Personnel: Trey Anastasio (vocals, guitar); Page McConnell (vocals, keyboards); Jon Fishman (vocals, drums); Mike Gordon (vocals).
Audio Mixer: Jon Altschiller.
Recording information: Venture County Fairgrounds, Ventura, CA (07/20/1997/07/20/1998).
A six-disc archival set, Ventura chronicles summer concerts Phish gave at the Ventura County Fairgrounds in the back half of the '90s, by which time their status as the titans of jam was well-established. The first show here is from July of 1997, the second performed a year later, which means both arrived during the two-year gap separating 1996's Billy Breathes and 1998's The Story of the Ghost -- two years where the band's popularity was on the rise and it certainly seemed like a crossover was perhaps within their sites. That crossover never happened and these two shows indicate the band never seriously thought about moving into the mainstream, preferring to ride a sweet, hazy, sun-soaked vibe that fits Southern California in the late summer. A few covers surface -- Jimi Hendrix's "Fire" was played in 1997, Marvin Gaye's "Sexual Healing" in 1998 -- and soundcheck jams round out the third disc of each show, but the appeal of Ventura is, as always, how Phish tackle their core catalog, choosing to dig deep on "David Bowie" and let "Halley's Comet" float out as coda in 1998. It's a good summer soundtrack for Phisheads. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine