With all due focus on Phish’s mastery of The Exile Set and the bombast of Festival 8’s final frame, the shadows cast have already engulfed the 30th, a show that was anything but forgettable. Setting up Halloween with a flowing second set of tightly woven improv, Phish played a show that spanned the emotional spectrum from uplifting to macabre. Surrounded by colorfully lit palm trees and and giant, flame-throwing tiki-torches, the band opened their musical carnival by stringing together several popular jams while molding an artistic set with a distinctly Phishy flavor.
The band kicked off the second half with 1000 mics of adrenaline to the dome in the form of a festival-sized “Punch,” as Trey’s crack-like guitar scratches burst from lowered speaker towers that practically stared us in the face. With all the room in the world to move, the concert field collectively exploded as Phish tore into the full-on opener. Using the composition to set up a drop into a larger vehicle, the only question was which they would choose. Gordeaux quickly answered this question with his signature bass feedback, signaling entry into “Down With Disease.”
Launching into one of the year’s most consistent jams, Phish brought us on a magic carpet ride as they crushed the melodic, structured jam. Though several minutes into this scintillating “Disease,” Trey changed into a series of quasi-distorted rhythm chops, signaling a break from the song’s form. The already thrilling adventure turned menacing as Trey’s guitar tone transformed into an uncompressed growl, pulling the band into darker territory. Page hopped onto the clav, Fish switched up beats, and the band merged into sparser grooves – seemingly on the verge of something bigger. Washes of sonic psychedelia coupled with a slowed, then diminished beat, soon created an effect-laden transition into “Prince Caspian.” Throughout this initial portion of the set, Phish displayed cohesive playing with a fierce intention behind their improv. Exuding confidence through their instruments, the band built a gorgeous version of the imaginary tale before forgoing the song’s final power chords for a piano transition into “Wolfman’s.”
The subsequent sequence of “Wolfman’s > Piper” contained the most adventurous jamming of the weekend, as well as Phish’s darkest Halloween experimentation. Spring-boarding off a series of swanky grooves, Phish took us into the netherworld with an ambient exploration of the occult. Syrupy funk dripped from the speakers onto the first festival audience in six years, in a confluence of motion and catharsis. The band locked into slowed down dance rhythms that included equal contributions from all members, quickly building into a show highlight. The mechanical precision of the over-sized grooves brought that physical rush of excitement inside, that ability to conquer the universe as it raced through my mind. The limitless room to move only enhanced the aura of freedom, and as the grooves wound down, Phish dropped into space.
Crafting the weekend’s “Halloween jam,” Phish evoked memories of the insane depths plunged by “Wolfman’s” on Halloween ’98, with a harrowing ’09-style ambient excursion. Building a terrorizing wall of eerie psychedelia Phish summoned the dark spirits with their cryptic musical mysticism. Sculpting one of the most ominous jams of the year, the band sufficiently explored this haunted realm before the passage bled into “Piper.”
Another one of ’09s strongest songs, “Piper,” reached a place of organ-led, sparse, rhythmic playing that maintained the music’s fast-pace while opening up space within for unique offerings. This jam grew into a truly engaging piece of Phish, as the band continued to break down the music into an increasingly divergent place. Morphing into an awesome melodic plane with shimmering rhythms and seemingly-composed melodies, Trey added a vocal layer over top – much like the Gorge’s “Light” jam – and the band arrived in some truly sublime music. Only after the next night – and upon further listening – did it become evident that Phish had previewed their Halloween costume at the end of “Piper” with an “I Just Wanna See His Face” jam. One of the outstanding highlights of The Exile Set got some practice the night before; much like the band used the “Mike’s” jam in Tallahassee on 10.29.96, to covertly jam on Remain in Light’s “Houses In Motion.” This Stones-laced “Piper,” one of the most beautiful musical moments of the weekend, delicately dissolved into “Joy.” The band used the poignant ballad as a landing point for their extensive improv, as everything flowed perfectly through this sequence.
Phish got right back to business as they dropped into “Bowie.” Just before the band popped out of the intro, Trey dropped one last bit of misdirection, whispering, “We’re gonna give you a little hint about the Halloween album now.” Pranksters until the end, Phish followed the joke with a concise, yet smoking, rendition of their classic. More true to form than in past years, ’09 “Bowies” have remained type-I all the way, and this one followed suit. Nonetheless, the band showcased their spot-on communication as they built perhaps the song’s strongest outing of the year.
Combining two of their oldest pieces, Phish unveiled their first (non-Coventry) festival “Harry Hood” in ten years. A hallmark of The Clifford Ball, The Great Went, and Lemonwheel, there has always been something incomparable about a wide-open “Hood” in a vast field, under an never-ending sky. As the band brought back a treasured tradition, they also introduced “Burble,” our partner in hallucination for the weekend. As the band sailed into the ethereal jam, a balloon structure, likening a massive pharmaceutical, floated gently over the crowd. Kuroda used the piece as a backdrop for his own work as the entire experience created a tripped-out, blissful conclusion to the set. While playing through this masterfully nuanced “Hood,” the superb quality and creativity of the actual music got overshadowed by the artistic eye-candy. The holistic spectacle, however, made for an uplifting and psychedelic start to the band’s first-ever west coast festival.
Making our way out of the concert field for the first time, we passed by The Coil, through the haunted castle, and around the decorative grounds Phish created for the weekend. Surrounded by giant art installations, exhibits with artists busy at work, and other sundry attractions, the distinctly mellow vibe of Eight contrasted with the monstrosities of yesteryear. As we made the short walk back to our free-for-all campground following an exciting show, we still had six sets left! Was this heaven? No; it was the long-awaited return of the Phish festival!
Set 1 Notes:
Just as everyone predicted, Phish opened their first festival of the modern era with “Party Time.” More polished and confident than Merriweather’s debut, this slapped a smile on everyone’s face just as things revved up. A raging, above-average “Chalk Dust” kicked the energy up a notch, setting up a drop into the liquid funk of “Moma Dance.” A mid-set combo of “Stealing Time” and “Stash” stirred up the witches’ cauldron with their paths of sonic sorcery. “Stealing Time” stretched into its most significant incarnation to date, pushing the song a bit further towards the brink of type-II exploration. “Stash” followed its late-summer pattern of blow-out versions, this time with a shift into a major-key for a section of the jam before landing back into darkness; a highlight version no doubt.
I: Party Time, Chalkdust Torture, Moma Dance, NICU, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, Stash, I Didn’t Know, Poor Heart, Cavern, Beauty of a Broken Heart, Ocelot, Time Turns Elastic
II: Punch You In The Eye, Down with Disease > Prince Caspian > Wolfman’s Brother > Piper > Joy, David Bowie, Harry Hood, Golgi Apparatus
E: Character Zero
10.30.09 Indio, CA < Torrent
10.30.09 Indio, CA < Megaupload
Jam of the Day: 10.30 II
“Wolfman’s > Piper > Joy”
The highlight of the first night.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
10.30.90 El Dorado Cafe, Crested Butte, CO SBD < Megaupload
Here a show from Phish’s first Halloween weekend in Colorado during 1990. This is the night before Halloween, sticking with the theme of the day. This old-school SBD includes the debut of “Llama” and more than a few classics in early form.
I: The Landlady > Bouncing Around the Room, Donna Lee, The Asse Festival > Suzy Greenberg, Uncle Pen, Cavern, The Squirming Coil, Possum
II: Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Magilla, Foam, Reba > Llama*, The Ballad of Curtis Loew, Fluffhead, Hold Your Head Up > Terrapin > Hold Your Head Up, Buried Alive > David Bowie
III: Paul and Silas, The Lizards, Good Times Bad Times, Contact, AC/DC Bag
10.30.90 Indio, CA (Photo: Graham Lucas)