Years ago when trading cassette tapes of live Phish shows was all the rage, I remember coming across this historic performance and just being in awe of the amazing energy and enigmatic jams heard throughout this show.
You can imagine my joy to hear that the Vermont quartet was going to release a digitally mastered recording of this glorious evening. And it couldn't sound better. They have mixed a perfect balance between the band and audience cheers, making it almost feel like you are there.
If you were there you already know how extraordinary this show was, and this is a great opportunity to relive one of the best and well-known pieces of Phish history. Recorded at the Aladdin Theater during the group's first stint in Las Vegas, this performance capped off a highly successful year for the band and helped to propel them into musical stardom.
The first disc of Vegas 96 comes out strong with the set opening gem "Wilson". Other highlights offered here include a dark and jazzy "2001", and a simply smokin' cover of the Edgar Winter rockumental piece "Frankenstein". A twenty-six minute "You Enjoy Myself" is very retrospective as it provides moments of sloppiness, but also spectacular musicianship evident throughout the improvisational solos laid down by bassist Mike Gordon and guitarist Trey Anastasio.
Disc two in this collection is by far the most solid, apparent not only by song selection but also in the cohesiveness of the improvisation presented here. A monster collection of "Mike's Song>Simple>Harry Hood>Weekapaug Groove" paints a distinct picture of what made this band so incredibly amazing in concert during the mid-90s.
The third and final disc may seem a little odd to the passive listener; however it is one of great importance as it contains the extended encore of this evening that was complete with stage theatrics and unique special guests.
The band had returned to the stage to perform the ballad of "Harpua", the strange but interesting tale of a boy and his cat who take on various adventures in the mind of Trey Anastasio. This story-tale was accompanied by members of Primus (Les Claypool and Larry LaLonde), guitarist John McEuen, some female yodelers, and four Elvis Presley impersonators; all of whom added their respective talents and songs/stories to the grand scheme.
The show concludes with the concert favorite "Suzy Greenberg", which saw all of the special guests sharing the stage at once. It is probably the most memorable versions of this song ever performed, and one of the main reasons I could never take the cassette copy I so loved out of my deck.
Vegas 96 captures the band at the height of their best days, and provides the listener with three discs of pure joy. Listening to this performance in its entirety definitely made me long for the days of college show tours, bad parking lot experiences, and grooving to the sounds of one of the greatest live acts to ever grace the stage.