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Columns > Dan Alford - Audio Files

Published: 2001/09/19
by Dan Alford

Live Phish

Business stuff:
First and foremost I want to extend some healing
energy to all those who lost friends and family in the
WTC and Pentagon attacks, not to mention to the rest
of the country, which has lost something more
ineffable. Also, as a New Yorker, I want to thank all
those who have helped to mend the fabric of our lives,
from the bands that have performed benefit shows, to
people who have given blood and funds, to those who
shed a tear, to those who have had us in their
thoughts. We will get by, we will survive.
As for music, I’m breaking with my regular format this
month to offer up some thoughts on the "Live Phish"
releases. Next month I’ll look at soundboards from
Ratdog, followed by a holiday shopping guide of live
releases form 2001 in November and Hot Tuna
soundboards to close out the year. As always,
continue to send comments, corrections, criticisms and
After years of waiting Phish has finally begun their
Archive series, simply entitled "Live Phish". The
Vermont phoursome has long been negligent on the topic
of live releases. Their first effort, the double disc
"A Live One", was by all accounts disappointing. The
compilation has an awkward track list, and while there
are some strong performances (especially Tweezer), by
and large, there were better versions of most songs
sampled. Beyond that, what fans wanted was an entire
show- a reflection of our experience.
Years later the second attempt, "Slip, Stitch and
Pass", was closer to the target. Culled from the
3-1-97 Hamburg, Germany show, it shows off the bands’
collective chops and rubbery playfulness- it remains
one of the strongest compilation releases from any
band, due in no small part to the Wolfman’s > Jesus
Left Chicago, and Mike’s > Lawnboy > Groove, that is
perforated by The End. Also, Fish, Page, Mike and
Trey saw the performance as a cathartic moment in
their on-going evolution, and as such it has
historical value. But a full length, unedited show
continued to elude fans.
1999’s Hampton Comes Alive, while a bit pricey,
finally scored a bulls-eye. The two-night run from
1998’s fall tour was already widely traded in high
quality, but the 6 disc set was greeted warmly
nonetheless. The biggest complaint was a desire for
the 1997 stint from the same venue to be released.
That was more a reflection of the need for a true
archival series than a criticism of the performances.
HCA is a nice encapsulation of 1998, the year of
strange covers, interesting setlists and ambient
space-funk. Gin > Piper, Mike’s > Simple > Wedge and
Free > Ha Ha Ha > Free are just a few of the worm
trips from those shows.
But there was no rhyme or reason to the live releases. They were irregular, as whimsical as a show, but
offered little grace to fans who wanted just a
mouthful of the feast that is locked away in the
Archives- particularly as poor quality audience
recordings became increasingly the norm on the trading
scene. With the stunning success of the Dick’s Pick’s
series, now on it’s 22nd release and still going
strong- not to mention two to three Vault releases per
year- it is mind-boggling that Phish, a band with the
fans in mind, did not offer a shiny, circular token to
their legions.
Then in 2000 I saw the best gesture to fans by any
band, a gesture not made by any of the suspect
characters. It was Pearl Jam who released their
entire European tour on disc, all at the same time.
While I’ve never heard any of the discs, I’ve often
stopped to marvel at them and check out the setlists.
What a move! What a treat! And where was Phish? No
where. Months later, far from having flooded their
market, Pearl Jam unleashed a second volley of live
discs, this time from their follow-up US tour. And
still no word from Phish. It seemed so discordant
that Pearl Jam (no offense to any fans out there), a
band that thrived on MTV in the mid-1990s, could offer
such bounty while the kings of the concert experience
had a barren table.
But finally, after years of waiting, Phish has begun
their Archive series, simply entitled "Live Phish".
The plan is to unveil 6 full shows, complete with any
sound check material, every six months. The first six
include some classic shows, such as the ubiquitous
7-16-94 from Sugarbush, and some recent shows,
including three from 2000. The high percentage of
newer material is encouraging in light of the
aforementioned quality problems in the Phish scene.
This is the material that needs to be released in
soundboard form as even hard-core traders often have
to wade through a sea of mediocrity to score a few
post-1995s of exceptional quality.
And so it is with welcoming arms that live music fans
everywhere greet the advent of "Live Phish".
Hopefully the schedule will hold (the first six were
supposed to be released in July); hopefully the
releases will always be truly archival- always
complete shows; hopefully the Ghosts will be thick
with goo, and the Slaves will be shimmering; hopefully
we’ll all get to see a show sooner rather than later-
but until then this really is the next best thing.
Reviews of the show will undoubtedly abound, so rather
than being redundant and overly long-winded, a short
list of the highlights from volumes 1-6 is below.

7-16-94: N2O, Maze, Antelope, Harpua > 2001 > Harpua – A classic class act; if you haven’t heard it, you’re
in for a treat.
12-14-95: Tweezer > Timber > Tweezer > Keyboard Army,
NICU > Slave – This show is energy from start to finish- as much
fun as anything in 1995.
6-14-00: SOAM, GBOTT, Twist > Walk Away > 2001 – Black lotus ambient funk. There are a couple of
rough spots, but they’re negligible compared to the
7-8-00: Wolfman’s Brother, Piper > Rock and Roll,
Tweezer > Walk Away – Probably my favorite of the first five. Explosive
9-14-00: Carini, Oh Kee Pah > Suzie, Drowned >
Crosseyed > Dog Faced Boy – This show is edgy, with aggressive note-bending from
Trey. Good traffic music.

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