Phish | Star Lake '98 | Review

Sometimes we don't realize just how good we have it these days.  High Definition video has given us unparalled clarity, especially when it comes to live concert recordings.  In recent years Phish have embraced current technology and have given fans not only super clean live web streams of their shows, but also crisp high-def DVD recordings such as recent releases Alpine Valley 2010 and Live at Utica.

After being spoiled by these modern technologies, it can be a bit of a shock to watch video performances of the band from their early years in the 1990s.  The severely outdated production seems so ancient compared to what folks are accustomed to today (the difference in Chris Kuroda’s light rigs then and now is wildly apparent).  But once you look past the poor, grainy video seen on the new Star Lake ‘98 DVD release, a great show is revealed.  

This new concert film was recorded during the midst of their huge summer tour on August 11th at the Star Lake Amphitheater in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania.  According to management this is oddly the only full archival video footage captured from that 1998 summer run.

The visual picture and dulled stage lighting leaves so much to be desired when equated to modern standards, however the audio is still displayed very well (heard here in stereo PCM and Dolby Digital 5.1 surround).  The real magic of Star Lake ‘98 is listening to the spot-on presentations of the songs and cohesive jams; as well as watching the joyous youth exhibited by the band (especially the always playful Trey Anastasio) during one of their peak years of performing.

Outside of a 30-minute monstrous, groove-tastic “Runaway Jim” set two opener there are not a whole lot of stand-outs during this concert, though that doesn’t mean this show wasn’t full of excellent moments.  The band was definitely “on” this evening, evident in not only this absolutely must-hear “Jim” but also on flawless renditions of “Reba”, and the still young “Limb by Limb”.

Some other highlights include a superb “Wolfman’s Brother”, a super-charged version of “Maze”, the always dominating “Down with Disease”, and the double encore of “Wilson > Golgi Apparatus”.  Also seen are early and well-played covers of Bob Marley’s “Trench Town Rock” and Little Feat’s “Time Loves a Hero”.

There is nothing overly spectacular about Star Lake ‘98.  The show was certainly not the best of the tour, and some of their other archival video releases like Coral Sky and Walnut Creek stand above this in terms of overall performance.  Nevertheless it is still great to finally get a DVD release from the group’s fantastic 1998 summer tour.