Live Phish, Vol. 12

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Though the performance is filled with rarities that will appeal to the band's longtime fans, Live Phish, Vol. 12 mostly shows the band in the malaise they entered following their last great year of barnstorming performances in 1995, but before they reinvented themselves as a consummate arena funk act in 1997. Much of the year was spent searching for a sound. Historically, then, this performance from August 1996 -- recorded three days before the band's legendary Clifford Ball Festival -- is interesting. Notably, the show features early acoustic performances of several numbers that would be included on Billy Breathes (released later that year), including "Train Song" and "Waste." These sorts of ballads were still quite new to the band, and it is evident that they still hadn't quite learned how to play them live yet. Later, such as on Farmhouse and Live Phish, Vol. 08, the band would become quite adept at playing simultaneously very quietly and with great force. They also moved forward in another important aspect. Throughout the fall of 1995 and much of 1996, guitarist Trey Anastasio had a small percussion kit set up in his spot on-stage, which he would occasionally play during jams. The purpose of this was to encourage keyboardist Page McConnell to step out more. Anastasio lets this happen about halfway through a 23-minute jam on "Mike's Song." It was a good move -- both in the long term and in the moment. The jam becomes far more interesting and creative the second McConnell steps to the forefront. More importantly, the increased spotlight gave McConnell a confidence that allowed the band to create their all-members-equal funk sound in 1997 (see Slip, Stich, and Pass and Live Phish, Vol. 11). For these reasons, Live Phish, Vol. 12 will be interesting to the band's fans, but -- with a few exceptions (such as the McConnell theremin solo on "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and some good song playing in the first set) -- this disc simply isn't for neophytes.

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