For all the hype and excitement leading up to Phish 3D, the truth is, it was a mixed bag of pleasure and disappointment. Part of me loved it and part of me walked out of the theater wanting more from the band's 2009 Festival 8 performance and the overall 3D experience.
The pre-show atmosphere inside the sold out theater in Chicago was undeniably palpable. While we waited for the movie to start, I gauged the buzz and asked a Phish fan sitting next to me what he felt about seeing Phish 3D. He told me that he had been to over 50 Phish concerts and was excited to experience the band in a new way. But like most Phish fans he wasn't quite sure what to expect during Phish 3D.
Then just as he finished, the intro credits flashed on the screen and a roar of cheers rippled through the theater. Instantly, the communal vibe of Phish 3D was stronger than what I felt during Larger Than Life, AEG Live's first 3D concert movie that was released back in December and featured Dave Matthews, Ben Harper and Gogol Bordello at Austin City Limit Festival.
During the two hour and twenty minute Phish 3D all types of live concert elements from the three-day festival popped from the screen. Beach balls bounced and plumes of stage smoke floated in front of us making me want to reach out and grab the beach balls and brush away the smoke as if I really could.
Through a series of spliced edits, the first set of songs included the extended funky and soulful jam-outs "AC/DC Bag" and "Tweezer." Then during the peaking chorus of "Mike's Song" real glow sticks were hurled from the back of the theater and rained down over the crowd. It was a clever twist to the same unexpected tricks used during old-school 3D movies where water or other things were flung into the crowd to make the 3D effects seem more real. I wasn't able to confirm if the glowstick trick was the decision of a few crafty Phish fans sitting in the back row, or if it was the official plan of AEG Live and Phish themselves. Either way, the glow stick wars that broke out in the theater added an excellent sense of excitement and beautifully merged our theater crowd with Festival 8's flock of 40,000 fans.
On the downside, most of Phish's performances didn't have a consistent flow of energy and the sets lagged at times. Only during the full-length daytime acoustic set and the Rolling Stones covers in the second set did Phish truly find their groove.