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Columns > Dan Alford - Audio Files

Published: 2004/01/27
by Dan Alford

Live Phish The Series, Part II

Quick Picks From the Disc Changer:
STS9, 11-15-03, Disc 2- Great second set
Duo, 7-5-03- w/ Reed Mathis and Brad Barr
Phish, 12-31-03, Disc 1- A highlight of the year
Fat Mama, Loadstar- A classic, long out of publication
The Slip, Live is My Jumby

Discman: Garaj Mahal, 12-5-02, Disc 1

[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.]

8-13-96, Deer Creek (Volume 12) 1996 is widely
regarded as one of Phish's weakest years, yet
listening to the Divided Sky from this Indiana show,
you would never know it. Mike smoothers it with big,
round, warm bass and Page is right there responding to
every note- there is real depth and emotion here. The
set continues with a nice Tela (one of only two in the
series) and a great Fast Enough For You. With Punch
You in the Eye the music becomes more aggressive, a
tone that carries through Llama. Maybe it's the venue;
Deer Creek is famous in many music circles as a place
that harbors nothing but potential- it's a magic shed.
Whatever the reason, the second set glows orange and
red- it's heavy and dark, especially the Mike's Song,
where the Cactus/Leo matrix resurfaces and Trey digs
in deep. By fourteen minutes the machine is churning
out waves of sound, and at seventeen minutes a
squirrelly movement takes shape, but does so without
losing the set's tone. The drumming here is
phenomenal. The third disc includes sweet acoustic
versions of Waste, Strange Design and Train Song. It
also features the opening Ya Mar and Split Open and
Melt from the previous night as filler- not as amazing
as most of the other filler in the series, but they
maintain the mood of the volume.

10-31-96, The Omni (Volume 15)

1996's Halloween costume was the first chosen by the
band (it is widely thought that ballot box stuffing
resulted in Quadrophenia) and not surprisingly the
resulting performance is amazing- probably one of the
best sets Phish has ever played. At the time most fans
were probably unfamiliar with Talking Heads' seminal
recording Remain in Light, and the immediate grandeur
of the costume may have been lost. As Trey sings in
Born Under Punches, "Don't you miss it. Don't you miss
it. Some of you people just about missed it." Part of
what makes the set so great is that rather than just
playing it cold, the band tweaks and bends the
material, often stretching the composed sections and
adding on nice jams- not too long, not just solos;
just right. Check out the synchronicity of Trey and
Mike on The Great Curve. Another factor in the
performance's success is the stunningly effective
contributions by guests Gary Gazaway (trombone), Dave
Grippo (alto) and Karl Perazzo (percussion). Most
importantly though, and this becomes increasingly
clear as the set continues and becomes darker and more
sinister, is that Phish, to use Bob Weir's phrasing,
has figured out "where the material lives." They are
able to expose the essence of the music. There is also
a visual element that should not be forgotten. During
Seen and Not Seen Mike passed his bass to Trey (Yes,
that is Ernest popping out Tina's bass line!) before
taking a seat to read the monologue. Then during
Overload televisions were brought on stage and a
domineering bald man shouted orders at the band
through at megaphone as they hammered and sawed and
drilled in a disturbing piece of theater laden with
echoes of slavery- bizarre and darkly transcendent.
Unfortunately most of the rest of the show doesn't
have the same force. The opening suite looks good on
paper, but contains a number of sloppy moments and
ultimately falls short. Disc four does have a
blissful, egoless, effortless Simple > Swept Away >
Steep > Jesus left Chicago > Suzy with horns that is
worth hearing, but in the end this one is about the

11-17-97, McNichols Sports Arena (Volume 11)

The only release from the wildly popular 1997 fall
tour, the funk tour with its snaky jams and Black-Eyed
Katies, this Denver show won a Jammy largely on the
merits of its many, many long form jams. The opening
Tweezer, for instance, is characteristic of the tour
in its intensity and the multitude of notes from Mike.
It's big, but the funk doesn't creep in until the
first set of stop/starts near the very end of the
song. Also from the first disc, a nicely looped Ghost
(version 1.0) dips into quirky guitar and fat bass at
about seven minutes. By eleven minutes the music is in
the midst of a large, confident climb, Trey and Page
wrapped around each other. The movement plateaus and
maintains lashing, wavering cycles of sound by resting
firmly on Mike G.- very nicely done. On disc two, the
Denver Jam (perhaps these could be more imaginatively
named) is splendid, starting out with twisted spasms
but settling into a sleek groove reminiscent of first
set's Ghost. And at nine minutes, it eases into a
smooth, pretty place. Disc three includes a long,
round, utterly wonderful You Enjoy Myself- the best
one in the series. It is worth the cost of the release
by itself. The filler is predictably incredible as
well: Wolfman's Brother, at its peak in 1997, is
driven low by Mike at about eight minutes, but flares
into an aggressive Trey jam just short of eleven
minutes. There is also a brief Cross Eyed and Painless
tease and an extended, though undeveloped Walk Away
jam into a bass laden Makisupa Policeman. It's "Stink

7-15-98, Portland Meadows

This release is the first night of the summer tour,
which would seem an odd choice, except that it follows
hot on the heels of the crucial nine-date European
tour that saw the development of Phish's ambient space
funk, the debut of many, many new songs, and a new
looseness in the band. (Many of those shows would make
strong future releases, especially the three nights in
Copenhagen.) All of those traits are included in this
release, along with some very funny stage banter. On
disc one the Wolfman's Brother is short, but potent.
The jam churns and turns and crashes to a stop-
another technique developed on the European tour
(check out Ghost from 6-30-98). The Portland Jam out
of Horn is entirely breathtaking, with light loops,
noodly guitar and fine, quiet bass. It's reminiscent
of I Am Hydrogen. The second disc has a strong Birds
of a Feather and a meaty jam from the second set
including a Simple that goes pretty right away, but
winds down quickly. Fishman teases Glide but is
subverted by slow loops that lead to Tweezer. In just
seconds the band is deep into it, Mike popping out
note after funky note. As the jam lets loose, Fish and
Mike function as a single entity, and Trey slides into
the Tupac/Dr. Dre joint California Love- so fuckin'
slick! Also, while the transition into Free is sloppy,
the jam out is slow, buck-naked funk. It's worth
noting that there is a sonic flaw in this release
stemming from Fishman's hot mics which create some
very high end distortion, like too much snare rattle.
It's not a big problem, but created a fair amount of
internet discussion (then again, what doesn't). The
filler on this release is a very rock and roll Bathtub
Gin from mid-tour. It passes through a number of
shifts, but remains cohesive and focused.

10-31-98, Thomas and Mack Center (Volume 16)

1998's Halloween extravaganza in Las Vegas received as
much hype as anything the quartet has ever done.
(That, of course, led directly to the surprise Dark
Side of the Moon cover at the next show, a seriously
undersold gig in Utah.) The costume probably boggled
even more minds than 1996's Remain In Light: Loaded by
the Velvet Underground. Yet just like the Talking
Heads cover, Phish was able to find the heart of the
music, playing it with knowing force and passion.
Page's vocals are so great, you would think the songs
were written just for him. The material is rather
straight forward rock and roll and as such the lengthy
jams tacked onto the ends of songs have a gunning
quality. Sweet Jane and Rock and Roll are particularly
hot, and Lonesome Cowboy Bill has a fine, Phishier
jam. The whole set is very well done. In fact the
whole show is strong. While the opening suite doesn't
include any particularly imaginative work, it's solid,
and followed by a super chilled Sneaking' Sally
Through the Alley. Lots of excellent Mike here, and as
it loops and the transition to Chalk Dust Torture
begins, it actually sounds more like spacey moe. than
Phish. Also on the first disc, Mike's Song is big and
forceful, Page dominating with electro-shock keys. A
brief Simple tease materializes, but the music is
already too mellow and slips into Frankie Says. Disc
three includes the real meat of the show: a forty-plus
minute Wolfman's Brother > Piper. The former's
potential is fully realized in the vast, open ended
ambient experiment that drifts slowly through an alien
landscape, at times swinging on swift wind, at times
storm-tossed, at times simply hovering. With vacuum
effects, moaning, a short Esther tease and an extended
Low Spark (!) jam, it is one of the headiest, spaciest
jams in the Live Phish series. The fourth disc is
entirely bonus material from the previous night,
including the droning Antelope from the first set, and
the entire slippery, sly second set. A
creeping-through- the-underbrush Stash sneaks
effortlessly into a grooved out Manteca (!) and just
as effortlessly into Tweezer- riding the worm! With
loops and sharp bass it slinks back into the jungle
foliage, discovering waterfalls and ruins, and
eventually hitting a super smooth stride at about
fourteen minutes, before lifting into NICU. This disc
alone is worth the price of Volume Sixteen. Actually
each individual disc could be its own release; they're
just that good. This one gets the highest

11-28-98, The Centrum (Volume 6)

Worcester, as Mike points out in the Live Phish
interview for the "Mike's Picks" releases, always
produced great music from Phish. 1991's New Year's Eve
gig is still one of the best New Year's events, and
1997's hour long Runaway Jam, while not entirely
cohesive in hindsight, is an exercise in free-form
jamming equaled only by Lemonwheel's Ambient Set, and
many of the long form jams from Big Cyprus. Volume Six
is the first of three nights at The Centrum in 1998
and includes an old school segue-fest based on
Wipeout. Opening the second set with Buried Alive,
seen, like most other instrumentals, too infrequently
in the later years, Trey quickly rips into Wipeout and
shoots off into Chalk Dust Torture, shoving a verse or
so of The English Beat's Mirror in the Bathroom into
the middle. The music moves into a snappy, My
Soul-style blues stroll over which Trey sings Dog Log
before the band drops into Sanity. A very rare Buffalo
Bill follows, so you know it's a special show. The
transitions come very fast, one on top of the other,
like something from 1993 or 1994. Disc three ends the
show, however, with back to back big ones in the form
of Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove >
Antelope. The first is bouncy with nice piano and
clean vocals, along with some fine fills from Trey
early on. It's not the most bombastic version, but it
is direct and relatively focused at less than eleven
minutes. I Am Hydrogen has a long, buzzing
introduction, but comes out clean and pops into a
rabid Weekapaug with big tubes of bass from Mike, an
obligatory Wipeout jam, a fevered climax and an
extended, but utterly bizarre bonus Groove II jam

7-10-99, E Centre (Volume 9)

1999 is generally considered an inconsistent year for
Phish. The summer tour included clear apexes, but a
number of merely average shows, and the fall tour
maintained that trend. On the other hand, the December
tour was amazing (the second night at Philly was one
of the best), and of course there was Big Cyprus.
Volume Eight is from Camden, New Jersey, just across
the river from the City of Brotherly Love, and has
some truly inspired playing. The opening suite is a
stunning emotional arc that begins with a Jersey
rock-star style Wilson, very heavy and aggressive.
Chalk Dust Torture begins with the same tone, but
quickly surpasses other versions as Trey develops a
number of very clearly stated ideas- this is less
jamming than spontaneous composition, laden with
echoes of What's the Use. And while beauty is
certainly not synonymous with Chalk Dust Torture, this
one finds a place of such splendor that it will
electrify every nerve ending and may just paralyze
your mind. From that point of majesty it falls into a
very mellow, calming Roggae. Near the end of the first
disc, Bathtub Gin is equally gorgeous and reminiscent
of the Chalk Dust Torture jam, with more What's the
Use hints. Just shy of twelve minutes, Mike swells
with big bass and Trey works a fast rhythm lick, with
sweet Moog overlays from Page. Descending lines
develop and it's cooking like a Split Open and Melt
jam. It is entirely happening as Page hops to the B-3
and then to piano. The jam ends not by closing the
song, but by simply disintegrating and blowing away-
just insane. Beginning the second disc is an excellent
Tweezer. Already looped and densely packed by the
third verse, the jam starts at a full run. There is
more of that beautiful What's the Use- only-brighter
theme from the first set before a nice funk groove
develops. Eventually it loses shape and the music
enters a shaded, haunted forest. The fog thickens and
the path finally ends at the best placed Mountains in
the Mist ever. Birds of a Feather is also noteworthy
for the abnormal, at times bright with that recurrent
theme, at times quirky and odd, jam into When the
Circus Comes to Town.

6-14-00, Drum Logos (Volume 4)

Just as Europe was long a source of inspiration, even
before Phish was Phish, Japan become the new fountain
for creativity and artistic expansion in 1999 and
2000. Volume Four is taken from the Fukuoka show near
the end of a short tour that preceded the stateside
summer tour. It is entirely fantastic, a personal
favorite that is steeped in heady bass and overflows
with ambient space funk. The first set includes a
surprise version of Cities and a edgy Gumbo > Llama.
The Split Open and Melt closer is a lengthy, deeply
grooved and droning version that is sure to thrill the
ambient junkies. The second set picks up right where
the first left off. Get Back on the Train churns with
keyboard-driven cyclical movements, making way for the
meat of the set, Twist > Walk Away > 2001. Twist takes
the show low immediately, revealing a deeper level of
groove, the source of that which has been percolating
to the surface so far. It drifts and swirls for
infinity, soothing and mesmerizing. The long,
lingering jam that follows vibrates with nitrous
oxide, shimmering and swelling and eventually tumbling
into a quick Walk Away. The transition out is a
strange and sparse creation from Page and Mike- an
elegant jamlet that doesn't travel very far before the
second disc ends. Disc three includes only 2001, and
the encore, Sleep (!) and Squirming Coil. A big draw
back to the first set of Live Phish releases is the
lack of filler. Sound checks, studio jams and snippets
of other shows would make for a more satisfying third
disc; as it is, this one is only 28 minutes long.
Perhaps filler could be added to future pressings.

7-8-00, Alpine Valley (Volume 5)

This Alpine Valley recording, while downplayed by the
internet community when initially released, is
actually a very solid, upbeat show. The first set is
energetic straight through and although nothing is
particularly long (Antelope is under thirteen minutes
and Wolfman's Brother is under ten), the performances
are generally very tight. All three discs are filled
with prime examples of Phish's songs rather than
Phish's vast improvisational skills. The opening Punch
You in the Eye > NICU is especially nice, an
auspicious opener. Set II is similarly song oriented,
with only two real transitions. Piper lets loose at
about nine minutes but quickly slides in an explosive,
but short Rock and Roll; a rowdy Tweezer deposits
itself into a very, very short Walk Away- no expansive
jamming, but the music crackles nonetheless. This show
can be compared with the widely circulated 6-22-97,
which was filmed for broadcast in Germany, and also
features short, bright performances throughout.

9-14-00, Darien Lake Performing Arts Center (Volume 3)

Since the advent of Live Phish Downloads this Western
New York show will likely remain the latest release in
the series. It was too warmly received initially, as
it is definitely not the best example of what Phish
does best. The first set includes a dense,
aggressively flailing Carini and an wild Suzy
Greenberg > Darien Jam #1, where, after solos from
Page and Mike, a very cool double time dance groove
forms. The band finishes Suzy and without hesitation
dips back into the groove for another eleven minutes
of keyboard fueled, ass-shaking inspiration. However,
the set starts out with some of Trey's sloppiest
playing on Punch You In The Eye and Reba, where he
just about strangles the song. The second set opens
with Drowned, a bit rough around the edges, which
moves into an incredibly long, droning Darien Jam #2.
At twenty-five minutes, this jam simultaneously
maintains an anxious vibe while never really going
anywhere. It is largely homogenous; egoless, but
lacking peaks or any real variations in texture and
tone. Cross Eyed and Painless shoots right into Darien
Jam #3, still nervous and agitated as it moves away
from the Talking Heads cover and deflates into Dog
Faced Boy. All in all, the strengths of Volume Three
do not outweigh its flaws, making it the weakest
release in the Live Phish series.

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