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.
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
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
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
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