Live Phish, Vol. 01

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Recorded near the end of their long fall 1995 touring season, the first release in the first batch of releases from Phish's extensive live archives features the group near the peak of their geeky period, ready to begin their ascent into the arena rockers they became for the last three years of their career. Capped by a note-perfect rendition of Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein," the ten-song first set/first disc provides a typical glimpse into Phish's eclectic songbook, veering from the Spin Doctors-on-speed rage of "Llama" to the polyrhythmic jazz abstraction of "Foam" to the faux reggae of the previously unreleased "Makisupa Policeman" to the sweet lullaby of "Tela" (an excerpt from guitarist Trey Anastasio's unissued art rock opus The Man Who Stepped into Yesterday). It is not until the second disc that the band angles into serious improvisation with a nearly unbroken sequence of songs and jams. Recorded a year after their first live album, A Live One (1995), one can hear traces of the dissonant explorations highlighted on that set, albeit in significantly tightened-up form, including a focused segue from "Tweezer" into blues singer Josh White's chunky "Timber." The highlights of the set come with the improvisations on "Halley's Comet" and "NICU," two songs not usually infused with jams. Here, the band wreaks intentional havoc on the tunes' tempos, speeding up and slowing together with a near psychic precision (especially as they move into the ska-live rhythm of "NICU"). Though it is not the finest document of their work, Live Phish, Vol. 1 does well with the artfully wild inventiveness that marked the quartet's early years.

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