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Published: 2005/08/08
by Brad Farberman

04.03.98 Nassau Coliseum – Phish

A friend made me a mix tape once with liners maintaining that the purpose of said tape was to give me a "90 minute break from PHISH every once in a while." But, in the months following Coventry, I wondered if I would forget all about my favorite band.

Last night, I didn't have to wonder.

I knew I wouldn't. As I meandered about the Somerville Theatre in the moments before my film began, I was reminded that the theatre, just a stone's throw from Boston, often doubles as a concert venue: in an unremarkable display case just outside the main room, tickets from shows past are preserved for your optic pleasure.

Per the display, I could tell you that the Aquarium Rescue Unit has rolled through. G. Love and Special Sauce are guilty of the same crime. But, most interesting to me, was the Phish ticket, straight out of 1990.

This meant that Phish, the band that drew something like 65,000 fans to Vermont's Northeast Kingdom last summer, had once played in a tiny movie theatre outside of Boston for, at most, 900 people. In just 14 years, Phish had graduated from movie theatres to hosting multi-day festivals comprised solely of their own performances.

But that ticket meant much more than even this, really. What it meant was that Phish have left their mark. At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and on "The Simpsons," and at the Somerville Theatre. Everywhere they went and everywhere they ended up, they left their stamp. You can't forget them.

Likewise, they were not forgotten this morning as I examined my mail and found, to my delight, that the "new" Phish album had arrived.

04.03.98 Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY, one of four new releases (all four dates from the fabled Island Tour) from the archives, is further evidence that Phish’s legacy (and, of course, their music) is alive and well. And, as their greatest legacy is their live act, where better to document their prowess than on crisp, full-concert recordings?

Not on albums that compile, say, highlights from an entire tour. Each Live Phish release makes available one night in the life of Phish, from beginning to end, warts and all.

And really, it's better that way, because it's exciting to listen to a well-paced show unfold (when the boys really paced it well, they were unstoppable). 04.03.98 kicks off with a rockin’ "Mike’s Song" before dipping into "The Old Home Place" and, strange as it might seem on paper, the combination is perfect. After 14 minutes in outer space, you’re going to need a little bluegrass to cool down to (plus, it’s cool to hear bassist Mike Gordon sing lead on two songs in a row!).

Or, you could use the tune as a breather before a long, funked-out "Weekapaug Groove," complete with "Crosseyed and Painless" teases.

Either way, it's all just preparing you for a gorgeous "Reba," the scorching blues of a set-closing "My Soul" (check out pianist Page McConnell's honky-tonk chops on this one) and, of course, the set to come.

This time around, Ween's "Roses are Free" sets us on our path to new places. Along the way, we'll stumble upon the ambient techno of a 22-minute "Nassau Jam," the quiet space of an improv that follows "Piper" (which includes a longer-than-usual play on the coda), and one of the best "Antelopes" you're bound to hear, ever.

"The game is," says drummer Jon Fishman as the tune begins, "don't let Carini get you." Prompted by a fan that climbed onstage and was chased off by drum tech Pete Carini during the song prior, the band proceeds to ad-lib lines like "Carini's going to get you" throughout the mostly-instrumental song; and, as things heat up, cries of "Carini!" from Fishman only egg the rest of the band on. Guitarist Trey Anastasio (as if you needed me to tell you his full name or which instrument he plays…) really lets it rip on this one (also, check out the breakdown at around 10:30… Lee Perry would be proud).

But that's not all you get. A three (!) song encore (beginning with "Carini") rounds out this show, but an additional 50 minutes of Phish round out this three-disc set. Soundchecks from both this night and the next follow the show-closing "Tweezer Reprise" and portions of these jams are interesting to hear, if not particularly exciting (I can't vouch for the fun in hearing Trey tell Fishman to add certain drums "slowly and methodically" during "Funky Bitch," in order to see if his monitor is picking them up).

But I can vouch for this: 04.03.98 is a superior Phish show. It’s got all the markets cornered: hot jams ("Weekapaug Groove," "Nassau Jam"), fun covers ("Roses Are Free," "Loving Cup"), humor ("Run Like An Antelope"), even bluegrass ("The Old Home Place," "Beauty Of My Dreams"). Add in the exceptional sound quality, attractive packaging and 50 minutes of "philler" on disc three and you’ve got yourself a steal. What a beautiful buzz. I guess we won’t be forgetting about Phish any time soon.

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