Phish’s October Tour In Review
Ok, here is where my gloves come off. Yes, I know I’m not actually wearing gloves, but I find it disappointing how many fans — including jaded oldbies with a ton of Phish-knowledge — go south on this show largely because they were unimpressed or otherwise disheartened by Phish’s decision to cover Little Feat’s Waiting for Columbus. Please set aside Phish’s decision to cover this album for a minute.
The first set doesn’t just open with a delightfully Halloween-themed setlist (“Frankenstein” opener with Page on keytar; “BBFCFM;” “Ghost->SPOOKY!?”) for all of us setlist-whores — come on, you know that you’re one of us. But the first set has a version of “Stash” that reminds you — or should remind you — of all of the melodic, charming, borderline-but-not-quite-transcendent versions from the distant past. And that this version was played in TWO THOUSAND TEN is all-the-sweeter. “Stash” has done almost nothing even vaguely impressive since Coventry, when it floundered improvisationally and metaphorically in the muddy, fecally-infused depths of rain-soaked Vermont soil. It is nevertheless not overrating this 10/31 “Stash” to say that, of the normal-lengthed versions in Phish history, it’s among the best. Sure, there are a lot of those (including arguably the best normal-lengthed “Stash,” 5/19/94 Eugene), but if you disagree that this 10/31 “Stash” is among the best of the normal-lengthed versions, go listen to every such version (aka versions under 20 minutes) that circulates, and then let’s discuss it. I think this one is in the Top 10, or maybe the Top 20. But it’s up there. And it makes me very happy to hear “Stash” played so well again.
And the third set? The third set of 10/31 has an unremarkable setlist. Just look at it. But Phish was very relaxed after the pressure of competently covering Waiting for Columbus was off, and it shows in their loose-but-outstanding playing. In this third set, Phish played one of the Top 10 versions of “Wilson” ever (check out other stellar versions like 8/1/98 Alpine, 12/30/99 Cypress, and 6/13/00 Nagoya), as well as another strong (though not perfect) “3.0” version of “Jibboo,” and a serene “Harry.” Yes, the set closed with yet another well-played but otherwise unremarkable “YEM,” but for christ’s sake, this Halloween show encored with a captivating “Julius” that featured horns and a drums and percussion solo! We do not get those every day.
And as for the “musical costume,” Phish covered a fantastic live album — Little Feat’s Waiting for Columbus — in the second set of this show. I used to listen to this on vinyl on a crappy record player back in the early 80s, when Ronald Reagan was President. If you seriously don’t like songs like “Spanish Moon,” “Dixie Chicken” (with its “Alaska” teases :-)), “Tripe Face Boogie” or “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now,” especially now that Phish has covered them and done them justice, I don’t know what to say. It’s certainly true that Phish didn’t take these songs anywhere new and didn’t “Phish-ify” them by jamming them out for 20+ minutes or anything like that. But Phish covered this album because the musicianship behind it meant and continues to mean a great to deal to them (just read the PHISHBILL). If it doesn’t mean shit to you, then ok, but this 10/31/10 show is nevertheless one of the best shows of 2009-2010. I’d take the Phish sets of this show over the Phish sets of last year’s Halloween show in Indio any day. (I am, however, more of a Stones fan than a Little Feat fan, so I probably prefer last year’s 10/31 set in Indio to this year’s, but it’s a tough call for me. My favorite “costume” sets continue to be 10/31/98’s Loaded and 10/31/96’s Remain in Light.)
I agree with a lot of you that this year’s Halloween show is not among the best performances by Phish on Halloween, but I would still at least place this show comfortably within a Top 100 Phish shows list were I to compile such a list. Not simply because there are three sets and they covered an entire album in the second set that I have always enjoyed and which is excellent, but because they covered it well (along with a number of guest musicians), and because they played — in the Phish sets — several Top Versions of their own songs (specifically, “Stash,” “Wilson” and “Julius”). Not simply “above-average” versions, but versions of songs among the best Phish has ever performed.
So, in conclusion, to anyone who thinks that, as laudable as Guyutica, Manchester, Augusta, and 10/30 AC are from the October tour, you still give the “best show of the tour” nod to 10/31 Atlantic City, I understand where you’re coming from. It is, however, three sets, so it arguably isn’t fair to compare it with two-set shows. Regardless, as far as tour-closing shows go, it’s pretty damn good. It’s thus justifiable to expect Phish to continue playing well on the NYE Run in a few weeks, and we’ve got every right to be enthusiastic about the future of Phish!
10/10: Makisupa Policeman
10/12: 46 Days, Carini, Light (last few minutes)
10/16: Curtain With
10/19: Jesus Just Left Chicago, Light, 20 Years Later, Harry Hood, Reba
10/20: Antelope, SOAM -> Have Mercy, Piper but check out the whole show
10/22: Rock and Roll -> Carini, Sanity
10/26: Curtain With, Light, Makisupa->Night Nurse->Makisupa, Weekapaug
10/29: Light Up or Leave Me Alone (jam), Carini
10/30: Chalk Dust, Wolfman’s, Undermind, Second Set
10/31: Stash, Second Set, Wilson, Julius
Charlie Dirksen practices law and is an officer and Board Member of The Mockingbird Foundation, an all-volunteer 501©(3) nonprofit founded by Phish fans in 1997. He first saw Phish at the Paradise in Boston on 10/6/89. He is a Phish.net Admin and may be reached at or via @cdirksen on Twitter.