In their post-'93 touring years Phish has alternated odd-year leaps forward with even-year gathering and recollection. 1993 brought a new improvisatory synthesis, with the band settling down and starting to apply their boundless creativity to emotional rather than technical/theatrical problems; 1994 saw several giant-sized jams, but there was still a bit of a 'too many ideas' problem even if the year's best moments showcased Phish's best collective improv yet. During the 1995 watershed, muscular, oceanic free jamming allowed the group to fill big rooms and outdoor spaces in new ways - and the climactic MSG show represented a Big Cypress-scale peak. After a relatively undistinguished 1996, summer/fall '97 (and Mike's new bass!) ushered in the era of minimalist funk, 'space jams,' and no-setlist experimentation - and fall '97 is considered the Best Phish Tour Ever by many fans more than a decade on. In 1998 the 'space jams' of fall integrated back into the band's funk tracks (cf. the MSG Wolfman's Brother!), but Phish's nerdtronic groove/texture mix truly flowered in 1999, integrating five years of darkening textural work, four-way grooves, and above all an unmatched improvisatory patience.
The richly detailed long-form groove-based playing of winter/summer 2003 represents a big advance of its own, but even the energetic playing of June 2004 petered out quickly (only SPAC got a wall-to-wall Great Show in that year). And of course in 2009 the band moved into a new era, more song-driven than in the late Nineties/early Noughties and with an energy not seen in well over a decade. You might say everything before 12/31/95 was rehearsal for that date; then the band rehearsed for five years for Big Cypress; and in 2009 maybe they were preparing for the triumphant Festival 8.
This show is a perfect example of an old form and a new tone combining to inspire the band to previously undreamt-of improvisatory places. This kind of music was just beyond the band's reach in 1994; they could go wide and long back then, no problem (12/29/94, ahem), but no pre-1995 Phish went as *deep* as the Orlando Stash. (Stuff got even deeper, later on.) This is canonical Phish, whatever that means. If you're thinking of turning a skeptical friend on to the band, this might not be a bad place to go - maybe not right away, but in time. There's time. That is, after all, one of the great lessons of long-form improv: committing ourselves to every instant of musical time doesn't mean pretending we're gonna run out of it.
SHORTER VERSION: Good shit. Download now.