Watch and listen to the four concerts of the historic race.
When Phish wrapped up a three-set New Year’s Eve performance at New York’s Madison Square Garden on December 31, 1997, they were at the top of their game. The quartet had not only successfully incorporated more than a dozen new songs into their repertoire, but Phish had also infused the New Year’s Run and the historic fall tour that had ended a few weeks earlier with much of what guitarist Trey Anastasio would describe it as “cow funk”. While fans were sad Phish was not expected to hit the road again until the following June, the band eventually changed their minds in February 1998 and announced a four-show series comprising two nights on Long Island and two nights in Rhode Island dubbed the “Island Tour” which began on this date yesterday in 1998 at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York.
Phish spent just 37 days between being announced for The Island Tour and hitting the stage for the first of the two in Nassau which would be followed by two performances at Providence Civic Center. Tickets would go on sale just four days after fans learned of The Island Tour, which meant there was no mail order for the first time since 1994. With so much excitement about the race, these would be tough tickets and many would end up lining up at their local Ticketmaster outlets overnight in hopes of scoring entry to the shows.
All of these fan efforts have been amply rewarded by Phish. There have been dozens of magical moments interspersed throughout The Island Tour, starting with the otherworldly “Tube” the band debuted with 24 years ago last night. Phish picked up where they left off and arguably raised the bar even higher in the epic ride that stood the test of time.
The Island Tour has it all, from high-end jams to unbridled versions of songs not known for improvisation, from fierce songwriting debuts to creative setlists. Guitarist Trey Anastasio told the audience early in the run that Phish was bored and so planned the short tour. The band’s boredom was a big win for his followers.
April 2, 1998
All four shows featured amazing openings. The first night in Nassau began with an adventurous “Tube” that set the tone for what was to follow. On April 3, 1998, Phish kicked off perhaps the best show of the race with an outstanding sequence “Mike’s Song” -> “The Old Home Place” > “Weekapaug Groove” which included a jaw-dropping “Crosseyed” jam and a taste of what was to become “Mozambique” during “Weekapaug”. Then, opening night in Providence began with a 17-minute “Tweezer” that tackled funk and space themes. Phish opened the finale with what is still the only couple “The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony” > “You Enjoy Myself”.
Phish debuted two songs as part of the race’s opening night. The quartet released “Birds Of Feather” and “Frankie Says” during the second set on April 2, 1998. “Birds” quickly became a staple and remains so 24 years later. While the version of “Birds Of A Feather” in Nassau hinted at its use as a springboard for improvisation, the band went deeper into the song two nights later in Providence. The 15-minute “Birds” on April 4, 1998 was a highlight of the run – not too bad for the second time it’s been played.
Another recent addition to the repertoire that Phish blasted during The Island Tour was “Roses Are Free.” The quartet had debuted on the cover of Ween on December 11, 1997, and performed it again on New Year’s Eve. However, Night Two’s version in Nassau was a masterclass in improvisation. The four band members moved as one for over 20 minutes as Phish patiently worked on one of the greatest grooves they had ever created.
April 3, 1998
The “Roses” of Nassau were part of a legendary second set on April 3, 1998 which also included a dark, spooky and breathtaking “Piper”. Then there was a ‘Loving Cup’ during which an audience member jumped onto the stage to dive back into the crowd before being about to be tackled by drum tech Pete Carini. Drummer Jon Fishman noted, “The game is not to let Carini have you. If you’re gonna go on stage, don’t let Carini get you.
Trey would come in during the intro with “Carini’s gonna get you” and Fish would harmonize with the guitarist on the line. It all led to a huge surge of energy as the crowd went wild with every line the members of Phish said during the incredible “Antelope” intro. One of the last major glowstick wars broke out at Anastasio’s behest as the quartet built “Run Like An Antelope” to a fierce climax. The quartet once again tipped their hats to Pete as they incorporated “Carini” into the night’s three-song encore.
April 4, 1998
A memory of The Island Tour would not be complete without mentioning the madness that ended the final set of the race. Towards the end of the second set, on April 5, 1998, Phish moved from “Maze” to the funky debut “Shafty”, a reworked version of an original released the previous year titled “Olivia’s Pool”. A wild, unfinished(!) “Possum” came next and gave way to more funkiness initiated by Anastasio.
Page, Mike, and Fish dropped out as Trey worked on a rhythm progression. The group joined the sequence initiated by the guitarist. Anastasio then told the crowd, “So we are nearing the end of this little four-day race here. It’s been really popular and it’s a bit weird to have to stop after four days, but for those of you who attend a lot of shows or those of you who just came by tonight, thank you very much , we really appreciate everything. The guitarist then explained, “I started this little funk groove because we can’t finish all of this without a little more funk because that was the theme. For those of you who want to take off, take off, but for those of you who just want to dance to the funk, we’re gonna stay and keep grooving.
Needless to say, the crowd stayed and danced to what was soon to be revealed as the funkiest “cave” in Phish history. The Vermonters have reinvented the A picture of nectar a staple of the evening in a way that would have made James Brown proud. Fish in particular was on fire throughout “Cavern” and although he rarely took drum solos, he threw in a few fair breaks in “Cavern”.
April 5, 1998
Fortunately, Phish released the official recordings of The Island Tour in June 2005. Listen to a Spotify playlist containing all the notes from the all-time race, plus excerpts from the Nassau and Providence soundtracks:
[Updated After Originally Published: April 2, 2018]