Phish

Live Phish, Vol. 8: 7/10/99, E Centre, Camden, NJ

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Live Phish, Vol. 08 -- recorded between 1998's "Story of the Ghost" and 2000's Farmhouse -- documents some of Phish's most mature and focused improvisation, as well as their dynamics. Almost entirely gone is the band's early sense of humor. In its place comes a peaceable, occasionally unremarkable, dignity. In three separate jams, almost methodically, the band moves from a big-energy song into an evolved improvisation before bringing the music down gently into a quiet ballad. In the first set, a long "Chalk Dust Torture" wends its way into "Roggae." In the second set, the longtime jam showcase "Tweezer" segues into the previously unreleased "Mountains in the Mist." Later, "Birds of a Feather" melts into a cover of Los Lobos' "When the Circus Comes." The center around which this music rotates is bassist Mike Gordon, who -- beginning around the time the live Slip, Stich, and Pass was recorded, in 1997 -- contributed gorgeous, cleanly defined upper-register basslines. These lines give the band a center to organize around. The band had worked hard at playing ballads for several years, starting in 1996 (documented on Live Phish, Vol. 12 and Billy Breathes), and this performance shows the fruits of their labors. Unfortunately, the band doesn't fare as well on the mid-tempo numbers. The first set features a plodding cover of jazz organist Jimmy Smith's "Back at the Chicken Shack," as well as an uninspired version of their own "Water in the Sky." The band's interests are clearly shown as they tackle "Fluffhead," one of guitarist Trey Anastasio's earliest and toughest compositions. The band moves through the sections with some ease, and even brings the song to a rousing finale, but does so without the exuberance evident in their earlier renditions of the tune (such as on Live Phish, Vol. 09 and Live Phish, Vol. 10).

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