There's Plenty Of Quantity Here

With a rendition of Will Smith's "Gettin' Jiggy wit It."

Hampton Comes Alive is a good album title, but a good title does

not a good album make. Hampton harks back, of course, to Peter

Frampton's 1976 release, the 16-million-unit-selling Frampton Comes

Alive!, and the title is the best thing this set has going for it.

Hampton consists of six discs that contain more than four hours

of music that chronicle the band's two-night stay at Virginia's Hampton

Coliseum last October. Phish have come up with more than a few outlandish

ideas over the years, and a surprising number of those ideas have worked.

But with Hampton Comes Alive, it seems Phish have begun to believe

what tens of thousands of fans have been telling them for years: that

every show they play is brilliant and worth recording for posterity's

sake. Many experiments — such as playing three-day shows at abandoned

army bases, say, or covering The Who's Quadrophenia in its entirety

— have panned out. This one has not.

I've seen dozens of Phish shows, in venues ranging from dives in Providence,

R.I., to Madison Square Garden. At its best, the band is truly magical,

but, alas, while the two shows featured here are adequate, they are nothing

more. Indeed, the performances on these discs seem to be marked by nothing

so much as their unevenness. For every roiling rendition of "Possum"

(RealAudio

excerpt) there's a meandering run-through of "Stash," for every

soaring "Free" there's a "Mike's Song" and "Weekapaug Groove" that doesn't

come close to measuring up to the versions on Slip, Stitch and Pass

(1997). At this point in their career, Phish have established that they

are proficient musicians and astoundingly good improvisers. Unfortunately,

this collection does not often catch them at their best or most inspired.

As is to be expected, many of the highlights take advantage of the band's

well-established sense of shared humor with its audience. Straight-ahead

covers of Ween's "Roses Are Free" and Chumbawamba's "Tubthumping" (RealAudio

excerpt) are both cheeky delights, and the pasty-white, rotund

Jon Fishman (he of Viking hat and LifeSavers dress) tries his hand as a

rap star with a spirited rendition of Will Smith's "Getting Jiggy wit'

It," replete with the customary vacuum cleaner solo. (If you don't know,

don't ask.)

Alas, fans will find no humor in the cost of this set: it lists at $69.97;

Phish is selling it for $60 through its mail-order service, and Tower

Records and CDNow both come in slightly under that. That's a lot of money

for any six-disc set, and Hampton Comes Alive doesn't even come

with liner notes or navel-gazing essays (!). Throw in the fact that each

of these discs averages just over 50 minutes — more than 20 minutes

less than can fit on a disc without resulting in a loss of sound quality

— and Hampton Comes Alive begins to sound a lot less funny and

a lot more depressing.

Phish are one of the most successful touring bands of the '90s. They've

built a fervent following based on the premise that bandmembers will

always put forth their best efforts and the audience will continue to

trek to shows and buy albums. And, despite the cost, fans will likely

purchase Hampton, which, after one play-through, might just as

likely be resigned to service as a kind of CD bookend.