On Wednesday, November 26, 1997, Phish played the Civic Center in Hartford, Connecticut.
Opened in 1975, the Civic Center was the original home of the NHL’s New England Whalers and the University of Connecticut men’s basketball team. Its roof collapsed in 1978 after a heavy snowfall. The venue was rebuilt, and served as the home of the Hartford Whalers from 1980-1997, when the organization moved and became the Carolina Hurricanes. That was mere months before a band from Vermont came calling.
Phish 1997 Fall Tour has long been held up as a particularly high peak in the band’s history. The tour lasted about a month, starting in mid-November and ending in mid-December, with a New Year’s run tacked on at the end of that year. Arguably, some of the best Phish shows ever played occurred early in that tour.
This isn’t news, but any Phish head will happily talk about how the band’s sound had gone through a major evolution earlier in the year, with slower, funkier jams taking center stage. The Fall Tour continued the funk explorations, but some darkness had begun to creep back in, too. What you get is a stretch of shows that are rightfully lauded for their intensity and innovation.
When trying to decide which show from November ’97 to highlight, you don’t have to think too hard. 11/17 is the classic Denver show, immortalized back in the days of compact discs as LivePhish Volume 11. The next show, 11/19, is partially included as filler on LP 11. Then you have the Hampton shows, 11/21 and 11/22, which rank among my absolute personal favorites of any Phish shows. 11/23 was included on a box set with the Hampton shows. 11/29 has the famous 58-minute Runaway Jim. These shows are staples.
So for today’s highlight, let’s go for a show that’s maybe just slightly overlooked: 11/26/97, Hartford, CT. Nestled in between the 11/23 show and the famous three-show Worcester run that closed out the month, 11/26 nonetheless is worth exploring for anyone who is hooked on that Fall ’97 sound.
The show opens with a raging Tweezer that stretches over 18 minutes. This isn’t usually in the conversation when discussing ’97 Tweezers, but it’s high-energy goodness that builds to a satisfying peak in the final few minutes. Don’t sleep on the Gumbo in the third slot. This is a slowed-down-and-stretched-out Gumbo that unravels over 12+ minutes. Other first half highlights include a strong McGrupp and Split.
The second set kicks off with the pairing of Character Zero > 2001. If you’re not familiar with this show, you might shrug your shoulders. Don’t. This is not your grandfather’s first-set closing Character Zero. This is a searing, 21-minute Zero jamfest. It’s nasty and dark. Do you like evil Phish? Listen to this bad boy. The band then lets the jam dissolve into 2001. This one gives just the right amount space funk to keep the party going. Then we get more good times with Cities and Ya Mar, as well as a Caspian with a little extra juice.
In a month of truly excellent Phish, some of the best Phish ever, the Hartford show is not quite at the front of the conversation. But it’s worth a closer listen. Here’s a YouTube of its entirety.
Or stream the show HERE.
And download the show HERE.
[OM, ladies and gentlemen. Yeah. We’ve started a new feature on LN: Phish Monthly. It’s a companion piece for Grateful Dead Monthly. PHM will be written by OM and assisted by me, JF. I’d normally signoff by saying “More soon.” But this post isn’t mine. So I’ll just signoff for him.]