Phish Cover Velvet Underground Album At Halloween Gig

Continuing annual Oct. 31 tradition of reinterpreting influential albums, jam band chooses Loaded.

LAS VEGAS -- The closely guarded secret of which album Phish

would cover at this year's Halloween show was finally revealed --

right on the night of the gig.

Thanks to the Phishbill (Phish's version of Playbill)

handed out at the entrance to the Thomas and Mack Center on Saturday,

the 19,000-plus listeners jammed inside like sardines knew, before the

first note was played, that the middle set would be the proto-punk

quartet Velvet Underground's classic 1970 release, Loaded, the

source of the Lou Reed-penned rock standard "Sweet Jane."

So ended the mystery of what the Vermont-based post-pyschedelic quartet

would do for this year's edition of its Halloween concert tradition.

Over the past few years, with the exception of 1997, the jam-oriented band has covered an

influential rock album in its entirety each Oct. 31. Previous choices

have included the Beatles' "white album," the Who's Quadrophenia

and Talking Heads' Remain in Light.

The performance of Loaded comprised one set, leaving two of the

evening's three sets to be filled by guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist

Mike Gordon, keyboardist Page McConnell and drummer Jon Fishman. The

result was more than three hours of music.

Following the concert opener, "Axilla I," and extending through the

initial four songs of the first set, the sound and presentation of the

band were a bit lackluster. But with the funky "Sneaking Sally Through

the Alley," an Allen Toussaint cover brought out of a nine-year Phish

hiatus last December, the band found the groove it had been stewing in

for the past 15 years.

Phish tried a couple of early-concert mood-lifters: an Anastasio

and Gordon dance routine and McConnell's stage-wandering

vocals on "Lawn Boy."

After the first set, Robbie Thorne, 49, sporting a tie-dyed shirt and

neatly trimmed beard, reflected on his first experience with Phish.

"The crowd is great and everyone seems to be really enjoying the

music," he said. "And as someone representing the older generation, I

can say some of their stuff, the harmonies, reminds me of older music.

It's great."

Thorne's garb -- reminiscent of hippie-era threads worn by fans of

Phish avatars the Grateful Dead -- blended well with the surrounding

visuals. The scene was comprised of a sea of people bathed in muted

colors, writhing, twisting and flowing in response to the equally

serpentine music.

True to the spirit of Halloween, fans in costume made up the bulk of

the audience. People were dressed as cards, cows, carrots and clowns.

Elvis Presley and Hunter S. Thompson look-alikes -- reflecting the Las

Vegas setting -- were spotted in the crowd. (Dressed-up Phish fans,

whether costumed as sheet-wearing ghosts or appearing naturally with

beards, dreadlocks and handmade patchwork clothes, were not found only

inside the venue, however. The hotels, casinos and streets of Vegas

were overflowing with motley Phishheads.)

Anastasio got into the festivities late in the evening when he donned a

monster mask. And those unfamiliar with the band might have thought

that Fishman's pink-on-blue polka-dotted dress, a sharp contrast to

the jeans and T-shirts worn by the rest of the band, also was

something special for the evening. In fact, it is normal show attire

for the drummer.

Although much of the Las Vegas crowd knew little of Loaded

except for "Sweet Jane" (which was first played by Phish in Maryland

in August), the novelty and the distorted sonics of the set kept the

applause coming.

The crowd remained enthusiastic through the rest of the night.

"They've really turned a corner musically," 23-year-old Jesse Ritvo

said in the airport the next morning, waiting to catch a plane to San

Francisco. "I feel a lot closer to the music."

Even though Phish transformed themselves into the Velvet Underground

mid-show, their Halloween vibe really came to the fore in their third

set.

Minutes after the monster-masked Anastasio broke into "Wolfman's

Brother," from the 1994 album Hoist, the set meandered into an

ambient jam that was even spookier than the crowd-member dressed as

the blue-haired Marge Simpson. The 30-minute musical excursion

included, as high points, Fishman playing a vacuum cleaner on a fog-

filled stage and the crowd engaging in a flying glow-stick war.

By the time the set ended in fitting fashion with "Ghost" (the title

track from Phish's new album), the audience had been treated to more

than a full load of idiosyncratic rock and distinctive audio-visual

looniness.