Phish In Albany Through The Years: 1997-2000

Seven Fall shows over four years set a high standard for Phish in Albany

This is Part 2 of a series looking at the history of Phish in Albany. Read Part 1 and look for Part 3 in the next week before Phish’s return to the Capital District and the Times Union Center.

The anticipation that builds on South Pearl Street outside the Knick/Pepsi/Times Union Center is one that you don’t find many places where Phish plays in the Northeast. Streets are closed to all but pedestrian traffic, parking garages are popping off, local businesses are packed with customers and fans mill about from Shakedown to the bars and all points in between.

With five shows in the books in Albany so far in their career, Phish returned for seven more shows before the end of the decade and firmly made their mark for playing some of their best Fall shows here. While it was not called The Knickerbocker Arena after the 1995 show, the new branding of The Pepsi Arena was a moniker that did not stick – we just called it The Knick (and some of us still do) – even still that it’s now the Times Union Center. Whatever we call it, we know it’s home to some delicious Phish going back more than two decades. All setlists via Phish.net.

Art by Drew Suto

December 12 and 13, 1997

Back in 1997 when Phish was on the road destroying America, they wrapped up their legendary tour in Albany, as close to home as the boys from Burlington could get. And for two nights, they continued to raise the bar for performances in the Capital District, wrapping up the tour with two shows that featured stand out jams and memorable band antics.

Starting the first night off with a “Funky Bitch” that stretched out a bit and was followed with a “2001” that lasted nearly 11 minutes was par for the course back then – nevermind waiting until mid-Set 2 for that funky disco dance party – two songs in and you were getting down. Keeping the cow funk going with “Camel Walk” and an extended “Taste” were the appetizers ahead of a 16 minute “Tweezer,” where Trey and Mike built the anticipation right out of the intro. That first five and a half minutes of this “Tweezer” is furious, and the rest a big bowl of funk-icing. The ambiance on the outro led into “Train Song,” which begat “Character Zero,” the new yet familiar rocker that was locking in its place as a set closer.

“Saw it Again,” a new song for 1997 cracked the second set and drives in with pure rock and roll and a Zeppelin-esque jam that emerged as it grew closer to the monstrous 20 minute “Piper” that followed, complete with slow build (remember the days?). This furious “Piper” bursts out and like an energizer bunny it just doesn’t stop. Finally when the jam does subside softly, it works into a serene “Swept Away” -> “Steep” combo. “Prince Caspian” picked up speed again and headed toward more Zeppelin acid-rock right up to the last 90 seconds, where it starts to drift off into space before Trey returns with a penultimate “Izabella,” one of the few times it has been played, but somehow one of the nine played in 1997. Can you imagine? Nine “Izabella’s” in a single year? “Tweezer Reprise” would drain the final drop of energy out of the crowd, and for an encore, the early years of “Guyute” shone bright with a huge cheer from the crowd at the opening notes, and a furious “Antelope” with a “Buried Alive” tease thrown in for good measure.

Set 1: Funky Bitch -> Also Sprach Zarathustra > Camel Walk, Taste > Bouncing Around the Room, Tweezer > Train Song > Character Zero
Set 2: Saw It Again[1] -> Piper > Swept Away > Steep > Prince Caspian > Jam -> Izabella > Tweezer Reprise
Encore: Guyute, Run Like an Antelope
[1] Extended jam.

The second night was my first Phish show, and I definitely wish I appreciated the opening 18-minute “Ya Mar,” but I came here for “Sample” and stayed for the lights-out “Hood.” Much like the night before, the beginning of the show would set the tone for the night, with a crowd pleasing “Axilla” and “Theme From the Bottom” to follow. The first set, to a newcomer, was non threatening and a nice way to ease into a Phish show. On relisten, this set is full of fan favorites, tunes that in 1997 were chased, and had a wonderfully funky ending with “Tube” and a rockin’ “Good Times Bad Times.”

Set two though was where Phish left it all on the table and left no stone unturned, starting with “NICU” and “Punch You in the Eye,” and a long dark “Ghost” just to get things started. And just as a “Ghost” jam is finding its end, Trey rips a “Mike’s Song” out of the ashes and lays a little extra mustard on to get it going. Just as the lyrics are wrapped up, this “Mike’s” becomes the thing of legend, deep bass lines and dark tones from the band precede the call to ‘Bring the Dude,’ which brought the crowd along for a wild ride while the band continued to ‘Bring the Dude’ in their pocket of this jam. I remember looking around, wondering where this ‘dude’ was going to emerge from, only to have the jam pick up speed and eventually work into “Llama.” The “Weekapaug Groove” has a tight “Catapult” inside, and Trey asking Kuroda to dim the lights for “Harry Hood” made the final moments of this final set of Fall 1997 as memorable as possible. The “My Soul” and “Squirming Coil” encore were on point, tying the show, and tour, together nicely. A hometown show is a great way to start a life of Phish and I’m glad my friend Mike gave me a ticket for this show. A few hundred shows later and I’m always looking back on this show with a smile.

Set 1: Ya Mar[1] > Axilla > Theme From the Bottom, Ginseng Sullivan, Strange Design, Sample in a Jar, Vultures, Tube,Good Times Bad Times
Set 2: NICU > Punch You in the Eye > Ghost > Mike’s Song[2] -> Llama, When the Circus Comes, Weekapaug Groove ->Catapult -> Weekapaug Groove, Harry Hood
Encore: My Soul, The Squirming Coil
[1] Unfinished.
[2] Chants to “Bring in the Dude.”

November 25, 1998

In many ways, 1998 was an extension of the groundbreaking 1997 tours that Phish played, starting with The Island Tour in April and finding their way through the summer and a fall that already had produced a full show of Velvet Underground’s “Loaded” and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon.” This show from the Pepsi Arena the night before Thanksgiving is a diamond in the rough and overlooked for the three night run in Worcester that followed the holiday.

Taken on face value, you might see “Roggae,” “Lifeboy,” and acoustic versions of “Sleep” and “Driver” in the first set and think this was a snoozer, but you’d be wrong. The show opens with a one-two “Punch You in the Eye”/”My Soul” combo before getting nestled into that first set groove with “Roggae” before “AC/DC Bag” picks things back up again. The rare “Lifeboy” can’t be argued with here – you might only have had six chances to hear it since 1998 – and the 20 minute “David Bowie” that follows hits all the marks. A couple of acoustic numbers to right the ship before “Good Times Bad Times” shows up for the second show in a row at The Knick

For the second run in a row, the crowd was treated to a huge “2001” and randomly, a “Golgi Apparatus” to follow, to open the second set. “Drowned,” “Caspian” and “Piper” flowed together seamlessly, a mid-set trio that set the stage for “You Enjoy Myself,” and why not keep the tramps out there for an out of left field “Been Caught Stealing?” A fiery “Llama” was once again found in Albany, and for an encore we were treated to the fourth, and final (so far) version of The Beatles’ “Something,” fan favorite “Guyute” and surprisingly, an acapella version of “Free Bird” which is still etched in my mind for the perfect cap to this high caliber show.

Set 1: Punch You in the Eye > My Soul, Roggae, AC/DC Bag > Lifeboy, David Bowie, Sleep[1], Driver[1], Good Times Bad Times
Set 2: Also Sprach Zarathustra > Golgi Apparatus, Drowned -> Prince Caspian > Piper, You Enjoy Myself, Been Caught Stealing > Llama
Encore: Something > Guyute, Free Bird
[1] Trey on acoustic guitar.

October 9 and 10, 1999

The saying is, ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it, right?’ Well Phish opened up their next stop in Albany with “Punch You in the Eye” and after a quick “Wilson,” jumped into “Guyute,” which they apparently love to play here. The 20 minute “Ghost” keeps up the tradition of those long first jams that Albany shows are a known for.

It is in Set 2 where “Limb by Limb” got spacey and again, a “2001” emerges, and here is where we find the theme to Phish in Albany – long jams and repeated fan favorites. In the second set, the first three songs along combine for 45 minutes, followed by “Waiting in the Velvet Sea,” then a young song in the mix to mellow things out after a hot opening combo like that. “Simple” and “Loving Cup” close the set with “Slave” filling into the encore slot nicely. It’s a good thing they brought out fan favorites tonight, because the next night was a different story.

Set 1: Punch You in the Eye > Wilson, Guyute, Ghost -> Free, Sparkle > Possum
Set 2: Limb By Limb > Also Sprach Zarathustra[1] > Down with Disease > Wading in the Velvet Sea, Simple, Loving Cup
Encore: Slave to the Traffic Light
[1] Trey on keys.

Poster by Jim Pollock

For the end of their Fall 1999 tour, an album listening party for the soon to be released Farmhouse broke out in the first set. I won’t sit here and shame this set – it’s great, but that night it was a handful of new songs couples with some jams and a “Stash” at the end that was like the lot burrito I had that night – it didn’t sit very well. But for set 2, things went a little deeper, opening with a Jam that found its way into “You Enjoy Myself” without a vocal jam, “Prince Caspian” and “Train Song.” By the time the band got to “Bathtub Gin” they were in full rock star mode, and the “Character Zero” to close things out made for a well rounded if not slightly awkward setlist. “Contact” in the encore was fitting, and paired with “Misty Mountain Hop,” these four Vermonters were itching to get in their cars and head to the Green Mountains for six weeks of recording, rest and relaxation before heading out on tour in December with their eyes set on a millenium bash in Florida.

Set 1: Farmhouse, Gotta Jibboo, Heavy Things, First Tube, Dirt, Vultures, Stash
Set 2: Jam > You Enjoy Myself[1] > Prince Caspian > Train Song, Bathtub Gin, Character Zero
Encore: Contact > Misty Mountain Hop
[1] No vocal jam.

September 8 and 9, 2000

There is something to be said about tour openers in Albany – they are rare, but they are very, very good. The variety found in the show that kicked off their final tour before hiatus is remarkable, and on relisten, it gives a sampling of Albany shows past, and what we can look forward to when Phish opens up their Fall 2018 tour. A debut of Bob Marley’s “Mellow Mood” should be enough to get the juices flowing, and its the “Limb by Limb” and “Ghost” that follow that pick the pace up and give you an idea of the potential in store this night, and this tour. The next seven songs all blow by with relative ease before another big “Taste” emerges and “Golgi” closes the set out. Kicking off Set 2 with a tough “Birds of a Feather” precedes the Tony Markellis penned “Windora Bug” debut and an 18 minute “David Bowie,” and the blues tune “Back at the Chicken Shack.” A 16 minute “Bathtub Gin” paired with its own ambient jam with Fishman on vacuum and Trey on drums is that taste of 1.0 that you don’t find these days. Another show closing “Character Zero” wrapped up the show, with “Fire” in the encore slot.

Set 1: Mellow Mood[1], Limb By Limb, Ghost, Bouncing Around the Room, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Saw It Again, NICU, Glide, Axilla, Taste, Golgi Apparatus
Set 2: Birds of a Feather, Windora Bug[1], David Bowie, Back at the Chicken Shack, Bathtub Gin > Jam[2] > Character Zero
Encore: Fire
[1] Phish debut.
[2] Fish on vacuum and Trey on drums.

When you know it’s the last time you’ll see a band for a while, you make the most out of it, and that was the C.W. for fans that I rolled to this show with. I would see them once more this fall in Darien Lake, but for many, this was the end of the line for the foreseeable future – no one knew how long this break would be for, so rather than chance it, Albany packed the Pepsi Arena for the second night in a row. Opening with a “Possum” built off the anticipation from outside was the start to the night we needed, and deserved. A jam out of “My Friend” found its way into “Gumbo,” and then into “Maze,” so after four songs, this set was already following in the footsteps of past shows. “Boogie On,” “Roggae,” “Guyute” and “Antelope” as the second half of the set just kept raising the bar for what was possible this tour.

Opening with the new fan favorite “Gotta Jibboo” for a lengthy jam to start the set was a nice pairing to the “Possum” that opened the night. After a brief and rare “The Curtain,” a 20 minute “Sand” stood out as the jam of the night, partially because little that followed would compare. Michael Ray, of Sun Ra and Cosmic Krewe fame, would join the band on trumpet for “Makisupa Policeman,” “Cars Trucks and Buses,” and “Funky Bitch,” and while this was by no means Kid Rock sitting for the second half of a set later that tour, it did take the energy from earlier in the set and cast it aside. I never understood why Ray didn’t stick around for “Cavern,” which has a perfect fit for horns. And so for an encore that somehow had no discernable “You can feel good” ending lyrics, “Harry Hood” still clocks in at 17 minutes, with some lucky fans on the stage to enjoy it up close while Ray and Trey laughed it up as the jam came to a close.

Set 1: Possum, My Friend, My Friend[1] -> Jam > Gumbo -> Maze, Boogie On Reggae Woman, Roggae, Guyute, Run Like an Antelope[2]
Set 2: Gotta Jibboo > The Curtain > Sand[3], Makisupa Policeman[3] > Cars Trucks Buses[3] > Funky Bitch[3] > Cavern
Encore: Harry Hood[3]
[1] No “Myfe” lyric.
[2] Tom Marshall spoke the lyrics to Antelope.
[3] Michael Ray on trumpet.

And there you have it – seven performances by Phish from 1997-2000 that featured a few 20 minute jams, some bust outs and debuts, and a whole lot of rock n roll. Phish has a wonderful tradition of playing hot shows in Albany and with this being one of only 5 stops this Fall, you know they’ll be bringing the heat to the fans next week.