Hampton Comes Alive

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Like the Grateful Dead, the line on Phish runs a little like this -- they make sense in concert, but never quite gel on record. However, the Dead's true character revealed itself because they thrived on improvisations; it wasn't quite the same with Phish, because the live experience revealed the band's humor, taste, eclecticism, and (foremost) skill, not just their character. Thing is, a lot of this, particularly skill, is evident on the band's studio albums. So, what do two full evenings of Phish -- four sets to be exact -- on the six-disc box set Hampton Comes Alive offer? Well, not any revelations or anything unexpected -- just the fullest representation of the band yet available. Everything evident on Hampton Comes Alive, a live album consisting of four sets recorded on two dates in late November 1998, is present on one or another of Phish's studio albums, but never in one place at the same time, as it is here. Furthermore, the group's eclecticism, stretched to a full-length running time, becomes stunning, since it all seems seamless. Their covers don't seem cutesy or condescending when they're placed among the band's original freewheeling genre-hopping, and that's not a minor point. Phish prides itself on its taste, not only in covers but in its own writing, and here they prove that they're right, because they not only deliver everything with conviction, but put a slight spin on it to make it their own. Even if this isn't your thing, you'd be hard pressed to listen to Hampton Comes Alive and not agree that this is a band of exceptional talent. This is the kind of record that converts doubters -- it's just too bad that its hefty price tag makes it a reasonable purchase only for the dedicated.

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