Phish, Misdirection and Halloween -- What's In Store For Vegas 2014

Phish fans gambling on a one-of-a-kind Halloween experience in Vegas this fall, got a bit of a jolt earlier this week when Trey dropped this bomb in a recent interview with OregonLive.

“I don’t know that we’re going to cover anything this year, to be perfectly honest,” he said. “That’s the word I’m getting from the other guys. You never know. I’m guessing that we may have put that tradition to bed with the wink to ‘Fuego’.”

Which tells us exactly nothing.  Not only because of the wishy washy language, and vague "you never know" rhetoric, but even moreso because misdirection in advance of the gig is as old as the Phish Halloween tradition itself.

Twenty years ago, when the first Costume Album™ was introduced, there were endless possibilities and permutations discussed (and voted on) by fans.  But it wasn't until a first set Halloween "Harpua" which strongly suggested a Black Sabbath cover (a backwards masked "War Pigs" on Jimmy's record player), that offered the first glimpse that Phish was indeed listening to their fans.  A snippet of Pink Floyd used to intro set two also put the audience on alert, but soon after the now classic White Album choice was revealed.

The following year, these subtle, but false, hints started even earlier.  By October 21st, 1995, when the band took the stage in Lincoln, NE, Michael Jackson Thriller rumors were swirling all over  So, it was fuel to the fire when "Beat It" and "Black and White" teases found their way into that night's performance.  "Beat It" surfaced again in 10/27 and 10/29's "Possum"s, and made a final appearance, this time introduced as a song off "the very same album that Phish was playing as their Halloween album at Rosemont Horizon that night" during the "Harpua" in the first set of 10/31.   At the start of the second set, MJ's "Wanna Be Startin' Something" was piped in to the arena to set us up before Quadrophenia eventually knocked us all over.

Although misdirection was largely absent for '96 and '98 costume albums, plenty of people, myself included, considered the Playbill distributed on 10/31/96 declaring the choice of Remain In Light to potentially be a part of an elaborate ruse.  Why break with tradition and announce the album prior to those first notes being played?  Didn't some of that content in the Playbill lean towards the cheeky / jokey?

Eventually, it stood to reason that the effort and cost of printing such a souvenir would be a bit much for a joke.  This was confirmed (or was it?), when the "Forbin's" narration in the first set made a reference to a giant David Byrne carved out of stone, and ultimately led to the most influential album they've ever tackled.

Everything was big about Phish's return in 2009, including two huge "bluffs" that attempted to keep fans guessing about the event.  First was the elaborate map of the 48 contiguous states unveiled in June as a Save The Date for an until-then unknown event to take place from 10/30 to 11/1.

Every few days, some dramatic animated event would take a potential location for the festival off the map, from a sharp eastward wind blowing states away to a series of darts popping them.  Just when the rumor mill had built a head of steam regarding a festival in Indio, CA,  CALIFORNIA WAS CARRIED OFF THE MAP!  Many (rightfully) held tight to their travel plans and hotel reservations, while others exhibited some panic, or hope that the festival may end-up somewhere closer to their home.  As it turns out, California came back through the magic of a giant drill.  That's misdirection #1.

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After the Festival was announced, Phish launched a very cool web feature -- the House of 99 Albums.  In it, a gallery of classic albums were presented -- some with varying degrees of feasibility for a Phish cover.  Then, every few days a few choices were "killed" until only eight remained in advance of the festival.  It was, after all, Festival 8.

The festival's campgrounds were named for these albums: David Bowie's Hunky Dory, Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, Jimi Hendrix' Electric Ladyland, King Crimson's Larks Tongues In Aspic, MGMT's Oracular Spectacular, Prince's Purple Rain, Radiohead's Kid A and Rolling Stone's Exile On Main Street (the eventual choice and arguably the "safest" from the list of finalists).

Cool concept, made even cooler by the many "easter eggs"and weird little hints and misdirections that were dropped within the album covers and throughout the site during the countdown to the festival -- from adding Phish's faces to the Hello Nasty cover, to strange meta-data accompanying the Grateful Dead album.  All of this was meticulously documented by Todd Levy of and remains an interesting, if nostalgic, read now five years later.

It was in 2010, when Phish started using the media to advance their misdirection agenda. Pinky Kravitz is an Atlantic City gadfly who, under the auspice of being an insider, suggested that a "mockingbird" told him to "expect a Zeppelin" at Boardwalk Hall.  Sure, he was an insider, but apparently he was actually a plant.   The jig was up on 10/30, when the band ripped through sloppily played versions of "Heartbreaker", "Stairway To Heaven "and "Whole Lotta Love", the day before covering Waiting For Columbus.

After another two year break from the tradition, Phish announced their intentions for 2013 in no small of an outlet as Rolling Stone magazine.  It appeared that Genesis was not yet out of their system yet, and Trey definitely concedes that they'll be covering an album, and potentially with Peter Gabriel lending a hand on lead vocals.   Lies!  No album was covered in 2013, instead choosing the controversial move of debuting 12 new originals (some of which ended up on Fuego).

Now, Trey's blabbing all over the Portland press in an article ostensibly promoting his symphony gig, so go ahead and take that with a at least a small grain of salt.  Given the infrequency of Phish communicating with the media, I've got to think that this is perhaps a bit of a set up for whatever the band has up their sleeves.

Granted, in a post-Fuego / Wingsuit era, there is something backward-looking about going back to the well of covering another band's material.  But I have to say, as somebody who saw the silver lining in the Wingsuit choice, doing nothing special at all to acknowledge the holiday would be severely disappointing.  A whole other batch of new originals?  Not sure they have it in them.

Regardless, I hope the band looks at Halloween, cover or not, as a chance to woodshed, practice and come up with something a little new to add to the act.  Looking back at the strides made in 2014, I'd say the 2013 experiment has paid off.

And lest we forget, we have a run of shows prior to the Vegas run for more hints and misdirection.  Expect the unexpected (sort of).

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