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Published: 2008/08/25
by Brian Ferdman

Phish Walnut Creek

JEMP Records

Phish’s July 22, 1997 performance at the Walnut Creek Amphitheatre is well known because of a massive thunderstorm that erupted with several bolts of lightning shooting across the sky during the first set closing “Taste.” Coming off of two triumphant runs through Europe, the band was in fine form by the time they arrived at their second performance in the U.S. that summer. By tour’s end, their shows would be dipping deeper and deeper into the realm of “cow funk” and a more experimental edge would crop up in the setlists, but on this July night, the funk was just starting to creep into a band that was very focused and pulsating with energy.

Right from the start, everyone on stage is having a blast on a driving “Runaway Jim,” which finds itself in quite a little opening jam before hitting a funk sequence that alludes to Stevie Wonder. Then a seamless transition turns right into the hard charging blues of “My Soul.” Just as they did during the tour opener in Virginia Beach, Phish wastes no time in inviting the crowd to eat from the palm of their hand. The newly minted “Vultures” is delivered with remarkably crisp precision, and the American debut of “Bye Bye Foot” is awkwardly sweet. Of course, it’s the “Taste” that brings this show its fame, and the band is clearly inspired by the fire and brimstone crashing around them as they unleash a wildly intense jam.

The second set opens with a lengthy “Down With Disease” before hitting on of the most interesting moments of the performance. While jamming in a lower key, Trey tosses out a slow version of the opening riff to “Mike’s Song,” and the rest of the band gradually picks up on it, gaining in speed until the notes evolve into the correct tempo and key for the song. Before you know it, the band has jammed through the entire set, awkwardly winding down “Weekapaug Groove” in a weirdly dark and abrupt ending before embarking on an acapella barbershop quartet run through “Hello My Baby.” The encore downshifts a bit with the ballad of “When the Circus Comes to Town” and the heartfelt renderings of “Harry Hood.”

This DVD sounds and looks fantastic, and the five cameramen who captured this show truly did a yeoman’s job in completing their task under such treacherous weather conditions. Speaking of the spectacularly hazardous weather, it’s unfortunately not very apparent on this DVD, aside from a few audible cracks of thunder during “Taste.” While that’s a bit of a disappointment, it can be overlooked when Phish releases a show that flashes back to the olden days of this banddays when they were always vital and full of life and enthusiasm, days when they could astound you by ripping off ferocious riffs before busting out impressive barbershop harmonies, and days when Page McConnell was not only present in the mix but also stepping up to astound many an ear. Yes, this is Phish when they are riding a creative high. I’ll take more of this Phish, please.

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