Titles from the Phish archives now reflect not only on the band’s long-term history ,but also the progress the quartet’s made since they reunited at Hampton Coliseum in March of 2009. Accordingly, the Star Lake ’98 DVD demonstrates the unconventional approach Phish can adopt for maximum impact in their multi-set shows, while The Palace of Auburn Hills CD set (in strikingly redesigned LivePhish packaging) offers insight into how the group builds cumulative momentum during the course of a single evening’s performance
Much is made of the numerous covers on the summer 1998 tour and rightly so. The one-time appearance of Bob Marley’s "Trench Town Rock" opener and a rare performance of Little Feat’s "Time Loves a Hero" add to the historical significance of the evening, aligning it with many other unique, and hopefully future selections from the ‘summer of covers’ tour. Following format adopted in much of 3.0 era Phish, the first set is a playful rocker, and the golden jewels come in the early portions of set two. The 30+ minute "Runaway Jim" meanders and sways before Trey Anastasio locks in and leads the jam into murky deep waters. The still new to the repertoire pairing of ‘Meat" and "Limb By Limb" build on the the momentum and take on a fierce energy before cascading into the soft landing of the Los Lobos ballad, "When The Circus Comes."
Taken from the video lawn feed of this shed show, there’s nothing striking about the cinematography on this DVD, but judicious superimpositions of Anastasio and close-ups of Jon Fishman’s work become bonafide vintage highlights. In the audio department, Paul Languedoc’s recording is immaculate as preserved by Jon Altschiller’s mixes in stereo and 5.1 surround sound. Star Lake 98 is essential viewing for late-90s fans as well as those just discovering the band’s rich history.
The December 6, 1997 release reaffirms its hallowed status as one of the greatest performances in the band’s almost 30 year history. A demonstration of telepathic intensity that left audiences and performers equally breathless, 12/6/97 presents Phish at a period of unassuming dominance. In a time when improv-heavy, exploratory second sets barreled through you like a downhill semi with no brakes, this night captures it all. "Tweezer > Izabella > Twist > Piper > Sleeping Monkey > Tweezer Reprise" is a thing of legend. Not a powerful segment, but an entire set start to finish. It’s as close to perfection as a rock band can get.
The collective expertise and mutual empathy of the band has returned incrementally since 2009, and recent shows witnessed many moments of brilliance. There may not be a standout TKO like Auburn Hills or the Star Lake "Runaway," but these glimpses into the past nevertheless provide benchmarks of the inspiring ascent since the opening notes of "Fluffhead" almost four years ago.