Live In Brooklyn

Phish

At the peak of their powers, Phish could be bewildering in their originality and conquest to try new things or do things a different way, no matter what the consequences were. It wasn’t always pretty. Now on their second hiatus this century — although, for the record, guitarist Trey Anastasio initially said the group was done for — the Vermont foursome burned rubber down some new avenues during their last, so-called farewell tour of 2004. So why not go festive at Coney Island and let the good times roll. Phish, in the grand tradition of the Grateful Dead before them, are digging deep in their treasure of goodies, pulling out plums and nectarines and pineapples at a furious pace to keep up with demand. Live In Brooklyn, a three-CD/two-DVD concurrent release, ensnares the band cruising down the finish line before calling it a day. The playing is as magnificent as always, but the scent of finality looms ever large, casting a shadow that fretful cave dwellers and straight-laced sinners are hoping and praying will disappear. With Anastasio and Phish bassist Mike Gordon joining Benevento/Russo for a series of gigs this past summer, it’s only a matter of time before the Phish hits the fan and…well, you can figure it out from here.

Live In Brooklyn may be one the best live collections from the quintessential jam band. It amply demonstrates just how spontaneous and exciting as live act Phish could be — when they were on and the vibe was right. Whenever they played at certain locations, things just sort of fell into place — The Las Vegas run of 1994, the Clifford Ball in 1996, Lemonwheel 1998, Big Cypress and any number of New Year's Eve engagements at Madison Square Garden. Unfortunately, the band’s final gigs in Conventry, Vermont didn’t quite make the grade. On the upside, a gig from two months earlier was filmed and recorded for prosperity. The June 17, 2004 show at the KeySpan Park baseball field on Coney Island was one night the boys nailed it cold.

Many of the songs, such as the opener “A Song I Heard This Ocean Sing” from the last Phish studio album Undermind and “46 Days” from 2003’s Round Room, were fairly new members to the ever-revolving repertoire while rarities like “The Curtin Within” simply offer a razor sharp refinery fans tend to covet. Favorites like “Frankenstein” and “2001” (officially Strauss’ “Thus Spake Zarathustra” aka the theme to the film 2001: A Space Odyssey) are brushed off and scurried out, transforming into musical tapestries in which the various Phisher men cast their lines, hoping to snag the big one that will wallop the crowd loopy. “Possum,” “Suzy Greenberg” and “I Am Hydogen” furtively reveal the underbelly of the band's eclectic, mind-altering chemistry. Then things just get plain weird. But even “Kung,” a train wreck from all angles, bears a scar of sentiment — that through all the chaos surrounding four regular college scruffs from Burlington, they were able to retain their unique and twisted sense of humor. Hopefully, there’s more fun to come in the future.

As the first DVD release and second CD release from the band’s own JEMP Records, Live in Brooklyn is the first full, uncut concert from the band since 2000’s Live in Vegas. The concert was shot by eight cameras in HD and is presented in maximum quality on two dual-layer DVDs with 5.1 surround. The DVD set features the entire June 17 concert (two sets of music) plus bonus material — excerpts from sound check, backstage footage, and three full songs from the June 18 performance at the same venue.

~ Shawn Perry

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