Bittersweet Motel2000

Genre: Documentary
Phishheads may be hard-pressed to define what they love about their idols, the Vermont-based jam band Phish, but they know it when they see it--and hear it. And Bittersweet Motel, the 2000 documentary by Todd Phillips, serves up exactly what they want: generous dollops of the band's free-form, jazz-laced music and by-the-numbers backstage glimpses of the musicians relaxing during rehearsals, between sets, and after hours. The 84-minute film follows a year in the life of the band, from the happening called the Great Went in Maine in August 1997 through the band's 1998 European tour (but inexplicably, the film begins with Europe and ends with the Great Went). Along the way, viewers are treated to long snatches of band favorites like "Wilson" and "Down with Disease." Affable singer-guitarist Trey Anastasio is the focus of most of the nonmusical scenes, trying to explain the band's cult appeal, or griping about lunk-headed critics who are all too dismissive of the band's often-stellar virtuosity. It's clear that wearing the mantle of the Grateful Dead--especially since the 1995 death of Jerry Garcia--is a mixed blessing for Anastasio, who bristles in one interview about Dead comparisons. Phillips, who directed the fascinating but discredited documentary Frat House and the Tom Green vulgarfest Road Trip, does have an eye for the absurdly comic, especially evident in the few scenes he features of stoner Phishheads, who follow the band from show to show. Bittersweet Motel may not earn the band any new converts, but fans will find more than enough to satisfy those long dry spells between tours. --Anne Hurley

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