Lawn Memo: Before we get into the actual Halloween set, let’s talk about the first and third set of Halloween. Dave, what are your overall thoughts?
Mr. Miner: I thought they were both quite good. I thought the song selection for set one was great and there were a lot of high energy moments throughout, starting right off the bat with “Carini.” I thought the “Tube” “Wolfman’s” was a great combo and I really liked the juxtaposition of “Petrichor” “Antelope” to end the opening set.
Memo: Agreed, great song selection! The “Petrichor, “Antelope” combo put me in the perfect frame of mind going into the Ziggy set. Love the new-Phish and old-Phish combos. I liked the third set live but love it even more after a couple spins. “46 Days > Sand > Twist” was an excellent way to start off and “Slave to the Traffic Light” was the perfect way to close it. “Sand” and “2001” brought some excellent jams in short time frames. I thought both the first and third set were nice bookends to Ziggy.
Miner: Yeah, the third set felt like a great exhale after the band nailed Ziggy. They let loose with some groovier stuff and created a really fun atmosphere to end the weekend. I think “Sand” was one of the high points of the run, as the band went outside the box to create a truly cathartic peak. And it’s always a treat when they blow up a “2001” like that amongst this era of four-minute versions. I love when Trey actually plays lead guitar over those grooves rather than just mess with effects which has, for better or worse, become the norm. I also really dug the “Twist” drum jam. The way they maintained the song structure within that limited expression was really cool.
Memo: Yeah, that “Twist” jam was really unique. Man, I love when they close a run with “Slave to the Traffic Light.”
Miner: It’s a great finale. It allows for reflection, introspection and a sense of peace after all of the madness. Definitely a great choice. I really likes this version as well.
Memo: “Slave to the Traffic Light” IS the song that does that for me. It melts me every single time. When it caps a run—you nailed it—total reflection for me. It gives me the warmest of all feelings. I could see “Slave to the Traffic Light” at every show.
Miner: Every show? It might get a little old for me as the jam is pretty formulaic, but when placed in the right spot, it is unquestionably perfect. My friends and I often say that a show needs to earn a “Slave,” and that it should be held back to cap a standout night of music. I think when they play it after a standard-ish show, it kind of loses its power.
Memo: Yes, every show. I need a lot of reflection in my life. Agreed that the right placement only elevates it. Some of the best hugs in my life have been post “Slave to the Traffic Light”.
Miner: Fair enough, I’ll take a Tweezer every show.
Memo: Ha, so will I! So after a full tour, what are your thoughts on “Petrichor?”
Miner: Funny you ask. I usually can digest new Phish immediately, but it took me three times seeing this song live to truly “get it.” At first it seemed like “Time Turns Elastic” junior, but it is actually far more dynamic that that song. Granted it’s a very long composition, but it has many feels and movements that work as one which is what I thought TTE never achieved. It’s a great piece of music.
Memo: “Petrichor” has grown on me. I loved the placement in Vegas and thought it’s execution was top notch. I love how different each section is yet how well they all fit together. I try to pause and think about the fact that my favorite band can write songs as different as “Petrichor” and “I’ve Always Wanted It This Way.” I have high hopes for “Petrichor.” They seem to touch on the jamming element but bail at this instance. I hope it goes deep sometime. I could see it being a baby “YEM”.
Miner: Sorry to burst your bubble, but they aren’t gonna jam “Petrichor.” That’s not what it was written for. There is no departure point written into the song. It creates a journey without improvisation, and I think that it’s strength. It’s like long form musical theatre. But I totally agree with you on Trey’s diverse compositional abilities. That’s always been one of his hallmarks. From something as simple as “Jibboo” or “Dog Faced Boy” to something as complex as “You Enjoy Myself” or “Petrichor,” for him to succeed almost every time is remarkable.
Memo: You’re probably right. I’m still waiting for the first “Waiting All Night” jam. I might be waiting even longer for “Petrichor.” Regardless, it’s brilliant. I listen to it a lot on my way to work, it always seems to put a bounce in my step. If they just so happen to jam it, well, we might need to do an entire post about it.
Miner: I’m still waiting for a “Bouncin” jam to be honest! What have they been doing all these years?!
Memo: One of the best part of Phish’s Halloween shows are how all-out their fans go with costumes. What were the best Halloween costumes you saw?
Miner: Two friends of mine dressed up as the murdered sisters in the hallway from The Shining and another friend of mine dressed up as Mike Ditka. They all nailed their costumes beyond anything I’ve seen in years. I’d have to say it was a tie.
Memo: I saw the Ditka costume, great stuff. Lot of good ones, however, nothing to top my all time favorite—The IT Tower which I saw at Atlantic City (http://i.imgur.com/6IECYwf.jpg). Moving forward, Dave, you wrote an entire blog post back in 2009 about how you thought Ziggy Stardust was the best choice Phish could make on Halloween. Seven years later it happened, was it everything you had hoped it would be?
Miner: Well, I didn’t really have any expectations of what it would be like. I felt that the storyline to the album and the history behind David Bowie’s alter ego of Ziggy had so many parallels to Trey’s rise and fall, that there couldn’t have been a more perfect album fior them to cover upon their return. I thought the entire performance was incredibly soulful and spiritual, especially with the recent passing of Bowie, himself. Though the album chronicles a tragedy, it is ultimately a hopeful story and that feeling truly permeated Phish’s performance. Trey, Bowie, Ziggy—they were all one in the same in this context, and the parallels of their three storylines are undeniable. I thought that made the performance incredibly intimate and personal.
Memo: Man, Dave you just nailed my thoughts in one paragraph. There is no doubt that Ziggy Stardust is an album with incredible meaning for Phish. I especially like your description of soulful and spiritual. It was of all that for me. Hearing each member of Phish belt out those incredible lyrics was something I will never forget. You could feel the emotion with each note and you can still hear the emotion on each re-listen. It was a soulful experience to take that in with 16,000 fellow fans and think about how each of our lives have risen and fallen, and what a journey it has been with Phish.
Miner: Yeah, if there was one word to describe the set it would be soulful. The band really accessed a part of their playing and themselves that isn’t always on display, and that made the performance so special. They usually fluctuate between goofy, rocking, grooving, and uplifting, but soulful isn’t a word I would generally use to generally describe Phish. On this night and in this set, however, they oozed soul.
Memo: Phish often has guests for these cover sets and Ziggy was no exception. What were your thoughts on the decision to go with strings and backup singers and no horns?
Miner: I, personally, don’t like horns with Phish. I realize that’s probably an unpopular opinion, but I just don’t dig on how their sound meshes with the band. There are probably a few exceptions throughout the years, like Exile, but I was happy with their decision to leave them out this year. I thought the strings provided an incredibly dreamy feeling to the music and I thought it provided the perfect accompaniment for such a soulful performance. I thought the backup singers were integral to the entire set. Without them I don’t think it would have worked nearly as well as it did. David Bowie’s vocals were obviously the most challenging element of the album for Phish to tackle, and I feel that the support of the backup singers provided the necessary complement for the songs to truly come to life.
Memo: I was initially shocked with the decision to go without horns, but I’m glad they went without them. The strings/backup singer combo was impeccable. It was the perfect complement to the central performers. At no point did they overshadow but instead only aided in the beauty. I get chills on each re-listen. The arrangements were perfect. I thought it was an all emotional, classy application and exactly the way they should have played it.
Miner: Phish has a knack for executing these sets perfectly. Their brilliant musicality and their unparalleled sense of the moment always combines in all-time performances. They were born for this stuff.
Memo: So what were your favorite parts of the Ziggy set? Favorite songs or moments?
Miner: This was the first album that Phish has covered—other than Dark Side—that I knew note for note while it was happening, and it is one of my favorite albums of all time as well, so it’s hard to pick what my favorite moments were since it’s such a holistic piece of art. I’ve always dreamed of hearing Trey play the signature guitar lick to the title track, so that was very special for me. I also thought “Rock and Roll Suicide” was perhaps Trey’s best vocal performance of his career and one of the most emotional moments in Phish history—the lyrics, the meaning, the crescendo of the set—it was absolutely perfect.
Memo: I firmly agree that “Rock and Roll Suicide” was a defining moment for Trey. The lyrics are so applicable to his journey that I think it helped him to find something extra. Trey belting out “You’re not alone” while bobbing in the front of the stage is an all time moment for me. I listened to that before work one night and was belting out in my best Trey rendition for about five hours. It was something special.
Miner: Yeah, who would have guessed Trey would have had a defining career moment without a guitar in his hand?
Memo: My favorite Bowie song has always been “Moonage Daydream” so seeing that was obviously something special for me. Trey’s voice rang true and the solo was everything I had hoped it would be. Powerful stuff. Speaking of the strings and backup singers, there are moments in “Moonage” where they intermingle with such beauty.
Miner: I love the song “Soul Love.” I thought the strings and the backup singers really worked perfectly on this one. Once they nailed this tune, I felt they reached a level of comfort to execute the rest of the set.
Memo: “Soul Love” was outstanding. Near the top for me in amount of re-listens. The backup singers give me chills. “It Ain’t Easy” was another tour de force with the background singers. I feel like I could take on the Death Star by myself while listening back.
Miner: Yeah, that was awesome. Another great Trey vocal performance. It was so surreal to see him on stage without a guitar. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before other than vocal jams and a capella tunes. Little known fact, that song is a cover of a Ron Davies original that Bowie included on the album.
Memo: As you stated the vocals were obviously the most challenging part of the album. I loved how Phish broke them up and every member contributed. For the most part I thought they were excellent. They may not have hit the range that Bowie could hit but the emotion behind each lyric elevated the performance.
Miner: Yeah, I thought the lyrics were as good as Phish could have made them, and what more can you ask for than that? Additionally, I absolutely love “Starman” and “Lady Stardust” and thought Phish really nailed each song. They both carried so much meaning as well. Phish are the starmen that have come down from the sky and blown all of our minds for thirty years now, and the lyric in Lady Stardust—”And it was all right, the band was altogether”—was a chill, borderline tear-inducing moment after all that Phish has been through. That lyric totally relates to this golden age of the band’s career and it hit with such poignancy.
Memo: What do you think Ziggy’s legacy will be? How do you think it fits into the pantheon of Phish Halloween sets?
Miner: I’ve come to a point where ranking and comparing shows seems fruitless to me. They are all so unique and special. I know that’s a little against the grain that I’ve established on my site over the years, but how can one compare their Halloween performances? They are all so great and so different. I think the most we can do is pick favorites. But in terms of third sets, my runaway favorite is Vegas ‘98. That “Wolfman’s” is one of my all-time favorite jams and the most quintessential Halloween jam that they have ever played. That shit is over the top Phish. In terms of Ziggy, I think it stands on its own as a straight cover set as opposed to an interpretive cover set—just like the White Album. All the other sets, the band made their own in one way or another, often with improvisation. I guess the next closest straight cover would be Exile. I loved the reverence with which they played The Beatles, The Stones and Bowie. I mean what can you do to improve on such classic rock and roll albums? To even try borders on sacrilege. I also loved the more improvisational Halloween sets, they had a whole different feel, with the obvious example being Remain in Light, and somewhat lesser so Loaded, Quadrophenia and Waiting for Columbus. If one thing rings true, however, I’ve absolutely adored every Halloween set. I think they have all been perfect.
Memo: I thought Ziggy was one of the finer Halloween performances, and both the first and third set only help the 10/31/2016 cause. It certainly doesn’t hurt that Vegas as a whole was an all-time run. I want to give credit to how Phish approached the last two Halloween runs in Vegas. With Halloween being the first night in 2014, coming out with Chilling, Thrilling was brilliant. That set the tone for the entire run and was the perfect way to inject life into Vegas right from the start. In 2016, with Halloween being the last night, Phish slayed the first three nights with huge jams and even bigger sets. Ziggy felt like a culmination of all four nights. It was the perfect set at the perfect time. Both in 2014, and 2016 Phish nailed the setlist construction. Let’s talk a little about the show experience. Your thoughts on Vegas / MGM for Halloween as a city / venue?
Miner: Vegas is the best possible city for Halloween. I think that goes without saying. I feel it’s probably the best city for Phish in general. The all night aspect of everything is unmatched in other cities and all the sensory overload of Vegas make it the perfect psychedelic destination. Hunter Thompson was onto something. As a venue, the floor is a total clusterfuck, but there are enough nooks and crannies around the building to make it an enjoyable experience.
Memo: Vegas rules. It’s insane. I love it so much yet there is no city I can’t wait to leave like Vegas. The energy for Phish is on another level. Hearing everyone’s stories is an experience in itself. I do love Boardwalk Hall as an actual venue but Atlantic City can’t touch Vegas. Hopefully it’s a common occurrence.
Miner: A lot of people talk about the grueling nature of four nights in Vegas, but I don’t really drink or gamble so it’s all just like one big 24 hour amusement park for me. I feel I get all the positive and none of the negative out of that town. I’ve been to every Phish show in Vegas, but never been to Vegas without Phish and I’d like to keep it that way. The city has little appeal to me without Phish there, but when the band is in town, I find the entire experience to be one big spectacle.
Memo: I am pretty sure I did enough drinking and gambling for the both of us. In fact, I still might not have recovered. 24oz Lagunitas IPAs during the shows is no joke.
Miner: Wow! That sounds like a lot of piss breaks to me. But, hey, any way you cut it, Phish and Vegas go together like peanut butter and jelly. And on that note, I guess this is a wrap! Great talking Vegas with you, brother. This was a lot of fun. Let’s revisit this format in the future. Happy Holidays to all!