The Las Vegas Strip has its own chilling, thrilling sounds. The sounds of the slot machines. The strip-club hawkers urging you to come visit their club. The dance music and throbbing techno beats. These are the sounds of the strip – some people find the sounds thrilling, others chilling, but one thing for sure is Phish has now left a record of their music on the Strip that will continue to haunt, amaze, chill, and thrill.
The perfect amount of time to spend in Las Vegas is 48 hours. 48 hours gives you enough time to Do Vegas TM right and leave just before things start to spiral downhill. For Phish, seeing all three nights would have been great, but when professional and personal commitments get in the way, the 48 hour plan goes into full effect. Just Do Vegas TM. This is the story of my 48 hour trip to Las Vegas for the Phish From Vermont at Halloween.
The heart of Vegas, the beating artery that pumps money through the veins of the town, is the Strip. But there is also a Vegas away from the Strip, the places where people live and have houses. This is where my group found itself – instead of going for hotel rooms and running up tour bills, we decided to rent a house where 15 of use could stay in relative comfort, each with our own beds, a backyard with a pool, and a kitchen to cook in – and do it at a fraction of the cost than it would have if we stayed on the Strip.
As with any weekend long Phish experience, the first day was all nerves and excitement. People arrived to our backyard oasis throughout the day Friday. Longtime friends greeted each other warmly, for others, introductions were made and new friendships and connections were developed, but the nervous energy that pulsed through the group never waned and got stronger and stronger with each successive wave of new arrivals. Surprisingly, however, there was very little talk of the show and very little speculation about what they would do. Part if it had to do with beautiful 80 degree weather and a pool, but I think last year’s Wingsuit experiment taught everyone to expect the unexpected, so why even bother trying to guess? Whatever happens, happens. It is Vegas after all.
Given the “no expectations” attitude of the group, I even surprised myself that I wasn’t obsessively checking Twitter to see what the story was. It wasn’t until we boarded the bus for the show that I glanced at my phone and saw they were doing Chilling, Thrilling. Like most, I had no idea what it was. I thought it was going to be more of a Fantasia like album with instrumental arrangements and a story and what-not and thought that it would be very cool to see them pull off something very theatrical. As we made our way towards the venue (with a quick stop for a photo-op with the group at the Las Vegas sign) I polled the group: “Do we to know what the album will be?”, I asked. The response was a resounding “No!”. No expectations.
The MGM was packed upon our arrival. Having never been, I just went with the flow and we followed the crowd done the long hallway towards the entrance. Costumes were great. Everyone was in a festive spirit. Getting in wasn’t so much a hastle and my group managed to find enough space for a bunch of us in the 200s in the rear of the arena Page side.
The first set was dark and deep. I was having a conversation with the rest of the OPT crew the other day and we were talking about first sets. I said that I don’t mind when first sets are just a bunch of songs, with one or two extended excursions thrown in for good measure. This was not one of those sets. A second song Ghost sets the tone. I called Reba with about a minute left in Sample. Tube was too short, even by short Tube standards. The set had a dark, menacing feel to it.
~You are an intrepid Phish follower. You expertly anticipate and appreciate the things the band does, but nothing can prepare you for the unexpected.~
Again, we had no preconceived notions of what was to come. Last year with Wingsuit we knew there would be actual songs, but what was this mystery old-school Disney album? Again, I was thinking this was some sort of orchestral, Fantasia-like old school Disney. Now knowing what I know, I have no idea how they got the idea to do this. It was a true musical costume. They dressed up this weird, scary, spooky sound effects album and made it theirs. It was a remarkable feat.
Still buzzing from set two, set three kept it all going. Tweezer>Heavy Things was good, despite it being Tweezer>Heavy Things. Sand>Schools Out jam>Tweeprise was awesome too. Good to know that sometimes when I hear things in songs they are actually there. I was ready for School’s Out. But, instead of School’s Out we got some weird-ass Leonard Cohen song for the encore. The message of the song was well received, but the song was kind of awkward. Regardless, once the Chilling, Thrilling crowd was released back out on Vegas, nobody was talking about Leonard Cohen – we were all looking for the closest haunted house to relive the experience.
Having our own oasis in the desert was extremely helpful. Doing Vegas TM makes you go hard. If you stay in the casinos, you go harder. There is no respite from the buzzing, pulsing Strip in the hotels. But rent your own house with a pool? You can live life like a normal human recovering from a night of the Phish and still live out your tour fantasies, but in your own safe, secure environment without a care in the world.
Night two began much in the same way night one did. Go deep and do it early and often. The set started off with good energy, but things changed during MFMF. During My Friend, an energy took over the crowd. I think everyone’s hangover ended at about the same time, during the ending of the song when the band is building the dissonance and making things crazy. The crowd just exploded out of nowhere – there were no cues, no big peaks, no builds, none of the normal stuff that gets a crowd off, but the crowd went off anyway. They were hooting and hollering so loudly you couldn’t hear the band. It was very impressive.
Set two was spectacular. There was a glow worm, and you know it’s a good show when the glow worm shows up. The howling in Light was the clear highlight, which unfortunately, didn’t translate that well onto the recording. It was one of those “had to be there to experience it” moments. Additional thoughts on the howling: I think we are entering a new era of call and response action with the band. The origins of this can be traced by to the “woo”, but now that Phish has these howls and other sound effects to play with, I think you are going to see these crowd-band interactions greatly increase.
I do have to take a moment to chide the band for a few missteps:
• Hood. I get that they don’t want to play the same shit over and over again and sometimes need to reinvent songs to make them feel relevant, but I didn’t really care for this Hood. First off, the original drum intro needs to come back. However Fishman is currently doing it just isn’t working. You need to hear those drums thump that tell you it’s Hood time. Second, the jam needs to peak differently. Hood is all about the build, that’s kinda the whole point to the song. The build on 11/1 was pretty much non-existent. They played a very beautiful quiet jam then all of a sudden, while it was still down low, Trey decided to kick into the ending section. That’s not the way its supposed to work. You build to that.
• Set closers. Golgi finished the set. Everyone was revved up. Ticket stubs were in-hand. What was the point of BDTNL at that point? If BDTNL means so much to Trey and he must play it at that moment, save it for the encore. Golgi should have closed that set.
• Sing Monica. I like Sing Monica. Decent encore song. But with the aforementioned BDTNL and on the heels of Waiting All Night (also a song I like) better placement would have been in the Velvet Sea slot, but whatevs. This song needed to get everyone fired up again. Sing Monica is the early 90s poppy neo-jamband anthem that Phish never wrote, circa HORDE with Blues Traveler, DMB, and Widespread Panic (and that is meant as a compliment).
After the show we spilled out onto the floor of the MGM. The previous night we left through a side door that led directly out to the street, but tonight I wanted to walk through the casino. I always feel bad for people who innocently end up being somewhere that Phish is and wanted to see how the casino fared. Score one for the phans. We dominated the post-show casino action. People were having disco dance parties on the casino floor. It was a mob scene and it was all us with some bewildered onlookers wondering if this was just Vegas, or if it was a giant w00ked out flash mob. Late-night Greensky Bluegrass at Brooklyn Bowl was the order this night and it was a great way to close things out. Back to the house before the sun. Wash, rinse, repeat.
And that’s where 48 hours in Vegas comes in. I did all I needed to do. Didn’t sit at one table, which was OK. Had I stayed for Sunday night, it might have busted me. I mean I could have done Sunday, but sometimes you have to walk away from the table to collect your winnings. Recognizing that moment and getting out of there still standing, but feeling like I still pushed it all the way to the edge, is a very satisfying feeling because you rarely beat the house. Vegas does that to you. Phish does that to you. Put them together and its an explosive combination of two very volatile elements, but the results are spectacular. You have a crowd that is completely dialed in from the first note to the last, with energy for days. Seeing a show in Vegas is something every dedicated phan should do, like seeing one at Hampton, Red Rocks, or any other storied locale. I’m glad I got mine in.
So where does Chilling, Thrilling rank? I don’t know yet. I think it will be just as impactful on the band’s sound as Remain in Light was. I think it’ll be viewed as a monumental of an achievement as the White Album was. It’ll be viewed as ballsy as Wingsuit was. The jamzz were inspired and the setlist material excellent. The howling during Light is something I’ll never forget, ushering in the era of call-and-response Phish, so get your “woos” in, learn how to bark, and set your clocks for the next 48 hours in Vegas.