After a twenty-one show fall tour and their annual Holiday run of four shows in the Northeast, Phish decided to take a short break from touring during the early part of 1998. This left the band members free to explore some side projects as well as to get together to compose new Phish material. Fish did some dates in the Northeast with his band Pork Tornado and then joined Jazz Mandolin Project for a string of sixteen shows on their “Tour De Flux”. Meanwhile, Trey and lyricist Tom Marshall recorded their third session of demos that would eventually be compiled for Trampled by Lambs and Pecked By the Dove. Trey was also working on material with some local collaborators that would eventually fuel his one-time original project, 8 Foot Fluorescent Tubes. After some March practice sessions in Moscow, Vermont (the three-day session in March was called “Ghost Meat” and spawned over a dozen new songs) and at the band’s usual practice space, Phish decided to play a few shows and came up the idea of Island Tour.
Island Tour was scheduled relatively late in a period when the band had planned on not playing any shows. The tour consisted of two nights at Nassau Memorial Coliseum at Long Island’s Uniondale, NY followed by two nights at Providence Civic Center at Providence, Rhode Island. The band was in fine form for the four concerts, showcasing much of the new material they had been working on in practice as well as many classics in a variety of combinations. The theme of the Island Tour was decidedly funky and the band introduced a number of songs from the upcoming album The Story of The Ghost during the four nights on the islands.
The band came out smoking with Tube on April 2nd At Nassau Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum. NICU and Stash into Horn also punctuated the first set. Set two of the first Island show kicked off with Punch You in the Eye into Simple, followed by the debut performance of Birds of a Feather. Wolfman’s Brother into Sneaking Sally Through the Alley led into a jam that morphed into the first performance of Frankie Says. Twist took many twists and turns before it segued into the now-rare Sleeping Monkey. A Guyute encore left the crowd wondering what the next few nights held in store. Mike’s Song into Old Home Place began the second Nassau show, followed by a high-energy Weekapaug Groove. Set two consisted of four songs: Roses are Free into Piper into Loving Cup into Run Like an Antelope. During the “what a beautiful buzz” chorus of Loving Cup, an audience member ran onstage and stage dived back into the audience just before drum tech Pete Carini had a chance to complete his traditional tackle. This caused Fish and Trey to began a “Carini’s gonna get you” commentary. Accordingly, Carini into Halley’s Comet and Tweezer (reprise) made up the encore on the 3rd.
Island Tour continued in Providence on April 4th. That night, Tweezer into Taste opened set one while Birds of a Feather into 2001 into Brother began the second set. Set two continued with Ghost into Lizards and closed with David Bowie and a Harry Hood encore. The last of the four shows took place on April 5th. Set one on the 5th began with Oh Kee Pah Ceremony into You Enjoy Myself, the second time the two songs have ever been paired. Later in the set came McGrupp, Bathtub Gin into Cities and Split Open and Melt. Set two was basically a continuous jam, with Phish segueing from Down With Disease through YaMar, Prince Caspian, Maze, the first live performance of the reworked Shafty (formerly known as Olivia’s Pool) and perhaps the funkiest versions of Possum and Cavern ever. The encore that night was Axis, Bold as Love leaving the band and audience energized and excited for the material that would make up the new album that fall.
After returning home from Island Tour, the band spent another four days in Moscow, Vermont from April 7th until the 10th at “Dave O’s” house. The band used the time to get to know Producer Andy Wallace and to work on material at a mini-session later dubbed “Ghost Meat II” by the band. During his stay in Vermont, Andy stayed at a bed and breakfast called the Bittersweet Inn. It was during this time that the song Bittersweet Motel was written.
Meanwhile Trey dug back into the new material he had begun earlier that year and got ready for his debut appearance at Winooski’s new club, Higher Ground. He put together a group known as 8 Foot Fluorescent Tubes consisting of Russ “Rhythmo Loco” Lawton on drums, Tony “The Meat Man” Markellis on bass, Heloise Williams on vocals and keys and Tom Lawson on guitar, vocals and keys. The group came together for a single show on April 17th, performing a set of new originals consisting of: First Tube, Sand, Mozambique, The Meatman, Shame, In the Mood, Silicone Fairy and Last Tube. Trey finished the set of original music with a dedication to his brother-in-law Kevin Statesir and his partners’ new endeavor, playing Stevie Wonder’s classic, Higher Ground. The 8 Foot Fluorescent Tubes set was kind of a tribute to the late-80’s, with four dancers waving light tubes and a variety of other costuming and set weirdness. Trey played another set later that evening with a rotating group of musicians known as the Burlington Allstars, tearing through a set consisting mostly of covers and featuring a number of guests including Bobby Hackney, Pistol Stamen and Fish.
The next night, Mike joined his friends Max Creek at Burlington’s Club Toast, playing most of set two. Meanwhile, the crew was busy loading into Studio A at Bearsville Studios in New York State where Phish began tracking songs on April 20th. On the 20th and 21st, the band mostly got the feel of the studio with Engineer Chris Shaw and Producer Andy Wallace, tracking songs like Tube, NICU and Limb by Limb. The rest of that week and much of the next were dedicated to tracking more old and new songs.
Phish spent much of the rest of spring and early summer working on material for The Story of the Ghost, which was released on Elektra Records in October. The band toured Europe and the U.S. surrounding the record’s release that summer and fall (see TMIPH June 1998 and TMIPH October 1998).