For the third edition (or fifth, depending on how you count them) of From the Tapers' Section, I've chosen Halloween, 1998. Yes, today is the 20th anniversary of this show – Phish's first multi-night Las Vegas run, and their first Las Vegas Halloween show. It seemed fitting to share this show today, with the high anticipation of what will be their fourth Vegas Halloween show in the past two decades. But beyond the obvious historical significance of this show, I had been wanting to use this show in the FTTS series for some time now simply because the sound quality of this particular tape is unbelievably good. About a year ago, I wanted to hear the "Wolfman’s Brother" from this show as an AUD; searching through quick snippets of each circulating recording, this tape stood out as a cut above the rest. Since first hearing this source, I kept coming back to it, stunned by its quality – it is quite possibly my favorite sounding 1.0 tape. So, while this show is both famous and infamous for various reasons, my decision to select this recording for FTTS3 was more about the merits of the tape and less about the music contained within.That isn’t to shortchange the music – there were plenty of musical highlights inside and outside of the Velvet Underground Loaded "musical costume."
Phish | Saturday, 10/31/1998 | Thomas & Mack Center | Las Vegas, NV
Set I: Axilla > Punch You in the Eye > Roggae, Birds of a Feather, Sneakin' Sally Through the Alley → Chalk Dust Torture > Lawn Boy, Mike's Song → Frankie Says > Weekapaug Groove
Set II: Who Loves the Sun?, Sweet Jane, Rock and Roll, Cool It Down, New Age, Head Held High, Lonesome Cowboy Bill > I Found a Reason, Train Round the Bend, Oh! Sweet Nuthin'
Set III: Wolfman's Brother → Piper > Ghost
Encore: Sleeping Monkey > Tweezer Reprise
Sneakin' Sally included a Super Bad tease from Trey and did not contain a vocal jam. Chalk Dust was unfinished. Mike’s Song included Simple teases. The second set "musical costume" was The Velvet Underground's Loaded. All of the songs in the second set were Phish debuts, except for Sweet Jane and Lonesome Cowboy Bill (which hadn’t been played since June 10, 1995, or 268 shows). The long jam out of Wolfman’s included Makisupa, Lifeboy, and On Your Way Down teases and featured Fish on vacuum. The band left the stage during Ghost, as the sound of Trey’s delay loop ended the set. This show was webcast live and was officially released as Live Phish 16.
As for why I love this recording so much... for one thing, there is a startling accuracy to the soundstage. When I close my eyes, I can clearly and distinctly hear Page’s various keys, Trey’s guitar and associated foley, Mike’s bass, and Fish’s drum kit as separable, stable images. This feature carries into the vocal harmonies; I can hear physical separation of where the singers are located on stage. Compound this with the fact that the image is dead-center; no odd shifts to the left or right, and no squished or compressed imaging where instruments blur together. Another feature has to do with realism and placing me in the room of this tape, and that has to do with the capture of room acoustics. There is a very good balance of both direct sound straight off the stage and PA, and reverberant sound bouncing around the room in a way that is not confusing or “hazy” as I often refer to it on such tapes. This is most likely a function of the location this taper was in – sadly, I cannot speak to the taper’s intent nor methodology beyond what's listed in the taper notes, as I had insufficient time to track him down. (If I'm able to get in touch with the taper, I'll update this blog post in the future accordingly.)
Beyond the clear and present direct sound, the quality of the reflections is also very pleasant. Listen to the decay of the room, specifically on transient elements like Fish’s snare drum or Trey’s pick attack. The sound bounces in a diffuse waterfall, rather than a bevy of aggressive and harsh peaks. There are no oddly-timed reflections or weightings to confuse the senses. Sometimes as a taper, the stars align and you pull a jaw-droppingly good tape; this is such an example. Lastly, there is phenomenal bandwidth to this recording; the full spectrum of sound is present, from the depths of Mike’s bass to the zing of Fish’s cymbals. I am hard-pressed to say there is anything missing as far as frequency goes, and the few ways in which the tape is lacking, it lacks in a manner that I can easily adjust.
That said, I did feel the tape was improved from minor adjustments. On certain bass notes, there was an occasional odd resonance to the room. This was removed with a simple bell filter in the transition region between bass and low-midrange, which also helped to tighten up and define Mike's playing. Furthermore, characteristic of the B&K 4011 microphone, the treble - while accurate and fairly linear - leaned towards the darker side. A high shelving filter set very mildly helped to bring out the detail of this tape, and this further reinforced imaging. Otherwise, this tape was darn close to perfect, and I think it stands on its own.
For those of you hearing this show for the first time, you are in for a serious musical treat. The "Wolfman’s Brother" is the crown jewel of this show. As a "Wolfman’s Brother" aficionado, this one isn’t my favorite of the year (or even of Fall ‘98, for that matter), but 10/31/98 "Wolfman's Brother" is definitely massive in scope and worth the patience. Leave the oddity of what happened on stage during this third set and just get lost in the depth of sheer and utter texture. This is more than just music; this is a decomposition of sound at its basest form. I also like the "Lonesome Cowboy Bill" outro jam as a bit of absurd psychedelic ear candy, the "Sneakin' Sally" -> "Chalk Dust Torture" is strong, plus that ethereal "Mike's Song." I now encourage you to take a listen to how the music sounded in the room twenty years ago, and for those of you in Vegas tonight have fun!
A quick note about the file sets: a common technique used in production is audio compression. This reduces the dynamic range of a recording by making the loudest portions of the waveform quieter, which allows the overall volume to be raised without inducing clipping. One reason I love AUD tapes is that they preserve the details - the subtlety between quiet and loud - with pristine quality. AUDs often remain uncompressed to give you the full dynamic range of the original performance. For the FLAC file sets, I did not compress this tape at all; I wanted to preserve every detail. However, for the mp3 file set I have added some very mild studio compression to raise the overall volume just a bit, as I expect many of you to use the mp3 version on your phones, tablets, and other mobile devices where space is at a premium and fidelity is a luxury. I recommend that you judge the mix on a decent sound system or your best pair of headphones using the FLAC file sets. That said, the mp3s should still sound great on-the-go with stock earbuds.
FLAC and MP3 file sets can be found at this link (Google Drive): DOWNLOAD HERE
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