Live Phish 07 – August 14, 1993 – review by Jesse Jarnow
Live Phish 08 – July 10, 1999 – review by Jack Chester
Live Phish 09 – August 26, 1989 – review by Charles Morogiello
Live Phish 10 – June 22, 1994 – review by David Steinberg
Live Phish 11 – No
Live Phish 07: August 14, 1993
Tinley Park – Chicago,
Illinois review by Jesse Jarnow
I suppose Phish always had rock and roll in their blood. They just tried to
suppress it for a while. It burbled up in their choice of covers – songs
like ZZ Top's "La Grange", and the James Gang's "Walk Away", for example – but, more often than not, it made itself known through semi-ironic tributes,
such as Jon Fishman's takes on Prince's "Purple Rain" or Pink Floyd's "The
Great Gig In The Sky" (all featured on Live Phish 07). More
importantly, until somewhere between 1994 and 1996, the momentum behind
their improvisation, though, didn't draw from the bombosity or energy of
rock. It came from someplace else.
To this end, the liner notes to Live Phish 07 – recorded on August
14, 1993 at Tinley Park in Chicago – are hugely illuminating, featuring
excerpts from bassist Mike Gordon's journal, written the night of the
performance. Perhaps the most interesting (and, in a way, most traditional)
liner notes Phish has ever presented, they provide some kind of genuine
historic context for the release.
"All the songs we've ever heard on the radio are part of the storehouse of
knowledge we are starting to use," Gordon wrote. Later, with seemingly
authentic amazement, he noted that – in "Run Like An Antelope" – there was a
"great rock and roll 'Who' like jam w/ drum fills etc.", as if drum fills
were something new, exotic, and even esoteric. To Phish in 1993, they were.
Phish always found strength in their influences — or, at least, strength in
their particular combination of influences, especially in their waning
years, when the volume of new cover material far outweighed the introduction
of fresh original songs.
In 1993, though, they weren't such a crutch. At points in their history,
Phish's improvisation existed in vaguely watered-down reference to the
sources they were drawing from. In 1998, the band made forays into ambient
music, though it wasn't really ambient music, it was merely the
closest Phish could get to it. Ditto for 1998's rock and roll, 1997's forays
into funk, or even (to some extent) 1995's chaotic sqounkering. The voice
they developed in 1993, however, might've been the furthest they ever got in
developing something resembling a "pure" voice. In some ways, it represents
the core Phishiness that all of the band's future genre exercises would
refer back to.
It is, in its best places, the equivalent of raw communication. The band
veers all over the place. In the jam following "Walk Away" on the Tinley
Park show, the band is all over the map, shooting unexpectedly into vaguely
show tuneish motifs, minimalist builds, and other unexpected left turns. On
one hand, it's entirely mature playing: the band is listening intently to
each other, reacting to each nuance the others are presenting. On the other
hand, it's almost a childish exercise in such things.
The results are disconcerting, and possibly not good music in any final
sense of the word, but if you follow it, it's way interesting. When one is
listening to Phish's music, at least (or especially) in this era, what one
is listening to isn't the sound of the music, or what the net result is, but
the interactions of the musicians. If one doesn't find such things
interesting, Phish probably isn't that interesting. Of course, the next
question is what the band is going to do with that communication? On Live
Phish 07, the beauty exists in the intuitive leaps the musicians make,
not in where they land.
Live Phish 08: July 10, 1999
E Center – Camden, New
"To be inside that music, to be drawn into the circle of its repetitions:
perhaps that is a place where one could finally disappear."
- Paul Auster (from City of Glass)
It goes back as far as the physical text of literature does: written works
opening with the words of another. Often, quotes from the Bible or other
religious texts, cited words of physicians, or other borrowed notions open
works of fiction, non-fiction, and critical writing. The more modern the
piece in question, the better the chance that those quoted at the top are
other writers or contemporaries. It is also the case that the more recent
the work, the less the original context of the quote will fall anywhere near
the context the author has connected to these previous words.
Regardless, writers often invoke the words of others in reverence: deferring
their own description to the words of one greater, or at least equal. It is
in this secondary, masked notion of equation that the indulgent pattern of
perpetuation occurs. The author usually chooses a quote from another writer,
not only to borrow the words, but to infer to the reader that the quoted has
influenced the author and therefore deserves consideration from the reader:
"Hey man, if you think my stuff's good, you should check out this other guy
who said this!" But this mild equation also implies that the author thinks
like the quoted or produces work in a style similar there to; thereby
etching his own name, no matter how finely, onto the surface of the quoted.
INT. FOUR-DOOR CAR, AMERICAN INTERSTATE, LATE EVENING
Arthur Maingler: So, hey check this out.Artis Gaye: Hook it up. AM: You know what would be sweet? If we wrote a book about Phish tour. AG: What, like some tell-all book about the scene? Heinous. We could just call it a hundred and one ways too sell out a bunch of people you dont know. Ooh, or we could slink around backstage and get stories in confidence out of people close to the band and then put out a real buddy-fucker on the fellas from Phish. OrS Wait. You weren't really thinking about actually trying to publish a My Phish Tour Diary book, were you? Not in print, anyway. On the net maybe, but nobody reads anything longer than a page off of a computer screen if they dont have to. AM: Hold your judgment, oh judgmental one. I'm talking about a book on Phish tour. We go on tour. We write. We collect it. Not necessarily an every day journal, but journals are just collections of events and thoughts as they occur. So are stories. AG: So what goes into this thing and how do we set it up? AM: It'll be like poems and narrative, some journal bits, maybe even some sketches and stuff. Maybe some interviews and journalistic kinds of things. Who knows? Itll be very post-modern. It'll be sweet. We can even start it with all that stuff you've been writing about the end of school. AG: Rock on.
So, This Was Supposed to be a Review of Live Phish 08
As for the show, most of the musical highlights come in the first part of
the first of the two discs during the opening "Wilson > Chalk Dust Torture >
Roggae". The middle of the three contains the kind of jam that, nine minutes
and twenty-one seconds in to it, you look at the back of the CD to see which
song it started from. On the following track, "Water in the Sky", the song's
ending refrain harmonies are so sustainedly flat that I forgot where I was
going with that last thought. It doesnt matter much as, if you were at the
show and don't trade CD-Rs, youll probably want to buy this one.
Live Phish 09: August 26, 1989
Townshend Family Park – Townshend, Vermont
review by Charles
StarDate: Saturday, August 26th 1989.
After 12 years and four billion miles, Voyager 2 finally flies by Neptune
and its moon Triton, sending back images for all of us to see. Pop duo Milli
Vanilli is selling millions of records despite never singing a word
attributed to them. In a few months time, The Berlin Wall, a symbol of the
Cold War hostilities between the then Soviet Union and the United States,
will fall. Forty-first President of the United States George Herbert Walker
Bush, ascendant to the Reagan empire, has been in office for a mere seven
months. Baseball superstar Pete Rose has been permanently banned from the
game for wagering on his own team.
Meanwhile, little known rock band Phish plays the 100th show of their young
career (give or take, depending on who's counting) at the Townshend Family
Park in Townshend, Vermont. Phish is in the throes of burgeoning regional
success. The majority of their shows have occurred in New England and the
New York-DC corridor, save for a short jaunt out to Colorado. Keyboardist
Page McConnell is still four or five years from playing an actual
piano on stage, let alone the flotilla of vintage keyboards he would
eventually acquire. Guitarist Trey Anastasio's sound palette consists
mainly of a guitar, an amplifier, a fuzz box, and a wah wah. None of Trey's
divebomb whooooooooooooo whooooooooooo whooooooooooooo Boomerang
looping excursions are yet to be found. We're also a couple of years from
Mike's mom's fluorescent plexiglass hanging backdrop paintings. At this
point, mentions in Rolling Stone, major label record contracts,
tourbuses, catering plates, the Doniac Schvice, glowstick wars, Kid Rock,
and "hiatus" aren't even a remote possibility.
The sounds are round, the tones are gritty and the tape is hissy like your
'80s SBD4 Maxell XLIIs tapes. What's not here is the multi-generational
tape-to-tape compression schmutz, accidental tape nukes/drop outs, cuts, and
flips despite being straight from two-track cassette (a fancy way of saying
"stereo"). The playing is jazzy, edgy, and passionate. Yes, it's 1989. Yet
to come are the orgasmic pinnacles of the early '90s improvisations, the
mid-'90s atmospheric noise jams, the late '90s uber fawnk, and turn of the
century pop/rock songwriting attempts. What we do have is compositional
Phish at its finest. Relatively fresh from the laboratory, they are waist
deep in the process of accidentally defining the jam rock genre to be: a
gaggle of happy-go-insane progjam-minimalists amped on possibility, soaring
through satin lined clouds never before traversed and yet to be tainted by
the trappings of fame, success and the music business.
The complexities are clear. Original compositional intentions are fresh in
the mind of the band. All the scattered schizophrenic bits and pieces of
"Antelope"s, "Divided Sky"s, "YEM"s, "Lizards", and "Fluffhead"s are
assembled in a multidimensional array, all peculiar puzzle-pieces of the
same long, weird song. Grandpa Zappa would be proud of his progeny's
scatological post-modernist mutated assemblage of every sonic genre known to
man. Simply encapsulated in "You Enjoy Myself"s Languedoc dubbed reggae
breakdown, swiped-from-Maiden heavy metal crescendos, and the comical "Washa
you face in a beehive I'm a sent you" (or whatever it is that they say)
vocal pimpdown. This is classic Phish, the round toned progressive classic
jazz rock nerd band that defied description and convention in a lip synched
world. At this point in time, Phish were the antithesis of what was
topping the pop charts.
The tone is there. Yes, that tone. The oft lamented, oft analyzed
tone. That sustained feedback tone — y'know, the one that pierces through
time and space? That tone of many colors that looks even better in person
given the right circumstances and toppings. That clarion battle call, a
Vermonter's analogue to Garcia's bwop bwop bwop, bwah bwah bwabwa
bwop "Shakedown" tone. The tone like a horn of a psychedelic pied
piper inciting the kids to frolic, rejoice and play miniature golf.
The process is evolving. No, there's no "Maze" or "Bowie" confusion.
There's just "Bowie", and a little Fiddler on the Roof thrown in for
good measure, But is the tease of "If I Were A Rich Man" accidental
foreshadowing, or – ahem – Destiny? But back to "Bowie". At this time and
place, he's the ripe old age of 41, 18 months into his ascendancy into the
permanent Phishophile age of 40. This "Bowie" (the song), much like that
Bowie (the person) is a difficult chameleon to stripe. Twisting from avant
counterpoint, to free jazz, to proto minimalism, back to a couple of bars of
"Bowie", interrupted by virtual fireworks, chased by the tone, pureed
with dissonance, then chilled down to further expansion of crunchy proto
minimalism, but this time possessed by the ghost of Syd Barrett-era Floyd.
Epic stuff. It's new, fresh, funny, creative, challenging, homey,
experimental, and the opposite of a formula.
Here we are, 12+ years and four billion tour miles later (give or take,
depending on who's counting), receiving transmissions from the future past.
There's another George Bush in office, there are other lip synching wonders
topping the pop charts, there are other evil empires bugging the United
States, and Pete Rose is still banned from baseball. Looking backwards, I'm
compelled to ask: what was in the mind of these four dorks from Vermont?
Did they really think that they had the potential to sell millions of
tickets, albums, bumper stickers, and t-shirts? Did they really think that
goofing around on the Andy Griffith theme would vault them to the global
stage? Did they really think that their audience would see the direct
lineage between Phish and Charlie Parker via their cover of Parker's "Donna
Lee" or moreover seek out Parker's Savoy Recordings? Add to this the covers
of boogie woogie Texans ZZ Top, colorful genius Jimi Hendrix, and plaintive
angular Hebrew cantering. Did they really think that heady compositions like
"The Divided Sky" and "You Enjoy Myself" as well as their Gamehendge fairie
tale would become holy grails to a worldwide legion of die hard phetishists?
The answer to these questions is a glorious "no". And that is why this disc
is essential. Come visit Phish before they we're Phish, before
six-CD box sets, before the Farmhouses, the Vida Blues, the
Outside Outs, the Pork Tornadoes, the solo albums. This is Phish,
Live Phish 10: June 22, 1994
Veterans Auditorium – Columbus,
OH review by David Steinberg
The summer of 1994 was a great time for Phish. The scene was large
enough to give a support system to help out on the road, but small
enough that the police didn't know about it yet. The band was playing
really well and it felt fresh, like they were discovering new
abilities. The summer tour was extensive. They started playing in
April and pretty much went on straight through until July. Towards
the middle of June, band members began talking about how they were
sick of almost all of their repertoire. Live Phish 10 comes from the
middle of the stretch. It was a few days after the infamous "OJ Show"
and a few days before the GameHoist concert. It's a snapshot of a
band in transit. They were no longer the fun silly band of Live Phish
09, but weren’t quite the force of nature revealed in Live Phish
11. This show
manages to combine elements of both to create something pretty
The first CD of this set looks unimpressive on paper. It's just
another 1994 first set list. It's tempting to skip ahead to the
insanity of the second disc, but resist that. This is a good CD. The
version of "Rift", for example, just crackles with energy. Trey plays
around a bit with his usual lines to great effect. This CD would make
a great introduction to Phish. If you have a friend who always has
wondered about the band but never has gotten around to listening to
them, pop in this CD. If they can get past the "Maze" without their
jaw dropping, this might not be the band for them. Everyone else can
be told, "Just wait until you hear the 'Stash.'"
As great as the first disc is, there's a reason why people never talk about
it. The second CD is one of the all time classic sets of Phish.
It was a night where the personalities of Phish came out as
much as their musical abilities. Don't expect too much from the "2001" that
starts the second set.
The stretching of this song didn't happen for another few years yet.
It serves as a quick interlude to get us ready for the "Mike's Song".
The weirdness is about to begin.
The "Mike"'s starts off with an atypical jam. It's well done, but this
show isn't really about the jamming. After a few minutes, there's a
left turn into "Simple"... well, kind of. Trey is playing the
"Simple" riff, true, but Page is playing the theme for "Catapult", and
"Midnight Rider" teases are being thrown around all over the place.
Trey does an interesting job of combining the three riffs into one
uber melody. Just when it appears that they're going back into
"Simple", Trey sings, "I'd catapult downtown." This is the "Midnight
Catapult Rider" really, as they keep that theme going under the verse.
After a quick "Mike"'s interlude and a few more singings of "I'd
catapult downtown," they finally flip flop back into "Simple".
Back in the summer of 1994, "Simple" hadn't yet evolved into the song
that it is today. They were pretty much making it up as they were
going along. This version has screaming background vocals and a jam
in the middle. They bring it back down for the "We've got
skyscrapers" verse to great effect. While the formalized "Simple" was a
great song, every one of the early versions is worth hearing. If I
could have one post-hiatus Phish wish, it might very well be spent
requesting a return to the unstructured "Simple".
Underneath the "Cymbop and beebaphone" line, Trey immediately starts
playing the "Icculus" line. With the possible exception of Halloween 1995,
this is clearly the best version played. Frank Zappa asked if humor
belongs in music. Usually I lean towards saying "no", but that's
because most so-called humorous songs go for the obvious jokes. Here
it just gets silly and it works. From Fishman screaming, "What? You
think you're too good for the book?" to Trey saying, "You might think
that your life is okay. You might think everything is fine. But you
are wrong. You are wrong. You're all wrong." This never fails to
amuse. It finally climaxes with Fishman screaming "SAVE YOUR LIFE!
SAVE YOUR LIFE!" Before it ends, Mike plays one of my favorite riffs
I've ever heard from him. Check it out at the 2:55 mark.
In order to return to normalcy, we segue back into "Mike's Song" via
one more reprise of "Simple". Any Mike fan should read the credits
for this CD. They go Gordon, Gordon, Gordon, Gordon,
Anastasio/Marshall, Gordon. Who's the main songwriter in this band
"I am Hydrogen" starts up like that was just another "Mike's Song".
Nothing particularly abnormal here, but that's the charm of it. We're
not back to reality yet though. Very quickly, "Weekapaug Groove"
quiets down and "The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday" is discovered. There's
a chance that 3:35
isn't the shortest time ever for a "Weekapaug," but it's a pretty slim
chance. On the far side of "Avenu Malcanu," the setlist weirdness
threatens again with a digital delay loop jam. Apparently though,
they had had enough. "Fluffhead" follows and we're back to the
confines of a normal Phish show. Fair enough. Shows where Phish play
around to this degree are rare. For 40 minutes there was a sense
that anything could happen next. That feeling is one of the reasons
we all went night after night.
The rest of the show is anti-climactic, especially the micless songs
that can barely be heard, but the third disc isn't a throwaway.
As though this wasn't a good enough value, included at no extra charge
is the June 22nd "Demand > Antelope". The setlist weirdness also
manifested in this "Antelope" — there's a long jam that almost
(but not quite) goes into the end of "Down With Disease". Thematically
it works, even if this jam is less silly and more straight ahead
So should you buy the CD? Is it worth the $23 to have this CD? All I
have to say to that is that you might think everything
is okay before you buy this CD, but you are wrong. You are wrong. You
are all wrong. Buy this CD and save your life.
Live Phish 11: November 17, 1997
McNichols Arena – Denver,
Colorado review by Bill
There's a Moment about eleven minutes into Live Phish 11. I mean, of
course it's a moment, in the way that time is an endless succession of
moments, but more importantly, it's a Moment, at least for me: when I listen
to it in the right mood, it gives me a little existential tingle, an
exhilarating reminder of the power and possibility of each moment that
passes. I'm not nearly the Phishhead I once was, but it can still raise the
hair on my arms years I after I first heard it. That's a Moment.
At that Moment the band was in Denver, beginning the fourth show of their
fall '97 tour. They were reaching the end of a year of peripatetic
experimentation, which had seen them reviving forgotten songs on one
European tour, debuting a mound of new ones on another, discovering a new
sound (more on that later), and allegedly retiring many of their signature
tunes, only to bring most of them back a month later. They had shocked most
of the veteran show-goers in attendance that night by choosing, for the
first time in over five years, to open the show with one of those
supposedly-retired favorites, their most notorious jam warhorse, "Tweezer".
For only the third time, "Tweezer" was coming face-to-face with the
aforementioned new sound. The first two, by most accounts, had not been
Like all of Phish's best jams, as soon as they complete the written parts of
Tweezer there's a palpable, electric feeling of uncertainty in the
air. Everyone is laying low; defining a blank canvas, waiting patiently for
the first streaks of color to splash across it. The veteran band heard here
is struggling to come to grips with their new identity as an arena act, but
also re-energized by two tours of small European clubs, and they've decided
to throw away the rulebook in front of 10,000 people for the chance of
discovering something new.
As they approach the Moment, you can feel steam building, momentum
gathering. The first few ideas they kick around are developed expertly, and
cast off at exactly the right time. You can feel the band's excitement as,
with every passing minute, more pieces fall into place and the realization
dawns that it's working — that, there in the McNichols Arena, they're being
carried into a new period of their career. The culmination of that
realization is the Moment, the point where the astonishment collapses in on
itself like a star going supernova, and transformation occurs.
I realize this is all a little outlandish, and if anyone out there reading
this is less than a full-fledged Phishhead you probably think I've lost my
mind. Nonetheless, there's quite a lot of evidence supporting my admittedly
hyperbolic conclusion. In The Phish Book, the guys talk at length
about this show as a turning point in their career. Some of the heads I
know regard the period that began that night and ended five months later on
the Island Tour as the pinnacle of the whole thing. Most of those who don't
at least concede that the same period was the last great peak, the final
injection of new blood, which gradually diffused as the chapter reached its
During that "Tweezer", the new sound – the psychedelic funk they'd been
toying with since the famous Hamburg "Wolfman's Brother" (already captured
on the live release Slip Stitch and Pass) – finally clicked, and
revealed itself to be the solution Phish had been looking for, the way they
could successfully project their strengths to a hockey arena without
sacrificing the communication they'd developed over 13 years playing
together. Since '95, the band had been searching for a way to improvise as
a group with no real lead voice, to share the duty of spontaneous
composition equally, so that each player's part would be simple, yet
essential. The lazy pace and big spaces they left unfilled proved the ideal
solution to both problems, emphasizing the band over the individuals while
also carrying well in the big room.
This soundboard recording is crystal clear, a joy to listen to, and, removed
from the arena environment, the subtlety and delicacy of the music is
enchanting. Fish's grooves are, of course, immaculate, and his swing is
unbelievable – so far behind the beat that it feels like an eternity before
each snare hit finally SNAPS, always at the last possible moment. And these
CDs have given me new insight into Trey's rhythm playing, which apparently
was done a major disservice by the unforgiving acoustics of most of the
rooms they played in the twilight years. With the full range of his
instrument audible, the speech-like nuance he achieves with his wah-wah is
astounding, and the peaks of his phrases are locked so tight with Fish's
slippery snare that they might as well have been played by the same person.
It's great to be able to hear Page's lush harmonies, in stereo no less, and
Mike absolutely rules the band and crowd with his brutal, funky lines, which
often suggest music much darker than the other three provide.
In fact, it seems that this Moment was so significant that its repercussions
actually radiated well beyond the band responsible for it. I hope I'm not
dating myself here, but does anyone else remember a time before the jam
scene was overrun by funk bands? OCuz I think I do, though maybe it's a
case of selective perception/memory. I mean, funk has always played a role
in the modern jamband movement, dating back to the early days of Wetlands
(given that said movement was born and raised in that sadly missed club's
walls), and The Authority, who became one of the club's first signature
bands. When I first started going to Wetlands in the mid-'90s, Moon Boot
Lover – which then featured Neal and Alan Evans of Soulive, who apparently
leave that gig off their resumes now – were a fixture, and Catfish
Collins-esque scratch rhythm guitar was already a component of the
stereotypical jamband sound.
But now, most of a decade later, it seems a huge percentage of the
once-Phish- and-Deadheads I know have taken to satisfying their live music
jones primarily in a much more orthodox brand of funk than I would
comfortably associate with the traditions of the two bands who cast the
longest shadows on this scene. Not to disparage any of the loads of great
funk players in the world, but the connection between the jamming Phish do
and the jamming say, Topaz does isn't as clear as it might first appear.
Ideally, the former represents wide-open musical possibility — the freedom
to take a piece of music anywhere, limited only by the musicians'
imaginations. The latter abides by a much more constrained set of rules,
and seems to value attitude, groove and showmanship over some of the more
cerebral aspects of improvisation.
Which is fine if that's what you're into, but what happened? At what point
did the funk bands graduate from being a distraction within this scene and
start becoming the main attractions? When did promoters and fans alike
start to assume that if you're into one kind of jamming you must necessarily
be equally into all of them? I think I know: it was that damn Moment. Its
not really so far-fetched. Look at the way Ween and the Talking Heads
became part of the jamband canon after Phish started covering them. I think
it's safe to say that Deaner, Gener, and their bizarre, often abrasive,
garage rock would not be playing Bonnaroo in a few weeks had those four guys
from Vermont not busted out "Roses Are Free" in Rochester a month or so
after the show I was once (and will soon again be, I swear) reviewing. Im
certainly not suggesting that bands like Tiny Universe owe any debt of their
existence to Phish, but they probably owe part of their prosperity.
Which is kind of funny, because the great thing about this show and its
"Tweezer" is that what they're playing is not really funk. The funk sound
is a particularly effective decoy, a hook for them to hang their ideas on.
It's funky, sure, but it's far too mutant and spacy to inspire any confusion
with real funk. They modulate too much, and are a little too willing to
follow a tangent. Page's atmospherics are too weird. In short, it's still
just Phish, adopting a disguise in order to liberate themselves. A lot of
the young jambands out there who think they can and should play funk might
be well-served to give this jam – especially the start-stop breaks towards
the end – a careful listen, and maybe think over which qualities about this
band they'd most like to emulate. But I digress.
Trey was responsible for a lot of baffling, tasteless song choices in those
last few years (and a couple in this show), but the one he makes after
"Tweezer" winds down is so perfect as to almost compensate for all the rest:
having just witnessed the birth of a new era for his band, rather than take
a break from the improv, he pulls out "Reba", in this author's opinion one
of the few tunes in their repertoire that could even stand a chance of doing
justice to the music that had preceded it. The serene, exquisite jam that
follows features an amazing cat-and-mouse game between Trey and Mike, as
they chase each other to ever-richer harmonic spaces, improvising changes
most musicians would be happy to have composed, applying the spacious,
unhurried approach of the "Tweezer" jam to a very different musical world,
with results every bit as expressive.
"Reba" is pretty short, as they choose to end it once the statement has been
made, rather than push their ample luck on a supporting-cast number.
Afterwards, you can hear Trey (understandably) cackle with delight, another
bonus of the high-quality recording. One of my personal favorites, "Train
Song", follows, providing a much-deserved break from the action, but also
the set's first unsettling reminder of the downside of Phish's arena years:
Page completely blanks on his piano break, and ends up half-heartedly
plinking out a warbly version of the melody far too late. Thankfully,
afterwards, they dive right back into the madness, firing up the song that
ended up defining this period of their career, in no small part due to this
version — "Ghost".
As a whole piece, "Ghost" is probably even better than "Tweezer", and
features the prototype for the stratospheric ambient jams that became the
other signature sound of their last few years, long after the funk went dry.
"Ghost" winds up with the band showcasing their incredible dynamics, as a
slinky, dark Mike bassline dances around softly with the drums and
pitch-shifted guitar for an extended, badass coda. Unfortunately, rather
than ending it there, Trey makes one of those really boneheaded calls, and
an inexplicable, unnecessary version of Hendrix's "Fire" closes out the
first set, making me wish that whoever's behind the Live Phish
releases didn't have such a fetish for putting out complete shows.
Sad to say, the second set mostly reinforces that opinion, and literally
only a few minutes of it even hint at the impressionistic heights reached on
the first disk. I remember people saying in '97 that "Down With Disease"
was the only song that took a step backward in that otherwise great year for
Phish, and this version is exhibit A. Not that it's bad, it's just
boring, and given the groundbreaking shit they were playing only an hour
before, that's inexcusable. It meanders about for awhile, looking for
direction, until Trey gracelessly shifts gears into the understandably rare
"Olivia's Pool", a half-baked early version of the song that eventually
became "Shafty" before being mercifully dropped altogether.
After that they launch into their baffling, short-lived, coked-up cover of
"Johnny B. Goode", the memory of which I was grateful to have repressed now
that they're off the road. The disc's only high point follows — a
cascading, proggy Mike-led jam that features Trey using his wah very
differently than, but every bit as well as, he did in "Tweezer", before
coining a ringing, nostalgic mountain air melody that Mike lays some truly
weird, moaning accompaniment behind. They segue from that into yet another
cover, "Jesus Just Left Chicago", and, I might add, not nearly as well as
they did out of "Wolfman's" at the Slip Stitch show. In the calculus
of arena Phish, after that it's Trey ballad time, and When the Circus
Comes closes out the second disc with a whimper, for a final score of
three covers to two originals (one and a half, really, since "OP" barely
counts) — not exactly a ratio that encourages creative playing.
Fortunately, Live Phish 11's third disc fares better than the second,
and contains some fun, thought-provoking music, without pretending to hold a
candle to the first set's core excavations. It begins with the final song
of the show's second set, another classic "You Enjoy Myself", which gets
run through the same funk wringer "Tweezer" had earlier. The jam is short,
but silky-smooth, and coasts wonderfully along, deep in the pocket, for a
few minutes before settling into one of the best vocal jams I've heard —
inventive, frenzied, practically as long and almost as good as the
instrumental exploration that preceded it.
The show's encore, Character Zero, follows, another regrettable
choice that would never have seen commercial release had it not
coincidentally been played in the same show as some great, groundbreaking
music. It's unfortunate that the band chose to end one of the best shows of
their last years with a version essentially indistinguishable from any
other, after a second set that was more bad than good — it encapsulates
everything about the band I dont miss.
At least Phish archivist Kevin Shapiro saw fit to include some decent
filler, though — "Wolfman's Brother > Makisupa Policeman", from a few
nights later in Champaign. The "Wolfman's" is long, and not always
inspired, but its turn-on-a-dime whimsy provides an interesting counterpoint
to the seriousness and control of the Denver show's best passages. The
segue into "Makisupa" is confused, but there's some surprisingly great
playing on this version of what I always thought of as a toss-away joke
reggae number. Page toys with a great, funky clav riff throughout, and Mike
is totally in control – low, slow and tasteful. They break into a cool,
unexpected, ambient jam in the middle before a sudden fadeout ends the disc
on a weird note.
The great thing about the Live Phish series is that it allows for an
entirely new way to appreciate some of Phish's best music — alone, in your
home, with high-quality recordings that recapture the nuance inevitably lost
in an arena setting. Arena Phish sound better on CD than they usually did
in the rooms, that's for sure, and you don't have to deal with long lines,
parking, nitrous, and all the other bullshit that ended up ruining shows for
so many of us.
However, Live Phish doesn't go nearly far enough in separating the
good things about the live Phish experience from the bad. This is exactly
the time, now that they're no longer touring, that Phish should be trying to
establish their credibility as artists, showcasing their unparalleled,
genre-defying improvisational skill to as wide an audience as possible. A
live release series is the most obvious way to go about that, but by
releasing only complete shows, they've chosen to cater to their most
obsessive fans, the people who are already sold, and they've put their worst
foot forward to the rest of the world in the process.
There's absolutely no reason why every "Circus", "Sparkle" and "Loving Cup"
that they happened to play in the same show as a few great jams needs to be
released, especially at the rather exorbitant prices the Live Phish
installments are going for. As great as it is, I'd even be a little wary of
putting on volume 11's "Tweezer" for an unconverted listener, because, face
it, "Tweezer" is a fun, but silly, insignificant song that doesn't begin to
approach the deft and skill displayed in the jam that follows it. As a
Phishhead, I know that that's part of the beauty of it all – that they can
find such inspiration in something so seemingly vacuous – but, again, Im
already sold. I know what "Tweezer" sounds like.
If, instead of releasing 12 three CD sets a year just to get out two good
pieces of improv per set, they could assemble a few Siket Disc-like
collections of their best live jams, separated from the songs that preceded
them, I think they'd be garnering much more attention and respect now, and
it would sure help convince me that their future, individually or someday as
a reunited band, has more in common with "Tweezer"s great Moment than
"Character Zero"'s bombastic tedium.
Live Phish 12: August 13, 1996
Deer Creek Amphitheater – Noblesville, Indiana review by Pat Buzby
If the concert received the same respect from most rock writers as the album
does, Phish (like the Dead) would be represented differently in the rock
texts to come. Being amalgamations of old and new material, only
secondarily intended for later consumption, concerts take second place to
albums for most bands as artistic statements, and certainly even Phish did
not always perform concerts that stood up to the same level of analysis as a
strong album. However, the Live Phish series inverts the rules by
presenting a selection of concerts in an album format, allowing them to
receive the same attention.
This '96 show is perhaps best appreciated as a studio album which never was.
For those of you new around these parts, 1996 is regarded by most Phish fans
(and, on the evidence of The Phish Book, by the band members
themselves) as a transitional, conservative year, a year where they grew out
of the avant-gardisms of 1994 and 1995) without yet reaching the funk of
1997. Though one of the year's best performances, this set does not
contradict that. Certainly, the 22-minute "Mike's Song" has enough
tension-and-release and dynamic Trey to be worth the price of admission, but
the improvisation at this show is not as newsworthy as on the Binghamton '95
or Denver '97 sets.
August 13, 1996 is a rare show where the setlist tells the story. It's an
eye-catching setlist, unusually slanted towards Gamehendge and the
introspective side of things. (Phish seldom get more introspective than the
acoustic set at the start of disc three, a '96 idea which proved
shortlived.) This combination of songs sets a mood similar to what they
evidently intended to get on Billy Breathes, with the expected pluses
(the jams) and minuses (some unfortunate flubs). Granted, the theremin
version of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" doesn't fit this theme too well, but
it does indicate that, even in '96, Phish was capable of just being weird.
Incidentally, kudos for the inclusion of bonus cuts from the previous
night's show ("Ya Mar" and "Split Open and Melt"), which provide some of the
best improvisation of the set (and which set a promise which the rest of
that night's show failed to keep). But didn't I read that they were going
to include the "Weigh" as well?