Over the past couple weeks, we’ve marked the 20th anniversary of some of Phish‘s greatest shows along their hallowed 1997 Fall Tour, affectionately referred to as “Phish Destroys America”. With the band at the peak of their abilities as a unit, virtually every show from the tour can be singled out for its greatness. However, no list of the best of Fall ’97 Phish would be complete without mention of their 12/6/97 performance at The Palace of Auburn Hills outside of Detroit, Michigan.
The show opened with a speedy run through longtime setlist staple “Golgi Apparatus”, before the band set the gear shift to high with a wild “Run Like An Antelope” in the two-spot. After a quick “Train Song” breather, Phish opted for “Bathtub Gin”, which received its regularly prescribed dose of rocking Type-1 improv before segueing smoothly into a skillfully executed “Foam”. The set closed with straightforward renditions of “Sample in a Jar”, “Fee”, “Maze”, and “Cavern”.
While the show’s first set may not be anything to write home about, the second set stands on its own merit as one of the best sets Phish has ever played, and makes this show as a whole thoroughly undeniable. The band started things off with an inspired “Tweezer” where it seemed that creative ideas were flowing through each band member like a current through wire. The jam traveled from sparse, minimalist grooves to thick, creamy cow funk with help from inspired riffing by Trey Anastasio throughout. After 22 minutes, out of the Tweezer jam rose Jimi Hendrix‘s “Izabella”. Following a dark, grungy, beautifully distorted run through the song’s structure, the band locked on to a relentlessly funky groove which they traversed masterfully for roughly five of the tightest minutes of improvisation they’ve ever played. The “Tweezabella” would wind up becoming an oft-mentioned piece of Phish lore. The band would go on to play “Izabella” just twice more in ’97 and twice in ’98 before it disappeared from the rotation entirely, making it a consistently-hunted song by countless fans. (After nearly two decades–and 542 shows–“Izabella” finally resurfaced this past summer as first set closer on the final night of the Baker’s Dozen).
The segues continued as the band slipped gracefully from “Izabella” into “Twist”, and once again from “Twist” into “Piper”. Clocking in at over 14 minutes in length, this magnificent “Piper” marked the first time the band truly gave this tune the jam treatment. “Sleeping Monkey” served as a well-received sing-along after the set’s incredible stretch of red-hot improv, and “Tweezer Reprise” faithfully finished the frame with the best 5 minutes in rock n’ roll.
From the legendary second set-opening “Tweezabella”, to the birth of the “Piper” jam, to the impeccable segues that tie it all together, this second set quite simply defies argument–and helps this show stack up among the best that Phish has ever played.
12/6/97 received an official archival release from LivePhish in 2012. You can watch full videos of each set below, courtesy of YouTube user thegreatboognish:
…And for good measure, below is the full “Tweezabella”, which fills in the audio of the first several minutes of the set that are missing from the full video (via mkcool18):
SETLIST: Phish | Palace of Auburn Hills | Auburn Hills, MI | 12/6/97
SET 1: Golgi Apparatus, Run Like an Antelope, Train Song > Bathtub Gin -> Foam, Sample in a Jar, Fee > Maze, Cavern
SET 2: Tweezer -> Izabella -> Twist -> Piper, Sleeping Monkey > Tweezer Reprise
ENCORE: Rocky Top
[Cover photo via LivePhish]