Perhaps there are no Phish dates more closely aligned than November 1 and January 1. Both have received scant performances - 5 for 11/1, 3 for 1/1 - and both follow the two most celebrated holidays in the Phish calendar: Halloween & New Year’s Eve, respectfully. Yet the similarities all but end there. While New Year’s Day has been treated as a moment for pause and reflection before moving onwards and into a new year, November 1 has historically allowed the band a moment to collect the new sounds and ideas they’d been secretly brewing up over the last few months, and share them freely with the entire fanbase. One needs only to think of the stunning “Light” from 11/1/09 that displayed the band’s renewed trust and dedication to their own creative future, or the regal peak of “Twist” from 11/1/13 that seemed to signal their elation over debuting an entire album’s worth of new material the previous night, or the “Light -> Dogs -> Lengthwise” from 11/1/14 that contained all the raucous energy and zany Phish nonsense from the previous night’s Chilling Thrilling set to hear how fascinating this night can be and how important it is to their annual development.
It was with all this in mind that I settled into the MGM Grand Garden Arena for my 70th Phish show, first in November, and 5th in Sin City. Following the bizarre mind-fuck that was the Kasvot Växt set - seriously, they crafted an entire non-band’s history to throw their fanbase off and live debut their 3rd new album in 5 years - I had a feeling the band was going to approach November 1, 2018 with an outsized portion of creativity and stress-free jamming. For the most part, I was correct.
The evening started with “Everything’s Right,” a song Trey is in love with calling and which receives a lot of BIG calls these days. While the lyrics can come off as trite and lacking a sincere understanding of the state of the world these days - “Everything’s Right, so just hold tight” just isn’t the message we need in 2018, unless you follow that up with: “So long as you vote…” - the song has boasted five incredible jams to this point, and with last night's show opening bliss jam the number is now six. Once they modulated out of the song’s blues strut, we entered that special territory where anything’s possible, and tonight was no different here.
“AC/DC Bag” rocked with intention and confidence, and the ‘Wolfman’s Brother” that followed built off a base of laser-guided leads from Trey into a funky, propulsive, and proudly arena rock peak. A half hour into the show and we were all feeling great. It was a normal Phish show, the band sounded tight, and we’d already hit the 2009 - 2012 quota for jams in a run.
The set passed through standard contemplation next with a pretty version of “Nellie Kane” before “Funky Bitch” reminded us all that we were in fact at a rock show, and thus we were obligated to honor the blues, at least for a small time.
When “Chalk Dust Torture” kicked off it saw the set and show at a bit of a crossroads. Here was one of the band’s most reliable jam vehicles over the last six years. The jams alone I’ve seen in that time - 8/31/12, 8/21/15, 7/28/17 - have been among the best Phish jams played in recent memory. However, increasingly over the last two years, the band has tried at times to re-employ the song as a first set power-punch alone. While this version would conclude almost immediately, Trey decided before killing it that he had some unfinished business. Over the next ten minutes we were treated to a psychedelic onslaught of rhythmic manipulation and blissful full-band communication, as well as a “Third Stone from the Sun” Tease, before Trey signaled for a return to the “Chalk Dust” theme with precision. The tightness required the night before came in handy here during this closing section as one would’ve thought a very fun Type I version of “Chalk Dust” was concluding at rapid speed, when in fact they’d been playing it now long enough for two standard versions. Times were indeed good and the Fall 2018 mantra: Set I Jams! held true for another night.
A segment of chatty quips between Trey & Page led to the first “I Been Around” since the Baker’s Dozen before a particularly energized version of “Joy” and explosive “Walls of the Cave” closed out stanza one.
During set break I chatted with a number of fans in my section about the two standout jams of the set, and all agreed, the time spent writing and rehearsing the i rokk album had clearly left the band inspired, creatively energized, and happy with where they were in their career now 35 years deep. Following a Summer Tour that seemed to lack those three sentiments for at least parts it, this is really all one can ask of their favorite band as they continue to push forward in their career.
I thought “Blaze On” was an exceptional piece of song-calling from Trey. The big winner from Summer 2015, this reminded me of when “Fuego” opened 11/1/14 as a clear nod to the forever connection between Wingsuit and Chilling Thrilling. If someone had told you in Summer 2013 that Phish would essentially write five albums over the next five years you’d probably call them crazy, but so powerful has been their creative output. “Blaze On” earned its place as a tour highlight across twentry minutes and three distinct jams, ultimately peaking in a satisfying and life-affirming way. Not as big as the Hampton “Simple,” not as deep as the Chicago “No Men in No Men’s Land,” this was akin to the Hartford “Tweezer” from Fall 2013, as the jam you’d want to give you a hug during a time of need.
The other favorite son from Summer 2015, “No Men in No Men’s Land” followed and, what it lacked in length, it made up for in a space/funk jam that saw Chris Kuroda use the 200s behind the stages as a palette to do his work. The jam peaked with ferocity and we were looking good thirty minutes into the set. “Fuego” is always a tough call. On the one hand it can jam with the best of them, on the other hand, it has something like a .160 batting average. This version didn’t jam a la 7/28/18, but it also didn’t just rock out and close like so many versions. The final four minutes were legitimately fascinating as Trey allowed the last riff of the tune to drone on while playing psychedelic leads atop it before finding his way to “Twist.”
A mid-Set II “Twist” is about as '99/'00 a call as one could make, and this version produced some really thoughtful improvisation that sounded as though it would fall into “Piper” at any second. A demented and driving calypso jam emerged and Trey and Mike began singing atop in many the same ways as the 8/7/09 “Light” and 10/30/09 “Piper.” I legitimately believed we were all about to hear the first “Catapult” since 7/27/14, but found myself enjoying the music they were conducting on the spot all the same.
“Prince Caspian” fell into a typical and well-placed “Caspian” spot, even if it did burn a bit of the good energy built over the previous 55 minutes. In the end, it too peaked with a fervor and energy that signaled the band was feeling it as much as you hope they are on a given show, before a surprise segue back into “Twist” making this the second sandwiched “Twist” in a row. Another head-scratching call “Bouncing Around the Room” followed, but as my show mate reminded me, if you were in this room right now, it was probably due, at least in a small part, to the “Bouncing Around the Room” on A Live One.
I figured “Slave to the Traffic Light” would close things out, but Trey thought “Harry Hood,” and his pick won. Good thing he called the shots here, as we were treated to a Type II version of “Hood” that reminded me greatly of the gems from Summer 2014 that blew minds on a nightly basis and made up for the fact that they often refused to jam any other songs that year. The first “Hood” I saw since 8/31/18, this offered far more traditional “Hood” feels, capping off the first show since Phish Face-planted Into Rock the night before. And speaking of Face-planting into Rock, Fish snuck a “We Are Come to Outlive Our Brains” quote into the “Hood” jam, proving that Kasvot Växt is already a part of Phish lore.
For anyone complaining about the quality of the songs debuted on Halloween 2018, Phish presents you with “Contact” for comparison. I found this to be a perfect encore call as it showcased the innocent zaniness of Phish from day one. Always the jokesters, always the pranksters, here they were, still playing in Arenas in their mid-late-50’s, still pulling one over on their audience because they can.
The night ended with one final message from Trey in “Rise/Come Together,” a song that seems best fit for the Set II segue from a big jam slot, but it worked here as a call for unity, love, positivity, and activism in times of great crises. Like the “Everything’s Right” that opened the show, the optimism here is important and necessary to push through, but the caveat is always: so long as you vote.
So ended the second night of Phish’s 2018 Vegas Halloween Run. When it ended we had a number of excellent jams - “Everything’s Right,” “Chalk Dust,” “Blaze On,” “NMINML” “Twist,” and “Hood” - as well as a better-than-average setlist construction with regards to flow. It was a B+ show from the band and one of their better efforts from the year. With two more nights to continue displaying the lessons of i rokk fans should be feeling quite good about where things sit for the band this year in Vegas. A high-quality Fall Tour preceded an expertly delivered Halloween set, and November 1, 2018 proved that these highs don’t end when the calendar switches to November. I know I’m excited to find out how they close out this great tour over the next two nights!
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March 27, 1993
25 years ago
Set 2: Buried Alive > Halley's Comet > It's Ice > Bouncing Around the Room, Chalk Dust Torture, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Hold Your Head Up > Cracklin' Rosie > Hold Your Head Up, Poor Heart > Golgi Apparatus
 Beginning featured Trey on acoustic guitar.
 Fish on trombone.
 All Fall Down signal in intro.
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