In 1994, Phish inaugurated the practice of covering a famous classic rock album as the second of three sets making up its Halloween concerts. The band termed these concerts its "musical costumes." The first classic recording it chose to honor was The Beatles
' White Album
(Apple, 1968). Since that time, Phish has honored, in 1995, The Who's Quadrophenia
(Polydor, 1973); in 1996, Talking Heads' Remain In Light
(Sire, 1980); in 1998, the Velvet Underground's Loaded
(Cotillion, 1970); and a surprise performance of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon
(Capitol, 1973) a month later. The band took the next 10 years off from presenting their musical costumes, reintroducing the practice in 2009 with the Rolling Stones Exile on Main St.
(Rolling Stones, 1973).
The band performed the music in the order it originally appeared on the two-LP release, but the performances are far from rote covers. Phish behaves and sounds as if it's having fun recreating, one of the prerequisites for covering another artist's work. The band turns "Shake Your Hips" and "Casino Boogie" into crystalline crispiness, while deftly joining a soupy "Ventilator Blues" to a Grateful Dead
-laden "I Just Want to See His Face." Trey Anastasio
clearly did his guitar homework, managing as best he can in concert tuning. The guitarist believes in playing to the spirit of the music and does so with abandon.
The horn section is informed and not afraid to take liberties, with keyboardist Page McConnell playing Mick Jagger's harmonica part on organ on "Sweet Virginia," while a rocking "Rip This Joint" features a tenor solo from Tony Jarvis. The band excels on the songs chosen to stretch out. A lengthy "Torn and Frayed" gives Anastasio plenty of country solo room, and "Loving Cup" is performed with renewed vitality and an extended coda. The band even elevates "Turd on the Run" and "Let It Loose" to almost high art, caring more for the pieces than the Stones originally did.
The closing quartet of "All Down The Line," "Stop Breaking Down," "Shine a Light," and "Soul Survivor" is a dense microcosm of Phish's success. It's a favorite garage band, made up of superb musicians with enough whimsy and imagination to take old music and make it both new and vital again. Fresh musical arrangements strengthen the material, showing why it mattered in the first place, all the while sounding like everyone is having the time of their lives.
Personnel: Trey Anastasio: guitars, vocals; Mike Gordon: bass, vocals; Jon Fishman:
drums, vocals; Page McConnell: keyboards, vocals; Dave Guy: trumpet;
David Smith: trombone; Tony Jarvis: saxophone; Sharon Jones: vocals;
Saundra Williams: vocals.