Two words succinctly sum up the driving force behind the first ever Phish show at Nassau Coliseum: Island Tour. It’s the impromptu run of shows that are now viewed as essential elements of Phish lore. As the legend goes, the band was preparing to record their new album and wanted to test run some of the new songs. The previous year saw them at the height of their powers to date so a last minute tour announcement was sure to have few issues. And, somehow, Phish had never played Nassau Coliseum before. This all changed with the Island Tour and an opening show that saw new songs debuted and older ones stretched out in the new, infectiously funky sound the band had begun to hone.
There’s no time wasted this evening, as Phish thoroughly rips a “Tube” opener to the delight of the Nassau Coliseum crowd. Page McConnell on keys drives the jam in its early stages with heavy clavichord work. After that, it’s not long before the band is in full funk mode with a digital delay loop in full effect, picking right up where 1997 left off. This “Tube” is a great sign of things to come. The band seems locked in from the get-go as they stretch this one to nearly eight minutes.
After a quick conference, “My Mind’s Got A Mind Of Its Own” is the selection, filling the customary bluegrass spot that was more prevalent at this point in time. Bassist Mike Gordon nails the lyrics before this quick one ends with a flourish on piano from McConnell. “Sloth” emerges next to the delight of the crowd as Phish takes a quick trip to Gamehendge. Despite some lyric fumbling from Trey, they’re able to make it out of this one fairly unscathed. “NICU” follows this which sees drummer Jon Fishman in fine fashion keeping the time on this older Phish tune. Afterwards, Trey makes his now famous comment about the band “being bored at home” and “wanting to do some shows.”
Then, the first song with some real exploration since “Tube” comes next in a complex “Stash”. It features some early dissonant playing from Anastasio on guitar that the band uses as fuel for this particular jam. Before long, Phish has filled Nassau with a dark, foreboding jam that’s accentuated by a menacing light show. The digital delay loop then makes another appearance as the jam then shifts into a near ambient space. It stays in this mode for a while, with the band patiently crafting this one. It’s a truly exploratory section that yields little payout, however. Instead of bringing it back around to the finish, the jam slowly trickles out and the opening chords of “Horn” ring out.
Trey shows a little rust on the guitar solo, but overall it’s a harmless effort that wraps up quickly. “Waste” comes up next, a popular track from Billy Breathes, their most recent studio album. Trey nails his part on this one, as it finishes with an inspirational flourish. Then, as if to make up for the last two “slower” songs, an absolutely incendiary “Chalkdust Torture” wraps up the first set. Immediately, Anastasio is in rapid-fire mode on guitar for this “Torture” which seems like it’s intentionally sped up. The rest of the band is up to the challenge though. Gordon on bass goes tit-for-tat with Trey while Page pounds away on the baby grand on this simply (and literally) electric Phish classic that sends the Nassau crowd into set break.
But you don’t have to take my word for it. Check out the nice fan-shot video footage of the first set below or here.
The second set picks right back up with a return trip to Gamehendge courtesy of “Punch You In The Eye.” Once again, Phish exhibits impeccable patience and craftmanship as they deftly stretch out the intro to this one, much to the delight of the Nassau crowd. The rest of the calypso-style rocker is played to perfection, with Gordon shining on bass throughout.
“Simple” fills the two-spot for the second set, and after a standard composed section, eventually yields a spiritual instrumental jam spearheaded by Anastasio. Majestic, soaring guitar lines help create an incredible soundscape on one of the better extended pieces of improvisation this evening. As the jam winds down to a standstill, the choice is then made to drop the debut of a brand new song. The first ever “Birds Of A Feather” then leaves the nest, soon to be featured on the band’s upcoming Story Of The Ghost album they would record the following week. Instantly, everyone can tell this song has a bright future as another digital delay loop and some intense wah-wah from Trey warmly welcome this one to the live Phish catalog.
After some more banter from Trey about the new tune and upcoming album, the familiar opening chords of “Wolfman’s Brother” ring out. Gordon’s bass seems to has a little extra “pop” on this one and helps power yet another funk-fueled excursion. Eventually, McConnell reintroduces some more heavy clav sound and Phish ever so subtly slides right into their cover of Robert Palmer’s “Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley.”
But there would be no customary vocal jam accompanying this “Sally” – the funk is too deep. Instead, the jazz-shuffle jam that had developed wanders for a bit before taking a turn to the dark side and into the debut of “Frankie Says.” This harrowingly beautiful number, with McConnell on lead vocals here, would also wind up featured on Story Of The Ghost. Although it hasn’t been played live in nearly six years now.
The final major improv of the evening then follows in the form of “Twist.” Once the opening vocals are out of the way, this one takes off with a another frenetic jam with McConnell emitting a myriad of tones and styles on keys with Fishman playing in metronome-like fashion on drums. An inspired Trey on guitar helps give this jam yet another ethereal feel that soon devolves into outright ambience with a drumbeat.
Phish then wraps up the second set of their first ever show at Nassau Coliseum with a couple of crowd favorite sing-a-longs. “Sleeping Monkey” takes it on down to the shore and a blisteringly fast “Rocky Top” puts a cap on a memorable set of music. For an encore, Phish goes dark one last time with “Guyute,” giving the Nassau crowd one last taste of what to expect on the forthcoming album.
Phish Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum – Uniondale, NY 4/2/98
Set 1: Tube, My Mind’s Got A Mind Of Its Own, The Sloth, NICU, Stash > Horn > Waste > Chalkdust Torture
Set 2: Punch You In The Eye > Simple > Birds Of A Feather, Wolfman’s Brother->Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley->Frankie Says->Twist > Sleeping Monkey > Rocky Top