Story by Dylan Grassl
Few bands invoke the level of excitement, anticipation, and curiosity on Halloween as Phish. Phish are known for covering another band’s album in its entirety calling it a “musical costume.” As you get ready to put on your costume, we take a look back at 5 of the top musical costumes from Phish’s past Halloween runs. Let the controversy begin!
5. The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street 10/31/09. Indio, CA
Following their reunion in 2009, Phish would once again don a musical costume on Halloween in Indio, California, the same site as Coachella. From the opening riff of “Rocks Off,” Phish was off and running. Tearing through classics like “Sweet Virginia,” “Happy,” a particularly spirited version of “Loving Cup,” all the way to a climactic “Soul Survivor,” this performance holds up not just as a great tribute to a legendary album, but a statement that Phish was back, and in fine form. For this set, Phish brought on a backing vocal and horn section that included Sharon Jones as well as members of the Dap Kings. While there are moments where the rust of ’09 shows a bit, it was an overall powerful performance by everyone on stage and proof that Phish was back and ready to take chances with huge rewards in the modern era.
(Full Disclosure: This may or may not be the only Halloween show the author of this piece has been able to attend and thus may be slightly biased. Then again isn’t the best Phish show always the one you just saw? Does that make this entire list futile? Let’s keep reading and find out….)
4. The Who – Quadrophenia 10/31/95. Rosemont, IL.
Many children are trick or treating in the nearby area, one possibly dressed up as Wolverine; completely oblivious to the fact that one of the most incredible concerts in Phish history is taking place over at the Rosemont Horizon (now the Allstate Arena). Childhood scars aside, the band’s second musical costume is a musical tour de force. Anyone who has heard the original album knows what a grand undertaking it would be, and yet the band delivered through all 17 tracks. They tackled the complex album with the help of additional vocalists and a horn section along with all the original sound clips scattered throughout. The band then encored with “My Generation,” and proceeded to trash their instruments in classic Who style, which you can watch below in addition to hearing their version of “5:15.”
3. The Velvet Underground – Loaded 10/31/98. Las Vegas, NV
In 1998, Phish played a three night run in Las Vegas (much like they will this year). Loaded is a unique album for The Velvet Underground, in that it was their first real attempt at making a commercial sounding album, moving away from their earlier experimental and at times confrontational sound. Almost all of the songs on the album are short, simple pop songs. Naturally, Phish stretched out the majority of them in their tribute. This was especially true on their cover of “Rock & Roll,” which would go on to be a reoccurring song in their catalogue as well as a major jam vehicle for years to come. For some reason this album seems to get overlooked by fans, but listening to it years later proves how well it holds up. Whether it’s on point covers like the “Who Loves The Sun,” opener, the blissful, dare I say beautiful jam out of “Sweet Jane,” or the ambient psychedelic turn at the end of “Lonesome Cowboy Bill,” this is one musical costume that deserves to be revisited. Luckily you can do just that by checking out fan footage of the entire set below!
2. Talking Heads – Remain In Light 10/31/96. Atlanta, GA
This longtime favorite in the jam scene, would be the musical costume of Halloween 1996 at The Omni in Atlanta. For this performance, Phish once again employed a horn section as well as Santana percussionist Karl Perazzo. The band also played a very funky, loose take on the album. In fact the amount of time Phish spent learning these songs and rehearsing them would go on to influence their own style of playing in the late 90’s as they moved from more guitar based rock peaks to a slower, more ambient groove style of jamming that fully integrated every member of the band. It seems the guys didn’t want to take the costume off once Halloween was over. They would continue playing “Crosseyed and Painless”, resulting in a large-scale dance party at whatever show they busted it out. Many Phish fans as well as the band have noted this as their favorite Halloween show. See if you agree after watching their cover of “Born Under Punches.”
1. The Beatles – The Beatles (The White Album) 10/31/94. Glen Falls, NY
In 1994, the band had fans vote on which album they wanted to see them cover. The fans spoke and the audience at the Glen Falls Civic Center in New York was treated to three incredible sets of music, with the final set reportedly ending after 3:30AM! In a typical Phish gag, the second set began with the beginning of Pink Floyd’s “Speak To Me” pumped over the loudspeakers leading many fans to believe the band would be covering Dark Side of the Moon (that would only happen years later and under different circumstances). However, right when “Breathe” would have kicked in, it was cut off by Ed Sullivan introducing “these youngsters from Liverpool…The Beatles!” The energy and excitement from the crowd is palpable even on tape. Phish kept each song short and simple, staying faithful to the original sound of all 30 tracks on this classic album. There isn’t much you can say about such a legendary show, except go listen to it. Now. Start with the band’s blistering take on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” below.
All that being said, what will happen when Phish takes the stage at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas this year is anyone’s guess. The band bucked tradition last year by playing songs from their newest album Fuego. Anastasio has recently said about their previous musical costumes that the band “got sick of it…the last couple of years it started to feel like a trap we had built.” Page McConnell confirmed by adding, “I think doing our own album was a little bit of a liberating experience for me. I wonder if maybe we’ll look to start a new tradition.” Will they stick to their word and begin a new tradition or are they planting the seeds for another surprise gag for the audience?
You can be among the first to find out by entering XRT’s Rock & Roll X-Cursion to see Phish this Halloween live in Las Vegas. Just as long as you bring me with you.