Intricate jams, flying glow sticks, pot smoke hanging in the air, totally unselfconscious dancing--plus comfortable chairs, unbeatable views and air conditioning. This is the kind of almost-live experience that a 3D jam-fest concert film would ideally provide, and "Phish 3D," opening nationwide on April 30, does a pretty decent job of creating it. Plus, as one audience member at Brooklyn's April 20 screening put it, "if you take off the 3-D glasses, you can see what Phish usually looks like to most people."
Filmed over three days in October 2009 at the band's Festival 8 in Indio, Calif., "Phish 3D" focuses on two evening shows and one daytime acoustic set. The film offers both field-wide shots and close-up, instrument-level views during Phish's performances of favorite songs such as "Tweezer," "Maze," "AC/DC Bag," "Mike's Song," and newer tracks off their 2009 album "Joy" including "Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan". The film also contains portions of the band's performance of the Rolling Stones' "Exile on Main St.," part of Phish's Halloween "musical costume" tradition of playing an entire album by another artist.
Not just a gimmick, the 3D aspect does add value in terms of bringing the concert experience that much closer to the real thing--crowd-spanning shots from behind simulate the feeling of being part of the audience; balloons floated by the real-life crowd caused theater-goers to swat the air in front of them. At several points throughout the film, theater staff tossed real glow sticks into the seats as concert staff would do at a live Phish show. Audience members danced, applauded, sang along and even lit up a few (something theater managers should undoubtedly be prepared for). The festival was filmed by Action 3D Productions and presented in association with AEG Network Live and Cinedigm.
The film's biggest flaw is the sound mix, which favors the high end of Trey Anastasio's guitar and Page McConnell's keyboards over Mike Gordon's bass and Jon Fishman's drums, an imbalance that detracts somewhat from Phish's famed improvised transitions. And longtime Phish purists might lament the film's reflection of Phish's move away from extended, jazz-inspired improvisation to more straight-ahead, rehearsed rock performance.
Still, by the time the film closed with Phish's energetic horn- and backup vocalist-supported performance of "Suzy Greenberg," the theater crowd volume was loud and a number of people were out of their stadium seats and on their feet. "Phish 3D" isn't going to give fans the same experience as a three-day camp out in the desert, but that might not always be a bad thing.
For more information and tickets, visit Phish3Dmovie.com. After helping induct Genesis into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in March, Phish announced a big summer tour. They'll also be performing a Stones tune on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" on May 13 during the show's "Exile On Main Street" week.