Phish Friday | Clifford Ball Set II, A Magnum Opus?

This week’s Phish Friday selection comes from Live Music Blog friend, Gibs, whose Phish roots run deep and whose musical mind is a bit of an enigma. He’s always been a friend whose brain swells with musical ideas that he usually keeps to himself, only to unleash them at rare moments on unsuspecting friends. I recently stopped bugging him about sharing some of his writings on LMB, and I think that may have done the trick. Just this week, he finally decided it was time to share with us one of his favorite Phish sets of all time. Enjoy.

For me, Phish has never played a more complete, perfect set than Set II from the Clifford Ball on 8/17/96. Sure, other sets might provide more craziness (a la MSG 12/30/97 or the Amsterdam worm); or nostalgia (a la the redemptive Alpine encore ’99 or Stuttgart ’97). But for this moment in time out in Plattsburgh, the Vermont foursome reached the pinnacle. Emboldended by their own confidence and progress – and probably surprised that so many people were willing to venture forth into the strangeness and share and follow in their journey together – Phish created a masterpiece. The whole weekend confirmed the greatness in our own minds, as the two days are littered with brilliant performances (Reba is pure bliss), but for me this set takes the cake by far…

“The Curtain” – how they should have played it at Coventry, a primer to set things off.

“Runaway Jim” – Trey weaves in and out but never strays too far from the theme. But this is ‘groupmind’ hitting on all cylinders.

“It’s Ice” – Page takes command of this one, the breakdown segment is filled with joy and inspiration.

“Brother” – pure, unadulterated fun with Ben & Jerry coming out for the refrain. Sure, it’s somewhat stupid, but the solo Trey pulls off against the rhythmic pulse is amazing every time I listen to it. Somewhat subtle. It never quite soars, but it slays me.

“Fluffhead” – nailed. Enough said. The composition reaches each part with anticipation and build – we all know what is coming next, but this one is practically flawless.

“Antelope” – the antithesis of the form preceeding it, as this one is all improv first with a little form at the backend coda. Easily Top 5 versions ever played – it has both purpose and direction from the word go.

“Golgi” – need a little break and fun.

“Slave” – THE reason why this set rings so true for me…patient and transcendently beautiful. Never before has the ending reached such blissful euphoria. Trey starts hitting notes that even he seems surprised by, but he is careful not to rush this song in this setting. I could listen to this version from about the 10:00 mark on and never grow bored. It is incendiary, but not overbearing. And as they reach that crescendo, they burst forth into the climax with a sense of wonder and relief.

Enjoy!

WHITperson -- aka Marc Whitman or simply "Whit" -- is a long-time LMB contributor known for his in-depth posting style and his knack for crafting interesting podcasts. Whit currently resides in Brooklyn, where he's building up his web development chops and hoping to put his technical skills towards something interesting in the music world. Follow his updates over at whitperson.com and on twitter @whitperson.
  • mike k

    > For me, Phish has never played a more complete,
    > perfect set than Set II from the Clifford Ball
    > on 8/17/96.

    100% agreed. Although I’m biased because I was actually there, this set was PHENOMINAL.

    It’s very hard to describe this set in retrospect. In no uncertain terms, this was (certainly for the 1st time for Phish) an example of 70,000 people *completely* in the zone… and they rose to the occasion.

    That’s all I can say. If you were there, you Got It. No smugness, no one-upmanship, no Old Skool intended. Just… WOW.

    I’ll remember that set (& show for that matter) as one of the best experiences of my life.

  • http://superphly.com. mike k

    > For me, Phish has never played a more complete,
    > perfect set than Set II from the Clifford Ball
    > on 8/17/96.

    100% agreed. Although I’m biased because I was actually there, this set was PHENOMINAL.

    It’s very hard to describe this set in retrospect. In no uncertain terms, this was (certainly for the 1st time for Phish) an example of 70,000 people *completely* in the zone… and they rose to the occasion.

    That’s all I can say. If you were there, you Got It. No smugness, no one-upmanship, no Old Skool intended. Just… WOW.

    I’ll remember that set (& show for that matter) as one of the best experiences of my life.

  • Lib4

    My absolute favorite is the beginning of “The Curtain” with the Dead-like “…and take another step back” tribute to the guy who is “….front and center every show…I dont know how you do it”…

    Its one of those moments that not really part of the show but lives on for ever and ever on tape….

    Those words instantly brought me back to not only the Clifford ball but the 700 other times I listened to this show …great stuff

  • Lib4

    My absolute favorite is the beginning of “The Curtain” with the Dead-like “…and take another step back” tribute to the guy who is “….front and center every show…I dont know how you do it”…

    Its one of those moments that not really part of the show but lives on for ever and ever on tape….

    Those words instantly brought me back to not only the Clifford ball but the 700 other times I listened to this show …great stuff

  • jared

    pleas post set III. Free,strange design,squirming coil ect please please please cant find it any where

  • jared

    pleas post set III. Free,strange design,squirming coil ect please please please cant find it any where

  • stan

    listening now. first comment is Whoa on the sound quality. much better than whatever source i have, which is why this set hasn't gotten a lot of play for me.

    i'll check back in. so far so good.