Phish fans are notoriously opinionated about their Phish. Forums, message boards, Facebook groups, and the like abound, giving fans a platform to champion their favorite shows. Of course, opinions inevitably vary, but there are a handful of “great” shows whose dates ring out through the halls of the Phish ‘Net. Today, we mark the anniversary of one such show–the beautiful piece of work Phish dropped on Wright State University’s Ervin J. Nutter Center in Dayton, OH on 12/7/97, 20 years ago today. Coming in the thick of their now-storied 1997 Fall Tour, and the evening after they delivered what is still one of the best sets of their career, Phish’s Dayton show on this day in 1997 saw the band ride a massive swell of momentum to one of the most complete, fluid, well-crafted shows they’ve ever played.
While the previous night’s second set had been the evening’s focal point, the first set was where Phish shined the brightest on 12/7/97. The band started with an always-welcome “AC/DC Bag” opener that segued expertly into a cover of Talking Heads‘ “Psycho Killer”, which in turn bled smoothly into ZZ Top‘s “Jesus Just Left Chicago” after a brief jam. The entire opening segment stands as an incredible passage of music, with all four members of the band connecting and communicating so effortlessly that one could easily be convinced that these three tunes were always played together as a suite.
The next portion of the set was equally as inspired, as Phish powered through “My Mind’s Got a Mind of its Own”, into an impressive “It’s Ice”-> “Swept Away” > “Steep” > “It’s Ice” > “Theme From The Bottom” without skipping a single beat. This “Theme”, in particular, is a thing of beauty in its own right, flipping between minor and major space adeptly as it builds steam.
From there Phish kicked into “Tube”, and after a funky run through the Fishman/Anastasio-penned tune, finished off to emphatic applause. But rather than start the next song, Phish had other plans, instead launching back into a “Tube” reprise jam that extended for another 6+ minutes of spaced-out grooves. This was the first “Tube” to break out of its shell improv-wise, and remains arguably the best version of the song to date. The elusive “Tube” jam continues to be a sought-after rarity to this day, even inspiring a Twitter account that updates those following along on whether or not Phish Jammed Out “Tube”. As the “Tube” jam began to wind down, a “Slave To The Traffic Light” appeared gracefully at the end of the tunnel, soaring to its usual tear-inducing peak to put an exclamation point on a truly fantastic set.
While a lot of the love for 12/7/97 often goes to its incredible first set, the second half of the show was not without its highlights, even among the stiff competition of the rest of the tour. After kicking things off with “Timber (Jerry)”, the band moved directly into “Wolfman’s Brother”, taking the song on a quick but funky ride before executing one of the smoothest segues you’ll ever hear into their first “Boogie On Reggae Woman” in nearly 1,000 shows. The Stevie Wonder cover also got a nice outro jam before leading into a pair of classic compositions: “Reba” and “Guyute”, both excellent, still-noteworthy readings. Finally, “Possum” gave everyone one last chance to let loose, bringing the set to a close on a high note. The Beatles‘ “A Day In The Life” provided the proverbial icing on the enormous, multi-layered, Cake Boss-level cake that was 12/7/97.
This show is undoubtedly one of the “greats”. Every single song was impeccably delivered, with Trey, Mike, Fish, and Page all showcasing unparalleled ability both as individuals and as a unit. From massive bust-outs, to beloved covers, to classic compositions, to the indescribably satisfying improvisation and cohesive segues, 12/7/97 is some of the finest Phish out there, top to bottom.
You can relive the incredible Dayton “Tube” below, via YouTube user deadphishpanthers76:
Or, you can stream the whole show in soundboard quality via Spotify here, thanks to Phish’s official archival release of the performance:
SETLIST: Phish | Ervin J. Nutter Center, Wright State University | Dayton, OH | 12/7/97
SET 1: AC/DC Bag -> Psycho Killer -> Jesus Just Left Chicago, My Mind’s Got a Mind of its Own > It’s Ice -> Swept Away > Steep > It’s Ice > Theme From the Bottom , Tube -> Slave to the Traffic Light
SET 2: Timber (Jerry) > Wolfman’s Brother -> Boogie On Reggae Woman > Reba, Guyute > Possum
ENCORE: A Day in the Life
 No whistling.
Psycho Killer was unfinished. JJLC included a Rocky Mountain Way tease. During Tube, there was a long pause before the jam out of the song began. Boogie On Reggae Woman was played for the first time since September 13, 1988 (988 shows). Reba did not have the whistling ending. Possum included “Charge!” teases and a We Will Rock You tease from Mike. This show is available as an archival release on LivePhish.com.