, attached to 2009-10-30

Review by kflinn1

kflinn1 Phish's first day of its weekend-long Festival 8 was perfect for those who were either new to the band's material or seeing Phish for the first time. The night's two sets together played like a combination primer and greatest-hits package, as the quartet sprinkled liberal doses of its trademark quirky humor ("I Didn't Know," "Poor Heart") with material from its solid new album Joy ("Ocelot," "Time Turns Elastic") and heavy-hitting, tried-and-true jam vehicles ("Piper," "David Bowie").

Which isn't to say there wasn't plenty for the tour-heads and 100-show veterans to enjoy. But Friday wasn't the optimal experience for the longtime fan chasing that rare song that has eluded him since seeing the band in the early '90s. It was simply a marvelous introduction, with no apologies for the lack of rarities or super-extended jams.

Phish fittingly kicked off its 8th festival with the funky, jubilant "Party Time" before tearing into one of its trademark set openers, the anthemic "Chalk Dust Torture," whose jam portion grew discordant before rising to a fierce, fiery peak. It was a perfect example of Phish's dichotomous nature: the band can launch from dissonant to dazzling in the span of a few bars, proving the importance of patience and communication between its members.

After "Moma Dance" and "NICU," the band trotted out the jazzy "Stash" -  and as hundreds of fan-brought balloons bounced above the crowd, drummer Jon Fishman and bassist Mike Gordon orchestrated a bouncy groove. Over that, keyboardist Page McConnell and guitarist Trey Anastasio followed each other from a dark, minor-key vamp to a bright, major-key lilt, turning the "Stash" jam on its proverbial ear.

Once again, they're proving that whatever die-hard Phish fans might expect from a particular song on a particular night, predictability has never been the band's strong suit.

While Phish's first set was a crowd-pleasing mix of new and old, short and long, easy and difficult, it was the second set -  of eight scheduled for the weekend, including a "musical costume" set tonight, during which the band will cover another artist's album in its entirety -  that truly affirmed the group's dedication to proving worthy of having fans travel from far and wide to its first festival in five years.

Beginning with the calypso-funk of "Punch You in the Eye" and segueing into a superb "Down with Disease," Phish's second set showcased a fan-fed glow-ring throw-a-thon, as Anastasio chomped on meaty chords, Gordon thumped, Fishman splashed and McConnell moved from dusky organ chords to choppy clavinet slaps, breathing consistent life into the 16-year-old composition.

After a stellar run through "Prince Caspian," Gordon gouged out slaphappy, effect-drenched bass runs in "Wolfman's Brother," leading Phish from a triumphant, sunny crescendo into atmospheric Radiohead-esque weirdness -  perhaps hinting that Kid A will be the Halloween cover? From there, Anastasio guided the band into the steady build of "Piper," featuring the night's most beautiful, euphonic playing.

As Phish transitioned into one of its oldest (and most muscular) compositions -  the twisty, turny "David Bowie" -  Anastasio hinted that the song might be "a hint about the Halloween album." (One of the eight festival campgrounds is named after Bowie's Hunky Dory, fueling the rumor that Bowie may join the ranks of the Beatles, the Who, Talking Heads and the Velvet Underground as bands whose albums Phish has covered in the past.) Gordon again drove the group through the "Bowie" jam, feeding the bottom end while spurring Anastasio on to more ecstatic heights.

Never a group to disappoint when all eyes are watching, Phish displayed its penchant for showmanship during the set-closing "Harry Hood," launching a giant collection of helium-filled balloons packed with lights and sensors. The balloons' colors changed and pulsated with the rise and fall of "Hood," climaxing as the band yelled "You can feel good!"

Judging from the reaction of the 30,000-plus devotees who made the trek to the Coachella site's first one-off, single-band performance in 16 years, the balloons' iridescence, the site's beauty and the band's exuberance truly made them feel as good as the band felt, if not better. The fans don't have to worry about pulling off a major feat like playing an entire album's worth of someone else's songs (Exile on Main St., anyone?) as well as two sets of its own material on Saturday.

If anyone's up to the self-imposed challenge, though, it's Phish, a band that for decades has prided itself on taking everyone's expectations -  those of its fans, the media, even its own members -  and surpassing them with flying colors.
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