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Review by Icculus
11/13/97 Thomas and Mack Center, Las Vegas, NV
Set I (1:23): Chalkdust Torture, Black-Eyed Katy*, Theme from the Bottom,
Train Song, Split Open and Melt, Beauty of My Dreams, My Soul, You Enjoy
Myself*, Character Zero
If this show is any gauge, Phish is going to close 1997 the way it closed 1995: with shows so glorious we'll be begging for more, more, more -- and soon, soon, soon!!!
I was extremely exhausted before this show. We had driven all night from SF Wednesday night, and mellowed onto the strip at around 6am (after stopping at Whiskey Pete's in Primm to check out the car Bonnie and Clyde were killed in). After hitting the Hard Rock Cafe/Casino/Hotel for some time-killing festivities, we eventually checked into the Frontier. Got about 2 hours of sleep, maybe. The (basketball) arena was smaller than I expected.. plus it wasn't even full. Tickets were free or wicked cheap outside. I'd say 10k people inside.. Tops.
Highlights of Show: Fish wearing the orange-circled "Zeroman" smock;
the brand new instrumental; Stash, YEM and Mike's Song jam segments.
The tour opener, Chalk Dust, was remarkably unremarkable. Average at best (i.e., typically good, but nothing even vaguely approaching the majesty of the Ventura Chalk), imagine my shock and delight that the very next song was
A BRAND NEW FUNKY INSTRUMENTAL, which was clearly capitalizing on all of the summer '97 funky grooves that we all enjoyed (in Also Sprach's, Wolfman's, Cities', etc.). This tune is basically a FUNKY JAM, which just so happens to have a bit of a composed section as well (sound familiar?). You will be PRAYING for this one to go at least ten minutes plus, while dancing your kind veggie ass off. This tune, tentatively called "Black-Eyed Katy" (unknown spelling) by a Source Close to the Band, is easily one of my personal favorite Phish songs. It is definitely my favorite of the new 1997 Phish songs. Rejoice, All Ye Who Funk, and Be Merry.
The rest of the set was excellent, too. Theme had a strong jam segment, as did My Soul and Zero, but they weren't exceptional versions, imo. I still LOVE Theme, and this version was great. The My Soul was strong, but a walk in the park next to, say, 8/6/97 St. Louis. The SOAM was excellent, but it wasn't even on the same page as the 8/10/97 Deer Creek or 7/9/97 Lyon versions, in my opinion. It was still an excellent version from the last few years. Trainsong and Beauty were fine, and I enjoyed the rest.
The You Enjoy Myself was probably one of the most consistently funky YEM's I think I've ever heard them play. The jam segment opened with Trey repeating the same semi-melodious lick over and over and over again, drumming up quite a dank phatty groove. The funky jam built in intensity over the course of The Usual Five Or So Minutes, and, if memory serves, Trey repeatedly teased "Who Knows" by Hendrix -- the melody line sped up -- the exact same way he had at the Gorge (in Wolfman's, I think.. somewhere at the Gorge.. exact same Who Knows lick). I can't quite remember what else happened in this YEM. I have absolutely no recollection of a vocal jam, for example, although there may have been one. I do remember thinking that there wasn't much of a bass and drums jam -- Trey and Page hung around and jammed through it, while Mike led.
Anyway, great first set. The YEM is an excellent version all things considered (if you like Funk), but it ain't no 12/9/95 or otherwise Monster version. The version of the new instrumental played tonight will hopefully be the shortest version they ever do. If you want me to rate this set, I'd have to give it 5.5 rating (slightly above average; Scott Jordan Concert Review Poll scale) given the YEM. On Purcell's Width/Heighth scale, though, I'd have to give it a 5.0/6.0. I'd recommend checking it out for the YEM, SOAM, Theme jam segment and of course, the first version of Black-Eyed Katy.
Set II (1:27): Stash (23 min), Punch You In the Eye, Prince Caspian,
Bouncin Around the Room, Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug
Enc: Loving Cup
The Stash was botched in the opening (Trey), but the jam segment was INCREDIBLE. I didn't personally find it "teary-eyed" or anything, andwasn't as moved by it as I was, say, by the AmDam '97 and Orlando 11/95 versions. But this Stash is certainly exceptional in light of even the last several years of Stashes (see Great Woods '95 for a similar Stash, actually, although this one was more fired up than that one!). This Stash had a lengthy jam segment that began in typically spell-binding Stash mode, but then segued mightily into a dizzying, dissonant-yet-melodious groove that you ought to hear. It might be a bit too spacey for some of you, though. I certainly can't describe it well. Twenty plus minutes for this set opening Stash.
PYITE was easily one of the weakest versions I've heard. Not very tight at all, I wondered whether it had been rehearsed since the last tour. It did NOT *suck*, however, and I love the song (so enjoyed it even if it was too loose). Caspian and Bouncin were both very well-played I thought, and I especially enjoyed Caspian's jam segment, even if it wasn't as interesting as 6/14/97 Dublin. It was still an excellent Caspian, even if it didn't do anything out of the ordinary for '97 (although it may have been one of the longest versions of the last few years, come to think of it).
Mike's Song needs to be heard. The tramps jam segment (but no tramps tonight) was enormously funky, with Trey (as he did in YEM) smacking out a funky lick repeatedly. Fairly monotonous, the jam nevertheless amused me -- I prefer these funky Mike's Songs to the versions of olde (that have a lot of dark, off-key, eerie chording). The post-tramps segment, though not very long, contained some of the most glorious, enchanting improv I've ever heard Phish play. I can't wait to have a tape of this. Trey teased "[Born on the Bayou]" (Creedence) repeatedly in this spell-binding, texturally-based yet nevertheless mellifluous groove. A mesmerizing jam that I can't wait to hear again!!
Hydrogen contained some excessive improv from Trey in its beginning, but this seemed to throw everyone off. The version as a whole basically stank. (the segue into it, btw, out of Mike's was almost identical to Raleigh 7/22/97.. very gorgeous.. it sounded similar to part of "Crazy Fingers" for those of you familiar with that tune) Anyway, Hydrogen, though perhaps one of the longest versions ever (andwith some improvisational activity from Trey), was not very impressive imo.
Mike opened Weekapaug with yet another siiiiiick bass solo (typically snappy, funky and quick). The jam segment started lagging, though, and wasn't terribly exciting until Trey turned, stared at Fish, and started chording faster and faster to jumpstart the beat (Fish did appear to me to be dragging a bit, and frankly didn't seem to care much for the Weekapaug up until this point). Suffice it to say that with a tease or two of "Can't You Hear Me Knockin'," the band kicked out Weekapaug at like double-time (reminded me of the 10/22/96 MSG Freakapaug, actually). Fiery ending, but as a whole the Weekapaug wasn't terribly great for 1996-1997, in my opinion. But so what. It was Weekapaug, and it closed a great second set!!
The Loving Cup encore was one of the best versions I've ever heard them do. It reminded me of the 4/17/94 Patriot Center version, in that Trey was soloing remarkably well and the band was accompanying in kind. Cup fans should definitely check this version out. I think it kicks the Red Rocks' 1996 version's butt.
As a whole, this show gets a 6.0 Scott Jordan Concert Review Poll rating (5.0 is a typically great avg. Phish show). Width/Height..well. About a 5/6 or so as a whole. I thought it was an EXCELLENT tour-opening show, with above average versions of Cup, Stash, YEM, Mike's.. and probably Caspian and Theme, too. The SOAM was definitely above average if you look at all SOAMs in phishtory, but it was about avg for 1995-7 imo (ok Eric, maybe a wee bit above avg.. ;-).
It is frankly difficult to give anything less than a 6 rating to a show that contains both YEM and MikesGroove, not to mention SOAM, Stash and a brand new FUNKY INSTRUMENTAL as well. I have a feeling, though, that this show will be relatively unremarkable by the time January 1, 1998 rolls around.
Phish has been Haulin Ass all year, in my opinion, and you ought to make whatever shows that are near you this Winter. If you thought Phish peaked on 12/31/95, think again. I don't think it is that simple anymore.