On the heels of three solid shows in San Francisco, Phish rolled into Las Vegas last evening and delivered a Halloween masterpiece. Known for dawning musical costumes to celebrate the holiday, Phish broke with tradition last year to offer a set of original music. No one knew for sure what was going to be offered on night one at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. What went down were three masterful sets of music with the highlight coming by way of a musical costume that had more than one fan scratching their head in anticipation before the start of the show. The Phish Bill read that Phish’s musical costume would be a 1964 Disney album of sound effects – Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House. But it wasn’t a cover set. Phish played original music set amongst an incredibly psychedelic, theatrical graveyard stage accentuated by zombie dancers and a ghoulish MC. The music was otherworldly, fresh, and crisp. Sandwiched by two flowing, spot-on sets and there you have a show that will forever live on in Phishtory. Last night called out any questions as to the state of the band and their ability to play new music, go deep with improvisation, and if they could deliver on one of the most hyped nights of the band’s career.
Upon entering the MGM Grand Garden Arena last evening the glow of attending fans was in full effect. No one really knew what they were in store for, but show goers came for a good time and dressed the part to mark the Halloween celebration. Musically, the fist set wasn’t heavy on jams, but between the well-placed song selections and fiery musicianship, the initial set of the evening pointed the compass towards something special.
Opening the frame with “Buried Alive”> “Ghost” was fitting to say the least. Throw in the seldom played “Big Black Furry Creatures From Mars”, a blistering “Saw it Again”, and to close the set, another first frame standout “Wolfman’s Brother.” There you have several Halloween themed tunes, sprinkled amongst a few other well played songs, especially the “Reba”, and the eye catching theatrics during “Scent of a Mule.” By all accounts it wasn’t necessarily a singular song or jam that identified this first set of the night, but in playing the songs offered well, that worked with the holiday in question, and most importantly flowed; the anticipation for set two was through the roof in Las Vegas.
It’s hard to do this one justice. Phish fans are created, in large part, based on experiences they have at live shows. Phish has never really been a studio band as much as they are a group to see in the moment. What they offered as a collective on Friday evening will carry through with them for the rest of their career and then some. As mentioned, the MGM Grand Garden Arena was decorated to accentuate the evening’s festivities, and although at first it remained somewhat hazy for fans to truly get a grasp on what was going on, even as the set started. By the time things got going it was pretty clear all who were in attendance were not only witnessing something special, they were being treated to music that was as groovy, beat-down and ferocious as anything Phish has offered in recent memory.
At the start of the set, the stage was cleared before a graveyard came to the foreground. Smoke filled the air, zombie dancers appeared, and music filled the venue. A haunted house was brought to the front of the stage, which eventually exploded, and all four-band members appeared, dressed in white like zombies. The ensuing ten songs, including narration from the MC as well as sound effects played over the PA, was some of the most unique Phish music ever played. Period. There was prog-rock, funk and psychedelia. Soaring guitar solos, ambient jamming and even some catcalls thrown into the jam tilted “Your Pet Cat”. The playing by all four band members was tight and exploratory throughout the set, and as much as the show fostered a visual experience, the music as a whole felt like something a long time Phish fan might dream about in 2014, wondering if the band is still capable of pulling off something so out of the box and completely intergalactic.
There are no questions at this point regarding the band’s cohesion, their ability to confidently improvise and play supporting roles for each other. Sure, we’ll see where night two and three take the band and its fans to wrap up the 2014 fall tour, but the confidence exuded by Phish last night was ever present all night. Of course, this is a set that must be listened back to as a whole. However, “The Dogs”, “Shipwreck”, The Chinese Water Torture”, “The Birds”, and “Martian Monster” showcased some of the most stand out music of the set, arrangements that will hopefully support future Phish adventures into the realm of improvisational territory.
Simply put, the Halloween set delivered on so many levels, some fans were wondering if the band would be able to do the show justice on the whole. People were quite literally in awe after set two, and with so many questions and missed opportunities in second sets this fall, the stage for redemptions was set as the Phish Halloween spectacle shifted to set three.
In terms of an opening song to a set, there is not that many songs in Phish’s catalogue that will get fans as fired up as “Punch You in the Eye”. With the tone set, a smooth segue into a bubbly “Golden Age” built on the energy started with “Punch” before another smooth transition into “Tweezer” almost brought the house down. This Halloween version was intense, and as much as it felt like the band might be going into deep exploratory territory in the song, all of sudden a very positive, luminous jam surfaced bleeding right into “Heavy Things”. While this could’ve been a complete set killer, the segue was so natural in harmony with the current playing it made sense. Selfishly, many fans would’ve rather seen “Tweezer” keep going at the time, but when you listen back you’ll hear just how fluid the transition into “Heavy Things” was. “Guyute” was perhaps a bit of an odd call, but the story of the ugly pig fit the theme of the evening.
The remainder of the set put the clear stamp on this show as an all-timer. “Sand” was an adventure Phish fans have been looking for since the fall tour started. The initial jam was funky smooth as a majority of “Sand” jams are, but it was the second jam that sealed the deal with this one with all four band members stepping up individually and offering innovative ideas cohesively. At the climax of jam number two lead guitarist/vocalist Trey Anastasio started the riffs that would eventually explode into an even more rocked out than usual version of “Tweezer Reprise” to end the set. Unlike the encore from night three at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, the two song offering from Phish last evening was spot-on. The debut of the Leonard Cohen tune, “Is This What You Wanted” seemed to be a direct message from the band to its fans. A final punctuation to the night, the first “Frankenstein” in 100 shows was the about as fitting a way to end the show for easily one of the most memorable nights of Phish in the 3.0 era, if not of their career.
All fluffing and hyperbole aside, was this show perfect? Nothing is, and there were certainly a few moments where odd placements and bumpy playing was offered at the show. That said, as a whole, this is the show a majority of those who know and love Phish have been waiting for. No one knew exactly what that it might be, but it was signed, sealed and delivered last light in Las Vegas.