, attached to 1997-08-16

Review by waxbanks

waxbanks If you've heard the Went then you know what you need to know already. If not, just get it today. The boys were just playing on an ungodly level at this point in their history; the Went beats the hell out of the Ball, which is saying something. The first set is full of well-played tunes and detailed summer funk, plus a 4:20pm Makisupa (if you care about such things) and the rest of the previous year's Harpua. Swell.

The rest of the show is just magic.

1997 was arguably the best year for Wolfman's Brother, and this version is nearly on the same plane as the first 20 minutes of 11/30/97's masterpiece; the segue into Simple is old-fashioned full-band improvised songwriting, and if Trey inexplicably bobbles the Simple opening, what follows renders such a small matter wholly immaterial. The Simple jam builds to a soaring climax, then cools out to a weird full-band 'Odd Couple' jam, which naturally leads into My Soul. Which, in turn, they *slaughter*. The jam before Slave is charming, Slave is gorgeous, and Julius is Julius. It's the kind of second set we would've killed for in 2009, full of organically blended tunes and closely-observed improvisation.

The final set is weirdest of the three: Halley's simmers down into noisy sludge-rock, out of which bubbles another molasses-slow 1997 Cities (akin to 7/1 in a way). Midtempo dance rhythms congeal and blow up a la the colossal 8/17 version of 2001 - then the band accelerates into the rock'n'roll lightning storm known as Llama. That's 32 minutes of music right there, but the show's not over: after a restful Lawn Boy, an extended LxL brings band and audience back to the heavenly fields. It's the version I love best, a fleet intricate group improvisation that floats from raucous peak to delicate coda without any visible effort on the band's part. Awesome. And though Funky Bitch would get her finest showing (in 'Type II' jam finery) on 11/30/97, the brief set closer is just nasty fun.

What is there to say? Get this show.

In the three months between the Went and the start of Fall Tour, the boys found a way to interstellar spaceways they'd never even seen before, but the Went represents the perfection of an early pure strain of Phish funk, which was just beginning to diffuse and blend into the band's overall approach to improvisation. Phish hadn't yet uncovered the 'space jam' style that helped unify and elevate Fall '97, but they had the open-field summer spirit, a huge audience with a lot of time to kill, and a still-evolving formula for intricate but danceable polyrhythmic improvisation - which added up to a classic festival that bridged between Phish's spry mid-90's sounds and the dark mysticism of their pre-hiatus stuff.

(Sidebar: How does the Went compare to Lemonwheel? I'd say the Went is stronger front-to-back, but the ambient set at Lemonwheel is one of Phish's iconic achievements, a step beyond any previous set into a freely improvised musical realm and a prelude to the 'Long Set' at Big Cypress sixteen months later. The best moments of Lemonwheel, like the Gumbo that circulates in SBD form, are superb. But the Went was a more joyful time - more innocent, if that makes sense. Oddly enough, I'd take the IT festival over Lemonwheel too, modulo that ambient set; between the Tower Jam and the handful of long-but-controlled jams at IT (e.g. Chalkdust, Ghost, 46 Days, Waves) it's much much further-out than the 'wheel, though the 1998 festival probably shows more stylistic variety.)


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