Niagara Falls

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Given Phish's musical renaissance after their reunion in 2008, revisiting the band's past is often useful for the purpose of hearing just what made them such a dominant force on the early jam band scene in the first place. This date, recorded at the Niagara Falls Convention Center in December of 1995, is a prime example. Its fold-out digipack of three discs includes the entire concert, along with the soundcheck performance of "Poor Heart" added as a bonus (as well as a download card). The sound captured is simply pristine; the show is top flight. It opens with the bluegrass chestnut "Old Home Place" before commencing with "The Curtain," which transitions into "AC/DC/ Bag" and "Demand." There are also ambitious, extended workouts of "Slave to the Traffic Light" and Possum." It's all flight from here. The second disc highlights include "Split Open and Melt," the medley of "Strange Design" and "Taste," and a long reading of "Reba." The final disc opens with "Sleeping Monkey," which transitions seamlessly into "Sparkle" before morphing yet again into "Mike's Song"; all tolled, it's over 25 minutes. It's not just Phish's tight command of the material that's so remarkable, but the improvisational interplay that takes place inside an intricate, often knotty set of musical parameters. As evidenced by Niagara Falls, playing and performing like this set the band apart in the early years -- before they were given to excess bullshitting at the turn of the century. There isn’t any of that here; it's all kinetic, and hot, top to bottom.

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