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Phish leads the way with free live recordings

Phish is confident enough in its live performances to give recordings away. Hopefully, this becomes standard practice for bands with great live shows.

I'm not a huge Phish fan. I've only seen them once, at the Warfield, a 3,000-set venue in San Francisco, back in 1994. I skipped their subsequent arena shows because I figured they couldn't top the intimacy of that experience. But I know from that one show that they're a great live band, and now they're back together and touring for the summer after a six-year hiatus. They haven't announced a Pacific Northwest date yet, but if they do, I'd be tempted to go.

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Here's the thing, though: six years is a long time. What if they don't have it anymore? Even some hardcore fans I talked to said their last few tours weren't as great as their heyday at the end of the 1990s. (There's this story, probably apocryphal, that guitarist Trey Anastasio knew it was time to take a break from the band when a certain trio of fans he used to see at every show stopped coming.)

Doubt no more. Now you can find out for yourself whether they've still got it because Phish has made a full recording of every show on the 2009 tour (three, so far) available, in its entirety, for free. Start here, click on the "DOWNLOAD FREE MP3s" link at the bottom of each page, and you're in. If you're a big fan, you can pay for higher quality FLAC files or ar triple CD of the show. You have to register with an e-mail address (you could enter a fake if you're paranoid) and password, and you might want to install a small Java applet to download entire shows at once (downloading individual songs requires the old right-click save-file-as kludge).

The site itself has short samples of each song. Want to see whether that performance of "Rock and Roll" on March 7 was the Led Zeppelin song or the Velvet Underground song? Find out here. Can't imagine their first-ever performance of George Jones' "She Thinks I Still Care" from last night? Right here.

See, most bands are scared to give recordings away. Why would anybody come to the show if they can already hear it online? But Phish is so confident in its live abilities, it knows that posting live recordings for free will serve as an incentive to draw fans to its show. So when will other big-name live acts start doing the same thing?