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.

Shot 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 version.

The 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.

The 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!

In 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

© Beppe Colli 2004 | Oct. 26, 2004