These days, it’s common knowledge that the level of talent coming from the musicians in the Brooklyn music scene is among the highest anywhere. On any given night, in any one of New York or Brooklyn’s small clubs or DIY venues, these musicians can be heard playing their hearts out for anyone who will hear it—quite often just for tips. So it came as no surprise when, for the second year in a row, Phish reached into this scene and pulled out a world-class horn section to back them on Halloween for their cover of Little Feat’s Waiting for Columbus.
In recent years, Brooklyn artists and bands like Marco Benevento, Joe Russo, TV on the Radio, Rubblebucket, Antibalas and others have helped bridged the gap between the Brooklyn and jamband worlds (with a little help from their friends in Phish). There’s plenty more out there, and if you follow me on Twitter you’ll know that I champion many of these bands on a regular basis.
For the past two years, Phish has plucked musicians from the extended Daptone/Antibalas family to assemble a lineup of horns for their musical costumes. Today, you’ll get to hear from trumpet player Eric Biondo who talks about about his experience playing with Phish, a secret jam session that went on backstage, and his own side projects outside of Antibalas—”side dishes” as he likes to call them. Eric plays in Antibalas, Superhuman Happiness as well as his own project Beyondo. He has also recorded and performed with with Spoon, TV on the Radio and many others.
Anytime I get the chance, you’ll find me front row at Eric’s shows. If you live in the NYC area, come check his bands out, say hello and hear some of the best music there is out there. Phish clearly knows how good these players are, and so should you.
The next Beyondo show is at Rockwood Music Hall on March 9th in the Lower East Side.
When did Phish first approach you about playing with them on Halloween? How early did you know which album you’d be covering?
They approached us for the gig about a month and a half before the actual concert. They approached Antibalas management about getting us on there. We didn’t know what the record was going to be until maybe about a month before. We were kind of curious what we were going to play, because we knew there was a record [being covered]. So I got an e-mail from the management that they would be getting us the tracks soon and then we would go from there. So, yeah, it was kind of a surprise for us—to be waiting for this information in suspense.
Did the band require you to sign a confidentiality agreement right from the start?
Yes we did. We were sworn to secrecy and we also had to sign an agreement, which was something I’ve never experienced before. So that was cool.
Were you familiar with Waiting for Columbus before you found out you’d be covering it?
I knew about Little Feat because my father was into them back in the ‘90s. I had gone to see Little Feat in Buffalo back in the early ‘90s. So I knew about it, but then I kind of forgot about Little Feat for many years. My dad was into Little Feat and Robyn Ford and all these bands that I wasn’t as familiar with. But when the Little Feat record came up I was like “Oh my god,” and then I listened to it again and I was like “wow, I am familiar with this music.”
What was the rehearsal process like?
We did two days of rehearsing at SIR in mahnattan. It was a big sound studio. Us horn players trickled into a Phish rehearsal in progress. It was obvious that the had done there homework on the Waiting for columbus record. They were running the set as if they had been playing those songs for years. Once all the horn players were there, we started practicing the arrangements. It was a smooth process. Aaron’s charts were right on. We ran the set a few times each day to get the flow. I have to say the first time I heard Stuart play the solo on Mercenary Territory I got chills as it transitioned in to the guitar solo. We also sight read Julius. It’s always a great feeling to add the brass!
Did you realize you’d be assuming the role of Greg Adams from the Tower of Power horns who plays on the original recording?
[Laughs]. Oh man, I could never assume that guys role. Growing up as a trumpet player, Tower of Power was one of the biggest inspirations, and him being one of the soloist for the trumpets and the arranger and all of that—he’s a serious inspiration. And obviously all of the Tower of Power horns, and Tower of Power…I’ve got to see them at least four or five times in my life. I actually didn’t know Tower of Power was on the record until this thing came up. I mean, when I was a kid I guess I didn’t read the liner notes.
That must have been a double bonus for you—getting to play with Phish and take on the parts of one of your heroes at the same time. Were the arrangements very complex or how did you find them?
Oh man, those arrangements and just their sound…they’re the quintessential funk horn section. I mean, they’re just out of control. The arrangements were very clear and as far as horn arrangements go, they were awesome. A lot of times when bands collaborate like that, the arrangements don’t necessarily feel like they’re part of the song. But I really felt like that music and those horn arrangements were complimentary—there was a definite coalescence between the two worlds—which makes it that much more exciting. So it was very natural as far as learning stuff and it’s more inspiring to learn it.
Were they the actual arrangements that were written out by the Tower of Power horns, or did Trey or someone else transcribe their own versions?
Well, the arranger Aaron Johnson transcribed those from the recording. He’s the trombone player for Antibalas and the musical director and arranger for the Fela! Broadway show. I believe he was contracted to that. He has great ears and I’m sure it didn’t take him long to do that. But at the same time, you can’t really hear every little thing—there’s five horns. For me to do that would be extremely challenging to really be able to hear every little horn part in a live mix. So hats off to Aaron.
That’s interesting, I did not know that. Were you forced to stick to the charts or was there room to stretch out at times?
There was definitely some rearranging of sections on some of the tunes, just some minor horn changes. But for the most part it was verbatim as the recording. We did some improvising at the end of “Spanish Moon” and “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now.” That was all basically improvised. We’d come up with a riff and communicate it across the section and then go from there. And then the rest of it was just totally improvisation after that.
What was it like getting to jam with Phish? Were you a fan of them before?
Phish was a band that I had seen once in 1995. And then really just through circumstances, just drifted away from them into other things. But I have, in the last few years, been coming back and re-familiarized myself with their music.
When we got [to Atlantic City] it was an incredible experience as far as joining in to what they do naturally and being an equal part of what they were doing as far as jamming and improvising. They weren’t like you guys are just the horns. They were considerate of what we could do and they demanded us to play. Trey’s direction was really supportive and he gave us a lot of encouragement to stretch out.
Do you have a specific favorite moment of the night?
My favorite moment would have to be at the end of the jam when we were marching around Boardwalk Hall, the jam continued into the backstage area where we had a percussion jam with horns for an extra fifteen minutes after the band had gotten off stage. It was incredible because we were just in the dressing room just playing and clapping and using percussion instruments. It just kept going and it was so much fun. It didn’t end…It wasn’t over yet. To me I thought that was awesome because we weren’t like “We’re backstage, let’s stop playing.” We just kept on playing.
That’s funny because that almost sounds like a Superhuman Happiness jam.
Exactly. Exactly. And that energy from that show has inspired all of us and our fans. We all left that night…it felt like the crowd was like an equal member to the band. There was this incredible interactive spirit that’s just always there—it never goes away. I’ve been on stage with so many different bands and that was a really special moment. With that amount of people, it’s just absolutely inspiring.
Had you played in front of a crowd that size before?
I’ve played at MSG a couple of times with Spoon, and that was pretty incredible as well, but a totally different kind of crowd. We were actually opening for Arcade Fire, so it was probably a split audience. But it was massive—we did two nights there with six horns. Those are probably the biggest shows I’ve ever played.
So let’s talk a bit about your own side dishes, as you like to call them. Can you tell our readers about some of the projects you’re involved in?
Well, Beyondo and Superhuman Happiness are so closely related, in a way, because Stuart [Bogie] (Antibalas/Superhuman Happiness band leader) has been a big supporter of Beyondo for a while. He actually produced our first band EP back in 2005 or 2006. I’ve been playing with Stuart since 2003 when I started to play with Antibalas. He’s definitely a role model for me as far as his vision and what he stands for as a musician, artistically, and also as a leader. So that definitely affects my music and Beyondo.
[Stuart is] the leader of Superhuman Happiness which is a collective band. We all contribute to that band, we all write collectively. But we’ve all come together and been handpicked by Stuart in a way that we all have a common genuineness where we are all trying to be as pure and honest with our vision and our music. And we all have the same taste in music and these kind of things. So Superhuman Happiness is maybe Stuart’s third or fourth band that he’s ever created. That happened quite recently—it’s only been three years since Superhuman Happiness started, I think.
Beyondo has been around since ’99 or ’98, with different members and stuff like that. I’m actually going to put out a compilation of some old tapes that were made when we were in Rochester, when the band started while I was in the Rochester School of Music. Those tapes were created by the guitar player in our band, Grey McMurray. So that’s kind of this old compilation and it’s called Beyondo Beginnings. It just kind of gives an idea of where the band started and where it’s going. It’s very lo-fi stuff.
We’ve been rehearsing regularly lately and I put out Gold Tone this past year and it’s still selling, believe it or not, after all a whole year of being out. People are listening to it and it’s getting a lot of support from people who have never heard of that band.
So to keep that fire going we’re making a new record with the full band and we’re going to record that this spring with the idea of collectively writing together. Hopefully that will come out in the fall. But before that one comes out I’m working on another solo production on my own that will hopefully generate some money for our studio expenses. Other than that we’re just doing our gigs around town.
What about some of the other artists you’ve done studio sessions with?
Some of the other bands and musicians I’ve recorded with around town are TV on the Radio [Eric played on the original version of "Golden Age"] and Passion Pit, The Foals, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Holly Miranda, The Barbarians…a lot of independent bands that are just making some great music that need some horns. We do all that kind of stuff. I’ve probably played with at least 60 bands since I’ve been in New York. But Beyondo and of course Antibalas, that’s my main New York family since I’ve been here. That’s where the party is.
I’ve also been the trumpet player for the Davy Jones Band for the past ten years. Davy has been a big supporter and fan of Beyondo. I had Davy over to my house for dinner once and it turned into a Lo-Fi recording session. Davy is like that. He’s a big pop star that is 100% into music making on any level. We’re gonna release my garage band version of his song Love you Forever this spring
Coming back to Superhuman, I think that is one of the most unique bands I have ever seen perform. How would you describe its sound?
Superhuman Happiness has got this magical, almost hypnotic sound. If you could open up your favorite music box, that’s kind of what it’s like to see Superhuman Happiness. Every single individual player in that band is like a note, or like a sound and all those sounds come together in different orders and make this band. The personalities are very strong, the vocals are full of personality. We’re not trying to sound like anybody.
When people watch Superhuman Happiness they should be feeling like a part of the band as well because our show is basically…we want people to join in with us and clap with us and dance with us and sing with us and listen together. When I’m not playing a note and I’m just standing there, I’m listening to the concert. Although I’m on stage, we’re really trying to bring those two worlds together.
We’ve talked about bringing people up on stage from the audience to just create that linkage between this collective room of rhythm and dance. I’m sure Stuart would say the word “joy” because it’s also like therapy for us. We all work so hard together that it’s really like therapy for us to get together and play this music. It just has almost a healing quality to it because it’s so rooted in harmony and rhythm. There’s a lot of thought that goes into the rhythms and harmonies and it’s not one man’s dream. It’s five people’s interpretations and criticisms and constructions. That’s a band, you know?
Would you consider Superhuman Happiness a jamband? You seem to share many commonalities with the jam world, but it’s almost like a super group of session musician—like a jamband on steroids.
Yeah I totally think we’re a jamband. We’ve done a few shows that are totally improvised and every single show we do has plenty of improvisation with transitions or…it really depends. Although we do have a lot of structured material we can open up on, the band is a fearless improvising mechanism. We’ve played shows where we improvised the whole show and people were like “what was that second tune?”
The other thing about what we do while we improvise, and sometimes people don’t even notice it, but we’ll improvise things vocally. A lot of that stuff is totally improvised vocally. I get on stage and I hear a melody in my head and Stuart will be conducting two sections. We have this thing called memory ones and twos and threes and fours. Basically they’re like ways to document moments in our improvisation so we can remember the feel of a certain [jam]. But there’s so many different variables. Sometimes someone will just lead the way and take us into a place where we have no choice but to support.
Check out this live clip of Superhuman Happiness from 3.1.11 @ Le Poisson Rouge in NYC.
Little Feat has always been, and will always be, a musicians’ band. And so when Phish – the ultimate musicians’ band – decided to cover their 1978 live album, Waiting For Columbus, on Sunday, there was perhaps no album more fitting.
Like Phish, Little Feat is a band that plays best in a live concert setting. As Little Feat keyboardist Bill Payne told Relix in 1978: “This band is a playing type of band. We just sound better live than we do on records.” So rather than attempt to learn a studio album, as they have done in the past, Phish took on the task of recreating one of these live experiences. The music lent itself so well to Phish’s playing that at times it didn’t seem as though they were covering another band at all – it seemed as though this music had been a part of the band since the beginning.
The Halloween set began with “Join The Band” being piped over the PA system, as Phish took the stage with percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo alongside. In an attempt to replace the Tower of Power horns, who are featured on the album, Phish brought out members of Antibalas Horns – one of the finest horn sections on the scene today – and the Dapkings on several of the songs. There was instant chemistry, and as the band began to play we were shepherded back to the summer of 1978.
From note one of “Fat Man in the Bathtub,” it was clear how much of an influence these songs had on the members of Phish. Unlike many of the past musical costumes, where the band had to change their sound to suit the album, Little Feat was, as Jon mentions in the playbill, “in the fabric.” At one point a friend of mine turned to me and said “This sounds like Phish.” Or perhaps more appropriately, ‘Phish sounds like Little Feat’. Unfortunately, Trey did not use a slide (as George did) but instead mimicked his playing by cranking the treble on his amp and placing an equal importance on every note he played (as George did).
While Phish has played “Skin it Back,” “On Your Way Down” (made famous by Little Feat) and “Time Loves a Hero” since the early eighties, it was some of the other songs that gave us a true glimpse at the connection between the two bands. Waiting for Columbus takes songs from all different parts of Little Feat’s early career, giving us a feel for the various directions the band explored. The album is much like a Phish studio album (or show) in that it explores so many different genres. There’s the shufflin’ boogie on “Dixie Chicken” or the jazz-fusion songs like “Time Loves a Hero” and “Day or Night” (the latter of which led to Lowell George’s departure from the band) that show the signs of a band that could truly do it all. As Trey mentions in the Playbill: “’Tripe Face Boogie’ is in 9 time, then switches to 5, and still maintains that dynamite boogie.” So it was no surprise that it was complex songs, such as these, that Phish shone brightest.
The first few songs let the band slip into their roles – Trey as a mix of Lowell George, the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor,” and Paul Barrere, Mike as Kenny Gradney, Page as Bill Payne and Jon as Richie Hayward. But by “Time Loves a Hero,” the two groups had converged as one, Little Pheat, and the delivery couldn’t have been better. The band performed perhaps the best ever version of the song, flanked by Antibalas multi-instrumentalist Stuart Bogie on sax. From that point almost every moment was a highlight, but a run of songs in the middle of the set especially stood out – the run of “Spanish Moon,” “Dixie Chicken” > “Tripe Face Boogie.” I imagine it will be one of the songs from this segment that will be revisited by the band in the future.
One of the highlights, for me, was a near-perfect rendition of one of my favorite Feat tunes “Day or Night.” Phish nailed the vocal harmonies, and did justice to the complex instrumental sections. Little Feat’s influence on Phish was readily apparent as they worked through the odd-measured sections that resembled so many of their own compositions. “Mercenary Territory,” was another highlight and showed Trey mimicking George’s slide solos using bends instead of a slide, which actually worked surprisingly well. Although, I would have liked to see Trey tune to ‘G’ and lay down some leads with George’s trademark ¾ steel socket slide.
But it was the fitting “Spanish Moon,” a song about hookers and hustlers, and a run of songs that followed that served as the main highlight of the night. Having played “Spanish Moon” with Dave and Friends in the past, Trey was familiar with the jam, and it came off as one that had been in the rotation for years. Again, “part of the fabric.” The jam seemed so natural, and showed the massive influence Hayward has been on Jon’s playing. As Jon mentions in his personal tribute to the legendary Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward included in the Phishbill, “there has probably been no greater direct influence on my drumming than Richie Hayward…”
Next, the band switched gears to the other side of Little Feat’s song catalog, the George-driven down-home “Dixie Chicken,” and Phish once again flourished. Few bands could go from an R&B boogie to southern barroom blues as Little Feat did, but Phish mastered the challenge without a single slip. Page shone on this one, paying a worthy tribute to his hero Bill Payne. After “Dixie Chicken” the band segued perfectly back into the jazz-fusion side of Little Feat, annihilating the band’s complex jam vehicle “Tripe Face Boogie.”
The night also served as a tribute to Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward, who passed away this past August, and Lowell George who died in 1979, shortly after Little Feat’s disbandment. Jon donned a pair of Henrietta-patterned overalls, as a tribute to George who often wore overalls onstage. George truly was a musical genius, shown by his songwriting ability, his singing, his slide playing and his signature compressed tone. His greatness is perhaps best described in a Little Feat song called “Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor,” “He’s got two degrees in bebop, a PHD in swing, he’s the master of rhythm, he’s the rock ‘n’ roll king.”
While the band’s comments prior to Halloween may have led our minds astray, Little Feat should have been an obvious choice all along. While in 2003, when Trey made comments about wanting to do King Crimson or Brian Eno, the musical direction at the time was entirely different. I mean, he had just played and released an album with Oysterhead and was in the midst of what is perhaps Phish’s most psychedelic and exploratory period. Fast forward to now, and it seems Trey, along with the rest of the band, has moved forward in a new direction – one that focuses on songs, songwriting, and rediscovering old songs. So it seems fitting that they chose an album by a band that had all of that and more, and one that has influenced them since the very beginning.
“When we started Phish, we wanted an experience – dancing, fun, togetherness…while sticking in the crazy influences and time changes, and the funk and African things. But those guys were doing it all along. Little Feat were the gold standard.” –Trey, 2010 Phishbill
[All pictures courtesy of Glowstickwars.com user Redredworm]
When Phish announced their fall tour at the end of August, the three night run falling on the weekend of Halloween quickly drew everyone in the community’s attention. But Phish was careful to add that the fall tour would include a “very special Halloween show,” without providing any further details. Since then, rumors have circulated surrounding a possible musical costume, or even a full-on Gamehenge performance.
That all changed on Wednesday when Trey spilled the beans to an LA times writer, confirming Phish’s plan follow their tradition of covering an entire album on Halloween. But what he said was particularly interesting, and has stirred the community in a new direction. As you read this, fans are probably trying to dissect Trey’s words to decipher any possible hidden messages.
“This year…this one’s for me. The one we picked, I’m going to get more out of this as a musician than I ever have before. Three songs into it, I called everybody and told them, ‘None of the other ones – I wouldn’t think, hopefully – will have nearly the effect on my playing this one’s going to.’ ”
This comment certainly narrows the list, but there are still many questions. I’ve put together my own list of albums, in no particular order, that I think would fit the criteria based on Trey’s comment and various other factors. Let us know your thoughts on this year’s musical costume in the comments section.
1. Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
Many consider The Lamb to be the pinnacle of Genesis’ studio albums, and also one of the cornerstones of progressive rock. It’s a concept album, with lyrics mostly written by Peter Gabriel, telling the story of Rael – a Puerto Rican man living in New York – who is trying to rescue his brother from some from very bizarre circumstances. Phish has never covered their music in one of their own performances, but they did perform two of their songs at the Rock Hall of Fame induction ceremony earlier this year.
Trey has publicly professed his love for Genesis, and it would certainly fit the criteria of an album that would change him as a musician. For that matter, I actually think any of Genesis’ Gabriel-era albums would work, and are all possible. Trey has stated that his favorite is Selling England by the Pound, however, the (Gabriel-era) song they performed this year was off the 1972 album Foxtrot. The Lamb also was featured as one of the names of the campgrounds last year at Festival 8.
It should be noted, but not looked at too deeply, that Phish’s Halloween tickets have the same image as a 2007 Genesis poster from Philadelphia, featuring a picture of the Dog Faced Boy.
“Every musical rule and boundary was questioned and broken [by Genesis]. It’s impossible to overstate what impact this band and musical philosophy had on me as a young musician. I’m forever in their debt.” -Trey Anastasio, 2010 Rock HoF induction ceremony
2. Frank Zappa – Hot Rats
Hot Rats was Frank’s first solo album after departing The Mothers. It contains “Peaches en Regalia,” which has been in the Phish rotation since the beginning. Does it fit the criteria? Well, there’s no question that it would change Trey musically. But when he says, “this one’s for me,” I don’t think you could include Zappa. It is widely known that Jon is perhaps even a bigger Zappa fan than Trey (having released an album of hand picked Zappa favorites) so that doesn’t seem to work. But nonetheless, it’s a possibility, and one that was supported by longtime Phish fan, and writer of the Phish Companion, Charlie Dirksen.
Zappa was a huge influence on how I wrote music for Phish. Songs like “You Enjoy Myself” and “Split Open and Melt” were completely charted out — drums, bass lines, everything — because he had shown me it was possible…Zappa gave me the faith that anything in music was possible. He demystified the whole thing for musicians in my generation: “Look, these are just instruments. Find out what the range is, and start writing.” – Trey Anastasio, Rolling Stone 2005
3. Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti
With “The Rover” being played this summer, and Trey’s well-known affinity for the band, this one has to be considered in the running. While I don’t see it changing him as a musician as much as some of the other albums, it certainly would be “for Trey”. But once again, Jon is also a major Zep fan. I also don’t see it taking three songs for him to realize the effect it would have on him, he’s probably learned to play the entire album before. I think Zep fans will have to wait this year.
4. Yes – The Yes Album
This album certainly fits the criteria in most ways, and would be a top pick for many fans. Last year at Festival 8 the band could clearly be heard jamming on “The Wurm” section of “Starship Trooper” during the sound check, leading some to believe that this was one of the albums they had scrapped in the decision process. The one obvious issue (aside from the incredibly challenging music) would be Jon Andersons’ vocals – who would possibly be able to sing them? Needless to say, seeing Phish cover this album – and Trey cover “The Clap” – would be one of the ultimate musical experiences, especially for us Yes fans.
“Starship Trooper Jam” (10.29.09)
5. King Crimson – Larks Tounges in Aspic
This album is highly probable, and would certainly fit the criteria in every way. Trey mentioned to Relix in 2003 that he had wanted to learn both Larks Tounges and Brian Eno’s Another Green World for Halloween that year. This obviously never happened, so there is good reason to believe the idea is still on his mind, or at least half of it. While the band has never covered a King Crimson song before, they have jammed around certain themes from this very album in the past – most notably the “Split Open and Melt” from 8.10.97. Along with The Lamb, Larks Tounges was also a campground name last year at festival 8. (Watch Bruford’s drumming in the video).
6. Brian Eno – Another Green World
As mentioned above, Trey referenced this album as a possible Halloween cover album in 2003, and has stated his affection for Eno’s music on various other occasions. It would fit the criteria of being a “Trey album”, and would surely change him as a musician. Brian Eno is largely considered the founder of ambient music, and I think this would suit the band perfectly at this stage, as they have been delving into ambiance quite regularly in 3.0. For those of you who don’t know, Brian Eno is the genius behind a great deal of Talking Heads music – he co-wrote every song on Remain in Light. I recently talked to Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz about the influence Eno had on their playing during that time period.
7. My Bloody Valentine – Loveless
Consider this the underdog pick. It would fit the criteria in every way, and should be considered a top choice. Trey has pushed hard for this album in the past, and has said how much he enjoys playing albums that people aren’t as familiar with. Kevin Sheilds’ unique guitar style on this album was revolutionary, and has inspired countless imitators in years since (he strummed the strings with the tremolo bar) so that would surely change Trey as a musician. Pitchfork writer, and longtime Phish fan Rob Mitchum made Loveless his call for the musical costume this year in a twitter message written to me yesterday.
“‘Loveless’ is the best album recorded in the ’90s. History will tell, and 20 years from now that album will be considered a complete classic, while a lot of the albums that are real popular today will have been forgotten.” – Trey Anastasio
Last night, things got a little bit more interesting as Phish added some video clips to the wall of albums. When you click on some of the album covers, a YouTube video pops up featuring a song from the album. This is a further development, after some Phishy photoshopping took place. Many questions are left, as one would assume the albums that do not have videos are the next to go. If that is the case, we can narrow the list even further. Sadly, many of our top picks do not have videos, and so I hope that is not the case. Here are the albums and the videos that go along with them:
David Bowie – Hunky Dory
Video: David Bowie “Oh You Pretty Things”
David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust
Video: David Bowie “Five Years”
AC/DC – Back in Black
Video: AC/DC “Hells Bells”
Aerosmith – Toys in the Attic
Video: Mike Gordon and Leo Kottke “Sweet Emotion”
Led Zeppelin - IV (Zoso)
Video: Led Zeppelin “Going to California” (Would this not be the most perfect song to hear on Halloween in California?)
The Band – The Band (Brown Album)
Video: The Band “Up On Cripple Creek” (from The Last Waltz)
When you click The Clash’s London Calling you, for some reason, get the video for “Up On Cripple Creek”. When you click Arcade Fire’s Funeral, you get “Sweet Emotion” by Mike and Leo. Odd.
After many of the expected, and a few of the unexpected albums have been axed from the list, the speculation continues to run in high gear. None of the albums we have mentioned have received the axe, so we feel that we are on the right track. Today, we’ve compiled a full list of albums that we feel could make the cut. We’ve narrowed it down through a number of different criteria. Some albums on the list were decoys, albums Phish most likely would not play. Others, such as the albums by bands they have already covered on Halloween, were obvious no-goes. Here are our picks (we have included the ones we have already mentioned, with brief descriptions):
1. Blind Faith – Blind Faith
As we have already mentioned, this would be a great pick. There are phenomenal musicians on every instrument, hence the band being dubbed the first ‘super-group’. Trey has said he is a big Clapton fan and this album exhibits his playing like no other. Also, Phish has never covered a Blind Faith song. The entire album is incredible and I still hold this as one of my top picks, although I don’t think it is the most likely.
2. Bob Dylan – The Basement Tapes/Blood on the Tracks
Again, both possibilities. Trey has said he would like to do the Basement Tapes in the past (2003 interview with Relix), and again recently on a radio interview. The instrumental music on The Basement Tapes is superior to Blood on the Tracks, as The Band is Dylan’s back-up. Blood on the Tracks would be mostly Trey singing and for that reason I don’t think they will choose it. For the same reason I left Van Morrison off the list. It is hard to choose an album that focuses on a single musician. I don’t feel these albums will become the musical costume yet they should still be considered.
3. Brian Eno - Before and After Science
This album fits all the criteria and could very well be the choice. Trey has professed his love for Eno’s work on numerous occasions. Eno is largely considered to have pioneered ambient music, making Halloween the perfect time for the band to pay tribute. A day that is traditionally filled with ambient noises from the dark would provide the ideal canvas for Phish to paint their own ambient picture. If you have not heard this album, I highly recommend it. The one aspect of this album holding it back is the connection and similarity to the Talking Heads. To many, it would seem like Phish was covering another Heads album, and this may lead them to stray away from choosing it.
4. David Bowie - Scary Monsters/Hunky Dory/Ziggy Stardust
Phish has a long history with David Bowie, and it would feel perfect if it were to all come together with a Halloween set that relived his weird antics. All three albums seem possible with Ziggy at the head of the pack. He is also the only artist with three albums. The odd music would provide the perfect atmosphere for a weird, fantasy-like Halloween. Trey would destroy Mick Ronson’s leads and Page would have his hands filled playing Rick Wakeman’s (most notably the keyboardist for Yes) parts.
5. Frank Zappa – Apostrophe/Hot Rats
Both of these are big possibilities. Trey and Jon have both said how much Zappa has influenced them both. Zappa would undoubtedly put each musician to the ultimate test, and would involve Trey’s compositional skills to fill the instrumental gaps. The band could also bring out extra musicians as they did in the past with Remain in Light. This is a tall order, and as I mentioned before, is unlikely to happen in a short period of time. With the band apparently flopping between albums it would appear time is running out. That said, it is also very likely that Trey and Jon are familiar with a great deal of the music on both albums making the job significantly easier. It is also possible that the band has been fooling us and has been learning this album for a while now.
6. Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway
This album has everything needed to become the musical costume. Only one factor holds it back, and that’s the length. Running over an hour an a half would create a problem as that is a ton of music to learn. The White Album was lenghty, however, as Trey has said it was practically part of his genetic make-up. If they could pull this off, it would be an incredible experience. Telling the story of the Rael’s journeys through New York would be similar to the narrative-like feel of Gamehenge. Trey also mentioned in a radio interview yesterday that, in the past, part of the decision behind choosing the album has been based on a particular band member’s ability to replicate the playing of one of the musicians being covered. For example, Trey mentioned Jon’s ability to mimic Keith Moon’s style when they covered Quadrophenia. I have no doubt in Jon’s ability to replicate Phil Collins’ drum parts. This should be high on everyone’s list, regardless of the length. We will be at a festival after all…
7. Jimi Hendrix – Are You Experienced?/Electric Ladyland
While I think these are both possibilities, I don’t think they will make the final cut. To cover an entire Jimi Hendrix album would be a self-fulfilling endeavor for Trey. We all know about Trey’s love for Jimi and the influence he has had on Trey’s playing. The backing musicians are less than stellar, and would hardly present a challenge for the rest of the band. There’s not even a piano. While I would love to see Trey bring Jimi’s magic back to life, I just don’t think it’s realistic.
8. King Crimson – Larks’ Tongues in Aspic
In the past, Phish has generally brought something new to the table, other than The White Album. If they were to do this album, it would definitely shock quite a few people. I think it’s possible, but if you’re familiar with Robert Fripp’s guitar playing, it does not seem overly likely. Known for a very original style of picking, Fripp does not use any conventional guitar techniques. Trey would literally have to reinvent his playing to take on this album. That said, Trey said he likes to get inside the heads of the musicians he is covering, and really understand the space they were in at the time of recording. For those of you who don’t know, “Daves Energy Guide” is an admitted take on Fripp’s guitar-style. One might even say it is a direct lift from the album “Discipline”. If this is the album, I will be very happy and it could very well change the future of Phish, much in the way Remain in Light did in ’96.
9. Led Zeppelin - I/IV (Zoso)
I think these are the overall favorites to become the musical costume, and for that reason, I don’t think either will make the cut. However, as much as Trey loves Jimi, he loves the other Jimmy almost as much. These albums provide the opportunity for Trey to play guitar-God, and for the rest of the band to shine as well. Jon has said his first experience with drumming was attempting to emulate John Bonham, and that he basically learned to drum from it. Page would most likely sing, so he would have a new challenge to face. Mike would have John Paul Jones’ lines to master making this a challenge for the entire band. I would have to say that IV is the more likely of the two as it contains the songs Phish has covered less often. To get a taste of what it would be like to hear Trey play “Black Dog”, check out the version from Bonnaroo ’04.
10. Michael Jackson – Thriller
For those of you who don’t know (I feel like this is common knowledge) Eddie Van Halen played the guitar solo on “Beat It” – clearly the reason for Trey’s love for the song (he has teased it on multiple occasions – 10.21.95, 10.29.95). The entire album presents a challenge for the band, as Mike would be locked into disco-mode from the start, Jon would become a drum machine. More importantly, who would sing? I don’t see it happening. For a classic PT discussion in support of it, click here.
11. Neil Young – Everybody Knows This is Nowhere/Tonight’s the Night
While seeing these covered would make me very happy, I don’t think it will happen. Neither album evokes the type of spirit that I think would be necessary for Halloween, more specifically a Halloween festival. Trey is clearly a big Neil fan, and playing his album would be very fun, for Trey. Like some of the other albums, it doesn’t present enough of a challenge for the rest of the band. Possible, but unlikely.
12. Rolling Stones - Sticky Fingers/Exile on Main St.
I think these are both major possibilities. Since they have played “Loving Cup” so many times, I think “Exile” is less likely. Sticky Fingers would be a great album to cover, but I feel like Phish will avoid it. The songs are too well known and I think the band gets a kick out of bringing new music to their fans’ ears. Again, unlikely.
13. Rush - Moving Pictures
Another of my top picks to become the musical costume. Phish has never covered a Rush song, however, Space Antelope has. In Trey’s basement back in the early 80′s Trey and friends took a stab at “Hemispheres”. This would fulfill the role of introducing fans to new music, as I doubt a large number of Phish fans are big Rush fans. It would also be the perfect backdrop to a spooky night. Rush’s dark, complex, compositions would add a strong effect to the eerie surroundings. While Rush is only a three person band, there is enough overdubbing used to leave room for a fourth musician. The music is challenging, original, and fits the vibe of Halloween. It doesn’t get much more perfect.
Listen to Trey’s band Space Antelope play “Hemispheres”.
14. Steely Dan – Pretzel Logic
For several reasons I think this is one of the most likely albums. Way back at UVM, Trey’s sign saying “Bass Player Wanted” also included “Guitarist and singer into Steely Dan, Allman Brothers”. Eat a Peach was axed yesterday, leaving Steely as one of Trey’s oldest and most significant influences. This album is doable, yet a very tall challenge. The entire band will have to master some very complex music. I think it is very possible, and I would be very happy to see this album covered.
15. Van Halen – Van Halen
A lot of people seem to be crossing this one off the list early. It’s not my first pick, but I think it would suit the event very well. Opening with “Runnin’ with the Devil” on Halloween would be perfect. The album presents a challenge the band definitely could take on. However, again, this album largely focused on a single musician, making it less likely.
16. Yes – The Yes Album
This is probably my personal favorite from the entire list of albums. I would be extremely happy to hear the band cover this one. It presents a huge challenge to every member. Jon has said Bill Bruford was one of his earliest influences, and it would be incredible to see Jon play his drum lines. Steve Howe is one of the greatest guitarists of all time, and Tony Kaye and Chris Squire are also some of the best at their respective instruments. The dark compositions would create the perfect effect for Halloween. However, this album presents a few questions. For one, who would sing Jon Anderson’s high pitched vocals? Second, and perhaps most importantly, can Trey learn “The Clap” in such a short period of time? Unless he already knows it, which is very possible, I think it would take a great deal of effort to learn it from scratch.
We have taken Pet Sounds off the list for a few reasons. First, I have a hard time seeing the band reaching the level vocal of harmony required to achieve the full effect. Second, while it is one of the greatest albums ever, and likely the reason why they included it, it does not pack enough of a punch. It’s too much of a feel good ride, and I don’t think that suits the Halloween vibe at all. That said, the Pink Floyd albums also did not make the cut. While I think Phish could surprise everyone, they have already played Darkside and I don’t see them doing the same band twice.
Check out this video of “Gin” from Halloween ’89.
To add fuel to the fire, Phish has released the list of potential musical costumes for Festival 8. Since the announcement of the festival, the thought has been on my mind, ‘what will they play when the moment comes?’ With flying weapons slowly eliminating albums, it appears for the first time Phish will announce the album prior to the actual show. Most of the albums are ones that we have been considering, with a few unexpected ones standing out. For example I think Thriller and Electric Ladyland were on most people’s radar. However, I think its safe to say French-Latin singer Manu Chao’s Clandestino and Montreal based band The Arcade Fire’s Funeral were surprises to most people. That said, I have a hard time seeing the band sing in French, Spanish and Portuguese to the spooky setting of Halloween. With MMW’s Shack Man, Tom Petty’s Dam the Torpedoes, Huey Lewis and the News’ Sport, the Talking Heads’ Fear of Music and Leonard Cohen’s I’m Your Man already off the list, we feel we can start narrowing it down further. Throughout the week we will be selecting albums from the list and talking about them in detail. If you have not seen the list of albums, check them out here.
While many of the albums seem tempting, I think this year will be different from past years. For one, the festival setting will evoke an entirely different atmosphere than fans are used to on Halloween. It won’t be enough to simply cover an album this time. The album will have to fit with the spooky setting of Halloween. Based on that criteria, I’ve narrowed the list down a bit. We have already mentioned Thriller, The Basement Tapes and another of Brian Eno’s albums, which are all major possibilities (read the article here). Here are some more albums that we think might make the cut:
The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds
Considered by many to be one of the greatest and most innovative albums of all time, Pet Sounds is one of the first concept albums of all time. In 2003, Pet Sounds was voted the #2 album of all time by Rolling Stone. The thick vocal harmonies, and unique use of instruments create a very interesting sound, one in which Phish could potentially push to new limits. Widely felt to be one of the most influential albums, The Beatles have said it was the main influence behind Sgt. Pepper. As George Martin, the Beatles producer, stated, “Without Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper wouldn’t have happened…Pepper was an attempt to equal Pet Sounds“. Needless to say, this would be an amazing choice for Halloween in California. With Phish singing the vocal harmonies, taking these surf rock tunes for wild rides, it would make for one of the best musical costumes to date.
Here’s “Sloop John B” off Pet Sounds.
Blind Faith – Blind Faith
The first of the ‘super-power’ groups, Blind Faith only existed for a short time. Featuring Eric Clapton, Stevie Winwood, Ginger Baker, and Ric Grech, the band released a single album in 1969 and disbanded shortly after. In that brief period, Blind Faith created some very innovative music, pushing each musician to the limits of their abilities. Some of Clapton’s most complex guitar playing was in Blind Faith, which he has recently ressurected with Stevie Winwood. I was lucky enough to catch one of the reuniting shows at MSG last year, and I can honestly say it was one of the greatest muscial experiences of my life. Seeing Phish play these songs is one of my biggest dreams. The opening notes of “Had to Cry Today” would bring the house down, and Trey would sound great playing Clapton’s leads.
Watch “Had to Cry Today”, the opening track off Blind Faith.
David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust
Another concept album, released in 1972. This album would make for the perfect musical costume, as the band would lead the crowd along the journey of Ziggy Stardust. Telling the story of a being from outerspace who comes to save Earth with a message of peace and love would create the perfect musical setting for Halloween. Bowie described the story behind the album in a 1974 interview with Rolling Stone:
“The time is five years to go before the end of the earth. It has been announced that the world will end because of lack of natural resources. Ziggy is in a position where all the kids have access to things that they thought they wanted. The older people have lost all touch with reality and the kids are left on their own to plunder anything. Ziggy was in a rock-and-roll band and the kids no longer want rock-and-roll. There’s no electricity to play it. Ziggy’s adviser tells him to collect news and sing it, ’cause there is no news. So Ziggy does this and there is terrible news. ‘All the young dudes’ is a song about this news. It’s no hymn to the youth as people thought. It is completely the opposite.”
Needless to say it would be an incredible experience if Phish were to cover Ziggy.
“Moonage Daydream” from Ziggy Stardust.
Frank Zappa – Hot Rats
If Phish were to cover this album it would be a major undertaking. Frank’s second solo album, released in 1969, consisting of five instrumental tracks and one track with vocals. The liner notes of the album describe the music as “a movie for your ears”. The music is extremely complex, and would take time to master. With Trey mentioning that they have recently begun learning a new album, it would be very difficult to learn the music to Hot Rats in such a short period. That said, the band already knows “Peaces en Regalia”, and could potentially learn the rest. Remember who we’re dealing with here. However, to acheive the right sound, I think they would need horns and perhaps a violin. It would be difficult, there’s no doubt about it, but I don’t put it past them.
“Son of Mr. Green Genes” from 10.26.68.
Check back throughout the week as we will continue to break down the potential Festival 8 musical costumes. Post your thoughts in the comments section, let us know what you think the album will be!