Friday, November 1, 2013

Phish Wears "WingSuit" on Halloween in Atlantic City

I closely monitored the Phish message boards in the days leading up to their Halloween show to see if news of which classic album they would be covering had leaked.  No definitive spoilers ever surfaced.  We would have to wait until the doors to Atlantic City's Boardwalk Hall opened at 6:30pm on 10/31/13 when folks entering the venue were handed a “Phishbill” with this announcement.
Phish - Boardwalk Hall - Atlantic City, NJ - 10/31/13 (photo from @PHISH_FTR)
Up until last night, Phish had played 6 Halloween concerts since 1994, and on all of those occasions the 2nd of 3 sets has been a cover of a classic album by another band as their “musical costume”, including The Beatles’ White Album, Talking Heads’ Remain in Light and the Velvet Underground’s Loaded.  Rumors this year included Eat A Peach by the Allman Brothers, On the Road by Traffic, and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway by Genesis.  These all turned out to be bunk.

As fans entered the show they were informed however, via the Phishbill, that Phish would be playing their own, as yet unreleased album, tentatively titled Wingsuit.  This probably explains why very little new material had been introduced thus far in 2013 during the summer and fall tours…Phish was waiting to unleash 12 brand new songs for the first time on Halloween night.  When I found this out I immediately ordered the webcast.
Phishbill cover - Wingsuit
Phish seemed unusually nervous in what was sort of an obligatory 1st set.  I enjoyed the “Phishy” songs like Poor Heart, Silent in the Morning and Mound, and would like to have seen more of those instead of the somewhat generic rockers like Back on the Train and Kill Devil Falls.  Maybe those loping Americana type songs help alleviate the jitters?  I dunno.  I wasn’t too concerned about the 1st set anyway, as the focus was obviously on what was about to happen in the 2nd set of the night.

After a break where the webcast displayed some hilarious pictures of fans in the costume contest, Phish came back on to play the Wingsuit portion of the show.  I’m a natural skeptic and wasn’t initially sold on the 1st 3 songs.  It also seemed like the crowd in the Boardwalk Hall wasn’t quite on board with it either, but it’s hard to be sure from the webcast.  Phish is a band that relies on familiarity and crowd interaction; it’s tough to do that with never before heard songs.  Then things started to change. 

The 4th song Monica hooked me in and I began to really warm to the idea of what Phish was laying on us…this was going to go down in Phishtory as one of their ballsiest performances ever.  All new material that none of us even knew they were writing, being introduced as the musical costume in the 2nd set of a Halloween show???  What if it flopped?  How could it flop?
Phishbill - Wingsuit song list
I began second-guessing my first impressions of the first 3 songs and wanted to go back and listen to them again, but there was no chance of that in the moment, because the songs just kept coming...each one distinct from the last.  From song 4 all the way to the very end, with the possible exception of the last song You Never Know, I was very impressed by the Wingsuit songs.  I loved the fresh arrangements that sounded foreign yet familiar, and the stripped down, acoustic portions of the set requiring a different stage setup. 

It was obvious that Phish had really been working on this music to get it ready for performance, taking great care to definitively present these debut renditions.  Almost all classic Phish styles were represented, from proggy composed pieces, to funky groove numbers, to quirky acoustic folk ditties, to psychedelic jam vehicles...even one called Winterqueen that had a catchy Caribbean vibe to it.

Apparently the 12 songs that were played as Wingsuit are part of a larger batch of about 25 that they are preparing to take into the studio as soon as the Atlantic City run is done on 11/2.  The final album, if it does end up being called Wingsuit, will likely contain some, but maybe not all of the songs performed during this Halloween set, and could contain additional songs which were not debuted on this night. 



What I heard on the webcast gives me great confidence that after 30 years as a band, Phish is still a vital, creative ensemble that is not only constantly reexamining and breaking new ground within its past body of work, but is also still pushing forward with new compositions that expand upon its vast repertoire.  Wingsuit has the potential to be a great album.  I hope Phish jumps right back on these songs and plays some of them again over the next two nights before the Fall tour is over, to give them even more of a work out before heading into the studio.


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