PHISH AMBIENT JAM GRADE: 8 out of 10
Highlights: Bathtub Gin, Maze, LXL, Free, My Left Toe, Stash
Listen Here: http://www.phishtracks.com/shows/1999-06-30
The Bonner Springs, Kansas Phish Summer Tour opener was the declaration that Phish's new phase of "ambient jamming" was the focus of 1999.
To set the scene.... The June 30th concert was the first official Phish show of 1999, but a number of performances by individual or group side projects as well as private shows had already taken place (Including the 'Carreystock' show with actor Jim Carrey). Similar to 2013, the Phans were anxiously awaiting Summer Tour to start after a great deal of anticipation had been building for the "kind" of Phish that would be unveiled after such an amazing Spring season of artistic collaboration.
The first six months of 1999 were busy for Phish band members. Trey had formed the "Trio" and toured for the first time that Spring as a solo artist. Trey and Page had joined Phil Lesh for the first run of "Phil and Friends" shows during the ides of April - in what could only be hailed as the most prolific collaboration among The Grateful Dead and Phish in history. Jon Fishman had been working with the Jamie Masefield led Jazz Mandolin Project. Mike Gordon was busy working on his film "Outside Out" with Col. Bruce Hampton of ARU.
< Trey & Phil Lesh
rehearsing at the
Warfield in SF
Jon Fishman & Jamie Masefield >
with Jazz Mandolin Project
6/30/99 SET I
The Bonner Springs, Kansas show opens with a BANG! A huge Bathtub Gin with full band exploration and an ambient jam that enveloped the venue in a haze of mixed rhythmic signatures, gorgeous varied loops, and beautiful themes from Trey on guitar and Page on the baby grand piano. This Bathtub Gin ambient jam never goes fully off the edge of the world into polyphonic disarray, but seems to bridge the melodic jams Phish is known for crafting through its live improvisation with the new backdrop of fuzz, feedback and "wall of sound" alien effects from Page. The last 7 minutes of this Gin Jam are truly mesmerizing. Standard set filler gets us to a strong Maze with Trey using his drone based feedback loop to build the transitions and backdrops throughout the song. A nice touch using this new ambient style, but no full blown out jam. The Limb X Limb that followed Maze has a lovely melodic jam with some beautiful solo work through the jam and back into the coda. Quite lovely touches by Page and Trey at the end of this nearly 12 minute LXL, but nothing remotely close to the ambience of the Bathtub Gin opener.
6/30/99 SET 2
Opening with a Squirming Coil seems a bit strange, but was clearly meant as a warmup for what was to become a set full of the band's new ideas into sonic exploration. The end of the Squirming Coil piano solo culminates with a feedback buildup and the sonic texturing that Trey had been using throughout transitions in the first set. The buildup bled into a monster Free that carries the same feedback touches throughout the intro as Trey pushed the band to carry that new spark throughout the set. The superb Free jam that emerged found Gordon and Fishman providing a strong backbone and beat for Trey's droning and feedback loops on top of Page's alien landscapes. While the bass and drums steer the beat away from complete ambient bliss, the work of Trey and Page to pull the psychedelic backdrop to the forefront creates a Free jam that is jaw dropping. The set rolls on through a seque-fest of Birds of a Feather > Simple > Swept Away > Steep > Piper with various ambient flourishes to carry the torch until unleashing the first ever My Left Toe. This 9+ minute MLT (a track originally recorded at 4min 47sec) is a gorgeous ambient musical display which Phish crafts with reckless abandon and intense precision. A culmination of three years worth of work on the Siket Disc, and finally an opportunity to display this new masterpiece has resulted in near perfection. While vastly different than any song publicly played by Phish in the past (at least any song with an actual name), MLT evokes amazing images and emotions in a musical onslaught to every nerve and every synapse. It both attacks you and lifts you floating to the heavens. At the time, many Phans were unsure what to make of this new style and direction, but upon further review it is clear that Phish was developing a genre perfected by bands like Radiohead years later. Listening to the show again on Phishtracks.com, it is evident by the crowd reaction that Phans are blown away by the new song and an almost unheard of late second set stunned silence falls over the crowd... Page breaks the silence to announce unceremoniously, "that was the first song off our new album, it's called My Left Toe."
All in all a terrific debut for Phish in 1999 and a sign of the amazing things to come for the band in this oft overlooked, but seminal, year of creative exploration in music.