PHISH: 7/6/98 Lucerna Theatre, Prague, CZE essay by Phish Archivist Kevin Shapiro (3/24/08)

PHISH: 7/6/98 

After finishing recording "The Story of the Ghost" in Vermont and Bearsville in upstate New York, Phish embarked on June 27th for a short European tour. The band was accompanied on the trip by their core crew and a very limited amount of their own gear. Adding to the adventure of playing a mini-tour abroad with rented gear in some strange places, Todd Phillips' film crew was filming the Europe shows for the Phish movie "Bittersweet Motel". At times during these shows, the unwary film crew found themselves uncomfortably sandwiched between the band and audience in the limited space of cozy European venues.

The tour began with a three-night run at Grey Hall in Copenhagen, an old army barracks mess hall in the colorful anarchist community of Freetown Christiana. On the first night, June 30th, the band debuted Roggae, Moma Dance and Brian and Robert plus their new arrangement of Water in the Sky. On July 1st, the second set featured a killer combo of Tweezer > 2001 > Loving Cup and a Harry Hood encore. For the third Copenhagen show on July 2nd, they introduced two more new songs from the new album - Meat (described as the second song in the Ghost duology) and Fikus – as well as a hot second set consisting of Ghost > Runaway Jim > Prince Caspian and You Enjoy Myself.

On July 3rd, Phish left the clubs to play a set at Midtfyns Festival in Ringe, Denmark, about 100 miles from Copenhagen. The band and crew spent American Independence Day flying from Copenhagen to Prague for their second appearance in the capital of the Czech Republic. Prague or Praha was also the capital of ancient Bohemia and is a cultural center that thrives on the arts, especially gothic and modern architecture. The city is packed with historical sights from the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle to the 500-year old Golem said to protect the city's Jewish Ghetto from attacks. Full of catacombs, Prague has been called the most haunted city in the world.

On July 5th Phish played the first of two shows at the Lucerna Theatre, an ornate theater turned music club with a capacity of 700. It is located through an indoor mall a few flights below street level in the Nove Mesto or New Town. The intimacy of these shows can't be overstated. The average venue for Phish shows in the United States at the time was close to 20,000 so those in attendance were treated to arena rock concerts with the sound and feel of club gigs. Prague is situated 600 miles from Copenhagen and more than 1000 from Barcelona making travel to and from the other shows a challenge, especially by train. The first Prague show was Monday July 5th during Jan Hus Day, a national holiday commemorating the execution of Master Jan Hus who was burned at the stake in 1415 for espousing heretical views. The show was reportedly colored by experimentation with the local absinthe as many in attendance chased the Green Fairy for the first time. This yielded some good jamming on Moma Dance as well as interesting jams in Fee, McGrupp and The Watchful Hosemasters and Funky .

On Tuesday July 6th, the band tore into the second show with a subterranean Buried Alive during which Mike turned experimental before the two-minute mark, stretching the breadth of the song until the band switched handily into AC/DC Bag. This was a relaxed, playful Bag that, like Buried Alive, hinted at the night's ghostly theme. AC/DC Bag was explosive, buoyed by Fish's fiery drum fills around which the whole band locked into a groove.

They deconstructed Bag's concise jam into a perfect segue to the centerpiece of the show - a fast, funky and furious Ghost. The soundboard recording compliments the band's creative approach while building this masterpiece. You can clearly hear the sonic flourishes layered over a driving groove with confident vocals that seethed energy. The dynamic feel of Ghost lent deep drama to the lyrics, highlighted the loops and effects and provided an ideal platform for some hairy soloing. Page migrated from piano to synthesizer, Clavinet to Rhodes in a floating conversation with the band. Eventually Ghost took on an electronic tinge that hinted at the deepest post-hiatus improvisation. This was fueled by Trey's Hendrix-esque leads with bent tone and pitch into a series of shifting polyrhythmic counterpoints. Expanding until it seemed the room would explode, the music evolved into a funky groove with starts and stops punctuated by the now-roaring crowd. These pauses, described by some as a "silent jam", led into an unusual Cities that started in double-time and shifted effortlessly into normal rhythm for the first chorus and the rest of the song. With the lyrics "a lot of ghosts in a lot of houses", Cities continued the eerie theme of this already-historic performance, blending a smooth, creative vibe with an aggressive, rocking attack. Seemingly on cue, the band dropped out of Cities and left Trey to end the song alone with the clapping crowd. The momentary pause after Cities was the first time the band stopped at all, having linked Buried > Bag > Ghost > Cities into a powerful opening sequence for the ages.

Limb By Limb followed - a song first tracked in March 1996 for "Billy Breathes" but debuted for the public in Europe a little more than a year before. Written by Trey on a sequencer with a drum part intended to stump Fish, Limb is always a feat of execution. This performance exhibited an added sense of dynamics no doubt spurred on by the intimate setting, highlighting restrained melodic dialogue among the whole band. While sometimes this jam breathed fire, this groovy interlude danced intricate circles around the glowing embers, leaving space for Fish to lay down some outrageous fills and cymbal work. Trey's final solo culminated in repeated guitar fanning, which brought the song to a cathartic close.

Train Song, debuted in Europe two years before, provided a moment of tranquil reflection in the middle of the set. The second-ever live Roggae followed, giving a chance to show off more new material in a new country as the band fashioned a coda with so much inherent space that the notes hung slightly suspended between phrases.

Roggae was followed by a unique Maze, which blossomed into an electric improvisation starting with Page's lively organ solo followed by a cacophonous solo from Trey who shredded unabashedly until the whole band telepathically stopped on a dime for him to say "We hope you're all having a good time tonight...we just want to say that we really appreciate your support and how much we enjoy playing in Prague here." Page interjected "We love the architecture" while Trey continued "I don't think we got a chance to thank you last night so we just thought we'd take this moment to thank you very much." After a quick countdown, the band re-entered the song in the exact shred-space they'd occupied before the acrobatic stop. After Maze, they closed the first set with Golgi Apparatus that had a rave-up ending with Trey shouting, in an apparent nod to the World Cup Soccer quarterfinals, "Jon Fishman, Jon Fishman, Hey, Ho, Hey, Ho".

Set two began with a swinging Julius that got everyone moving and Fishman passionately testifying at the highest peaks. Julius led into Meat, a new song the band wrote in Vermont during the "Ghost/Meat" sessions in March and first played publicly in Copenhagen. Meat returned the show to its initial ghoulish theme, confounding the audience with its multiple stops and starts. Immediately after Meat came a soaring, adventurous Piper, which stretched nearly twenty minutes and bumped up against the boundaries already shattered by Ghost. Piper sped into a ferocious jam characterized by intense guitar runs with hints of Crosseyed and Painless and perhaps even Gimme' Some Lovin' before it settled into hard rock with plenty of room for the whole band to explore. Like the experimental Ghost in set one, Piper was fearless, building to massive peaks before floating off into a slower, more minimal section accented by loops from Trey and Mike atop Page's piano and Fish's cymbal rolls. This part of Piper hinted at Fikus, part three of the Ghost trilogy, becoming slow and funky before locking neatly into the rowdy reggae of Makisupa Policeman. As he scatted around the lyrics, Trey uttered the key phrase, "stink-kind", adding a touch of home with "policeman came to Vermont!" He handed things off to Page for a piano solo (calling him "Petrof" after the logo visible on the rented piano) during which Page developed a ska feel. Trey announced a drum solo next, saying if Fish soloed too long the crowd should start whistling, as the band did when he talked too much. Fish played along, rendering a minimal solo of high hat, kick drum and rim shots, returning to the song in the nick of time. After some dancehall-style dub effects, the band finished Makisupa and dove into David Bowie.

In this intimate setting, Fish's introduction to David Bowie was particularly suspenseful. A thematic jam hinted subtly at Santana before riding a dissonant wave into the ending changes of the second and final Bowie of the European tour. With scarcely a pause, Page hammered out the opening notes of Loving Cup, cementing the status of this magical night. Trey tore through his solo supported by the band in elegant lock step, building successively to the last chorus. Whether this was another soccer shout-out or just an old-school cover to end a rocking set, it was a beautiful buzz indeed.

The band returned for an encore and repaid the rowdy crowd's enthusiasm with Possum. The audience clapped along for a bit eventually leaving the band to a textbook performance that was at once conscious and passionate, restrained yet explosive. Trey dropped a quick tease of Stash as he propelled "Possum" through machine-gun fans entwined with soft, dynamic sections that made this a perfect encore for such an intimate show. As the crowd filtered into the streets of Prague it was clear that this had been an unforgettable night that could only have happened when and where it did.

To save space, along with renting gear and flying from city to city, the 1998 Europe tour wasn't multi-tracked. The band's only audio recordings from the show were Paul Languedoc's 2-track soundboard reference DATs. Due to an issue during recording, the only usable transfer from the master DAT's came from a lucky play in a portable DAT player. Ten years later the DATs mastered by Fred Kevorkian are the definitive soundboard source of this show, capturing a peak moment as poignant now as when it happened.




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Published 19 October 2010 08:24 PM by admin

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