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Monday, November 11

Review and Photos: Phish Halloween - "Eat A Wingsuit" - Boardwalk Hall - Atlantic City, NJ - Oct 31st, 2013

Halloween has become a sacred musical occasion in Phish lore and history. They started the tradition of musical costumes in 1994 with The Beatles The White Album and every Halloween show since have covered another historic bands album in completion, usually squeezed between two traditional Phish sets. Other than a rare festival 3-set show, and the almost annual New Years 3-set show, this is the only time one can be guaranteed to see Phish come out for more than the regular two set's.  Making a fun habit of covering one of their favorite albums has always been a treat. With it, you learning a lot about the band's influences, watch how they transform classic songs we all love, making the Halloween show a greatly anticipated one, where they have turned countless fans onto the likes of The Velvet Underground, The Talking Heads and Little Feat, among the more the popular Rolling Stones, The Who and The Beatles.

 Most of the rumors surrounding this years best guarded secret in the Phish world were focused on Eat A Peach by the Allman Bro's, Sports by Huey Lewis and The News and even Goodbye Yellowbrick Road by Elton John. The last thing fans expected was that Phish was going to perform an album that hadn't even been made yet, one comprised of all new songs that they had worked on over the past few years, and like it or not that is exactly what fans got in the form of the soon-to-be recorded Phish album; Wingsuit. Consisting of 12 songs never played before (by Phish).   The montage of tracks written by Anastasio/ Fishman/ Gordon/ McConnell , Anastasio/Marshall, and Gordon/Murawski, this decision, while risky and still being swallowed let alone digested by some fans, was made up of mostly winners. With great song histories, back-stories, and a diverse combination Phish seriously taking itself into new territory, while retaining their classic feel, if not sound.  But first, we should start at the beginning, and on Halloween 2013 that would be with a song packed, swift, yet hit filled first set.
The first set consisting of 12 classics, hits, and regulars was a very average set at best. For instance, the first three songs “Heavy Things”, “The Moma Dance”> “Poor Heart”, were over with before one could get comfortably dancing, or catching any type of rhythmic flow with the band. “Silent In The Morning”, “Mound”, “Free” and “Bathtub Gin” were particularly nice during this warm-up set, but again, it truly felt like Phish was trying to keep the opener flowing, not noticeably challenging themselves too much, and in summing up the vibe, it had almost a checklist like flow to it.  Song, sang, rocked,  That being said, even some of the more bland Phish sets are extraordinary and this one was a keeper, just not one for the wall of fame.

The highly anticipated Halloween Costume set started off with the title track “Wingsuit”, which starts as a slow flowing, bass rolling, lyrically packed song. It builds into great harmonies during the chorus while introspective words are slowly sang by Trey as they song developes and builds into a beautiful crescendo, and then a brief jam with Gordon playing his bass with the power drill. “Fuego” comes next and it is a completely well written song with amazing vocal harmonies by the band, crazy lyrics, great interplay between members and changing tempos. This was a one of the few songs that stood out among the many of the second set and we look forward to see it develop in the studio and live rotation in tours to come. 

 “The Line”, a story about overcoming adversity was based on Darius Washington Jr's missing of two of three free-throws during the end of the 2005 Conf-USA Championship game between The University of Memphis and Louisville. Trey related greatly to the story of this young man's public let down, apparently watching the game while in rehab when  he himself was over-coming his own public/private demons. While the story behind the song is intriguing the harmonies that the band creates make this a winner as well, while slow and sad at times, it truly is a personal song for Trey and the band members, and while at the show it came across a little dry, it again showed the band taking themselves into new territory and a totally new direction while still clinging to their musical roots. “Monica” was the first acoustic song of the night, with the band performing in a dialed down mode. Mike on stand-up bass, Fishman on a simple drum-kit and Page on a standalone keyboard. With a catchy beat “Monica” has great vocals between Page and Trey talking about a girl,”sing, sing Monica sing your song”.  Musically it has great potential to be totally transformed in the studio, expanded on, but as is: it was fast, simple and catchy during it's live debut. Really exemplifying many traits not usually thought of when one has Phish's music on their mind. “Waiting All Night” is another turn in a new direction for Phish and with it's ballad back-bone, back and forth sound, slow yet moving beat, it continues to add depth to the possibilities of this albums growth as they step into studio and in totally new territory for the band. Other songs that stood out was the thematically performed “Wombat”, with Fishman on lead vocals for a good portion of the track, it had a do-wop feel, it was jazzy and the band brought out a dancer in a wombat suit with fanfare and back up dancers, and to everyone's surprise they were soon to be introduced as “Abe Vagoda and the Abe Vagoda Dancer's”, later the 92 year old appeared, showing his face, the Godfather Star being a big part of the Halloween celebration and video short the band put together later in the show.   It was later to be  revealed it was actually not Vagoda doing the crazy dancing but he was switched out with a body double after the crazy dance, when introduced to the cheering crowd.

 “Snow” was another acoustic effort this one written by Gordon and Scott Murawski of Max Creek and The Mike Gordon Band.  Very short in length it really didn't deliver in any which way, except maybe musically.  It didn't quite have the quirkiness of a “Lengthwise”, it didn't have the clarity and flowing lyrics of “Sugar Shack”, and the vocals were clearly off, off tune, or just plain Mike trying to sing a register above his ability.  Not to be too critical, let's keep in mind these are debut's and the band hasn't picked any particular 12 songs to make the new record's final cut.  It's safe to say that frankly this rendition just stunk, and since it's the only one we've heard, we have nothing to compare it to. One can easily assume this song needs to grow in every direction or be knocked out of the recording queue when it comes time to burn these tracks into Phistory, and their next album. That being said the band at this point; while all business were clearly enjoying themselves, and the fans, at least those not overly-jaded by their choice to play the new material, were lapping it up, yet with a critical eyebrow raised. “Devotion To A Dream” is Phish 3.0 at it's finest. Quintessential one could say. A fast paced song with a position vibe, lyrical depth and great harmonies it was a treat among treats. The open possibilities of this song are endless, with it's designated guitar solo, and then an elongated end where they could take it to different levels in later live performances, similar to what Phish has done with “Backwards Down The Number Line”.  

“555”, or Five Fifty-Five was written by the Gordon/Murawski duo.   Most of their recent collaborations have all been received well by fans, such as “Yarmouth Road” and “Say Something”, well that trend doesn't end with "555", rather it expands as this new song which timed in as the longest live track off of the Wingsuit Set, is full of heavy bass lines, complicated changes, story driven lyrics, yet with a Gordon-esq feel, and plenty of room for improvisation and jam space, something that made it an instant favorite among the 12 new tracks Phish played that night. As the central theme of “555” launches out into jam territory it's easy to hear huge Pink Floyd influences, and even a taste of “Tweezer Reprise” for a moment of two. This musical build during the jam section laid the groundwork for very high expectations, and much speculation. What Phish decides to do with this amazing framework in the -*studio is something that most fans are anticipating in the months and weeks before the albums completion. “Winterqueen”, the only song played before, and only by TAB,  is a classic “Anastasio/Marshall” composition, with fresh clear lyrics, a very palatable musical number, with ample balance between all four musicians, it translates well from a simple Trey tune into a fun Phish song. At which point in the set Trey took time to thank everyone for the outpouring of support as they took on these new songs, risking a lot to let 13,000 lucky fans be the judge and jury, as well as privileged guests during this onslaught of debuts.

Amidst The Peals of Laughter” was another acoustic song, this time with Trey and Page singing this gentle nursery rhyme influenced softy. With hints of Dylan, and by hints, I mean very subtle. It's a good song and the word play is impressive and fresh yet at times during this set it felt like the rock and roll was lacking and when they come back with the final product, live and in the studio fans alike will be happy to hear more rocking tunes, and less of this slow, acoustic melodious cream that made up a good portion of the album set.
Phish finished the Wingsuit Set with a song called “You Never Know”. Trey introduced it by saying that “This is a song about a dude that stole all of our money”, and true to that statement the song does tell a story of a thief who is running from his criminal past and finds himself out of the country without a friend to call because he had screwed each and everyone of them over. A great song, with an even greater story, it turns out to be a real work of non-fiction. Apparently the band, among many other famous and rich people invested their money with Manhattan financial adviser, Dana Giacchetto. He took money, up to $20 Million from the likes of Michael Stipe, Ben Stiller, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Ben Affleck to name a few. What he allegedly took from Phish was $3.9 million and another million from their manager. While he was in living it up in Europe charges were filed against him and he turned himself into the law in NYC in 2010 and while he faces years in prison, apparently he has paid back the band for their stolen losses. He, as the song says, robbed “Paul to pay Peter”. This song, written by all four members of the band is upbeat and musically contrasts the songs evil and dark undertone. However if there is such therapy for being robbed of Five Million Dollars I would think writing a song and singing about it would be one of the most creative ways to go about it.
All in all the Wingsuit Set during the Halloween show was a very unexpected treat that flowed well from beginning to end, with some but little disappointment and a lot of surprises along the way, Abe Vigoda and his dancers notwithstanding, it is an instant Phish classic. We look forward to the future of where these songs will go, evolve and grow, in the studio with famed producer Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, The Wall, Peter Gabriel).

For all of those slighted by the song packed first set, or non (traditional) musical costume second set, the third set brought all the remedy you could've asked for. After 24 songs, twelve classics and favorites and twelve newbies, the third set opened with a Halloween appropriate “Ghost” that slowly developed, and then jammed out of the rhythmic funk beat into a spacey sectional with changing tempos and elongated segments. Showing that they were not about to hang it up there (see Halloween “Ghost” 1998), they segued into a viciously deadly “Carini”, a song that has been given the type-II treatment as of late. 

This killer version was the 2nd hit in the one-two punch that was (Ghost>Carini). Clocking in together at over 33 minutes they got the crowd moving in an all so appropriate terrifying way. The show ended with a full set, so after a brief “Bird of a Feather”, the band rocked out a patient “Harry Hood”, “Bug”, and even unexpected “Antelope” finisher. The only cover of the night ironically enough came during the encore, when the band played a crowd participatory, “Quinn The Eskimo”.

The show was full musically, and fulfilled our Halloween candy baskets to the top, it felt like the band wanted to give their fans a taste of everything during their three sets, so they used the first one to pack in a lot of favorite tunes that have seen heavy rotation over the past year. The second set was new to everyone, even the band as they performed these twelve songs in front of an audience for the first time. Then to cap it off, they laid out a full jam-centric third set that developed in a more organic manner and showcased the bands recent return to patient jamming, type-II interplay, and balanced performing by each member of our favorite Vermont Quartet.  One constant I can say for sure is with Phish expect the unexpected, so if you came to Boardwalk Hall ready to eat anything, it was a Wingsuit that made the menu that night!

Words: Sammy Martin
Photos: Michael Stein
 ©Grateful Music LLC