Album Review: Phish – Hampton/Winston-Salem ’97
Ok, so first of all, the awesome news: Phish shared my review link on their Facebook page! Granted, no one in the band actually did that – it’s most certainly an employee in charge of social media. But still, so very cool. Feels great to feel like I’m actually a part of this journalistic community and that what I say matters (a very different feeling than writing in academia, where you know that practically no one will ever read your work).
But more importantly, GET THIS ALBUM. You will not regret it. These are, quite honestly, the most highly coveted LivePhish release ever, and they did it right – complete shows, added soundchecks, and including the Winston-Salem show taboot.
That last part is actually my favorite aspect of this set. I know the Hampton shows, I know them exceedingly well. Any Phishhead who craves the fall ’97 has three shows that rank above all others: 11/17/97, 12/7/97, and 11/22/97. The former two have been officially released, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t spun the hell out of those Hampton tapes. Recordings of 11/21/97 and 11/22/97 were some of the first that I ever owned, and some of the ones that got the most playtime during my early Phish listening years, especially the second set of the 22nd.
But Hampton has long overshadowed 11/23/97. And I have no idea why. This is some of the best stuff of the entire three-night run, with a “Bathtub Gin” that gives the “Halley’s” a run for its money for best jam of the run. The riff that Trey finds and then turns into the centerpiece of the final part of this “Gin” jam is truly magnificent, a completely spontaneous moment that works on every level. It’s something the band doesn’t do much anymore, and one wishes they would again (there were traces in the Pine Knob “Disease” – although in that case, it wasn’t an improvised riff, but rather, a Coltrane riff). The best thing about this section is that it’s quiet without losing any intensity, it feels slower without lessening its tempo. The jam has all been taken down a few notches, but it still proceeds with all the same drive and intensity as the blustery speed-funk jam that provided the main course on this track. But it’s that final dessert jam that makes it all the sweeter (oh yeah, the puns are comin’ out!).
If anything, the Hampton/Winston-Salem ’97 shows that the band knows what we want and is willing to listen to us. Or at least, Kevin Shapiro knows. The release of At The Roxy, the storied February ’93 run in Atlanta, was a similar gesture – release shows that have long remained amongst the fans’ favorites. But for those shows, excellent soundboards already existed, especially for the infamous middle show, the seguefest/teasefest of 2/20/93.
Or, it means that the band agrees with us – Hampton really IS one of the best runs the band ever played.
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