I saw Phish perform for the 10th time in my life on April 15, 2004, the first night of a three-show run infamously regarded as one of the quartet’s worst ever. Ten years would pass before I’d catch the band again, even though I itched to replace that memory with something better. Phish simply stopped coming to Vegas.
What had been a regular stop on the Vermonters’ tour route—site of 11 shows between 1996 and ’04—became city non grata after the group returned from a five-year break in 2009, its resident fans watching annually as Western dates rolled out without Las Vegas among them. Until last weekend, when the band set up inside MGM’s Grand Garden Arena for a three-gig stint punctuated by an elongated opening-night Halloween show.
I skipped that Friday concert to trick or treat with my daughter (Mike Prevatt captures its essence expertly in a review here), so Phish and I finally reunited on Saturday, and I’ll admit to a certain amount of doubt going in. I’d listened to a handful of post-hiatus recordings, and while they sounded vastly superior to my final in-person experience, they paled next to the ’95-’97 shows I caught in other towns before moving here or, especially, the two glorious Thomas & Mack concerts I witnessed in 1998.
How did my 2014 experience fare? Consider this: No sooner did I exit the venue after Saturday’s show than I began searching for tickets to Sunday’s finale, for which I ultimately paid above face value.
Not that these shows were all-time classics, up there in my pantheon with 7/24/91, 5/7/94 or 11/27/98 (yes, following Phish can be a super-geeky endeavor, up there with fantasy baseball and Game of Thrones). Even when purposeful jams got hot they rarely went next-level, into that special group-improv zone that continues to astound during light-of-day listens the following morning.
But the highlights—“Crosseyed and Painless” through “Harry Hood” on Saturday and much of Sunday, which amounted to a kind of greatest-hits capsule (“Runaway Jim,” “Bathtub Gin,” “You Enjoy Myself,” “David Bowie,” “Chalkdust Torture,” “Slave to the Traffic Light”), perfect for those of us who’d been away awhile—were indelible, enough to ensure we’d come back for more. And the crowd’s unendingly enthusiasm was, hopefully, enough to ensure Phish will return as well, to a place that’s been a key part of the pholklore for so long. Las Vegas deserves nothing less.