Phish | Niagra Falls '95 | Review

After the grand way the band has been performing the last few years, we can sometimes forget how much Phish used to dominate the 90s live music scene.  By the winter of 1995 the band was still performing slightly under the radar and these four musical wizards were summoning magic on-stage nightly.  The band is currently in the midst of an excellent fall tour, and with another winter looming has offered up an archival release from that distinguished period, this being from their December 7th 1995 show at the Niagara Falls Convention Center in Niagara Falls, New York. 

The performance marked the only visit the band has ever made to the border city, and while the temperatures outside the venue were absolutely frigid the music inside was simply scorching.  Phish were positively on fire from start to finish that night, and this full-show release provides a great snapshot of the band as they were becoming extremely comfortable moving on from playing in small theaters to large arenas, proving that they were becoming a musical force with which to be reckoned.

As usual the sound captured by then recording engineer Paul Languedoc (and mastered by Fred Kevorkian) is amazing.  Never one to short change their fans the group has complemented the CDs with one of the evening’s sound checked tunes (a delightful, slowed-down and countrified version of “Poor Heart”), a download code to receive MP3s of the show, and some choice video snippets of the show as well.

This concert was ripe with highlights, and particular attention must be paid to certain selections set by set.  The first half of the performance opened with a sterling run of “The Old Home Place”, “The Curtain”, and “AC/DC Bag”.  The transition from “Curtain” into “AC/DC Bag” was smooth and seamless, and as Trey belted out “let’s get this show on the road” you can tell he meant it.  This version kept building and building to a fantastic climax, and must be considered as one of the best renditions of that era.

Other first set peaks include a soaring, tension-and-release filled “Slave to the Traffic Light”, the enigmatic prog-rocker “Guyute”, as well as a great version of the classic live staple “Possum”.

The second set of the evening would prove to be even more intense, complete with long and winding improvisational jams during most of the songs.  After the obligatory “Audience Chess Move” popular during the ’95 tour, the band laid down a whopping 17-minute “Split Open and Melt”.  The jam section was experimental, maniacal, and out-of-this-world to say the least.  Prepare to get your weird on listening to this beast, but as Alec Baldwin’s iconic character Jack Donaghy (30 Rock) once quipped, “it’s a good weird...like going to the gym, drunk”.

The incendiary jams continued with a super-charged “Reba” that was full of peaks and valleys (hold on for the ride, you might want to buckle up for this one), a rollicking “Julius”, and an ensuing “Mike’s Song>Weekapaug Groove” that went on a 31-minute voyage to space and beyond.

Nothing was typical about this pairing;  “Weekapaug” did not end on its usual landing pad, and there was no filler between the bread (not even “I Am Hydrogen”) though they demonstrated to be meaty enough on their own.  This version of “Mike’s Song” is fast and furious, and although the transition into “Weekapaug” was a little sloppy it nevertheless gave birth to a wildly enthusiastic jam.  The ethereal groove skyrocketed into the stratosphere before it eventually faded out like a shooting star.

When all was said and done, the band had essentially bookended the night with bluegrass covers (“The Old Home Place” opener and “Uncle Pen” encore, respectively), concluded both sets with barbershop flair (“Hello My Baby” and “Amazing Grace”), and straight up commanded the other songs around them.  An unforgettable performance is an understatement.

After 30 years together the band is still playing light-outs most every night during their tours, and though their sound and song selection are different today than 18 years ago they continue to push the boundaries of what a live band can do.  The fact they are still performing regularly, all the while consistently releasing great sounding classic shows like this one, make this an amazing time to be a Phish fan.

Niagara Falls 1995 is available for pre-order now at Phish Dry Goods, and will be available for purchase on November 12th in stores as well as via download at livephish.com

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