Live Phish, Vol. 16

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Between 1996 and 1998, Phish turned from a lovable band of geeks to a band of (relatively) hard-partying geeks. For a while, it worked out great, and the band churned out great performances but, after a certain point, it manifested itself in a musical laziness. Beginning in 1998, the band tried desperately to channel this into an aesthetic of simplicity for simplicity's sake, but that was never a trait Phish excelled at. Their choice of the Velvet Underground's underground classic Loaded for their 1998 Halloween cover album reflected that desire. It certainly fit the bill. Unfortunately, the band didn't do the album much justice. The album contains some of Lou Reed's best vocal performances. The original "Sweet Jane," for example, is filled with great asides and vocal quirks that transform the number from a simple rock tune to something far more personal -- and something utterly lost in Phish's translation. That said, it was also the only Halloween album that the members of Phish allowed themselves to really stretch on, and -- if one happens to be a fan of both Phish and the Velvets -- it can be great fun to hear them work out on "Lonesome Cowboy Bill," "Rock & Roll," and others. The other two sets of the show accurately capture the best and worst of who Phish was in 1998, including a long, spacy take on "Wolfman's Brother" and the delightfully nuanced "Frankie Says" and "Roggae." The fourth disc of the set contains a great slice of the night before, which features some inspired segues, some of the cool ambient jamming the band was working on during this period, and the first released version of the band's a cappella arrangement of "Free Bird."

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