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Phish fully inhabit David Bowie classic in Halloween show

It was the words of an extraterrestrial rock star that united the dancing can of Spam and the dude dressed like He-Man with a Grateful Dead tattoo on his brick-thick biceps.

“Let all the children boogie.”

Forty-four years after David Bowie commanded as such on one of rock’s most enduring concept albums, “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars,” that line, that record, was brought to new life by 16,000 or so mostly costumed revelers and a band who diligently followed the marching orders of an androgynous glam alien.

Said band, Phish, whose members are studious topographers of some of rock’s most far-out terrain, played “Ziggy Stardust” in its entirety Monday at a perspiration-slicked MGM Grand Garden. It was the centerpiece of their Halloween tradition of donning a “musical costume” and performing another band’s album front-to-back during the second of their three sets.

This was the third time Phish has done so in Vegas, the most recent being in 2014, when they reinterpreted a seasonal Disney sound effects album at the same venue.

Phish’s take on “Ziggy Stardust,” though, had an especially meaningful feel to it, and not just as a tribute to Bowie, who passed away in January at the age of 69.

In the album’s storyline, Stardust comes to our world to provide a measure of hope to a civilization on the brink of destruction. He’s a tragic hero, prone to excess and indulgence, but ultimately a symbol of the power of music to bring people together.

No, Phish doesn’t aspire to save mankind with sweet and sweaty jams about roadkill (see “Possum,” which the band played during their opening set), but their catalog, and especially their live gigs, double as a big bear hug to humanity, a giddy rush of good vibes where invocations to “Set the gearshift for the high gear of your soul” are delivered earnestly.

And so Phish’s decision to glitter themselves in “Stardust” registered as an equally obvious and inspired choice.

Performing the album alongside a string section and a trio of backing singers, Phish didn’t make the album their own so much as inhabit it fully. All four band members took turns on lead vocals during various songs, with singer/keyboardist Page McConnell giving especially rousing voice to “Ziggy Stardust,” singer/bassist Mike Gordon handling the pretty, plaintive melodies of “Starman” and drummer/vacuumist Jon Fishman belting out a hard-nosed “Star” while laying down a whip-cracking beat. Singer/guitarist Trey Anastasio bolstered “Moonage Daydream” with a gorgeously expressive solo, but for the most part, the band stayed true to the original arrangements on “Stardust,” though they did dig into the final strains of “Hang On To Yourself” with head-down, ears-back gusto.

“Come on, come on, come on,” the backing singers enjoined on the song in question, turning the phrase into a mantra, and Phish did just that, building up a lather as they worked their way to the album’s climax, “Rock and Roll Suicide.” “You’re not alone!” Anastasio implored near tune’s end, his voice rising to a near-shout as he spelled out a sentiment that defines his band as much as the album the lyric was taken from.

Phish’s shows are intensely communal affairs: You will most likely know the names of everyone sitting around you by the end of the night and will probably have shared a story or two about how you all got here along the way.

Also, there will be high-fiving. Lots and lots of it, until you start to feel like a point guard who just sank a game-winning free throw.

On top of all this, Phish’s Halloween gigs are especially festive, a congenial carnival of the absurd, where a dude can dress as Flo from the Progressive insurance TV commercials on her menstrual cycle and fit right in because it’s all but impossible to be an outsider here.

The music heightens this sense of togetherness: Phish’s catalog is among music’s most pliable, meant to be bent and twisted into new forms, and as such, the band and the audience explore them simultaneously in real time.

The whole idea is to be fully in the moment, to follow along, to get carried away, and to be in no rush to do so.

On Monday, this manifested itself in a show that spanned nearly five hours, including a pair of intermissions, the set list ranging from knotty instrumentals peppered with the sound of shrieking tabbies (“Your Pet Cat”) to the playful boogie of “Wombat,” where the ushers fully lost control of the aisles to gyrating fans, to the monster jam that began with “46 Days” and encompassed the band’s entire third set.

It all culminated with an a cappella take on Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” in which the song’s protagonist is floating through space, all alone.

That feeling, one of loneliness, detachment, existed only in song on this night.

Read more from Jason Bracelin at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com and follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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