Phish: Walnut Creek

walnutcreek_hi.jpgThe Phish that returned from an early-summer European tour in 1997 wasn’t the same Phish that had left American shores several weeks earlier. The quartet boarded a plane, taking with it the frenetic, propulsive jamming born of technically challenging song structures. Upon the band’s return, it was clear that something had changed. Phish had found the funk.

Walnut Creek documents the second stop of the band’s U.S. summer tour at the Walnut Creek Ampitheater in Raleigh, North Carolina, on a night of tumultuous storms that ignited the sky. But the quartet dug in, translating Mother Nature’s power into a strong, jam-laden show caught on film from the multi-camera lawn feed and 5.1 audio.

“Stash” and “Vultures” help solidify a loose first set, laying the groundwork for an explosive set II that finds Phish exploring cornerstone compositions with its new-found wonder. Opening the second set with the mammoth “Down With Disease,” the quartet quickly begins broadcasting its new approach, settling into intense, breathing interplay, the members patiently playing off of each other through deep, cavernous grooves. An expressive segue leads the band into the centerpiece of the set – “Mike’s Song”>”Simple”>”I am Hydrogen”>”Weekapaug Groove” –  where it furthers the funk, the  cohesive textures glowing bright as the lightning that cracked the sky above the venue. The performance  is capped by a double encore; an expressive reading of  Los Lobos’ “When the Circus Comes” and an exploratory, robust take on the fan-favorite, “Harry Hood.”

Walnut Creek doesn’t include a perfect setlist, nor does it boast the best playing of this watershed tour; however, the multiple camera angles and superior sound of this two-disc set offer a snapshot of Phish, continuing their swim into uncharted musical territory with  renewed gusto, a treat for the ears and eyes.

Walnut Creek is out now on JEMP Records.