Phish has never been intimidated by magnitude. Whether playing seven-hour sets (set two on December 31, 1999 in Seminole, Florida)or delving into hour-plus renditions of trademark songs ("Tweezer," on more than one occasion), they have never shied from going big.
This very vibe fuels the bristling energy of Phish’s first foray into the mega-festival, 1996’s The Clifford Ball, a two-day marathon of music at an abandoned airbase in Plattsburgh, N.Y., that saw Phish play to the largest audience of its career, topping out at 80,000 rabid fans. The first of seven weekend-long festivals intended to celebrate the music of Phish, the sounds and experiences of the festival are now more than legend with the release of a seven-DVD box set, The Clifford Ball. The expansive set features the six sets the band played during the festival in their entirety, as well as a disc of extras including footage of the band’s late night, flat-bed truck set, interviews with the band, and the footage of the making of a massive party that revolutionized the modern festival scene.
From the band’s tangible excitement as they walk onto the stage and launch into a vibrant reading of “Chalkdust Torture,” to the festival closing “Harpua,” this is seminal Phish. Stellar playing and flawless interplay abound, igniting “Bathtub Gin” early in the first set of day one and fueling “Run Like An Antelope” which anchors the second set of day two. While the music is center stage throughout the DVD package, interviews with fans, candid footage of the band members, and illustrations of the scene are prevalent, the camera a ubiquitous element at The Clifford Ball.
Phish recently solidified its return from a five-year hiatus with a stellar three-night run at the Hampton Coliseum, and the band promises much more with a summer tour on the way and a new album in the works. However, it will be near impossible to return to the magic that threaded each tour of the early- to mid- ‘90s. The innocence and sense of adventure that beams from The Clifford Ball DVD set is tangible, warm, and inspiring; a defining moment in the lustrous, larger-than-life career of Phish.
The Clifford Ball is out now on JEMP/Rhino.