I got to see the Phish 3D movie this last Friday night in Dallas, Texas. The film captured the 2009 Halloween sets from the Live 8 Festival in Indio, California. This movie is not a documentary. When the film starts the music begins. It is simply Phish doing what they do best, making music. Trey Anastasio shreds his guitar, twisting the strings and producing electrifying wails. Page McConnell tickles the ivory, textures the jams, and takes off on his own solos. Mike Gordon, the soloing bassist, drops deep thudding bass lines while the drummer John Fishman wears a polka-dotted dress behind a drum set pounding out tight rhythms. All four musicians sing. Blending funk, bluegrass, rock, reggae, and jazz, Phish defies genres fusing all into a bag of joy.
This was my first 3D concert experience. And it was better than expected. The beach balls, glow sticks, and balloons fluttered through the crowd and seemingly throughout the movie theatre. It was like being at a live concert, but with better views. In fact, it might be better than an actual concert in terms of visibility. because you get to see so many different perspectives. Perhaps the live music concert is better because you get to experience the music in the moment, in the heat of the spontaneous jam sessions, and among the Phishhead culture, but in the movie theatre Trey leaps off the screen as I sit sipping a beer and eating nachos.
As the film begins Phish goes into one of their old school jams “AC/DC Bag.” Then the band plays a track from the new album Joy entitled “Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan.” Next, I really liked the rockin’ version of “Undermind.” The light show was spectacular at this festival. Smoke floated by in 3D with lights piercing and slicing through the smoke into the movie theatre. As the song “Tweezer” started the lights turned a cold blue and Fishman donned a toboggan. We stepped inside a freezer and ceased her with a tweezer! From out of the freezer we emerged into the “Maze,” building and building until we eventually exploded out into space. Then we returned to earth with “Mike’s Song,” which rounded out a very strong night-time set.
The film then briefly shows some daytime scenes of the festival grounds, including the large piece of art known as the Squirming Coil. From there it cuts to the band taking to the stage with acoustic instruments. They embark on an acoustic jam that starts with “Back On The Train” from 2000’s release Farmhouse. From there the boys dig back into their catalog for a sweet version of “Strange Design.” Then Phish picks up the pace on “The Curtain With.” A trippy “Sleep Again” is followed by a sensational climaxing “Wilson.” The set concludes with “Train Song” from 1996’s release Billy Breathes.
In the third and final set Phish 3D explores a staple in the Phish phenomena, covering an album in its entirety. In this case Phish covers the legendary Rolling Stones album Exile on Main Street. Unfortunately there is not enough time for the film to cover the entire album or “musical costume” in a short movie, but we do get to see some of the highlights. Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings join the band for this wonderful set of music. First we see Phish playing “Loving Cup,” which must be one of their favorites. I actually saw Phish play this song in the 1990s at Southpark Meadows in Austin, Texas. The Exile on Main Street set also includes rollicking soulful versions of “Happy,” “Shine A Light,” and “Soul Survivor.” The film winds down with a fired up version of “Suzy Greenberg” anchored by the horns and electric voices of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings. Phish’s big screen adventure concludes with the crowd pleasing “Tweezer Reprise.”