Phish: Live in '93, '97 and '98


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Originally conceived in 2001 to document Phish's previously-recorded live adventures while the band was in hiatus, the LivePhish series has evolved into a much more purposeful project since the band went into retirement in 2004.

Offering digital downloads as well as eco-friendly CD packaging, the series is extending the legacy of the band by emphasizing the subtleties of their live approach through the different phases of their career. The most fascinating aspect of Phish's evolution is that it's not a straight-ahead progression. In the process of evolving as an improvising group, Phish took sidesteps to foster an ever-increasing sophistication.

5/8/93 UNH Fieldhouse, Durham NH

Complete performances such as that from the UNH Fieldhouse in Durham, New Hampshire proceed at such a pace, the uninformed may think they're edited to comprise the lightning turns through "Mound" and "Stash." But this is merely the sound of a band on a roll: Phish were at a point in their career here in May of 1993 where their collective and individual inspiration meshed in a seemingly unending flow of ideas.

Which may or may not be in contrast to they way they sounded right at the end in 2004 (a topic for debate to be sure). Regardless, the spooky incantation of "Kung" here, unlike at Brooklyn eleven years later, provides dynamics to the set in a way that will prompt pondering how this quartet developed in the relative solitude of the Green Mountains (perhaps that's the key: limited interference from media or an intrusive scene).

The first set of the New Hampshire show in and of itself might well serve as another band's entire performance, even today when multi-set concerts are de rigueur. A show in Dayton Ohio four years later is something else again, with covers of outside material serving as touchpoints of Phish's influences in an otherwise seamless presentation beginning with the powerhouse opening of AC/DC Bag," Talking Head's "Psycho Killer" and over ten minutes of "Jesus Just Left Chicago."

The band is absolutely soaring by the time an equally extended "Theme From the Bottom" kicks in, its humble beginnings morphing into a funk groove as spacey as it is earthy. Guitarist Trey Anastasio and bassist Mike Gordon work the rhythm at the outset, as drummer Jon Fishman becomes a human metronome in the best possible sense of that description, while keyboardist Page McConnell moves from synthesizer to the glimmering sounds of electric piano. This is the stuff of which the band's 1998 "Island Tour" became legendary (at least within Phish circles) and rightfully so; that the group wasn't relegated to such rarified moments at just a single point of their career is at the root of fascination with them, as their history unfolds in greater detail.

Fred Kevorkian deserves props for mastering these expert two-track recordings of sound engineer Paul Languedoc's in such a way no listener has to work to focus on an individual instrument. The otherwise no- frills access to these shows makes sense especially when you consider the web savvy of fans who already know many of these shows from previous downloads (the new ones re remastered both on-line and on disc). Accordingly, archivist Kevin Shapiro's literate and insightful essays no doubt get attention, but perhaps would garner more if also printed in an equally streamlined form, with photos, to be included in the tri-fold package of CDs.

12/7/97 Ervin J Nutter Center, Dayton OH

As depicted by the way the four musicians move through "Reba" on disc two of this Dayton gig, one of Phish's most distinct attributes is the way they maintain a sense of distinct ensemble playing even when Anastasio steps to the fore. It doesn't take the discerning ear of their fanbase to appreciate the changes the quartet enact as they move through "Guyute" and "Possum," both of which tunes become unrecognizable as the band speeds at breakneck pace again, as when the show opened, or luxuriate in languor.

The contrast effectively sets the tone for a most appropriate encore: a more than just dutifully rendered version of The Beatles' "A Day in the Life," where the contrasting section of the Lennon/McCartney tune becomes a reflection of Phish's own compositions and playing (not to mention their own distinct personalities).

Clearly, this is no group inclined to avoid challenges, which is no doubt why they placed themselves in Europe playing small venues in the summer of 1998, when they were otherwise filling amphitheatres in America (during which time they were filmed for what became the movie Bittersweet Motel). Yet using rented equipment for two nights at the Lucerna Theatre in Prague didn't result in many jarring transitions like that which occurs between "Buried Alive" and another "AC/DC Bag." No doubt that's merely a means of maintaining the whole of this show on just two discs (not counting the astutely chosen filler that comprises most of disc three of Durham, a selection from soundchecks and shows in Albany New York shows just prior to this northeast stop).

7/6/98 Lucerna Theatre, Prague, Czech Republic

The ease of entry into "Ghost" more than compensates. Here Trey Anastasio fortifies his status as modern guitar hero. This is also where the group began to become more conventional and less idiosyncratic, but if that is so, there's a flash of self-awareness in the shtick of their thanks to the audience, as well as in the variation on a blues progression that begins the second set in the form of "Julius." The sensation is further enhanced during "David Bowie" by the intertwining of Anastasio's guitar and McConnell's acoustic piano, as they are joined by the jostling rhythm of Gordon's instrument and Fishman's insistent drumming. This transformation effectively removes this passage from easy categorization as modern jazz.

That interlude is little less wondrous than the transition to yet another frenetic close in the form of the Rolling Stones' "Loving Cup," where the opening stanza becomes perhaps another self-referential comment (..."I'm stumblin'/I know I play a bad guitar..."). It's a tribute to Phish's individualism that they never succumbed to the obligatory encore, though they always seemed to relish playing the show closer, "Possum."

There's some subliminal friction, albeit that of the most creative kind, under the surface of this music. Consequently, it should broaden any listener's perspective on the band, even those who already know this performance by heart. Perhaps even the bandmembers themselves might recognize it for the positive force that it is, if they heard it today with the benefit of hindsight.

Tracks and Personnel

5/8/93 UNH Fieldhouse, Durham NH

Tracks: CD1:Chalk Dust Torture; Guelah Papyrus; Rift; Mound; Stash/ Kung/Stash; Glide; My Friend, My Friend; Reba Trey Thanks; Satin Doll; Cavern. CD2:David Bowie/Jessica/David Bowie/Have Mercy/David Bowie; The Horse/Silent In The Morning/It's Ice/The Squirming Coil/Big Ball Jam/Mike's Song/Crossroads/Mike's SongI Am Hydrogen/Weekapaug Groove. CD3:Amazing GraceAmazing Grace Instrumental; AC/DC Bag. Filler: Shaggy Dog; Tweezer; Tela; You Enjoy Myself.

Personnel: Trey Anastasio: guitar and vocals; Jon Fishman: drums and vocals; Mike Gordon: bass and vocals; Page McConnell: keyboards and vocals.

12/7/97 Ervin J Nutter Center, Dayton OH

Tracks: CD1: AC/DC Bag/Psycho Killer/Jesus Just Left Chicago; My Mind's Got a Mind of its Own; It's Ice/Swept Away/Steep/It's Ice/Theme from the Bottom; Tube; Dayton Jam; Slave to the Traffic Light. CD2: Timber (Jerry the Mule)/Wolfman's Brother/Boogie On Reggae Woman/Reba; Guyute; Possum; A Day in the Life.

Personnel: Trey Anastasio: guitar and vocals; Jon Fishman: drums and vocals; Mike Gordon: bass and vocals; Page McConnell: keyboards and vocals.

7/6/98 Lucerna Theatre, Prague, Czech Republic

Tracks: CD1: Buried Alive/AC/DC Bag/Ghost/Cities; Limb By Limb; Train Song; Roggae; Maze; Golgi Apparatus. CD2: Julius/Meat/Piper/Makisupa Policeman; David Bowie; Loving Cup; Possum.

Personnel: Trey Anastasio: guitar and vocals; Jon Fishman: drums and vocals; Mike Gordon: bass and vocals; Page McConnell: keyboards and vocals.

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