Phish redefined the Halloween experience on Sunday night in Atlantic City, ending their holiday mystery by playing Little Feat’s Waiting For Columbus, the first live album they have ever donned as a musical costume. Transforming Boardwalk Hall into a legitimate Seventies dance party, Phish recreated the concert experience of another band, taking their Halloween stunt to another level. Joined by a horn section and conga virtuoso, Giovanni Hidalgo, on percussion, the band slayed a double-album that reflected the ensemble jamming featured so prominently throughout fall tour. Dipping into several musical textures, much like Phish themselves, Waiting For Columbus proved to be the ideal choice for the band right now. Elevating their game throughout the tour, Phish capped the winding road of fall with a defining Halloween performance that will certainly leap into any debate over the best ever.
Excerpting David Fricke’s eloquent article in this year’s Phishbill:
Phish are not just playing another classic album, back to front…[they] are covering a legendary Seventies concert experience – what is was like to be like in the room when Little Feat ruled a stage, fusing salty blues, New Orleans second-line funk, zippy jazz-rock mischief and country-diner romance in drop-dead songwriting, with snapping-treble guitar action and stunning improvised crosstalk.
And they achieved their task to perfection, recreating this experience to a tee and executing the album with unmatched musicianship. Far more complex than covering a recorded set of songs, Phish masterfully learned a series of songs and live jams recorded over seven nights in London and Washington, DC, during August of 1977. Playing the double-disc with passion and precision, the set never dragged for a moment, stealing the show – and the weekend – in Atlantic City. From beat one, the groove grabbed the audience and never let go, providing the genuine feeling that we had been transported to a different place and time.
Beginning with the infectious opener “Fat Man In the Bathtub,” the collaborative rhythmic focus of the album became wholly apparent right away, signifying a far more participatory experience than in past years. To quote Fricke, “…you will be expected to dance. Anastasio can’t help raving about the mad wicked action in these songs.” With varying time signatures, a dirty, blues-based sensibility, and collaborative improvisation throughout, Waiting For Columbus proved to be the aural treat after Phish’s Led Zeppelin “trick” on the 30th. The album not only showcased the band’s impeccable current chops, but also contained slower funk realms that sounded natural and addictive in Phish’s musical medium.
In terms of familiarity, everyone knew “Time Loves A Hero,” an Phish cover that has popped up in setlists from time to time, and the signature piece “Dixie Chicken” – both which provided earnest high points as Page took center stage on the latter. But familiarity hardly mattered with music this engaging; music that spoke to your body and loudly as your mind. Fusing blues, funk, jazz, and rock influences – much like Phish themselves – Little Feat’s culminating work fit provided the ideal soundtrack for a Halloween party.
While the Waiting For Columbus set was drenched in songwriting and soul, carrying a notable energy and momentum from beginning to end, most would agree that the percussive-based “Spanish Moon” brought the most indelible group memory. Comprised of gooey, funk textures with dripping bass lines and nasty rhythm guitar licks, this ode to “whisky and bad cocaine” combusted the dance floor, providing the early favorite to stick in rotation. And when this piece ended, the retro-trip was only halfway over.
Interestingly, Fishman wrote a piece in the Phishbill explaining that there has been no greater influence on his drumming that Little Feat’s late Richie Hayward. And throughout last night’s performance, the similarities became obvious as Fish covered Hayward’s melodic beats and lyrical phrasing. In classic Fishman fashion, he wrote,”I’ve already ripped this guy off so much that covering this album is my chance to finish the job once and for all!” He and Hidalgo worked in awesome unison, churning out dance patterns all night long that anchored the album in a dynamic rhythmic foundation.
Interpreting the legendary guitar work of Lowell George, Trey added his own accents and spice to the already-swaggering leads. A choice that seemed hand-picked for Trey, Waiting For Columbus provided him the chance to magnify his current style while encouraging more percussive offerings than we’ve seen from The Ocedoc this fall. One of Trey’s finest Halloween performances, his gutsy guitar tone fit the album perfectly and he navigated the diverse live tracks with staggering proficiency. Phish had clearly practiced this complex album with diligence, as the entire band came together in a magical Halloween transformation; an unforgettable set of music for the annals of Phish history.
By putting a barbershop quartet spin on the humorous and vocally-based, “Don’t Bogart That Joint,” and bringing Fishman front and center for the beautiful ballad “Willin’,” the band still managed to fit a few Phishy twists into an incredibly authentic performance. “Sailing Shoes” and “Feats Don’t Fail Me Know,” the final two songs of the liquid-flowing set, brought two more quintessential stops in the bass-led percussive pastures that underlined the entire album. And as Trey dug into his final solos of the second frame, they felt completely natural – as if he was swimming amidst his own music rather than playing that of another. Wearing a tightly-fitting musical costume, the lines between Little Feat and Phish became completely blurred last night in a Halloween set for the ages. The band pushed their holiday tradition to the next level this year, throwing an outright dance party like no other this fall, while simultaneously providing a genuine glimpse into the musical tradition that birthed Phish itself.
More to come on Halloween’s other two sets tomorrow!
I: Frankenstein, Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Ghost > Spooky, The Divided Sky, Roses Are Free, Funky Bitch, Boogie On Reggae Woman, Stash, Character Zero
II: Fat Man in the Bathtub, All That You Dream, Oh Atlanta, Old Folks’ Boogie, Time Loves a Hero > Day or Night, Mercenary Territory, Spanish Moon, Dixie Chicken > Tripe Face Boogie, Rocket in My Pocket, Willin’, Don’t Bogart That Joint, A Apolitical Blues, Sailin’ Shoes, Feats Don’t Fail Me Now
III: Down with Disease > Back on the Train, Gotta Jibboo, Camel Walk, Suzy Greenberg, Wilson > Harry Hood, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, You Enjoy Myself
Tags: 2010, Covers, Fall '10, Halloween