On a tour with a lot of standout shows, August 13th, 1997 often gets overlooked. Star Lake Amphitheater (now called the First Niagara Pavilion as of last month) in the tiny town of Burgettstown, Pennsylvania is an average size outdoor musical venue, holding approximately 23,000 fans. It is 25 miles west of Pittsburgh, nestled aside Raccoon State Park and just across the bridge from West Virginia. It has a very small and unassuming sign at the one entrance, often times not even with the name of the band playing there that night. There is
plenty of camping available nearby. If fans choose to get a hotel, they have about three small motels directly nearby, otherwise they will need to venture west to northern West Virginia or north eastern Ohio.
Fans knew the show would be special from the get-go when Phish took the stage and opened with Elton John’s rock ballad “Amoreena” with Page singing the lyrics. This would be the first and only time Phish covered the song (I wish they had kept it in the song rotation). After an upbeat interlude of Poor Heart, the opening guitar licks to Stash begin. Being one of a number of musical gems from this particular evening, I hail this Stash as one of the most intense examples of Phish’s tension-release style improvisation. In a year when many jams ventured into their newfound patented funk, this Stash exploded with extreme tension being built by all the band member, eventually letting way to Trey to come to an explosive peak leading to an even higher peak about a minute later accented by Fish pounding on the high-toms. Being in an elite group of face-melting Stashes, this one takes the cake for me because of it’s intense explosions after gorgeous build-up and the fact it’s in a year when funk started to dominate and with Stash musically on it’s way downhill this one was sprinting up the Appalachian Mountains.
Allowing the fans to catch their breath after seeing the monster that showed it’s face in Stash, Phish played a nice and slow version of Water in the Sky. This came only minutes before thumping out the beginning of Gumbo. You can count the number of Gumbos that explore past it’s safe Type I territory jamming on one hand. Three of these occurred within a month of each other, this one being the 3rd. The twenty minute juggernaut goes all over the place after the gates open up the the jam then eventually start rolling along, letting way to “funky” Trey for a bit before Mike starts becoming more prominent, and eventually, around the 12 minute mark, Fishman locks on when he pops over to the ride…this is when they really start rolling along, hosing everyone in attendance. By the 15 minute mark Trey is soaring in a more noodley than rocking way, eventually settling down to go into The Horse. There is no other jam like it, arguably the best Gumbo ever (and I am often hesitant to make claims like that).
As the first set moves along, Phish plays Crosseyed & Painless for the fourth time since Halloween 1996. Being the third improvisational gem in the first set, it was apparent Phish didn’t wait until the second set to play these treats under the cover of nightfall, and Kuroda or course. This psychedelic trip sounds very different from the other two highlights thus-far in the show, taking you into their Phishy rhythmic space.
The second set opens with a standard Runaway Jim with the 1997 Summer Tour standard, Ghost, on deck. There are not many bad 1997 Ghosts, and this one isn’t any different. At about fifteen minutes, it clocks in as a modest length version, but the whole song is a Mike Gordon driven dance party. While the band is still bumping out the jam, Trey goes into the licks for Jimi Hendrix’s “Izabella”, after the drums awkwardly catch on, the dance party turns into a rock-n-rage party. With other musical goodies like McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters > Sample in a Jar and 2001 > Golgi Apparatus > Frankenstein, the rest of the show certainly doesn’t let down. Phish keeps a full head of steam from the Page’s piano opening Amoreena to the end of Theme From the Bottom.
This show is a must have in any serious listener’s collection.
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