Alpine Valley Box Set Review

Alpine Valley Box Set

As written on the cover of Phish’s new DVD/CD box set, Alpine Valley is indeed “legendary.” The two concerts there over the weekend of August 14 & 15, 2010, anchored the second half of the band’s summer tour, with powerful performances on all fronts. The weekend at Alpine Valley included arguably the best two shows of August and possibly all of summer. This box set highlights the first night.

Alpine Valley is a true midwestern gem. It’s set far away from any sort of modern city (at 45 minutes, Milwaukee is the closest) and you have to drive through rolling corn fields and ascend into the base of a valley between ski hills before you can take your seat. The venue, claimed to be Mike Gordon’s “favorite” place to play in a 2004 interview, has the reputation of being summer tour’s big party each year it’s played. The steep angles of the amphitheater make for a wall of energy right in the band’s face. Between the massive capacity, wonderful weather, three huge lots, beautiful scenery, and literally every concert being among its respective tour’s finest, there is nothing that compares to seeing Phish at this historic venue. Alpine Valley encompasses all that is Summer Tour Phish.

The set includes four discs: 2 DVDs and 2 CDs. Not only do the DVDs have the entire concert from August 14, parts (much) of the second night is included as filler material. The first disc has the entire first set of the second night, and the second disc includes the Ghost > Theme From the Bottom > Big Black Furry Creature from Mars from the second night. The packaging includes an impressive panoramic picture of the Alpine crowd, along with a booklet of pictures Dave Vann took during the concert. The inside pocket also contains a special, alternative style, Alpine Valley merit badge.

The camera shots are wonderful; those familiar with the select videos from Phish’s Vimeo site will already have an idea of what to expect. There are cameras set up at the soundboard for direct band shots that feature a stunning perspective of Chris Kuroda’s lights syncing with the music. There are great behind-band shots looking onto the audience, side-stage shots, and close-ups of band members and instruments. Every now and then there are audience members picked out for brief cameos. The video editing is done very well, focusing on the correct band member for the given moment.

8.14.10 Alpine Valley (Dave Vann)

Unlike the Coral Sky DVD, these are in a 16:9 aspect ratio (normal wide screen). The video quality, while not HD, is very good–however, it begs the question: when is Phish going to be releasing 1080p (7.1 audio) Blu-rays?

Just because we live in an MP3 world, don’t dismiss the CDs that are included in the set. Although the Live Phish recordings released after each show sound good, these CDs are remastered from the soundboards for much higher quality. Also, with so many people listening to MP3s instead of CDs now, most have forgotten that MP3s have inferior audio quality compared to CDs. The audio on these is simply amazing. The fullness and crispness of the mixing really hit me in Suzy Greenberg. Speaking of Suzy, let’s discuss the music.

Set 1: Tube > The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony > Suzy Greenberg, Funky Bitch, Reba, Fuck Your Face, Alaska, Back on the Train, Taste > When the Circus Comes, Lawn Boy,Sparkle, Gumbo > Run Like an Antelope

Set 2: The Sloth, Down with Disease -> What’s the Use? > Scent of a Mule, Mike’s Song > Dirt > Sneakin’ Sally through the Alley > Weekapaug Groove, Bug

Encore: Quinn the Eskimo

Notes: Reba did not have the whistling ending. The Marco Esquandolas lyric in Antelope was changed to Marco Benevento.

Phish likes to open Alpine shows with a bang. What could be better than a punctuated Tube to get people on that hill moving? Although it was yet another short 2010 version, it wasn’t played without swagger. It threw everyone off for what was to come next: the third Oh Kee Pa Ceremony since Phish’s return. The tightly composed piece popped into its frequent partner in crime, Suzy Greenberg.

8.14.10 Alpine Valley (Dave Vann)

This Suzy captures the energy and beautiful weather of the day. When thousands of people are getting down under the hot sun, there is nothing better than an early-show, piano-driven jam. Page plays a bit longer than Trey expected, causing Trey to just smile. Page gets flat-out rambunctious on his baby grand.

Funky Bitch follows; last year, the song was played by request, this time around it’s played because Mike wants to be heard.

Before moving on, let me say that I am fully aware of how often I am using the word “energy”. I am not overusing it; this venue was absolutely bursting at the seams with it throughout every single song this night.

Like in a lot of 2010 versions of Funky Bitch, Mike is playful with the lyrics–repeating choice words. However, this version is set about from the others in 3 ways:

  1. Trey dives into his guitar, headfirst, and slaughters it.
  2. Mike’s bass is exceptionally quick with pop to it.
  3. Trey actually sounds funky during the first half of the jam (Page’s part)–minus the use of the wah pedal.

Reba was the second-best version played since their 2009 return (it was the best until Fall Tour’s Augusta version). Trey noodles out of the gate, not aimlessly, but ambitiously–much like he used to in the song during the 90’s. After some quality band interplay, he quickly crawls up his fretboard for the beginning of the end. Trey goes through a series of quick peaks before wrapping it up. Then, in stark contrast to the tight and beautiful offerings of Reba, Trey launches into the third ever (2nd since the 80’s) version of Mike Gordon’s Fuck Your Face–a song very few fans can claim to have witnessed.

8.14.10 Alpine Valley (A. Brotherhood)

After a fun Lawn Boy (in which Page tells Mike to “cut that out” during his bass solo) and a Back on the Train that featured a Phishy take on some blues–Trey punctuating his bluesy playing with soft but powerful chords–came a particularly powerful rendition of Run Like an Antelope.

Antelope was standard as it started; however, everyone knew the band wanted to close this set with power as the jam sank down, as fast as the sun was, out of the gates of the composed section. The jam reached a screaming pinnacle, leaving everyone sweaty as the house lights came on, giving people something to talk about during the 40-minute set break.

Sloth, which would provide an unusual and welcome start to any set, opened the second half of the show. When Mike was asked in the parking lot the following night if it was played because of the “Sloth” sign being held in front of him, his simple response was, “aaaaaah, no!”

DVD Design

The Down with Disease that followed was, unquestionably, one of the highlights of the year. Although this era of Phish contains fewer truly exploratory jams, Down with Disease still pushes the boundaries. This version’s psychedelic improvisation is powerful enough to make anyone’s jaw drop, non-fan and fan alike. The jam flows through a number of separate-but-connected, segments. Trey leads for some, Page leads for some and Mike leads for some. After nearly 18 minutes of face-melting, the entire band seamlessly segued into the instrumental rarity, What’s the Use. When Trey’s new Languedoc guitar belted out the song’s first lick, the Phish faithful went nuts–while many less attentive fans just thought it was part of the jam. The entire combination of songs lasts nearly 30 minutes.

Without hesitating, Trey leads his crew into the first Scent of a Mule of the year, buffering the first half from the second of the latter set. Following Mule came a powerful but era-standard Mike’s Song. The song sank into a gorgeous version of Dirt, with Trey and Page weaving in and out of each other’s melodies.

If they can attach Dirt to the end of Mike’s Song, why not attach Sneaking Sally to the end of Dirt? Although this Sneakin’ is short-lived (about 9 minutes), there are two parts that I enjoy a lot: the entire middle segment of the song, before the return to the lyrics, and the now-expected vocal jam leading to Trey’s wailing guitar emerging at the end.

Mike Gordon @ Alpine 8.15.10 (A. Brotherhood)

Weekapaug Groove was in a state of growth at the time. It certainly is high-energy, and it showcases the way the song has improved from the first leg of the tour.

Phish wasn’t going to let the slower song, Bug, bring the night’s energy down. Trey took an impressive lead in this song and destroyed everyone before heading off the stage, only to come back and play the fan favorite, Quinn the Eskimo, for the second time in 11 years.

This box set would make a great addition to the music collection not only of a Phish fan, but any music lover. They did a great job with the release in all aspects. The only way it could be improved is if it had been released in high-definition Blu-ray.

The Alpine Valley 2010 DVD/CD box set is available for pre-order from Phish’s Dry Goods now. It will be available in stores on December 14th. More images of the box set can be seen here.