“This is what space smells like. You will always remember where you were.” This profound and catchy lyric came from what was perhaps the most Phishy set that Phish has ever played. The boys from Vermont made up a fake Scandinavian prog-rock band, complete with backstory and all, and “covered” their album for their Halloween musical costume set in Las Vegas. It was an incredible weekend inside and out of the MGM Grand Garden Arena. Read on for a full recap of the 4-night Phish Halloween run in Sin City.
Night 1: Faceplant into Rock
Just like the NYE run in 2014 – where we just so happened to get engaged – the big night was actually the first one thanks to Halloween falling on a Wednesday. Rather than build up to the show on the 31st, it was the first out of four. We donned our Day of the Dead costumes in a nod to our new home of Mexico and headed out to the MGM Grand.
Watching a sea of costumed Phishheads stream across the casino floor and into the venue was tons of fun. We brought a bag of beers and just hung out by the Lobby Bar to see the madness unfold. Of course, we had to snap a photo when we saw some guys dressed as a mariachi musician and a lucha libre wrestler.
There were lots of great costumes out there, but our favorite had to be the guy dressed as a giant nitrous tank followed by the girl with a handful of balloons. As if that wasn’t hilarious enough, a Makisupa Policeman caught up with them and started writing them a ticket. We even ran into an actual Jibboo! I thoroughly enjoyed watching the reactions of non-phans who came out for what they thought would be a normal old night of gambling. Not when the Phish is in town!
As is always the case, anticipation was at a fever-pitch in the lead-up to Phish Halloween. Two years ago, they honored David Bowie with a cover of his legendary Ziggy Stardust album. Many phans thought the band would go a similar direction this year and offer up a cover of either the Allman Brothers or Tom Petty to honor recently departed rock legends. In typical Phish fashion, though, they did the exact opposite.
“I’m the glue in your magnet…”
Despite the massive amount of hype and speculation, Phish managed to keep their musical costume set a complete secret until doors opened this year. Walking into the arena, fans were handed a Phishbill with an album cover reminiscent of a scene from a small town in Sweden (or Norway I suppose). Flipping through the pages, we learned that they’d be covering the obscure Scandinavian band Kasvot Växt, whose name translates as “Faceplant” and their album í rokk, which means “into rock.” For the 2018 Phish Halloween set, the audience was ready to faceplant into rock.
Reading the Phishbill, we discovered that the band and album have quite the tale. According to the story, all the existing copies of the album were either tossed into a fjord or burned in a warehouse fire. The band members met as either scientists or subjects when they lived on a remote research bunker in Greenland. It was speculated that the album was made as part of “a top-secret performance-enhancing government experience.”
The band even went so far as to get radio stations and websites in on the gag. Confusion took over, as fans in attendance and on the internet tried to figure out exactly what to expect. According to Fishman, we could expect “A weird, funky Norwegian dance party!” Before we could get there, though, there was a “normal” set of Phish, if such a thing exists.
Set One: Happy Halloween!
To kick off Phish Halloween 2018, the band went with the spooky pairing of “Buried Alive” into “Ghost.” They opened their first Halloween run at the MGM back in 2014 with the same combo, which is the perfect way to start a Halloween set. While the Ghost from Nashville will certainly live on as the star of this tour, the Vegas version was quite solid as well.
Next up came the Gordon tune “Crazy Sometimes” before a romp through “Free.” The latter saw a nice duel between Trey and Mike, which I always love to see come out of that song. It was time for some dad-rock next, as we got the uplifting “More.” This song has been ending a lot of first sets lately, but it worked well in the middle as well.
From there we were taken through “Halley’s Comet” > “Ocelot” > “Theme from the Bottom.” There was some nice jamming in this sequence, as well as a much-needed breather to empty bladders and refill waters. We had decent seats on Page side (rage side) in the upper level, which made getting in and out super easy. There really isn’t a bad seat in the house at the MGM, aside from a few poor saps who get stuck behind the giant support columns.
The first set came to an end with a rocking “First Tube,” as Trey was in full on rock-star mode in a sign of things to come. As soon as the song finished, black curtains enveloped the stage in darkness. During the set break, fans speculated as to just what was in store for the musical costume.
Set Two: We Will Come to Outlive Our Brains
To start the second set, the black curtains dropped to reveal a white curtain around the band. When the lights came up, we noticed the band completely dressed in white (including Fish’s stylish white moo-moo), with white instruments in tow as well. I couldn’t help but shout out “They dressed like cocaine!”
According to the Phisbhill, the first song was “Turtle in the Clouds.” As promised, it was super funky and sounded straight out of Norway. We even got a goofy choreographed dance from Trey and Mike during this one. The sensory overload was in full swing, as the stage itself turned into a light show and twelve colorful cubes were lowered from the ceiling.
The next tune was “Stray Dog,” which featured some more sick dance moves. The dark and dirty “Everything is Hollow” came next. Page sang the line “Bright white light shining right between my eyes” as a bright white light did in fact shine between his eyes. Oh Phish, you’re so silly. I was convinced at this point that the whole thing was a gag, but Rachel still thought it could possibly be a real cover album. Silly Rachel.
By the time the band got to “We Are Come to Outlive Our Brains,” it was clear to all that Phish had invented a fake Scandinavian prog-rock band and written their own unique music to match what they may have sounded like. Well played, Phish. “Say it to Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” followed – a tune that will have us all singing “This is what space smells like” for years to come.
The back half of the album kicked off with “The Final Hurrah,” which finally gave us the lyrics “faceplant into rock!” Page also had it cued up in a Scandinavian lady’s voice in samples reminiscent of their legendary Chilling, Thrilling Halloween album from 2014.
There really is no show quite like Phish Halloween. We’ve been to the last two now, and only wish we had been able to attend more. If they keep this every other year in Vegas thing up, expect to see us return for round three in 2020.
“I hope someone notices me…”
This line was repeated several times in the next tune, “Play by Play.” The song wound down with some ambient jamming that reminded many in attendance of the famous Tower Jam at the band’s IT festival back in 2003. Next up was “Death Don’t Hurt Very Long” – a slow, groovy track with spooky lyrics that were very fitting for a Phish Halloween set.
We had two more songs for the musical costume, starting with “Cool Amber and Mercury.” At this point in the set, there was no doubt that this was original Phish music. Trey sure loves using “mercury” (and “soul” for that matter) in song titles these days, doesn’t he? The finale “Passing Through” had some great harmonies from the band and was the perfect way to end the set.
Far different from the 2013 Halloween show where Phish debuted a soon-to-be-released album, it’s not clear what the band has in mind for these new songs. Hopefully
some all of them will stick in the rotation. I know I can’t wait to hear a few of them again in a few weeks at MSG!
Set Three: Step into the Freezer
Once the dust had settled on the Phish Halloween set, it was time to jump back into familiar territory with Set Three. The band launched into “Set Your Soul Free,” a fitting choice considering the ad on the back of the Phishbill for Soul Cycle – a spinning course led by none other than Trey. This song has been a beast of a jam-vehicle since its debut and this version was no different.
From there, it was time to step into the freezer once again. “Tweezer” is always fun to see, especially in the 3rd set of a Phish Halloween show. The jam took an ambient turn towards the end, eventually segueing into “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing.” This set was all about the Type II jamming, as we had three in a row to kick it off. Just how I like it!
It had been a long night, so it wasn’t surprising when the band broke into “Backwards Down the Line” to slow things down a bit. Many bemoan getting this song towards the end of a show, but I really don’t mind it. The start gives you a minute to catch your breath and make a quick bathroom/beer run, and by the time you get back to your seats they’re ripping through the end.
Phish fans are a hardcore bunch. We travel from far and wide to see our heroes play for us. Our neighbors throughout the Halloween run were a nice couple who flew all the way from Tokyo just to see Phish in Vegas. We chatted with the aid of Google Translate during the set breaks and told them about our travels to Japan. How fitting that Phish gave us a “Meatstick” on Halloween so we could all sing in Japanese!
We got another breather with “Bug,” which probably generated a lot of sighs in the room but was fine by me. Without performance enhancers, I was struggling just to stay on my feet at the end of this one. The whole room jumped up for one more rocker, though, as the band brought it home with “Run Like an Antelope.” This might be the quintessential Phish song, as it was the one they performed in their one and only appearance on The Simpsons.
Many great shows have ended with a “Loving Cup” encore, and we can go ahead and add Phish Halloween 2018 to the list. As if that weren’t enough, we got a “Tweezer Reprise” to send us off onto the casino floor. I’m not a gambling man, but the odds are always in your favor when Phish plays a Vegas run. We sure felt like winners on this night!
While there were plenty of after parties going on, we opted to just hang out with friends who we don’t get to see very often. As we had tickets for all three Disco Biscuits late-nights to come, it was a good call to try and conserve our energy a bit for the rest of the run.
Night Two: You Got One Life, Blaze On!
Holy shit I just wrote a lot about Halloween night! In order to not make this blog post a novel, I’ll try to cruise through the other three nights of the Phish Halloween run a bit more quickly…
Before we headed to the show, we managed to sneak in a round of KISS mini-golf at the Rio, which was right across the street from our Airbnb. I highly recommend checking it out next time you’re in Vegas. The 18th hole is Gene Simmons’ tongue. How cool is that?!
We made our way to the MGM early to enjoy more shenanigans on the casino floor, where I promptly donned my brand spanking new uni-cow onesie. It may have been November 1st, but plenty of other freaks joined me in continuing to play dress up.
I made the call for an “AC/DC Bag” opener on night two and almost got it. First up was a little foray into Type II dad-rock with “Everything’s Right.” After some solid improv to kick things off, we finally got to scream “let’s get this show on the road!”
We had our best seats of the run for night two and were treated to some serious CK5 eye candy. The music was on point as well, as we got a solid run of Phish 1.0 tunes starting out with “Bag” and continuing with “Wolfman’s Brother,” “Nellie Kane,” “Funky Bitch,” and “Chalkdust Torture.” With the amount of jamming going on, this sure didn’t feel like a first set. That “Wolfman’s” in particular is well worth another listen.
Page channeled his inner lounge singer to lead us through a version of “I Been Around,” a very fitting tune for Vegas thanks to the lyrics “I threw it down a while. And the town threw down on me.” And throw it down we did! We got back to back tunes off the band’s 2009 release Joy as the title track came next. While many in attendance use this song as an opportunity to sprint to the bathroom and bar, we stayed put. First of all, the lines get huge during this song. Second, it was a really solid version featuring some excellent light work from Kuroda.
Taking us through all eras of Phish in one set, the lone 2.0 song of the show closed set one with “Walls of the Cave.” It’s not my favorite tune, but it works well in the first set closing slot and always gets the crowd rocking into the break.
Set Two kicked off with the stoner anthem “Blaze On,” which was a great call for the first Phish Vegas run with legal weed. I’ve never seen a Phish show resemble a Cheech & Chong scene as much as I did during this song. While the fans lit up doobies all over the arena, Phish and CK5 lit it up on stage. A smooth segue into “No Men in No Man’s Land” kept the crunchy grooves going. This song was a beast on fall tour, consistently serving as a launching pad for some huge jams.
Phish didn’t let up as they continued the onslaught with an epic sequence of “Fuego” > “Twist” > “Prince Caspian” > “Twist.” I won’t bother trying to write about this one, as I was busy trying to scrape the pieces of my brain off the floor during it. Just listen to it. This whole show was a beast.
We finally got a quick breather with “Bouncing Around the Room,” which gave us time to get our shit together for our evening commute over to the Bisco late-night. In a scene that is very Phish Vegas, I realized I still had one of those free mini bottles of tequila you get when you buy beers at the MGM. Without a chaser, I took the mandarin orange out of my bag and made a homemade margarita in my mouth. It was a nice treat to enjoy during a massive “Harry Hood” to close the second set.
For the encore, we got the best song ever about tires with “Contact” before a run through Trey’s super upbeat “Rise/Come Together.” Overall a solid encore to end a fantastic night two in Vegas. The party was just starting for us, though, as we jumped on the monorail and headed up to the Brooklyn Bowl for a Disco Biscuits dance party. I’ll have a recap on those shows another day. For now, on with the Phish!
Night Three: Mercury Comes Out at Night
It was a slow start for us on day three, as we lounged around the pool and took our dear sweet time getting to the venue. After all, it’s a marathon, not a sprint! We made it into the venue just in time for the opening notes of “Cavern.” This is one of my favorite songs to see live, and this was the first time I ever saw it open a show. What a way to kick things off on night three in Vegas!
Next up was a little bluegrass with “Beauty of My Dreams” before one of the biggest bust-outs of the run with “If I Could.” It’s such a beautiful song and Phish rarely ever plays it these days, so that was a nice treat after the trick on Halloween. Our buddy Pete who was with us absolutely fucking loves “Weigh,” and we got that one next.
From there we got to dip our toes in the “Sand,” which was super funky as usual. A solid “Back on the Train” followed before we flashed back to the Phish Halloween show from 2014 with the fan-favorite “Martian Monster.” Because of the incredible speed of our rocket, our trip was short. Next up was an absolutely massive take on “Mercury” that went a whopping 25 minutes – in the first set! This one is already getting tons of love for the “jam of the tour,” so be sure to check it out if you haven’t!
The first set came to an end with the classic “Suzy Greenberg,” which has some of the best lyrics for Phish in Vegas – “Suzy’s about as faithful as a slot machine. Pays off once in a while but then she robs you clean.” Just like that and we were already at the halfway point for night three.
Set Two started off with “Soul Planet,” the song that took phans into 2018 at the band’s NYE show in New York. I wasn’t a huge fan at first, but this one is starting to grow on me. You have to admit that it’s a catchy one, and the jams have been pretty solid as well. Things got wild next with a huge “Down with Disease” including “Oye Como Va” teases. Many had hoped for a Santana sit-in as he was also in Vegas, but this was the closest we got.
The end of “Disease” morphed into the best song about an ugly pig ever written with “Guyute.” I caught this at my first show and always love seeing it live. Next up was the elusive “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley,” which is definitely one of my favorite cover songs. I could see them play this at every show and wouldn’t complain at all.
Our journey through the second set continued with a pairing of “Light” > “Slave to the Traffic Light.” In a city with as many bright lights as Vegas, this was a fitting way to wind down the show. In the encore slot, we got some classic Fish shenanigans as he made his way to the front of the stage with his vacuum for a run through “Hold Your Head Up” > “Bike” > “Hold Your Head Up.” With Trey shouting out encouragement for “Bob Weaver!”, Fish gave twerking his best shot. After all the laughs, the band had one more rocker in them with a cover of Zeppelin’s “Good Times Bad Times.”
Rather than hop on the monorail, we decided to walk through the casino and up the Strip to the late night. As the Phish crowd poured out into the MGM, the shitty cover band playing in one of the bars there busted into a version of “Friend of the Devil” that started a little sing-along and dance party right on the casino floor. It’s hilarious scenes like this that make Vegas one of my absolute favorite places to see Phish.
We made our way up the Strip with street beers in hand, dodging the strip club flier guys and the hammered drunk Chads en route to the Biscuits show. With my badass flamingo shirt on, you know I had to stop for a quick photo opp at the Flamingo.
Night Four: God Never Listens to What I Say
For the fourth and final night, we were actually in pretty good shape. I heard plenty of people bragging about not sleeping at all during the run, but I’m glad I caught a few hours of z’s every night and managed to stay hydrated. Feeling like shit at a show is no fun, especially when you have two of them to go to in one night. We still partied hard all weekend, but managed to make it home without the w00k flu. Score!
After 80+ Phish shows, this was my first time getting seats behind the stage. We figured we’d check it out for at least the first set and get a new perspective on the show. The night kicked off with “The Moma Dance,” which is one of the best show openers in my humble opinion. The rocking “Kill Devil Falls” came next, eventually slowing down into the beautiful “Roggae.” The slow jams continued with “Water in the Sky” before Mike took over on his tune “555.”
It was time to pick up the pace with the fan-favorite “Tube” next. I’m thrilled that jammed out tubes are once again a commonality at Phish shows, and this version definitely did just that. In a bit of a fake-out, the band slowed it right back down by going into “Farmhouse.” Say what you will about this tune, but it’s responsible for getting me and probably several thousand others into the band. It’s the gateway drug of Phish tunes!
Set One ended with a bang as we got taken on a musical journey through “Mike’s Song” > “Lifeboy” > “Weekapaug Groove.” The gorgeous ballad “Lifeboy” rarely gets played these days, and it had only been sandwiched in “Mike’s Groove” once before, way back in ’96 at Deer Creek. This was an excellent ending stanza for the final first set of Phish’s fall tour.
As far as sitting behind the stage goes, it was alright. We were in the first row and had a pretty nice view of the stage and light show on the crowd, but the sound just wasn’t that great. It was cool to check it out for a set, but we moved to the other side of the arena to sit with my brother and cousin for the second set. Thankfully their first set neighbors never returned, and we got a solid spot to watch the final set of the run.
According to the setlist on phish.net, the second set was one massive segue. It started out with a huge “Carini” that included quotes from the Halloween set and then melted into “46 Days.” The elusive “Scents and Subtle Sounds” followed, minus the intro. I’ve always loved this song since Phish debuted it back in 2003 when I was but a young newb and was happy to see it again.
In a nod to their ’96 Halloween show, Phish then busted into a cover of the Talking Heads with “Crosseyed and Painless.” This one is always fun to see live, and while this version may not have been groundbreaking it was still a good one. Rachel went wild for the “2001” that came next, as did the 20,000 other hippies in attendance. I figured they had to play this one with the shows being at the MGM Grand and all. For a minute there, it felt like the entire arena was about to take off into outer space.
With the rest of the second set, the band led us through a ripping version of “Possum” before going out into the great beyond with a mind-fuck rendition of “Split Open & Melt.” This one went on for a solid 20 minutes with plenty of musical twists and turns. Just like that, and the lights were up on another epic Phish Halloween run.
For the final encore of tour, the Phish from Vermont went with the ballad “Wading in the Velvet Sea” to start. I was wading in one of the swivel chairs in the box seats, as the security guards had finally given up on keeping the w00ks out. The fist-pumping “Character Zero” closed things out and put a huge exclamation point on another successful Vegas run. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the encore selection on the last night, but then again I get to go to the next four shows so I’ll get more Phish sooner than later…
This is a travel blog, after all, so I figured I’d touch on that a little before I wrap this one up. When we went to the Phish Halloween run in 2016, we bought one of the travel packages from CID and stayed at the New York, New York casino right across the street from the MGM. While it was a great time, it was overpriced if you ask me. I also don’t like being cooped up in the casinos, as I don’t gamble at all and it sucks just having a tiny fridge in the room.
For this year’s run, we recruited some family and friends to join us in renting a condo on Airbnb. We spent way less, had way more space, and had a kitchen, laundry room, and patio to smoke on. Were we walking distance to the show? No. Was there a raging party right outside our door? Definitely not. There were quite a few Phish fans staying in the same condo, though, and it was nice to have a little escape from the chaos. For the price, it was a great place to stay. Check it out on Airbnb before your next trip to Vegas.
As far as getting around goes, we rented a car for our first day there to hit the grocery store, liquor store, and dispensary to stock up for the week. We also drove over to the Mirage to see the Beatles Love show by Cirque du Soleil, which is fucking sweet. We’ve seen three Cirque shows now and that one is definitely our favorite so far.
For getting to and from the shows, we just used Uber and Lyft. It usually worked out to about $4-5 per person for each trip to the MGM and only took 10-15 minutes. You can use my code to sign up for Uber and get a free ride if you’re not on there yet. For getting to the late nights, we used the monorail once and just walked up the Strip the other nights.
Since we had already been to Vegas a few times, we didn’t do a whole lot of touristy stuff on this trip. Seeing a two set Phish show and then a two set Biscuits show is exhausting and you really need all day to recover, so we just took it easy during the day. Based on our previous trips, I can recommend a few things for your next trip to Vegas:
- Ride the Big Apple Coaster at New York, New York
- Rent a car and drive to Red Rock Canyon
- Buy a combo ticket for the Mob Museum and Neon Graveyard
- See the fountain show at the Bellagio
- Go on the rides at the top of the Stratosphere
- Head to Fremont Street to see the light and sound show
- See a Cirque du Soleil performance (I recommend Beatles Love)
- Hit a buffet (Bacchanal Buffet at Caesar’s Palace is a good one)
- Eat at Lotus of Siam – the best Thai restaurant in the US
There you go, pholks. That’s a wrap on this Phish Halloween 2018 recap. I hope you enjoyed reading it even a fraction as much as I enjoyed living it. We’ll be at our first YEMSG New Year’s run to close out the year and hope to see some of you there!