Phish Halloween 2018 – Recap & Setlist
Phish helped cement their place in rock history by starting a trend of bands covering classic albums with their first Halloween show featuring a musical costume at Glens Falls Civic Center in Glens Falls, New York on October 31, 1994. The group went on to cover seven additional classic albums and previewed one of their own at concerts held on October 31 since that fateful night in Glens Falls when they performed all of The White Album by The Beatles. On Wednesday, the quartet went a completely different route as they invented a band and album to cover for their second set at MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
The familiar saying of “trick or treat” should be revised as “trick and treat” for what Phish pulled off in Sin City. A Playbill was distributed to fans entering the venue heralding a musical costume of í rokk by a Scandinavian outfit called Kasvot Växt, which they claimed translated to “Faceplant Into Rock” in English. Phish created an intricate backstory for Kasvot Växt that included pages on All Music, Perfect Sound Forever and WFMU as well as an essay within the Playbill containing quotes from the members of Phish. While internet sleuths eventually pieced together the prank, few had any clue of what was in store for the second set. The resulting performance was an ambitious suite of original Phish music played in the style of an ’80s prog-rock band yet still had elements of the Vermont-birthed quartet’s distinctive sound. In addition, production elements included an all-white stage and incredibly cool cubes that hung above the stage and moved around the venue.
The surprises came right from the start when Phish opened with “Buried Alive,” which marked the first performance of the instrumental since August 2, 2017. A fitting for the occasion “Ghost” came next in a repeat of the “Buried Alive”/”Ghost” pairing that kicked off the band’s October 31, 2014 performance at the same venue. Wednesday’s version was highlighted by a blissful motif the band explored for the majority of the jam. Guitarist Trey Anastasio employed a sludgey tone as keyboardist Page McConnell worked in ethereal melodies on electric piano, bassist Mike Gordon alternated between minor and major keys and drummer Jon Fishman kept the ship steady. The foursome connected on a gorgeous pattern to the delight of the audience and built the progression to a rolling boil. Just as the “Ghost” jam hit a peak, Anastasio slickly inserted “Buried Alive” teases before leading a transition into “Crazy Sometimes.” Phish hadn’t performed the Gordon/Murawski composition since September 2, 2017. The band fit a compact but eventful jam within the Gordon/Murawski composition as they did the last time they played “Crazy Sometimes.”
The opening stanza rolled on with a particularly tight “Free” containing screaming and eerie guitar riffs from Anastasio, the first-ever mid-set “More” and a slightly extended “Halley’s Comet.” Phish took “Halley’s” outside the lines for a delightful and exploratory five minutes ahead of a transition into a typically languid “Ocelot.” Anastasio was again up to his teasing antics by weaving hints of “Crazy Sometimes” into “Halley’s” and shined with soaring leads in both “Ocelot” and the “Theme From The Bottom” that followed. Trey was in full-on rock star mode as he prowled the stage, strode into power stance and imitated Pete Townshend’s windmill moves during the euphoric set-closing “First Tube.” A curtain enveloped the stage as setbreak began and fans wondered what tricks and treats Phish would have in store for their supposed performance of Kasvot Växt’s ‘í rokk’ would entail.
When Phish returned to the stage for the second set the arena was plunged into darkness. The black curtains dropped to reveal a white curtain surrounding the band. Ominous sounds came from the stage as lights flashed on the white curtain. The white curtain was lifted and fans saw the members of Phish dressed in white and performing on white instruments. Fish’s familiar purple dress was completely white, Page’s rig consisted of white keyboards and Mike and Trey used white guitars. Everything on stage was white down to the microphones, the bass and guitar rigs, strings and the monitors. The set’s first song, “Turtles In The Cloud” was based on a groovy vamp over which Trey played synth before picking up his guitar. Gordon and Anastasio engaged in a choreographed dance as cubes set up towards the top of the arena rotated and lit up. “Turtles In The Cloud” would be the least Phish-y song of the set and more in line with what one would think the album documented in the fake articles would sound like.
“Stray Dog” was the second song of the set and was a blues-rocker. The more the frame continued the more it became clear Phish had indeed invented Kasvot Växt and had written a suite of music that blended their own sound with what they think of a Scandinavian prog-rock band would sound like. Mike and Trey engaged in more choreographed antics as the “Julius”-esque “Stray Dog” came to a close. Next up was the dark and dirty “Everything Is Hollow.” All four members of Phish shared vocals on the upbeat number with a refrain of “lay it down, you got to lay it down.” Anastasio may have been using a Stratocaster but his signature tone came through during his solo. Page’s rig didn’t feature his traditional grand piano as instead, he utilized a mix of synthesizers, Clavinet and electric piano. McConnell also had a headlamp in between his eyes as he sang the chorus of “bright white light shining right between my eyes.”
The incredible creative musical performance and visual spectacle continued with the debut of “We Are Come To Outlive Our Brains.” Despite the ominous title, the song had the feel of a Talking Heads’ tune and was peppier than the first three tracks. It also had lyrics that referenced the “nine cubes” set up towards the top of the venue that constantly moved into different positions and had different color schemes for each song. “We Are Come To Outlive Our Brains” featured a blissful jam chock full of impressive interplay between all four members of the band and has potential as a jam vehicle if Phish decides to revisit this material in the future.
“Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” followed and combined elements of rock and funk in a way that some of the best Phish songs do. Once again, all four members of Phish sang and it’s clear they put plenty of work into nailing the complex harmonies as well as the instrumental parts. One of the funnier choruses of the night was “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.’s” refrain of “This is what space smells like, you will always remember where you were.” Trey took a solo while running around the stage as Mike followed. Gordon and Anastasio continued to roam the stage and visit in on Page and Fish’s rigs. The back end of the album began with Fish laying down a deep in the pocket groove that brought in “The Final Hurrah.” Once again the lyrics referenced the cubes with the line, “I am in a square, dangling in mid-air.” Trey also sang a line that mentioned “Faceplant Into Rock,” the purported English translation of Kasvot Växt and ‘í rokk’. Page trigged vocal samples ala Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House throughout the Zappa-like “The Final Hurrah,” while Trey went with a synth’d-out tone for his extended and shred-heavy solo that came complete with Eddie Van Halen style tapping.
Trey screamed “faceplant into rock” as Fish revved into “Play By Play.” Page powered this one with wah-wah Clavinet as the band sang, “I hope someone notices” over and over. “Play By Play” seemed inspired by Genesis and had an intriguing final section that sounded straight out of the Tower Jam or Storage Jam of past Phish festivals. The eighth song of the suite was entitled “Death Don’t Hurt Very Long,” which was one of the slower and methodically groovy tracks played. Fish barked lyrics as his mates sang “Death Don’t Hurt Very Long.” The meat of the song was akin to the “Free” jam, so it was only fitting Gordon and Anastasio took an opportunity to stand face-to-face during a portion of the otherworldly open-ended section towards the conclusion of the hearty rocker “Death Don’t Hurt Very Long.” Trey sang lead on the penultimate song of the set, “Cool Amber And Mercury,” and made the most of his wireless setup by strolling around the stage with a white microphone in one hand and his other on the guitar. “Cool Amber And Mercury” was the most like recent Phish material of the 10 tracks performed in the second set on Halloween. It almost had the feel of “No Men In No Man’s Land” mixed with The Velvet Underground’s “Cool It Down.” Page again triggered the “Face Plant Into Rock” samples as Trey wailed away.
One of the most ambitious sets in Phish history ended with “Passing Through.” More four-part harmonies and a catchy wordless chorus were at the heart of a number that brought to mind “Back On The Train,” “Kill Devil Falls” and “Don’t You Wanna Go.” Fish provided a straightforward beat over which Page, Mike and Trey engaged in a bluesy jam. All the while psychedelic imagery of clouds was displayed on the cubes hanging above the crowd. And 72 minutes after it started, Phish took a bow as they had pulled off a masterful gag and presented a stunning collection of original music.
The four-piece act went with their first new original of 2018, “Set Your Soul Free,” to start the third and final set on Halloween in Las Vegas. Phish went back to their usual stage attire and the stage was reset with their normal gear. “Set Your Soul Free” continues to yield exquisite improvisation and the version at the MGM Grand Garden Arena was no exception. The rhythm section of Jon Fishman and Mike Gordon were in lockstep as Trey and Page connected on anthemic riffs. Eventually, the band returned to the main groove of the song and launched into “Tweezer.” Phish took their time and engaged in more of the egalitarian jamming that has been a hallmark of 2018. Yet another must-hear “Tweezer” ended with a spacey and ambient section paving the way for “A Song I Heard The Ocean Sing.” Three songs in and fans had their third instant classic Type II jam of the set. More blissful exploration emerged out of the dark and brooding “ASIHTOS” structure. Trey hit upon licks laden with emotion as Page pushed him to glory with pretty electric piano work and Mike inserted counter melodies ala Phil Lesh. Forty wild, improv-filled moments were followed by a romp through “Backwards Down The Number Line.”
The night wasn’t over yet as “Backwards Down The Number Line” gave way to “Meatstick.” Phish played it straight through both songs and the poignant “Bug” that followed after the adventurous start to the set. “Run Like An Antelope” closed the frame and featured a particularly patient build to a massive peak and Trey and Fish singing “Faceplant Into Rock” at its conclusion. For the encore, the quartet closed out the night with the pairing of “Loving Cup” and “Tweezer Reprise.” Phish returns to the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Thursday night. Webcasts from Sin City are available via LivePhish.com
MGM Grand Garden Arena [See upcoming shows]
7 shows — 10/31/2014, 11/01/2014, 11/02/2014, 10/28/2016, 10/29/2016, 10/30/2016, 10/31/2016
8 songs / 8:23 pm to 9:37 pm (74 minutes)
10 songs / 10:18 pm to 11:30 pm (72 minutes)
8 songs / 12:07 am to 1:29 am (82 minutes)
27 songs / 26 originals / 1 cover
10.06 [Gap chart]
All Of Into Rock
Buried Alive, Crazy Sometimes, Ocelot, All Of Into Rock
Buried Alive - 42 Shows (LTP - 08/02/2017)
Tweezer - 16:05
Tweezer Reprise - 3:31
Lawn Boy - 1, A Picture of Nectar - 2, Billy Breathes - 2, The Story of the Ghost - 1, Farmhouse - 2, Undermind - 1, Joy - 1, Big Boat - 1, Misc. - 15, Covers - 1
63° and clear at showtime