Free breakfast has become a hotel staple, but how can Phish fans be sated while camping in the middle of the scorching California desert for Festival 8? A Sunday high-noon acoustic set with gratis coffee and donuts, shaped fittingly, like the number eight.
Most of the 40,000 in attendance (many still buzzing about the band’s Halloween monster take on the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street) straggled in to enjoy the band’s first-ever full-length unplugged set Sunday morning. The band — playing under eight red-and-black banners that hung from the lighting rig to the stage — kicked off with “Water in the Sky” and the chugging “Back on the Train.” Befitting the mellow mood, not to mention the punishing SoCal sun, fans dutifully obeyed singer-guitarist Trey Anastasio’s request to sit down because “we’re gonna play a lot of mellow tunes.”
Amazingly, nearly every one plopped on the grass, but it didn’t last long, as five songs later the band busted out a longtime fan favorite, the intensely intricate “The Curtain (With),” which closed their 2004 supposed last-ever set in Coventry, Vermont. Other highlights included a punchy “Wilson” that nicely retained some of the raucousness found in the usual electric version.
Later, Anastasio apologized for asking everyone to sit, admitting, “I have ADHD, I can’t sit either,” before closing the set with the classic “McGrupp & the Watchful Horsemasters.” The band returned for rare midday-set encore, bringing it down with a mellow “Driver” and “Talk” before finishing quietly with the delicate “Secret Smile” from their 2004 album Undermind.