With Phish currently at the peak of their abilities as a creative unit as 2019 comes to a close, virtually every show from the Vermont rock band at this point can be singled out for its insanely high levels of performance quality. However, looking back at some of the band’s past fall tours, no list of “The Best of Fall ’97 Phish” would be complete without mention of their December 6th, 1997 show at The Palace of Auburn Hills outside of Detroit, Michigan.
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 Phish has ever played–and makes this specific performance as a whole, simply thoroughly undeniable.
The show that night 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”.
The band started the second set with an inspired “Tweezer”, where it seemed that creative ideas were flowing through each band member like a current through an electrical 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. It’s worth noting that after nearly two decade—and 542 shows—”Izabella” finally resurfaced in 2017 as the 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 five 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 1997 show stack up among the best that Phish has ever played.
12/6/97 received an official archival release from LivePhish in 2012.
Watch full videos of each set from the 1997 peformance below, courtesy of YouTube user thegreatboognish:
Phish – The Palace of Auburn Hills [Set One] – 12/6/1997
Phish – The Palace of Auburn Hills [Set Two] – 12/6/1997
Phish – “Tweezabella”- 12/6/1997
Setlist: Phish | Palace of Auburn Hills | Auburn Hills, MI | 12/6/97
Set One: Golgi Apparatus, Run Like an Antelope, Train Song > Bathtub Gin -> Foam, Sample in a Jar, Fee > Maze, Cavern
Set Two: Tweezer -> Izabella -> Twist -> Piper, Sleeping Monkey > Tweezer Reprise
Encore: Rocky Top
[Originally published on December 6th, 2019]