“What Phish is doing tonight is more than covering a record. They are telling, through these songs, their own stories about ecstasy, madness and survival.”
– David Fricke in Festival 8’s Phishbill
The Rolling Stones’ 1972 masterpiece “Exile On Main Street” chronicles the adventures and experiences of life in a rock n roll band. Via the album’s 18 songs, the Stones’ illustrated both the glamorous and dark sides of life as a touring act; a thematic fit for Phish in 2009. The band has returned to glory after living twenty-plus years of the rock and roll life, with many successes, tribulations, and anecdotes under their belt. By donning the music of Exile, Phish vicariously narrated their own tumultuous path of super-stardom, with each song providing a snippet of the experience. But when looked at as a whole, Exile On Main Street is a definitive cultural record that chronicles both the “beautiful buzz[es]” and “torn and frayed” nature of the rock lifestyle. And beyond its narrative nature, the album, itself, provides a veritable history lesson on the musical influences of rock and roll.
While the album’s subject fit congruently for Phish, its music hearkened back to the roots of Americana rock and roll. Colored with blues guitar licks, country rhythms, and soulful lyrics and backed by a sparkling horn section and outstanding singers, Phish threw down one of their most powerful Halloween sets to date. With gospel-esque harmonies and horn arrangements that popped with cleanliness and authority, one could tell that the entire group had rehearsed the album plenty of times before stepping on the stage. Instead of pushing the band in a new musical direction, “Exile” seemed to be reflection of Phish’s current state of music. Joy’s cohesion lies in its blues-rock feel and its narrative, thematic storytelling, both facets that are part and parcel of Exile. Thematically similar – reflecting on darker days and the hope of a brighter future – “Exile” seemed incredibly appropriate as the set got going. And beyond its lyrical themes, Phish absolutely nailed the double-album of music.
If one word could define the feeling of the Exile set, it is “soul.” Combining a virtuoso horn section of David Guy (trumpet), David Smith (trombone), and Tony Jarvis (tenor saxophone) with Sharon Jones of The Dap-Kings and Saundra Williams on vocals, Phish created an ensemble that cooperatively killed the entire set. Sometimes out front and sometimes subtle, the horns provided impeccable accompaniment throughout the album, while the singers gave the set an authentic feel of southern gospel fusion. Collectively, their performances formed a near-religious run-through of the hallowed album.
Fans received Phishbills the morning of the show, eliminating any last-minute surprise to the Halloween set, but also giving fans time to re-listen to Exile a couple times during the afternoon. Once Phish took the stage, however, the captivating album sprang to life. With the popular opener “Rocks Off,” Phish and friends were off and running in what became a classic night in the band’s history. After settling in through the first few songs, Phish grew far more relaxed and by “Tumbling Dice” had loosed up to absolute comfort while having the time of their lives.
With eighteen songs on the album, Phish, more or less, played each true to form. But after a poignant version of “Sweet Virginia” with Fishman on vocals, the band let their chops loose on “Torn and Frayed” – a highlight of the set and the top contender to remain in the band’s rotation. Taking the emotional and groovy composition on a Phishy ride, the song seemed like a perfect musical fit for Phish at this stage of their career. Trey took liberty on his solo, lacing the song with his signature licks and crafting a massive high-point of the first part of Exile. Interestingly, Trey switched between two Languedocs during the set – one to mimic Kieth Richards’ metallic, rhythm-like playing and one for searing solos; this time he used the latter.
The Rolling Stones’ ode to civil rights activist, Angela Davis, “Sweet Black Angel,” directly following “Torn and Frayed,” provided one of the most powerful moments of the set with its acoustic, southern-spiritual feel. This felt like the church of rock’s past, and we were all congregants. Goose bumps arose as the band delicately moved through this piece. The vocal harmonies were enough to make your heart melt all by themselves, and when the horns oozed into the mix, they provided a subtle, yet poignant, layer to one of the albums most meaningful songs.
The blow-out version of “Loving Cup” came next, boasting a completely full sound with the horns’ accompaniment. As the mid-point of the record, “Loving Cup” injected the set with a huge dose of energy. The horns and singers added so much to the song; a festive and Phishy moment amidst an album strewn with more somber themes. As expected, the crowd reacted enthusiastically to the suped-up version.
As the band turned the corner into the second half of the album, they were firing on all cylinders and carried a distinct musical momentum into the final stanza. The upbeat “Happy” kept the energetic vibe moving forward, as did the country-blues “Turd On the Run.” On these songs, as throughout the set, the horns shone brightly, illustrating flawless chops and a dynamic layer to the overall puzzle. The set took on a more-traditional blues feel with the slow-paced but infectious “Ventilator Blues.” Phish slid from this number into another set highlight – “I Just Want to See His Face.” With a refrain of “Let this music relax your mind,” and a sparse gospel texture, this song transported us into a small church rejoicing in the south. Jones and Williams, while defining the album’s feel, shone like stars on this song. “I Just Want to See His Face” provided a cool and refreshing moment as Trey integrated some Phishy effects into the mix; simply gorgeous.
From this point on, the album continued to build to its emotional peak, continuing with “Let It Loose.” Representing one of the Stone’s most prominent forays into gospel, Phish interpreted the piece with indelible accuracy. Page’s lyrical treatment of the piece infused a soulful feel, and combined with Jones and Williams, the band sounded spot-on. The emotional wave of the album began to peak in earnest with this piece. As the horns came in with their backing layers, the song dripped raw emotion onto the crowd, beginning the transformative – and hopeful – ending of the album.
After “All Down the Line” and “Stop Breaking Down,” two catchy blues-rock numbers, the set came to a cathartic peak with “Shine A Light.” Providing a stunning church-like musical experience, this may have been the most powerful cover of any Halloween album in the band’s history. Climaxing the set, both thematically and musically, lyrics have never seemed more appropriate for Trey, Phish, and for all of us at this stage of the game.
May the good Lord shine a light on you,
Make every song you sing your favorite tune.
May the good Lord shine a light on you,
Warm like the evening sun.
Peaking the darker album with a hymn of hope, the band and their guests absolutely crushed this song, creating a warm feel of Phish-gospel.
The album’s closer “Soul Survivor” carried a double-entendre, referencing the record’s musical roots and the band’s physical survival through their years of debauchery. A rocking denouement to a masterful set, this song punctuated one of Phish’s greatest Halloween escapades.
More than a simple cover, the Exile set provided a gorgeous glimpse into rock and roll history, bringing the genre’s roots to the forefront of the stage as Phish crafted one of their most memorable cover sets to date. More than any other musical costume, “Exile On Main Street” held a real meaning to the band members – both collectively and individually – a reflection of their own experiences as life-long rock stars. A record that each member fell in love with during their youth, both Trey and Page have dreamed of playing Exile forever. And on Saturday night, their dream came true, translating the classic album into Phish with grace and proficiency in the band’s triumphant return to Halloween.
Jams of the Day: Some Exile Highlights
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
10.31.09 Festival 8, Indio, CA < Torrent
10.31.09 Festival 8, Indio, CA < Megaupload
I. Sample In A Jar, Divided Sky, Lawn Boy, Kill Devil Falls, Bathtub Gin, Squirming Coil, Runaway Jim, Possum, Run Like An Antelope
II. Rocks Off, Rip This Joint, Shake Your Hips, Casino Boogie, Tumblin’ Dice, Sweet Virginia, Torn And Frayed, Sweet Black Angel, Lovin’ Cup, Happy, Turd On The Run, Ventilator Blues > I Just Want To See His Face, Let It Loose, All Down The Line, Stop Breakin’ Down, Shine A Light, Soul Survivor
III. Backwards Down The Number Line > Fluffhead, Ghost, When The Circus Comes To Town, You Enjoy Myself
E: Suzy Greenberg*
* w/ horns and singers
Source: (FOB) Schoeps CCM4V’S (din) > Lunatec V2 > Benchmark AD2K > Sound Devices 722 (24/48) (Taper: Z- Man)Tags: 2009, Festival 8, Halloween