Phish fans are coming out of a big season for fifteen-year anniversaries, with the great shows from 1997 achieving that vintage last year. This comes on the heels of the 1995-era anniversaries, and then that of the Clifford Ball, which will be old enough to vote in summer '14. This week marks the last big, 15-year moment until Big Cypress's time comes in '14. (Hopefully by then we'll have worn out our DVD box sets of those shows...)
The Island Tour (which I still habitually call by its lesser-used nickname, the Spring Run)—taking place at the Nassau Coliseum and then the Providence Civic Center on April 2,3,4 and 5 in 1998—was a huge moment. The 1997 New Year's Run had already capped a momentous year with at least one classic show, and an all-around sense of good-natured back-patting. We were already hibernating, and likely speculating about summer tour, when the surprise announcement came: four stand-alone shows in early April. In the Northeast. Golden Age overtime.
It turned out the run would be laced with highlights and underline a heightened sense of connection between band and fans. It featured a jamming style that clearly wasn't far-removed from that of the previous year, but even a blindfold test revealed it was clearly not from, say, fall '97. (Before Live Phish originally announced it would release archival soundboards of the show, the release was teased with a soundcheck jam from one of the shows that fans were invited to identify. At first flummoxed by the mix of '97 and post-'97 elements, I finally realized it reminded me of the 4/4/98 "2001.") With so much live Phish now available to listen to, with such ease, the canon of "must-hear" shows seems a little less firm. But whatever evolving standards emerge, this run is lodged permanently in the "must-hear" category for fans who want to claim expert status.
Below is an edited version of my review of 4/2/98, which appeared in The Phish Companion. Its roots stretch back to a rec.music.phish post shortly after the shows, though it's had a few thorough rounds of revision since then. (It's also firmly tinged with the disappointment I felt in 1998, figuring out how to deal with the fact that for the first time since I started following them, the band was not following a dizzying trajectory upwards.) Still, it preserves, I hope, a sense of the on-the-scene giddiness that pervaded at the time. The music is there for all to hear, but this review provides a sense of what it was like to be there at the time, as a young fan.
My tastes in music have surely evolved quite a bit since then, so I can't stand behind the aesthetic judgments made here without carefully revisiting the music—and I'd surely disavow some of those opinions—but I revisit the warmness of the memories without caveat.
4/3/98 Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY—Jeremy D. Goodwin
Full version appeared in The Phish Companion: A Guide to the Band and Their Music (2004)
The Spring Run, that unexpected and brilliant “overflow” from Fall/New Year’s Run ’97, was the culmination of the delirious “we can do anything” feeling that permeated everything related to Phish for over a year. The winter Europe '97 tour had started a headstrong buzz that would only increase throughout the year, and by the end of New Year’s ’97, the advertising slogan “Phish Destroys America” had been totally fulfilled. And then…four extra shows. Like an extra New Year’s Run. A little gift from the band, an unexpected chance to jaunt off into that splendid and friendly Temporary Autonomous Zone that is Phish tour. When Trey joked “this song’s from our last week’s concert” during the opening night of the Spring Run, it felt like this band could (and would) do anything. The shows, somehow, were both momentous and casual. Accidental and possessed of deep purpose. The boundaries were disappearing, and the momentum of the band's swelling oeuvre was growing.
It seems obvious now that no creative unit could walk that tightrope indefinitely; the band’s abilities had been expanding exponentially from August ’93 until early ’98, and the train was bound to run off the track. Of course, we didn’t know that at the time. Thus the Spring Tour was left as a kind of high point from which we could all view our Phish careers afterwards. At least, it was for me. These particular shows will always stand out to me as a pinnacle of my last unspoiled, unjaded period as a fan. My twenty-fifth show happened in this run, which I considered a minor landmark at the time. Experiences like Big Cypress continue to demonstrate to me that Phish can still reinvent the show-going experience utterly, and perhaps spur on Ferlinghetti’s “rebirth of wonder.” The Clifford Ball, the Spring Run, Big Cypress…it is at these unprecedented events that sometimes all of us together, the band included, figure out for ourselves just what this thing is all about, are surprised by the results, and reconsider the horizons.
[...] That evening, after an unnecessarily confusing drive from Hempstead to Uniondale, we arrived at the Nassau Coliseum with only minutes to spare before the forecasted start time. We settled into our seats in the back row above the Page Zone about a minute before the lights went down, and noticed for the first time just how small the venue is. We were literally in the back row of the section, but I had no problem with the seats whatsoever.
“Mike’s Song” opener. This was a personal victory for me, as certain factors had prevented me from enjoying the Hampton “Mike’s” opener as thoroughly as I could have. I can easily say that this one surpasses the Amsterdam and Hampton openers. It was a very solid, fourteen-minute “Mike’s. The segue into "My Old Home Place" was magnificent. Phish definitely plays this song to express a sentiment, I believe…and that sentiment is “We’re home!” This tune has owned me ever since it opened day two of the Ball.
[...] At New Year’s, I needed to figure it out from the lyrics, but this time I was immediately cued in to the “Roses Are Free” second-set opener. After MSG as well as the Rochester debut version, I had already been hoping for a jammed-out take on this Ween song. And so, in Nassau, we saw the first jammed “Roses.” But is anyone even keeping track of this kind of thing anymore? Phish jams had become so prevalent and so randomly placed in '97 and '98 that statistics like that began losing their relevance. (For example, in ’97 the Harford show has a better “Character Zero” than “Tweezer”.)
It was a real treat and a delight, from an historical as well as purely musical perspective. The jam was the triumphant culmination of all the ’97 funking, and featured Trey repeating a deliriously groovy riff over and over. This eventually gave way to some more exploratory work, before segueing into a standard (read: ripping) “Piper.” And then, they romped off into a new jam that meandered into a brief Page solo interlude (nothing so extended as those ones from ’95/96), which was the springboard for the opening to “Loving Cup.” Then “Antelope”.
The antics contained therein have been discussed a lot, but don’t overlook the fact that it was altogether a very good “Antelope”. When they sang three-part harmony on the theme “Carini’s gonna get you” in the opening, it was one of those moments when I felt that this band was perfectly willing to do anything to please all of us special, special people. The jam was very satisfying (the meat of it was played in the dark, in deference to some the meandering glowsticks), and then the last sequence made it a true keeper. They played the end of a phrase, were silent for the intervening seconds, and then jumped on and played the end of the phrase again. Then, during the lyrics, they switched into a mode that was so thickly reggae that I thought for a moment they were segueing into “Makisupa.” There were a few more delightful choruses involving Carini before the affair was over.
I doubt I was the only one in the house calling a “Carini” encore. The addition of “Halley’s” to the already formidable encore was generous, but also meant there’d be no jammed “Halley’s” that weekend. Hardly an issue to whine about, though, in the context of such a special night and overly generous encore. Then the “Tweezer Reprise” just sent things over the top. Trey was stomping around the stage, practically headbanging, obviously reluctant to ever get off the stage. As I remember it, the energy in that room for those few minutes was about as intense as I’ve seen it at a Phish show. (Another candidate is the "Twist" from the previous night.) The song isn’t usually such an inspiration, but in this context (third song of the encore, and no previous “Tweezer” in the show) there was not the initial twinge of disappointment that I at least usually feel, knowing that there’s nothing left to come in the set or show. This “Tweeprise” was strictly overtime…one hundred percent a bonus. Years later, I would wonder if the 12/2/02 mid-set, “Tweezer”less “Tweezer Reprise” surpassed the Spring Run version in intensity.
So the band headed out of Uniondale positively on fire. My initial impression was that both of these shows were classics…the 4/2 second set, and 4/3 all around. Another note: on one of these two nights, as we drove back after the show, we found a great college radio show called “Echoes”. It was strictly fusion, and it totally blew our overworked music receptors away as we sat numbly in the car. Christian wondered aloud how many other people in our situation found this station as they drove back. We continued listening to the show back in the room, and I quickly fell pleasantly asleep, hearing echoes of the “Sneakin’ Sally,” with my clothes on.