Thanks to Beth from Phish, I got an advanced copy of Walnut Creek, the latest Phish DVD, which is supposed to be released today. The DVD was originally recorded on July 22, 1997 in Raleigh, NC during Phish's summer tour. I caught Phish later on that tour at the Gorge two weeks later. They were on the top of their game on their way towards the pinnacle of their careers. The Grateful Dead achieved perfection in 1977, and Phish hit their highwater mark twenty years later in 1997. Lucky for Phisheads, Walnut Creek captured that magical year in a single performance.
The quality of the Walnut Creek video was impeccable with closeups on every member of the band with the camera not just sitting on Trey who usually gets the majority of face time. I particularly dug the various angles of Page playing different instruments; keys, piano, organ. There was a camera set up next to Fishman so you get an intimate view of what goes on up at the drum kit during Phish shows, especially since Fish is the heart and soul of Phish. He drives the band like a frantic stagecoach driver under intense fire from bandits.
The other thing I took from this DVD was how young everyone in the band looked. When I think of Phish, I kinda have this ensemble (circa 1997) locked into my brain (with Fish still playing on stage left). Sure it was 11 years ago, and Trey sort of looks the same, but Mike's bush wasn't fully grey and Page's bald spot was in its early stages.
Disc 1: Set I: Runaway Jim > My Soul, Water in the Sky, Stash, Bouncin', Vultures, Bye Bye Foot, TasteRunaway Jim > My Soul
I would have lost my collective shit if the boys opened with Jim since it was one of my favorite tunes circa 97-98. First thing I noticed was the lack of the trademarked muumuu on Fish. He sported a sleek black shirt. Mike wore his standard high top sneakers with rolled up pants. His color selection for his clothing always baffled me. That night, he picked a florescent orange shirt which looked like he ripped it off the back of a Tijuana pimp.
Trey noodled early on into Jim, but it was Fishman who guided them towards a smooth segue into... My Soul. Up tempo Chicago blues was a welcomed shift after a Jim opener. Page stepped up on the solo just after the first chorus. He whaled on the ivories. M Soul was a quick and hard-rocking.
Water in the Sky
It was only the 8th time that Water in the Sky was performed (if you count both times it was played at The Fourth Ball at Brad Sands' house). A much slower and more twangy version than what it evolved into.
About 24 minutes into the DVD, the jam progressed into a dark and spooky scene. I never pegged Stash as a happy song. Tripping balls during Stash is not for the weak-minded. It's always gut-check time when the boys took you on a tumultuous journey down a twisty and dangerous and dark back alley during the jam out of Stash.
As the dark of night ends, the dawn of a new day arrives. Once the gloomy veil of Stash was lifted, they showered the audience with a happy and fluffy version of Bouncin'. If I saw this in real life, I would have dubbed this a Pauly's Gonna Take a Piss Song. During the screening of this video, I actually got up and pissed and packed a bowl. Perfect timing. As soon as I was done, so was the song.
Jazzy and deviant. That's what I liked the most about Vultures. Fish's cool-jazz drumming on the intro was particularly delicious. Page skipped notes during his Thelonius Monk-esque pecking while Trey tried to cram in as many notes as he could during the jam out. Vultures has only been performed 29 times (according to Phantasy Tour) and that was the 7th time that Phish played it. I would see Vultures for the first time at the Gorge two weeks later.
Bye Bye Foot
Rare Fishman ballad only performed five times. Trey looked like he was having fun playing the song and kept looking back at Fish with a huge grin on his face.
This track was specifically pointed out by the band because of the fierce thunderstorms that simultaneously raged in the background while Phish closed out the first set. The song started off like business as usual. At the 47 minute mark, a demon takes a hold of Page and he just goes off the deep end and his frenetic playing whipped Fish into a frenzy as the two fed off of each other. For a brief moment, you could see Page playing air drums and humming along to Fish's drum solo before he jumped into his sizzling solo. That bit energized Mike and Trey and Taste blasted off. Another mini-burst occurred when Trey and Page were riffed back and forth at 51-52 minutes in as Fish kept pushing them towards the apex of the jam. And that was it. A quickie first set which lasted less than an hour.
Disc 2: Set II: Down With Disease > Mike's Song > Simple > Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Hello My BabyDown with Disease > Mike's Song
Encore: When the Circus Comes to Town, Harry Hood
Trey tore it up in DWD. The second set footage include more crowd shots so if you had never been to a Phish concert, you really got to glimpse into the scene and what it's like to be on the floor of a summer pavilion concert. The atmosphere and energy there cannot compare to what it's like out on the lawn. At one point, there was a shot of a cure Phishy chick dancing next to a long-haired shirtless kid. And I thought, "Hey, that could have been me in 1997."
Page was pulling double duty during DWD as he played a keyboard and his baby grand at the same time. About 12 minutes in, Page went off on some sort of evil-circus-like synthesizer jam before it slowed up into a mellow exchange between Trey and Mike 17 minutes in which eventually morphed into a Valium-laced funky segue into Mike's Song.
Check that out here...
There's a historical significance to Down with Disease because Walnut Creek marked the only time that Phish segued from DWD into Mike's Song. It also set off a slammin' set where the boys played for almost an hour straight spread out over a five song sandwich of Down With Disease > Mike's Song > Simple > Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove.
I wonder how Phish made up the setlists circa 1997. Did they draw up that gameplan at setbreak? Or was it totally made up on the fly?
Mike stepped up his game. The jam in Mike's Song is my favorite part of the song and why I love Phish... the gritty funky side of the band.
Trey dropped a loop about 27 minutes in and Kuroda killed the stage lights which added to the sinister vibe.
Simple > Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove
Phish performed Mike's > Groove usually in a triumvirate of songs that followed one of two set patterns; Mike's > Simple > Groove or Mike's > Hydrogen > Groove. At Walnut Creek that performed both variations mushed together in the middle of that monster sandwich.
Page's playing shined during Simple. It was a welcomed reminder of how talented he is as an improvisational musician. At 42-43 minutes in, Trey and Page had a sweet back-and-forth jam as they exchanged notes before a mellow start into I Am Hydrogen.
I always felt that whatever song was played before Weekapaug Groove set up the tone of that night's Weekapaug Groove. The differences in between Hydrogen (much softer and mellower) versus Simple (peppy and up beat) influenced the impending version of Weekapaug Groove.
Trey looked all fired up to finally get to play Weekapaug Groove. As always, Mike got the spotlight during his squishy intro. The version was high energy and funky. See for yourself...
The crowd gave the band an enthusiastic round of applause as they jammed out for almost an hour without stopping.
Hello My Baby
Phish ended their epic set with a peppy acapella version of the old standard Hello My Baby.
Encore: When the Circus Comes to Town, Harry Hood
I was always indifferent to Circus. At times, I totally dug it. Other instances, I feel that it killed the momentum of the set. For Walnut Creek, Circus was a mellow compliment to a heavy-hitting and crowd-pleasing Harry Hood that followed.
Hood met all expectations. Gratifying and dreamy. Particularly check out Fish's saintly playing during the last third of Hood.
The Hood encore was an appropriate representation of both the evening and the band at that point and time in the cosmos. Mike was getting his funk on as both he and the band progressed into the year of the funk. Page was sharp as ever and at the top of his game. Trey was Trey, always out in front and scorching out the path where everyone followed. And Fish? He was the grizzly captain who steered the entire ship down the rabbit hole as the Phish plodded through during their 1997 summer tour.
Walnut Creek was a nice taste of what once was. It was also a tease of what might be on the horizon.
Head over to Phish Dry Goods for your copy today.