Phish — A Live One
(Elektra 61777-2, 1994/1995, 2CD)
by Rob Walker, Published 1995-11-01
Ask any Phish fan and they'll tell you that the band's natural habitat is most definitely on stage, in front of a live audience. So after five studio albums, Phish finally present a sonically impeccable, meticulously chosen collection of their live material on this double CD set. Those who are intrigued by the studio CDs, but have yet to attend a Phish concert or get hold of any of the widely distributed tapes of the band's shows can now finally get a real feel for the live Phish experience. Or can they?
A Live One, compiled mostly from Phish's fall '94 tour, is notable for including versions of several unreleased and somewhat "rare" tunes, as well as for presenting a taste of the bands unique improvisational excursions. But what this release also does is ignore songs that represent significant elements of Phish's bouillabaisse of musical styles, and fail to make clear that each of these tracks was taken from a different show; this is not representative of a single Phish concert. With that minor gripe aside, one can generally applaud the selection of each of these specific performances. Some, such as "Stash" and "Harry Hood," are among the finest versions the band has ever created live. The big question mark though is the 30-minute "Tweezer." Chosen to show off Phish's more exploratory side, this version undoubtedly has some very significant meaning to the band as performers, but unfortunately much of that is lost on the listener who was not a part of that magical moment of creation. The problem is not in the length, but in the cohesiveness of the musical nooks and crannies which are explored in this almost completely improvised piece. Indeed, this version is one of the more disjointed improvisations of the entire fall tour; a better choice might have been the brilliantly flowing and well developed 45-minute "Tweezer" from a month later, which had two rather nondescript minutes snipped out of it and plopped on the CD as "Montana." An even better choice would have been a completely different song, such as "David Bowie," which arguably gave rise to the most interesting improvisational explorations of 1994.
In the end A Live One is a solid, but by no means exceptional release. For those who've been craving a well-produced live album from Phish, this should go a long ways towards satisfying their desire. It is interesting to note, however, that during the month of June when this album came out, Phish put on a series of concerts which in many ways put the performances included here to shame. If they someday release a live set culled from their 1995 shows, watch out!
Related artist(s): Phish
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