After playing dates in Europe during June (see TMIPH June 1997) and July, Phish began their summer tour in the U.S. at Virginia Beach on July 21st. They had released the album Billy Breathes on Elektra records the previous fall and had begun production on Slip Stitch and Pass (recorded live in Hamburg, Germany on March 1st, 1997), slated for October release. By the time the band returned to the United States, they had premiered most of the songs from their next studio offering, The Story Of The Ghost. The summer 1997 tour began in Virginia and looped through the South and Southwest (with two Texas shows featuring guest drummer, Bob Gullotti) before working its way up the California coast.
August kicked off with shows at the visually stunning Gorge Amphitheatre in George, Washington. The Gorge is located on the Columbia River in the Washington desert and is a completely open-air venue with a grass lawn and a general admission “pavilion” area made of cement. The desert sun provides warm days and the dry air allows cool nights which are perfect for The Gorge’s onsite camping. During the first show on August 2nd, Trey asked Lighting Director Chris Kuroda to turn off the stage lights so the band could experience “the natural vibe” as they jammed in total darkness under the starlit sky. The next show on August 3rd opened with Bathtub Gin > Foam > At The Barbecue, which was then known as Samson Variation or Blow Wind Blow. The first set on August 3rd also featured My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own and a well-segued Twist > Jesus Left Chicago. The second set featured classics such as Fluffhead, the rarely-played Life Boy and a Slave to the Traffic Light encore.
After leaving the epic scenery of The Gorge, Phish continued east for their third visit to Riverport Amphitheatre in Maryland Heights (St. Louis), Missouri, where Trey began the show by introducing his Grandma Jean (Jones). The first set began with NICU and ended with Twist > 2001 > AC/DC Bag and closed with YEM. Set two featured a rousing rendition of Antelope > Makisupa Policeman > a jam which featured Page playing his Theremin and eventually segued back into Antelope. After a day off, the band rolled into the World Music Theatre in Tinley Park, Illinois. That show (on August 8th) opened with Page’s Cars Trucks Buses and included an excellent rendition of Gumbo. The second set featured a Wolfman’s Brother > Free opener and featured an encore of Phish’s first attempts at Chicago blues chestnuts Hoochie Coochie Man and Messin’ With The Kid, both with special guest Sugar Blue on harmonica and vocals. The next night, Phish made their second visit to East Troy, Wisconsin’s Alpine Valley. There they played outstanding versions of Taste and Reba, and closed the second set with Crossroads. Set two featured a “Mike’s Song Sandwich” that included Ain’t Life Funny, Simple, Swept Away, Steep, Scent of a Mule and Slave before concluding with Weekapaug Groove. During Scent of a Mule, Mike and Trey turned their “mule duel” solos into acrobatics as they laid on the ground with their feet in the air as if riding bicycles.
On August 10th and 11th, Phish returned to play their fourth and fifth shows respectively at Deer Creek Amphitheatre. During the first show, a notable Split Open and Melt was performed and the band opened set two with Cities > Good Times Bad Times, > an Instrument Switching Jam. The Switching Jam found, in order: Mike playing his Guild-Ashbury mini-bass (complete with rubber strings), Page on Theremin, Trey on Keys, then Mike on guitar, then Trey on drums with Fish, then Page on the bass, then Mike on keyboards and finally Fish on guitar for the next song, Rock A William. It was at Deer Creek that Trey began using a telephone placed on Page’s piano to “call in” the song selections to Page, who was using in-ear monitors and couldn’t otherwise hear. At previous shows that summer, Trey used a cup with a microphone inside to accomplish the task, making it look like he was taking a drink. The next night at Deer Creek featured Antelope to close the first set. The second set opened with Timber Ho!, Vultures and Piper. YEM was performed without the “Wash Uffitze” segment as the basis for the vocal jam.
The band took a day off and began the last leg of the summer tour, which consisted of a show on August 13th at Star Lake Amphitheatre in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania where the band premiered their cover of Elton John’s Amoreena, and played the now-rare McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters. In Burgettstown, Trey began to use a rubber chicken with a microphone inside to call in the songs to Page, providing comic relief to the previously established cup/telephone routine. On August 14th, Phish returned to the Darien Lake Amphitheater in Darien Center, New York, where they played Tela and a version of Elvis’ Love Me (a.k.a. Treat Me Like a Fool) in honor of Elvis Week. Set two included a performance of Sparkle, introduced as “a favorite song of Elvis” and Phish’s first interaction with Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, who appeared in costume during Trey’s narration in Colonel Forbin’s Ascent, with Ken dressed as Uncle Sam. Ken summoned one-by-one the Tin Man, The Scarecrow and Ken Babbs as Frankenstein (at which point the band broke into Frankenstein) who interacted with the “Bozo Mockingbird” and a number of other bozos during the funk jam that followed. Trey announced “we are supposed to go into Famous Mockingbird now, but we can’t, the funk is too deep.” At that point, the band segued into the classic Camel Walk. At Darien Lake, Trey used a doll with a microphone inside to call in the songs to Page, replacing the cup, phone and the Burgettstown chicken.
Phish wrapped up the summer tour on August 16th and 17th with The Great Went at Loring Air Force Base (Decommissioned) in Limestone, Maine, where Trey reverted back to using the telephone to call in the sets to Page. This was Phish’s second massive end-of-tour festival and it followed the lead of Plattsburgh, New York’s Clifford Ball. At “The Went”, Phish opened the first of two three-set shows with Makisupa Policeman > the end of Harpua (they had left Harpua unfinished at The Clifford Ball to conclude the previous summer). The mood of the event was set while the band finished Punch You in the Eye and Trey announced, “I Just have to welcome everybody here one time and we’re just going to keep playing and playing and playing for two days so just get comfortable cause walk around and thank you for coming to our Great Went Party because it’s a good one and we are, I must say this in the rock and roll tradition, yes we are the biggest city in Maine. We’re bigger than Portland, Maine right now and not only that, but we are probably a whole lot cooler than Portland, Maine!” The third set on August 16th opened with Halley’s Comet > Cities > Llama and ended with Funky Bitch while huge fireworks burst over the stage. Late night, the band performed their version of a Disco, DJ’ing an impromptu dance party from a flatbed truck in the parking lot. The show on August 17th opened appropriately with The Wedge (“I’m building you a pyramid, with Limestone blocks so large”). Between the first and second sets, The Bangor Symphony Orchestra played, closing their performance with Claire De Lune with an accompanying aerial ballet by glider pilot Jim Parker. Set two opened with Down With Disease > an “Art Jam” during which the band spray painted a “mutual piece of art” which they later passed out over the audience to be hoisted atop a 70 foot tall wood wooden art tower that had been erected by artists and audience during the preceding sets. The second set of August 17th ended with Harry Hood where, as at The Gorge, Trey asked Chris to kill the lights to allow the band to jam under the moon and stars. Spontaneously, the audience began to throw neon glow-sticks and glow-rings around, causing an entropic spectacle. The final set of The Great Went opened with the very rare Buffalo Bill and closed with Prince Caspian. The encore was appropriate: When the Circus Comes to Town followed by Tweezer (reprise) during which spotlights shone on a giant matchstick which was then ignited and pivoted onto the art tower, igniting the entire structure. The band left the stage during the fire, which burned the sculpture to the ground to the house music of “Disco Inferno”.
Phish then took some time off before settling back into the studio. There they would work on recording jams which would form the foundation for their next studio album on Elektra, The Story of the Ghost (released October, 1998) and the self-released The Siket Disc which became available in June, 1999 exclusively through Phish Mail Order.