Before reading this long post, consider that this is just my opinion based on my experiences. Do yourself a favor and form your own opinion by going to see the movie or a live Phish show yourself as the experience is different for everyone.
With that being said, Phish is a big part of my life and they have brought a lot of joy into my world. I first discovered the group at one of their June shows during their 1995 run and fell in love instantly. I spent the next several years following the group on their East Coast tours, making friends and memories that are still with me today.
My first show was the first-ever solar-powered Jones Beach jam. I went to the show with a sheet of the “Christ” blotter which was made to celebrate the anniversary of the the upcoming Woodstock concert in New York and I ended-up dosing pretty much everyone I came in to contact with so they had a great show. Although I no longer partake in psychedelics, that night was truly magical and I will never forget it because it started me on a path towards spiritual enlightenment. To this day, I get goosebumps every time I listen to the two sets the boys laid down for the New York crowd. That night, my life changed forever because I fell hopelessly in love with the band and their fans which helped me realize that I was more of a “Phish Head” than any other social classification despite the fact that I was a hard-core “Yo” at the time. In essence, I was just starting to tune in and turn on to who I really was and who I wanted to be. Phish (and their fans) helped speed up that process dramatically.
I am proud to say that the man you see before you is a devout Phish follower and as a result, I have turned out to be a better person than I could have ever hoped. Some of my closest friends have come as a result of our mutual love of Phish and it blows me away that I could find such kindred souls at a rock concert whereas these people are almost impossible to find in the real world because 90% of the world simply doesn’t know or understand how to live a righteous life. I’m not saying that spun wookies are the answer to the problems that plague our universe, but at the same time, I am. I have met more honorable, loyal and trustworthy people on tour than I have throughout my entire life. Again, I’m not saying that there aren’t bad eggs out there because there are. Unfortunately you can’t have a community without people that try to take advantage of others. That’s just the nature of the universe.
People like the jackass that stole my medicine at Coventry (Phish’s final performance before they took a five-year break from touring) the moment I turned my back, the wicked people from the notorious Philly Nitrous Mafia and the jerks who started pushing hard-core drugs like crystal meth, heroin and yeyo on the lot at shows were a big reason why the couple of years prior to Phish’s break-up were so dark. You could literally feel the pollution and vile energy in the lot and it affected the shows as anyone who was there for the earlier days of the band can attest. Fortunately, there are more good fans than bad by far and the band’s hiatus helped get rid of some of the bad elements and reunite the true Phans. Festival 8 was a celebration of the changes that have come with the band’s maturity (and Trey’s sobriety) and they pulled it off in spades so I was excited at the concept of reliving the event in 3D.
Despite looking forward to having a visual flashback of the memories from Festival 8, I knew it was going to be a challenge to capture the true essence of the experience. I was lucky enough to share the experience with the wife, @taopauly, @change100, my favorite French journalist @BenjoDiMeio (who was experiencing his first Phish festival/shows), @nellibop and the rest of the @coventrymusic crew, so I knew it would be hard to do for the producer’s and director but I felt in my heart that it could be done if it was done right.
Unfortunately, I tend to see the world differently from people like those involved with this film and I am a true Phan, so I knew there was a good chance that I was going to walk away disappointed for several reasons, all of which became a reality five minutes into the film. Before you go any further let me qualify my position. I specifically avoided reading news and posts on the movie so I could watch unbiasedly and form my own opinion unclouded by the bias of others. As of this post, I have still not read reviews, but I can’t wait to see how other fans have reacted, especially Dr. Pauly because he is probably more of a phan than me.
When my crew arrived (Brandon, John, Lorna) to meet the wife and I, we were crazy stoked when we walked into Saturday’s 10:00 PM showing at the Rave theaters at Town Square (which I highly recommend as it is hands-down the sickest movie theater I’ve been to) on the Las Vegas Strip and there was literally no one in the theater. By the time the show started, there were a total of 10 people in a monster theater. It was like having a private screening made just for us. The novelty wore off almost immediately when I realized that although the film was a great concept, the results were flawed from the moment the film started. What I had hoped was going to be a pleasant experience ended-up being torture because it failed miserably at providing the true Phish experience and it made me once again miss the band that I hold so dear to my heart.
Having gotten my degree in Television and Film (and worked on several award-winning television shows), I am quite familiar with editing material so that it flows well and is easy on the eyes because let’s face it, you’re affected (physically and emotionally) by the images you see on the screen. Although I’m all for craziness at the right time, I hate it when directors and editors of films and television shows start using “jump cuts” to move a story along. Typically they do this because the plot line is weak or the acting is bad. Sometimes they do it for no reason other than to amuse themselves. Unfortunately the process of using this form of visual technique takes away from the storyline and the actor’s ability to let their performance shine which is one of the downfalls of this concert film.
In my opinion, this was the biggest problem with the film. The movie failed on a number of levels but the most obvious was the fact that there were too many quick cuts and not enough substantive material. It was as if the editors felt they had to over-compensate for the fact that Phish isn’t a visual band. Let me explain what I mean by visual band. Phish plays different songs and set lists with each show. Groups and artists like Madonna and the Red Hot Chili Peppers simply perform the same show over and over again because they think that each new spot deserves to see the material they want to see. Phish on the other hand, definitely plays music for the fans, but they also play what they want, when they want. In other words, every Phish show is different and you never know what dank treats they’ll bust out which is one of the reason’s why they have such a large and loyal following.
Whereas these other acts focus on elaborate stages, costumes and novelty appearances, Phish simply plays music. They’re really not much to watch, especially if you’re in the back of a show. This may sound like a bad thing, but considering I could only handle seeing two Peppers shows back-to-back before wanting to go crazy, the fact that I have seen Phish more times than I can count and gotten to a different show each time, continues to blow my mind. I consider them the top touring-band on the planet next to U2 who provides the perfect fusion of sick material and amazing visuals.
As I suggested earlier, something tells me that the group just signed a contract to do the film and did their job which was to perform. Unlike Phish’s previous movie Bittersweet Motel directed by the great Todd Phillips, this concert film tried way too hard to keep people with ADD interested by using jump-cuts to imply action instead of letting longer cuts provide the true substance of the performance. Not only does this make the film hard to watch, it removes the real story (the fans and the event itself) which was the most important part of Festival 8. Had producers focused on that stuff, it would have made up for the lack of substance that the film so desperately needed to make it worth watching. The storyline was a huge theme in Bittersweet which is what makes it a timeless classic.
I don’t blame Phish for this part, because that’s not the responsibility of the group to make the film, but I am absolutely holding the people who authorized the final cut of this film responsible. I find it impossible to believe that they didn’t realize they were putting something out that was well below the quality of Bittersweet and even some of the concert bootlegs that are out there. What made Bittersweet a great film was the footage and interviews in-between the live jams, not just the live footage. Phish 3D completely missed this concept and to be honest, I still can’t fathom how the people putting this film together couldn’t take advantage of all of the amazing things that happened during Festival 8. I would have creamed if someone told me I could do the project and I know for a fact I would have done a better job because I understand the importance of pre-planning a shoot so that you have substance to go with the flash.
There are very few times in life where you get an opportunity to do a film like this and it pisses me off to no-end that this opportunity was wasted. I would have willingly done this movie for free at the mere prospect of making a film that pays tribute to one of the best live acts of all time and the fans who travel the world to watch their musical heroes rock the stage. I know others that feel the same way I do because we feel we have a responsibility to make sure the story is told the right way and give something back to the community in return for tall of the love we have received on our journeys with the band. I appreciate the fact that the people behind this movie didn’t mean any ill intent and that it is a good thing that people who did not attend the festival got to see some footage, but having been there and personally experienced the magic, I am beyond disappointed at how something that could have been so easy was messed up by a lack of creativity.
Regardless of whether the purpose of the film was to focus specifically on the live stuff, I still would have had a sizable group shooting the festivities non-stop simply because you need other footage to keep the audience interested and the movie flowing if you actually want to make a worthy piece of art. The people behind the film purposely skipped out on the side-stories of the event to focus on the live performance which in essence “dumbed-down” the movie. I think the people behind the film just figured all Phish fans would willingly slop up the shitty left-overs because they don’t know any better.
There were plenty of spectacular moments throughout the festival. One of those moments came during the acoustic set. I think movie-goers would have gotten a big laugh if they got to watch Trey tell the audience to sit down (which the audience did) and then tell them to stand back up (which they did) because he was only joking. The look on Trey’s face that appeared because everyone actually sat upon his command was priceless because everyone acting on his words as though he was a Greek god had freaked him out a little bit, but this material may never see the light unless they release a sick DVD with all of the footage. Although I wouldn’t spend another dollar on this movie, I would buy the DVD as long as it is just the footage from the cameras and not the shit slapped together by the people behind this film.
Although I do not hold the band responsibly for the film’s visuals, I do hold them responsible for allowing the final song selections that make up the majority of the footage. The film has some choice musical nugs for serious fans, but much of the material that blew us away during the actual event was left out. Unfortunately, as I suspected it would, the footage from the acoustic set helped push me out the door of the theater faster than a Vegas hooker goes down on a poker player celebrating his first million dollar win.
Let me be clear, when I first heard Phish was doing an acoustic set at Indio I was psyched because the band had never done that before. I was filled with emotions that had me both excited and perplexed at the concept of the guy’s going acoustic because much of Phish’s charm comes from the intensity of the music they lay down on their traditional instruments. As I suspected, the set was great for a 11:00 AM set for spun fans, but it couldn’t begin to hold a candle to the magic we witnessed the previous night. In other words, although this was a great novelty experience, it was only good because we were seeing it for the first time. It’s not that the band didn’t do a great job, because they did (the Wilson is sick), but the reality is I, like many Phish fans go to be electrified, not put to sleep. With that being said, I am once again mystified how the people behind the film could spend so many of the film’s valuable minutes on a set that truly doesn’t do the band justice.
This leads me to another point that I realized five minutes into the film. To truly understand the group and why people fall in love with the music, you have to see a live Phish show. For me, the Phish experience is pleasurable not just because of the music, but because of the people and the energy they bring the moment Phish takes the stage which I sometimes think is more important than how the band plays. Let’s face facts, musicians feed off of the energy of the crowd, so it is crucial that everyone be pumped. I have seen one-too many shows where the crowd sucked so the concert sucked despite the band doing their best to get everyone excited.
What many people don’t realize is that making good music isn’t just about playing the songs. It is about establishing a deep connection with your listeners and taking them on a musical journey that will blow your mind. In this context, Phish can be considered the samurais of rock because they constantly use their skills and mastery of the musical arts to slay their fans into submission on a nightly basis without being concerned about what others think about the material they choose or how they play. They simply do their job without ego day-in and day-out which is why they have such a strong following.
In my opinion, other than the rocking jams, the best part about a show is walking down Shakedown Street right a few minutes before the show starts and seeing all of the animals in the zoo (myself included). The energy 20 minutes prior to (and up to) the start of the show is amazing. Everyone is breathless with anticipation of what is to come because they have no idea what the band will do or what kind of a show it will be. You simply can’t get that in a movie theater and this movie proved it beyond a shadow of a doubt.
After my eyes started hurting five minutes in, I quickly realized that my only hope for enjoying myself was to shut them and focus on listening to the music which is pretty much what I do during a show because I’ve seen the band so many times that I could care less about what they do onstage. I just care how the music sounds and they intensity of their jams. If the wife and I are at a show, nine times out of ten we won’t be anywhere near the stage because I hate being packed in like sardines and because I could care less about watching Trey make his “O-Face” while rocking Fluffhead. I prefer to just close my eyes and bliss out to the music which is what I ended-up doing in the movie theater because I couldn’t stand the visuals.
This leads me to yet another point. Although producer’s spent plenty of time focusing on shots of the band (in the dictionary under redundant is says see redundant with a picture of the Phish 3D logo) they completely missed out on another monster part of the Phish experience. The fact that the people behind the film refused to do any justice to the amazing lighting done by Chris Kuroda both baffles and annoys the hell out of me, especially since they knew they were going to make it 3D and they had the time and ability to get a little “trippy” with the mind-bending imagery that Kuroda has provided for more years than I can remember. He is a big part of Phish shows and the fact that they barely even spent five minutes covering his art-form and contribution to the show is blasphemy.
Granted these observations come from a loyal member of “Couch Tour,” a group of fans that watch live shows via Iphone streams by fans at the shows on web sites like @hoodstream.com, which means I sit in front of my computer so I can listen (and occasionally watch) live Phish shows as they happen because although it may be through a computer, it is still live and because I’ve seen enough shows, I can almost feel the excitement that someone at the show experiences when the band hits their stride. This means I’m not exactly the average Phish fan so I’m a little more critical than most people are as one would be if they understood a subject in-depth from personal experience and research, but in the end, I’m still a fan at heart and every show feels like a new experience to me despite having heard many of the songs thousands of times and having had my ear pissed in on more than one occasion by the boys.
With that being said, Phish played well during Festival 8, but being forced to relive it (especially the acoustic set) through the eyes of these editors and the director was a huge mistake and I regret paying money to see it. Recognizing the wife was not into it because she was frustrated that they barely showed anything about the actual festival and taking into consideration that although she puts up with Phish because I love them they are far from her favorite band and that she loses patience with jam bands easily (the wife actually fell asleep standing-up during the first set of a Trey show in NYC), I decided not to waste what little “Phish Karma” I have with her on this waste of time so we left right as Wilson came on.
Hell, I consider myself lucky that she is willing to go to the Greek Theater for three nights this summer after the whole Coventry fiasco, so I knew the right thing to do was not waste what little patience she has for the group by sitting and watching something she wasn’t enjoying. I’m planning on enjoying myself at the Greek which means I need the wife to enjoy herself so I can relax. The more relaxed she is, the better time I have so it was a no-brainer not to get her pissed off before we even cross the California border in August. Before we were even out of the theater, we were talking about how the movie missed out on the chance to be something truly amazing. We know this because we were there and we kept talking about how it would make for a great movie. When we first saw the cameras on the Polo Grounds it seemed like the universe had aligned and our dreams of a sick movie about the festival would become a reality. Unfortunately, this reality turned into my visual nightmare.
In a way, Phish 3D was similar to Phish’s Coventry debacle in where the wife and I spent eight hours waiting to leave “the cluster-fuck in Vermont.” As with Coventry, I believe the intent behind Phish 3D was honest and in good faith, but like Coventry, although it sounded like a great idea at the time, the execution was horribly flawed making the end-result something that was horrible and somewhat disrespectful to people who pay good money to see a band perform (even if it is in a movie theater). Personally, I think the reason why the band tried so hard to make Festival 8 such an amazing event was because they felt a responsibility to reward the loyal fans who stuck with them even though things ended on a bad note in Vermont. Unfortunately the people behind this film didn’t try nearly as hard as the band did. I can only imagine what the visual equivalency of the Exile on Main Street set would have looked like if it had been done by someone that really cared about their product. Again, this makes me wonder if this movie was just another way for people to make money off a good thing at the cost of the Phans and Phish’s reputation.
My hope is that someday someone like Todd Phillips will make another movie about Phish, once again documenting the band’s legacy through the eyes of the band, their music and the fans they have touched. Who knows, maybe @taopauly and I will do it. Lord knows we could do a better job than the guys that monkey-fucked what could have been an amazing film.
Regardless of my thoughts on the film, one thing is for certain, it reminds me of why I can’t wait to get to see the band destroy the Greek in August for my birthday shows and why being a Phish fan is a metaphor for everything else in life: you have to take the good with the bad and keep on shining on. Although my commentary may sound harsh, I’m a true Phan and I’ve been around long enough to know that if you have something worthwhile to say, then sometimes it needs to be said to start the process of change so this post is my two cents. Hopefully if Phish decided to do another movie, they’ll do a “Green Light”-style contest where people can compete for the spot to make the film by showing their passion and creativity instead of giving the job to people who are strictly looking at the bottom line.
One last thing, you know how I know I’m a true Phan? I puked (due to my health issues) and rallied (still made the show) despite having prayed to the porcelain God just before the lights went down.