Phish-Head Invasion

New World Music Theatre - Tinley Park

August 8, 1997

First Appeared in The Music Box, October 1997, Volume 4, #11

Written by John Metzger


On August 8, Phish fans invaded Tinley Park's New World Music Theatre in an onslaught of ticketless hordes that hopefully haven't jeopardized the band's relationship with this venue. Obviously, many did not heed the band's advice to stay home if you do not have a ticket, and this seems to have been a problem throughout the summer tour. History seems to be repeating itself, as Phish is now suffering from many of the problems that plagued the Grateful Dead throughout its final decade.

Phish had not visited Chicago since their Halloween '95 Quadrophenia performance, and I hope that the massive crowed that gathered at this performance won't keep them away for such a long time again. On the positive side, the crowd was the friendliest bunch of people that I have seen in a long, long time even taking turns allowing each other out of the cramped parking lot after the show.

The band took the stage a half-hour late and warmed up with an extremely jazzy version of Cars Trucks Buses that featured keyboardist Page McConnell. Unfortunately, for the rest of the evening, McConnell's normally adventurous keyboard playing faded into the background. This, combined with the fact that the sound system virtually muddied and lost Mike Gordon's bass, left the remainder of the evening to become the Trey Anastasio show.

Gumbo, the second song of the night, really took off with several searing guitar solos from Trey as well as a series of several tightly knit group rhythmic jams. The song drifted into space before veering into a jazzy, funky Lizards that had the audience leaping madly about the arena.

Dirt mellowed things out a bit as Anastasio settled into a Rick Danko-like waltz, and many naive audience members ventured out for a walk. Dirt is a great new song that debuted this past June. The tune fits stylistically with the latest album's Pink Floyd-like musings.

It's Ice brought the crowd back to full attention as the band embarked on a spacy, jazzy jam. Another new song, the country-influenced Water in the Sky, was given a quick run-through before the crowd-favorite Character Zero closed out the hour-long set. Phish seemed genuinely bored with Character Zero, which Anastasio attempted to save with a few blistering leads to conclude the song.

After a 35-minute break, the band returned for what I thought would be a long second set. Instead, we only heard 65 minutes worth of music, making this a rather short concert by Phish standards.

Long-time readers of this newsletter know how much I have tried to separate Phish from the Grateful Dead. More often than not, their styles and sounds are quite different and the two bands share only similar influences and a love of pushing songs to their limit. While Phish did start their career by covering a number of Grateful Dead songs, it seems that they have since tried to distance themselves from this image.

Therefore, you might be surprised to hear me say that the first three songs that the band played to open the second set came as close to sounding like the Grateful Dead's music as I have ever heard them do. When the band took the stage, they even sounded like the Grateful Dead as they tuned-up.

A re-vamped Wolfman's Brother was the opening number for the set. This was an unbelievably lengthy version that was oddly similar to the Dead's Scarlet Begonias. As the song concluded, the band continued with an explosive jam that hinted at everything from the Dead's own post-Scarlet segue to Phish's Free. There were even elements of the Dead's Shakedown Street and The Who's Eminence Front that floated to the vanguard of their rhythmic soundscape. As Anastasio, Gordon, and McConnell locked into a groove, the musical momentum was pushed forward by Jon Fishman's jazzy drumming. The music twisted and turned and finally gave way to a fiery rendition of Free.

Despite the many times I've heard this song, Free carried the weight of a speeding freight train. The vocal harmonies were tight and the jams were even tighter. Phish was in a groove.

Gradually, Free dissipated and what remained was the highlight of the evening. The group embarked on Limb by Limb which distinctly relayed the emotional beauty of the Grateful Dead's Crazy Fingers. Propelled by its reggae beat and Fishman's solid drum fills, this song just seemed to climb and climb into the outer reaches of the stratosphere.

Phish then launched into a solid cover of the Rolling Stones' Loving Cup. At times Anastasio's vocals contained a Jagger-esque sneer that was amazingly on target. After some brief noodling, the band wound into Prince Caspian. I've always wanted to hear this song in concert, but unfortunately, this version seemed to last a bit long, gradually losing the momentum that had been building. Chalkdust Torture, another crowd-favorite, didn't go anywhere at all. The band seemed incredibly bored as they concluded the short second set.

I thought perhaps we might get a lengthy encore or even a mini-third set, given that there was still 45 minutes until the arena's curfew. Instead, Phish returned for a two-song encore with the help of bluesman Sugar Blue who sang both songs. These were fairly routine versions of Hoochie Coochie Man and Messin' with the Kid. I can only conjecture that the band had had some run-ins with the arena management over the number of ticketless folks that had arrived, and that this had led to a shortened show. The night concluded more than 30 minutes before the final curfew.

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Copyright 1997 The Music Box