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Published: 2004/10/31
by Benjy Eisen

Phish- IT

Caveat emptor, the new Phish IT DVD may make you physically sick. I mean, horribly, horribly sick. It's poison. I opened the box on Tuesday and have been bedridden ever since. Will someone please stop by and bring in my mail? I mean it man, I can't fucking move. I have no desire to eat. I wake up every couple hours, look around my room, glance over at my Live Phish CDs, hurl a couple dry heaves towards the floor, and pull the covers back up over my head.

I'm not even fit to type this my pet hamster (who died when I was 8) is somehow doing it for me. Thank you, Gerald.

Here's the thing. Caveat emptor, Phish's IT DVD is just plain sick. I'd like to be more objective than this, because as we all know that a Professional Music Critic like myself is supposed to find holes in these things and bring them down. But fuck that, man, I want to hold IT up. I want to hold IT up as a challenge to anyone who says that post-hiatus Phish wasn't competitive with pre-hiatus Phish. I want to hold IT up to anyone who says, "I'm glad they quit when they did." I want to hold IT up to anyone who doubts, questions, or otherwise imagines that post-hiatus Phish no longer had the potential to top their accomplishments from the 1990s.

Fine Coventry sucked. There, I said it. And I believe it too. The band didn't play so well and the festival was rotten. It was no Ball or Went, no Wheel or Cyprus, couldn't even compete with Oswego and sure as hell wasn't IT.

This was IT. Phish's final stop at Limestone, Maine; a phan-phriendly twilight zone whose mayor personally asked Phish fans to consider moving to the region and starting businesses. The venue was a decommissioned air force base that, amazingly enough, we had all become familiar with over the years. We camped on that grass. We walked those airstrips. Several times, we even achieved flight.

But let's not wax poetic here. There's enough of that in the PBS documentary that forms the basis for this DVD. And although it seems a little bit odd that the IT festival became a PBS documentary, the DVD is a welcomed extension, offering additional interview segments and an entire disc of uncut performances, compliments of the Phish Hose Company.

A few weeks after this festival, in a phone interview for, Mike Gordon told me that he felt the Summer 2003 tour had been Phish's best in years and that everyone on the inside agreed things were just getting started. But despite the sudden momentum I mean, instead of running with IT they bailed. Why? Let's not get into that here.

But let's recall that instead of picking IT up where IT left off, the band played a couple of unrehearsed mini-runs with varying results. Final score: 1 Win (Miami), 1 Loss (Vegas), 1 Draw (20th Anniversary Run). Then, Phish announces the break-up. Then they actually go through with it. That's a lowercase "i," lowercase "t," by the way. You get what I'm saying.

And again, why? Like I said, let's not get into that here.

But I bring this up for a reason. If Phish or any members of genuinely didn't love being in the band anymore, then fine. I can't argue with that and I won't argue with that. But don't you dare say it's because Phish was turning into a nostalgia act! Don't you dare say it's because Phish was turning into a caricature of itself! Look at IT. No, really, LOOK AT IT! Watch this DVD closely. I'm being dead serious here.

In addition to a stunning documentary with revealing interviews and beautiful production, the IT DVD contains exciting and crystal-clear performance footage 150 minutes of classic Phish. Yes, I did just say "classic Phish" to describe live versions from 2003.

Let's look at the first two tracks for a second. Reba and Chalkdust. Listen, I can totally understand why Mr. Anastasio said, in so many words, that he was tired of performing certain songs. He felt pressured to play them because of their key roles in the band's history. But he was sick of them. I'm guessing Reba falls into this category. I'm guessing because, as a fan, I was sick of Reba too. I was sick of it back in 1997 or 1998, after years of hearing it every fourth show. I've probably seen no less than 20 or 30 live versions (and that's a conservative guess). So I can just imagine how Phish, who performed the song around 299 times, must've eventually felt about playing it.

But look at IT.

This Reba is fantastic. After literally hundreds of live renditions, the band was still able to find new avenues to drive the song down, new nuances to slide inside of, new music to play inside its walls.

And the Chalkdust? Get real. I know that was one song Trey never tired of, but after a few years of hardcore fandom, I'd usually wince when they tore into the opening. I probably did at IT. They're lucky I'm not the type to throw shit (I kid, I kid). Anyway, I defy you to name a Chalkdust Torture that sounds anything remotely like this one. It is breathtaking. After hundreds of performances of a "standard" song, Phish was still capable of a breakout version. They were still capable of top-shelf improvisation. This Chalkdust is simply legendary. I know it, you know it, and we know the band knows it because, thanks to the DVD, we get to see the band's reaction when they close the song. They're thrilled about it. They can't contain themselves any more than we can, watching.

(Two sidecars, if I may. First, admittedly not all of IT was as bomb-diggity as it appears here these are highlights from six sets of material. However, let it also be stated for the permanent record that IT serves as a convincing argument for Phish's Round Room material. Waves, Seven Below, Pebbles and Marbles, and of course the epic 46 Days all speak for themselves.)

So, like I said, the IT DVD has made me sick. It's made me homesick for Phish.

It's the greatest document that we're ever going to have of this band, post-hiatus. As ill as it makes me, it'll still cure what ails you; it does wonders for reversing the last-taste, bad-taste memories of Coventry. And, for the record, this KILLS the "Jimmy's Dream" video.

Although it is true that we never wanted to wake from Jimmy's Dream, in the end we did wake up and, a couple years later when leaving Vermont, we were swept out of Gamehendge too all but heartbroken. This is a DVD for the morning after. It's there to always remind us that, yes, IT really did happen. And yes, IT really was as good as we remembered. And in some cases, even better.

We once had IT all. We were so lucky. Well, here's a little keepsake.

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