A Stairway To The Stars

10.30.09 (Photo: Graham Kucas)

10.30.09 (Photo: Graham Lucas)

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.

Indio_Oct 30_09

10.30.09 (G.Lucas)

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.”

10.30.09 (W.Rogell)

10.30.09 (W.Rogell)

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.”

10.30.09 (G.Lucas)

10.30.09 (G.Lucas)

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.”

10.30.09 (W.Rogell)

10.30.09 (W.Rogell)

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.

"Burble" (G.Lucas)

'Burble' During "Harry Hood" (G.Lucas)

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:

10.30.09 (G.Lucas)

10.30.09 (G.Lucas)

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.




10.30.90 El Dorado Cafe, Crested Butte, CO SBD < Torrent

10.30.90 El Dorado Cafe, Crested Butte, CO SBD < Megaupload

Circa 1990 (Unknown)

Circa 1990 (Unknown)

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


Source: SBD


Indio_Oct 30_14

10.30.09 Indio, CA (Photo: Graham Lucas)

10.30.90 Indio, CA (Photo: Graham Lucas)

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296 Responses to “A Stairway To The Stars”

  1. Marshall Says:


  2. stitchstash Says:

    I’ve seen many shows at Red Rocks but never Phish. I’m sure those shows live were amazing. I usually don’t download shows that I don’t attend but I did for Red Rocks.

  3. jdub Says:

    This is a silly question here but is Phish the greatest band to ever play… And why

  4. butter Says:

    yes, because they have chameleon like tendencies

  5. stitchstash Says:

    yes, because they never cease to amaze me and they are forever evolving.

  6. Robear Says:

    Nice show, Selector J.

    jdub, one could certainly make that argument. You could base it on Festival 8. 3-day festival, far from home, acoustic set, old songs, new songs, fresh jams, cover album, great scene, and go from there.

  7. jdub Says:

    They certainly do.

    There have been only 4 members for 25 years and they are still growing as a band.

  8. Marshall Says:

    Yes. I cannot tell you why, however. From 1986 through 1994 I saw many, many bands perform. Starting in 1994, slowly, Phish pushed all the others aside. I still like to listen to other bands and see them, but somewhere in the back of my mind, when i’m at another show, I’m actually thinking “damn, I wish this was Phish.”

    I used to try to get people to understand Phish – to turn them on. Now, I just enjoy knowing that I’m one of the few who’s been let in on this wonderful secret.

  9. Marshall Says:

    Check that – there was another member early on (same as the Beatles). I can’t remember his name (Jeff Holdsworth or something). He played one song with them at their 20th anniversary show I think.

    But the 4 today are the phantastic phour, so I know what you mean.

  10. stitchstash Says:

    I agree with you Marshall. Not to mention how many other bands do you talk about, listen to, and disect almost every day?

  11. Marshall Says:

    And it is a secret. When I was driving back to LA the Monday morning after F8, the radio show I was listening to did a half hour recap of the R&R Hall of Fame show that played two nights in New York, but not a word about F8 that was just a few miles down the road. That tells you just how much of a secret it still is. I, for one, am grateful. The general population couldn’t handle it.

  12. jdub Says:

    A reason Phish is remarkebly good yet so relatively under the radar is the experience gets better with age. I’M on the iPhone hence the short bursts

  13. Selector J Says:

    thanks, robear.

    Phish = greatest band ever
    F8 = best festival ever

    Even if it’s not true, it’s fun to get the indie rockers all bent out of shape:

  14. Marshall Says:

    The hiatus and the breakup cleared the decks. F8 was pure – 40,000 kind people loving IT.

  15. stitchstash Says:

    I do wish I got to see more Grateful Dead shows though. I only saw two. Jerry died when I was 16. I did see the last show at Soldier Fields though. I thought it was great even though people always tell me how terrible that show was. Changed my life!

  16. Marshall Says:

    How many people even understand what you are talking about when you say things like “the drop”? In fact, now that I think about it, it might just be “the drop” that makes Phish the greatest band ever.

  17. jdub Says:

    I would think F8 would be greatest. I didn’t attend but from what I’ve gathered it held countless treasures on all levels. No traffic, top level music, diversity,tropical setting, and very happy crowd

  18. Robear Says:

    stich, that show wasn’t terrible. It had moments and real meaning. Jerry sang “I will walk alone, by the Last Muddy River” (instead of Black muddy river)

  19. Marshall Says:

    I saw to GD shows as well. Omni 1991 and Omni 1995. I respect the Dead a lot, but neither show won me over. I’ve always wanted to like the Dead more than I actually like them. Thankfully I don’t have that issue with Phish. It was like, 1st show “boy, this is good”; 2nd show “man, this is good”; 3rd show “God, this is good”; 4th show “shit, this is good.”

  20. Selector J Says:

    I used to try to get people to understand Phish – to turn them on. Now, I just enjoy knowing that I’m one of the few who’s been let in on this wonderful secret.

    Ain’t that the distilled Jesus word of truth. Either I’m the worst salesman ever (entirely possible) but I never ever changed anyone’s mind about Phish (that I know of). Fuckers don’t get it. And I don’t get them.

  21. jdub Says:

    Don’t forget MMW had an album “The dropper” and it delivered as prosimed

  22. Selector J Says:

    Lulz @ Marshall.

    Well played. Should have seen that coming before I did.

  23. Marshall Says:

    @ Selector J – you either get IT, or you don’t.

  24. jdub Says:

    Everything is about set and setting, hence our perspective on life

  25. stitchstash Says:

    Thanks Robear, It makes me mad when people say that. I loved it and that’s all that mattered. I didn’t realize he changed those lyrics.

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