Thursday, June 6, 2024

Album Review: Phish - The Spectrum '97

The Spectrum '97
**** out of *****

The newest archival release from Vermont jamband titans Phish comes from one of the best tours of their career as The Spectrum '97 captures two shows from Philadelphia on back to back nights from the Fall 1997 tour. 

The band was clearly in the "phlow" during this run, focusing on the 'cow funk', that broke the quartet of Trey Anastasio, Page McConnell, Mike Gordon, and Jon Fishman, through to the next level of their playing as a band. The majesty starts right from the get go as the first set from 12/2 is the best of the whole bunch. 

Starting with the classic revved up opener "Buried Alive" the crisp sound puts the four players right upfront. While the stark soundboard mix loses some of the live show, lived in feel, the clear instrumentation is a fine trade off. The band then drop into a version of "Down with Disease" which finds them all locking in as Trey starts some wah-wah and the band gets spacey to close the jam, dripping into "Makisupa Police" which skips the reggae in order to deliver more spacey funk with Trey and Page hitting the effects and synths.      

A ripping version of "Chalkdust Torture" follows with Gordon and Fishman pushing the tempo faster allowing Anasatsio to blast out killer riffs with hyper fret work before the band takes a second and shifts gears into the consistent MVP of Fall '97, "Ghost". This is just another example of the band nailing the 'cow funk' so perfectly as they revel in the groove. Stop start jamming keeps the funk flowing beautifully before dropping into the only "Divided Sky" of Fall '97 and it is perfectly played version with gorgeous energy. 

After a "Dirt" breather, the band has one more musical highlight to deliver in this set and that is an incredible rendition of "Taste" that feels both experimental and super tight, an excellent trick. The band then closes with an acapella version of "The Star Spangled Banner" as this top notch first set wraps. 

The second set begins with an extended take on "Mike's Song" that contains some interesting motifs, (moving from funk to rock to space) but at times the extended playing feels wandering, looking to sink the songs teeth into something that never truly arrives before Anastasio deploys the riffs to "Simple". This rendition is solid, if not earth shattering, before the rarely played "Dog Faced Boy" makes an appearance and deploys a unique, upbeat rhythm to the song that transforms into one of the best versions of "Yamar" the band ever played (right up there with 12/13/97 a few nights later). 

This Caribbean, calypso spiced groove is smile inducing as the bass bumps all around the Spectrum. Trey sings to "Pootie, his grand pa'" and the band stretches it on out with some spacey funk that delivers a "Crosseyed and Painless" tease before sounding like the group was veering towards "2001" but they instead twist a touch awkwardly into "Weekapaug Groove". This version is solid before launching higher with some Hendrix like riffing from Anastasio around the nine minute mark.  

The set then moves to crowd favorite "Bouncing Around The Room" and closes with a drawn out "Character Zero" zapping some of the mid set energy, but still sounding fine. After a perfunctory encore the box set offers up the soundcheck to the show which is always cool to hear, shedding a light on the bands sound and practice process during a loose rendition of "Funky Bitch".   

The second night finds the band in the same high spirits as they deliver the best opener in their repertoire with "Punch You In The Eye".  The tune gets the crowd moving but things get a bit slowed down via "My Soul". This up and down feeling persists through this night, but the highs can be soaring. 

The first major moment comes next as the quartet dive into "Drowned". This cover of The Who is a gem as it finds McConnell leading the way on piano as the tune extends out into an improv funk jam that cooks with a killer groove and interplay. A weirdly placed "The Old Home Place" ends the flow with some bluegrass, but the band picks it back up with a slow an sticky "Gumbo" as they keep rolling with a "2001" and then a well executed "YEM" to wrap up a good first set highlighted by Page's upfront playing and Trey's wah-wah work. 

The band starts the second set with some teases and signals to the fans as "David Bowie" begins. Sometimes when the band stretches out wonderful things happen and sometimes it feels like they are wandering about unsure where to go and that is what this Bowie feels like, drawn out searching like the "Mike's Song" opener from the second set the previous night. Never bad, just not super exciting, yet things click for a powerful "Possum" which leads into what is labeled "Philly '97 Jam" which has traces of various other funk jams the band rolled out in Fall '97. 

The groove keeps going strong before drifting into a gorgeous version of "Prince Caspian" which finds Anastasio taking charge. A dynamite rendition of the pretty tune gives way to the arena rocking cover of "Frankenstein". However, the band wasn't done soaring and a solid "Harry Hood" builds to a gorgeous climax to wrap the set. A ripping fast cover of "Crossroads" lets Trey get after it as the band closes the two night Philly stand with power.           

It is hard to pick a favorite/best show from Fall '97 (Denver, Hampton, Auburn Hills, Dayton, Rochester, and Albany are all better to RtBE's ears) but The Spectrum '97 does a great job of transporting Phish fans back to that magical time in the bands history.   

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