BLOG POSTS WHERE MONTH IS 4, AND DAY IS 24, AND YEAR IS 2011

Sunday 04/24/2011 by Icculus

6/30/99 BONNER SPRINGS, KS, IN REVIEW

Every so often, something Phish-related surprises me -- even though it shouldn’t. The other day on Twitter, the 6/30/99 tour opening show at Sandstone Amphitheater in Bonner Springs, Kansas, came up. I couldn’t recall a single note of the show. But two veteran Phish fans, one with an enormously popular Phish blog and the other a member of Phish.Net’s working group, both of whom I often agree with about things Phish, uttered dramatically opposed opinions about the show’s music. The esteemed blogger called the show “awesome,” and the other said it “sucked.” This intrigued me, and inspired me to listen to the show again.

Now, “sucked” is a strong word. I think the fan in question likely meant something more akin to “below average-great.” Because, frankly, even on their worst night, Phish just doesn’t suck. In fact, even when they suck here and there during a show, they can pull-out some transcendent, spectacular jams (e.g., Coventry’s Drowned). I can’t name a single Phish show that I believe “sucked,” and I say that even though I’ve come close to walking out of a few during the second set. (The only show I recall ever actually leaving I left due to reasons unrelated to the music.)

To put 6/30/99 in context, it was Phish’s first public show since the ‘98 NYE run, and those four shows were Phish’s only shows in December 1998. Trey had toured earlier in 1999, but as fun as it was, it wasn’t the same, and even before June 1999, fans were chompin’ at the bit for Phish’s return. (They may have been especially eager to hear Phish again, of course, if they’d already heard the spectacular mid-April 1999 Phil Lesh & Friends shows, featuring Trey and Page and Steve Kimock.) This June 30 show would start a serious 20+ show tour, concluding with four gigs in JAPAN, one of which has just been released by the band to benefit the Japan relief effort.

My $0.02 on this show will probably come as no surprise, given that I must have liquidated my 6/30/99 tapes (CDs?) 10+ years ago. But I actually feel pretty strongly that this is, at best, an average-great Phish show from the late 1990s, and that’s giving it some credit. It’s a mixed-bag, and a show I would never have recommended anyone check out at that time, when acquiring tapes/discs would cost time and effort. Nowadays, of course, since it’s easy to download a show off Kevin Hoy’s Spreadsheet and listen for oneself, I encourage you to do the same, if you’re so inclined, if only in light of the staggeringly different perspectives (apparently) of some vets about it. To go out a bit on a limb just to make things more interesting: musically, I think this show -- as a complete show -- offers little even when compared with Phish’s best shows in 3.0. I’d recommend that a fan check out 10/20/10 Utica, for example, and hundreds of other Phish shows, before I’d recommend 6/30/99.

The first set opens with a 19 minute Gin, with “Type 2” improvisation a-plenty. A Gin opener is always welcome and I love Gin. Love it. It’s up there with my favorite Phish songs and I just never get tired of it. This version, albeit lengthy and exploratory, is often aimless and even flounders at times with no clear direction. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the jam floats like a turd for awhile. It’s not that bad at all. It’s just when Trey does solo/noodle melodically, at times it seems to lack much of a purpose. I’m thus not surprised that folks have very different opinions about it. I’d sooner recommend that, for 1999 versions that are more or less equally as long, but much more glorious (as I hear them), one check out 7/18/99, 9/12/99, 9/22/99, 12/2/99, and 12/7/99. Also, I’d sooner recommend the 2/22/03, 2/28/03, 7/9/03, and 8/9/04 Gins (to name four from 2.0) and even the 8/7/09 Gorge Gin. (Comparing this 6/30/99 version to the 7/29/98 Riverport and other “best ever” versions perhaps isn’t very fair.) In any event, hats off to Phish for opening with this 6/30/99 Gin, since it took some nads to open a tour with so much “Type 2.” That is certainly not common! And I love Gin, and I enjoy this version, too, even if, among versions over 15 minutes, this wouldn’t come to mind as one to recommend highly.

The rest of the first set, which isn’t all that long, is solid, i.e., “typically great Phish.” The Maze is pretty good, but Maze is usually pretty good. Maze is one of those amazing Phish tunes that, like Julius, can be difficult to call “above average” unless it’s obviously over the top, like say 12/31/94, or 2/26/03 Worcester. And this set features the first Back on the Train (another tune I love), and a fairly good LxL (love it). A Golgi set closer, even if perfectly performed, isn’t going to get a jaded vet too excited, but whatever, this is still a fun set of course. The Gin was a cool opener, with some beautiful improv, but not “must hear.” As compared with all other first sets in Phish history, this is a “typically great,” or “par” set, IMO. (i.e., no rush to send B+P)

The second set opens with Squirming Coil. Let me say that again. The second set opens with Squirming Coil. And it’s not too bad, as far as Coils go. But I can completely understand and forgive the jaded vets in attendance in Bonner Springs that day who, after a Golgi first set closer, upon hearing Coil, thought, “Are you f’ing kidding me!?” It’s just not that strong a set opener. It’s too darn pretty and mellow. I love Page, and I especially love his recent offerings, “Halfway to the Moon” and “Beauty of a Broken Heart,” but a song whose coda is a piano solo isn’t a strong set opener for a rock show.

The set then goes weird with a slow, somewhat plodding, eerie version of “Free,” one of the most unusual versions in Phish history. It doesn’t really go what I’d call “Type 2.” It rather just has an extended jam segment that gets dark and twisted at times. An atypical version for damn sure and one of the longest versions, even though, frankly, I can see how some might not appreciate it. I’d recommend it highly, though, to any fan of “Free” looking to hear a remarkable version of the song.

The “Birds” > “Simple” that follow “Free” aren’t shabby. Late 1990s versions of “Birds” are pretty much all worth hearing (assuming you like the tune), and frankly, versions of “Simple” that don’t appear in a Mike’s Groove sandwich are often worth a listen as well. That said, I wouldn’t call either of these versions well above-average. But these are enjoyable tunes, and the “Swept Away” and “Steep” and “Piper” that follow, while perfunctory, are entertaining.

The “Bug > My Left Toe” is, well... I like these tunes, don’t get me wrong. But I can see how they may have bored some in attendance big time. (“My Left Toe” was also a debut, and I’m sure some at the show probably thought it was just part of an extended “Bug” jam.) The improv in these songs is very textural and chord-heavy, of course. There’s no melodic noodling or “rock star Trey jamming” or “glorious mellifluous transcendent hose” etc. Lots of big, phat, sustained chords. I enjoyed listening to this quite a bit, but likely still would have sat down for it at the show. The set then concludes with a “Stash” that, frankly, has a jam that I find directionless, obnoxiously dissonant, and largely meh. It doesn’t climax at all well, and Trey seems to lose his way during it. Not a version I’d recommend. I’d have been disappointed to hear this close a set, even though I typically love this song. This “Stash” is disappointing compared with versions from any era, in my view (e.g., the 10/31/10 Stash blows it away, though to be fair, it’s jam segment is much different).

The 6/30/99 show encores with “Bouncin” and “Sample in a Jar.” Now, these tunes are quite popular, of course, and encores are always “icing” on the delicious cake that is a typically great Phish show. But after an unquestionably below-average Stash second set closer, I can see this encore disappointing some jaded vets in attendance. In any event, you’ve heard these versions/songs before many times.

All this said, I can empathize with why some fans aren’t too keen on this show, or even its second set, particularly when you compare it with the most recent second sets from the two-set shows on the ‘98 NYE run, which were great: 12/28/98-2, 12/29/98-2 and 12/30/98-2. While mileage certainly varies, vets tend more often than not to agree about what versions and shows qualify as “top versions” and “must hear” shows, if not “above-average-great shows” etc. This 6/30/99 show is thus a testament to how opinions even among vets can differ immensely. As I hear it, it’s very much a mixed-bag. I’d recommend the “Free” for sure, but as far as the show as a whole goes, I’d call it less awesome than a typically awesome 1999 Phish show... an opinion that may annoy just about everyone, but it’s just my $0.02. -charlie

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