to make the selection vocally. This used to be an extraordinarily rare tune until Fall '97, when its fat funk jamming possibilities became clear. This version, though packed with bounce, is quite short. Trey seems to bring the blues riff in early, cutting off the jam so he can squeeze in more goofy covers.
Like Quinn the Eskimo-- a song the band had not played on stage in over eleven years. This is a Dylan tune, but you're probably more familiar with the Manfred Mann version. Phish plays it looser, which is not to say sloppier, just with more hanging out at the edges. It's short, boppy, poppy, fun.
Then the opening lick of Funky Bitch rips in, and now we're gettin' down to business. This is where they show you that white boys from Vermont can play the blues (even if Mike can't sing them). Page's frenetic organ solo is one of the high points of the disc. Mike and Fish really drive the dancy beat forward, whereas in the next version a week later, they meander a little more.
Guelah Papyrus comes next, and they use it to lay back and take a bit of a rest. This is a far cry from the energetic versions of '93 and '94, this is more like the opening section to a Harry Hood. The crowd is going crazy at the end because of a little choreographed foot dance you can't see Trey and Mike performing.
Rift leaps up to get the set moving again, yet another flagship tune from back in the day that was very rare in '98. Page shows he can still tinkle the ivories as fast as he ever could, and provides some really beautiful counterpoint to the vocal melody just before the "silence" break.
Then another Meaty bass-heavy groove to relax to. The way all the different parts interweave is gorgeous. They always play a game at the end: How many times are they going to pop back in with the main riff? Trey takes a short solo which goes very low indeed, then he creates a spacey digital delay loop bed, and they spend a good minute and a half making creepy ambient effects before Trey cuts them off with the
Stash riff, which means everything's going to explode. This version is much more fragmented than the ones from '94-- Trey doesn't worry about nailing every note, instead preferring to create a mood of quiet menace. The jam has a lot of entrancing moments in the sparseness at the beginning, but not everyone seems to be advancing at the same speed, and the climax is a bit messy if still satisfying. Trey teases the Fikus bass line at 7:58 but plays similar licks throughout that section.
The tranquil, gentle Train Song provides another rest stop. The way they keep changing up the pace may be why this first set goes on so long; each song is almost an opposite in some way to the one before. The acoustic version on Vol. 12 is as much like the album one as possible; by this time, they've found a way to adapt their usual instruments to the song without letting it lose its integrity.
Possum is another oldie, amping us back up with full-bore blues rock. Before long, everyone's dancing crazy again, yelling the chorus. There's a nice near-quiet section around 4:30. Generally, Trey keeps spinning out tight melodic licks, and Mike has his back the whole time, but with as few notes as possible. Trey keeps adding notes and spiraling up the pitch until the whole tornado climaxes at 7:45. Legally, they can end the set at this point with no complaints. But there's more:
Roggae, like Meat, is a then-recent tune that was developed out of in-studio jamming. It lets you hear the band interact with sweet peaceful melodies. Not anything building to a supercharged head, just a sea gently drifting, inside firm walls of distortion. Mike and Trey hook up with some beautiful bouncy waterfall runs and Page fills their space wonderfully with variations on Trey's main composed theme. But this has never been a set ender, so one more's on the way...
...and Driver isn't it either; it's even quieter. Trey switches to his acoustic guitar for this funny, folky piece. This gives Page a lot more room for pretty piano fills. At the time this placement was very common, though the song would all but disappear in '99.
Split Open and Melt has a history of closing out first sets with a tremendous bang, and this one is no exception. Again, Trey spends a while in sparseness trying to find just the right lick to begin the ascent on. By now, this pattern has repeated enough for you to deduce that this is their current style. For instance, if this were, say, '93, everyone else in the band would have jumped on these fat licks just to show they could. Instead, everyone works hard to create their own complementary part. As the jam starts to reach a frenzied peak around the 10-minute mark, Trey uses his Boomerang pedal, a recent addition to his arsenal, which spits out a phrase exactly the way he just played it while he's playing another one. The effect really adds to the chaos. Then, as always, they snap back to the composed theme like a rubber band, and it's setbreak time.
Bathtub Gin had only a year ago begun to have the expanded jam capacity to function in the crucial second set opener slot. Note how the jam takes on a hard driving tone quite unlike the song itself. This is typical. Again, they take their time building to a peak. At 10:00, you can hear Trey outlining the four descending notes of the chord, something he does in a lot of jams to ground the band before they take off again. At the end, he decides not to bring it back around to the main theme but instead creates a digital delay loop, out of which comes
Piper, a maddeningly simple song with limitless possibilities, that slowly speeds up as the same six chords go around again and again and again. This was before the summer 2000 crunch that hit this song after the mammoth Big Cypress version, back when they really let it be slow at the beginning. Fitting with the theme of this show, they keep the jam from flying off the handle into uncharted territory.
Axilla keeps the flame of rock burning strong, but it has zero jam potential. Fish shows some serious skins skills, and they do opt for the "Don't shine that fucking light in my face" coda from the album version.
Roses Are Free, a more traditional retooling of the goofy Ween tune, which was host to a transcendent 20-minute jam on 4/3/98, is here clipped to radio-edit length. This is fun, but not as manic as the premiere (12/11/97), which you can see in Bittersweet Motel.
Farmhouse, a ballad, is typically not in the second set, for good reasons. By now, this set is showing a distinct lack of jamming opportunities. In '99, this song was transposed into a lower key to make it easier on Trey's voice. This version still has some lovely moments from everyone though, especially Mike.
Then Page teases Hold Your Head Up, the old Argent tune, on his organ, and the crowd goes wild. You see, HYHU, as it's abbreviated, is Fishman's theme, and it means he's going to come out from behind the drum kit to sing. (Trey, who played drums in high school before he ever picked up a guitar, replaces him.) This used to happen almost every show but got phased out in 1995. So the crowd is expecting a Syd Barrett tune or maybe Neil Diamond's Cracklin' Rosie. And when the band busts into a sweet little funk groove and Fishman starts rapping Will Smith's Gettin Jiggy Wit It (a huge radio hit at the time)... well, the crowd goes wild again. Two once in a lifetime songs in one show? In the canon of over 1100 Phish shows, that's almost without equivalent.
So the performance is not what you'd term great, but it is a hell of a lot of fun. As they say, you had to be there. Fish takes his signature vacuum cleaner solo, and actually makes it sound pretty hip-hop. Then after running laps around the stage as the band triumphantly plays the HYHU theme again, he settles back behind the kit, exhaustedly blurting, "I love that song."
Then, Harry Hood, a granddaddy jam tune. This is their apology for goofing off so much this set. They really break down the opening reggae section, seeing how much they can back off, almost daring each other to step in. At 1:52, you can hear (thanks to fan-made flyers at Red Rocks, Colorado on 8/6/96) the crowd shout "HOOD!" after the band sings "Harry". There are several differences from '94 versions in the composed section, like the descending run Page plays at 4:26. Once again, they take their time getting up to speed, which is a sign of maturity. At 10:14, Trey even seems to take swipe one of his own licks from the Split jam earlier. They sort of rush the climax but there are still many glorious moments.
Character Zero closes out the set with raucous wailing guitar, which is what Trey wrote it to do. This one seems a little more closed off, as though they've accepted it was never meant to be a jam vehicle. Some of the most fun moments are each member's entrances while the opening lines are sung.
The encore choice, Cavern, is a very common tune, but this one is made special by the guest appearance of Carl "Gears" Gearhard on trumpet. Gears was a member of the original Giant Country Horns that toured with the band in spring '91 and again in summer '94 (you can also hear him on the A Live One Gumbo) and lives in the area. He injects enthusiastic blasts of joy into the mellow spaces between verses, which makes Trey chuckle so much he can barely get the words out. Gears is a big help bringing the song to its peak, and then Trey says, "Thanks, we'll see you tomorrow night..."
Wilson is a very common show and set opener, because it gets the whole crowd chanting. Page goes to his Moog at 3:45 for a dirty, chunky jam, then to the Hammond as Trey fucks with his Boomerang. When they open with a song that rocks hard, they usually follow with another that rocks hard, so people in the crowd are thinking maybe Chalkdust or Sloth.
But instead they pull out Big Black Furry Creature From Mars, one of the rarest of the rare. The scrotum-shattering spectacle of its next and final appearance over a year later can be seen on the Bittersweet Motel DVD. Strobelights. Fog. Trey running around the stage like a madman. This song is full-on insane punk chaos. And Mike screaming his head off, then stopping on a dime to deliver his trademark deadpan. No mind in the house is unblown.
Then it's time for the schmaltzy lounge jazz of Lawn Boy, just because this band loves throwing 180s in your face. Trey gets a kick out of echoing Mike's licks at the top of his solo. The guy can really play amazingly fast when he wants to.
There's a tradition of playing The Divided Sky at this point in the setlist, usually at an outdoor show as the sun sets. Unfortunately, this one doesn't start out with all the energy it needs; the one who seems the most excited about it is Fish, who is obviously limited to a melodic extent. Around the six minute mark, they start the silent jam, which has considerably expanded since the old days. The crowd really gets off on it; I've never quite understood why. At 10:30 they hit the jam section and Page starts going off, but no one else seems to want to head to a peak right away. They finally get there about 14:00, thanks again mostly to Fish, who never runs out of things to hit. A version with some great stuff in it, but not very tight.
Cry Baby Cry is a complete surprise. They learned this one for the White Album set on Halloween '94, and pulled it out only a couple times after that. Page seems to need a minute to remember what the chords are-- it's over three years since he played this last. But soon it's strong and solid.
Boogie On Reggae Woman brings in the old school funk, Stevie Wonder style. This one was a rarity at the time, having recently resurfaced after nine years in storage, but in '99 it would become a setlist mainstay. Here you can hear why: the bouncy jam kicks in immediately after Trey stops singing. Fish tries a few different high hat patterns, and Page even subtly changes the chords. After a couple of minutes, just when they seem about to take it somewhere completely new, Trey cuts them off with the
NICU riff. The two grooves are similar, so it's a pretty smooth transition. The kids love this one (listen for the cheers for Mike "Cactus" Gordon and the "my life was a haze" line) and reportedly it's Fish's favorite tune to play. Trey screams "PLAY IT LEO!!" because Page's marvelous Hammond solo mirrors the calypso one from Ya Mar-- the line comes from the original recording of that song.
Dogs Stole Things is found where it typically is, smack in the middle of the first set, next to some bluegrass. It's a slow chunky blues number (to contrast with the uptempo Funky Bitch from yesterday) and Fish and Mike make every measure interesting. Page chooses to take his solo on the ivories; he always lets his mood determine which board to use on a tune with a timeworn chord progression.
Common bluegrass tunes for this slot would be Beauty of my Dreams or Ginseng Sullivan. But instead they bring back Nellie Kane after four years of abandonment, and it would return several times in '99. They nail the pretty harmonies, and Page's solo evokes nothing but sweetness.
Foam is another increasingly rare tune from back in the day. Since they simply don't jam the same way they did ten years ago (or even one year ago), you can understand why they fell out of love with it: it's a bit of an awkward fit. It's a bit slower and lacking in energy, and Trey violently fragments the long melody before Page's jam. Deep in the middle of Trey's jam, they get as quiet as possible without losing the complex chord changes.
Wading in the Velvet Sea, a tune from their just-released album, switches gears completely. This is how they've matured as people; they can find it within themselves to play slowly and sadly, and what's more, the crowd wants to hear it. This one is a little more mellow and less anthemic than next week's. Page and Trey fit in some lovely lick trading near the end. They always do one more after a ballad to end the set with so here comes
Guyute the dancing pig. Also from the new album, but this tune actually dates back four years and is the last of Trey's extended compositions in the classical counterpoint style, a la Reba and The Divided Sky. The variance between versions occurs mostly in Page's solos over the nursery rhyme melody at the beginning and end, and whenever Fish can squeeze in fills. This version is quite tight, and in '99 the song would be played every third show (for this band, that's beyond overkill) and get a lot looser.
Bold as Love is our extra set closer, another rare gem of "classic" rock. Trey has no problems playing as fast as Jimi (if not with the same indefinable mystery and soul), but what's really impressive is the way Page can both wail and smoothly croon the low parts. This version starts slower and more relaxed than the Vol. 1 version, as though the boys have run out of juice, but then becomes intensely frenzied at the end.
I'm going to stop here and take a second to talk about all the covers in '98, which you've surely noticed by now. On the summer tour, there was a new tune showcased in almost every city. Sometimes it would be a current radio hit like Smashing Pumpkins or Jane's Addiction, sometimes a little more old school like Zep or the Dead. In the fall, they covered their requisite Halloween album plus another one two days later just as a fuck you to all the people who skipped that show, thinking it couldn't measure up. Clearly, they get a kick out of reinterpreting MTV culture in their own little non-media-monitored society of thousands.
So opening the high stakes second set is the Beastie Boys' Sabotage, in its third and final appearance. (Its first caused the only mosh pit at a Phish show, though Trey still can't get through it without laughing.) Mike chooses not to play the choice bass lick before the big scream, but this still rocks your ass hard core. You wish you'd been there, admit it.
And then, Mike's Song. One of the big guns. Three minutes in, the hippie rock drops off a cliff into a thick dark spooky funk jam (like it always does), and this one is tight tight tight, one of my favorite parts of the whole box set. Hi-hat, Hammond, wah, bass; intertwined in a pumping tapestry. Around 7:45, Trey uses his Boomerang to lay a thumping heartbeat pattern, all one note, then ascends harmonically on top of it, keeping the same rhythm. They burst through to a gorgeous plateau at 8:02, and Mike takes a few crazy melodic fills. From there they delay wrapping it up a bit while Trey gets his rock star jollies.
The immediate transition from the closing Mike's chords into the Simple riff is a long tradition. Originally, that is to say for years and years, the Mike's Groove suite was always sequenced Mike's > Hydrogen > Weekapaug. But by '98, the substitution of the bluntly anthemic Simple for the gentle spacey Hydrogen was much more commonplace.
At the four minute mark, Simple drifts off into a quiet mellow jam (which is also typical-- and, like the Bathtub Gin jam, of an opposite character from the song itself). Around 8:40, however, we begin to take a left turn into something completely new. This gorgeous ethereal ambient jam is one of the moments Trey is most proud of from this release. So in a normal circumstance, Fish would hit the Weekapaug beat, but the mood has been completely changed.
Instead he gives us The Wedge, a rarity and always one of my favorite Phish tunes, profound yet silly and complex yet catchy. They want to get your ass moving again, and get you singing along. Then, still no Weekapaug. We get The Mango Song, another blissful bouncy one, and they keep the jam short. The bit right at the end where Trey and Page trade notes lightning fast is intoxicating.
Is it Weekapaug time yet? Nope, we get more chunky bluesy rock, Free. Right in the middle of this rarity, Trey comes crashing in with the chords to the quick and dirty metal tune Ha Ha Ha, one of Fishman's few creations. Then, a minute and a half later, they pick up the Free jam right where they left off. So, the tracklist really should include the > symbol: 6 Free > 7 Ha Ha Ha > 8 Free. With the Live Phish releases, they would begin using this "greater than" notation, long ago borrowed by fans from Grateful Dead setlists.
After the firmly calm ending of Free, that manic Weekapaug Groove beat kicks in at last, and Mike goes crazy slapping that bass. Probably no other Phish tune is more of a blank slate for outpourings of tension and release. That tight game of rhythm tag that Trey loves to play with Fish jumps out at you every few bars as he ascends scales, spiraling faster and faster, like the whirlpool four minutes in (after which there's a tease from Trey I still can't place). This song is nothing but these boys doing what they do best. It's automatic bliss. Again, since this is '98, you find less straight emulation than you would in '93 or '94. Page switches from the piano to the clav at 1:48 and Trey lets him drive the bus for a minute or so. Climactic frenzy at 6:10, which makes this a pretty short version, then cooldown. This is one of the few officially released versions to have the original ending (returning to the vocal chorus), which is odd because that isn't rare at all.
Then, the encore. Not just another tune never played before or since, not just another current radio hit, but a one-hit wonder. Tubthumping, by Chumbawamba. "They played WHAT?!?" exclaims the Phishhead who didn't attend this show, in disbelief. Why would they do that? Because they think it's funny. You can tell because they can't stop laughing. This cover is pretty terrible (even though Page is doing some gorgeous piano stuff at the end which isn't mixed loud enough), but it can still make you feel great. An orgy of silliness. Gears comes back, and Tom Marshall, the band's lyricist, guests on lead vocal. Fish yells "Get Jiggy With It!" during the chorus, reminding everyone of last night. In the closing thank yous, Trey refers to Fish as Sammy Hagar the Horrible, in reference to the Viking helmet that Fish wore this entire show, and indeed for all of the Fall '98 tour, even the New Year's Run.
Basically, you shouldn't get this box set unless you're hardcore into Phish, in which case you probably already have it. Back when it came out, this was your best record store window into what the live experience was like. Since the launch of Live Phish, you have many better options. Repeat: This is NOT a good introduction to the band.
However, while closely studying it for this writeup I discovered these performances to be much stronger and more varied than I remembered.
Data gathered from The Phish Book, The Phish Companion, The Pharmers Almanac Vol. 6, www.phish.net, www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html, and countless hours of personal analysis.
surrender to the flow
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