After playing a string of nine dates in Europe during June and July (see TMIPH October 1998), Phish returned to the United States to continue their summer tour. There were amphitheatre shows across the country, finishing with the third installment of their summer tour ending celebrations, entitled "Lemonwheel". Also in August, the band presented their first release from the archives known simply as Phish but more commonly called "The White Tape". Phish includes a number of early 4-track recordings by Trey and Mike as well as several songs featuring the full band lineup, and is available only through Phish Dry Goods. It was distributed in small quantities on cassette when it was completed in 1986, but hadn’t been offered publicly for 12 years prior to August, 1998.
Phish kicked off their fall schedule with their first appearance at Farm Aid, which was held at the World Music Theatre in Tinley Park, Illinois. During their single-set performance, Phish collaborated with Neil Young, Willie Nelson (for an inspired version of Moonlight in Vermont), Paul Shaffer, Daniel Lanois and others. The Runaway Jim > Down by The River set closer was particularly memorable: Neil burst on stage midway through the jam segment of Runaway Jim with Trey’s backup Languedoc guitar in hand. This led into an incendiary version of Down By The River that featured an epic guitar duel between Neil and Trey. The show was broadcast nationwide on Country Music Television.
After a week off, the band traveled to San Francisco to play the renovated Fillmore Auditorium, on October 15th. In consideration of the high demand for the small number of tickets that would fill this historic venue, they were sold only at a time and place which was kept top-secret until sales commenced, with an announcement made on local radio. The Fillmore’s vibe and the band’s vibe seemed to be a good fit and the feeling in the room on the night of the show was electric.
Later that weekend, Phish had the privilege of playing The Bridge School Benefit, at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California, a yearly concert staged by Neil and Pegi Young. The Bridge School was started by Pegi and others in 1986. The organization’s mission is to aid communicative and educational development of children with severe speech and physical impairments.. The shows took place on October 17th and 18th and were the first entirely acoustic Phish sets in a dozen years. On October 17th, the band premiered three new original Tom/Trey songs: Sleep, Never and Driver. An acoustic Possum was also played, giving the old classic a new twist. During Blue and Lonesome, Mike played banjo and Page took over on bass. They finished the set with Harry Hood, which segued into a jam with Neil Young on guitar and finally became Neil’s standard, Helpless. The band opened their set at the October 18th concert by singing a capella with their backs to the audience and their eyes on the Bridge School students and their parents who were seated along the back of the stage. The musicians broadened their horizons again this night by tackling Cat Stevens’ Sad Lisa (with Sarah MacLachlan), Neil’s version of Ian Tyson’s Four Strong Winds (with Neil and Sarah MacLachlan), and a group singalong of the Bob Dylan tune, I Shall Be Released.
Phish retained their newly-revived acoustic format on October 20th, playing an hour and a half set at Sony Studios which was recorded for broadcast on public television’s "Sessions at West 54th Street". It was a great opportunity for the band to stretch out live with a small, attentive studio audience and their first chance to meet Talking Heads’ frontman David Byrne. He interviewed them during the show and engaged in dialogue with the band about their cover of the Head’s album Remain in Light at their 1996 Halloween concert at the Omni in Atlanta. Phish closed their "Sessions" set with a unique version of Taste. The program was aired on PBS on January 9, 1999 and also featured Birds of a Feather and Ghost.
Technical rehearsals for the U.S. Fall tour began in the last week of October at Bakersfield, California’s Centennial Garden as the crew got the equipment tuned up for the shows to come. While that was happening, the band was on the opposite coast for an October 27th Late Show with David Letterman appearance where they played the single from The Story of The Ghost, Birds of a Feather. Earlier in the day, Phish made a rare book and record signing appearance at New York City’s Tower Superstore, where they autographed copies of The Phish Book and of The Story of The Ghost, which was officially released by Elektra Records the next day. The band continued their whirlwind travel, flying back to the West Coast to kick off the Fall Tour on October 29th at the beautiful Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, California.
Phish then traveled from Los Angeles to the desert mirage of Las Vegas for their third appearance there in as many years. This time they were doing a two-night stand at UNLV’s Thomas and Mack Center and it was Halloween. Phish gained a good bit of notoriety and many fans during their Halloween celebrations and extravaganzas in the band’s early years. More recently, they have taken to performing a complete cover of another band’s album, calling it their "musical costume". The three previous years were tough acts to follow: 1994 – The Beatles’ White Album, (see TMIPH October 1994), 1995 – The Who’s Quadrophenia, and 1996 – Talking Heads’ Remain in Light see TMIPH October 1996). The 1994 and 1995 cover albums were decided by fan input while 1996 and 1998 were band choices. 1995 and 1996 had also spotlighted some very exciting special guests. The internet and the streets were a flurry of activity as people speculated about what "costume" the band would perform this Halloween.
There was a feeling of unreality when approaching the Thomas and Mack Center. Just off the Vegas Strip, the setting is most uncommon. Cabs were tough to get and the strip was lined with costumed concert goers and others. The show in Vegas on October 30th was significant for another reason: it was the fifteenth anniversary of the first time Phish (then known as Blackwood Convention) played together live. Trey acknowledged the anniversary by playing one of few live versions by Phish ever of The Hollies’ Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress, noting afterwards, "Wow, that was a much better reception than the first time, perhaps we should play it again," at which point the band began to reprise the song but settled into Antelope instead. The second set of October 30th was full of long jams beginning with Stash > Manteca followed by Tweezer > NICU. The encore was a quiet version of Driver followed by an enthusiastic a capella Freebird. As the Thomas and Mack Center cleared that night, anticipation filled the air.
October 31, 1998. Halloween in Vegas. Phish Bills featuring the album cover of The Velvet Underground’s Loaded were distributed on the way in. Energy was very high inside the arena. Set one opened with Axilla I and a spirited Punch You in the Eye. Later in the set, Sneaking Sally through the Alley > Chalk Dust Torture lit up the stage. Set one ended with an interesting combination of Mike’s Song > Frankie Says > Weekapaug Groove. Set two consisted of the Velvet Underground’s Loaded, kicking off with Who Loves the Sun. The "musical costume" was a great fit, with Phish tearing through all the classics on their chosen album. Rock and Roll, Cool it Down, and Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ took on new life as the band rolled on, introducing many of the audience to Loaded for the first time, though some fans knew Sweet Jane from its premier earlier that summer and Lonesome Cowboy Bill had long been a Fishman standard. Set three of the Halloween extravaganza consisted of Wolfman’s Brother > Jam containing> teases of myriad Phish tunes including Prince Caspian, Roggae, Life Boy, Esther, Makisupa Policeman, and more. The jam segued into Piper and Ghost closed the set.
The band continued their journey through the west for adventures in Utah, Colorado, the midwest and south, culminating the tour in late November with three consecutive shows at The Centrum in Worcester, Massachusetts.