1992 Trey Anastasio is not walking through that door. 1994 Phish is not walking through that door. The current era of Phish is never going to be 90s Phish. Of course you already knew that.
The limits of this era can show up on any given night. It is easiest to notice with Trey. The firebreathing gunslinger guitar annihilator of the 90s is no more. The “Harry Hood”, “Slave to the Traffic Light”, “Reba” tear-inducing peaker is often absent . Composed section flubs are showing up more and more.
As far as the Phish as a band is concerned, the touring schedule is a shell of what it used to be. Although many of us understand the demands of spending time with families and the creative side projects Phish chooses to partake in, the lack of time playing together obviously stunts band development.
First sets are incredibly song heavy and often are more of a warm up for second sets. Gone are the days of 20 minute “Down with Disease” or “Tweezer”. Today, we are psyched for a 10 minute “Ocelot” or “Kill Devil Falls” to find its way into the first set.
THAT BEING SAID….
I still love Trey (you can read my Michael Jordan carrer arc comparrisons I wrote about last year http://lawnmemo.com/a-love-rekindled-my-fall-tour-crush-on-trey/). I still love “Hood”, “Slave” and “Reba” and enjoy some of the creative things Phish does with those songs now. The composed section flubs never bothered me as much as they do with some people. I love a good first set “Ocelot” or “KDF” jam. I love the current era of Phish and have traveled around the country to see them.
I try to remember all these things whenever I am attending a Phish show. Every once in a while that little voice in the back of my head begins to creep up and focuses on the all the things Phish doesn’t/can’t do anymore. When this happens, I try to squash those thoughts and remember that these are things I already knew going in. Instead, I need to focus more on what Phish CAN DO… and all of the things Phish can do came to a head on Halloween night in Las Vegas.
What I love most about our current Phish is their ability to break jams down (See 10/28/14 “Twist”) and find incredible rhythmic dance party sections (See 07/08/14 Fuego). Phish plays as one, and the sound they are able to produce when they click is unlike anything else when it hits my ears (which are quite big).
A Quick Run Down of the Halloween Set
When I picked up the Phishbill that revealed Chilling, Thrilling, Sounds of the Haunted House, I was incredibly excited. An album with sound effects, and no lyrics? This was right at the top of my Phish wishlist. I expected one of the weirdest, darkest, strangest sets Phish had ever played. I was expecting MSG 2012 “Carini” mixed with the Superball “Storage Jam” with a dose of It “46 Days”.
Make no mistake about it. The first set really helped set the tone for me. Opening with the spooky combo of “Buried Alive” and “Ghost” is a hell of a way to start a show. Few things are a better omen to how great a show is going to be then a “Buried Alive”. Follow that up with “Ghost” on Halloween and the show is officially off to flying colors. Rarities “Saw it Again”, and “BBFCFM” paired with jams in “Reba”, and “Wolfman’s Brother” produced more great moments. When “Wolfman’s” closed things with a bang I was READY.
Watching the crew remove everything, and the resulting empty stage at set break only helped to fuel anticipation. When the Haunted House (complete with Phish provided eerie sounds) emerged from the the gate, it sounded like a Pink Floyd/Who rock opera and I knew I was in the right place. (Actually I knew that when I was gambling every 20 minutes in Las Vegas). Trey’s tone from the beginning was impeccable and immediately had me thinking “THIS IS AWESOME”!!!
“The Haunted House” began to reaffirm what I thought happen. It was dark, it was spooky, yet it felt like it belonged in a Phish set. Trey’s notes were ringing through the space Phish was creating and started to remind me of David Gilmour. Yes, this was awesome. This right here is what the “holiday” of Halloween is all about.
I felt like this
“Split Open and Melt” “A Very Long Fuse” began and things started to go in a different direction. This was a touch of darkness mixed with a lighter tone from Trey, and sounded incredibly Phishy to me. Then the sides of the Haunted House dropped and revealed the band formation we would watch for the rest of the set. Close quarters and strategically aligned. The rhythm section of Mike and Fish facing directly across from each other.
Would anyone be opposed to seeing formations like this every night? I had a blast watching the four of them interact and work off each other.
“The Dogs” was up next and things got dialed up a notch. A straight rock and roll rocker that reminded me of a slower “Chalk Dust Torture”, immediately infused energy into the arena. It was serious up at the top of that Haunted House. You could tell right away these jams were practiced to a T.
“Timber” (no Ho needed, although I hear Kim Kardashian has a price for everything) was a well placed sprawling movement. Featuring a dirty groove that slowly builds to the peak and showcases of modern day Phish’s greatest strengths. “Timber” continued the excellent set trajectory.
Everything Changed….What do we have here?
The dark, “thrilling, chilling” sounds of the previous four songs were obliterated into one of the biggest dance parties Phish has ever created. Gone was my theory of a haunting, chilling set, and was emerged was the “Tube” jam that has eluded this era. “Your Pet Cat” was one of “those moments” that I will never forget.
I couldn’t believe just how awesome this jam was. It lead to me tweeting one my all time great auto-corrects. “That Tube sounding fuck was insane. Place blew up.” Incredibly, fuck was the right word there. The collective mind of Phish’s fans was collective fucking blown with a 5 minute “Tube” jam. Brilliantly placed mid-set, it was changed the night from awesome, to incredible.
“Your Pet Cat” is what goes on in my car to fire me up before work. It goes on when I need to get some energy in the morning. It goes on when I need to impress people with my dance moves. Certain jams will always carry with them the moment in which I heard them. “Your Pet Cat” instantly transforms me into the middle of the MGM Grand Arena and the feeling of the 15,000 smiles around me. With the great moments/jams I have been privileged enough to see, I can hear that song and be transported back to the moment I first heard it. I can smell, feel, and harness the energy of that exact moment. Is there anything better than that?
A quick side night on Halloween…Is there anything more/fun crazier than getting down to a jam like “Your Pet Cat” then high fiving The Three Amigos behind you, or looking down and seeing all the members of Kiss dancing, or a giant 20 foot Homer Simpson head dancing on the floor?
Where the heck does Phish go after a throw down like “Your Pet Cat”? How about a Floydian orbital groove called “Shipwreck”?
Sign me up.
My kind of cool down, one that lets my thoughts float into places I never knew existed.
“The Unsafe Bridge” follows and is one of my favorites of the night. The Spaghetti Western style tune features a top notch performance from Trey. Trey’s notes stir up all kinds of emotions in me. A perfect example of how Trey can use his powers to perfection. Every note is impeccably chosen and rings out until the next note replaces it. All kinds of thoughts wash over me. Thoughts of the old west, thoughts of this band riding into the sunset, thoughts of old loves being left in the past. “The Unsafe Bridge” is so short, yet makes me feel so much.
“Chinese Water Torture” smartly lets the rhythm section set the tone before Trey makes his way into forray. Mike shines strongly before Page drops the staccato murk into this groove. With the groove fully in effect, Trey shines brightly. Leading while working with band, Big Red kills it.
“The Birds” and “Martin Monster”…. well you don’t need me to say much on those two. The two songs that would play prominent roles the next two days in Las Vegas would provide the highlights for many on Halloween. During “The Birds” Phish laid down a filthy danceable groove that peaked, then peaked, then peaked, and finally peaked some more. Phish had the crowd on a string and played it like the puppetmaster they are.
Finally the groove of the night in “Martian Monster” reminded us how fast this rocket we fly on called Phish is. “Your trip is short” huh? Incredibly that set felt three hours to me. The groove in “Martian Monster” is something Soul Train would be proud of.
Why Was Halloween So Great?
How did this happen? Why has 10/31/14 received almost universal praise from the toughest community to please?
The one sentence answer is easy. It played to all the strengths of what Phish is in 2014 and everything Phish has always been.
Take something that has never been done before, put your own spin on it, and lay down music that people will talk about for years to come.
The set seemed to transport me back to my adolescence and the wonderment we all feel with Halloween and Walt Disney. Yet, I have never been more focused, hanging on every note. The way Phish delivered it was all business and showcased the incredible musicianship that exists in the minds of Trey, Mike, Page, and Fish. It was unlike anything any band has ever attempted and the execution was even better than the creativity.
These songs are not incredibly complex. Instead they feature the rhythmic complexity and patience that has made for some of the best Phish jams in the last couple of years. Instead of hoping Trey leads the band into solo complexity, he is one of four equal members creating a sound that has the might of Zeus.
Remember all those song heavy sets in the later half of Summer 2014 tour? A lot of those sets (although not my favorite) often had excellent set flow arcs. Many of theorized the band was experimenting with setlist creation and how to change the trajectory of where a set was headed.
One of the reasons for the Halloween set’s success is the excellent set flow arc it possess. Maybe the band learned something this summer. Maybe they can just turn it on and off whenever they feel? Maybe on any given night everything just clicks.
The jams aren’t that long but that set feels like you could take out the narration and create one hour long some from it. From the eerie beginning, to the rocking “Dogs” ,to dance party “Your Pet Cat”, to the Floydian cool down, to the massive groove conclusion.. The set went all over the place and told a story much that would have made Walt Disney proud.