The day of the dead saw the demise of one Phish Halloween tradition and the birth of something completely different. Rather than play another band’s album as a musical costume, Phish opted to interpret a rare cut from the Disney collection – Chilling Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House (1964), turning a 25 minute sound effects album into a 65 minute demonstration in improvised interpretation. The result was one of the most talked about nights of Phish, not only for the performance that was experienced, but the potential of what was to come the next two nights and over their upcoming New Years run in Miami.
The first of three sets was bookended with haunted numbers, an opening sequence of “Buried Alive > Ghost” and a funk filled “Wolfman’s Brother” to close it out, steadily building the anticipation for the grand mystery of what this Chilling Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House set would end up being.
The stage and lighting were well done, per usual. The word in the casino was that the Cirque du Soleil show at MGM Grand, KÀ, was not in production that night, meaning the elaborate stage performances that Phish has become known for at their larger events would be accompanied by some of Vegas’ best. Phish began their set with “The Haunted House” inside of a haunted house that was pushed out onto a stage filled with smoke and a graveyard. An audio-visual highlight, “The Fuse” showed a slow burning fuse across the front of the haunted house which built the audience to froth and a jam that is hopefully heard in Miami. When the fuse went out, the walls from the house blew down and it was game on – the band was dressed in white tuxedos with ghoulish makeup, playing on top of this haunted house. The cheers were defeaning.
During “Dogs” the audience, naturally, howled along with the pre-recorded barks and screams and the band worked into a jam that could re-emerge in “I Saw it Again.” “Timber” was the first really spooky song of the night while “Your Pet Cat”, like all songs on the album, were introduced by Esther, a graveyard resident who kept the interpretation of the album true to the original by including the original narration.
The spaciest jam of the night, “Shipwreck”, was full of weirdness and had the deepest jam, in the vein of “Sand”, a looming threat in Set 3. “The Unsafe Bridge” became a Pulp Fiction-esque surf rocker while both dark and foreboding.
“The Chinese Water Torture” ended up being the song that sounded most like an above-standard Phish-jam while “The Birds” got deep and heavy and gave the crowd a gift in the form of Esther’s pre-recorded “They Attack!” serving as both a catalyst and bridge to the jams that developed. The set was ending on such a high note when “Martian Monster” followed “The Birds” with its own sound snipper with ‘Your Trip is Short’. Repeated over and over, the crowd caught on quickly during a 10 minute groove that never let up.
I look forward to finding out how this album came to the band’s attention and how their discussion of how to play this set developed, as well as how the night was produced and choreographed. Those who put the show together command respect for contributing such a major component to evening.
The third set kept the energy flowing, starting with “Punch You in the Eye > Golden Age > Tweezer > Heavy Things”, all of which flowed together seamlessly. Guyute was greeted with cheers for its rarity while “Sand” gave us the longest jam of the weekend, clocking in at 18 minutes and segued seamlessly into “Tweezer Reprise”. An encore of Leonard Cohen’s “Is this what you Wanted” referenced ghosts of a relationship haunting a house, and doubling as a question to difficult to please Phish fans. Page McConnell broke out the keytar for an appropriate “Frankenstein” cover that ended the night.
The introduction of brand new improv, a counterbalance to last year’s brand new album Wingsuit (later released in June as Fuego) was more than welcome by fans – there was no ambivalence here as nearly all saw this for what it was: Phish doing the unexpected and appealing to the pleas of fans who seek a greater degree of improvisational jamming.
We all won in Vegas with Phish. Each night kept getting better and we had reminders on the 1st and 2nd of November with some choice teases and jams. Never a dull moment to be had, Phish connected early with a surprise roundhouse and we enjoyed the bewilderment that followed through the bold choice of Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House.
Set 1: Buried Alive>Ghost, Scent of a Mule, Sample in a Jar, Reba, 46 Days, Big Black Furry Creature from Mars, Lawn Boy, Saw It Again>Tube, Wolfman’s Brother
Set 2: The Haunted House, The Very Long Fuse, The Dogs, Timber, Your Pet Cat, Shipwreck, The Unsafe Bridge, The Chinese Water Torture, The Birds, Martian Monster
Set 3: Punch You In the Eye>Golden Age>Tweezer->Heavy Things, Guyute, Sand->Tweezer Reprise
Encore: Is this What you Wanted, Frankenstein