Take this sterling 8/93 show for example.
Fee > Split > Glide (w/signals) and Chalkdust > Who Knows > Chalkdust are as thrilling on tape as on paper; the groove that emerges at the end of Split is particularly fetching. But it's only a fancy, an idea no neater than any of the million-and-a-half others the bad tosses off on a given night. The 'secret language' theatrics in Glide are a neat bit of rock-conceptualist tomfoolery (as is the perverse metrical filip in each chorus of the Split jam, come to think of it). But when you dig into the music with the decontextualizing mixed benefit of hindsight, it's hard to avoid the feeling that Phish's extraordinary generosity of spirit rarely found unfettered expression in the early 90's precisely because of the band's taste for brainy hijinks.
The 8/9/93 Split slows and quiets to a sludgy nothing, but (say) 1998-era Phish would've seen the brief, jaunty post-Split funk groove as a chance for a new exploration - a moment for increasing depth. One of the few downsides of being a genius songwriter/guitarist/bandleader, apparently, is that it's perilously hard to sit still; the compulsion to do things *to* the groove, rather than *within* it, constantly got the better of Anastasio and company in those days, which goes a long way to explaining why Phish has always been a hell of a lot more interesting and exciting than The Grateful Dead, but for the longest time couldn't dream of matching the old Bay Area freakazoids' depth and patience.
(Insert various qualifiers about the differences between the two bands HERE.)
The same brain-before-heart dynamic obtains in this show's Tweezer > Tela. The start and end of the jam feature brief, compelling rockoutwithcockout guitar jams...but in the middle there's an aggressively off-putting start/stop weird-off that sounds for all the world like a failure of nerve - the need to joke around just when things are threatening to get majestic.
Or is that the mature refusal to indulge in 'anthemic' rock cliché I hear? Could be, I suppose. They are, after all, pretty goddamn smart guys. (And now all four are masters, without question.)
Regardless, it's a bit of a buzzkill, and when the guitar-cock reemerges during the jam's final minutes, I can't help thinking it's all a bit of a joke: a reflection on musical fellowship rather than a guileless embrace of it. All I know is, the 8/17/97 DWD drifts into some doofy start/stop metrical play too, but it stays funky and true, and the music laughs but *never at its own expense*. Beyond the stylistic differences, that's one big leap from '93 to '97 and beyond: groove-era Phish kept up the musical comedy, but kept the fourth wall largely intact when the lights went down.
The upshot, here, is that these two sets of music are about as good a time as you can have while getting your brain-muscles worked this hard. Phish '93 was the kind of band that could get thousands of college boys pumping their fists to a song like Mike Gordon's 'Mound,' for god's sake, could turn around and knock out a 'funky' YEM dissolving into an insane Psycho Killer/Contact mishmash in the vocal jam. Yet the most insightful song about human relationships played this night was the oblique Shakespeare spoof My Friend My Friend - and the highlight of the YEM is its extensive quotes of classic rock chestnuts. It's a brainy, exciting, festive, and inventive show. Phish '93 was peerless and this is a fine specimen of the breed. But (contra the hopelessly lost Parke Puterbaugh in 'Phish: The Biography') the music developed way beyond this point not only during the 1994-95 watershed but for several years thereafter - and losing a step while taking a leap seems like a no-brainer. Right?
It's a great month of Phish and a fine night; I'd grab 8/13 (Murat), 8/14 (Tinley Park), and 8/7 (Darien Lake) first though. Go nuts.