Live Phish, Vol. 11

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With a new minimalist funk approach (discovered during the March 1997 show documented on Slip, Stich & Pass), Phish set out to fill arenas not with the propulsive flurries of notes that had marked their earlier efforts (see Live Phish, Vol. 10, recorded in June 1994, for an example) but with spacious grooves that could hang comfortably in the vast air of cavernous arenas. Though they'd worked on it to some success throughout the summer of 1997, they didn't have their breakthrough until the early fall. Recorded a scant four shows into the tour, this November 1997 outing from Denver, CO, was a quick favorite of both the band and their fans. Apparently intended for release at some earlier point, the band mentioned it repeatedly throughout The Phish Book (published in the fall of 1998), saying that they listened to the version of "Ghost" from this performance every remaining night of the tour on their bus. Indeed, it is an incredible rendition of the song, spanning just over 20 minutes with unique grooves that manage to be both beautifully psychedelic and deeply funky. The rest of the first set, including a gorgeous "Reba," is also top-notch. The second set, which mostly finds itself hanging in frustrating blues grooves (including a mostly soulless warp-speed reading of Chuck Berry's oft-covered "Johnny B. Goode") isn't nearly as interesting (though the 11-minute so-called "Denver Jam" is as weird and woolly as anything from the experimental Siket Disc). The third disc contains filler tracks from a few nights later, recorded in Illinois, including a half-hour version of "Wolfman's Brother" that slips in and out of relevance. When it's on, however, it positively cooks. The music on Live Phish, Vol. 11 is about as far as the band could get from their early-'90s efforts while still being the same band. The band's jamming is patient where it used to be hyper, concentrating on expanding a limited set of ideas to their fullest degrees. It is this approach that set the course for the next four years of Phish's career, before they began their touring hiatus in late 2000.

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