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Movie Review

Phish 3D

Phish in 3-D lacks depth

“Phish 3D’’ focuses almost solely on the band performing and not much at all on the fans and the concert scene. “Phish 3D’’ focuses almost solely on the band performing and not much at all on the fans and the concert scene. (C. Taylor Crothers)
By Scott McLennan
Globe Correspondent / April 30, 2010

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So what was that glowing jelly bean doing hovering over the crowd at Phish’s Festival 8? Alas, you won’t find out watching “Phish 3D,’’ a 2 1/4-hour compression of the fabled three-day, eight-set musical feast that Phish served last Halloween weekend in Indio (near Palm Springs), Calif.

The concert movie takes a narrow, straightforward approach, eschewing any sort of narrative or context in favor of fixing the cameras almost entirely on stage action. If you’re a Phish fan, you’ll enjoy seeing spirited performances of old standbys (“Maze,’’ “Mike’s Song’’), a nice portion of an acoustic set that included illuminating versions of “The Curtain With’’ and “Strange Design,’’ and some of the group’s “Halloween costume’’ — a Phish tradition wherein they perform an entire album by another band — which this time out was a sprawling rendering of the Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main St.’’

The few moments of footage from a rehearsal or occasional sweeps of the crowd are toss-offs that make you wish the cameras did more poking around the colorful hippie paradise Phish created in the California desert.

In general, one wonders why anyone went to the trouble and expense of 3-D cinematography when there is nothing inherently interesting or flashy about watching Phish perform its music. That’s not a knock on the band; a Phish concert is an event. But it’s one created through interaction between band and audience. In this movie, only one half of that equation is fairly represented, and the 3-D doesn’t pull you in nearly enough to replicate the live concert experience.

In the only bit of stage banter included in the film, guitarist Trey Anastasio attempts to make a joke about the prospect of forcing the festival crowd to remain seated during the acoustic set. Funny that the filmmakers chose to spotlight that comment. At a recent advance screening, a couple of free spirits left their chairs to twirl in the aisles, but the rest of the packed house stayed planted in their seats. Even when the veteran rock band’s music is at its liveliest, it’s hard to break the chains of cinema protocol and the straight-on viewing demands of 3-D.

At Festival 8, groups of Phish fans no doubt congregated near the floating jelly-bean light sculpture and engaged in discussions about what it could possibly mean and how it worked. Now that would have been worth dropping in on, especially if the band’s raging “Suzy Greenberg’’ were barreling toward one of those moments of debate, and the 3-D perspective made you feel a part of it.

As is, “Phish 3D’’ leaves you on the outside looking in.

PHISH 3D Directed by: Lawrence Jordan and Eli Tishberg

At: Showcase Revere and select suburbs

Running time: 135 minutes

Unrated

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