Words by: Brian Bavosa | Images by: Steven Walter
Phish Festival 8 :: 10.31.09 :: Indio, CA
For the passionate Phish fan, few events are met with the anticipation of a Halloween three set extravaganza. Add to this the fact that it had been 11 years since Phish performed one of their legendary Halloween shows, and the scene was set for a historic rock concert.
| Phish Festival 8 :: 10.31 :: Indio, CA|
With temperatures pushing into the low 90s, Saturday afternoon was hot, contrasting nicely with the rather chilly weather from the previous night. As soon as day broke it wasn't hard to find excited Phans decked out in colorful costumes ranging from Hulk Hogan and Rainbow Bright to a "Golden Shower" and Fluffhead to name a few.
Walking into the concert grounds, the band finally gave in and let the masses know via their traditional "Phishbill" (modeled after the Playbill you'd get at a Broadway play) that the musical costume for the night would be The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main St. But before the hungry crowd could feed on Exile, there was the day set. Featuring hot weather that definitely translated into the band's performance, the afternoon set was relaxed, loose and difficult to dance to with hardly any shade in sight. Even McConnell and Anastasio looked to be conserving energy as the sun burned across their faces.
Opening up with the standard guitar punch of "Sample in a Jar," the band again seemed to be playing it safe. "The Divided Sky" soared without a cloud in the sky, while "Lawnboy" saw Trey give a shout out to the beautiful venue and Page pay homage to the very grass the patrons were standing upon. Afternoon sets have always been a time for McConnell to take center stage and this one was no different, featuring his sprawling digits on the opening chaos of "Bathtub Gin" and the lullaby outro of "The Squirming Coil."
Three more old school favorites, "Runaway Jim," "Possum," and "Run Like An Antelope" brought the day set to a close. Not much in the way of "bust-outs" or extraordinary versions, everything up to this point had been well executed, but seemed in many ways to be an introduction for what was to come. With a few hours before the night sets, fans gathered around jumbo TV screens to watch the World Series, touched up their costumes or chilled under palm trees awaiting the madness of Phish Halloween.
QUATRO – EXILE ON MAIN ST.
One of the greatest rock albums of all time, Exile on Main St. represents the very essence of what it means to be alive, in a band, and pouring your heart into rock & roll. Trey says the classic slab was ingrained in the band members' "DNA" and
in the previously mentioned Phishbill, there was a superb essay by Rolling Stone magazine's David Fricke in which he explained the story of Exile, and its logical choice for the boys of Phish.
Joined onstage for the set by soul singer Sharon Jones (The Dap-Kings), David Gray (trumpet), David Smith (trombone), Tony Jarvis (sax) and Saundra Williams (vocals), Phish donned its musical costume and delivered a two-hour experience that defied expectations.
| Exile on Main St. :: 10.31 :: Indio, CA|
From the opening one-two combo of "Rocks Off" and "Rip This Joint," something at Festival 8 seemed to change instantaneously; in band, in crowd, and in the holy spirits that certainly swirled around us. Building momentum at a breakneck pace, the night turned a corner during the raucous "Tumbling Dice," and the slow, beautiful twang of "Sweet Virginia" that found Fishman on vocals with the crowd singing along in perfect harmony, especially to the line, "Got to scrape that shit right off your shoe."
Arguably the strongest song of the set was "Torn and Frayed." Around the mid-point of the album, it was here that Phish finally made Exile its own. Built around the first big Trey jam of the night, it was hard to not see some of Anastasio in this story of a rock & roller struggling with the life he's chosen, "but never more than one great lick away from redemption" as Fricke explained. This is the story of Phish's past decade. Stardom. Pressure. Addiction. Failure. Redemption. Exile was Phish's "one great lick" on Halloween.
The ninth track, "Loving Cup" was first covered by the band in '93, at the very first show that McConnell debuted his baby grand, and it has been a staple ever since. Highlighted by the guest horns and a valiant effort by each member, this take rivaled any single version of this tune over the past 16 years.
Many of the songs on the album had rarely, if ever, been played live by The Stones, making them all the more special on this occasion. The crude "Turd on a Run," and slow cooked "Let it Loose," were two such examples. With no road map except the album versions to go from, Phish was able to play these songs in their traditional sense, while adding swirling piano chords and sprawling fret work by Anastasio, who played out of his head all night.
| Exile on Main St. :: 10.31 :: Indio, CA|
Phish was not only playing this costume, but actually living it with each and every note. By the time "Shine a Light" rolled around, many in the audience had goose-bumps and shouted along to the choir-like epiphany of, "May the good lord shine a light on you/ Make every song you sing your favorite tune." Phish was doing exactly that, with every song off the album executed near perfection and played with a sense of joy and vigor that radiated throughout the audience.
Exile on Main St. will rank with the best cover albums Phish has ever played. While the title of the album speaks of being in Exile, Phish continued their return to glory with this set.
How the hell do you follow up THAT? Simple. You deliver one of the best sets of improvisational music you've played in the past decade. "Backwards Down the Number Line" began a five-song set, followed by the thumping thunder of "Fluffhead," in which Gordon took center stage. No flubs to speak of, this mega-number has certainly been a welcome addition to the band's catalogue in version 3.0.
The song of the night, though, was the Halloween appropriate "Ghost." From the funky opening this roughly 15-minute cut took on a life of its own. Fueled by Trey's furious guitar work, the theme developed into a scorching jam before returning full-circle to the loose structure of the introductory chords. The one breather tune of the set was a stirring rendition of Los Lobos' "When the Circus Comes to Town," with the line, "the day I burn this whole place down" foreshadowing some of the pyrotechnic displays that would happen shortly thereafter.
| Phish Festival 8 :: 10.31 :: Indio, CA|
"You Enjoy Myself" is arguably Phish's biggest, most popular composition. You could call it the quintessential Phish song. The Halloween '09 version ranks up there with some of best they've performed. Led once again by Trey's possessed guitar work, it was classic Anastasio. During the breakdown, the structures that defined the outer limits of the concert ground blew fire out of their tops in unison with the music. The band was locked-in, fired up (literally), and ready to conquer the world. After Exile and this third set, they're a step closer.
The encore welcomed back out the horns for "Suzy Greenburg." A song that has been overplayed since the band's return, this version was easily the best one yet and again warrants talk of possibly a "best ever." Jones' vocals gave the ending jam an added boost and Page and Trey were blowing a gasket. Those onstage were having so much fun, they didn't want things to end, and when the song was about to be over, Trey led everyone back into a reprise jam, akin to the Darien Lake '00 "Suzy."
Basking in the glow of fire, neon and the glory of a show this good, Phish rose to the occasion and made Halloween 2009 one for the ages. Not only did they conquer a classic in Exile, the boys turned in some of the best versions of their own classics.
More photos of this show are available here.
Phish perform again today in Indio. Keep an eye on jambase.com/phish for live Tweets, setlists, pics and full reviews. Complete Phish tour dates available here.
Phish Festival 8 :: 10.31.09 - Halloween :: Indio, CA
Set I (Afternoon): Sample In A Jar, The Divided Sky, Lawn Boy, Kill Devil Falls, Bathtub Gin, The Squirming Coil, Runaway Jim > Possum, Run Like An Antelope
Set II (Night) - The Rolling Stones - Exile on Main St.: Rocks Off, Rip This Joint, Shake Your Hips, Casino Boogie, Tumbling Dice, Sweet Virginia, Torn and Frayed, Sweet Black Angel, Loving Cup, Happy, Turd On The Run, Ventilator Blues > I Just Want To See His Face, Let It Loose, All Down The Line, Stop Breaking Down, Shine A Light
Set III (Night): Backwards Down the Number Line > Fluffhead, Ghost, When the Circus Comes, You Enjoy Myself
Encore: Suzy Greenberg
Exile on Main St. & Suzy Greenberg featured Sharon Jones, David Guy, Tony Jarvis, David Smith & Saundra Williams