First, I find it utterly amazing that the vast majority of fans (almost ALL this year) had literally zero clue about the cover album until the doors to the venue opened and the Phishbill proudly displayed the cover of Columbus. That was due to no elaborate website games (such as 2009’s “killing off” albums from a list that started at 100 or so contenders), tight-lipped band and management, and basically no clues whatsoever in the shows leading up to Halloween, with the exception of a plethora of Led Zeppelin covers, references, licks and all-out mayhem on 10/30. However, where with most other acts that might seem like a hint at what was to come (Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti was one of the leading contender for months leading up to the shows), with Phish nothing is what it seems and it basically meant the exact opposite. By “tricking” their fans with an all out barnburner of a show on the 30th, as the show unfolded, it became apparent to any longtime fan of the band that Zeppelin was indeed a contender, but eventually ruled out and the closest we would get was a slew of single verse jams and stanzas on All Hallows Eve.
Second, as elaborately stated by longtime Rolling Stone contributor, David Fricke, in the Phishbill (a Broadway-esque program handed out to fans upon entry to the Halloween show), Phish was out to do something this Halloween that they never have tackled before: recreate a live experience, as opposed to a studio album, which the previous five had all been. In doing so, in my opinion, Phish played directly to their single, greatest strength. They played loose, managed to make more of Columbus’ songs their own than any previous costume – Spanish Moon or a few other selections from this album will be played again I’m willing to bet – and seemingly were having fun throughout the set, especially on the a cappella rendition of the proper toking etiquette, Don’t Bogart That Joint, and Willin’, which saw Fishman take center stage for vocals, while the remaining members of the band switched instruments and turned in one of the night’s most memorable tunes.
One can also look at the percussion/drum line at the album’s conclusion that saw the band take an entire lap around the arena, as is they didn’t want the festivities to end. I guess what I’m trying to say is that with the previous Halloween choices Phish was forced to change their sound and persona to adapt slightly, while Columbus seemingly adapted to them, a welcome and refreshing change, and what I feel was ultimately one of the decisions in its choosing, along with attempting to recreate the entire live concert experience, which in 1978, was all about the music.
Most importantly however, was not the days and months that led up to the AC shows, but rather the previous 30-plus years of Phish listening, learning, ripping off ideas and overall living Little Feat. You see, what many of the younger fans might not realize is that while the name Little Feat might not steal as much thunder or light up as brightly as The Rolling Stones, The Who or The Beatles, they were every bit as important to American music – and Phish – as all of the others.
In many ways, they were a band that flew under the radar, as Phish did for most of their careers, despite being known as a live act. Even after the secret was out this past Sunday, many of the younger fans in their teens and twenties still were not a all familiar with the album. For this reason, I am sure there will be mixed reviews on where this performance ranks in the grand scheme of things, but I for one, simply call if “different.”
It is an ode to the true days of rock-n-roll when “whiskey and bad cocaine” ruled the world, it is a tribute to Richie Hayward (who passed away earlier this year) and Lowell George, it was a tip of the cap to a band that Phish had been covering almost since their inception in the 1980’s with songs like Skin it Back and Time Loves a Hero – another sign that Little Feat’s direct influence was there since the beginning and made perfect sense at this point of Phish’s career as choice, which brought things full circle in AC.
In the end, the Atlantic City run will go down as extremely successful in Phish lore, while The Little Feat rendition will surely rank all over the lists of fans on the Halloween scale, which my guess is due to being unfamiliar with the album for the most part – something that I am sure will change with time, just as we all listen, learn, rip off ideas and live for Phish, just as Phish lived for Little Feat throughout their career. Now, go be the judge and listen for yourself!
The show is available at LivePhish.com…