Combining two of their most beloved traditions for the first time — the multi-day festival and the Halloween album “costume” — Phish got their rocks off at their Festival 8 in Indio, California, during the second of a three-day set with a crushing start-to-finish version of the Rolling Stones’ classic Exile On Main Street. Just a day earlier, Stones frontman Mick Jagger took the stage himself 3,000 miles away, joining U2 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concert in New York.
Under pristine conditions at the Empire Polo Field and in front of a devoted Phish crowd of 40,000 fans, the Vermont foursome rollicked in Exile‘s swamp blues and roadhouse country, extending several songs with their own jams, highlighted by a spacey interlude between “Ventilator Blues” into the gospel-esque “I Just Want to See His Face.” Special guests Sharon Jones and three horn players (one, trumpeter David Guy is a Dap King) added their own flourishes (horns to “Sweet Black Angel”), and each band member took lead vocal turns. Incredibly, four of the double album’s songs made their big-stage live debut —”Soul Survivor,” a scorching “Casino Boogie,” “Turd On the Run” and the flickering ballad “Let It Loose” — having never been performed by the Stones themselves. The set clocked in at nearly a 100 minutes, 33 more than the actual album.
It was perhaps the safest, most durable album choice for the band to tackle — they’ve played the bar-room sing-along “Loving Cup” in their own sets for years — narrowing it down from a list of 99 in September. On their Website the band vowed to play “the last album alive” where albums that didn’t make the cut “killed off” by an ax or arrow.
Besides Exile, the final contenders were Radiohead’s Kid A, Genesis’ epic Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, King Crimson’s Lark Tongues in Aspic, Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix, Prince’s Purple Rain, Hunky Dory by David Bowie and a nod to the kids, MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular.
But like previous Halloweens, where they’ve covered works by the Beatles and the Who, Phish stuck with a formative favorite — lead guitarist Trey Anastasio said he first heard the album in a friend’s dorm in the late ’70s.
For the night’s finale, the band performed a monster closing set that included faves “Fluffhead,” “Ghost” and “YEM” capped off a with sinister vocal jam augmented by giant flamethrowers shooting off in the concert field. Sharon Jones and Co. returned for some more vocal fireworks on a blistering encore of “Suzy Greenberg.” A hot night in the desert all around.