, attached to 1998-08-15

Review by n00b100

n00b100 Other than Oswego, doesn't it seem like Lemonwheel's the least talked about Phish festival? Maybe it's because it has the least going for it in terms of "big event" stuff - yes, it has the Ambient Jam, which is great (more on that below), but "50+ minute ambient music" is never really going to be a selling point, IMO. Compare that to the Clifford Ball (1st festival, big DVD release), the Went (best festival musically), Cypress (which is Cypress), IT (Tower Jam, major 2003 moment), Coventry (which we don't need to get into), Fest 8 (Exile, acoustic set), and Superball (which just happened last year, and has the Storage Jam). For such a major show, Lemonwheel kinda feels like it's fallen through the cracks (note the lack of reviews here). As I'd never heard Lemonwheel outside the big jam, I'd like to know what it is I've missed.

Set I: Starting off a two day festival with a set-long Mike's Groove is a pretty sweet move; yeah, the song selection doesn't knock me on my ass, but there's a lot of fun "we're getting warmed up" songs, Cities has a charming "lookit all the cool festival stuff" improvised lyrics moment before the jam stomps into Weekapaug, and Mike's/Simple/Groove are all cool, if pretty standard Type I jams (Weekapaug does have an interesting double-time breakdown at the end).

Set II: Now we're getting to the deep stuff, starting with a fine Reba and then one of the highlights of the festival, the Gumbo - Tweezer run. Gumbo breaks out of its usual structure pretty early in the jam, finding a slow, very funky, milkshake-thick groove that actually finds a motif of escalating chords similar to 12/14/95's fabled Timber jam. The Gumbo jam then segues excellently into Sanity, and then upon Sanity's conclusion the band kicks into Tweezer. The Tweezer jam starts with an ominous, fast-paced energy, settling into the kind of groove Tweezers settled into in the late 90s...but then Trey starts pouring on the rock, and the groove turns more heavy and muscular before petering out into The Horse. There's a pretty fine Slave to close, with a powerful closing peak.

Set III: NICU leads very easily into Bowie, which builds and builds with some nice Fishman cymbal/chime work, a dense, spacey guitar effects fog, and Page adding some atmospheric piano work before entering the song proper 8 and a half minutes in; the actual Bowie is good as you'd expect but doesn't break any boundaries. Neither does the rest of the set, although the Limb is worth a listen.

Encore: It's an encore.

Ambient Jam: Worth at least a star of my show rating all by itself, this is an astonishing, lovely set of free improvisation. The through-line to Fukuoka is pretty obvious, as well as to every other big jam Phish has ever done since - guitar playing that's more added ingredient than solo voice/jam starter; atmospheric soundscapes from Page; Fish's drumming and cymbal washes serving almost as another solo instead of rhythm; the temperature of the music rising and falling with each new movement. I don't know if I made this particularly enticing to listen to, but understand that if you love the Waves soundcheck, the Headphones Jam, and every other "we're playing for you and you alone" moment of Phish's career, this jam is every bit their equal and often their superior. There's hushed moments of sheer beauty, atonal weirdness, chugging rock and funk inflected mini-jams, all delivered with a languid air as though the band knows they have all the time in the world to do whatever they want. It's certainly not all perfect (or totally interesting - I mean, 50 minutes of jamming is a LOT of jamming), and many of the ideas in the jam would be better expressed elsewhere, but that's a big point - without this jam there's no Fall '99, no Cypress, no Japan tour, maybe no 2.0 style. It's a brilliant listen, and of immense historical value.

On to Day 2!


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