Entertainment

How Phish is reimagining Las Vegas’ Sphere



CNN

Concerts by Phish, the beloved Vermont jam band, have become known among fans as unique, one-of-a-kind events filled with striking visuals and spontaneous sonic explorations.

Over the decades, the band has performed more than 2,000 concerts and is famous for never repeating its setlists, drawing deeply from its vast canon of more than 300 original songs and countless covers.

That hasn’t changed. But now, after 41 years of travel, the band has devised another new way to experience its music live: four concerts at Sphere, the $2.3 billion Las Vegas venue that has been named the Fall last with a series of U2 shows. The Phish shows began Thursday and continued through Sunday evening.

“It’s a paradigm shift in live music and visual (presentation),” Trey Anastasio, Phish’s bandleader and creative force, told CNN in an interview last week about the Sphere dates. “It’s…an exciting new canvas.”

Phish is only the second band to play on Sphere, following U2. The state-of-the-art spherical venue is dominated by a giant LED screen approximately 250 feet high that wraps above and around the audience. This vast screen, along with 167,000 speakers that guarantee impeccable sound, provides an immersive concert experience.

But while U2 played essentially the same set list and paired songs with canned videos that repeated each night, Phish took its usual freewheeling approach.

The band doesn’t rehearse any songs over its four nights, and the visuals for each show are different and even improvised in the moment, similar to what fans have become accustomed to from the band’s longtime lighting designer. Phish, Chris “CK5” Kuroda.

“All of our visuals can be performed, edited and manipulated in real time,” Abigail Rosen Holmes, the group’s creative director for shows at Sphere, told CNN. “They will follow the band’s musical performance, rather than being locked in, allowing Phish to play as freely as at any other concert.”

Living cover

Phish performing Thursday at Sphere. “I could see the audience so clearly,” bandleader Trey Anastasio said afterward.

Sure enough, on Thursday’s opening night, the psychedelic animations and graphics seemed to soar and slide in time with the music, creating 3D effects on Sphere’s big screen. Each song presented a distinctive visual treat, from layered abstract tapestries to breathtaking scenic imagery – both earthly and supernatural.

Phish members say they studied U2’s 40-show Sphere residency to prepare for playing the venue. Phish’s sound engineer even recreated a miniature version of Sphere’s production setup in a Pennsylvania rehearsal studio last summer so the band could refine the look and sound of shows.

Last week, Anastasio said it would be a challenge to use Sphere’s immense space in a way that still feels organic.

“When you see a large-scale production – you know, Beyoncé or U2 or whatever is a really big, major pop group – the production and the music are one click away. So it’s easier for everything to happen at the right time,” he said. “And we don’t do that.”

But after Thursday night’s show, he seemed happy with the venue, saying he felt “an intimacy” at Sphere despite its cavernous size.

“I could see the audience so clearly, which has a huge effect on the music. When I can look directly at people dancing, I play so much better. I can respond to their energy. I didn’t expect that,” he told CNN via email. “It’s a huge blessing. It was very comfortable.

Phish’s signature sound centers on progressive rock arrangements infused with a variety of musical genres, including jazz, funk, blues and beyond.

The band formed in 1983 while its members were studying at the University of Vermont, where Anastasio met drummer Jon Fishman and bassist Mike Gordon. Keyboardist Page McConnell joined the group about two years later.

“We started as a group of friends, in a room with our friends,” Anastasio said. “We would play until 1:30 in the morning, then we would all go to Howard Johnson’s for eggs and French toast. Literally, like the band and the audience. And in some ways, that has never changed. It’s always like that.

In their early days, the band began playing residencies at Nectars, then a Burlington restaurant and bar with a small stage in the corner. From the beginning, they practiced their complex arrangements religiously, often following Anastasio’s daily schedule detailing when they would flesh out specific sections of each track.

Gradually, Phish built a fan base, mainly through incessant touring across the United States.

Keith Griner/Getty Images for the ABA

Page McConnell, Trey Anastasio and Jon Fishman of Phish, from left, perform at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee on October 6, 2023.

“We built this community just by playing,” Gordon says in “Bittersweet Motel,” director Todd Phillips’ 2000 documentary about the band. “It was never really records or radio or videos or anything like that that boosted our career. It was all this word of mouth thing.

Fans come to shows “because they don’t know what’s going to happen,” Gordon added, “just like we don’t know what’s going to happen” — a feeling that band members and fans say , did not change.

“We were never really in the public eye,” Anastasio told CNN last week. “We don’t have any hits, we don’t go to the Grammys or anything like that. It’s a community, that’s what it is. And it really is. And that’s still the case. I think that’s a big part of what sets us apart.

Anastasio says he can feel the “energy” of the crowd at every show, and it informs his decisions about what the band plays in real time — an approach Phish has taken throughout its existence.

“He has a mind of his own. Everything is fair,” Anastasio said. “It’s like a combination of discipline and total surrender. I don’t think you can have one without the other.

The band’s concerts included covers of other bands’ classic albums – and donuts

Anastasio says he enjoys directing the complex logistics needed to make their elaborate productions happen. His goal is to make sure his bandmates stay in the moment on stage.

“If Mike Gordon doesn’t think at all, he’s playing the sickest bass that ever lived,” he said. “As soon as you make him think, he doesn’t play well.”

Anastasio says his most exhilarating live moments are when the band goes “completely off the map” into uncharted musical territory.

Living cover

Phish took full advantage of the massive Sphere LED screen. “They have built an incredible connection with fans by serving their audience perfectly,” says Ari Fink of SiriusXM.

“And there are a lot of them… where I don’t know where the downbeat is, and I don’t know what key we’re in anymore. And my head is exploding about what Mike is playing or what Fish is playing or what Page is playing,” he said. “And… it’s like being in a tiny boat in the middle of a storm in the ocean.”

The band has played more concerts at New York’s legendary Madison Square Garden than any band except Billy Joel. On New Year’s Eve 2022, Phish transformed the arena into a giant underwater visual spectacle, complete with flying dolphins. A year later, they created an almost entirely produced Broadway show at MSG from their beloved sequel “Gamehendge,” a fantasy rock opera last performed in its entirety in 1994.

“People will ask us… a normal band would build something like this and then take it on tour for four years. Why do you do these things only once? » said Anastasio. “And my answer would be that most of the people in the room have seen us for so long that we feel like we owe them a new and fresh experience.”

The group also became known for hosting elaborate events. For Halloween, they sometimes adopt “musical costumes” and perform other artists’ classic albums, a tradition they started in 1994 with a surprise cover of The Beatles’ White Album in its entirety.

On New Year’s Eve 1999, they hosted The Big Cypress festival in the Florida Everglades, where they have played since…

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News Source : amp.cnn.com

Eleon

With a penchant for words, Eleon Smith began writing at an early age. As editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper, he honed his skills telling impactful stories. Smith went on to study journalism at Columbia University, where he graduated top of his class. After interning at the New York Times, Smith landed a role as a news writer. Over the past decade, he has covered major events like presidential elections and natural disasters. His ability to craft compelling narratives that capture the human experience has earned him acclaim. Though writing is his passion, Eleon also enjoys hiking, cooking and reading historical fiction in his free time. With an eye for detail and knack for storytelling, he continues making his mark at the forefront of journalism.
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