Phish has always bucked convention – improvising set lists, performing vacuum cleaner solos, an a capella redition of Free Bird (including the guitar solo), and what they’ve become known for on Halloween, covering an album in its entirety (they call it their “musical costume”). In the past they have covered the White Album, Quadrophenia, the Talking Heads’ Remain in Light, the Velvet Underground’s Loaded, Dark Side of the Moon (performed two days after Halloween in 1998), and last year’s Halloween album, the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street. When Phish announced they would be playing a Halloween show in Atlantic City this year, speculation began to flood the interwebs and Phish message boards as to what album they would cover. The most popular guess was Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. This began due to Phish covering the song The Rover from that album earlier this year. Plus P.G. is a double album, which fits Phish’s formula for album covers. There were a lot of other albums that people were theorizing would be covered, but Zep’s classic was by far the frontrunner. On October 30th, Phish added fuel to the Physical Graffiti fire by playing the Zep classics Whole Lotta Love, Heartbreaker, Ramble On, Thank You, Stairway to Heaven, and Good Times Bad Times during that night’s 2 sets. But on the 31st, Phish truly played a trick – and a treat.
Phish decided to cover the album “Waiting for Columbus,” the 1978 live concert release from the band Little Feat. Most Phish fans know of Little Feat – Phish has covered Time Loves a Hero in the Past, and recently has been covering On Your Way Down (a great song that I saw them do in Albany in 2009). And Little Feat covered Phish’s Sample in a Jar on the “Sharin’ in the Groove” album, a Phish tribute by many different artists. But no one could have predicted that Phish would pull this out of their hat on Halloween.
The response from the Phish online community has been mainly positive – most people did not have a clue as to what album Phish was covering, they just knew it was high-energy and awesome. I’ll admit I wouldn’t have known either, as I am very unfamiliar with Little Feat…but according to Phish, that band has been a tremendous influence on them, and if you listen to the songs, you can hear their influence in Phish’s music.
I admire Phish for doing what has made them great for so many years – playing what they want to play, not what they think their audience wants to hear. Had they not covered Remain in Light or Loaded, I probably would have never been exposed to those amazing albums. Now of course I will go buy Waiting for Columbus, because if it’s good enough for Phish, I know I’m going to love it.
There were of course some negative-nellies on the message boards, complaining that Phish played an album nobody had heard of, etc. But those idiots are in the minority – any music fan should #1 be grateful they were even at a Phish Halloween show, and #2 they shouldn’t resist Phish’s attempt to broaden their musical horizons. Embrace what you have been exposed to – drink it in and be happy. Because that’s what Phish has always been about.