On April 2-5, 1998, Phish played four shows – two at the Nassau Coliseum on Long Island in New York, two at the Providence Civic Center in Rhode Island – that have become known as The Island Tour.
The first two shows were the band’s debut at the Nassau Coliseum, but their debut at the Providence Civic Center came four years earlier. LN has covered the former venue three times already – GD 3/15/73, GD 5/14-16/80, and PH 2/28/03. The latter venue was built in 1972, and is currently known as the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Other details seem less important than what happened there and then.
And what happened there and then is nothing short of legendary. A-Phish-cionados have waxed prolifically and elegantly on the music of the Island Tour. Well-respected blogger Mr. Miner has covered the four shows three times. Here are his thoughts in 2009 on the first two shows; here are his thoughts in 2009 on the second two shows. Those blogposts are essential reading, and contain excellent video clips. Mr. Miner revisted the run a year later, too. Here are his thoughts in 2010 on all four shows. And last year, Jam Base revealed ten obscure facts about the run, along with some additional video clips.
I can’t out-do what’s been done elsewhere – I won’t even steal ticket stubs, photos, or videos. But, to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Island Tour, LN’s in-house Phish working group convened recently to discuss the music and its lasting importance. Fun afternoon at HQ. I hadn’t seen OM, or the rest of the guys, for a while, so that was great. And loud music and beer in the conference room with an increasingly edgy Trevor lurking just outside and dying for an invite inside the glass doors (OM eventually relented and let his sidekick in to hear Roses Are Free) was even better. Anyway, via email, OM, BW, and ECM offered their insights. With light LN style manual edits (thanks, Jane), here they are…
The Island Tour occupies a unique place in Phish history. In some senses, it’s a bridge from the deep funk explorations of 1997 to the groove-based improvisations of the late ‘90s and beyond. But at the same time, the sound of the Island Tour remains one-of-a-kind. Nothing else sounds quite like these four shows. In our jam spotlight, we’ll look at one jam from each night that illustrates that unmistakable Island Tour sound.
Aliens are real, and they live among us – or at least they did during the 4-2-98 Twist. Here’s a great example of how the band’s sonic palette was expanding. Page and Trey go heavy on the sound effects, so much that the guitar and keys often mingle together. Gordon’s bassline is incredibly melodic, and he anchors the jam amidst the swirl of effects around us. A gorgeous and unique jam, one that could provide the perfect soundtrack to an alien abduction.
4-3-98 Roses are Free
Speaking of unique jams, I present the Island Tour Roses. Rightfully, this Roses are Free takes its place alongside the band’s great all-time jams. I consider this the pinnacle of “four-way jamming,” where the band eschews any sense of soloing and each musician is playing something that’s both separate and totally connected to everything else that’s going on. You can focus on one band member for only a moment because as soon as you do, your attention is drawn to what someone else is playing. Yeah, you might be locked into Mike’s groove, but did you just hear that descending line Page threw out there? Or Fishman’s drum fill within Trey’s funky chording? It’s all here, folks.
All about that bass. Gordon and Fishman are tightly intertwined throughout the spacey disco jam. This version starts off as a pure Phish dance party. Trey begins layering on the delay effects halfway through, building the intensity on top of the tight groove that never relents.
Cavern’s a predictable song, you might think. And yeah, that’s mostly true, except when you’re talking about the 4-5-98 version. The final night of the run was a mini-celebration of a great mini-run, and it’s all encapsulated in this funk workout. As Trey says, “for those of you who want to take off, take off. But for those of you who just want to dance to the funk, we’re gonna stay around and keep groovin’.”
The band was recording The Story of the Ghost, and they got the itch to play and booked these four shows. Having just seen the phenomenal Madison Square Garden New Year’s run shows, I was extremely excited, especially them playing Nassau for the first time.
The Tube opener was a sure-fire signal that we were in for something special. 12-7-97 was a turning point for the song, and for the next several years the song became a potential jam vehicle for some of the best Phish had to offer during the era. The unfinished Stash went at out there and touched on some of that space funk that would be the primary band sound for all of 1998.
Set 2 on the 4-2 was just a non stop funk affair. Punch You in the Eye —> Simple second set opener. Debuts of Birds of Feather and Frankie Says were certainly exciting, as both showed very different sides of the band we loved. Yet, the meat of that set – Wolfman’s Brother > Sneakin’ Sally from the Alley > Frankie Says > Twist was a different Phish that pounded us with start/stop funkin’ 1997. This was more atmospheric for lack of a better word, and, man, was it delicious. I recall being very excited that Sally was sticking around after its recent revival at 12-30-97. (And reprised!)
4-3. What more can be said about what is certainly in my Top 5 Phish shows of all time? I was on the floor to the left of the soundboard and remember every note of this show unfolding and getting even more giddy at every selection. The band could do no wrong. From the roar of the crowd as Mike’s Song cranked from the speakers to open the show, to the near perfect Reba, I was more than pleased with the first set. Little did I know what the second set had in store. I was lucky enough to have heard their new (at the time) cover of Ween’s Roses are Free during the MSG NYE show shortly after the band debuted it at their 12-11- 97 Rochester show. I had no inkling that it would become the vehicle for launching the band into one of the best sets of their career. I can’t describe the Roses > Piper jams with words. It all fit together like a puzzle. I can practically sing the notes as I relisten to the jams. It’s a style unique to this run – the pefect melding of space and funk. The stage crasher during Run Like an Antelope added an element of humor as Pete Carini chased him down, causing the band to build the lyrical section around the “Carini’s gonna get ya” theme. The Carini (fitting and very exciting for its second U.S. appearance) >Haley’s Comet >Tweezer Reprise encore was as loud as I have ever heard an arena be for a Phish encore. The unexpected Reprise caught me unaware, as they hadn’t played Tweezer! 4-4 answered that question.
I want a time machine. These two shows were special, and both deserve [repeated] listens.
I attended the two shows on Long Island at Nassau Coliseum. I had a very different experience from most. I didn’t like them. Blasphemy, I know. I have since seen the light, but it just goes to show how much one’s mindset can play into the experience. For me, I had just seen what I consider the best Phish show ever – 12/30/97 at Madison Square Garden. It was the show where the band played past curfew. It was the show where the band played an epic 30-minute AC/DC Bag and a Harpua for the ages with a Lost In Space sequence, Pentagrams, olive loaf sandwiches and an appearance by Tom Marshall. It was the show with a wild 4-song, 30-minute encore that included the U.S. debut of Carini (only second time ever played), the reprise of Sneakin’ Sally in the Alley (busted out as the show opener, last played in 1989), and a Frankenstein with a digital delay loop and a vacuum solo. Just completely insane stuff. In my mind, 12/30/97 was untouchable.
That was my mindset going into the Island Tour. And when the band repeated Carini, I was [disappointed]. How dare they dishonor the almighty 12/30/97! Clearly, I thought, they had lost their creative edge. The other factors that affected my negativity were poor seats both nights, a closed mind to the new songs, and a distracted mind from being in law school with final exams looming large. It wasn’t until months later, after I had a chance to relisten to the shows, that I finally saw the light. The Island Tour was magical, indeed. That being said, 12/30/97 still rules!
A phan named Zach Davis-Price has compiled all four shows into a Spotify playlist. Enjoy.