Phish’s growing legion of fans contend that the musically adventurous Vermont quartet is the most amazing live band on the planet. With the release of A Live One, a two-CD set culled from the band’s 1994 tour, non-devotees can ponder the validity of this claim.
Often touted as a junior Grateful Dead, the jam-happy Phish knows a thing or two about stretching a song out. But where the Dead builds its interminable explorations on a bedrock of country spaciousness, Phish takes a kitchen-sink approach to improvisation, throwing in fusion, funk, Southern rock, reggae, and whatever else is handy. Sometimes it gels, sometimes not. Despite the estimable caliber of Phish’s musicianship, listening to a sprawling track like ”Tweezer” — which clocks in at over half an hour — is ultimately more enervating than invigorating. It’s a pity, because when Phish reins itself in, the results can be gratifying: Cock an ear to ”Chalkdust Torture,” which zooms along like the Allman Brothers Band on an amphetamine jag.
Phish’s freewheeling eclecticism is impressive, yes, but someone ought to hip these boys to the short-and-sweet aesthetic exemplified by early Ramones. B-