Part 4: Halloween Hazy Cosmic Jive
Hustle City, USA. If you're not hustling, then you're getting hustled.
If you walk into the room and don't spot the sucker....then you're the sucker. I heard that cheesey line in a poker movie a long time ago and it's more true than you will every know.
The Phish hustle continues. Seven and a half years and counting since Hampton in March 2009. I won a big score playing poker many moons ago, but blew all my winnings on Phish in 3.0. At least I didn't lose it gambling on basketball or donk it off to Scandis playing PLO or buying material things like a Porsche. Instead, I blew it on shitty drugs and Phish tickets. Choices, man....choices.
Like I wrote earlier... I've either reached rock bottom, or I'm at the top of Everest. You have your own opinions, but the fact that I think it's a coin flip means it's been one wild ride.
Last night of tour is crazy in itself. It's always the EVERYTHING BAGEL show and you do whatever drugs you have leftover that you can't fly with. You also bump into strangers who need to dump their stashes so you can literally show up empty handed and walk away a lit fucking monkey. Then add the fact it's HALLOWEEN and party people kick it into the highest possible gear. Plus the costume thing allows introverts to let down their inhibitions, so as a result the crowd is super schwasted with a extra schwilly sauce. Oh like LiLo said in Mean Girls, "Halloween is the one night a year when a girl can dress like a total slut and no other girls can say anything about it."
The final night of a four-night Vegas run has its own challenges because some people were out of gas. And when you crash in Vegas after a multi-night bender, you crash disastrously hard. It's like a scene from Westworld when workers in hazard suits are hosing down bloody corpses while a muzak cover on a Radiohead song plays slowly in the background.
Add the fact that it's Halloween, then you had people pushing themselves to the outer limits of sanity and sobriety. The dark side of Vegas alters the magnetic vibrations on everyone's moral compass, so you're pretty much fucked if you're trying to find your way out.
If you can't conjure up the mojo naturally on Halloween, then there's plenty of other ways to jump-start your night. You ain't missing it for the world, so you pop a few Adderall to wake up, swig a couple of painkillers so you can dance through the pain, chomp down on moon rocks, club pressies, gay ninja molly, and whatever leftover shit you had from tour. In a city of iniquity like Vegas, there's no shortage of powders, elixirs, pills, and injections that will help keep you raging until you lose consciousness, pass out, and completely yard sale it in front a craps table at the Mirage before you end up a meme on Colorado Big Game Trophy Wook Hunters as security guards wake your ass up with a cattle prod to the nutsack.
By the fourth day of Phish and the morning of Halloween, shit morphs into a surreal hyper-reality of weirdness... even for Vegas standards. Adorable couples who couldn't handle their drugs had already broken up. Friends stopped answering phones a day earlier, if they hadn't hocked it already to cover blackjack loses and/or gave it up for pennies on the dollar to one-lucky-ass coke dealer. Sensible people with mortgages and 401Ks turn into zombified wooks and ignored the eye in the sky by railing lines off empty seat at the Bright Diamond slots. Spacekids got so jacked up on whiskey-tango-trailer-cooked desert-meth-molly that they ran off naked down Tropicana into the muted glow of the Vegas night. And then you get so fucking spun that the Monopoly Man started following you around and screaming, "Drain the fucking swamp. DRAIN IT. Burn it all down!"
Hey, we've all been there. No matter how much landing gear you've taken or no matter how many joints you've smoked, but you can never fall asleep in your hotel bed, so you go downstairs to the casino and start gambling at the Pai Gow table and order a cocktail because it's Vegas on a Monday morning and that's how the script goes. At some point, you've eaten so much molly that you've cleaned three rooms for the maid on your floor, while you let her take a break by smoking weed in your room and sweat her bet on the World Series (*Anita was all-in on the Cubs).
I got the Colorado crew together for a group meal at the Wicked Spoon. Sort of a last hurrah before Halloween. Everyone was on the ropes, but ready to rally in time for Halloween.
My phone was blowing up with texts about the show. I had forty-five conversations similar to this...
TEXT: What's it going to be?
ME: Ziggy Stardust.
That's what I'm told, but you never know.
Like what else, man?
Maybe Prince's Batman soundtrack.
How about Zappa?
Zappa rumored too.
And how about Zeppelin?
Maybe so, probably not.
How about the Grateful Walking Dead!
Let Trey Sing.
With Weir and Zombies!
Keep smoking ketamine, son.
How about Ziggy? It's gotta be Ziggy then!
Hey, brah, since you know so much already then why the fuck are you texting me? Just sit tight and wait four more fucking hours until the first rail rider gets in and snaps a photo of the Playbill.
My first Halloween show was Vegas 1998. I didn't know what they would play until a girl with pink dreads shoved the Playbill into my hands and I noticed the cover to Velvet Underground's Loaded. I saw every Halloween since then, but the last five in 3.0 had been spoiled by social media. Twitter told me the Stones album at Indio and twice again in AC (Little Feat and Wingsuit). And yeah, 2014 and 2016 Vegas were spoiled by a pic of the Playbill.
We were in the middle of the preparty in my room when we got the kangfirmation about Ziggy and Phish. My source was right. After getting the initial tip, @change100 and I listened to Ziggy Stardust front to back at least once a day in LA. I only knew the popular songs on the album and wanted to brush up on the lesser known tunes. I'm not a David Bowie fanatic and my favorite Bowie album is Young Americans when he hoovered so much blow that he thought he was a black soul singer from Philly.
Costumes at Phish shows are always a notch above the rest. Clever. Intricate. Time-consuming. And that's not even for Halloween! On Halloween, many phans rise to the occasion and crush their outfits.
Then you get the folks who don't even bother trying and just show up in civilian clothes. I can respect that, more than half-assing a costume (which I've done on many occasions). Then again, sometimes you come up with a cool costume that is hot as fuck to wear for three sets, or just not logistically possible to maintain for three sets while fucked up to the gourd. Walking into the Halloween show is always the optimal time because that's before costumes go awry and people start to get so fucked up they forget where they are, let alone what costume they're in. After four days in Vegas, a slew of people didn't need costumes to look like extras from The Walking Dead...after four-nights on whatever Ketamolicane they were boofing, they smelled like rotting corpses.
I had an affinity for anyone who got dressed up from Stranger Things. I saw a slew of "Elevens" and that was my original costume but I couldn't find a pink dress in my size. Instead, I helped a friend out with a pseudo group costume. Back in 2014 Halloween, Wildo went as Phish Ditka, which was a huge hit and he almost won the costume contest. He wanted to reprise Phish Ditka but kick it up a notch... so I volunteered to be Jim McMahon to help fill in the 1985 Bears. Our significant others opted to be spun-out referees. And then to spice things up, our Boulder friends showed up as cheerleaders (like the duo from Saturday Night Live). We had a loose football theme going, but the goal was to help Wildo win the costume contest as Phish Ditka.
The Chicago Bears played the Vikings on Monday Night Football. Wildo stepped into the sportsbook and everyone went nuts over his costume. He wore such a eye-catching costume that everyone stopped for a selfie or photo. Both civilians and Phishy folks dug the costume once again.
I liked being Jim McMahon. Practical. I sweat my ass off so the headband was clutch. And I got to wear sunglasses all night so no one could see how fucking lit I really was.
While waiting to get an official photo, my Twitter friends @Felicified and @Meaarf were right in front of me. Felicia rocked an intricate costume: NEVER MISS PHISH. While Meaarf's crushed it with a lumbersexual lumberjack and his special-designed I SAW IT AGAIN saw.
Our buddy Dusty went to the show a Trump supporter. He couldn't find Crocs at the last minute, but he was a walking cliche: jorts, build-a-wall t-shirt, fanny pack, and a red hat that said GRAB THEM BY THE PUSSY. I should have known Trump was going to win when so many non-Phish people stopped him to chat about their support for Trump. Sure, I'm no Nate Silver and that polling was done by super-spun me but eight days later, we were surprised to learn that the costume predicted the election.
For the Halloween show, we assembled a small group in the same section with the Colorado crew. I spotted LazyLightning55 sitting in the next section. I had an aisle seat and hung out with a guy in stairs with hotdog costume and a painted Bowie face (Rob from SF was cool as fuck and we were on the same page with practically every song).
First set kicked off without a 2014 Halloween tune. Waited until the second song. The opener was a Carini that referenced Trey's Gucci shirt that caused an uproar in Phishdom. (My hot take: who the fuck cares? He probably got it for free, but I'd rather see Trey blow $700 on a shirt than blow $700 on opiates and blow. You precious 3.0 snowflakes whine about Show of Life encores, but you have no fucking idea the wookshit swamps that Oxy-Trey dragged us through in 2.0 like a Secret Smile encore...I don't hold many grudges but I'm still salty about the E Centre gig in 2003 and that kick in the nuts from Big Red after 4-song second set).
Phish opened the three previous shows with a nod to Halloween 2014, yet My Pet Cat popped up second on the final night. The Joker's beloved cat Emilio lost a fight with feline cancer and passed the day before. Phish finally played homage to Emilio the coolest cat from Denver.
Gordo roid rage squishy bass all over Free. Dirty and nasty and dark and greasy like the buffet at Circus Circus.
If you want to pretend to be a poker pro and learn how to read people, then just do some people watching during What's the Use. You will quickly find out people's emotional ranges. Vapid fashionistas snapped selfies. The drunks rushed for the pissers and reloaded the booze. Adderall chompers chatted their neighbor's ear off. The stoners huffed a doob. Coke fiends were already shoveling key bumps before Possum ended. The haters posted directly to PT from the floor, while jaded vets fired up Twitter and snarked about it. The baffled noobs nervously tried to find a way to dance to it. Anyone rolling tits danced through it like they were running through Walmart on Black Friday. Bisco ketaminekids drifted away into a k-hole like a Tenderloin junkie mid-nod. The serious acid heads were motionless as they navigated vibrational planes. And the one friend you brought along that didn't know Phish too well...well it was the perfect opportunity to see what made them tick. If they "got" WTU, then you knew they could be trusted.
If you bet on it, Phish busted out a 6+ minute Tube. Barely passed six, but they got dark and weird and sideways. Snuck Ass Handed in there before Petrichor. I have mixed feeling about it. Feels like three different songs and two of them need work. I got hooked on "And the rain" part so much so I drove the wife nuts singing it nonstop for two months since Big Boat got leaked by the infamous Russian hacker LEO69pussywagon.
My bud Dakota got so spun at the end of the first set he began speaking in alien dialects. I suggested he sit down and rage in my seat for Antelope. The seven-time JamCruise veteran was on ropes during the setbreak. Sometimes when you're down the rabbit hole, you get ambushed and sucked into another hole...and you're stuck there until you find a way out before the liquid sunshine wears off and then you're stuck in the upside down world from Stranger Things for the rest of eternity. That's why you always need a tripping buddy.
By the time the lights went down for Ziggy costume set, Dakota was out cold and slumped in my seat. He missed the entire Ziggy set too! Dakota got stuck in that spin cycle between Earth and Pluto. We kept feeding him sips of water and took turns giving him a thirty second back rub every five minutes. He was down, but not out. Like what Trey said in that interview about the band being in a lifeboat. Well, Dakota was "wook overboard" and fell out of the boat. We were in tumultuous Vegas waters, so shit got a little rough, yet we pulled him back into the boat. We all had each other; he got through it. By set three, he was still superspun, but speaking human languages again. By the start of Backwards he flashed a hearty thumbs down which meant he was back to being a snarky jaded vet. I ignored Phish's LSD Concussion Protocol and put Dakota back in the game for the rest of the third set. I know I was risking player safety, but this was the fucking SUPERBOWL, brah! By 3am, Dakota was back to his old self and hitting on a smokin' hot Harley Quinn at the secret pizza joint as Cosmo.
I went into Halloween with low expectations, but I really dug the short and sweet Ziggy Stardust set. I just hoped those spiders from Mars didn't haunt me in my dreams. You knew the vocals weren't going to be spot on, but the background singers helped immensely. I got way too fucked up for the Haunted House set, so I was in much better headspace to appreciate and pay attention to the intricacies of the Ziggy set (sans jamming). Everyone in my section was jacked up for it (aside from Dakota, but he was smiling on the inside). I remembered the contentious vibes that infected my section at the Wingsuit show in AC... folks were visibly irked then. In Vegas, the schwilly zombies in my infected area lapped it up. Every. Note.
Moonage Daydream was when it really sunk in...everything... the party favors and the mind funk and that weight of the world I wrote about in the first sentence. I had achieved peak fuckedupness and reached cruising altitude. Gordo pulled off Starman with Trey on acoustic and the lovely ladies on background vocals. That was the closest Gordo will ever get to being a real pop star and he reveled in every second. It Ain't Easy was a cover I think, but super short but it was one of the songs that would have been an amazing vehicle for some series cosmic-funk-jamming.
Page has been secretly singing Lady Stardust at karaoke clubs in Koreatown for decades. He was ready for the moment, stepped up to the plate, and went deep.
Phish put in a valiant effort, but they couldn't pull off the precision speed of the punk-infused Hang On to Yourself. They would destroyed that in 1995 when they could stop on a dime and blast off into a different orbit.
Leo locked up booty in perpetuity with his rendition of Ziggy Stardust. Months ago, during a band meeting, Page was like, "No discussion. Ziggy is mine. I got this one, gents."
I think Suffragette City might make it into the covers rotation, right? It has MSG night 2 encore written all over it.
The third set was all gravy. Sand and 2001 got the spookiest. Aside from that, it was really a long blur once 46 Days kicked off the last set of the Vegas run. At the end of Twist, the other three brahs jumped on Fishman's kit for a drums gangbang. Trey got off the most. Scintillating 2001. Dunno why it stuck out little more than the other ones I caught last couple of years, but the Vegas one had a little extra oomph.
During 2001, a shirtless schwilly bro screamed: "Yeah Trey!! You got the POWER again!"
Crushed the Slave to end the third set. Waited 4 days and 9 sets to finally hear it and knew we'd get one. Still always fucking pumped when they finally busted out my favorite song. Sometimes they rush the end of it...but took their time with this Vegas Slave.
Everyone I know was betting on a David Bowie (by Phish) encore, but instead Phish delivered another acapella rendition of Space Oddity. I'm from the school of thought it should a been a one time thing at Wrigley. I caught one in San Francisco this summer and it was cool to hear it again. But the entire crowd would lost their collective cookies and mud if Fishman went to the high hat for the start of Bowie.
I sorta checked out in 2016, which is a passive-aggro way of saying I got CRUNK'D up motherfuckers and did not give two shits. I curtailed the social media flow and refused to participate in the divisive bullshit. In high school I had a Latin teacher that used to say, "Close the books, open the minds." I moved his letters all around and came up with "Shut off the phone, and clear the mind." I said fuck Sun Tzu and I kept my friends close and refused to keep enemies closer because I had no time to waste on the emotional vampires, brainwashed sheeple, and social-media-likes-addicted crackfiends.
I spent large chunks of time away from the internets. Hung out with old friends and made some new ones. I dove head-first into books and re-wrote a novel twice (and it still sucks, gah). I strategically spread out work projects so I could party down, rage it up, and get twisted. It had been nearly five years since I went on a legit scorched-Earth bender that spanned several weeks (damn, I missed living in San Francisco but that year was a blur). I went harder than usual during culminating in several peak-psychedelic moments during West Coast summer tour. Controlled chaos.
I sensed a massive shift coming. Call it the looming apocalypse or the purge, but the disturbance in the force worried me. Before shit blew up, it was time to get my ya-yas out. I decided to celebrate the now and push life to the fullest in the most decadent and cheesiest manner possible -- in Las Vegas -- while staring down the inevitable double-barrel of a shotgun loaded with impending doom and tragedy. And this was before the election turned out the way it did.
I don't need any aspect of my life validated...especially my decisions, but I'm fucking thrilled I checked out in 2016 to focus on the things I'd want to do if I knew I was going to die tomorrow... books, music, making art, making people laugh, and partying it up with friends. This epic 2016 bender is coming to a close, but Vegas Halloween truly marked the beginning of the end.
It's been a tough year for a lot of people. I didn't waste the last year of my life screaming into the void and getting into nonstop fights with friends, relatives, bots, and strangers. Instead, I sought out sincere connections with people. The love of music brought us together...specifically Phish. That's why you're reading this. We're connected by a semi-unhealthy extreme fanaticism/borderline cult worship of this bizarro band from Vermont that's named after a short dude in a dress and the bass player is weirder than fuck, but the lead singer is an ADD-ginger with a penchant for painkillers and the piano player pulls in as much tail as Sinatra did in his glory years.
David Bowie said he imagined Ziggy Stardust as the leader of the most popular band on the planet five years before it gets destroyed the at apocalypse. I joked with everyone that Phish was hinting that they would break up in 2021, or the world blows up. We're on the clock either way. Let's not burn the last bits of daylight.
I felt fantastic stumbling out of the Halloween show as thousands of costumed freaks flooded the floor of the MGM Grand Casino. Bunch of us lucky fucks beat Vegas and walked away huge winners. When it happens, it's the best fucking feeling in the world. Why? Because it's fucking VEGAS....and out of seven billion suckers on this planet, you were the lucky one. The chosen one. The star child. Most of the time, the gambling gods totally fuck with you, but if constellations align just right, you catch a hot streak and you ride that fucker as far out into the cosmos as it goes. It's easy to lose your mind in Vegas and get batch-drowned with a sea of assholes, but if you catch the right wave, then you can actually walk on water.
That's a feeling that I'm not going to forget for a very long time.
* * * *Phish Vegas Halloween 2016 Recaps
Part 1: All These Dogs Just Want To Play
Part 2: Page EDM
Part 3: The Latch Was Left Unhooked
Part 4: Halloween Hazy Cosmic Jive
If you dug this series, the check out my book Lost Vegas: The Redneck Riviera, Existentialist Conversations with Strippers, and the World Series of Poker.