How does a band top itself after they’ve sold out Madison Square Garden on New Year’s Eve for a show (December 31, 1995) regarded by most fans as the greatest in the group’s history? By staging the biggest concert event in North America. The modern festival boom that brought us Bonnaroo and Coachella traces back to Phish’s landmark 1996 festival, the Clifford Ball, which drew 70,000 to the Plattsburgh AFB in upstate New York.
This seven-DVD box set delivers every note from all six sets Phish played that weekend, along with a bonus disc featuring interviews and the 4 a.m. flatbed truck jam the band played while being driven around the campgrounds in between the shows. With a $99 price tag, this package is clearly aimed at serious “phans.” But one could easily get hooked here — the performances are a triumph of the band’s hugely influential improvisational style, as well as its diverse influences, which span the popular music spectrum.
Looking for an epic prog-rock tour de force as the sun sets? See “Divided Sky.” Beautiful harmonies over acoustic guitars? See “Train Song” and “Strange Design.” A cappella barbershop quartet? “Hello My Baby.” Groovy funk dance-a-thons morphing into rocking psychedelic jams? See “Halley’s Comet>David Bowie” and “2001>Down With Disease.” And that’s just the first day.
The bonus materials show how the band created a fan-friendly festival that sought to deliver a unique experience and carnival vibe with rides, aerial shows, wandering artists, nighttime movie screenings for campers, and various other diversions. The band made such festivals an annual rite, creating for many what was a life-changing alternate reality in which the Phish Nation could exist for a transformative weekend of near-utopian peace and harmony. It all started with the Clifford Ball, making this box set a document of both great musical and historical value.