Vegas '96

On December 6th, 1996, Phish put on a show that featured Elvis impersonators, a cameo by Les Claypool and a set list chock-full of fan favorites — all that, in addition to the band's usual spate of bong-tastic jams. So far as Phish-heads are concerned, that was enough to make the gig a classic. But non-devotees will probably find the show — commemorated here on three CDs and a DVD — a bit uneven: A twenty-six-song extravaganza with some high moments, as well as so-so tunes and improvs that seem to run longer than the last Lord of the Rings movie.

Some of the jams are strong: There's a fierce "Mike's Song," a dark, dense psych-out that grooves like Bitches Brew, minus the horns. Other old horses like the prog-y "Harry Hood" find Phish noodling their way to blissed-out, pastoral beauty. But there's some forgettable stuff, too: The first disc gets pretty snoozy — just try sitting through the twenty-six-minute "You Enjoy Myself." Throughout, the short songs fizzle: Cuts like "Llama" and "Down With Disease" are about on par with the iffy originals your local bar band might work in amid Zeppelin covers.

The final disc, which captures the show's encore, is where things get really interesting: Claypool sings "Wildwood Weed," and Phish launch into "Harpua," a beloved, partly improvised story-song that, in this version, works in a yarn about casinos and a cover of "Suspicious Minds" featuring the Elvises. Being there must have been fun, especially if the experience was chemically enhanced, and as a tiny bit of rock history, it's nice this package exists. But that doesn't mean you should shell out forty-five dollars for it.