5.05.2013

Phish Halloween '96 - Talking Heads Remain In Light (complete show)


As a band Phish were/are known for their penchant of course for improvisation but also for all manner of tricks to have a laugh with and sometimes at their audience.  There is their secret language of musical cues (the Simpsons theme is followed by the audience going "Doh!") which they would employ in their early days mid-improvisation presumably baffling those who weren't in on the trick.  Then there became their series of traditions including their Holiday Run of 4 shows leading up to a 3 set New Years Eve, their self-mounted elaborate festivals - Clifford Ball, The Great Went, Lemonwheel, IT and finally Coventry - their return to Vermont and dismal soaked, half baked and wet exit from their touring and foreseeable recording life.  This is now referred to as the 'first hiatus'.  Some wonder whether Phish (post-'second hiatus') is something more like Phish 2.0 - a really good nostalgia act covering the material (with the identical band members!) of their more prolific and far more sober younger selves.  In particular Trey Anastasio seems to be thriving in his personal recovery and there's ample evidence to show that is spilling over into their current live shows which showcases music from throughout their career but delivers often pared down versions (still with ample improvisation) of songs coveted from their songbook by documentarian fans.

Their other tradition and perhaps finest has been turning their annual Halloween concert (since 1994) into a 3 set affair with the second set being a complete cover of a classic rock album ostensibly chosen by the fans and the band.  The first years White Album floored audiences for its intricacy, I gratefully was metres from the horn section in 1995 when they launched into the opening montage of the Who's Quadrophenia demolishing the upper risers of Chicago's then Rosemont Horizon.  Then in 1996 during the setbreak between the first and second set no one could have had any clue what the opening notes would be.  AC/DC's Highway To Hell appeared in the first set (as Michael Jackson's Beat It had the previous year) as a sort of Trick or Treat for the addled minds of their evening's attendees.  It's hard to convey the level of sheer exhilaration and expectancy that surrounded the band's chose of songs during those days and the sense of rareness and being 'in on something' which that conveyed to the band's core adherents.



Remain In Light, as you can see and hear, proved to be the perfect foil for the band's predeliction for note-perfect renditions of artists that inspired them.  For all of the comparisons to the Grateful Dead, and there are many, largely in the similar nature of their diverse repertoire and fanbases, Phish has always had a lot in common with the Talking Heads (as drummer and namesake Jon Fishman has remarked himself in interviews).  The concert which took place at The Omni in Atlanta, Georgia on of course Oct. 31/1996, required some additional personnel in the form of percussionist Karl Perazzo (of Santana's band) who joined the group for a string of dates on that fall tour and longtime collaborators Gary Gazaway (trumpet) and Dave 'The Truth' Grippo - members of the Giant Country Horns essentially Phish' horn section in the early days.

This as most all of Phish' performances have been recorded for posterity by their fans (with permission and taper tickets allocated by the band).  This performance, the groups personal favourite Halloween concert got a proper live release as Live Phish Volume 15.

From the opening notes of Born Under Punches into Crosseyed and Painless (now a staple of their repertoire at large) it was clear the material and it's peculiar union of David Byrne's and Brian Eno's orbits lent itself well to the bands style of fluid, modular improvisations.  By Houses In Motion it became clear that the group had given themselves some license to improvise the outros of the songs and create segues from track to track.  On Seen and Not Seen guitarist Trey Anastasio takes over bass duties as bassist Mike Gordon took over vocal duties (whilst rocking in a lazyboy chair) capturing perfectly the sardonic wit of David Byrne's lyrics:


He would see faces in movies, on T.V., in magazines, and in books....
He thought that some of these faces might be right for him....And
through the years, by keeing an ideal facial structure fixed in his
mind....Or somewhere in the back of his mind....That he might, by
force of will, cause his face to approach those of his ideal....The
change would be very subtle....It might take ten years or so....
Gradually his face would change its' shape....A more hooked nose...
Wider, thinner lips....Beady eyes....A larger forehead.
He imagined that this was an ability he shared with most other
people....They had also molded their faced according to some
ideal....Maybe they imagined that their new face would better
suit their personality....Or maybe they imagined that their
personality would be forced to change to fit the new appear-
ance....This is why first impressions are often correct...
Although some people might have made mistakes....They may have
arrived at an appearance that bears no relationship to them....
They may have picked an ideal appearance based on some childish
whim, or momentary impulse....Some may have gotten half-way
there, and then changed their minds.
He wonders if he too might have made a similar mistake