While the phaithful could drown blissfully in the abundance of live shows Phish has released over the Internet, there's something special about their physical CD releases. Unlike the forefathers of jam before them, marquee Phish shows usually lived up to, if not beyond, their preceding hype; Halloween, New Year's, summer festivals, and in this case, a tour-ending and debut performance in Sin City. The twenty extra bucks for the limited edition set with DVD footage is crucial - either throw down or add it to your Christmas list if it isn't there already.
The crackle of the crowd opens into a thunder-thumping "Wilson," itself leading into a rare, Frank-worthy cover of "Peaches en Regalia." The highlight of the first set, though, has to be the robotic-cow funk that emerges in "2001." One of the first previews of the James Brown groove that would come to dominate their live shows of 1997, the boogie-trance is thoroughly embraced by this juiced-up Vegas crowd. Check out the DVD to see Chris Kuroda cut the lights and induce an all-out 8000-person dance off in the Aladdin Theatre. The set ends with three different closers, "You Enjoy Myself," "Down With Disease," and "Frankenstein" - all stepping-stones to the ferocity that would continue in the second set.
Many considered 1996 to be somewhat of an off year for the band, as Trey tried to deny his leadership role and let others unsuccessfully take control of the music. Luckily on this night, the Vegas heat had Mr. Anastasio's ego pumped high, and he came ready to attack, mercilessly. The kindling ignites during "Julius," but during the band's grimy embrace of "Mike's Song," the propane begins to reign. A solid "Simple" then leads into a somewhat unexpected "Harry Hood." But remember, this is back when "Hood"s could still be inspiring, and this jam stands tall with some of their most delicate awe-inciters. Enter "Weekapaug Groove" stage right.
The fervor exponentially increases throughout this "Weekapaug" - complete with three fake endings that only build harder on each return. Boiling point exceeded, goose bumps confirmed, it's hands down one of my favorites of all time.
However, it's the encore that's made me hold onto my busted XL-II's of this show for so long. A reworked "Harpua" in 4/4 allows Larry and Les from Primus to nestle right in with the band, and the oddities only expand from there. Claypool rapping about Weed, and some Nevada yodelers with their cowboy pedal-steel player? Both lead to the climax of a Fishman showdown with four local Elvis impersonators that was so beyond epic that Phish would never play "Suspicious Minds" again. This then re-culminates in a dance-party "Suzy Greenberg" with Lar taking care of the funky git while Trey dances around hitting the siren sound on his blow horn. Oh yeah, is that Malakai from Children of the Corn on Trey's side drum kit? It's probably one of the most insane visual moments ever on a Phish stage, and again makes getting the bonus disc critical. This could be the one that makes your friends understand.