We are finally down to the championship matchup. Some expected this and some feared it. Two number-1 seeds battling it out for Phish run domination. We decided to get the input from OPT’s Guy Forget and Poster Nutbag on which they prefer: Big Cypress or the Island Tour, read on:
The Case for the Island Tour by Poster Nutbag
Going into the Phish Run Madness Tournament, the clear favorites were the Island Tour and Big Cypress. The Island Tour was a near unanimous pick for the #1 overall seed, so it is not surprising that it has made it this far. There was an outside chance that Big Cypress could have been upset, but I thought it would make it through until its almost-inevitable matchup with the Island Tour. Big Cypress is awesome but I don’t see it taking out the Island Tour. I think the Island Tour is the #1 Phish run of all time.
First of all, like Big Cypress, the Island Tour was unique and special. 4 random shows in the middle of April after one of, if not the, most successful Phish tours of all time? Yes please. 2 nights at Nassau Coliseum with its GA floor and 2 nights at the smaller Providence Civic Center? Sure! An awesome moniker to go with it all (Island Tour)? Yes! All of these elements went into making the Island Tour a really special event, which I think contributed to the overall playing and amazingness of the weekend.
One of the reasons I think the Island Tour is the greatest run of all time is because it can help answer this question: “Why do you need to see so many Phish shows in a row? Aren’t they all the same? Blah blah blah.” All you need to do is point to the Island Tour for how dynamic Phish can be. If Cypress has a weakness, it’s the “sameness” of some of the jams, especially during the midnight set. For the Island Tour we have 8 sets over 4 consecutive shows, yet each show and set have their own unique sound and characteristics. 4/2 has often been described as space-rock with a bit of a “the aliens are coming!” vibe in the second set. 4/3 is the near perfect show, with its silky smooth playing, amazing segues, and awesome explorations (side note: I walked out of 4/3 convinced that Phish had decided to compose the show beforehand and then played the completely composed show note-for-note, so while the Roses seemed like an improv jam to us, it was actually completely thought through and composed. Yes, the show was that good, and yes, my head may have been somewhere else. But still…). 4/4 was a good old rock and roll show with a killer second set and radio-unfriendly tunes. And the final night was the funk show, maybe the funkiest they have ever played. All had a similar sound and feel but each had its own distinct flavor.
The Island Tour is also the only run that I really memorialize. Sure, I think about Big Cypress and have fond memories of it, but every April I get the feeling to listen to the Island Tour on its anniversary. It feels good to do it and remember those shows because they were so good. Cypress may have been Phish’s peak, but the Island Tour is peak Phish. It served as the coda to 1997, like they weren’t quite done with the ‘97 sound and wanted 4 more shows to get it right before they moved onto the ambient flavors of ‘98.
That is why the Island Tour is the #1 Phish run of all time. 4 unique, distinct, yet similar shows played in 4 consecutive nights across 2 awesome venues, randomly in April, on the heels of the most acclaimed Phish tour ever. The band was at the top of their game for the Island Tour, playing like no other time in their history. Big Cypress was amazing and the midnight set is one for the ages and 100% epic, but when we are talking about the best Phish runs, nothing can top those 4 nights in April of 1998.
The Case for Big Cypress by Guy Forget
The idea that a case would need to be made for Big Cypress is rather absurd. Debates about Phish routinely come with the label “other than Big Cypress, obviously.” Part of that has to do with the built-in uniqueness of Cypress’s structure: the midnight-to-sunrise set is the longest set in Phish history by a margin of about 5 hours; the show is the only one that rang in a millennium, and the only one to have a segment broadcast to tens of millions of viewers around the world.
But Cypress is exceptional mostly for the musical feat. Whether any of the dozen or so huge jams merit best-ever distinction is up for debate; what is inarguable is the unmatched consistency of the band over the course of the all-night set. After all, the Island Tour includes unbelievable playing in every show, but it also features some forgettable sets — namely, the majority of both Providence first sets. The Cypress set is relentless with the quality of the playing; truthfully, I don’t think you can find a better seven consecutive hours, spanning multiple shows, in all of Phish history. Furthermore, Phish had played four great shows in a row many times before; on 12/31/99, they took a risk that many believed was destined for failure, and they knocked it clear out of the park.
But how about the jams themselves? I disagree with Poster’s description of a “sameness” to the Cypress jams. Turn on shuffle, hit the play button on a Cypress playlist, and you might come up with the fiery hell-scape of Mike’s, the vocal jam weirdness of Gin, the groove machine of Rock and Roll, or the psychedelic joy-ride of Sand->Quadrophonic Topplings. If there’s one thing that unites the Cypress jam, it’s not the sound, but just how democratic each of the jams is: more so than just about any other period in Phish history, each band member contributed equally over the course of the night.
I say none of this to knock the Island Tour. Truthfully, I think the two runs are about as equal in both historical significance and musical quality as they could possibly be. But the Island Tour was essentially an exclamation point to the Fall and New Year’s ‘97 runs. Cypress was its own beast, putting forth an energy and set of musical ideas that stood outside the boundaries of either ‘99 or ‘00. I think Phish history would be far more incomplete if Cypress were removed from the record than if the Island Tour were.
1. Island Tour vs. 1. Big Cypress