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Published: 2005/08/08
by Mike Greenhaus

04.05.98 Providence Civic Center – Phish

Phish Archives 1005

On the final night of Phish's four-show Island Tour, Trey Anastasio offered the following: "For those of you who just wanna dance to the funk, we're just gonna stay around and keep grooving." In certain ways, Anastasio's off-the-cuff comment doubled as this brief run's unofficial thesis and certainly serves as the tagline for 04.05.98, the fourth three-disc set in this definitive Live Phish offering.

The spring of 1998 found Phish near the climax of their latent funk period, documenting its new sound in the studio and gradually building its grooviest jams into fully realized songs. For longtime Phish fans, a lot had changed since the Vermont quartet began barnstorming clubs and collages in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a decade-long push which found the group stretching the seams of its geek-rock persona. For many, the change came after the group's famed 1995 New Year's performance — a theatrical moment which amplified Phish's Zappa antics to an arena-size setting. Feeling as if they'd reached their first peak, Phish retreated, first to the country in 1996 to record the acoustic flavored Billy Breathes, and later to the European club circuit in 1997, where they began utilizing their secret weapon: the air-tight rhythm section of Mike Gordon and Jon Fishman. Gradually, the band’s sound shifted from quirky jazz-funk into a style known to most as "cow funk," promoting Gordon’s low-end to lead instrument.

Always creatively fickle, Phish had started to abandon its pure, bass heavy cow-funk by the time the group got around to recording its new material for The Story of the Ghost. As Anastasio mentions on the Island Tour’s first night, boredom set in quickly, resulting in this brief jaunt through the Northeast’s two most famous islands, Rhode and Long. Perhaps the closest Phish came to translating its famed rehearsals on stage, the Island Tour, especially the music heard on 04.05.98, finds the group tweaking its styles and fine tuning its sound in front of a live audience. So, while -4.05.98 features some of Phish’s funkiest moments, it’s a decisively different type of funk, one less gritty and more rooted in clean, ambient space.

Each night featured both its fair share of novelties and deeply experimental jams, often within the same set or even the same song. The material documented on 04.05.98 is no exception and also serves as a fitting finale to this all too brief four-night set. Opening with a quick run-through of the instrumental "Oh Kee Pa Ceremony," 04.05.98’s first real moment arrives during the Holy Grail, "You Enjoy Myself," a number which evolved along with Phish since the mid-1980s. Smoother and perhaps a bit slower, "You Enjoy Myself," at times, seems to spill over with bass and funky guitar, as if it could barely contain the rapidly developing band. Later in the set there is magic during a fully realized "Theme From the Bottom," a rare latter-day reading of "McGrupp and the Watchful Housemasters," and a bass-heavy version of "Split Open and Melt." Perhaps the first set’s best moments arrive between the piano climax of "Bathtub Gin" and the guitar minimalism of the Talking Heads’ "Cities," a number which helped inspire Phish’s new direction a year earlier.

But, for many, 04.05.98 will be forever known for its loosest moment, the funky, almost show-long segue which encapsulates the group’s entire second set. After opening with "Down with Disease," Phish twists its performance into a set-long medley, melting an experimental "Ya Mar" into a delicate "Prince Caspian" before abandoning traditional song structures altogether. First comes "Possum," a number once tucked in the group’s most blues-rock — dare we say — Dead-influenced corner, now turned into a full jam-vehicle. "Cavern" adopted a more slowed-down tempo and saw the return of its original lyrics. Throwing in a half-baked version of The Story of the Ghost’s "Shafty," fans can also hear the group molding the song from the previous year’s "Olivia’s Pool" into its darker, quieter recorded incarnation. As songs segued into jams, and composed sections melted into more adventurous funk explorations, one can hear Phish’s new, less-song oriented direction emerging, opening up the door for a newer, spacier sound. But, at the same time, the group’s playing is still so meticulous that one can only describe this live set as tight.

In certain ways, the Island Tour is the bridge connecting two very different parts of Phish's career. Through this three-disc set, Anastasio is beginning to work in the loops, pedals and ambient sounds which would characterize Phish until its Hiatus. Outside its confines, 04.05.98 also served as the final night of Phish’s first non-New Years four-night run, evoking the feel of a traveling festival caravanning throughout the Northeast. As Anastasio utters the line "For those of you who just wanna dance to the funk, we’re just gonna stay around and keep grooving," his bandmates also take note, showing off the loosest, funkiest side of the band. Encoring with a quick cover of Jimi Hendrix’s "Bold as Love," Phish seems to forget about making this show, like its encore, a brilliant, but fleeting thought.

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