Amsterdam Box Set is Phish’s Finest Yet

Like many of you, I was already familiar with Phish’s impressive Amsterdam shows: 2/17, 7/1, and 7/2/97. Over time they sort of faded into the fog of all the great shows of that era, and these European tours sort of ended up playing second fiddle to Phish’s massively popular Fall ’97 tour just months later.

The spring and early summer ’97 shows feature a raw and potent band with a new style. Fall ’96 documents their beginning experimentation with open-ended Phish “funk” and the following two tours the next year in tiny venues overseas gave them the ability to tighten up this fresh sound and further solidify its impression on their live shows. The band picked out three of the most fierce shows from these two tours, all from the Netherlands, to enshrine on CD. Along with rumors and stories about psychedelic drugs swirling around these shows, which the music certainly speaks to, these concerts are also memorable for one-of-a-kind type-II jamming paired with incredible musical dexterity and tempo.

The composed sections are fiercely attacked by Trey with impressive precision but a lot of shows from that era are able to boast that, these shows are extra entertaining because of the space-funk jams and peculiar stage banter. Before receiving this box set, I haven’t listened, thoroughly, to these shows in probably a decade. Thankfully, these CDs have given me an excuse to focus all of my attention on just these three shows, back-to-back-to-back, and I’ve come away thinking this is probably the most bad-ass box set they have released. The shows have everything, explosive rock, break-neck bluegrass, off-the-wall banter, psychedelic space jams, and great setlists.

There’s many highlights of these shows since these shows themselves are highlights in the the band’s career. The three shows take up eight CDs and are so solid that it’s hard not to be completely engaged at every point of ever disc. Just in time for summer road trips, I’ll briefly go over some specific parts that make me happy they’ve found their way onto high-quality, remastered audio.

The Phish debut of “Soul Shakedown” opens up the box set before leading into a raging Divided Sky that sounds transplanted from ’95. There’s two Timbers in this box set and the first comes from the first CD. The awesome audio mixing work really shines here when you hear the thunderous rolls and closing hi-hat from Fishman during the song’s intro. The audio quality makes this first-set jam extra powerful.

I enjoyed falling into the trance that Down with Disease provided before slipping into the first-ever Carini…one that maxes out at around 22-minutes! The spacey jam beautifully finds its way into a transcendent Taste before seguing into the end of Down with Disease. This massive disease spans nearly an hour, all songs included.

The July 1 & 2 duo start off with quite a bang. A 20+ minute Ghost opens the shows with a jam that goes through many movements, including a “back of the worm” jam which must have been pretty puzzling, out of context, for those lucky enough to have attended in what some say is a 1,500-person venue. Trey offers more of an explanation the following night.

The show from the 2nd night provided a bit of “worm” context with a narration from Trey during a jam set to the song “Swingtown” where he explains some particularly haunting visions he had the night before their concerts, which many attribute to the help of certain substances. The second set of this show is particularly memorable not only for the odd banter but for the string of three songs that made the set up: a 30-minute Stash -> Llama (with Wormtown jam) -> Wading in the velvet sea. The show is capped off by a double encore; first Free, then they came back out for David Bowie.

This box set is just what the doctor ordered as we all embark on our summer plans, whether it involved tour or not. I highly recommend picking this gem up on Live Phish before any more of the summer slips away! Pre-orders ship around June 12.