, attached to 2009-10-31

Review by toddmanout

toddmanout October 31st, 2009. Hallowe’en. Day two of a three-day Phish festival in hot, sunny southern California. A very festive and highly anticipated day indeed.

Woke up in the tent, found some coffee and breakfast, explored the nifty art installations that had been artistically installed throughout the site, chose to strike out on the very cool event poster – I just wasn’t up to spending half my morning standing in the blazing sun waiting to spend $50 on a piece of paper – and enjoyed a slow afternoon chatting with m’lady and our campsite neighbours.

On our way into the first set the Hallowe’en handbills were being distributed throughout the crowd. It was now official: after months of teasing and speculation Phish would be covering Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones for their musical costume this year. I was over the moon; one of my favourite bands covering one of my favourite bands, and with a horn section and a pair of backup singers, including the great Sharon Jones (1956-2016)! The crowd (or was it just me?) was tingling with anticipation.

With the Hallowe’en set nigh upon us, Phish’s super-early first set felt like an opening band – the group excited and striving to grab the attention of a crowd more interested in the next act that would be hitting the stage. In truth it was a standard, nothing special first set; Sample opener, the excellent and always fun Divided Sky, Lawnboy, Bathtub Gin, Possum, and an Antelope closer, a song I invariably don’t recognize until Trey implores me to set my gearshift to the high gear of my soul. M’lady invariably finds this quite amusing.

At setbreak the whole crowd went back to their tents to get in costume for the Hallowe’en set. M’lady and I had spent hours and hours (and hours and hours) over the previous few months making our costumes based on a vest I had made for Burning Man 2001. For the freaky desert fest in Nevada I had glued a bunch of plastic googly-eyes all over the front of a vest. It was my daily uniform at Burning Man and I had pulled it out on a few special occasions since.

So m’lady and I went to the local craft store and bought a bunch of googly-eyes – I mean hundreds of them – and a bottle of glue. We started glueing the googly-eyes to some bargain-store formal attire and ran out before we could blink. Back to the craft store we went, buying out their entire googly-eye stock. (Curiously, in craft industry parlance they are actually called “wiggle eyes”.)

After a week of spending several hours each night sitting around the dinner table glueing googly-eyes we ran out again. Luckily the store had restocked so we bought them out. We must have gone back to the craft store five times to empty their shelves, and I swear we spent fifty or sixty hours glueing.

And in the end I had pants, jacket, tie, shoes, hat, and my old vest while m’lady had a skirt, blouse, hair pin, wallet, bracelet, shoes and a necklace, all covered with thousands upon thousands of hand-glued googly-eyes, from as large as an old silver dollar to teensy-tiny ones literally a single millimetre in diameter. We were the Great Googly Mooglies.

After carefully shuttling all of this across the continent we went to the tent and donned our outfits. We finally got to strut our stuff and I tell you, people were impressed! We sounded like the ocean when we walked, as with every step came the whoosh of countless tiny plastic discs looking around their little plastic domes.

The only two downsides: a) we both left a trail of googly-eyes everywhere we went as a few would drop of now and again, though at least we’d be sure to find our way home, and b) gravity made it look like our clothes were always staring at the ground. A lot.

Which couldn’t be more wrong, because when Phish came out and slayed one of the world’s great rock albums our eyes were on the stage the whole time.

We stayed near the back of the crowd, which wasn’t too far from the stage given the width of the polo field and the relatively small crowd of 30,000 or so. Back there we had plenty of room to dance and rock out, and dance and rock out we did. I thought the band sounded really, really great – they had certainly rehearsed this one – and the horns and backup vocals were stupendous. The light show was amazing as always, augmented by the strategic lighting of the rows of palm trees that stretched out peripherally from the stage in both directions.

Almost every song was a highlight, though Loving Cup was the best ever. Torn and Frayed was stellar and Shine A Light was pretty great too. It encapsulated the feeling of togetherness of the whole thing; a bit of rock and roll advice we all follow, preached by the band(s) we love the most.

The third set was fuelled by the excitement of the whole evening and though a bit short in time, it was nothing short of spectacular. Dressed to the nines, we all communed while the band rollicked through a handful of their best jammy tunes – Fluffhead, Ghost, and a YEM that featured an ethereal vocal jam under a stunning wide desert sky – but the Suzy Greenberg encore was just off the hook. The horn players and backup singers had returned to the stage and the band raged their three-chord rocker like it was a victory lap. We had all just won the race together and the energy that was pulsing back and forth between the stage and the crowd swelled with exponential greatness. It was the best song of the entire weekend (imagine that!) and the best Suzy Greenberg ever played. Frankly, they should have retired the song. Every version since can only sound like a weakened, second-rate cover of the version they did to close this night.

Simultaneously spent and energized, the costumed crowd dispersed to join a thousand parties. And while the bustling, celebratory collection of happy souls was full of festive disguises both grand and outrageous one thing I can promise you: for the entire evening all eyes were on us.

Except for the ones that fell off, of course.



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