Q: What’s the scariest thing on Halloween for Phish fans, besides no Halloween show?
A: New Phish.
There have been some great Phish tours in the past, but Fall 2013 takes the cake. Of the 8 shows I attended (all but Hampton and Reading), the scene was thriving, the energy in the air was palpable and it was hard to find a dull moment amid the entire tour. There were some low points (Rochester lots/show, Worcester1 lots) and some high points (Worcester 2, Reading Set 2, AC2) but altogether, the tour was one of the best.
But then there was Halloween, one that will be one of the most discussed shows for years to come. Fans were scared to accept the concept of a new album being performed in its entirety it because expectations were set high, per usual. It’s hard to say ‘lower your expectations for Phish on Halloween’, because the bar has always been high. Take the advice of Kentucky Fried Movie – “If you’re a Gemini, well you can expect the unexpected.” Let’s all be Geminis moving forward and not have an emotional investment in the potential album that Phish might cover.
We have the benefit, now that Fall Tour is over, that we can listen to the raw Wingsuit and go back and listen to the tour through the lens of the new album. The band had clearly planned this for a few months, perhaps all summer, and when we re-listen to these shows, we might find a hint of the improved playing and improvisation that came from the collective writing that is at the core of Wingsuit. What might be lost on a cursory glance of the night is that the four band members are writing songs together from scratch – this doesn’t happen often enough! With all due respect to the song writing duos of Trey and Tom Marshall and Mike and Scott Murawski – most new material in the past few years has come from these writing pairs, and while there are no complaints there, having Trey, Page, Mike and Jon collaborate together is a way to move forward, together, rather than a fractitious assemblage of songs that only come together after the fact. Fresh, composed Phish is GOOD NEW Phish.
Yet Phish fans complained, perhaps more because of the timing of the album. “Play it all at once on Halloween instead of another band’s album? How dare they!” – I heard this plenty during the Atlantic City run and in days after. What would you rather hear? 12 new covers or 12 new songs? I opt for new Phish at any given time. Phish covers songs, new and old, 4-5 times a show. We survived with just one cover – a Quinn the Eskimo encore – that night and we all lived to tell about it. Just think of it – Phish will never play a full album on Halloween again! You saw history. Appreciate it, don’t rip it and demean it.
Also, I don’t recall a love fest when it was announced that Waiting for Columbus was revealed as the 2010 Halloween album. Around me, most fans didn’t know the music and were talking a fair amount of the time. Phish played that one for themselves. Ditto Exile on Main Street, but that had a message of restoration and comeback written into the lyrics, plus, it was The Rolling Stones! Few can complain about one of the best albums from possibly the greatest rock band ever being played in its entirety. But I am sure there were haters for that one too. Phish Playing Wingsuit was the band saying “We’ve been doing this for 30 years. Here’s a taste of what we’re working on – a risky, collaborative album that lays groundwork for the next 30 years!”
We all have albums we would LOVE to hear, but odds are, it’s not going to be that one. No one was expecting a new album or Waiting for Columbus, so Icculus-willing in 2014, let’s all hope we get Weird Al’s Even Worse, or, even worse, Under the Table and Dreaming. Reverse your expectations, and we might get that Zappa album we have always wanted, or some more Floyd (The Wall would fit nicely into Boardwalk Hall) or The Band or Allmans or whatever band suits your musical fantasy.
I’ve waited for fresh Phish for years and this was a welcome way to bring the songs out into the public – all at once, a move that few, if any bands would ever attempt for fear or reprisal from their legion of fans. Halloween 2013 will be a divisive show, no doubt, but it will be seen as a turning point as well in the future.
Personally, I hope they don’t play Halloween for a few years because Phish fans may end up bitching about the next album too. That is, unless they give us the chance to vote on an album. But they did that before and bucked the fans anyways. We win by showing up with lowered expectations and taking it as it comes.
As for the new album, I am most excited about Wingsuit (great Bug-esque potential coming out of a DWD jam), Fuego (fire right out of the gate in any placement), Monica (a fun song with energy) Wombat (will Abe Vigoda show up at MSG?), Devotion to the Dream (poppy and has some jam potential) 555 (another great Mike and Scott tune) and You Never Know (the dark horse of the set IMO). Some songs wont show up again, some will find their way into the rotation as soon as the MSG NYE run. Either way, we got to see a rare event. Let’s enjoy it.
Then, there was the PhanArt Poster and Pin Exhibition on November 2nd at Caesars. This was by far the best attended Phish art show that has been held since 2003, and the 10th of its kind. Artists of all likes were well received, fans kept coming in throughout the 12-5pm window and at no time did it seem like there was a lull in the crowd. New artists and old got to meet fans, Phantiques Roadshow had a fantastic response, and we raised a solid amount of money for The Mockingbird Foundation (final numbers coming later this month – it is really hard to get money out of a water jug!). Expect more of these shows when Phish returns to Atlantic City, which is now inevitable.
Now who’s going to make the Fishman Wingsuit to sell on PhanArt?