Phish Covers Stones for the Stoned

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Phish's Trey Anastasio / Photos by Jesse Lirola
WRITTEN BY
Shirley Halperin

A good 24 hours before Phish hit the stage for their Halloween show -- the second of Festival 8's three-night stand at Indio, California's Empire Polo Club -- the rumors were flying fast and furious as fans tried to guess which full album the band might cover. Ever since 1994, it's become an annual October 31 tradition for the Vermont-bred foursome to play a seminal LP in its entirety, and past Halloweens have delivered the likes of The Who's Quadrophenia and The Beatles' "White Album."

Among 2009's contenders: Michael Jackson's Thriller, Prince's Purple Rain, MGMT's Oracular Spectacular, and, fueled by the band's own misinformation campaign (frontman Trey Anastasio offered a hint before launching into the band's classic "David Bowie"), The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. But by morning, all was revealed in the form of a faux Playbill magazine announcing the band's choice: Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street.

Since their first weekend-long jam, 1996's Clifford Ball, Phish festivals have become known as something of an endurance test, not just for the band, who can play as long as eight hours a day, but for the fans who trek miles from adjacent parking lots and campgrounds and stake out prime viewing spots hours before showtime.

In that sense, this weekend's Festival 8, the continuation of Phish's post-hiatus comeback tour, was no different. Many thousands of tie-dyed, bleary-eyed die-hards gathered in the sweltering desert sun as early as noon to witness the first of three Halloween sets, which kicked off at 3:30 P.M. and featured a string of pre-Millennial fan favorites including "Divided Sky," "Runaway Jim," "The Squirming Coil," and the ever popular closer, "Run Like An Antelope." "It's been a long time since we played in the grass," said Anastasio at the top of the set as a sizable portion of the festival's expected 40,000 fans cheered on. (No doubt, it had only been minutes for most of the crowd.)

But the main event was undeniably Exile, much of which Anastasio, embodying a bit of that Jagger swagger, and crew -- bassist Mike Gordon, keyboardist Page McConnell, and drummer Jon Fishman -- executed faithfully. Accompanied by a small horn section and backup singer, the band wailed through the popular "Tumbling Dice" and "Happy" adding their own extended grooves, as well as lesser-known tracks like "Ventilator Blues" and "Turd on the Run." For "Let It Loose," the band offered a more subdued rendition, replete with gently layered background vocals that did the original proud. The crowd responded in kind as is the Phish fan way, knowing that, even if they weren't intimately familiar with the album's 17 songs, they had another full Phish set coming that night (not to mention coffee and 8-shaped doughnuts for 10,000 in the morning, followed by a noontime acoustic set).

That final bow kicked off just before 10:30 P.M. with the one-two punch of "Backwards Down the Number Line" and perennial crowd-pleaser "Fluffhead," accented by a football-field-long fire display, which was just part of the visual stimuli scattered across the grounds. Indeed, for those growing weary of the nonstop jam, a horseshoe tournament, Ferris wheel and gigantic dragon coil were there to entertain -- or distract.

All told, despite the proliferation of readily available drugs in the parking lot -- from the expected mushrooms and nitrous oxide to the less common liquid mescaline and Mollys (powdered MDMA) -- there had only been 11 arrests at the start of the Halloween set, all of them "drug- and influence-related," according to a spokesperson for the Indio Police Department. That number would surely rise later on as the costumed throngs sunk deeper in the Phish hole with classics like "You Enjoy Myself" and set three closer "Suzy Greenberg" as their soundtrack. The phreaks come out at night, all right.

Phish's Set List
Set I:
Sample in a Jar
Divided Sky
Lawn Boy
Kill Devil Falls
Bathtub Gin
The Squirming Coil
Runaway Jim
Possum
Run Like An Antelope

Set II: (Exile on Main Street)
Rocks Off
Rip This Joint
Shake Your Hips
Casino Boogie
Tumbling Dice
Sweet Virginia
Torn and Frayed
Sweet Black Angel
Loving Cup
Happy
Turd on the Run
Ventilator Blues
I Just Want to See His Face
Let It Loose
All Down the Line
Stop Breaking Down
Shine a Light
Soul Survivor

Set III:
Backwards Down The Number Line
Fluffhead
Ghost
When the Circus Comes
You Enjoy Myself
Suzy Greenberg

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