Phish’s Star Lake ’98 DVD Review

Star Lake '98

Phish has played some pretty fantastic shows at the pavilion that boarders Ohio and Pennsylvania once known as Star Lake. You’re probably most familiar with their 2003 throw-down, their wacky 2009 encore, or their extended take on Gumbo in 1997. If those are the only highlights that ring a bell, you might want to check out Phish’s newest DVD being released on December 11.

Two days before the summer-tour-ending Lemonwheel festival, Phish rolled into Burgettstown to a welcoming crowd on a sunny day. August 11, 1998’s mid-week show was special from the start when the debuted Bob Marley’s ‘Trenchtown Rock’. The video gives us the ability to see the lyric sheets taped to Trey’s monitor and Fishman’s kit for the reggae cover.

The remastered soundboard audio provides great sound during the highs of the gushing notes during a nearly 18-minute ‘Reba’ and the lows of the bass during ‘Wolfman’s Brother’. Actually, the audio gives us our first soundboard recording of the ‘Time Loves a Hero’ bustout that slips out of ‘Wolfman’s’. The Little Feat song was played for the first time in a decade. The bustout of ‘Time Loves a Hero’ is akin the the magnitude of the ‘Fuck Your Face’ bustout in 2010 with over a 1,000-show gap!

While the audio of the DVD is nice and crispy, in either 5.1 or stereo, the video comes from a VHS tape. It’s good quality for an analog recording, but still in the 4:3 (square) TV dimensions. It’s hard to fault Phish for this as there’s not much they can do considering the technology of the time (unlike how I complain about 3.0 concerts being released on DVD rather than Blu-ray).

The show boasts a massive first set aside from the two huge covers already mentioned. A rocking ‘Julius’, a funky ‘Wolfman’s Brother’, a wailing ‘Reba’, and monumental ‘Maze’ take us into setbreak with a full head of steam. Apparently they didn’t take the time during setbreak to cool down because the second set opens with a 35-minute ‘Runaway Jim’ that winds its way through Star Lake’s hilly terrain like a gymnast on LSD. The jam starts after initially becoming spacey and quiet, laced with digital delay loops so common to the era. A grizzled Fishman keeps things rolling on his hi-hat and wood blocks. About halfway through, the tempo slowly picks up as Trey starts delicately experimenting with different effects on his Languedoc.

This ‘Jim’ has moments of pure bliss when Page and Trey seem to find common ground on their respective instruments creating a larger whole than themselves. Eventually Trey starts ripping into the jam, Mike, wearing jeans with no belt, looks over at Fishman as if to say “well, here we go”. Anastasio finds a heavy rock theme to build his notes off of shortly after the 20-minute mark and the improvisation blows up from there. Eventually the rock theme settles down with a single eerie delay loop from Trey before he steps on his wah pedal for some 1997-inspired porno-funk licks. Page goes into full funk mode and switches to his synthesizer while Trey finds a simple but engaging pattern of descending, plinky notes to work with. Mike’s bulbous bass licks serve as the meat and potatoes to this pattern-infused final jam. Speaking of MEAT…after the band wraps this extended jam up in a tight little package by going into the end of  ‘Jim’, they jump into my second favorite version of the song ever!

This show contained my favorite version of ‘Meat’ until 11/29/2009’s version in Maine. Typically the song is played in a pretty cookie-cutter sort of way. This one branches out a tad when they reach the punctuated end of the composition and Trey smoothly steps on his wah pedal for some thick funk before ending the song. It might not sound like a lot to most people, but this 20 seconds of music adds depth that is priceless to me–make sure to check it out.

While the band opened this second set with an adventurous type-II jam, they closed it with thirteen minutes of raging type-I bliss during ‘Down with Disease’. The video shows the joy Trey was feeling  leading up to their Lemonwheel extravaganza as he looks into the sky during one of his extended guitar solos before finding himself at the song’s refrain to end the set.

This DVD set is being released just in time for the holidays. It’s a perfect stocking-stuffer for a loved one or even as a little Christmas present to yourself (you know you deserve it). Also, if you pre-order it before December 7, it comes with a bonus disc titled “So Inclined” featuring some of the best songs from the venue including what I think is the best Stash and Gumbo ever performed! Pre-order it here for $22 and get it before the department stores sell out of them!