Ventura: A Glimpse Into the Glory Years—Pt. II

Ventura County Fairgrounds

Ventura County Fairgrounds, Ventura, CA

Today we take a closer look at the Ventura shows from ’97 and ’98.

7/30/97: I: NICU > Wolfman’s Brother > Chalk Dust Torture, Water in the Sky, Stash, Weigh, Piper, Cars Trucks Buses, Character Zero

II: Punch You In the Eye, Free > David Bowie -> Cities -> David Bowie, Bouncing Around the Room, Uncle Pen, Prince Caspian > Fire

E: My Soul

First a little context. Ventura’s ’97 edition unfolded in the first half of the band’s US Summer Tour in about a week’s proximity to their experimental funk tour of Europe. The band was loose and honing in on a new sound they had developed since the previous Halloween. Eager to stretch almost any song into a syncopated groove session, the band had been throwing down spectacular shows in their first week stateside. Virginia Beach, Raleigh, Lakewood, Dallas, Austin, and Phoenix—all monster shows in their own right. And now it was onto Ventura.

7.30.97This Ventura show—an incredible portrait of Phish in the Summer of ‘97—has never circulated in great quality due to the coastal winds that swirled around the venue, thus this remastered soundboard comes as nothing short of a revelation. The first disc of the set brings us back to an era when first sets meant something. Right away in the second song “Wolfman’s” we hear the loose wah-funk that the band had been exploring all season. After Trey takes a solo over the bands extremely slowed patterns, the band locks into each other’s ideas in a thick dance jam that has nothing to do with the song, foreshadowing the methodical wah-grooves that would come to define the summer. The band surfs this wave without finishing the song with a brief jam on “Take Me to the River” that leads them directly into a “Chalk Dust” that grabbed me on first listen. The utter intensity and creative mini-tangents throughout this jam illustrate Phish taking no prisoners in their live show—even during a first set in Southern California.

The “Stash” that follows contains glorious jamming that smoothly moves in and out of a major key , providing a beautiful middle section to an intense tale. The band closed out the set with a four pack of songs, including a short, old-school “Piper” and a wah-infused “Cars, Trucks, Busses.” Despite the on point playing throughout the first set, this show has—rightfully—always been synonymous with the meat of the second.

Ventura Sleeve Art

Ventura Sleeve Art

Simply put, 7/30’s “Bowie -> Cities -> Bowie” is one of Phish’s finest jams from one of their finest improvisational years. Having warmed up for a month in Europe, the band hit US turf running, dropping monstrous jam after monstrous jam. But this one was special. Phish hadn’t played “Cities” in the United States since 1989, and the way the band builds into the song is nothing short of masterful. Blending their new-found groove with their intricate, prog-psychedelic roots, the guys dropped a piece of music that set the Phish world afire. Confident, daring, and without hesitation, they collectively tear apart the “David Bowie” jam as a band possessed, each contributing stunning pieces to the puzzle. But deep into the jam, the guys break down the seething music into something far more percussive. On comes Trey’s wah-pedal, and the band begins to migrate from darkness into quickened groove. The following few minutes are the most engaging of the jam as the band dives head first into some very unique funk patterns with Gordon going ape shit. The band is in destruction mode here as the music seems to be playing them as much as they are playing the music. Trey begins working in the rhythm licks of “Cities” and a James Brown concert breaks out! Straight Krush Groove here as the guys liken superhuman robots oozing with soul. “Cities” stays at its original pace throughout, far from the exaggeratedly slow versions that would follow. As the lyrics end, the band takes little time to seamlessly mesh back with “Bowie” in what seemed like an aural hallucination. And the band doesn’t just rush to finish the song, they dive back into the jam for seven minutes—longer than most current “Bowies” altogether—and annihilate the peak of the jam. Just as this sequence stole the show that summer night sixteen years ago, so does it steal the spotlight on this release, despite its mp3 soundboard having surfaced a few years ago. This sounds superior in every way.

After “Punch” kicks off the second set Free” gets the treatment in a version that serves as a signpost for the jam. The band had recently ditched the piano led direction and changed motifs with “Free,” transforming into the bass and guitar driven juggernaut of the late ‘90s. In this Ventura version, we hear the band acclimating to the new milieu, but without really building anything of significance. This would start to change over the summer and more earnestly in the Fall when the song truly started to expand. After such monumental jamming in the middle of the set, the band rode into the sunset with a quartet of diverse, well-played songs that end the show.

7/20/98: I: Bathtub Gin, Dirt, Poor Heart, Lawn Boy, My Sweet One, Birds of a Feather, Theme From the Bottom, Water in the Sky, The Moma Dance, Split Open and Melt

II: Drowned -> Makisupa Policeman > Maze, Sea and Sand, Prince Caspian >Harry Hood

E: Sexual Healing > Hold Your Head Up, Halley’s Comet

Ventura '98 Promo

Ventura ’98 Promo

While Ventura ’97 stood out amidst its tour, Ventura ’98 most definitely did not. It was a solid show, but coming right after Europe, Portland, the Gorge and Shoreline, the SoCal Monday nighter felt like the West Coast afterthought before it started. But when the band greeted the crowd with a colossal “Bathtub Gin” to open the show, the possibilities opened wide. The Riverport “Gin” that came nine days later is often hailed as the top version of all time. This Ventura “Gin,” placed in a similar show-opening slot, paved the road for the all-timer with a jam that progresses through many similar stages. Check ‘em out back to back. Interestingly, this show all but excludes the chunky, rhythmic style of Summer ‘98, and the “Drowned” opener of set two illustrates this alternate path. Taking the arena rock cover in a direction that The Who might have if they jammed, this excursion was underlined by white-hot rock and roll. Loud, fast and boisterous, this jam is a musical depiction of a hyena going for the jugular of its prey. Once he has conquered and killed, the music shifts to a more down tempo feel as the hyena salivates over his family’s still-warm dinner. As he begins to drag it back to his clan, Trey hits his wah grooves and the music becomes decidedly chilled out in a gorgeous, sinister final few minutes.

Aside from these two prime-time jams, however, this show features unbelievable intensity throughout, allowing the performance to come off totally fine. The second set features the classic pairing of a hearty “Makisupa” and a full-throttle “Maze,” and a big-time bust out in “Sea and Sand” (the set’s second Quadrophenia track about water) paying homage to Ventura’s surroundings. Closing with strong versions of “Caspian” and “Hood,” this show set is carried by the band’s type I creativity and is a very smooth listen the entire way through. A quality “Split” punctuates the first set, while a looped-out “Halley’s Comet” provides the second selection of a double encore (after Fish had debuted “Sexual Healing) and sees the band exit the stage one by one leaving a series of delay loops behind them. The “Bathtub Gin” is the only lasting jam of significance from this night, but the strength of this show illustrates how effective Phish was at doing everything in their repertoire in the summer of ’98—not just open jamming.

Ventura Liner Notes

Ventura Liner Art

The final details to add about this Ventura release are the two soundcheck jams. Each feature extended, instrumental takes on “Makisupa,” with ’97 ‘s carrying a bit more musical depth. The ’98 soundcheck features” jokingly layered lyics from “Venus,” (“I’m your “Venus, I’m your fire…”). Though both are fun listens a couple times through, these aren’t like those crack soundcheck jams we get every now and then—just Phish having fun.

In summation, the Ventura box set is a fantastic release, easily the strongest since Hampton / Winston Salem. (Though 12/6/97 was in there too!) As time moves forward into this Golden Age of Phish, more and more re-mastered releases from their glory years continue to hit the shelves—a welcome trend that is sure to continue. Providing us crisp memories of magical nights gone by, sometimes all we need in a moment and a CD to take us back. And Ventura certainly does that.


Winged-music-noteJam of the Day:

Bowie -> Cities -> Bowie 7.30.97 II, Ventura

Here is the mp3 SBD that has been out. This is NOT the release.




The Ventura Box Set

The Ventura Box Set

I have three Ventura Box Sets to give away for free! If you’d like to be eligible for this contest, please write two haikus—one that captures the essence of eachshow. Email these haikus to by Wednesday at 8pm Pacific and I will post the three winning entries on Thursday or Friday! Make sure you adhere to proper haiku format or your entry will be disqualified. UPDATE: I’ m getting some really good entries and it will be tough to choose the three winners! Get yours in!

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762 Responses to “Ventura: A Glimpse Into the Glory Years—Pt. II”

  1. sumodie Says:

    Ventura & May 1977 arrived together! Spinning Jer first…

  2. tela'smuff Says:

    thndercat, k.vile, MBV, phosphorescent, mt. kimbie, BoC, Arbouretum, Low, FaltyDl, Disclosure, classixx, after dark 2, follakzoid, holydrug couple, Foxygen, Mountains, Thee Oh Sees, Suuns, Uknown Moral Orchestra, william tyler. just to name a few. great year for music so far.

  3. voopa Says:

    Just to be real outcasty, I’m going to put in my vote for Modern Vampires of the City. Wavered on it for a long time, but I like it now.

  4. ren Says:

    *changes handle to RealOutcasty*

  5. gavinsdad Says:

    just a silly amount of good music out. overwhelming as hell.

    voops – that VW album is totally good.

  6. tela'smuff Says:

    some good tracks for sure on the VW album @voop.

  7. ren Says:

    Looking forward to when the Phish album tops these lists 😉

  8. Kaveh Says:

    Ventura & May 1977 arrived together! Spinning Jer first…


    Still waiting on Ventura, but there is PLENTY to go through with May 77…got through the first two disc’s last night.

  9. BNCB Says:

    Vampire Weekend on

    Right now.

  10. MiA Says:

    Hopefully Ventura at home when I get there.

  11. sumodie Says:

    Rolling Stones can still rock n roll

    As I posted last night, our $85 tix were gold as we sat a little less than half way back in Club level 111, the perfect spot from which to behold Stones in all their glory

    Band members may be ~70 years old but shit, Mick is ever the energy bunny, rocking & dancing his trademarked moves all around the lengthy tongue walkway that encircled those in the pit. Even with his craggy creases, he still has that youthful and very magnetic visage

    Only fitting then, that the entire stage was built to look like a giant set of ruby lips with the stage essentially set inside them. Somehow the overhanging lip retracted at show time, leaving the stage back drop as a massive led light board, ie, a giant video screen. Overall stage design was cool & streamlined, no gimmicky stage props. Lights were never overwhelming but were nonetheless awesome. They had a clear cool yet bright quality unlike what I’m used to seeing at shows (not able to recognize the technology). Overall fantastic stage, light, sound setup. Best sound I might’ve heard in the Garden to date (tied with Roger Waters DSOTM tour actually)

    Boston crowd delivered as usual, great energy, most everyone stood the entire show. Mick even whipped out a Bruins shirt with his name on it, wishing the team good luck, causing the fans to go apeshit

    On to the actual show…

  12. MiA Says:


    Shoreline ’03 Piper > Twist (bonus tracks on 7/29/03)

  13. realoutcasty Says:

    *changes handle to RealOutcasty*

    that is taken, thank you very much.

  14. gavinsdad Says:

    Philly peeps: Classixx dj’ing tomorrow nite at Morgan’s Pier

  15. gavinsdad Says:

    ::brings up shoreline 03 piper twist on phishtracks on phone for ride home. thanks MIA and also BNCB for original nod::

    MIA – you check that alpharetta Gin I pointed out? not part of the pantheon discussion whatsoever, just a nasty little guy.

  16. ren Says:

    I thought as much!!!! At least it brought you out of lurk mode for a hot minute

  17. Type III Jamming Personality Disorder Says:

    this ought to go over well…

  18. Selector J Says:

    Got some new headphones today as an early Father’s Day present. I don’t know if they’re as amazing as I think they are since my last pair of over-the-ears were so terrible but I’d definitely recommend these.

    Apparently (assuming you trust random guy on internet message board claiming to have designed them), these HD 360 Pros have the casing of a PX 360 but the sound of a HD 380 Pro.

  19. sumodie Says:

    I was unexpectedly awed when the show finally began with Get off my Cloud. I’ve seen the band several times since the ~’89 Steel Wheels tour, but seeing Mick, Keef, Ronnie, and Charlie again during their 50th tour really hit home. 50 freakin years, and there’s Mick prancing about like a kid.

    But…the band was shaky for the first 3-4 songs, or rather it seemed like Keef & Mick had troubled synching up. This was most noticeable during the 2nd tune, It’s Only RnRoll. Even the intro to Gimme Shelter (4th song) was a little screwy. And then magically the room blew up when backup singer Lisa Fischer strutted to the front and floored the whole venue with her scorching hot vocal duet with Mick. Lisa shined all night long, as did the entire supporting ensemble.

    From then on the show as terrific. Keef either woke up or got his technical issue resolved or snorted the right stuff (j/k), as he ripped plenty of his classic leads the rest of the night. That said, Keef does seem like the weakest link nowadays. Not saying he wasn’t his awesome rock star self, just that Mick, Ronnie, and Charlie were more consistently stronger. Not that this observation detracted from my loving the show, no way…..

  20. ren Says:

    Nice review @sumo! Making me crave some new official reviews on this board

  21. MiA Says:

    I did Gdad. Thought I posted it on here, but yeah. Great stuff.

  22. snow Says:

    Nice work on the music lists. Several of those I have not spun.

    Listening to acid rap a bunch and having it in your head is a weird experience.

  23. voopa Says:

    Thanks sumo! Tried for $85 tix for some West Coast shows…missed the email by about 5 minutes each time. My only Stones show was the first night of LA on the Steel Wheels tour, the day after the Loma Prieta quake. Great night.

  24. snow Says:

    Weird in a good way. Not in a “I wanna be a teenage girl” weird.

  25. tela'smuff Says:

    really, Chris Berman announcing US Open? terrible.

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