Monday 11/01/2021 by zzyzx

VEGAS 4 RECAP: 10/31/21 NEVER CAME MY WAY

Halloween! It's the 5th most played date in Phish history, trailing just 12/28-31, and perhaps the second most sacred. We go into every show hoping for something unique that we will remember for the rest of our lives, but Halloween and New Years are the only nights where we are promised that something weird will happen.

While one of those nights revolves around midnight and whatever stunt might happen then, All Hallows Eve's focus is on an entire set. It started out straightforward enough. Phish would play an album of a band they loved. During the third one, they decided to create an ode to the release, something to explain why exactly they chose it.

But Phish evolve endlessly. They tried variants of it. We've gone from Phish covering an existing album to debuting a new one to turning a sound effects release into a series of songs to creating an entire fake band complete with back story, and playing as them. The Phishbills morphed from explaining the importance of the album to rock history to surreal flights of fancy. Would they find a way of topping that, or would we see the return of the already beloved tradition of covering a currently existing album? There are still many people would love.

Photo by Scott Marks
Photo by Scott Marks

Entering the venue last night, we were presented not with an essay about why an album was important or even a mockery of that. Instead we were given a comic book. Before I go on any further, I do need to talk about one thing. Sometime in the morning of 10/31, images of the Phishbill leaked. I feel like that behavior is outside the range of the guessing game. It's one thing to try to piece together clues. It's even OK to let a few people know what you've learned (although my own personal philosophy is that if I'm ever told anything, I drop out of the speculation game because I don't want to ruin the fun for anyone else) as long as it's one of many options. Giving out the information early serves no purpose other than an ego boost for the person who did it — look how connected I am! I know something that you don't! — and takes away from the excitement about going in and learning.

Fortunately, the early spoiler didn't really change much. Looking at the Phishbill didn't exactly give direction as to what was going to take place. The past weird calls gave some clues. Chilling Thrilling was an existing Disney album that a few people inside had owned. Kasvot Växt at least was an album from a band that may or may not exist based on the ever shifting status of the pre-show deep Google dives. Was this going to be an album? A play? Some mixture between the two? There was no way to know.

Despite the focus on the middle set, Phish on Halloween is a three set affair. What could get lost in the shuffle is the first set's "Ghost." Clocking in at 26 minutes with many different sections, it's a track that would be the talk of the show on a normal night. There are some tours where that would be the standout. Even if you're not interested in Sci-Fi Soldier, you need to give this a spin.

But you should be interested in Sci-Fi Soldier and their album Get More Down. It was one of the most experimental and weird things Phish have done. Unfortunately time constraints will prevent a song by song breakdown of the experience. Rather this review will be more about what it felt like being in section 9 row R of the MGM Grand Garden Arena on the night of 10/31/21.

The set started with some prerecorded music, during which some colored cylinders started descending from the ceiling. The band was projected as holograms onto them to give the illusion of them coming down from the sky. The tubes were elevated back up and the members were there in elaborate space costumes; Fishman's did indeed have donut patterns on it, in case you were worried.

When Phish played as Kasvot Växt, "Turtle in the Clouds" stood out as a song that didn't really sound like them at all. For Get More Down, that feeling lasted for a lot more than one song. "Knuckle Bone Broth Avenue" and "Get More Down" had a lot of electronic effects. "Egg in a Hole" was dark and weird, with pyrotechnics going off behind the band; it almost felt more metal (or metal adjacent) influenced than what Phish would normally play. Yes, these songs were translated through Phish — the comic explained that the soldiers would have to use the bodies of the band as some sort of conduits — but the illusion of Phish covering another artist instead of playing originals was definitely there.

While there was no clear storyline, the comic explained that the point of the set was that soldiers were trying to prevent a disaster and the only people who could do that were Phish. There were clues in Phish's lyrics that would prevent The Howling. "Thanksgiving" and "Clear Your Mind" have references to other songs as they're clues to prevent the disaster.

Photo by Scott Marks
Photo by Scott Marks


The one thing about this set that made it so intense in the moment is that the songs were so much more dense than the other two fake albums. The Haunted House set revolved around themes that could be departed from and then returned to. Kasvot was power pop that had very catchy singable choruses. Get More Down though had a lot of sections.

The harmonies would change from line to line. "Clear Your Mind" suddenly has a switch 8 minutes in. Moreover, the light show was so different than a normal show with the floating squares and circles — although Trey's amusingly first staggered and then had to be taken out of commission as (probably) a joke on the 12/31/19 show where Trey got stuck on a platform — and projection of a video of math symbols and graphics, that a fairly constant focus was needed. There's a temptation to try to suck in every detail of every moment because they might never happen again, and when the language used by the band is different than normal, it required more attention. "I can't keep up!" Trey sang at the end of "Don't Doubt Me" and it was starting to become an actual issue.

"The Unwinding" felt like a relief. This was the closest song of the set to being straight forward Phish. It was a pretty ballad that was much needed. We actually could clear our minds for a few minutes and try to process what had gone on before the songs to come.

Relistening this morning, it sounds more like a Phish show, but this is a case where the recording does not give the full experience. The lights and the graphics and the constant changes, the sudden fire, the setting of being well after midnight on the 4th night of a busy Vegas run, the constant fear that if you left for a second, you might miss something bizarre — I almost missed the math projection as I was trying to take notes for this review — it all led to an intense and unforgettable set. Like 10/31/94, by the end the experience was almost exhausting.

Is the music of the set enjoyable? I think so, but that would require more time to sit down with it. I can definitely see how some of these songs will have interesting places in sets. But this was a night where it really was about the moment and the sheer intensity. I'm not sure that listening now or watching the webcast will have anything near the same effect.

Eventually though, we got back to 2021. The tubes descended and returned Phish to us. We still had another set to go. Amusingly enough, "Carini" took the role of being comforting and familiar, especially as it resolved into "Lonely Trip," a song that felt like being invited into the house of a beloved friend after a long drive through weird weather. Still though, Phish wasn't done with us quite yet.

"Soul Planet" channeled the energy of Sci-Fi Soldier and let the jam get to a bizarre space before segueing into a weird version of "Death Don't Hurt Very Long." Like Phish have been doing sometimes this year, they played the song over the sound of the jam. If I think the Sci-Fi Soldier set will affect Phish's music going forward, I suspect that sort of spontaneous rearrangement of songs to fit into improv rather than the opposite, will be a cool path to explore for a bit.

The chant of Halloween is, "trick or treat," and Phish decided that both were in order. We were well into November first when the encore began. It was time for the ghosts and goblins and sci-fi soldiers to go away and the saints to come down and protect us. A sweet and then joyous "Harry Hood" ended the Vegas run, the fall tour, and — other than the New Year's Run — the year of Phish. It's been one of my favorites and I'm going to miss it. Not every jam will hit for everyone, but the one thing that seems clear is that Phish are in a creative place where every show is having unique moments that will make them stand out. I'm looking forward to December and 2022 and hoping that can continue!

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Comments

, comment by Slewfoot
Slewfoot Excellent review! I agree with just about all of it based on my experience on the couch...would have loved to have been dancing alongside thousands of other fans with our minds being simultaneously blown into bizzaro world.
, comment by Gabtunretsop_auprah
Gabtunretsop_auprah Great review!! Trey’s guitar was aBC Rich…..Mockingbird!
, comment by PhishinMose
PhishinMose Though it did begin to meander a bit loosely through the 2nd, becoming (at times) a cacophonous mishmash of musical overload, there were many instances when everything sort of clicked back into focus and the cogs all fit together again. It was without doubt, interesting to say the least and will definitely require multiple revisitations, which I believe will provide a fresh, retrospective experience with each new encounter. But this is one of the reasons I love this band- the same song hits differently from one listen to the next and things that were overlooked the first round can evolve into its own mind blowing entity.
, comment by Wiley67
Wiley67 Great review, David. One funny note - although I agree that most in the building hadn’t heard Chilling, Thrilling Sounds before that night, a rather large portion of the non-Phish folks I know count it as a cherished childhood memory and know much of the narrration by heart.

As for last night’s costume, I had mixed feelings listening to it live (it had a visual, you-have-to-be-here feel). But the songs hit much better during a second listen this morning. I’m looking forward to many of them entering the rotation. The possibility of a Mike’s > 9th Cube > Weekapaug is scintillating. The level of creativity and risk-taking shown by this band at this point in their career is astounding, and all I can do is smile in gratitude.
, comment by rmikkelsen
rmikkelsen Covering a classic album is by now a cliche in the jam band scene. But I can't think of any band that debuts an entire album's worth of material in a single set. So kudos for that. Some of the music will certainly make its way into the repertoire.
As for the costumes --- if Teletubbies, Devo and the Jetsons had a baby.....
A fun time was had by all. Trick or treat!
, comment by Bogotafee5514
Bogotafee5514 Can we refer to last nights set II as Phish’s Power Ranger Set!!?? Haha great review! LOVE that first set and what a fall tour and what a Phish year 2021 has been! See y’all in NYC!!
, comment by bill__the__butcher
bill__the__butcher Well said! From section 6, I was totally stunned and overwhelmed by the whole set 2 production.

Page’s synths were so loud, with different tones than I’m used to.
The visual setups changed each song, new elements being introduced like fire, fireworks, lasers, so you had something new visually to absorb constantly.
There were jams that would wind back to the chorus, so you weren’t at all sure what was improv and what was planned.
There were loud cacophonous sections almost paralyzing in their intensity.
It was simply bigger, wilder and louder than Kasvot Vaxt, like sequels often are.

I thought the response in the venue was positive, people were enthralled and appreciative.
It’s truly incredible that all of this was just for one live arena show.
, comment by gratefuldyl
gratefuldyl Great review, incredible show, so blessed to get to see this run.
, comment by JMart
JMart Well, if you were wondering What Trey was up to during the pandemic, now you know.
While the set wasn’t nearly as visually overloading from the corner pocket behind the stage, I can still say I was glad to be there and agree with others who said that the whole set seemed more like a one-off theatrical spectacle than anything else. They took so much time to create the songs, maybe one or two of them will get played again, but I just can’t see “egg in a hole” showing up somewhere randomly in a set. The kasvat songs were much more accessible (even for Swedish prog rock) and much easier to incorporate into their standing material.
No arguments, though. It was a BLAST and were all super fortunate to have been there and to have Phïsh kicking out the weird.
, comment by jadedforbin
jadedforbin Most of the Sci Fi Soldier tunes will definitely appear again in the future.

The reason its so awesome is precisely how wierd, dark, and silly it is. That's kind of the whole point - the nonsense lyrics are nonsense - like all your favorite Phish songs already are. :)

Musically, it's essentially a set of deep cow-funk jams punctuated with a few beautiful major-chord compositions - all of which which will incorporate nicely into the repertoire.

It was nothing less than fantastic, and nothing more than Phish being the greatest band in the world.

Get ready for "Knuckle Bone Broth Avenue" at #YEMSG y'all. Sci-Fi Soldier is coming for u next!
, comment by mattybweston
mattybweston Wonderful, even handed review David - I guess that new clipboard came in handy pretty quickly.

Cacophonous, intense, challenging. The question you posed about whether the set was enjoyable and your answer (I think so?) mirrored our couch tour experience exactly. I'd add that nearly every artist that soldiers (ha!) through a long career creates at least one experimental, inaccessible album - I'd list some but inevitably they will be someone's favorite (one man's trash is another man's treasure...). We were happy to provide the space for this band to experiment and admire the big swing they took. The spectacle combined with the music felt overwhelming and multiple relistens so far hasn't moved the needle on my feelings about almost all of these tracks landing somewhere in a traditional Phish set. But it's not my band and it would by myopic to think that we'll love every single song in the catalog.

It's a genuine miracle that this band is 1. still together; B. still creating new material and; 4. still evolving. Every tour, every show is a blessing - I'll get what I get and not throw a fit.

Stay safe and see y'all on tour.

Matty Weston
South Austin. Texas. Earth.
, comment by unoclay
unoclay >>>>>although Trey's amusingly first staggered and then had to be taken out of commission as (probably) a joke on the 12/31/19 show where Trey got stuck on a platform

It gets even more "meta"; since Trey getting stuck was, itself, a gag (TRS, TRS / spinal tap), they're loving chances to call back to the "stuck" gag. So, its a callback to their best prank ever inside of another stunt.
, comment by LookAtTheEyesMurray
LookAtTheEyesMurray Phish made another terrible album and put on lame space suits to try and make up for the shortcomings. Just awful! The chomper, zombie, drug addicts cheered of course.

Maybe one day Trey and Mike will remember how to write a good song. It’s been ages since that’s happened. If The Band Formerly Known as Phish hadn’t “jumped the shark” before, they certainly did with this show. This show made the Wingsuit 2013 show look epic in comparison.

R.I.P. and thank you for the 90’s kick down you gave us.
, comment by hoimang
hoimang You seem fun.
, comment by mgouker
mgouker Great review, zzyzx! Thank you!

It was a wonderful show, probably my second favorite Halloween. I'm very excited to see these songs grow and watch the band as the new music transforms them in turn.
, comment by Kabooliak
Kabooliak I was seated behind Trey and Page. Someone said that was prob best to really enjoy the music.
And I have to agree. I LOVED IT!!! I totally got it.. the 60s sci-fi comic book theme with goofy kooky verses.. there is some really great space funk mixed in too. I’ve listened prob 3x since then. And it grows on me more. Clear Your Mind sounds like a song the band on Fat Albert would play.
, comment by melt_the_tek9
melt_the_tek9 Great review! Thanks for the details I wondered what it felt like to be there, your descriptions help big time and I appreciate the set more now.

Brilliant work by Phish once again. It was all so intense just so many things happening all at once, the yelled declaration style lyrics, the repetition of it all, the strange I mean weird stupidly strange strange song arrangements, that’s what’s really got me brimming and totally into these songs. Trey is a good arranger. I think arrangements that really pull the song into heavy-duty territory for me it’s Pete Townsend and stuff like Tommy or wow Quadrophenia; Peter Buck of R.E.M. is also an amazing arranger. But my god man, Trey and Co. what have y’all done!? I couldn’t tell what was a verse, or prechorus, or chorus, or bridge, or vamp, or coda or what. I’m like “this is the jam part” and then there’s like three more parts and it’s 16 minutes long and is it all song, or planned jam section, or what?! Like how Fuego used to be, with an “ending” that is and is not always played, the sections of the song not adhered to. But Space Soldier songs are wayyyyyy better than that to me, better put together, better arrangements. It’s so forward and futuristic to me.

It’s space music from year 40?? whenever!!! Jelly of everyone that got to be there! It made staying up till super late worth every cup of coffee that night. Can’t wait to rewatch it I need time and the ability to turn it up really loud.
, comment by jawnh
jawnh @LookAtTheEyesMurray said:
Phish made another terrible album and put on lame space suits to try and make up for the shortcomings. Just awful! The chomper, zombie, drug addicts cheered of course.

Maybe one day Trey and Mike will remember how to write a good song. It’s been ages since that’s happened. If The Band Formerly Known as Phish hadn’t “jumped the shark” before, they certainly did with this show. This show made the Wingsuit 2013 show look epic in comparison.

R.I.P. and thank you for the 90’s kick down you gave us.
The Polyannaish ways of some pHans is one that I do not follow. Nothing wrong with custying up though once in awhile and the band stretching out part is awesome, as is experimentation at times of course. But it can sometimes have nasty side-effects, which was the case with the second set musically. I'm sure it was cool to see visually and experience-wise, but musically was just not good. If that makes me "a genuine asshole" I dunno, it's all about the music.
, comment by richardm711
richardm711 Thanks for a good recap and of course, it's all opinion.
Not being there to enjoy the visuals, just listening to the second set, I wasn't very impressed. It wouldn't have been too hard to compose some songs that may have fit the costume but they didn't even really try that. My take is it was a bunch of half-finished songs that they jammed through. They seemed to be having fun with it, so there's that. As a spectacle, it would have been nice to be there but as a musical moment, it wasn't that momentous. I also didn't find Ghost that epic, but again, it's all opinion.
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