Thursday, December 8, 2011

Review: Phish "Hampton/Winston-Salem '97" 7-CD Box Set

Words: Carly Shields 

Few Phish years are as fondly remembered as 1997 and even fewer tours are as coveted as the Fall ’97 “Phish Destroys America” Tour. Luckily, they’ve recently released a 3-night run from the tour: 2 golden nights at Hampton Coliseum, followed by an amazing stand-alone show in Winston-Salem, NC. All three shows are among the most requested from Phish's extensive live archives. Originally recorded live by Paul Languedoc and master by Fred Kevorkian, this release also included two previously unreleased sound-check tracks from each venue. Though those first two nights are heralded as the best shows of the tour, the third is not to be neglected for the value it brings to this collection.

This whole phenomenal runs opens with “Emotional Rescue,” a killer Rolling Stones cover on which Gordo, in his falsetto range, gives Mick a run for his money. The band tackles this first jam in a crisp, precise manner, and in the darkest depths, they transition into “Split Open and Melt.” Mike is the main focus into the song and we get taken through a weird, wild, and wonderful foray. An opening jaunt of this proportion is sure to mean good things to come; the band sounds relaxed, like they’re feeling the vibe, and are instantly ready to impress. Phish didn’t back down here, but instead played a few new (at the time) songs, like “Beauty of My Dreams” and “Dogs Stole Things,” which sound meticulously practiced but also fresh and exciting.

Set two kicked off with the “Ghost” heard ‘round the world, one that went down as the most epic “Ghost” to that date, and still possibly to this one. Its deep musical exploration stands apart from the rest of the song as a different element entirely; it bends and flows like a rolling ocean and you get swept out to sea with the jam. Before you know it, the beginning and middle of “AC/DC Bag” comes and goes and you’re lost in another, equally wondrous, but more lighthearted and floating, song. It’s hard not to make special mention of each song, because a set like this would be unheard of these days, but skipping right to the “Guyute” encore… I know, you’re probably saying, “Guyute encore? What on earth?! That’s just delightful!” Well, you’re absolutely right, and the musical expression of that delight is just as pleasing.

Moving into the second night of the run, those tricky boys treated that lucky audience to an outstanding, 35+ minute “Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove” that was followed by none other than “Harry Hood.” A combination like that is tremendous, unprecedented, and if you catch one in a lifetime, you’ve struck Phishy gold. Each of these grooves is so unique but connects seamlessly with the others, carrying a congruent theme throughout the mind-blowing sequence. The boys pull from every corner of their skill sets for these jams, incorporating influence from funk and jazz to the wavy space jams they were developing. “Train Song” and “Billy Breathes” gives everyone a little break from the madness, but they get right back into it with a “Frankenstein” that transitions into “Izabella” in the blink of an eye and leaves your mouth watering for more (hint hint boys, why has this never happened again?).

Set two of night two opens with a crowd chant for “Destiny Unbound,” to which Trey replies disapprovingly. They instead go into a quintessential “Halley’s Comet” that gets into serious type II jamming, where they completely diverge from the root song for the meat of the music and dive back in at the last minute, or sometimes not at all. That funky, meandering, out-of-this world version definitely overshadows the rest of the set, but “Black-Eyed Katy” stands out as well, and while the “Antelope” was no shining star compared to the vast star scape that was these three nights, it was a tight and classic way to cap off the set. I can usually take or leave “Bouncing Round the Room” but there was magic in the air that night, and even that is not a track to be missed. My heart hurt after listening to that CD, feeling the actual pain of being there and it ending.

Like that “Halley’s,” those two nights in Hampton overshadowed this last show included on the box set, but it puts up a good fight for the right to be there. “My Soul” opens the show, but it’s really “Theme From the Bottom” that gets it into action. Rather surprisingly, another “BEK” follows, nearly twice as long and twice as intricate as the night before. “Twist” gets a little twisted but for the most part, the set stays pretty in the box as far as wild jamming goes. The smooth slide from “Stash” to “NICU” and the jam surrounding it is the set highlight, but closing the set with “Fluffhead” and “Character Zero” only made it that much better.

A second set takes the show to the next level, and is the reason it can easily be compared to the two before it. A “Bathtub Gin” opener would have satisfied on it’s own, but this was a particularly epic “Gin” to kick off an exceptional set. Clocking in at 31 minutes, the boys switch leading roles, explore faster beats, and move in and out of different styles, sometimes in their familiar realm, but often not. As if this all wasn’t enough, Phish then goes into a “Down With Disease > Low Rider> DWD” sandwich that follows suit with the rest of these monumental demonstrations of music.

Literally every song in this collection that was played over those three unforgettable nights in 1997 is a total gem in it’s own right. While Phish is certainly on their way back to this kind of show, we haven’t seen much like it since their return, but to witness it would be priceless. Don’t forget the two soundcheck tracks, one they’re calling the “Hampton Soundcheck Jam” and the second, “Back at the Chicken Shack” from Winston-Salem. This is not a recording you want to miss out on, and if you have to stream it free on Spotify (thanks, Phish!) before you buy it, go do it now!

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Video: Brendan Bayliss & Jake Cinninger Acoustic Set 5.27.11 Summercamp Music Festival

For the ninth straight year this weekend, Brendan and Jake of Umphrey's McGee will take the stage with their acoustics to treat fans to their annual Holiday Show at Chicago's intimate Park West. As a preview, we have Brendan & Jake's complete acoustic set from this past summers Summercamp Music Festival (only one known to be in circulation). Special thanks to long-time UM fan, Xan Bonneau, for the hat-tip and recording this contribution. 


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