Phish 3D premiered in select cities last night to mostly mixed reviews. The film contains footage from the band’s Festival 8 event, which took place October 30-November 1, 2009 in Indio, CA and included a complete cover of The Rolling Stones’ album Exile on Main Street.

Phish has a longstanding, no-frills philosophy of letting its music speak for itself and Phish 3D is no different. Aside from a brief walk through the Polo Grounds at the Festival 8 site and a quick peak at backstage rehearsals with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, the film is comprised of 99% concert footage from the three-day Halloween event. The 3D technology doesn’t seem to be fully-utilized, with many close-ups of the band members and not enough wide shots of the stage that would have offered much greater depth of field (literally the distance between the foreground and background of a given shot – the greater the distance, the better the 3D effect). There are exceptions, such as the “Balloon Boy” metallic balloon that floats into the frame, a painter in the crowd or a couple of stragglers that walk in front of the camera in the back of the concert field during the acoustic daytime set.

Sadly, lighting designer Chris Kuroda’s light show is not as eye-popping as usual due to breezy outdoor conditions that limit the amount of haze that is required for the more textured beams of light that typically give a Phish show its most three-dimensional qualities .
Kuroda’s colorful use of LED lighting on the palm trees behind the stage was a highlight to many who attended the festival, but it’s barely noticeable in the film due to low camera angles (from the “pit” in front of the stage), quick cuts and not enough panoramic shots of the production as a whole. There is also hardly any footage of the various glowing art installations, fan costumes or synchronized pyrotechnics that made the festival unique. The vast majority of the film takes place within the cozy confines of the stage, which doesn’t necessarily require 3D technology.

Without the thick textures of Kuroda’s light show as a backdrop, Phish’s stage is mostly empty space. In U23D, for example [full disclosure: the film’s producer is Relix publisher Peter Shapiro] the members of U2 are engulfed by giant video walls and other dazzling LED effects that are constantly providing visual stimulation in the 3D space. Whereas U23D catered to the 3D technology with mind-blowing results, Phish 3D seems more like a traditional concert film that just happens to be shot with 3D cameras.

Musically, there are some outstanding moments, such as the jam segments in “Undermind,” “Tweezer” and “Maze” or the gentle acoustic melodies in “Train Song” and “Curtain With.” The highlight of the film comes during an extended vocal section in “Suzy Greenberg” that features the backs of vocalists Sharon Jones and Saundra Williams with a giddy Trey Anastasio egging them on in the center of the frame.

Like any concert film, fans will have differing opinions on the songs that wound up on the cutting room floor. Many of the strongest musical moments of the weekend are not included, such as “Stash,” “Slave to the Traffic Light,” “Harry Hood” or covers of The Rolling Stones’ “I Just Wanna See His Face” and “Let it Loose.” But most noticeably absent are the band interviews, back stage humor and behind-the-scenes footage that are generally the most revealing portions in any concert film. That would have lent more depth to Phish than 3D ever could.

Here’s a Look at the film’s setlist

AC/DC Bag, Stealing Time From The Faulty Plan, Undermind, Tweezer, Maze, Mike’s, (portion of “Mountains in the Mist” set to festival site footage), Back On The Train*, Strange Design*, The Curtain With*, Sleep Again*, Train Song*, Wilson*, (snippet of “Suzy Greenberg” rehearsal footage) Loving Cup, Happy, Shine A Light, Soul Survivor, Suzy Greenberg, Tweezer Reprise