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.