This review of the film “Phish 3D” will be from a musical standpoint. For a review from a film standpoint, please visit my movie blog.
As a sort of teaser for their upcoming summer tour, Phish has released a 2-hour film of highlights from their three-day festival called “8” (in recognition of it being their 8th festival). “8” took place over Halloween weekend of 2009 in Indio, CA, and featured Phish’s first-ever fully acoustic set, as well as their performance of the Rolling Stones masterpiece album “Exile on Main Street” in its entirety.
The film “Phish 3D” has 18 songs, and whoever had final say as to which ones to include did a great job. The first few were Phish classics such as “AC/DC Bag,” “Maze,” “Tweezer,” and “Mike’s Song.” While there wasn’t a lot of variance from the other versions they’ve played over the years, they sounded great. Phish has never sounded so tight and polished as they have since their reunion last year. A nice inclusion in the film was “Undermind,” a funky, weird number from the album of the same name; it’s a tune that they haven’t played too often, and keyboardist Page McConnell really shines with his Moog organ.
The acoustic set was something I’d been really interested to hear – the film featured six songs including “Strange Design” and “Train Song,” both of which they had played acoustically before. But most intriguing was their acoustic arrangement of “The Curtain With,” a prog-rock-fusion song and one of their earliest collaborations. It worked really well as an acoustic song, much more than I expected, as the original version uses a lot of electric keyboard and guitar. But the boys played a marvelous rendition. The other stunning number in the acoustic set was “Wilson,” a hard-rockin’ song that somehow translated beautifully to the acoustic guitar.
The next four songs were from “Exile on Main Street,” and as much as I enjoyed seeing them performed on the screen, it made me really envious of those who got to see the whole thing in person. For the performance, two female backing vocalists and three horn players joined Phish. “Loving Cup” was the first song during this part of the film; this tune had been played by Phish many times over the years, but never without the backing vocals and brass, and what a difference – the energy, the fullness of the sound…it was the best “Loving Cup” Phish has ever played. Drummer Jon Fishman took over the vocals for “Happy,” another high energy track from the Stones’ album. “Shine a Light” and “Soul Survivor” finished the set off, and it was simply spiritual hearing this band pour all their heart and soul into these uplifting songs.
The movie closed out with “Suzy Greenberg,” another old Phish song but this time the additional members stayed on stage after the “Exile” performance. The band had played this song with a brass section before, and I always thought it added a nice dimension to the song. The movie (and festival) ended with “Tweezer Reprise,” a short hard-rocker to send everyone home smiling.
As I mentioned, musically speaking, the band was on fire. You know things are going well when guitarist Trey Anastasio, during a nice jam, gets a dazed, almost mentally-ill look on his face…he’s “in the zone,” so to speak, and it’s to our benefit. Plus the band kept smiling at each other the entire time – they could feel the magic, they knew, as the fans did, that they were doing something special.
So if you have been curious about what a Phish show is all about but haven’t felt motivated to go see them, this film is a great way to get introduced.
Phish 3D gets 5 out of 5 stars!