1998 was a busy year for Phish, with the band’s first appearances at Farm Aid and The Bridge School Benefit concerts, a Halloween “musical costume” of Velvet Underground’s Loaded and three shows at the Worcester Centrum to end regular touring for the year, one of which was selected for release in Series #1 of the Live Phish series. There was also a flurry of album releases in 1998. “Phish” a/k/a The White Tape was re-released (initially through Phish Dry Goods and also online through Emusic for a time), having been originally available for a brief time in 1986. The Story of The Ghost was released that fall on Elektra Records and Trey released a collection of self-produced studio tracks entitled One Man’s Trash.
Phish ended 1998 with their traditional four holiday performances. This was the first year all four holiday shows took place at a single venue. Though it was Phish’s fourth year in a row performing during the holidays at Madison Square Garden, it was only the band’s second run of four consecutive concerts at a single venue. The band settled into the Garden in New York City on December 28th. The stage was decorated with flowers, four pillars and plant-like fixtures. During the first set, Phish treated the audience to an acoustic mini-set consisting of Sleep, Albuquerque and Driver. This was only the fourth acoustic mini-set performed by the band during a normal electric show, with the first three such mini-sets taking place in the summer of 1996 at Red Rocks, Deer Creek and Clifford Ball respectively. After the crew rolled away the acoustic stage, the band completed the first set with Tube, Golgi Apparatus and Good Times Bad Times. The second set began with Carini, which led into Wolfman’s Brother. During the jam in Wolfman’s, green worms appeared onstage wriggling to the music. Quinn The Eskimo was segued smoothly into David Bowie, which included teases by Trey of The Godfather Theme during the introduction. For the encore, Phish broke out the trampolines for their cover of Jane’s Addiction’s Been Caught Stealin’.
The band came out of the gates with a bang on December 29th with Rock and Roll into Funky Bitch followed by Punch You in the Eye. The first set ended with an acapella Freebird. Free followed by Limb by Limb and an extended 2001 led off the second set, which concluded with You Enjoy Myself. Set two featured dancers onstage dressed as flowers, a turkey and other strange beings. The crowd was then treated to the first Divided Sky encore in almost ten years.
The December 30th show began with a unique combination of Chalk Dust Torture, Big Black Furry Creature From Mars and Wilson. The Moma Dance followed, with teases of Manteca. Later in the first set, Maze took shape from a spacey introduction. Loving Cup and Reba closed the set. The second set featured Piper, Prince Caspian with white dancing nymphs onstage and The Squirming Coil, which flowed smoothly into Slave to the Traffic Light to cap set two. The encore on the 30th began with Phish’s first performance of the Trey and Tom Marshall composition, Grind, on which Tom joined the band adding vocals for the song’s debut. A spirited Possum (Wipeout teases) concluded the show and set the stage for a top-notch New Year’s Eve concert the following night.
As Phish took the stage on December 31st, the taped introduction of 1999 sent energy in the room spiraling very high. The band joined in with the tape for their debut performance of the Prince classic. During 1999, the band was joined by dancers/voguers dressed as a butterfly, a suit, a unicorn, a spider and a Viking. They danced and vogued onstage and then proceeded to cavort about with the audience for the remainder of the show. 1999 led into a powerful Mike’s Groove. Ghost was next and segued into the rare Ha Ha Ha. The second set got rolling with NICU, Character Zero, and Tweezer > Cities. Run Like an Antelope and Frankenstein closed the set. As midnight neared, Phish kicked off set three with Runaway Jim during which they teased 1999 and Auld Lang Syne. Jim eventually flowed into the countdown-to-midnight, which was punctuated by fireworks, a sea of dropping balloons and the band’s traditional New Year’s performance of Auld Lang Syne (see TMIPH December 1989, TMIPH December 1993 and TMIPH December 1994). Simple was next and segued neatly out of Auld Lang Syne and into Harry Hood. Many thought the set would end after Harry, but Tweezer (reprise) and a turbocharged Llama finished things up. The New Year’s Eve encore was While My Guitar Gently Weeps – the last Phish music performed live for over six months.