At last year’s Halloween show, Phish‘s sixth, the band played an unrecorded collection of original songs. Friday night, it was unclear what they would do for their seventh: Would they fall back on the previous tradition of presenting a “musical costume” and cover another band’s album, or would they challenge themselves to do something different entirely? Always moving forward, they chose the latter, taking on a long-forgotten record in an original set that entertained not just the devoted fans who made the trek to Las Vegas but the band members themselves.
Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House was produced in 1964 by Walt Disney Studios: The first side contains 10 narrated stories, but the second has only sound effects so that the ambitious could create tales of their own. Phish, of course, did just that, riffing on song titles and building on themes, crafting 10 original instrumentals for the second of their three sets.
This set in particular emphasized Halloween’s spooky traditions over its “sexy superhero” present. Not all of these tracks deal with traditionally scary subjects (one is about a crashed cruise ship, another a wood cutter), but Phish – clad in zombie makeup and matching white suits – made them all fit the Day of the Dead mold. Throughout, zombies performed Thriller-esque dance routines in a graveyard, and the band played atop a haunted house and in front of a glowing full moon.
Sandwiched between “Buried Alive,” “Ghost” and a “Frankenstein” second encore, Thrilling, Chilling Sounds was the highlight of a high energy, four-hour show. Phish is at their best when they’re pushing their limits, and the new songs moved easily between heavy metal and funk. Some, like “The Chinese Water Torture,” will hopefully be played more often. The utter absurdity of the Phishbill (Charles Manson did not play guitar on the original Chilling, Thrilling Sounds) made it hard to discern fact from fiction, but it’s the surprise that mattered.
Excited by what they had just pulled off, Phish played all of “Punch You in the Eye,” “Golden Age,” “Sand,” “Guyute” and “Tweezer” in strong third set. The first encore, “Is This What You Wanted,” a Leonard Cohen original and Phish debut, would have provided fitting end to the night: “Is this what you wanted/to live in a house that is haunted/By the ghost/of you and me.”
By the Numbers:
New songs played: 11
The capacity of the sold-out MGM Garden Arena: 16,800
Number of people dressed in costume: About 8 out of 10
Number of Phish themed costumes: Too many to count (winner: an especially good “Slave to the Traffic Light”)
Most popular costume: Hunter S. Thompson
Price of a Bud Light: $9
Longest song played: “Sand,” 18 minutes and two seconds
Shortest song played: “Big Black Furry Creature From Mars,” three minutes and two seconds