After reading the Joker's post yesterday, I dug through a pile of old CDs and I magically discovered a copy of 11.17.97. I quickly put it on in the background. As I wrote for a few hours, I was flooded by waves and waves of flashbacks. I ended up listening to the Denver show twice and the synergy of music and emotions evoked a big enough reaction that I'm dedicating a post to it here.
First of all, I always had a theory that Phish (and other bands for that matter) played better on the second night of a two-show run at any specific venue. They played a show at McNichols the night before and was able to spend the night in Denver, which meant no traveling in between shows. By the second night, they're used to how the venue sounds and can stretch it out a bit more. 11.17.97 is a perfect example of that theory.
The 11.17.97 show starts off with a and funk-ladened Tweezer. In a review of the show, Matt Miller described it... "This is the new sound of Phish: multilayered, expansive (to fill the bones!), wah-wahed, more techno-oriented, less goofy (and arguably less fun), and more serious."
Although Trey played lots of superfluous notes on Reba, the real hero on the song was Page, who busted out a few Thelonius Monk gems after halfway through. Reba was also incomplete, they never finished the song with the traditional whistling parts as they abruptly end. Next up was Train Song, a song that was strategically placed in what my friend Lerm dubbed a moment that happened in every show where Phish played a slow song and, "allowed the audience to mellow out and smoke a bowl."
The Ghost at that show was one of the earlier versions that began the song immediately with the lyrics, instead of a slow instrumental build up kicked off by one of Trey's loops. In this epic 20-minute version, the boys are in full-on cow-funk mode. The mothership really took off about 13 minutes into Ghost. Trey started shredding the shit out of his solos before the jam slowed and mellowed out. Trey said, "Thanks! We're going to have a lot more music for your dancing pleasure and listening pleasure. We're going to play one more song here, then take a break and we;ll be back. So don't go away!" Then they segued into an upbeat cover of Jimi Hendrix' Fire.
Another interesting note... the first set was short and less than 65 minutes total. It only featured five songs including three heavy-hitters in Tweezer, Reba, and Ghost. It many ways, the first set seemed more like a second set (minus the encore). And if you toss out Fire and Train Song, those three songs take up almost an hour.
To start the second set, Trey dropped a loop during the distorted intro to Down with Disease. You could hear a gleeful cheer that the audience let out when Mike Gordon kicked off the song with his bass intro. After a hectic minute or so, they segued into a rocking version of Oblivious Fool before Johnny B. Goode.
I always liked hearing the Grateful Dead play Johnny B. Goode. Jerry Garcia loved Chuck Berry and that was his tribute to him. I always wondered if the boys sat around and did a ton of blow and said, "Shit, let's play Johnny B. Goode as fast as we can!" So when I've heard Phish break out JBG, I always had that in the back of my mind. You can't play it that fast unless you snorted enough blow to kill an elephant!
The twelve minute jam out after Johnny B. Goode was renamed the Denver Jam by Phish when they released the show as a part of their Live Phish series. It was originally listed as Space Jam on setlists (and still appears as that according to Phantasy Tour). Trey played a lot of notes from beyond this universe and replicated some of Jerry Garcia's UFO-style riffs.
Jesus Left Chicago featured more singing and solos from Page. He hit a home-run with a funky-bluesy version. Next up was When the Circus Comes to Town and I've never been a fan of that song although Phish covers it extremely well. If I was there, it would have been called Pauly takes a piss song and I would have bailed for a few minutes and come back. Perhaps I'd pack a bowl. They closed the set with You Enjoy Myself that the crowd sounded like they were into it. The Joker joked that it seemed like Trey discovered his wah-wah pedal for the first time during the jam out of YEM, which eventually ended in a spooky vocal jam.
The encore was Character Zero which featured a simple, yet intense build up and the band left the audience stumped to why they left Tweezer Reprise off of the setlist. The boys never completed the Tweezer > Reprise sandwich. That might have pissed off a few Phisheads, but most of them were tripping too hard or jacked up on so much molly that they hardly noticed.
The best part of the Live Phish CD version of 11.17.97 are the two songs that make up the filler. The band picked two selections from the next show on tour (11.19.97) which included a 28-minute version of Wolfman's Brother which segued into Makisupa Policeman. The Wolfman's is a little slower than usual, but it's definitely funkified. About seven minutes in, they begin a twenty minute jam that would wander and snake all over the place. It was one of those songs that if I saw live, about ten minutes in, I'd open my eyes and wonder, "What fucking song are these guys play? Are we still on Wolfman's? Did I miss something?" I could have sworn I heard a Walk Away tease before they eventually pulled it back at the 25th minute of the song as Fishman pushed them towards a segue into Makisupa Policeman.
To sum up, it's hard to believe that Denver show was ten years ago. I'm glad that night of Phish has been frozen in time for all of us to enjoy. In late 1997, Phish hit some moments that they would be chasing the rest of their careers. 11.17.97 was one of them. I can't think of a Colorado show they played after that night which would top their efforts on 11.17.97.