Sometimes life is really funny: a documentary whose first goal was
to testify of the good health of a group that had reformed not too long
before, and that was to be shown in its natural habitat (i.e., live),
IT has now become the group's epitaph; the fact that the music featured
on this double DVD-V (quite agile, though its total length is about
4h. 30'), recorded on August 2 + 3, 2003 in Limestone, Me, during the
Festival that gives it its name, is really, really good is a good demonstration
of the fact that the group's decision to split was impossible to foresee.
As it's well known, at the end of 2000 Phish decided to take a long
rest - the now-famous "extended hiatus" - in order to recharge
their batteries; it was understood that never coming back to play together
was indeed a possibility. The group had left behind a good discography,
which included some nice peaks, and a long live career that had moved
in its typical (countercurrent) manner, the group's improvisational
spirit that had already informed their music characterizing those "special
events" whose ambition was to be "intimate" despite their
gigantic scale. Recorded on September 30, 2000, the
Live In Vegas DVD-V was a good - though by necessity limited - introduction
to what was special in their concerts. Two years later, a reunion that
is now quite easy to call premature (maybe the expression "without
hope" is more appropriate?), though it produced the excellent Round
Room, an album that showed the group seeking risks, and is so preferable
to the "real" end of Undermind.
in high definition, very well recorded, IT has been mixed - in both
stereo and 5.1 formats - by Elliot Schneider, an ace in his field. Shown
last August on PBS - the American "public" network - the documentary
(90') presents long song excerpts alternating with brief interviews
with all members of the quartet and some "field reports".
It's quite easy to say that the show succeeds in showing what is peculiar
to this group to people who are not necessarily their biggest fans.
The music is good, from groovy textures such as 46 Days, Birds Of A
Feather and Chalk Dust Torture to some jam excerpts, from nice rock'n'roll
such as the Lou Reed-penned Rock And Roll to the intricate structures
of perennial classics You Enjoy Myself and David Bowie. There's also
a nice close: The Lizards, though here the song appears in a shortened
episode titled Sunk City offers a glimpse on the scenographic/conceptual
side of the Festival, while the episode titled The Tower shows the "surprise
on a large scale" element so dear to Phish. During the brief interviews,
the four musicians are sometimes at a loss for words, but their ideas
appear loud and clear nonetheless. And a group whose sartorial concept
of "a great occasion" is to wear a brand-new jacket and to
comb their hair shows that music is their first priority.
second DVD (150') presents only music - here the songs are not shortened.
All the characteristics that have always made Phish unique - polystilism,
elasticity, risks, great ensemble rapport - are shown at their best.
The visuals always concentrate on the right aspects - close-ups of the
fingers, musicians looking at each other - during some quite long -
and quite moving - performances. We have classics such as Reba, Limb
By Limb, Chalk Dust Torture, David Bowie and The Lizards (the latter
with an excellent piano solo), and some tracks off Round Room - Waves,
Seven Below, Pebbles And Marbles. Strangely, on Seven Below the video
anticipates the audio by a full two seconds!
the end, one is saddened for the split of a group that - in this day
and age - was really unique. Watching IT makes one sadder still, even
if Undermind had told us that something had gone wrong in the group's
delicate chemistry. I'd call IT required watching/listening for anybody,
but especially so for those who love techno - one can't live on silicon
only - and those who have loved progressive but don't know what to listen
to anymore - passion and skill being not exclusive to a "genre".
© Beppe Colli 2004
CloudsandClocks.net | Oct. 26, 2004