Phish are taking a break from touring this fall, but the quartet will try to appease their fans’ seemingly insatiable thirst for new music by releasing a seven-CD box set containing three complete back-to-back shows from their legendary Fall 1997 tour. As its title, Hampton/Winston-Salem ’97, implies, the box set compiles two shows from Hampton, Virginia (November 21st and 22nd, 1997) and one from Winston-Salem, North Carolina (November 23rd, 1997). The set will hit stores on December 6th. Pre-orders are available now through the band's official merchandise arm, Phish Dry Goods. You can also download the live recording of Phish's "Mikes Song -> I Am Hydrogen -> Weekapaug Groove" from November 22nd, 1997 here.
In addition to offering all three shows in their entirety, the set also includes never-before-heard soundcheck material. And yet, only one song is repeated on the entire eight-hour set: "Black-Eyed Katy" a then-new instrumental that, in some ways, set the tone for the entire Fall 1997 tour by turning the dial to funk. (By 1998, with the addition of lyrics, "Black-Eyed Katy" transformed into Phish's showcase funk jam, "The MOMA Dance").
That Fall 1997 tour remains among the most revered Phish tours in history, by the band's ever attentive and analytical fan base. Their improvisational abilities were at an all-time premium, the new emphasis on funk ensured that every show was a dance party, and the sold-out crowds provided a synergy for the band's energetic, three-hour-plus excursions – each one of which was unique.
And while they were playing to larger audiences than ever before, Phish were also unafraid to let loose onstage, tackling a number of just-for-fun covers ranging from Jimi Hendrix's fiery "Izabella" to Del McCoury's bluegrass classic, "Beauty Of My Dreams." The box set opens with the band's debut of the Rolling Stones' "Emotional Rescue." But as Phish archivist Kevin Shapiro notes in the press release, "More than what was played, the sheer heights of these performances are what made them special and built their acclaim."
The release of the two nights at Hampton is of particular significance. They're two of the most requested concerts from the band's vault and not only do they represent some of Phish's finest moments but they also took place at their most prized venue: the Hampton Coliseum. Nicknamed "the Mothership" by fans – in part because of the way it looks from the outside – the Hampton Coliseum has been ground zero for many important nights over Phish's storied career. In fact, when the band reunited in 2009 after a five-year breakup, they booked a three-night run at the venue to mark their return. A previous box set, entitled Hampton Comes Alive, documents the band's 1998 two-night stand there as well.
Looking ahead, Phish will forge new memories when they return to New York's Madison Square Garden for a four-night New Year's Run that has become something of a tradition. Tickets for those shows will go on sale through Ticketmaster on Saturday, October 29, at Noon ET – for a predicted precious few moments before selling out. Photograph by C. Taylor Crothers © Phish 2011