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Tuesday, December 4

DVD Review: Phish - Star Lake 98 DVD - Jemp Records

Star Lake Amphitheatre – 8/11/1998
Jemp Records

This December Phish will again release an archival DVD from a past show.  This time they choose to pick their August 11th concert from what was then known as Star Lake Amphitheatre.  Coming at the end of a massive Summer Tour and only one show before the famous Lemonwheel Festival this show is a perfect cocktail of all that was wondrous and great of Phish that tour.

Before we talk about the content, let’s talk about the quality i.e. what you’re actually getting for your $23.  The show comes in stereo and 5.1, recorded by Languedoc himself and mixed by Jon Altschiller, it was mastered together at Battery Studios in NY and they did a more than decent job.  The video, though shot from a measly 3-camera lawn screen feed and done so extracted so from VHS  it remains in square (4:3 dimensions) and is somewhat rough around the edges.  This however doesn't detract from the DVD set simply because it helps put the show in it's place properly in time. Before 7-camera webcasts, HDTV and even more importantly before the days of plaid shirts, scarves and before the neon green Phish Logo on Fishman’s bass drum, all this adds perspective and reminds you that this is from Phish 14 years ago, pre even one hiatus, when the band was peaking in more ways than one.

The show starts off with a debut, and even at that time was being coined as the "Summer of Covers" at Star Lake this comes in form of very smooth take on Marley’s “Trench Town Rock”.  After a rocking “Julius” and “Wolfman’s” we get the once reigning bust out king, Little Feat’s “Time Loves a Hero” (1,022 shows).
“Bittersweet Motel” is a nice short treat before the “Reba” that is the monster of the first set. Coming in over 17-minutes it gives way to a sonically diverse first set wrapping up with all Trey and Trey/Tom songs, minus the always upbeat bluegrass ditty “Ginseng Sullivan”- go Mike go!  The set ends with Chris’ lights fully encompassing the band and fans as they sing in unison one of greater songs off of 1994 release Hoist, “Sample In A Jar”.

Even though they only had three feeds to compile the video from, the editing is top notch and the viewer gets to see the small little expressions and communications that go easily by the wayside during a live set; from the lyrical notes of “Trench Town” to the smirks between Trey and Page.  Opening or rather launching set two into action, the show is graced with one of the more diverse and lengthy takes on “Runaway Jim” as it literally runs around freely for 35-minutes, the “Meat” is fresh and gives us the ability to view the how the complicated harmonies that flow over each other from each members vocals are created.  This perspective is an example of why taking a second or third look from multiple points-of-view really helps the fan put the Phish performance into their own perspective.  The only other cover of the show is “When Circus Comes To Town”, and is a inverted moment to before moments and is easily coined as the (ballad) of the show. "Circus" slows things down just enough for a raging “Down With Disease” which has the famous lyrics: “….waiting for the time when I can finally say that this has all been wonderful but now I’m on my way…” and with the song delivered in amazing rock-your-socks-off fashion, it draws out the ending of the show with cheers from the fans and singing alike. The excitement of the evening captured for all of us, now on disc.  Again playing to the power of the crowd and our love of songs that we can sing along to, the encore contains a rock heavy “Wilson” into an even rock heavier “Golgi Apparatus”.  Echoes of “I saw you with a ticket-stub in your hand” bounce around your ears at the end of this classic show, one that is a perfect mixture of what made Summer 1998 so grand and so diverse and all the while captivating to even newly introduced Phish fans.
In closing I"ll answer a few questions that I’d like asked before I get my hands on it.  
Would I buy it?
I did, so yes.  
Is it worth it? 
Absolutely, every penny- it adds to a collection only making it greater in diversity and documents an era that needs to be on every fans shelf.  
How would I rate the audio and video?
  The audio is a high 8 or 9, and the video comes in at 6. 
  What I loved most about it?  
For me it was the crowd shots and the intimate shots of the band as they interact between songs and during the complex changes. 
  What I disliked about it?  
The only complaint is something I could never change and neither could they and that is simply the video is from VHS.  They made it as clear and pure to the eye as humanly possible, but if anything lacks it is this.  However like I said it adds time and context to the entire show, so scratch that I give the video a high 7 for sentimental reasons. 
The three hour Star Lake 98 DVD is still available on pre-sale at Phish Dry Goods and will be in stores in one week from today.  It’s a good buy at $23 and they are starting the shipping right now. 
By: Sammy Martin
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