Less than halfway through Phish's Hampton/Winston-Salem '97, it's very clear what distinguishes these shows, documented in this seven-CD box, as singular entries in the band's pantheon of concert performances. The funk pervading this music makes a consistent backdrop for lengthy improvisations, the likes of which merely sprawled earlier in the group's career.
Entries like the segue from "Ghost" into "AC/DC Bag" are not so sharply defined, but nonetheless provide continuity to the performance. No loose ends dangle within these eight hours of playing; evidence that, slightly less than a decade-and-a-half into the group's partnership, the instrumental interplay had reached an extremely tight intricacy. That the group retained the safety net of the beat is, in retrospect, a wise move, thought it threatens at times to reduce their sound to an acceptable level of background music: "Slave to the Traffic Light," for instance, is worth savoring for its delicate melody alone.
Hampton/Winston-Salem '97 further illustrates the pliability of Phish's material. Tunes such as "Harry Hood" take on wholly different character filtered through rubbery syncopation the likes of which appears on the third CD. Then again, "Mike's Song" and "I Am Hydrogen" more or less retain their shape; the couplet a propulsive inclusion during which the band and its audience become mutually enlivened, though not as recklessly as during the set closer proper, "Run Like An Antelope."
Phish was only slightly less inspired on the following show of the tour. The cumulative effect that would appear to peak with the November 22nd encores of "Bouncing Around the Room" and "Tweezer Reprise" continues on into the next night's show in a clarity of recorded sound that compels close listening on its own terms.
Which, in turn, reveals how funk is an affect for the group, and not a particularly earthy sort either, with the instrumental "Black Eyed Katy" refining a cerebral approach that Steely Dan
thought they'd perfected twenty years before this show occurred.
The real revelation on the final disc, however, is the filler. One track is an excursion into self-created ether, establishing some guidelines for the group to abide by when they reach that rarified atmosphere during a show. The other, "Back at the Chicken Shack," finds Phish executing a set of blues changes so smoothly that the genre might be as much of an influence on the group as Frank Zappa
With only the necessary credits, past and present, included in the four-page insert within the boxhistorical perspective relegated, as usual, relegated to Phish's websitethe individual CD sleeves can be assembled, front and back, to reveal the continuity of the cover graphics, inside and outan attention to detail that accurately reflects the music it encloses.
Track Listing: CD1: Emotional Rescue > Split Open And Melt; Beauty Of My
Dreams; Dogs Stole Things; Punch You In The Eye > Lawn Boy
> Chalk Dust Torture; Prince Caspian; CD2: Ghost > AC/DC Bag
> Slave To The Traffic Light; Loving Cup; Guyute. CD3: Mike's Song
> I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove; Harry Hood > Train Song;
Breathes; Frankenstein > Izabella. CD4: Halley's Comet > Tweezer
> Black-Eyed Katy > Piper > Run Like An Antelope; Bouncing Around
The Room > Tweezer Reprise. CD5: My Soul; Theme From The
Bottom > Black-Eyed Katy; Sparkle; Twist > Stash > NICU. CD6:
Fluffhead > Character Zero; Bathtub Gin > Down With Disease > Low
Rider > Down With Disease. CD7: Bold As Love; Julius. Filler from
11/21/97 Hampton Soundcheck: Hampton '97 Soundcheck Jam; Back
At The Chicken Shack.
Personnel: Trey Anastasio: guitar, vocals; Jon Fishman: drums, vocals; Mike
Gordon: bass, vocals; Page McConnell: keyboards, vocals.