Seeing is believing. These six discs of music (of which one seemed like a six-course sirloin dinner of music even to me) are comprised of two, yes, TWO Phish concerts, each of which took place in St. Louis in the year 1993. So, if you’re in the mood for all this crazy guitar noodling and doodling, it has the potential to galvanize you into unprecedented cosmic realizations — if not (and in truth even the band themselves sound tired by disc two), it’ll make you wish you were on drugs. So go ahead, pop that mescaline chocolate, act like you’re actually AT the show.
In so far, though, as Phish is great driving music, disc one of this March ’17 release gets us more than far enough in that endeavor. Actually, it was such a feast that by the time I got done I didn’t even REMEMBER track one “Buried Alive” (partly since it in no way resembles being buried alive), so I had to go back and listen again. It’s a twisted and awesome Wizard-of-Oz style jam (think the scene where those flying monkeys come in), sounding yes wonderfully ALIVE, or maybe like Uma Thurman busting out of that grave in Kill Bill 2. A couple other catalogue staples it resembles a tad, for their jazzy restlessness, would be “Foam” and “Split open and Melt,” but it takes a faster pace than either of these two, sacrificing funk for, well, sounding like they’re running from flying monkeys.
The rest of disc one just spits fire, too, on an unprecedented level, provided you’re in the mood for it. Funny story, actually: it was storming out and I lost power during “The Divided Sky” and… the song even continued to play ’til its conclusion, laying down the perfect backdrop of crushing beauty for the storm’s setting. I think I got the power back on 20 minutes later or so and sank into “I Didn’t Know” for a night cap. More on that, though, later.
“Maze” was good… and long… see I don’t want to compare these versions to the STUDIO albums because anybody who has heard the studio version of “Maze” has definitely heard a live version too. That’s how this band is — signature crafters of the concert experience — and each one’s chops on his respective instrument is on amazing display here already, only seven or so years into their career together as a band. Guitarist/vocalist Trey Anastasio takes the forefront pretty much all over this show, though, and “Maze” is his to cradle with its relentless call-and-response cluster of guitar stabs executed with blistering speed.
Segueing into “Bouncing around the Room” finds it surprisingly apt in such a regard, since the latter is usually placed either first or last on most Phish releases (last on Lawn Boy, first on A Live One). Early on in the concert, it has the lads’ strapping young voices hitting those high registers with ease and making us proud, later in the show likely posing the opportunity for a real train wreck, for that matter. Also, Anastasio will wow you with his ability to sing and play that sixteenth-note guitar outro.
“It’s Ice” and “Silent in the Morning” are both gems off the band’s album Rift, which at the time of these shows was their last LP. These two songs bookend “Stash,” though — the real showstopper for any true fan, clocking in as it does around 20-minutes with the inclusion of its appendage song “Kung.” “Kung” features some bizarre German-acccent stage banter, the type of thing you maybe couldn’t take on some good acid, sure, and the music consisting of “Stash,” which feels like an entire planet of rocking, comes back in after “Kung” for an outro in which the guitar riffs themselves pay excellent homage to the overall song, in which they’d originally appeared, before the interlude. “Stash” is also featured on A Live One, but this version is even better for that post-“Kung” teaser. Just brilliant stuff.
Then, there’s “The Divided Sky.” This song deserves a chapter of all its own. Surprisingly, seeing as it would have fit right in on Phish’s SHINING concert capture A Live One, it does not feature on that album. Nonetheless, there seems to be never a bad time for this 15-minute epic — it comes third on this one Live Phish disc I have that starts with “Chalkdust Torture” and “Guellah Papyrus” and even on that, I never get the urge to cycle through it. On St. Louis ’93, it comes toward the end and to be honest, this pays off with more zeal.
The song is sectioned into two parts — the first introductory of a somewhat corny, but bright and hopeful, repetitive guitar riff complimented beautifully by a frenetic, descending piano run, and an ebullient, steady-handed bassline courtesy of the trusty master Mike Gordon. Within this initial portion appear the songs only lyrics “Divided sky / The wind blows high” sung with patience by… just about the whole da** band. That’s one thing this band undeniably perfected — especially in the round toward the end of “Maze” — the background vocal. Part A then doodles around a little bit, not quite as ambitiously as “Buried Alive” but still with comparably considerable dissonance, before fading into a considerable section of near-silence and space.
Part B… is basically too great to even be described, in which guitarist Trey Anastasio takes the songs functional reins in the form of a complex, drawn-out melody which surfaces itself about three or four times within the songs second half, surrounded on all parts by the piano-anchored groove — not really funk, which the band in one respect is somewhat known for — more like fast rockabilly. It’s like music that would be by Willie Nelson if he had a lot more energy, and had Frank Zappa playing guitar on the exact drugs that Eric Clapton did. Or yeah, “the drugs Hendrix was on,” like Ghostface Killah said. Part B of this song features several voluminous, arguably career-defining climaxes (“Divided Sky” is surely a favorite among all die-hard fans) and yes, it was during one of these I think that like I said, my power went out, giving me all the more impression that I was having an unadulterated conversation with God, or at least A god of some sort. But then, all great music has the ability to give you this feeling, when you’re really into it.
Surprisingly, even after this undeniably proud “Divided Sky,” “I Didn’t Know,” an a capella jam in every bit the spirit of repetitive old doo-wop Motown, did anything but disappoint. They segued it again and it provided the perfect addendum to which “Divided Sky” was lead-in — obviously not that it upstaged its predecessor or anything, but still instrumental in further behooving the mood, avoiding post-epic awkwardness, if such a thing exists, and more than anything just reinforcing the fact that, with this amount of discipline, harmony and complex interplay NO OTHER BAND ON THE PLANET could do what they do at the moment.
But then, the flipside of this is that, I dunno, maybe like Primus they’re just SO ostracized from culture (remember, this is back when there was the type of person known as a “square,” who looked down on weed, with whom hippies could be so proudly juxtaposed) that they’re just saddled with a crushing inferiority complex and feel the need to play like until the earth cycles into its next astrological age. To be honest, after “I Didn’t Know” (I skipped “Golgi Apparatus” because I happen to know that that song sucks), St. Louis ’93 had already compiled more than enough great rock, more than enough unforgettable moments. So it’s good that they got some of the quality material out of the way here, whereas the studio version of “Mound” far outmodes this one for the latter’s drag from band fatigue. But at this point, it would be more alarming if the band WEREN’T tired than it is in its current form. I’m not gonna tell you DEFINITELY don’t spend all the money on this six-CD boxed set, but definitely go with Hampton Comes Alive over this one for its “N.I.C.U.,” “The Mango Song” and Stevie Wonder cover “Boogie on Reggae Woman.” Phish is great music for late spring or the period which leads directly to summer and the fact that their nagging habit of trying to do too much only manifests itself temporally here, and never with pure functional artistic malady, speaks volumes to their abilities as artists, musicians and live rockers.