11/26/13Posted in Album-reviews by David Melamed

Phish - Niagara Falls (12/7/1995 Live Release)


 

From a band whose storied career spans three full decades, Niagara Falls captures Phish in their prime, at a point where the band was gaining traction… selling out large arenas, expanding and refining a diverse repertoire, and building a strong relationship with their consistently-growing fan base. The concert, recorded at the Niagara Falls Convention Center on December 7, 1995, is an expedition in early Phish, at the height of their popularity.

Phish began jamming in 1983, growing from a small arts college setting to a well-respected local band in Burlington, VT. After a cross-country road trip led to some success (see Colorado ’88), the band released soon their first album on a major record label (Lawn Boy, Elektra). At the time, the Phish live experience was unparalleled, with outlandish narrative story-telling and intriguing classical composition influences. By the time Phish played Niagara Falls in 1995, the band found themselves with an incredibly structured network of Phish fanatics.

People simply couldn’t get enough, and for good reason, too!

The Niagara Falls concert starts out with the twangy guitar tones of “Old Home Place,” an upbeat bluegrass number that gets the audience in the dancing mood. I defy you to listen to this song without so much as a foot-tap or head-bob… it is a seriously infectious tune. This segues into “The Curtain” > “AC/DC Bag,” two staples of any high-Phish diet. This “Bag” is a particularly jammy one, stretching out to nine-plus minutes. It’s nice to hear them let loose on "AC/DC Bag," especially considering that Phish has yet to play a thoroughly-extended “AC/DC Bag” in the 3.0 era.

This song transitions into another 3.0 rarity, “Demand,” a peculiar song with eerie harmonies and prominent bass-line grooves. The song is brief, providing a haunting introduction for the fast-paced opening of “Rift,” one of my personal favorite Phish songs. “Slave to the Traffic Light” comes next, with an interesting mid-set placement (the song is more commonly used to end a set), but never fails to deliver an excellently flowing jam. From here, we get “Guyute,” “Bouncing Around the Room,” an excellent “Possum,” and an set-closing a cappella performance of “Hello My Baby.”

That Phish would perform an entire set of original music, bookended by adaptations of traditional covers (“Old Home Place” and “Hello My Baby”), speaks to their awareness as artists. “Hello My Baby” was first written in 1889 (a full 124 years old), and is the first well-known song about the telephone. By choosing this tune, and by performing it a cappella, Phish both aligned themselves with a long musical tradition, and coyly expressed their sense of humor. It works, it’s great, and it’s a real treat to hear, some eighteen years later.

The second set begins with an Audience Chess Move. During the 1995 tour, Phish started a chess match against their audience, in which a single member of the audience would be chosen to make a chess move at each concert. It’s an interesting example of the Phish-audience concert dynamic, and very symbolic of our adulation for the band. This leads them into a particularly “out-there” performance of “Split Open and Melt,” which splits open and melts for seventeen rip-roaring minutes, delving into foreign keys and unknown waters before subtly closing with the song’s original melody. Melt… split open and melt…

After a standard “Strange Design,” the band tackles the then-new composition, “Taste.” This has a slightly different arrangement as the modern version, and it’s interesting to compare the old with the new. A faster-than-usual “Reba” (without whistling), funky-as-usual “Julius,” comical-as-usual “Sleeping Monkey,” and deviously-upbeat-as-usual “Sparkle” round out the majority of the second set. The band follows up with a “Mike’s Song” that directly transitions into “Weekapaug Groove,” without so much as a notion of Hydrogen. This “Weekapaug” grooves its way into a “Digital Delay Loop Jam” (credited as a separate track on phish.net but not on the album itself), an ethereal whirlwind of psychedelic experimentation. It almost sounds like they’re experimenting for the sake of experimentation, though this somewhat aimless jam does finish with a powerful crescendo. Of course, after an extended journey through the realms of musical psychedelia, Phish closes the second set with an a cappella rendition “Amazing Grace.” Amazing!

Wrap it all up with an “Uncle Pen” encore, and toss in a slowed-down “Old Home Place” soundcheck jam, and you have yourself an exceptional live release. Niagara Falls captures the musical essence of 1995, 1.0-era Phish. From the experimental space jams, the double a cappella set closers, and the pure bliss of the band’s original music, this is one joyous slice of fabled Phish-tory.

-David Melamed (@DMelamz)


Related



Comments


Grateful Dead Share Long Lost Betty Board Recording Of 'Samson And Delilah' From 1978

With a new box set coming out next week, the Grateful Dead continue to share pristi ...


Glastonbury To Honor Prince And David Bowie With Stage Fixtures, Special Performances, And More

The tributes to lost legends Prince and David Bowie will never end. Like their music, ...


Bassnectar, Big Gigantic & More Announced For Electric Zoo Wild Island Festival

Electric Zoo is set to take over NYC's Randall's Island for three nights at the end ...


Umphrey's McGee To Live Stream UMBowl VII From Las Vegas

Beloved jammers Umphrey's McGee will descend on the Brooklyn Bowl Las Vegas for t ...


Phish's Jon Fishman To Represent Bernie Sanders At Maine Democratic Convention

Beloved Phish drummer Jon Fishman will speak on behalf of presidential candidate Bern ...


Splash House Reveals Exciting Double-Weekend Lineups With Odesza, Gorgon City, And More

Splash House is a city-spanning pool party and music festival hosted in Palm Springs, ...


Slightly Stoopid Announces Closer To The Sun Destination Festival With Awesome Lineup

San Diego-based dub rockers Slightly Stoopid have have confirmed plans and the initia ...


Paul McCartney Pays Tribute To Prince With 'Let's Go Crazy' In Minneapolis [Watch]

The legendary knight himself, Sir Paul McCartney, took a moment from his performance ...


Red Hot Chili Peppers Share Their First New Single Since 2011, Confirm Album Details

It's the Red Hot Chili Peppers announcement we've all been waiting for! The funky roc ...


Phish Jammed With All Of The Aquarium Rescue Unit, On This Date In 1993 [Listen]

With band names like Aquarium Rescue Unit and Phish, it's no surprise that these two ...


Inaugural 'Festival At The Farm' Announces Funky Initial Lineup

Coming to the Prowse Farm in Canton, MA, just outside of Boston, the new Festival On ...


Escort Performs 'Cocaine Blues' On Debut National Television Appearance [Watch]

Disco-influenced group Escort recently made their national television debut, hitting ...


Soulive To Be Backed By Karl Denson, Nigel Hall, Snarky Puppy Horns At Live From The Lot

Philly's second annual Live from the Lot is gearing up for its first ever two-day ...


The Full Schedule For Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival Is Here

With the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival just over a month away, the festival has ju ...


Watch Chuck Leavell, Members Of REM, Widespread Panic & More Jam Out In DC

Last week at The Hamilton in Washington DC, Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell ...


Extraordinary Musicians Added For Surprise All-Star Prince Tribute Show

Just yesterday, we had the honor of announcing a surprise tribute to Prince, led by ...


Colvin & Earle, The Revivalists & More Added To 2016 XPoNential Music Festival Lineup

WXPN Philadelphia has announced several additions to the bill for their 2016 XPoNen ...


North Coast Music Festival Continues To Set The Bar For Lineup Diversity

Over its seven-year existence, Chicago's North Coast Music Festival (set to take plac ...


The Magical People And Sights Of Jazz Fest 2016

New Orleans Jazz Festival is a gumbo pot of all the weird, wacky, wonderful people a ...


Watch String Cheese Incident Welcome Guest Singers For 'Sweet Spot' At Red Rocks [Premiere]

Last year, The String Cheese Incident spent three glorious nights at the famed Red Ro ...


Remembering Oysterhead's Incredible Debut Performance, On This Day In 2000 [Listen]

There's a certain aura of mystique around the word Oysterhead in the jam scene. It's ...


Watch The 25-Minute Finale From The Nth Power's Incredible Earth Wind & Fire Tribute

In the wee hours of this morning, The Nth Power led a cadre of incredible all-stars t ...


Celebrate James Brown's Birthday With This Powerful Concert From 1968

May 3rd marks what would have been soul singer James Brown's 83rd birthday. There's a ...


Thievery Corporation's Rob Garza Talks Music And Politics In New HeadCount Interview

Twenty years ago, Washington, D.C- residents Rob Garza and Eric Hilton teamed up to f ...


Phish Welcomed Oteil Burbridge For An Otherworldly 'Mike's Song,' On This Day In 1994

When it comes to bass playing, few have more impressive résumés than Oteil Burbridg ...


Listen To The Grateful Dead's All-Acoustic Set, Played On This Day In 1970

Throughout 1969 and 1970, the Grateful Dead were experimenting with new performance t ...


The Drunken Hearts Share Their 'Love & Thirst' On Soulful New Single [Premiere]

Colorado-based group The Drunken Hearts continue to electrify with every live perform ...


Happy 83rd Birthday To The Legendary Willie Nelson

The legendary Willie Nelson celebrates his 83rd birthday today, emerging from a rural ...


Watch: Dean Ween Group, Mike Dillon & More Rock The Megalomaniacs Ball

The Dean Ween Group whipped a packed Megalomaniacs Ball into a frothing frenzy last n ...


George Porter Jr., Anders Osborne & More Help Bring NOLA Crawfish Fest To A Close [Gallery]

The final day of the NOLA Crawfish Fest brought record attendance to the perfect en ...


Local Musicians, Politicians Unite At Colorado BERNFest [Gallery]

Earlier this week, the Colorado BERNFest: A Festival For Bernie Sanders brought a n ...


Benevento Russo Duo Returns! A Look Into The Group's Exciting Story

Jam band fans everywhere were beyond elated upon seeing the words Benevento/Russo Duo ...


After Funk Creates Beauty Through Destruction In New 'Rage & Chuff' Video [Premiere]

Hailed as one of the funkiest bands North of the border, Toronto-based After Funk c ...


Watch The Magical Grateful Dead Concert That Occurred On This Day In 1977 [Full Video]

1977 was a golden year in Grateful Dead history. The band had thoroughly settled in w ...





L4LM Twitter