If someone told me ten years ago that we would be reliving Phish shows in 3D movie theatres in 2010, I would have dismissed the idea a futuristic fantasy that belonged in Back to the Future II. But lo and behold, only a decade later, we find ourselves right here. Capitalizing on the newest fad in cinematic technology, Phish 3D, an audio collage of Festival 8 from Indio, California, is now showing in an exclusive one-week engagement around the nation. While fans have given mixed reviews of the feature length film, I felt the concert experience translated quite well to the big screen and beyond, providing a lasting memoir of an unforgettable weekend.
Split into three sections, nighttime Phish footage, the acoustic set, and the Halloween set, one obvious strength of Phish 3D is the film’s willingness to cover full songs from beginning to end, as opposed to the usual excerpts documentary-based features include. Without any narration, interviews, or external perspectives, Phish 3D allows the viewer to fully soak in the live concert experience. (I kept thinking that the film would be an excellent introduction to Phish for someone who has never seen the band and isn’t sure they could stomach a show.) Within a society catered to short attention spans, the extensive, uncut footage provided a relief from the modern era of sound bites and highlight reels. The ability to watch the band communicate and develop jams from such an intimate perspective provided a novel viewpoint for those not glued to the rail every show. Watching their eyes lock during the music and their seeing their expressions during peak moments provided a wholly divergent experience. Given the on-stage perspective of a fifth band member, one gained a virtual, first hand point-of-view of the band’s interpersonal dynamics and stage set up, things that I, personally, never see during a show. Phish 3D allowed most to view Indio from an 180-degree different perspective than the actual show, and the two together formed a complete experience. And with the crowd-perspective shots, it often felt like we were right on the plush fields again.
The track selection for the opening segment of the movie couldn’t have been better, featuring an opening run of “AC/DC Bag,” “Stealing Time,” “Undermind,” “Tweezer > Maze,” and “Mike’s,” all complete and uncut. “Tweezer > Maze” stood out as the highlight of this sequence, as it did at the show; and with the varying stage shots of the band slaughtering the jam provided a completely an all-encompassing visual experience. Trey’s passion translated vibrantly throughout the film, and especially during “Tweezer,” as his spirited playing matched his animated and fiery demeanor. Following the “Tweezer > Maze,” the movie didn’t slow down, choosing “Mike’s” as the final jam of the opening section. Any time I can go to the movies and see uncut 3D versions of “Tweezer” and “Mike’s” – it’s a win-win in my book!
The second segment of the film featured brief non-stage footage, something the film could have used more of, before showing an extended excerpt from Sunday morning’s acoustic set. The clarity of the audio matched the clarity of the video in a pristine remembrance of a modern morning of lore. While this section may have incorporated one too many songs, the inclusion of “The Curtain (With)” made the entire segment worthwhile, bringing everyone back to the spiritual sunshine of November 1. The ability to see the crowd during the acoustic set really brought the festival to life, as theatre-goers tried to pick themselves out of the colorful ocean of people. This sequence painted a warm portrait of the acoustic set, providing unattainable perspectives of one of the most universally loved portions of Festival 8.
The final third of the movie covered Halloween, and Phish’s take on The Rolling Stones album, Exile On Main Street. While the footage of the selected songs provided some absolutely priceless moments, this is where the film would have hugely benefited from greater backstage access. Unable to get behind the scenes, less one practice session, the story of Phish’s Halloween tradition was implied but never explained, making the section somewhat confusing for the non-initiated movie-goer. The film only contained a small snippet of the on-site Exile rehearsals, a segment that certainly left the desire for more backstage footage, but for that we’d have to wait for the credits. Clearly a case of limited access, Phish should have foresaw this obstacle and allowed more leeway for the film crew to tell the story of the band’s Halloween tradition.
Nonetheless, the shots of “Loving Cup” and “Shine A Light” provided powerful memoirs of an eloquent night in the polo fields of Indio, California. The up close and personal footage of “Loving Cup” provided priceless perspectives of the “all-time” version, while the inclusion of “Shine A Light,” the cathartic exclamation point to Exile, brought back the most poignant memory of the weekend. Phish and company knew they had nailed the album, and celebrated with its soul-drenched peak. The stellar shots of Saundra Williams and Sharon Jones gave us a much closer perspective of their own fun and enthusiasm, expressions that couldn’t be easily seen live; and they were loving it. After showing a short clip of the band and their guests rehearsing “Suzy Greenberg,” the Exile section concluded with its memorable encore rendition with full-on accompaniment. And just when one thought the marathon movie has come to a close, the film cut to the weekend-ending “Tweezer Reprise.” Perfect.
If one shot summed up the absolute exuberance of Festival 8, it had to be during “Suzy.” The camera filmed from behind Williams and Jones, looking out at the stage as the women danced and sang. Meanwhile, with his back to the crowd, Trey, sporting a child-like, aura-encompassing smile, watched Williams and Jones spice up his own concert as if it were part of his dream. And that same dreamlike quality that shone through the expression of our favorite front man embodied the collective spirit that characterized Indio’s blissed out festival; one of the most enjoyable events of Phish ’09.
On the other hand, many people have complained about song selection, camera work, editing, and the such. Really?? I have one question to these purveyors of negativity who complain that a Phish 3D movie wasn’t worthy of cinematic greatness – “Can you still have fun?”
Phish 3D Track listing: AC/DC Bag, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, Undermind, Tweezer, Maze, Mike’s, Back On The Train*, Strange Design*, The Curtain (With)*, Sleep Again*, Train Song*, Wilson*, Loving Cup, Happy, Shine A Light, Soul Survivor, Suzy Greenberg, Tweezer Reprise
Jam of the Day:
A highlight from the opening set of Summer ’98.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
7.18.91 Casino Ballroom, Hampton Beach, NH < Megaupload
I: Chalk Dust Torture, Foam, Runaway Jim, Guelah Papyrus, Suzy Greenberg, Stash, Take the ‘A’ Train, Cavern, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove
II: Llama, Reba, Poor Heart, Split Open and Melt, The Lizards, The Landlady, I Didn’t Know, Possum
E: Alumni Blues > Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues
Notes: This show featured the Giant Country Horns. At one point during the show, the crowd was told by the promoter that they were dancing too much, prompting Trey to offer a date with Fishman to the fan who danced best on their chair!
Source: AKG 451 > D5