Funk at The Palace: A Review of Live Phish 12/6//97

On September 25, Phish introduced a new member to its Live Phish Archive collection with one of their more memorable shows from one of the most impressive eras of their history. Their 1997 Fall Tour (a.k.a Phish Destroys America) is one of their most engaging and influential tours and also serves as an ideal picking ground for any live release. Their performance at The Palace of Auburn Hills on 12/6/97 is a show that’s already been established amongst devoted fans as one of the best ever. Now, the soundboard mix gets the Fred Kevorkian re-mastering technique applied and allows everyone to hear and understand what the hype behind this show is all about.

The album opens with the sounds of a raucous Palace crowd, a common occurrence on this tour that many regard as one of the best and certainly funkiest in the band’s history to this point. Trey utters a short count off and the show opens with “Golgi Apparatus”, a Phish tune almost as old as the band itself. This number, which served as a show opener for numerous shows in the 80’s, would surprisingly never be serve as a show opener again until Burgettstown in 2009. The band rolls through the opening verses with ease while slowly creating a high energy environment that comes across beautifully in this recording from start to finish. By the end of this standard yet powerful version, an already lively crowd has now been shifted into high gear.

Accordingly, Trey Anastasio immediately begins the opening guitar chords to “Run Like An Antelope” to complete a memorable 1-2 opening punch to the show. The band again displays an ultra-sharp precision while rolling through the opening sections with ease before giving way to a digital delay loop type jam initiated by Trey at the 3:14 mark. Keyboardist Page McConnell then adds a layer of ambience on top of this and instantly the band is off and running on an incredible jam. Featuring the thick funk and steady grooves this era of Phish is so well known for, this Antelope becomes an animal of a whole different sort with Trey’s ‘wah’ peddle and Mike’s steady bass line prominently involved. The jam slowly devolves from the typical Antelope progression to a full on funk jam for several minutes before Trey begins to steer it back around 7:00 minutes into the track. Before long, the typical raging Antelope ending sequence is back in place as the song continues to slowly build in energy and anticipation. The “release” at 13:44 is met with a loud roar of appreciation befit of a version of this quality. Page adds a couple of simple licks on the clavichord before the band rolls through the ending section of this Antelope that clocks in at a very enjoyable 16:29 of music. With no warning, Phish delivers a monster opening two numbers that could just as easily appear towards the end of a show instead given their reputation and the high energy they induced.

Recognizing the need for a breather of sorts, “Train Song” appears next in the opening set. Mike Gordon takes the lead on vocals and the short almost acoustic song gives the crowd (and the listener) a chance to relax a little before giving way to the true highlight of the first set. This “Bathtub Gin -> Foam” sequence is a must listen for any fan or anyone who wants to know what this band is all about. Gin begins with Page pounding on his piano like he’s mad at it and goes through the standard opening procedure. At the 4:44 mark, the band, led by Trey and Page intertwining melodic riffs, slowly begins to build the jam. The next eight minutes is a steady climb in tempo and energy done masterfully by everyone, especially the synchronized rhythm section led by Mike Gordon and Jon Fishman. As the song approaches 11:00 minutes, Trey again steers the jam back towards something resembling a typical Bathtub Gin ending.

However, instead of just ending the song. Trey begins chording ferociously, Page joins in on the clavinet and the aforementioned rhythm section begins the opening patterns of “Foam” while McConnell and Anastasio continue to play wildly. Gordon then delivers the iconic bass line intro and as the seamless segues concludes the crowd lets out yet another very audible roar of approval. The band nails the composed parts of another one of their classic songs before giving way to a truly beautiful McConnell piano solo, a staple of any good “Foam”. The baton is then passed to Trey who also delivers a stirring solo that continuously builds in both volume and tone. The rest of the band soon joins in as the jam builds to a stirring peak before breaking down into the vocal outro. This 23:00 minute overall sequence gives the casual listener a great audio example of the essence of Phish: a seamless musical segue, tight knit orchestration, offbeat lyrics, rousing piano and guitar solos and four individuals effortlessly working as one musical unit.

Perhaps sensing another appropriate spot for a breather of sorts, Trey begins the opening chords to “Sample in a Jar” and a standard version clocking in at 5:03 follows. Trey’s guitar solo is executed flawlessly and complimented perfectly by the drum play of Jon Fishman. The song achieves its goal of slowing things down a little while keeping the collective energy high in The Palace.

Following this, the opening drum beat of “Fee” begins and Phish is off and running with yet another one of the classic songs in their canon. Trey, sans megaphone, delivers the lyrical part of the song with ease and Page delivers beautiful piano fills throughout. As the song concludes and the typical outro jam eases to a stop, the high hat cymbal sound signaling the beginning of “Maze” is initiated by Fishman. Phish then takes the audience on a fifteen minute journey of pure psychedelic rock goodness. Starting with more digital delay loop play from Trey in the opening, this rendition is truly memorable and harkens back to another classic Phish 1-2 song pairing. “Fee -> Maze” was a common sight on set lists from shows in the early 90’s and this version sees the band on top of its musical game. Electrifying organ and guitar solos take the already high energy to another level and the ending is performed with a true precision seen right from the start of this set. “Cavern” then puts the finishing touches on an incredible first set.

A few small vocal flubs from Trey in this song are the only things keeping this from being a truly perfect first set. Phish delivered an opening act that saw them run through some of their more legendary songs and jam vehicles at the time. This set just kept in line with the growing expectations for every show played in this legendary span of Phish history. Trey promised the crowd a return in 15 minutes with ‘a whole lot more’ and the second half of this promise was kept ten times over in the form of a second set for the ages.

Sensing the opportunity to immediately elevate this show to an epic status, Phish opens up the second set with the jam monster of “Tweezer” which sends an already ravenous crowd into a frenzy. From the outset, this appears to be anything but a straightforward “Tweezer”. After the opening chords from Trey, the intro spaces out for a minute or two as the band playfully toys around with the beginning. After a short, fun and almost plinko-esqe sequence, the song begins its standard opening at 2:06 and never looks back. The signature pounding of Gordon’s bass has an extremely crisp sound on this track as well as throughout this impeccable recording.

At the 6:36 mark, the jam starts up and Trey immediately introduces the funk theme that was so prevalent in 1997. Page then replies with more play on the clavinet and a slow and steady groove is established over the next several minutes. Around 10:30 into the track, Trey once again layers the digtal loop on top of an already stellar groove that soon has a much spacier sound to it. This proceeds in the customary fashion until 13:54, when Trey shifts the guitar into a totally different type of tone usually designated for soloing. What follows is an incredible few minutes of musicianship highlighted by said guitar play and the corresponding drum work from Jon Fishman who shows both a phenomenal ear and mastery of tempo throughout this show. Soon, a shuffle-type beat is established behind massive piano and guitar fills with everything held together by the sound bass playing of Mike Gordon. The jam slowly and surely builds in intensity as each band member plays perfectly of off one another. As this monster jam approaches the 18:28 mark, it slows down slightly with the band seemingly catching their breath this time before a final stretch run.

Trey soon establishes his signature reverb sound as Page chimes in with ferocious piano play. Now over twenty minutes long, the jam continues in this fashion as Trey and Page continue to trade rock riffs between one another. The beat slows down slightly as the band seems to be seeking a new direction in which to take this jam. Trey and Fishman oblige and soon establish some interplay which instantly morphs into the Jimi Hendrix classic, “Izabella”. Phish then proceeds to tear through this cover song which was debuted earlier this year and the energy pulsating throughout The Palace is nearly tangible at this point. As the song approaches 4:20, “Izabella” subsides and another incredible funk jam develops replete with at least one band member shouting out yells of approval. Highlighted by phenomenal precision and more clavinet solos from Page, the jam that follows just adds to an already exceptional open to the second set.

Eventually, it breaks down into a drum and bass only jam with Fishman playing something similar to the “Foam” drum beat at one point. This gives the rhythm section a much deserved chance to take the musical reigns and be front and center for a little. Trey then joins in with some more funk licks before steering the group into the opening of “Twist”. The beginning vocal section of this song plays much slower than the modern day variety as this song was still in its infancy stages at this point; its debut was not even 6 months prior. However, the song’s musical gears soon get lubricated a little and a fun rock jam with the customary loud “woo!’s” thrown in by the band ensues.

Instead of a jam, the band slowly brings the song to a halt with some blissful interplay between Page and Trey. The latter takes this opportunity to begin the opening chords to “Piper” and the band executes another flawless segue into another one of their dominant jam vehicles. “Piper” is another song featured on the album Farmhouse which was also pretty new to the Phish repertoire in 1997. For those who prefer the slowly drawn out openings, this version is a must hear. The band takes its time with the intro before Page slowly builds up intensity and the rest of the band then follows suit. Vocals don’t appear until well after three minutes in and the song then continues to grow in tempo and energy. Another few audible roars of approval from someone in the band shows just how much fun they’re having and what kind of show this is. “Piper” continues to grow in fury as ‘machine-gun’ Trey makes another appearance at the 7:07 mark as the set continues to cement itself in Phish lore.

This marks only the halfway point of the track as Trey continues to lead the band through a raging display of psychedelic rock for another seven minutes. The crisp drum work and steady bass groove really holds this jam together as “Piper” makes it known early on in its existence that it is a force to be reckoned with. The tempo slows down a little bit before picking up once again and the song gets the true rock ending it deserves and also serves as a most impressive bookend to this four song sequence that epitomizes the overall excellence of this show.

With all four songs almost seamlessly flowing into one another, there was no chance for any slow down or ‘breather’ song. Phish decides to deliver one before ending the set in the form of the lighthearted crowd favorite “Sleeping Monkey”. More impeccable guitar play from Trey soon gives way to the familiar opening sounds of “Tweezer Reprise”, giving everyone in The Palace one last display of pure arena rock before ending the set. A “Rocky Top” encore serves as another chance for Page to display his piano mastery and serves as the footnote to one of the more seminal shows in this band’s history.

This show displays all of the elements that endear Phish to its dedicated audience: well executed originals, fun covers, exquisite improvisation and deep, pulsating funk. The powers that be picked a live show to release that was already well established as one the epic performances in this band’s rich history. Whether it’s a truly dedicated fan or just the casual listener, this show offers a little something for everyone and is truly a must hear.

Pick up the album at livephish.com

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