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Published: 2002/11/23
by Pat Buzby

Live Phish 16: 10-31-98 – Phish

Elektra Records 62809-2

Both the Live Phish sets and the Halloween shows elicit high,
somewhat unfair expectations, and combining the two makes the dilemma
exponentially larger. Those of you who've played in bands could relate to
these questions: how many nights consist entirely of material worth
preserving on disc? And what band could premiere an entire set of composed
songs and have it be worth releasing? (Granted, Phish had performed two
songs from Loaded before, but still.)

A recent Entertainment Weekly sidebar comparing Phish's versions with the
originals points out some other issues with the Halloween series, but misses
some of the benefits. Yes, Phish's vocalists are too innocent to do justice
to Lou Reed. And there is the question of whether to imitate the originals
or Phish-ify them, a matter which the band never fully pinned down. They
get the details of the album right, such as the strange intros of "Sweet
Jane" and "Head Held High", but the jams in "Rock & Roll" and "Lonesome
Cowboy Bill" are pure Phish, with very little to do with the Velvets.

However, it's not too hard to ignore these issues and enjoy the
Loaded disc. It’s fun, even separate from the live
experience. And these are great songs (for the most part) and clearly an
inspiration for latter-day Phish, although the comparison on the lyrical
level isn't always flattering. ("New Age", for instance, is what, say,
"Lifeboy" wanted to be.) And there are those jams, which, as usual,
are the main reasons to check into Live Phish.

As for the other three discs… they're all good, though they don't quite
fit into an overall theme (those high expectations again). The first disc
is the best-jammed of the four '98 first sets on CD, despite being the
shortest and sporting the biggest downer (the "Landlady" sections of "Punch
You In The Eye" are horribly botched). It offers two unusually strong
"straight-ahead" jams in "Birds Of A Feather" and "Chalkdust Torture", as
well as state-of-the-art Phish funk in "Sneaking Sally Through The Alley"
and superb versions of "Lawn Boy" and "Frankie Says". The bonus disc from
10-30-98 is a nice touch and offers more fun moments from Phish's own heads
in the "Stash"/"Manteca" transition, as well as the bit where Mike and Fish
keep repeating the final kick of "NICU" while Trey and Page morph into
ambient mode.

As for disc three, it's the most thoroughly experimental Live Phish
since the Tweezerfests of old, and though it's not all successful (in this
reporter's view, the 10/31/95 YEM sports better "dark" improv than this
disc's "Wolfman's"), it is a genuinely gripping effort. In toto, these four
discs offer a bit of many different things rather than a single statement,
but encompass enough newsworthy Phish to be a worthy purchase.

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