Fans of Phish have been excited to receive a handful of official show releases over the past year, not to mention a bunch of great downloads and even a DVD concert. Each one has given the listener a look back at the band at certain periods in their history, and reminds them just how incredible this group was back in the day.
Having heard most of them myself, I realized the band took great steps in choosing which shows to release. The show from May of 1993 recorded in New Hampshire brilliantly captured the group at a time when they were really making a mark for themselves and were on the verge of exploding in popularity.
Another release captured the quartet near the end of 1997 in Dayton, Ohio and might be one of the best performances I have heard from the band. The funky cover of "Psycho Killer" and the soulful flow of "Jesus Just Left Chicago" highlighted that magnificent evening.
Shortly after these two shows became available the group released another concert that was recorded during their Europe tour in the summer of '98, specifically at the Lucerna Theater in the city of Prague. Having finally had time to absorb this show, I would have to say that of all the issues this is the weakest of the bunch. This is not to say it was an awful performance, but there are moments when the band is flat out sloppy.
For example, the opening "Buried Alive" is dragged down and littered with poor guitar playing by Trey Anastasio. The song was used in many performances as an opener to get the crowd going, but this version failed to do that. The following "AC/DC Bag" is also sub-par, not quite as energetic as the many times I have heard them play it.
Most of the first set in general is pretty weak by Phish standards; however there are a few bright spots in the middle. An extended and quite funky version of "Ghost" starts off a bit rocky, but really picks up not only in speed but cohesiveness throughout its lengthy jam. Listening to this a few times I realized this might have been one of the better versions of this dark and spacey tune.
From "Ghost" they ride the wave into the Talking Heads' cover "Cities", which begins much faster than normal renditions, but comes about full circle near the middle to its more familiar sound. It is actually a very cool transition, and proves to be the silver lining in an otherwise choppy set.
The second set starts with the staple "Julius", followed by "Meat", then the jam-building "Piper". These three songs are usually excellent to hear live, but again they lack the usual tightness during this performance. Yet all is not lost, as the remainder of the show provides some excellent music.
A fun version of "Makisupa Policeman" gives way to a fiery, thirteen-minute jam heavy "David Bowie". The evening concludes with an extended, superb cover of the Rolling Stones' classic "Loving Cup". I absolute love when Phish covered this tune in concert, and the one displayed here is definitely a gem.
I hate to be too critical of Phish, because in my mind they still stand as some of the absolute best live musicians on the planet. But even the boys in the group would be the first to admit that not every gig was great. The setlist for this Prague show was full of excellent song choices, but not all of them were performed that well. However, there are some bright spots that allow me to definitely recommend this concert to release to any real fans looking to hear some of that good old stuff again.