Trick or treat? The age old question was once again brought to life this Wednesday night as Phish returned to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to pull off one of their most elaborate pranks of all time. After all these years, fans continue trying to crack the code and predict what Phish will do during their Halloween musical costume sets, New Year’s Eve celebrations, festivals, and tours. Once again, the best advice is to not put your money down on anything the band might have in the works, especially in Sin City.
Opening with a rocky “Buried Alive” to get the zombie-vibe going, the energetic sold-out crowd erupted with excitement. Jon Fishman created trotting Headless Horseman sound with the wood blocks as per usual and held down the steady pace for Trey Anastasio to recover from the minor guitar flub. To keep the creepy holiday theme going, a short and sweet “Ghost” was summoned, once again making its way into the first set for the fourth time in 2018. Anastasio displayed patience with a slow and steady transition that gave Page McConnell a quiet space to tinker with his piano. “Buried Alive” was teased for good measure which allowed Mike Gordon to pound his epic bass grooves into the mix as he took over the role of lead singer in “Crazy Sometimes.”
Going crazier than usual with this tightly packaged jam, Gordon got dark and stormy with the help of McConnell peppering in his synth to add that extra eerie effect. Anastasio jumped back to lead vocals with the classic “Free” and brought the entire area on a blissed out ride. After a standard “More” to cool things down, Gordon helped warm the 16,800- capacity room back up with an extended “Halley’s Comet.” Looking back to old-school renditions of this non-studio original, the entire band found inspiration in the groove and jammed it out for the longest version since 2011 at Bethel Woods.
“Ocelot” made its first appearance of Fall Tour 2018 and allowed Trey to eagerly push the slower, playful melody to a strong climax before diving into another joyful tune in “Theme From the Bottom.” The unmasked slayer in Trey used his axe to murder the solo in this Billy Breathes fan-favorite with compliments from Gordon and his buttery bass interplay. Switching gears, Phish welcomed “First Tube” to finish out the first set. The band was giddier than ever smirking from ear to ear as Trey held his guitar above his head in true rock star fashion to let the crowd know that they came to play.
When Fishman-based rumors surfaced that Phish would cover an “obscure album from 1981,” some jumped to conclusions that they would play Mark of the Mole by The Residents while others placed their bets on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne and Rush‘s Moving Pictures. Some classic thrill seekers continued the tradition of wishful thinking by suggesting Led Zepplin’s Physical Graffiti, or even the Allman Brothers Band’s, Eat a Peach. When the playbill was given to the first attendees, everyone at the Grand and on social media was buzzing about the ultra-obscure Norwegian prog-rock hidden gem, í Rokk by Kasvot Växt.
Upon further speculation and criticism, some members of the vast Phish community discovered that the entire album was a hoax. The sketchiness of the whole “Swedish Phish” concept began once researchers and phistorians couldn’t find much information about the album. Anywhere. Conclusions were made that Phish had orchestrated one of the biggest pranks in the band’s almost 35-year-career by fabricating the false links and album cover themselves. Indeed, people are still fooled by the idea that Phish could possibly cover a band’s album that does not exist.
Still completely clueless as to what was about to happen, the wide-eyed crowd witnessed a giant curtain rise up to reveal a band completely decked out in white as if it has been abducted, bleached and returned by aliens. The first tune reflected that theory. Anastasio was the only member of the band that added the unusual synthesizer to his set-up as well as a shiny Ed O’Brien Stratocaster. The opening track had a Talking Heads meets the 80’s psychedelic synth-rock you might expect to find on The Labyrinth soundtrack.
Page said it best in the playbill notes, “I love the mystery surrounding this whole thing,” as the foursome started into “Turtle In The Clouds” complete with lyrics mentioning “clueless violà.” The second tune in the playbill, “Stray Dog,” saw Gordon and Anastasio attempting new choreographed dance moves similar to those found on trampolines during “You Enjoy Myself,” with the crowd joining in the movement. If there is one band in the world that loves writing about dogs, it’s Phish–further proving to skeptics that this was no cover album–these were all Phish original debuts.
“Everything is Hollow” had a darker, deeper tone as the band sung about “bright white light shining right between my eyes” creating a fantasy to latch on to during the acid-drenched set both visually and compositionally. McConnell brought his own prop in what appeared to be a $10 Coleman headlamp you might find at Target. A ridiculous moment came when he strapped the elastic around his head and shined the light around the pitch-black stage like a little kid lost in a cave. With Chris Kuroda’s massive light rig in full swing, McConnell’s headlamp lighting seemed like just another way for the band to troll everyone watching.
One of the more symbolic lyrical approaches came in “We Are Come To Outlive Our Brains”, when Phish encouraged listeners to “Take a look around” referring to the cubes and shapes hanging above everyone. These “cubes” were another part of the elaborate story in the playbill and the band got a laugh out of watching everything unfold on stage. Echoing the Seven Dwarfs, the band chanted “Heigh-Ho” during “Say It to Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” and saw Gordon and Anastasio once again running around the stage like members of AC/DC. Sending verbal signals to each other, the lyrics described what space smells like and remembering where you were when something happened. Was í Rokk written by the band to describe the exact night that they would debut the collection of songs?
“The Final Hurrah” allowed the Phish alter-ego keyboardist to show off his skills and add more sample effects to his collection in the form of a woman with a heavy accent proclaiming “Faceplant into rock.” This tune is a jam vehicle just waiting to fuel up for future rides. Fishman demonically chanted to finish the song off while Anastasio shredded on the guitar like he was in a heavy metal hair-band. “Play by Play” reminded the audience that “Perception is spoon fed” and gave the band another opportunity to weave more clues about the fictitious album–offering the lyric, “I hope someone notices.” “Death Don’t Hurt Very Long” sent lead vocals to Fishman as he screeched about evolution, reincarnation and shape-shifting. This composition has a slow rolling funk beat like a steady moving train. Gordon wondered around the glowing stage eventually making his way over to McConnell to help with the keys and Trey tore apart his guitar from the very edge of the front-row rail-riders.
Mercury found its way into another Phish tune with “Cool Amber & Mercury,” a lighter ambient tune to set up future jams to come. The trippy set came to an end with “Passing Through” adding more meat to the lyrically packed album with songs describing time and space in the Phishiest of ways. The profound parody was a spoof written for a crowd of trolls willing to rifle their paychecks at this band at any time. Phish fans are constantly urged to read the book and on 10/31/18, it came in the form of a playbook. The sixth Halloween costume of 3.0 and the 10th costume in the band’s history presented the most mysterious and obscure session to date and Wednesday night was only 66.6% complete.
The third set began with a must listen “Set Your Soul Free>Tweezer>A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing.” Filled with peaks and valleys, fierce guitar play, floor-rattling bass, and groove-driven drum-synth combinations, this nearly 40-minute masterpiece brought new life to the Sin City crowd. Reminiscing over the 18 shows in Vegas prior to Wednesday night, Phish went “Backwards Down the Number Line” to give the aerobic crowd a break. Even the “Backwards” had incredible moments with a confident and carefree Anastasio putting the guitar to work.
A short two-punch combo of “Meatstick” and “Bug” led to the closing (and scorching) “Run Like an Antelope” complete with McConnell’s new favorite sample “Faceplant into rock.”
The encore nodded to the Festival 8 Rolling Stones costume with the fan-favorite cover of “Loving Cup.” Anastasio did one final trot around the stage and played “Tweezer Reprise” like a man on a mission to close out the band’s 15th Halloween performance since the mid-1980s.
Unlike Phish 1.0 of the 90’s, it is clear that hearing your favorite classic rock album covered by the band during Set II at Halloween is no longer guaranteed. As the third all-new “costume” of the 3.0 era, “Faceplant: Into Rock” may not be as soft and soothing as the “Wingsuit Set” or as seductive and funky as the “Chilling, Thrilling Set,” but it is sure to see the light of day in the future. Say what you want about Phish and their long jams, animal-influenced lyrics, and incorporation of household cleaning appliances. These four guys share a deep-rooted respect for the history, the mystery and the ritualistic power of music.
“Turtle in the Clouds”
You can download last night’s show here via LivePhish. The Vermont quartet returns to the MGM Grand stage tonight for their second of four nights in Las Vegas.
Setlist: Phish | MGM Grand Garden Arena | Las Vegas, NV | 10/31/2018
SET 1: Buried Alive > Ghost > Crazy Sometimes > Free, More, Halley’s Comet > Ocelot > Theme From the Bottom, First Tube
SET 2: Turtle in the Clouds, Stray Dog, Everything is Hollow, We Are Come to Outlive Our Brains, Say it to Me S.A.N.T.O.S., The Final Hurrah, Play by Play, Death Don’t Hurt Very Long, Cool Amber and Mercury, Passing Through
SET 3: Set Your Soul Free > Tweezer > A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing > Backwards Down the Number Line > Meatstick, Bug > Run Like an Antelope
ENCORE: Loving Cup > Tweezer Reprise