Thursday, April 28, 2011

Phish: "Live Phish 20: 12-29-94" (2003) CD Review

This two-disc set contains the entire concert that Phish performed at the Providence Civic Center in Providence, Rhode Island on December 29, 1994.

The concert captured on this CD was right when Phish was becoming really well known, and the venues they were playing were getting much bigger. By the next year, the band would have even more fans going on tour, due to the death of Jerry Garcia and the end of the Grateful Dead. A lot of Dead fans made the transition to Phish. And the scene got too big.

Phish is best in a more intimate setting. Still, at this relatively large venue in Providence, the band put on an excellent show.

First Disc Starts With "Runaway Jim"
The show starts with a fun version of "Runaway Jim." A lot of the jam in this song is driven by Mike Gordon's bass. From there they go right into "Foam" and it's the bass that takes them there. "Foam" is a somewhat frantic song at times. The vocals to this song are always fun.

"If I Could" is a pretty song, originally released on Hoist, which came out earlier the same year as this concert. "Uncle Pen" is a Bill Monroe cover, and Phish does a great version of it. These guys can sing. This is just a fun and bright song.

"I Didn't Know"

"I Didn't Know" is a wonderful, silly tune with goofy lyrics. It starts off with an acappella section. The band sings, "I didn't know/I didn't know that I was that far gone." Their voices sound good. Jon Fishman is then introduced as "Mr. Luke Skywalker" when he does his vacuum solo. Yes, a vacuum solo. This is one of the reasons Phish has just never translated well to larger venues. The audience needs to be close - they need to be able to see the band.


The first set ended that night with the wonderful "Possum." This song has a fun beat, and is one to get 'em dancing. Not that Phish fans ever needed much prodding in that direction. "I was riding down the road one day/Someone hit a possum/The road was his end."


Phish has never been known for having deep or introspective or insightful lyrics. And that's fine. That's not what it's about. That being said, the lyrics to "Guyute" are particularly stupid. This is how the song starts: "Guyute was the ugly pig/Who walked on me and danced a jig/That he had learned when he was six/Then stopped and did some other tricks." But the music is so much fun. They should have left this one as an instrumental, because the instrumental sections to this song are phenomenal.

"David Bowie"

The second disc starts off with a 35-minute version of "David Bowie." To illustrate once again that Phish is not about the lyrics, here are all of the lyrics to this song: "David Bowie/David Bowie/David Bowie/David Bowie/David Bowie/David Bowie/David Bowie/David Bowie/UB40/UB40/UB40/UB40/UB40/UB40/UB40/UB40." Okay? And the song is awesome. Seriously, it's a fantastic song. The band really stretches out on this one, and there is some really nice piano work by Page McConnell. Toward the end of this version, there is some whistling and joking about Lassie.

The next two songs are two of their most fun: "Halley's Comet" and "The Lizards." The versions here are really good, and the first song leads directly into the second.

Cover Songs

The second set ends with a couple of covers: Neil Diamond's "Cracklin' Rosie" and Led Zeppelin's "Good Times, Bad Times." The encores are "My Long Journey Home" and "Sleeping Monkey."

CD Track List

Disc 1:

  1. Runaway Jim >
  2. Foam
  3. If I Could
  4. Split Open And Melt
  5. The Horse >
  6. Silent In The Morning
  7. Uncle Pen
  8. I Didn't Know
  9. Possum
  10. Guyute

Disc 2:

  1. David Bowie
  2. Halley's Comet >
  3. The Lizards
  4. Cracklin' Rosie
  5. Good Times, Bad Times
  6. My Long Journey Home
  7. Sleeping Monkey

Phish is a very different band from the Grateful Dead. There are similarities, of course. Basically both bands are made up of excellent musicians, and both bands play two sets at their concerts, doing some extended jamming during certain songs. Both are about the live experience. And there the similarities end.

The type of music, the feel of the songs, the way the music is constructed are all very different. Also, when performing live, Phish uses a pre-determined set list, something the Grateful Dead never did (though they do often veer off from it). Phish is a bit sillier. Their lyrics are completely unlike anything that Robert Hunter or John Barlow wrote for the Dead.

Phish is Trey Anastasio on guitar and vocals, Jon Fishman on drums and vocals(and vacuum cleaner), Mike Gordon on bass and vocals, and Page McConnell on keyboards and vocals.

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