Late 1997: what a time to be alive for Phish fans. With the band at the peak of their technical and improvisational abilities, virtually every one of Fall Tour ’97’s 21 dates–collectively referred to as “Phish Destroys America”–can be singled out as a career highlight for the band. Their performance at Philadelphia’s CoreStates Spectrum arena on this date was no different. Coming off a similarly stellar show at the same venue the previous night, Phish delivered an absolute gem for the Philly faithful. After a blistering “Punch You In the Eye” opener, the band gave a tight rendition of Clifton Chenier blues staple “My Soul”.

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While “Punch”>”My Soul” served as a high energy, if somewhat textbook opening segment, the “Drowned” that followed was far from standard fare. The band took the Mike Gordon-sung The Who cover for a funktastic 16-minute ride that stacks up with some of the tour’s best pieces of improv. With Page McConnell leading the way for much of the song’s structure, the jam morphs into an all-out dance party, with each member of the band connecting on seemingly telepathic levels. This “Drowned” is the epitome of the sound that’s become the hallmark of ’97 Phish– “cow funk”–a moniker inspired in equal parts by the existing “cowpunk” sub-genre, the baffling number of cows in the band’s home state of Vermont, and a quote from Trey in Richard Gehr‘s The Phish Book: “What we’re doing now is really more about groove than funk. Good funk, real funk, is not played by four white guys from Vermont. If anything, you could call what we’re doing cow funk or something.” The top-notch first set continued with flawless takes on “The Old Home Place” and “Gumbo”, before the band sent the show to halftime with a fantastic “2001”>”You Enjoy Myself”.

The show’s second frame kept up the energy that highlighted the impressive first set, as the band patiently works through an extended intro (including pieces of “Charge!”, “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”, and “Baby Elephant Walk”, and a Simpsons signal, taboot) before going Type-II for a captivating major key jam clocking in at over 26 minutes in length. “Possum” came next, followed by a funky “Jam” segment that bled beautifully into “Prince Caspian”. The rest of the set was Phish feeling good, with Page laying down the groove for “Frankenstein” before closing it out with a beautiful “Harry Hood”.

The band had one more trick up their sleeves for the encore, as they busted out a cover of blues classic “Crossroads”, originally by Robert Johnson and popularized by Cream. With that, Phish bid farewell to Philadelphia, and hit the road through the midwest for a soon-to-be legendary weekend run.

You can watch both sets in their entirety below, courtesy of YouTube user Tyler Penn:

Set 1:

Set 2:

SETLIST: Phish | CoreStates Spectrum | Philadelphia, PA | 12/3/97
SET 1: Punch You In the Eye > My Soul, Drowned, The Old Home Place, Gumbo > Also Sprach Zarathustra > You Enjoy Myself
SET 2: David Bowie[1] -> Possum > Jam -> Prince Caspian > Frankenstein > Harry Hood
ENCORE: Crossroads
NOTES: Drowned included a Couldn’t Stand the Weather jam. 2001 contained Super Bad teases from Trey. Bowie was preceded by a Charge! tease, included Take Me Out to the Ballgame and Baby Elephant Walk teases, a Simpsons signal, and was unfinished.
[Cover photo via LivePhish, from MSG 12/29/97]