Since it has been over four years that Phish has toured, it is easy to forget how exciting and inspiring it can be to watch them play. Though there has been a recent slew of delightful audio performances released, the emergence of the Walnut Creek DVD (recorded at the famed venue in North Carolina during their 1997 summer tour) finally gives fans another chance to have Phish illuminate their eyes as well.
There is nothing all that special about the overall visual experience of this live concert footage. Dark blue lighting throughout most of the performance did not lend for the best recording conditions, multiple shots are out of focus, and the many fade out transitions are overused. However, what makes this DVD so great is the fact that viewers will get to see them perform during one of the best periods in their history, when they were focused and just having fun.
This is evident right off the bat during the opening "Runaway Jim". Zoomed-in shots showing guitarist Trey Anastasio's fingers tickling the strings remind you of just how fucking incredible of a guitarist he is. Watching him wail away with his eyes fixed on a point in the crowd, mouth wide open, and his bushy red hair rocking back and forth is a great example of just how serious the band was in the mid-to-late 90s.
Another great illustration is the bluesy jam during "My Soul", where camera angles show Page McConnell berating his piano keys with extreme precision. Or the subtle grimaces drummer Jon Fishman displays at his drum kit during a rocking rendition of "Taste". The range each band member displays is a stunning lesson in music, and provides sensations of audio and visual bliss.
Though this performance was relatively short compared to many of Phish's usual three-hour marathons, it was packed with excellent song choices and great jams. Some other highlights from the first set include a slowed down yet bouncy version of "Water in the Sky", and a mesmerizing rendition of the rarely played gem "Vultures", which is full of psychedelic jams and floating melodies.
Set two begins with the monster concert favorite "Down with Disease", led by Mike Gordon's bubbly bass lines. The extended jam cruises along before slowing down into a seamless and steamy "Mike's Song". Usual fillers "Simple" and "I Am Hydrogen" flow into a solid "Weekapaug Groove". At this point all four musicians are still firing on all cylinders, and the band interplay is shockingly awesome, even throughout the encore of "Harry Hood".
Many fans will argue that Phish were at the top of their game during the summer of 1997 tour, and this Walnut Creek concert DVD lays evidence to that claim. It is a superb look back into the quartet near their best, and provides folks dying to see the band again a fix until the real thing comes back around.