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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2008/09/23
by David Steinberg

PhishStation Game

A few months ago I had a chance to play Rock Star for the first time. I wasn’t
very good at it for two reasons: I didn’t know how to switch the guitar into
left-handed mode and, slightly more importantly, no one told me that I had to
push the strum button in addition to the chord button so I missed every single
I went back to just watching after my debacle but it inspired a thought. There’s
a Grateful Dead pack of songs already; why not have a Phish downloadable set?
That raises the obvious question. What songs would work in the game? There’s
actually a serious challenge here. Unlike Guitar Hero, Rock Band has a
microphone. You want to give the person with that controller something
interesting to do. So ‘You Enjoy Myself’ or ‘The Divided Sky’ would be out.
Sorry ‘Mike’s Song’ and ‘The Curtain With.’ I swear I still love you! Secondly,
there’s no keyboard controller. ‘The Squirming Coil’ would be a horrible song
for this game because what would be the fun of playing if you can’t play along
with the big solo at the end? ‘The Lizards’ and ‘The Mango Song’ might also
have made the cut if they didn’t have strong keyboard parts that will taunt you
with their unplayability.
Like the Grateful Dead release, I’m going to choose 6 songs for my personal Rock
Band release. I’m going to select two each from Phish’s rockers, their mid tempo
songs, and their epics along with some honorable mentions. If I were tasked with
this goal, here’s what I’d choose.

  • Rockers*

Honorable Mentions:
It would be a lot of fun for the singer and drummer to keep up with the ending of
this but ultimately there really isn’t enough for the bass or guitar except for
the one fast jam. This is another song that suffers due to the lack of a
keyboard controller, as the first minute would be dull to play.
This is a fun song to sing but it would be really hard. Hardly anyone knows all
of the words to it and the words come at a breakneck pace. How many people would
be able to pull off, ‘Poke a double deck on a llama t’boot/Llama t’boot t’boot?’ A challenge yes, but the song should be winnable.
Song 2: ‘AC/DC Bag’
Some research would have to be done to find the perfect version of this song – Boise 99 and 12/30/97 are right out – but this song has most of what you’d want,
plenty of good guitar and bass parts, fun drumming and, ‘Brain dead! And made of
Song 1: ‘Chalk Dust Torture’
Each of these groups has an obvious choice. I couldn’t imagine being able to
simulate being in Phish and not having this as an option. ‘Chalk Dust’ is
complicated a little by the fact that the studio version is completely unsuitable
for this task due to the vocal effects but there are plenty of live versions to
choose from. I’d suggest a nice 1992.
Mid Tempo Songs
Honorable Mentions:
This was a tough category as there are three songs that could easily have made
the number two slot. Cavern has interesting vocal parts and ends on a great
sing-along line. However, outside of the drumming, there’s not enough going on
musically for it to beat out the competition. Besides, if you’re really trying
to replicate the Phish experience, you’d have to lose points when you sung the
lyrics correctly.
‘Down With Disease’
DWD is a rare song in that the studio version might work better. It’s a little
bit slow paced, but it doesn’t meander into the jam world and has an extra
singing part. While the riff from this song is wonderful, I think ultimately it
suffers a bit from not having a perfect version.
Song 2: ‘Bouncing Around the Room’
The one trick with this song is the end part. Rock Band only has one microphone
and there are three singing parts. My advice for the game companies is to have
Mike’s part sung when he sings alone, then sing Trey’s part when he
Joins in the first time, and the rest of the time sing, ‘And I awoke.’ I think
that’s how most people sing it.
Song 1: ‘Wilson’
Some choices are so obvious that explaining them would almost be
counterproductive. The worst thing you could say about it is that it would be an
easy song to play. Then again, compared to some of the other options Phish
present, a breather might be welcome.
Honorable Mention: Guyute
This song is on the cusp. At least it has a reasonable amount of lyrics to it,
but the winning options are both more popular and a lot more fun to sing. Sorry
Song 2: ‘Reba’
While the lyric to length of song ration for Reba is rather low, this song could
still easily work for the singer. Between the ‘dip/sip,’ the second verse, and
the fact that ‘Bag it/Tag it/Sell it to the butcher in the store,’ is hard for
even a ‘Reba’ hater to dislike, there’s enough there to entertain. The one
drawback is that you can’t really do the chase section quite right without keys,
but the song is a lot less dependent on keyboards than some of the other Page
heavy options.
Song 1: ‘Fluffhead’
Unlike many Phish fans, this is not one of my favorite songs to see performed
live. However, in Rock Band terms, this song is perfection. The parts of
‘Fluff’s Travels’ were originally standalone songs, which makes this work better
than most other long songs. Moreover, unlike any other of Phish’s compositions,
there are lyrics smack in the middle of the song. Between ‘Clod,’ ‘Bundle of
Joy’ – and any version chosen for Rock Star better have ‘La la la la/Life is just
a bundle of joy’ sung – and ‘Arrival’ there is both quantity and quality. I want
to go over to my gamer friends’ house and demand that they find a way of making
it to ‘Bundle of Joy.’ I can’t understand why this hasn’t happened already.
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State
University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capitol
Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at
He is the stats section editor for The Phish Companion and
is on the board of directors for the Netspace Foundation. You can read more of his thoughts at

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