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Published: 2004/01/02
by Dan Alford

Live Phish The Series, Part I

Quick Picks From the Disc Changer:
STS9, 11-15-03, Disc 2- Great second set
Garaj Mahal, 12-20-02- A warm set opening for Lettuce
Duo, 8-28-03, Disc 2- The Zep set
MMW, 12-2-01 Disc 2- With Trey
Phish, 7-17-03, Disc 1

Discman: STS9, 4-13-01, Disc 2- A sweet show from LA

[Note: We originally ran over two days at IT, but
since I'm spending New Year's Eve with Phish, and
since the series has been cancelled I thought I would
run it again here.]

By the time Phish initiated their archival release
series in 2001, it was already long overdue. Phish's
strength, it should come as a surprise to no one, is
their performance but their brief forays into live
albums were a mixed bag. A Live One has some good
material, but little in the way of focus and
direction, and little in the way of great material-
a rather disappointing first attempt. Over two years
later Slip, Stitch and Pass made a much better
showing. A collection of highlights from a single
night on the famed Europe tour in the winter of 1997,
the material is so strong it's steely and the album
flows effortlessly, covering tight, shorter tunes and
lengthy open ended jams on a single disc. Still, fans
yearned for more. After yet another two year stretch,
Phish released the prototype for Live Phish in the
character of Hampton Comes Alive, a pricey box set
including the entire two night stand at the famed
Hampton Coliseum from 1998's fall tour. With a million
covers, many strong performances (Free > Ha Ha Ha >
Free remains a pinnacle), but few snaky jams, HCA just
about hit the mark. Many in the internet community
lamented that 1998's shows were issued instead of
1997's , but that was more a sign of the need for more
releases than anything else. HCA also featured some
innovative packaging with magnetic covers and sleeves
that could be arranged to show the venue's fae. So
impressive was it that it was nominated for a Grammy.
(Of course, that's a dubious honor at best.) When Live
Phish was created, it drew directly on the success of
the box set. All releases would include complete
shows; they would be taken Paul's front of board
microphones rather than straight soundboards (which
provides, many would argue, a greater depth of sound
and warmth to the music); the packaging would be
something new and interesting. The first two sets of
releases in the series included six concerts, all
released nearly simultaneously, and the second two
sets included a more manageable four shows each. The
cover artwork (by Pollock- who else?) for each
individual release combines with the others in the set
to create a mural. The discs come not in traditional
cases, but in folded sleeves designed for the Live
Phish Showcase, a CD binder made for Phish with loads
of little pockets and a hidden stash space (although
it's not good for anything but paper). The sleeves for
the first two sets in the series were too successful
at protecting the discs- it's a tug-o-war to get them
out. They've since been redesigned for easy access. If
all this seems trivial, it is. But attention to those
most trivial of details is part of what makes an
obsessive Phish fan what he or she is. As an overall
series, Live Phish is very strong and very well
balanced. While personal preferences will vary, there
are no real clunkers and the majority of the shows
contain moments of pure brilliance. So far the series
has favored 1993-1994 and 1998-2000, with few early
shows and surprisingly few shows from fan favorites
1995 and 1997. The series' little brother Live Phish
Downloads has also released a handful of archival
shows, although they've all been shows widely
circulated for years. (It seems particularly strange
to ask someone to pay for something as prevalent as
12-7-97, a seeded soundboard.) It would be a nice
gesture if the band released archival downloads
gratis, a la Phil and Friends, especially considering
the bulk of the income comes from downloads of recent
shows. In any case, Phish's newfound commitment to
providing the highest quality live music is very
welcome, proving once again that the band really does
have the fans' interests in mind.

8-26-89, Townshend Family Park (Volume 9)

This recording is the earliest in the series, and
that's really too bad. Pre-1993 is severely
underrepresented- there are many, many shows from 1990
(much of the Colorado run) and 1992 (especially the
two night Thanksgiving stand at the Capitol Theater in
Portchester) that should be included in the series.
And those wouldn't even address the need the for a
Prep School Hippie, Dave's Energy Guide or a
Lushington. Be that as it may, the Townshend show is a
nice choice, fun and quirky. There is obviously not
too much improvisation going on, but the enthusiasm of
youth takes its place. The band simply sounds young,
partially due to the recording, which is a little
tinny, and partially due to the actual youth of the
band. Such early shows are rife with potential, but in
an entirely different way than something from 1998-
here it seems like no passage is too fast or
complicated to be addressed with grace and ease, like
there is no technical feat the band cannot achieve.
The set list from this show includes essentially the
same selection of songs as every other show in 1989,
such as You Enjoy Myself , Suzy Greenberg, Divided Sky
and Dinner and a Movie. The first disc opens with a
complete Fluffhead (the many segments of the song were
still being pulled from the whole and sprinkled
throughout shows in 1989) and also includes an
off-beat, strangled version of Divided Sky. The YEM >
Possum that begins the second disc is the peak of the
entire release. During the jam Trey plays a fast,
distorted lead followed by a lengthy, confident solo
from Mike- big, popping notes. The vocal jam boils
over with energy and Trey begins the intro to Possum
while it's still in full swing, making for an exciting
and graceful transition. Other highlights include
Donna Lee, a pristine, though short, Slave to the
Traffic Light and a wildly creative and aggressive
David Bowie. It is telling that Pollock's cover art is
a construction scene- this show points at the sources
for Phish's future success.

7-12-91, Colonial Theater (Volume 19)

As there are so few early shows in the series, it is
comforting that one features the Giant Country Horns.
That mid-summer tour brought Phish to new heights of
creativity and energy, and was instrumental in their
jump from smaller venues to small theaters, not to
mention creating the first wave of fans who said, "I
knew them when." Most of the shows from that tour
circulate widely, and this Keene, New Hampshire show
is no exception. In fact it is probably only surpassed
by the two-night stand at the late, great Arrowhead
Ranch in the Catskills. As such, chances are you
already own a copy of this, but if not, it is a great
show, though not wildly different from others with the
GCH. Everything is performed with exacting precision,
especially the Bouncing around the Room > Buried Alive
in the first set. This show also includes a number of
jazz tunes, such as Flat Fee, Donna Lee and the first
Moose the Mooche. Band members have said that the
jazzier material doesn't translate well to large
venues, but if Trey can play In-Law Josie Wales, they
can certainly put A-Train back into rotation. The
swing and bop of Phish playing what John Scofield
calls "real jazz" is simply grin inducing. The horn
arrangements have become classics, and are always a
thrill to hear. Suzy Greenberg is a stand out, a
version that makes clear why the song became so
popular, as is Frankenstein, in heavy rotation at the
time. Both the Tweezer > My Sweet One and Gumbo >
Mike's Groove are exceptional as well, but of course
you already knew that, having heard this one a million
times before it was released.

8-14-93, World Music Theater (Volume 7)

The earliest of the many shows from the 1993-1994 era
when the technical precision of early Phish combined
with the loose, open jamming of later Phish to create
the music that made the band, this show from Tinley
Park, Illinois is just about perfect. It has something
for everyone. Early in the first set Divided Sky
showers down light and beauty, followed by a nice
Horse > Silent in the Morning. In those days Trey did
Horse (and My Friend, My Friend) on an acoustic guitar
set on a stand (much like Tony Markellis's bass) and
the results were stunning, as they are here, except
for the feedback. It's Ice is also a standout, with
inventive, potent piano from Page, as well as a solid
dose of B-3 groove. Next up is a great Split Open and
Melt, Mike firmly in control. The jam is very
textural, Mike playing a speedy Dog Log style line
that gives way to a heavy drone, and eventually snaps
back into a raging climax. The second disc includes
one of "those" jams, where a song is perforated not by
free form jamming, but by other Phish tunes, classic
rock numbers, or any number of other incidentals. As
Mike says in the liner notes, "All of the songs we've
ever heard on the radio are part of the storehouse of
knowledge we are starting to use." Opening with 2001,
still in its infancy at the time, the suite moves into
an Antelope that quickly looses shape. By the end of a
Dixie tease from Trey, the song is replaced by
snippets of spontaneous composition, including a
section of downbeats and screams, and a heavy,
rock-star passage. A full, if somewhat loose, Sparks
transitions effortlessly into Walk Away and off into a
blistering, dramatic jam, Page and Trey pushing each
other and ultimately riding back into Antelope. But
before the climax, the music goes squirrelly and eases
into a rare Have Mercy. While still in the weightless
reggae drift, Trey calmly speaks the lyrics to
Antelope and the quartet crashes to a finale. Disc
three includes a great chunk of filler from 8-11-93,
Mike's Song > Great Gig in the Sky > Weekapaug Groove.
The Mike's Song is nothing short of bombastic, with
Cactus establishing a thematic breakdown that carries
through the first jam section. It's an excellent
choice, a treat from the same tour to cap off a first
rate release.

5-7-94, The Bomb Factory (Volume 18)

In all likelihood you already own this Dallas show and
have for years. It is one of the most highly regarded
gigs, period, and certainly one of the most widely
circulated. As one might assume from a 1994 show,
there is an abundance of tight musicianship in the
first set, especially on Horn > Divided Sky and Mound,
but this release, like others from the era, centers
around a transition heavy jam in the second set, a jam
that has earned the Bomb Factory the title "Tweezer
Fest". There is no need to go into detail as this set
is already part of the musical vocabulary of
ninety-percent of the people reading this. As for the
other ten-percent, you're bringing down the class
average. Do you want to fail the quiz? Go get IT!

6-22-94 (Volume 10)

From the 1994 summer tour, the Columbus, Ohio gig has
a number of solid tunes in the first set, including a
particularly spicy Stash, but doesn't really strut its
stuff until the segue-fest on disc two. 2001 provides
a short intro to a dark and brooding Mike's Song. In
just a few minutes the band slips into Simple, an
early version of the pairing that became a classic for
obvious reasons. But before the vocals can begin, Page
draws the music down, and Trey and Mike establish an
extended Midnight Rider jam. From here on in the
transitions are fast and furious: Catapult, long and
droning, appears from nowhere and at its end the
lyrics to Simple also appear, sung in the same mellow,
stony way. The movement is beautiful, but maintains a
good dose of the comic. It's hard to pinpoint the
source, but somewhere between Fishman and Page,
Icculus materializes and Trey jumps right in, tying
the transition to Simple. "Maybe you're playing Be
Bop." It's a big, ranting "Read The Book!" version
that plunges back into Mike's Song and falls away at I
Am Hydrogen. But even the lengthy Weekapaug Groove can
not finish the marathon; no, a stirring Fluffhead is
left to perform that duty. This is a big one and makes
an exciting listen. Disc three offers more great
filler from two nights later with a confident Demand >
a quiet Antelope intro. The latter builds to an
entirely original version with a full "Hey" exercise
as they pass the buck- excellent work from Fishman and
Page. At 14 and a half minutes Trey transcends,
lifting into a Down With Disease riff that spirals
back into Antelope. Huge.

7-16-94, Sugarbush (Volume 2)

A show that needs no introduction, 1994's Sugarbush is
justifiably legendary, Phish's return to Vermont. It's
explosive and pulsing with electricity from start to
finish, the perfect hometown show. However, it is also
one of the most widely traded soundboard recordings
and so is not necessarily a great choice for an
archival series. This show is jam-packed with insanely
tight suites, such as the early DWD > a very rare N2O
> Stash (what a Stash!) and the maddened, literally
screaming Antelope > Catapult > Antelope. There is
little need to gush about this show. If you don't
already have it, why not? Hey, I'm talking to you in
the blue Tweezer shirt. Required Listening.

10-31-94, Glens Falls Civic Center (Volume 13)

The first of the Halloween shows, chances are it's
already in your collection, or more accurately,
chances are The White Album set is in your collection.
It is easy to focus exclusively on the costumes, the
centerpieces, of these shows, although in every case
there are strong performances of actual Phish
material. As for the covers, they break down like
this: The White Album is very well done, very tight,
and offers little interpretation; Quadrophenia is a
great choice, but the performance is a bit clunky and
never quite pulls it together; Remain in Light is
superbly done, with some liberal interpretation;
Loaded is as musically sound as the The White Album
with meaty playing and some fine extended jams. This
batch of releases marks the shift from six shows at a
time to four, although the Hoist and the Dark Side of
the Moon shows could have also been included. 10-31-94
is tied together by Fishman's supreme drumming.
Throughout the whole show he is inspired, providing
superb, original rhythm and fills. There is fine run
of Divided Sky, Harpua and Julius > Horse > Silent in
the Morning on disc one, and all of disc four is on
fire, with amazing versions of David Bowie, Slave and
Antelope. Volume thirteen is worth getting entirely
aside from The White Album. It's too bad there's not a
full photo of Fishman in the buff included in the
liner notes- wait, that's a good thing.

12-29-94, Providence Civic Center (Volume 20)

The first disc of the Providence show from the 1994
New Year's Run begins with a serious Runaway Jim,
fantastic interaction between rapidly dancing Page,
militaristically rolling Fishman and bouncing,
marching Mike. The tone is heavy and the musicianship
extraordinary even as the jam morphs into Foam. There
is a stretching to the music, like the band is pushing
beyond itself. That sense perforates all of the shows
on the mini-tour. At the time I was stunned that
Phish, new to the big venues, was able to make such
excellent use of the extra space- that their
stretching seemed so natural. If you want to hear the
earliest source of the ambient groove rock that has
become Phish's calling card, this is the release.
While there are other highlights, such as a passionate
If I Could, Volume Twenty is about one thing: a
30-plus minute David Bowie, an epic creation of mood
and texture that provides not only an intense
listening experience, but a glimpse of the future in
the same way that the Tube from Albany, 11-20-92, was
years ahead of its time. Bowie is, like much of the
show, dark and heavy for the first ten minutes, when
an off-kilter, pseudo Foamish jam develops. At twenty
minutes a lengthy transcendent jam emerges, as
beautiful as anything Phish has ever done, and melts
back into a low, shadowy place. There are calls to
Lassie and drawn out, entirely weird, gibbering rant
from Trey that ends in, "Do it now!" before the band
tears into the song's climax. This is a very engaging
release- highly recommended.

10-31-95, Rosemont Horizon (Volume 14)

1995's Chicago Halloween fest has an extra air of
arena rock excitement, and various band members have
commented on the fact in different forums. The din of
the assembled masses is prevalent on all four discs
and the band responds with high octane rock and roll.
Notice that there are no ballads or even slower tunes
other than those included in the night's costume, The
Who's Quadrophenia. Even that cover seems to fit the
mood, or vice versa. Disc one is Gamehenge heavy, with
a great Icculus opener that stirs up the audience
before the band charges into Divided Sky and off into
Wilson. As with the 1994 All Hallows festivities,
Fishman's drumming stands out, although here it is big
Keith Moon work, rather than subtle playing. In fact,
there is very little subtlety in the entire show,
which is why the Quadrophenia set is not entirely
successful. It lacks fluidity, but that being said, it
is also the most complicated costume undertaken.
Instrumental and lyrical tags abound, surfacing and
submerging and echoing back throughout- Quadrophenia,
despite that lack of cohesion in Phish's performance,
is an entire concept, far beyond a mere collection of
songs and its performance is a serious undertaking.
(In fact Phish's version is much more complete than
many of abridged offerings by The Who.) There are, of
course, also some highlights, including Doctor Jimmy >
The Rock and Page's vocals and keys (he sings most of
the set) especially on Sea and Sand.

12-14-95, Broome County Arena (Volume 1)

Binghamton was always a good city for Phish. 11-23-92
at the Broome County Forum is the best of a run of
great Upstate New York shows, although it does not
circulate widely, and does so only in poor quality
audience recordings. 4-4-94 at the Broome County Arena
is nothing short of incredible. I once saw someone
describe the Demand > Mike's Song by drawing a one
inch Empire State Building with King Kong on top. Next
to it, in three inch letters, was written MIKE'S, with
the caption "monster". Volume One in the Live Phish
series is certainly part of the family. The music is
bright and fun, exemplifying what makes 1995 such a
popular year. The first disc includes a nice Foam, and
a grinning Makisupa Policeman (about smoking a joint
in bed with Quadaffi) > a raucous Split Open and Melt.
Also, an early Taste is included here, although
technically the vocal arrangement makes it Fog That
Surrounds. The second disc is perfect, with a
passionate, precise Curtain followed by two big
suites. The first is a rocking Tweezer that moves in
and out of a short Timber as if it were part of the
song. The second starts with a blazing Halley's Comet
that builds and deflates into a short breakdown jam,
eventually metamorphosing into a rare
late-second-set NICU. The exiting jam is a sterling
piano solo akin to Squirming Coil- beautiful. With a
Slave to the Traffic Light to top it all off, this is
a fantastic release. It well deserves its space as the
inaugural volume of Live Phish. Very highly

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