Phish – Festival 8
10/30-11/01/2009 – Empire Polo Fields: Indio, CA
Words by Reverend Justito
Note: Minus some video of Free, with full memory cards I decided to simply enjoy the music vs. messing with my camera)
As I made the long walk from Hunky Dory to the concert field for the last time, cold can of beer in hand, I stopped for a few moments and just took it all in. The phans, the security and of course the beautiful mountain backdrop which the sun sank behind an hour earlier after the conclusion of daylight savings time. How was this coming to an end already? It seemed like just yesterday I was watching states disappear on a “Save the Date” teaser. Yet here I was walking towards the final 1/4th of the weekend, the final two sets of Phish. By now it was old habit at what felt more like summer camp then a rock and roll show. Get felt up, enter into the venue, get our water jugs re-filled, pee, grab a beer or two and find a spot to boogie. We were a bit late on this particular evening, and got a spot just before the band came out for Set II –which started on a high note with “AC/DC Bag”. While nothing will be as memorable as the wasted dude getting on stage and rambling a Valentine’s Day message into the mic for my first “AC/DC Bag”, this particular version the most solid of the three I have seen. In carrying over the acoustic sets Gamehendge theme, it got the show off to a rocking start and flowed very nicely into “Rift”. Maybe it was just the moment, but it felt as if this version was sped up, almost a punk rock/metal version of an already fast song. Not being a huge fan of the Farmhouse album, any momentum the band had going was killed. Sorry, I don’t care what you say, “Gotta Jiboo” is a terrible song, but thankfully the mini jam that came from it made up for the otherwise dreadful number. Speaking of dreadful, am I the only one who is hip to the “Heavy Things” warning alert? I think Trey does it as a favor, that lil annoying guitar note he plays/records and then loops during the poor attempt at a commercial hit. I guess I should be grateful for the warning/lack of volume pedal, as it warns me to sit down and take a break. Once we left the Farmhouse, things started looking up again with the phan favorite “Reba”. My focus on this one was intense, so you can imagine my shock when the band totally train wrecked a transition late in the number. At least most of the crowd and band laughed and moved on. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Phish are only mere mortals, especially when a train wreck become long forgotten when the band busts out gems such as “The Wedge and “Guelah Papyrus”. Both live debuts for me, I had no clue Trey and Mike did a nother silly dance during the later number that was pretty cool. I figured momentum had been killed again when the band busted out the version 2.0 song “Undermind”. However, I was glad they proved me wrong; as this one had a seriously wicked almost start stop jam that forced me to re-evaluate my feelings. That’s one of the great things about Phish; they constantly challenge how you think and feel. After a rather typical “Sparkle” the band closed the second set with an intense version of “Split Open & Melt” that while stretched out, never even reached pre-hiatus jam length. If there is one thing to say about all three days of Phish, it’s that while not long, the jams are focused, and actually a lot more solid than their drugged out late 90’s early ‘00 years.
Expectations for the third and final set were as high if not higher than most of the crowd that weekend. We were not disappointed as things kicked off with a solid “Tweezer”. Sure, it may have not been the most epic Tweezer ever, but the heart is there, and that’s what’s important. Having already heard a few numbers from 1993’s Rift, I was not shocked at all when the band segued into “Maze”. An upbeat number and a fan favorite, this is another Phish song that I never tire of hearing live. Speaking of songs I never get tired of, one of my favorite songs “Free” followed. The band firing on all cylinders, this “Free” is perhaps the best I have ever heard, as the band just got nasty on it. As I knew I would, a huge smile came across my face as the band belted out the line “I Feel the Feeling I Forgot”. Really, that was a theme in my head all weekend, and I would have been bummed had they not played this. Things kept getting better with “Sugar Shack”. One of my favorites from the new record – Joy, I started to think they wouldn’t play this, but was very glad they did (even if my wife claims it sounds like a Fergie song). I was starting to thing I had escaped “Limb By Limb”, but was mistaken. I have seen LXL live more than any other song, and with this version, it manages to keep a one run lead on “Chalkdust Torture”. After a solid “Theme from the Bottom”, we were treated to a very unique Mike’s Groove if you can even call it that. From the opening riffs of “Mike’s Song” I knew we were on a journey, I just didn’t know where. After perhaps one of the shortest “Mike’s” I have heard the band went straight into their cover of “Also Sprach Zarathustra” (aka the theme from 2001) with never disapoints when you are there in person. With spastic lights and tight riffs, it rocked the house down and went straight into another new song “Light”. Looking back, I can’t say that “Light” was very memorable, but hearing it segue into “Slave to the Traffic Light” at least was. As a California native, this song has always held a special place in my heart (especially anytime I am stuck on 5 heading into downtown LA when I see both the city and the zoo). The song really built and broke well, and as the band wrapped and exited the stage, I was both shocked (no “Weekapaug Groove” which usually is the tail end of any Mike’s Groove) and satisfied.
The band returned with a lengthy encore that included Trey thanking a quick list of people who helped put on a truly amazing weekend. But before that, we were treated to “Grind” which is a cooll acapella number that I guess I never really paid attention too. For the third time since 2000, the band busted out the rare “Esther”. Can I be honest? While I was stoked to get a rarity, I really don’t get the big deal about this song? Is it because of the Armenian man? I mean it’s somewhat slow and boring, but hey, maybe I can get my first “Ha Ha Ha” at show 18? It all came to an end with “Tweezer Reprise”. So short, (bitter)sweet and full of enerfy, I couldn’t believe it was over. 3 days, 8 sets and 96 songs later, I once again was able to feel the feeling I forgot.