Surprises rarely happen anymore in this day and age but sometimes, I like to feel like a kid again. All I wanted on Halloween was to walk into the MGM Grand Garden Arena and be surprised when I picked up my Phishbill. I stayed off social media and tried to avoid any Halloween rumors like the plague. It all went according to plan and when I crossed through security and received my Phishbill, I will never forget my reaction. I, of course, had never heard of Kasvot Växt and when I looked around the lobby, a look of confusion and bewilderment was ever present.
It was similar to when the Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House was announced. You could at least Google that album and listen to the sound effects and narration. You just had no idea how it would translate live. Of course, it turned out to be one of the most well-received shows of all time (and this writer’s favorite time at a Phish show). Maybe we should take one more step back before we go forward here.
Of course, all of this started with the Wingsuit Halloween — the first time Phish had not covered another band’s album. I often tell people the thing about Wingsuit that always sticks with me was that when it was good, it was GREAT. But when it was bad, its was REALLY bad. It was a completely unique experience — everyone hearing new Phish music together for the first time. “Fuego” and “Wombat” were incredible live experiences but the slower songs sucked the life out of that building. During “Fuego” and “Wombat,” it had the feeling of a jam, like we were all a part of what was unfolding. Wingsuit just didn’t have the substance for entire set to be a lasting success.
Chilling, Thrilling righted that ship. The idea was brilliant and the execution even better. The music, the Haunted House, the entire production was complete fire. That feeling of experiencing a jam was present throughout and the energy at the MGM was off the charts. It was simply perfect. We all heard and experienced something so unique together.
Phish came back to the classic Halloween cover style in 2016 playing David Bowie’s classic The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars at the MGM. Ziggy was a very formative album for me and I was completely stoked to see my favorite band cover it. I certainly enjoyed the emotional connection I had to the album but after Phish performed it, but I felt like something was lacking. There were definitely moments that I will always remembered but it certainly wasn’t Chilling, Thrilling.
So when I grabbed the Kasvot Växt Phishbill and had no idea what was going to happen, I couldn’t have been more excited. I got in early and sat in my seat and read the hilarious writeup. Some people were asking me if this was real while others were telling me all this crazy shit they had found on the internet. I got texts that people were backdating the websites trying to figure if they were real. In the span of 15 minutes, the Phish fan base became better detectives than the CIA.
I saw that someone on reddit had found the image from the “cover” of the album on Google Maps and it appeared as if the same tree on the cover of i rokk (a supposed album released in 1981) happened to look exactly the same as on the Google Maps view, from 2017. I smiled ear to ear then looked up and saw 12 squares hanging from the ceiling. Whatever was about to happen, I was ready for it.
The first set was solid and I just kept looking at the squares with more excitement than any Christmas I can remember.
Then the curtain dropped.
When the curtain rose for the second set, I was greeted by a spectacle unlike any I had ever seen before. Everything was white and almost the entire stage was bare. Then the stage starting lighting up and then the cubes got going. When the first “ooooooooooooooohs” hit during “Turtle In the Clouds,” I knew it was on.
It was Chilling, Thrilling Vol. 2.
I was watching the ultimate musical costume. I knew it right away. Phish put their costume on for the night and became a Scandinavian 80s band. It was incredible. It was the ultimate.
One of the most difficult things in music is for a band to create new material that is different, yet still feels like the band you fell in love with.
35 years after they started, Phish made a Europop 80s album and it sounded JUST LIKE PHISH. You think any other band has half the balls to even think of something like that, let alone record it? Let alone perform it live on one of the biggest nights of the Phish calendar?
The best part was that Kasvot Växt was everything Phish rolled up in one. The Kasvot Växt set was incredibly goofy, it had hilarious lyrics, groundbreaking production, and most importantly, it was completely unique. Everything about it felt like Phish. With each song, I felt more and more teleported back to the 80s. I left reality in a space time warp to what I imagined the 80s in Europe would be like.
For me, Kasvot Växt was much needed. As many of you know, Ms. LawnMemo and I lost our cat, Wilson, earlier this Fall. He was our world and only 2 years old. I found out while I was driving down from Albany to Hampton. When I learned what had happened, I turned my car around in Baltimore and drove 8 hours home to Buffalo in complete silence. I have never cried like that in my life and when I finally got home at midnight and hugged Ms. LawnMemo, it was surreal. That moment will always be frozen in time for me. I have had many pets in my life but none of them as awesome as Wilson. He was there with me through all the writing, all the podcasts, he truly was my co-pilot. The days that followed were the hardest of my life.
Halloween was the first real escape from that tragedy. During Kasvot Växt, the only thoughts I had were of love, wonderment, and pure awe of my favorite band. The harshness of reality had been replaced by a fictional 80s band. It was pure unadulterated fun. t was like God himself was smiling at me. It was everything I needed. Could you imagine 2 weeks earlier, in all my despair, telling people that what I really needed to release all of this sorrow was to hear the album i rokk live? Life is hard, crazy, and wonderful all at the same time.
And the Faceplant: Into Rock sure was wonderful. Did I mention the white instruments? Have you seen the video on how Mike’s custom Modulus was made? Fishman’s white glow-in-the-dark dress! The whitest choreographed dancing that has made for some of the most hilarious photos ever! And the squares….oh those beautiful squares.
I will never forget that look. They cut the stage in half…. It felt like a cross between 80s MTV and my old digital alarm clock.
Kuroda designed an entire look for 75 minutes of music. Most bands use the exact pre-programmed light show for an entire friggin’ tour. In a city known for over the top shows, Kavot Växt was the biggest show in Vegas that night.
And then there was music! The music — I can’t get it out of my head. The music — I am still singing a week later. The music — I blasted through the MGM the day after and had me more excited for the next night’s show than usual. The music from that night that, after 4 days of incredible improv, I am still listening to the most. Phish has always had a tough time trying to capture the live show on an album. i rokk was the best of both worlds. No producer, no studio… Just pure, unfiltered Phish. It felt like a real album but with the beauty and organic nature of a live Phish show.
The vocals are some of the best in Phish history. The harmonies are gorgeous and you can hear the enthusiasm and excitement with every lyric. Fish cracks me up. He is belting it out and laughing the entire time. It’s completely infectious.
I imagine the idea of Kasvot Växt came up and they created the music based around what they thought an 80s Scandinavian band would sound like. I can only imagine the laughter throughout that entire creative process. I imagine it was much like this:
Kasvot Växt had everything — wireless guitars, Page wearing a headlamp singing “Bright white light shining right between my eyes”, Trey singing mic-in-hand like a jazz singer, Trey jumping on the monitor and ripping a solo and even finger tapping!
The fortress of Phish was built pushing the envelope and doing things nobody had ever done before. It wasn’t built by covering the Grateful Dead. Phish is a world where really only the people within its circle know what it’s like. Outsiders will never truly get it. Now we have an entirely new language and lore to geek out on. Complete with album reviews and fake interviews. I now officially know that holding down the ALT key while typing 0228 produces ä. Thanks, Phish.
The two greatest bands in the world played on October 31st, 2018. I will always remember where I was.