It was hard leaving my wonderful girlfriend and dogs, as I knew that I would miss them a lot, but nothing could have contained the excitement that I was feeling on the morning of October 29th. I had been up all night writing an International Law paper that I finished about an hour before I left Asheville for Charlotte. I was a bit of a zombie walking through the airport. My flight was cancelled so the airline rerouted me and put in first class for the flight to Atlanta for my connection to LA. I just wanted to get on the plane and sleep, because I knew that I needed all the energy I could muster for a weekend of seeing my favorite band Phish. They put on a festival in Indio, CA called Festival 8. It was their eighth festival and they would also be playing eight sets of music. The other significant thing about the festival was that they covered a classic album in its entirety. I arrived in LA where my friend Yossairen picked me up and we drove through the cold desert night towards Indio. We settled in and passed out from pure exhaustion. The next morning would bring light, heat, and the beginning of one of the most monumental events in Phish’s long history.
I awoke the next morning to the most beautiful view of the Little San Bernardino Mountains. Anxious to get there, we gathered our things and headed for the festival. After eating breakfast on the way to the venue, I drove around aimlessly for what seemed like forever trying to find day parking. The Empire Polo Club, on who’s grounds the festival took place, is a massive complex of lush green grass in the middle of the barren desert. The perimeter of the grounds is almost five miles and so getting to the right entrance can be like navigating through a maze. Thankfully, the traffic was never bad and no one really had to wait to park, which is a marked change from every other festival I have ever been to. We went to my friend Dave’s campsite, which was located in the Hunky Dory campground. Additionally, there were seven other campgrounds, which were all titles of albums that Phish would possibly have covered on Saturday night for Halloween. The albums were The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, Oracular Spectacular, Purple Rain, Exile on Main St., Electric Ladyland, Kid A, and Larks’ Tongues In Aspic.
We entered the actual Festival venue around 3 pm, and got our spot for the show that night before exploring the grounds. Our position was on the railing behind and to the right of the soundboard. From there I left to go get some festival merchandise and look around. Art installations were set up in the center of the field, complete with a haunted house for Halloween. It was not until it got dark that we saw the best things, though. The palm trees that surround the entire venue and behind the stage were lit with intelligent lights, as well as these large wooden structures that were about 75 yards behind where we were set up. The Farris wheel shone through night as people hurried between beer, food, and merchandise tents. “The time was near and the mission clear” at that point. A volatile mass of energy was about to transform into the start of the three day dance party hosted by Phish. Fittingly, they opened with Party Time, a new song off the yet to be released second disc with the same title included in the “Joy Box.” Although the song has almost no words, the feel is very happy and a good song to start to get comfortable on stage with.
A few notable parts of set one were Page’s solo on NICU, Fishman’s Vacuum solo on I Didn’t Know, and the entire Stash. Other than that, it was a very good first set, a little rusty throughout but to be expected for the first set of the weekend. It was not anything special in terms of song selection, but established a solid foundation for the weekend. The second set was a major step up from set one, opening with a killer Punch You In The Eye. It should be noted that Chris Kuroda’s lighting was incredible; he had palm trees and art structures as well as the usual lights all under his control. It was one of the most spectacular light shows I have ever seen. Trey kind of hits a snag during the usually solid Prince Caspian, but comes back with some of the best stuff they had played up till that point this year. The Wolfman’s Brother>Piper>Joy>Bowie was the first sign of the things to come. The Piper jam included this beautiful and melodic vocal jam that flowed directly into Joy. Bowie turned into the most put together jam of the night up till that point, but was soon over taken by the best song of the night Harry Hood. The climax of the first day occurred during Hood. Not only were the composed sections done extremely well, but the jam was as grand as the stage that Phish was playing on. The burble also came to life during the amazing improvisational section. A burble is a giant floating, arrangement of balloons attached to lights controlled by Kuroda. It looked like a three dimensional 8, and when it changed colors for the first time, there was a noticeable loud gasp from the entire audience. Phish closed the strong second set with Golgi Apparatus, which was a nice high energy end to the start. Character Zero was encored and after a long first day we went home speculating what album would be the band’s musical costume. I had no idea; from Harry Hood until the end of the last set I was going to experience such a tremendous feelings of joy and happiness of which I can never replace.
Sleeping in a was such a necessity after the first night, and because of it, I was able to sustain all day and night on Halloween. The decision was made to camp that night so we parked in yet a different place that morning. It was not 10 minutes after we got out of the car when we found out that Phish was going to cover Exile on Main St. Growing up with a father that loves the Rolling Stones made it even more special. I was familiar with the album, and personally think that it was the best album they have covered to date. We got the Phishbill upon entering the main venue area. Indio is in the desert and so it was about 90 degrees when we setup our stuff this time directly to the right of the soundboard. We figured with foot traffic, sound quality, and that being right next to where Trey’s dad and Tom Marshall were standing, this would probably be optimal. It was 4 pm on Saturday when Phish started playing Sample in a Jar. Divided Sky came next and featured an especially long pause from Trey. He made remarks after Sky about Page singing an ode to the grass we were standing on. Page then sang Lawn Boy, which features one incredible bass solo that needs to be heard. It wasn’t until Bathtub Gin that things began to really heat up. The band was feeding off the positive energy of the crowd from Gin to Run Like An Antelope. Antelope was my favorite part of set 1, not only because of how good it was, but how well it lead into the Exile set.
The Halloween set was THE set of the weekend. The band came out with Sharon Jones, Saundra Williams, David Guy, Tony Jarvis and David Smith to sing backup vocals and play horns, respectively. Rocks Off started us down a musical path that I had not experienced before. It was spot on. The entire thing flowed together in perfect harmony. Sweet Virginia’s line about California was met with very loud and noticeable cheering. The band was rehearsed and comfortable on the stage by then, and by the time Trey shredded the Torn and Frayed solo, the legacy of this show was set. Shine a Light confirmed this set as one of the greatest ever played by Phish. Soul Survivor was a fitting end to not only the album, but the set itself. Visually stunning, and played so impeccably well that even Keith Richards and Mick Jagger would’ve been humbled (well maybe).
Phish could not have possibly kept up this precision and grace through the end of the third set, could they? Well in fact they could. Jamming is essential for a third set, so they started with the new Backwards Down the Number Line, which over the past few months has become a solid platform to start a good jam. Phish 3.0 is definitely a more patient Phish, which I like. They are not just playing trippy sounding long jams, but rather they are focusing on playing soundly, serving the song, and playing music that makes both us and them happy. The Fluffhead was one of the best versions this year. It was Halloween so they fittingly played Ghost next. After slowing things down with When The Circus Comes, Trey goes right into You Enjoy Myself. I have not heard every YEM, but I have heard enough to know that this was one of the best. The band’s biggest song on the biggest stage to close one of the biggest Phish shows ever. YEM blew my mind. Kuroda then blew whatever was left with the 20 foot flames that started to erupt out of the wooden structures during the vocal jam. Not exaggerating at all, my friend Kale says “Suzy with the Horns” as soon as the band walked off the stage. It was then kind of a shock when they actually picked Suzy Greenberg with the horns to encore. There are really no words that I can write to explain how wonderful I felt after the end of that show.
Here is a big help to those of you traveling to a desert anytime soon. It is COLD at night, so the fact that I had slept outside in a chair the night before didn’t help matters. I was horribly unprepared for that but was so tired that I still managed to get to sleep and stay asleep that night. I remember that the sky was just alive with color when the sun rose over the mountains on Sunday morning to wake me and I knew right then that that day would incredible. I went to bed in Dave’s tent for a while in the morning until the urgency to get 8 shaped donuts and coffee overcame me. I got all my stuff together and went in around 10 am. I found the donuts but refused to wait in line for an hour or more to get one. I got food and napped in our spot for that day, which was right in between Mike and Fish about 40 feet from the band (10th row-ish).
Phish played their first ever full acoustic set at noon on the 1st. I wanted to hear two songs, both of which I had never heard live and mean a whole lot to me. Those songs were Mountains In the Mist and Secret Smile. After they played Exile I had said that if they played these songs that my idea of the perfect Phish weekend would be complete. The set contained too many highlights, so I will just give you my favorites. Trey asked everyone to sit down, which everyone eventually did, but later Trey redacted his statement and said he felt bad about asking everyone to sit down (haha).
Musically I have yet to find any real mistakes throughout the set, but Trey did struggle a little trying to solo during Wilson (which was an awesome version). Previously in the set, though, they played four of my favorite songs in a row, starting with Strange Design. Mist was the point at which the emotion of the weekend was released and I felt the most serene calm come over me. It was a spiritual moment that I will never forget. I wiped the tears away and stood up as Phish ripped into the most beautiful version of The Curtain (with) that I have ever had the pleasure of hearing live or otherwise. Hearing Army of One come next was so perfect and it totally mirrored the sentiments felt by the band and the crowd at the time. The acoustic set initially ended with McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters, but the band came back and played three more songs. The last two, Talk and Secret Smile, were the perfect cap to a stunningly long acoustic set. Talk is one of the rarest songs they have played since its inception into the catalog in 1996 and to hear them play it was a total surprise. Secret Smile put the icing on the cake for me.
Most people went back to the campgrounds before the last two sets later that day, but I stayed and took the best nap of my life on that amazing grass. Set 2 was considered the best set of the weekend according to several of my friends and I can’t disagree. Kicking off the final night was the crowd pleasing AC/DC Bag followed immediately by Rift. The band was still on a roll. Guelah was a bust out that was received with open arms by those of us in the crowd. They followed with maybe the nastiest funk jam of the year during Undermind. It wasn’t super long but definitely the best version of the song yet. Sparkle>Split Open and Melt to close the set out. Need I say more? And then there was one.
Set 8. The culmination of this masterpiece put on together by Phish. What does the band open such a huge set with? Oh yes, Tweezer, confirming that they were going to cover all their bases’. The segue into Maze was nice but the song itself was pretty standard. Free signaled the beginning of the end in the best way possible. It was a great version to say the least. Sunday night saw the first Theme from the Bottom since Chicago, and probably the best version this year. The crowd erupted at the start of Mike’s Song and since Phish loves changing things around they did not play the Groove. They did, however, play the song Light, which is becoming a serious jam song. Slowly a larger burblesque balloon thing rose beside the stage and the Hood burble was brought near the back of the crowd. In classic Phish fashion, they ended the show with Slave to the Traffic Life. The perfect close to a perfect weekend got a little unexpected when they encored Esther. It’s a great song, but I don’t think there was a soul in Indio that thought Esther would be part of the encore. Everyone did, however, know that final song of the festival complete with flames, crazy lights and glow sticks would be Tweezer Reprise.
This weekend should have closed any doubts that are left about whether they still have IT or not. Phish is playing some of the best music of their career right now and I am thankful I get to be apart of all of it. The greatness of Phish should never be in question and 8 was proof of that. I think Mike was the one that talked about infinity, but regardless to sum up his words. If you put 8 sideways, it is the symbol for infinity. Infinite are the possibilities for Phish now and in the future. For a band that has been through so much, it is amazing that they are still able to do it. A man named Marshall said it better than I ever could
“A mourning bruise
but I am here at least
I guess im just an obsticle
A thing to overcome
If I could sneek around myself
Again I’ll know I’ve won
The moment seems to hang and float
Before me with no end
’till I’m released, awaken beast
I’m on the road again”
October 30th, 2009
Set 1: Party Time, Chalk Dust Torture, The Moma Dance, NICU, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, Stash, I Didn’t Know, Poor Heart, Cavern, Beauty Of A Broken Heart, Ocelot, Time Turns Elastic
Set 2: Punch You In The Eye, Down With Disease -> Prince Caspian > Wolfman’s Brother -> Piper -> Joy, David Bowie, Harry Hood, Golgi Apparatus
Encore: Character Zero
October 31st, 2009
Set 1: Sample In A Jar, The Divided Sky, Lawn Boy, Kill Devil Falls, Bathtub Gin, The Squirming Coil, Runaway Jim, Possum, Run Like An Antelope
Set 2: Rocks Off, Rip This Joint, Shake Your Hips, Casino Boogie, Tumbling Dice, Sweet Virginia, Torn & 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 3: Backwards Down The Number Line, Fluffhead, Story of the Ghost, When The Circus Comes, You Enjoy Myself
Encore: Suzy Greenberg
November 1st, 2009
Set 1(Acoustic): Water In The Sky, Back On The Train, Brian and Robert, Invisible, Strange Design, Mountains In The Mist, The Curtain With, Army of One, Sleep Again, My Sweet One, Let Me Lie, Bouncing Around The Room, Train Song, Wilson, McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters, Driver, Talk, Secret Smile
Set 2: AC/DC Bag, Rift, Gotta Jibboo, Heavy Things, Reba, The Wedge, Guelah Papyrus, Undermind, Sparkle, Split Open and Melt
Set 3: Tweezer -> Maze, Free, Sugar Shack, Limb By Limb, Theme From The Bottom, Mike’s Song > 2001 > Light > Slave to the Traffic Light
Encore: Grind, Esther, Tweezer Reprise