A Review of the Phish Webcast of Halloween: A lot of New Stuff for Everyone

I had been reluctant to stream a Phish show over the past couple of tours.  Mostly because of time, but I was also a little worried about how the quality of the broadcast would be.  Perusing some of the message boards and twitter, there always seemed to be complaints about the stream getting interrupted, the audio and the video not syncing up correctly, or sometimes not linking up at all.*

*Suggestion: a cheaper, audio only option would be great.  I found myself quite often looking away from the screen, checking Twitter, looking in on the basketball game I had on mute and just for a break.  

phish-AC-Halloween

My fears were completely unjustified.  Simply put, I loved being on my couch watching a show.  I was quite comfy*, could go to the bathroom if need be, but I was surprised how much I got into the show.  I kept thinking back to when I was younger and how much I loved sitting in a rocking chair and listening to music.  I haven’t missed my recliner so much in years as I did on Halloween.  Indeed, I found myself bobbing along to the music during a couple of songs.  I think there was one hiccup in the feed and it wasn’t even remotely memorable.  I can’t do much about the time commitment still needed for a show, family and dad commitments come first, but I won’t hesitate from tuning in again.  Oh, and the price for the show and the MP3 afterwards was only $30, a bargain if you ask me.

*Perhaps too comfy.  I fell asleep during Harry Hood in the third set.  I barely woke up for the encore.  Which leads to another suggestion:  I read about the archived version of the show that I supposedly had access to, but I can’t for the life of me figure out how or where I could find it. Oh well, I only missed a couple of songs.

I also really need to work on my Twitter lists.  It would have been much better to have my stream dedicated to my Phishy follows so I could interact closer to real time.  Scrolling through all the other tweets that had nothing to do with Phish was a minor inconvenience to be sure, but I could have made my experience that much better.*  That isn’t to say that the Phish crew don’t make the streaming audience feel special.  We got a PDF of the Playbill, some great in between set music (Miles Davis tribute to Jack Johnson from 1971 OMG!) and the fun little send up of Abe Vigoda and the Godfather (Trey slouches subserviently like no other man.)

*Suggestion: the chat function on the stream was not so good.  The last comment I could see was from 30 minutes before the show.  It would have been nice to have a constant dialogue going on within the stream window.  I gave up and relied exclusively on Twitter.  Speaking of, follow @ScottBerstein during a show, such a good time.  Also, I know everyone is dancing etc., but maybe a few more tweets from the show itself? Oh and Phish from the Road is nice, but feel free to add a little commentary too, especially access to things we don’t get to see, kind of like a sideline reporter.

After seeing the Playbill my first tweet before the show was that I was trying not to feel disappointed; Phish in Wingsuit…What?  Was it an album I never heard of? Some strange artist that I was about to be exposed to for the first time? Nope on all counts.  It was something that I kind of held in the back of my mind for a long time.  The idea that not only would Phish come during a show and play a new set list, but all new, never heard before songs.  I just didn’t think it would be on Halloween.

If you’re not much of a Phish fan, well you’ve probably stopped reading at this point, but if you’re still here, Halloween holds a very special place for Phish fans.  Intermittently since 1994, the band has donned a musical costume and played another iconic album in its entirety.  Past performances include The White Album, Quadrophenia, Exile on Main Street, Loaded, Remain in Light, and Waiting for Columbus.  We’re talking some seriously big recordings.  I’ve pined for a Zappa or Genesis Halloween, but I was never disappointed.  When I read the Playbill and saw that the band was going to play a new, not even recorded set of music, yeah I was let down.  I was lucky enough to be at Halloween 1995 when they played Quadrophinia.  It was one of my favorite albums growing up so to hear I Am the Sea start out the second set was one of the greatest moments of my concert going life.  I just didn’t expect such a great rush from a bunch of songs I never heard.

And there wasn’t a great rush, a release of joy and excitement.  It was that sensation of picking up something new from a trusted author.  I’ve been following Phish for close to twenty years.  I think in all of that time they have not only earned my trust, but they also deserve an open mind.  As Wingsuit started, I felt that this was going to be a great ride for the next hour or so.

Thinking back to other Halloweens, the truth is I don’t often play the costume album.  Most of the songs never get played again and those that do make it into the tour rotation have much better versions available than the first one played.  In the week since Halloween 2013 I must have played some or all of the Wingsuit set every day.  As Phish fans these past 30 years we have been trained to expect new material on a regular basis, almost every tour something new has popped up.  This past summer there was a dearth of new material, except for some covers, and the absence, if only the absence of bitching about a new song was noticeable.  By hoarding so much new material until Halloween, Phish played perhaps one of their greatest all-time pranks on us.  We have been so conditioned, so set in our ways that premiering a new album instead of looking back was a shock to the system that after the initial surprise and disappointment, was refreshing.  (That isn’t to say I still don’t want a Joe’s Garage or Lamb Lies Down On Broadway set, just sayin’.)

As I’ve listened to the new music and even as I listened on Halloween, I ‘ve been thinking about what I’d love to see again, what I hope gets reworked a little and what I hope gets regulated to rarity or dustbin.  I particularly liked the title track, though it seems more like a great bridge song between longer songs within a set.  Other numbers that really stuck out to me were “Monica”, “555” and “Waiting All Night.”  I can already hear “Waiting” as a staple of the Mike tune rotation, joining the likes of “Train Song”, “Access Me” and “Yarmouth Road”.  Admittedly I just liked “Monica”.  Though I tweeted, “Anastasio and Sons” while they played it, I just found it to be a nice, quick song that often gets played to add variety to any set.

While “Fuego” was the longest song of the set and “Wombat” was probably the most energetic, “555” seems to have the greatest potential to take off into some really interesting, and from successive listens, dark places.  It has a very “Welcome to the Machine” kind of feel that I think can be the foundation for some great exploration, especially on a rainy night.

“Wombat” feels like a song best left to live shows.  It’s fun, bouncy but overall it didn’t fit the mood of the rest of set.  It has the whimsy of “Meatstick.”  I definitely think it will make reappearance at New Year’s Eve, with or without Abe Vigoda.  I think it would be kind of fun if a different celebrity appeared in the wombat suit every time they played it.  “Look, it’s Al Gore and the Climate Change Dancers!”

I’ve been enjoying the entire set this past week and even with these ideas, who knows where Phish will take these songs?  Maybe “Devotion to a Dream” becomes a set tent pole; maybe “Winterqueen” becomes a semi-regular encore.  After listening, all I can say is I’m anxious to see where these songs wind up, starting with New Years Eve.  If I can swing it, I think I’ll be couch touring at least one time during the run.  Even if there isn’t a new album debuted, I’m pretty much sold on this new-fangled web-viewing thing.

Thanks to liveforlivemusic for the photo.

 

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