This edition of Sunday Cinema presents video of Phish’s Halloween performance in 1994 accompanied by Shane Tobin’s essay which was originally published in 2014.
Halloween, October 31, 1994
“We got a long night ahead here so I hope everybody’s ready to settle in …” – Trey Anastasio at the end of the first set.
Up to this point I had seen Phish 13 times. Once I got the bug, I went as often as I could. I’d been to New Year’s Eve at Worcester on December 31, 1993 and saw the band do Gamehendge at Great Woods over the summer of 1994. But summer days of random road trips to East Coast amphitheaters were over now. I’d just graduated from Boston College and needed to start thinking about what I was going to do to make some money.
The summer of my junior year I worked as an intern for Congressman Christopher Shays down in Washington D.C. and he offered me the opportunity to work full time on his ’94 campaign starting in August and ending on Election Day, November 8. The hours were bleary-eyed early with the alarm going off at 4 a.m., having to show up at train stations in Fairfield County to talk to commuters starting at 5 a.m.
I was only allowed one day off the campaign so I put in for November 1.
The morning of the 31st, I got up as usual at 4 a.m., put in a full day on the campaign trail, jumped into my Toyota Corolla and hit the road from southern Connecticut to Glens Falls, New York. I was too amped up about the show to feel tired on the drive up. My eyes darted around the road checking out cars along I-87 that might be on the same journey. I spotted bumper stickers featuring the Grateful Dead, moe., Blues Traveler, Widespread Panic, The Allman Brothers Band, Max Creek, Juggling Suns, God Street Wine, Moon Boot Lover, Ominous Seapods, Agents of Good Roots, Schleigho, Deep Banana Blackout and others. We were heading into the unknown.
Ever since the Doniac Schvice (the Phish newsletter) reported that Phish was going to play three sets with a special middle cover set, we were freaking out trying to guess what they would play. My pick: Van Halen’s first album. I thought “Running With The Devil” was appropriate for Halloween and that Trey would really dig playing “Eruption” and hamming it up as Phish tends to do.
I finally got up to Glens Falls around 7 p.m. and met my friends at the hotel. It was nothing fancy and from the looks of it, it had been completely taken over by Phish fans. Beer cans were scattered around, doors to rooms were edged open with music floating out along with dudes in baja hoodies smokin’ heaters or firing up a bowl.
We drove over to the venue and it was obvious we had taken over the small city. I don’t remember one specific lot, just cars everywhere, fans blasting boots and everyone bundled up for the colder fall weather.
Show time was 10 p.m., so by the time we all started getting into the venue, buzzes were well along their way. It was pure comedy walking through the concourse of the arena. I saw people dressed as “An angry mob of joggers,” “Mound” (in a Mound candy bar costume, who would go on to win the costume contest), “Uncle Pen,” “The Horse,” the “Harry Hood” milk carton, more than a few brothers of the Wolfman, someone who I think was trying to dress as a multibeast, but who knows, and my buddy Sean with a Lizard mask on.
As far as the show was concerned, well you know what happened. But being there that night, you had no idea what they were going to do. Lots of people were saying Led Zeppelin IV or Thriller but it was completely up in the air. And Phish kept throwing curve balls. “Harpua” with Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs,” and of course the Dark Side Of The Moon intro played on top of the Ed Sullivan voice over, not to mention all the song teases in the shows leading up to Halloween.
When Phish launched into the second set and started playing The White Album, it took a minute or two to process. Once it sunk in, you could see fans thinking it through. “Oh wow, The Beatles! Double album!” And then realize we were going to see Phish rip into classics like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” “Dear Prudence,” “Helter Skelter” and so on. What they were doing was a massive undertaking and even though many had been partying for hours leading up to the second set, this was not lost on most of us there.
How long had they rehearsed this? We knew that Phish was amazing but nailing The White Album was a Herculean task for any talented band. Not to mention they were already on an extensive fall tour leading up to Halloween.
Some of the songs were approached with great reverence like Page’s version of “Mother Nature’s Son” or Trey singing “Cry Baby Cry.” And others became whatever Phish wanted them to be, like the bluegrass version of “Don’t Pass Me By” or the psychedelic vacuum freakout of “Revolution 9” that ended with a naked Fishman.
To say it was a long night was an understatement. I stayed until the very end and remember looking at my watch. It was around 3:30 a.m. I walked out in a half daze / half buzz of electricity. It was a concert that far exceeded anything I thought I was going to see that night.
And that’s what Phish did back then and continues to do today. It’s why we keep coming back each year. For the unexpected, the magic, the moments that take us places away from our everyday lives for just a little bit. It’s certainly why I keep going back.
Can’t wait to see what they play next.
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