Phish Festival 8 | 10.30.09 | Indio, CA

Words by: Brian Bavosa | Images by: Steven Walter

Phish Festival 8 :: 10.30.09 :: Indio, CA

Phish Festival 8 :: 10.30 :: Indio, CA
Festival 8 is not your regular Phish show. It's not even a typical Phish festival.

Phish put on their first fest in 1996 with The Clifford Ball. 1997 welcomed The Great Went, 1998 Lemonwheel, 1999 Camp Oswego, 1999 brought the epic New Years event at Big Cypress, 2003 found It, and finally, 2004 brought fans to Vermont for Coventry. Festival 8 is the band's eighth festival. But it also falls on Halloween, making it significantly different than any of the previous events.

Not only does Phish have deep history in regards to throwing festivals (many credit them with helping revolutionize American festivals as we know it), but the band's Halloween shows are the stuff of legend. Dating back to 1994 when Phish performed The Beatles' White Album in its entirety (and in order) in Glens Falls, New York, they have donned a "musical costume" for each following Halloween they would play.

1995's "costume" was The Who's Quadrophenia performed in Chicago. 1996 was The Talking Head's Remain In Light busted out in Atlanta, and the last Halloween show Phish performed was in Las Vegas in 1998 where they did The Velvet Underground's Loaded.

Festival 8 unofficially kicked-off on Thursday night with a soundcheck including teases of "Fuck Your Face" (last played about 20 years ago) and MGMT's "Kids," off their smash hit Oracular Spectacular, which is rumored to be one of the eight remaining possible albums Phish will cover (they have been "killing off" a list of potential albums featured on their website, supposedly leading to the final selection which will be performed in its entirety on Halloween). Toss in the one-of-a-kind, unique stylings of the ground's art, complete with 140 lit palm trees, "The Coil," the burning heart of fire, beer tent, The House of Live Phish (where fans can mix songs from this past summer tour), giant Ferris Wheel, and white tents reminiscent of Shoreline, and Phish has turned The Empire Polo Club into what they are calling "Little Vermont."


Trey - Phish Festival 8 :: 10.30 :: Indio, CA
Opening the first of eight weekend sets with "Party Time," the feeling was immediately relaxed, a sort of anything-goes vibe. "Chalkdust Torture" came next, igniting the crowd with its trademark reckless abandon. The deep funk of "The Moma Dance" and a well placed "NICU" continued to build momentum, before a mid-set "Stash" offered the first real jam of the weekend, hitting some high points without getting particularly dissonant or scary.

A rare "I Didn't Know" saw Jon Fishman play a vacuum solo while simultaneously "sucking and blowing in the shape of an eight," followed by "Poor Heart" and "Cavern" that gave this portion of the show a real vintage '92 feel.

"Beauty of a Broken Heart" is a Page McConnell number from his solo, self-titled, 2007 release, and tried to shine in Indio, but this entire set was already mailed in. Not lackluster or performed without passion, but Set I was akin to tantric sex. For all previous fests the band has been careful not to blow their load, instead working the crowd slowly, bringing the masses into a shared state of being that will last for hours and days upon end.

"Time Turns Elastic," another tune off of the band's latest release, Joy, concluded an hour-and-forty-minute set with a flurry, especially the last four-minutes, which are by far the most interesting part of the song.


"Punch You in the Eye" opened up the second set, with the line "where palm trees dipped and seagulls swerved," drawing a huge response as lighting director Chris Kuroda splashed color upon the trees behind the stage. "Down With Disease" was on fire, bringing some of the most intense jamming of the night with Trey busting out celebratory licks on his Languedoc guitar. Morphing into "Prince Caspian" out of "DWD," things again slowed a bit, but featured a McConnell led, Wild West-esque, bobble outro before a slamming "Wolfman's Brother," which was funky and stripped down featuring a concise Trey and Page led duel. Although a short version of "Wolfman's," it was still one of the night's strongest numbers.

Phish Festival 8 :: 10.30 :: Indio, CA
The end of the set featured a standard "Joy," before a menacing "David Bowie," with Trey remarking, "we're gonna give you a little hint about the Halloween album now." A cryptic comment for sure, it's hard to know exactly what Trey meant, but the obvious answer seems to be that they will not be playing David Bowie's Hunky Dory, which up to this point was still one of the eight records still "alive" according to the band's website.

The artistic highlight of the night was definitely "Harry Hood" with the roaming "Balloon Burble," which is a blimp-like, balloon structure wired for psychedelic color via remote control. At times during the chill "Hood" jam it looked like a giant pill of rainbow that brought many back to Phish's first festival 13 years ago at The Clifford Ball when the "Hood" jam featured fireworks. Full circle indeed.

A fun closer of "Golgi Apparatus" didn't have the typical kick at the refrain, "I saw you with a ticket stub in your hand!," because attendance seems slightly less than anticipated. Perhaps 30-50 thousand people as opposed to the 70 or 80 that the Polo Fields are capable of holding. The "Character Zero" encore was hot and full of gritty rock power chords, but the crowd seemed almost subdued, perhaps in shock that this historic event was finally underway.

Walking out shortly after midnight, a showing of The Shining on a giant movie screen attracted a plethora of bug-eyed campers, while many, including myself crept back to nearby condos and hotels to ponder what Phish had in store for Halloween.

More photos of this show are available here.

Phish perform again tonight on Halloween! Keep an eye on for live Tweets, setlists, pics and full reviews. Complete Phish tour dates available here.

Phish Festival 8 :: 10.30.09 :: Indio, CA
Set 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
Set II: Punch You In The Eye, Down With Disease > Prince Caspian > Wolfman's Brother > Piper > Joy, David Bowie*, Harry Hood, Golgi Apparatus
Encore: Character Zero
* "We're gonna give you a little hint about the Halloween album now." -Trey

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[Published on: 10/31/09]

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