DVD Review: Phish – Live at Alpine Valley

The legendary 37,000 seat Alpine Valley Music Theatre has been home to a number of scorching Phish shows – 11 to be exact – and after hiatus after hiatus remains one of the band’s more dear and traditional venues.

Playing their first show at the East Troy, WI venue in 1996, Phish has made Alpine Valley a home for the extraordinary, and as far as Phish 3.0 is concerned, their two-night stand in August of 2010 was no exception.

Phish’s latest DVD, and second in two months, showcases the band’s August 14 performance in its entirety. Fans who spent the summer and autumn months traveling alongside the band will remember each and every performance having been videotaped, perhaps none better than this treat from Wisconsin.

The band opened the show with a short but sweet “Tube” followed by a bustout of “The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony” before heading right into a nonstop period of energy highlighted by a dark “Reba” and the darker “Fuck Your Face,” played for only the second time since 1987.

It’s noticeable right away that the band’s playing isn’t the only quality piece to this package. While unfortunately not Blu-ray (where’s my Phish Blu-ray!!?), the quality of the image is crisp, clean and clear and at a quick glance could fool me into believing that it has high definition capabilities.

The number of angles, shots and locations the crew filmed from does a lot for the production. All too often are concert DVDs succumbed to only a handful of viewpoints, but the production team does a good job at making sure all band members are equally accounted for.

The crew does an equally great job at showcasing Chris Kuroda’s light display, something I felt was always missing from previous Phish concert DVDs. While Kuroda’s strobe effects don’t translate on film as well as they do in the flesh, the mesmerizing lights ante up the performance, and fans won’t come out of the first set without feeling it. Set closer “Run Like an Antelope” should come with a seizure and enjoyment warning.

Where Live at Alpine Valley holds the most weight is in its second set. Opening with a sturdy “The Sloth,” the band heads right into another world with a 17-minute “Down with Disease” whose segue into “What’s the Use?” is in contention for the best of 2010. “Disease” brings the Phish mothership down to East Troy and consumes the minds of those in attendance, lifting spirits sky high before slowly moving into a darker, spacier jam that eventually turns into the guitar-driven and majestic “What’s the Use?”

Things only pick up for the band as the second set continues, as guitarist Trey Anastasio opens up the always enjoyable “Scent of a Mule” before the band drops into a Mike’s Groove with a unique grouping of “Dirt” and “Sneakin’ Sally Thru the Alley” as the meat between the “Mike’s Song” and “Weekapaug Groove” bread.

The band closes the second set with the ponderous “Bug,” a fittingly uplifting conclusion to a fiery set of music. Phish opted for a one-song encore on this night, with a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Quinn the Eskimo” as the healthy choice for the Wisconsin faithful.

There was hardly a better choice in the summer of 2010 to be documented in such high quality than the August 14 East Troy performance. The show captures everything about Phish, from fun standards “Suzy Greenberg” to rarities like “Fuck Your Face” to the deep, dark and energetic jamming found in “Down with Disease.”

The DVD fortunately doesn’t forget that Phish played a show on August 15 as well, as the only extras on the two-disc DVD set are performances from that night’s show, including “AC/DC Bag,” “The Divided Sky,” “Ghost” and “Big Black Furry Creature from Mars.” It’s only a handful of sampling from the second show, but it’s certainly better than nothing. In addition, we’re treated to CDs of the August 14 performance. Whether you can find a use for them in this digital age is another question.

Live at Alpine Valley deserves a place on any Phish fan’s shelf. The production quality is better than good, and the Phish quality is just about as wonderful as Phish 3.0 has been yet. Get yourself ready for the New Years run!

Setlist:

Set 1: Tube, The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony > Suzy Greenberg, Funky Bitch, Reba, Fuck Your Face,Alaska, Back On The Train, Taste > When the Circus Comes to Town, Lawn Boy, Sparkle, Gumbo> Run Like An Antelope

Set 2: The Sloth, Down With Disease > What’s the Use > Scent of a Mule, Mike’s Song > Dirt >Sneaking Sally Through the Alley > Weekapaug Groove, Bug

Encore: Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)

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