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Published: 2010/10/29
by David Steinberg

A History of Phish Halloween

Phish has a long history of playing Halloween shows. While most fans might think that that starts on 10/31/94, Glens Falls was actually Phish’s 6th show on that date. Perhaps the most infamous of the early concerts was the 1991 show in Colorado Springs, as the band chose that night to debut the pseudo-song joke known as “Wait.”

The structure of “Wait” is simple enough. The band would play a riff – in this case the intro to the then brand new “It’s Ice” – and then say, “Wait,” as though they messed it up, and then would repeat it. Then they would act as though they made another mistake, say, “Wait,” and then repeat the riff again. This repetition could go on for some time when they were in the mood. Phish played this joke at the beginning of “Llama,” and then again between “Fee” and “My Sweet One,” and then yet again before “David Bowie.” As funny as that joke may have been for the band, it was a lot less enjoyable for the crowd. By the final “Wait,” the crowd screamed obscenities back at them in a twisted sort of call and response. Good times.

Running jokes, macaroni and cheese box jams, and rumors of Fishman wearing an elephant costume that shouldn’t be described in a family paper, that’s what the early years of Halloween were made of. Still though, it was in a radio interview in the summer of 1994 when Phish decided to turn Halloween into an event. Not only did Trey say that there would be a Halloween show but he announced that the band would be covering an album to be voted on upon the fans. A new tradition was born!

1994: Glens Falls, NY – the year of excitement

Befitting Halloween, this was a weird night. Tickets were exceedingly tight which led to rumors that people were smashing through the roof to try to get in. Security decided to do their bit by seemingly confiscating any prop that people might have had for their costume. It wasn’t all tricks mind you. Phish were inspired by the Halloween spirit to provide chocolate coins with the Phish logo stamped into them; these were handed out at the door as you entered.

The show started up with the apropos “Frankenstein” and continued the theme through the mid set “Harpua.” In this version, Jimmy accidentally played a copy of Barney’s Greatest Hits backwards, and heard Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” The story purported to tell the story of the first Halloween, one where Harpua’s owner encountered a strange vibration which mixed with the Satanic Halloween spirits to become The Vibration of Death. Regardless of the costume, they were going to run with the Halloween theme.

This night was all about the novelty and excitement over being able to pull off such a stunt. As the lights went out for the second set, people were thrilled to hear the opening sound effects of “Speak to Me.” However, right as the cries that lead into “Breathe” were played over the PA, the track suddenly switched. We were now listening to Ed Sullivan introduce The Beatles and as the girls screamed in the recording, Phish started up “Back in the U.S.S.R.” It would be the Beatles’ White Album.

While the extreme length of the album meant that Phish had to play this fairly close to the studio version, they still managed to put their imprint upon the work in some subtle ways. “Glass Onion” references “The Fool on the Hill” in the lyrics. Phish changed that to a “Guyute” reference and then made sure that everyone knew that the walrus was actually their soundman Paul Languedoc. “Rocky Raccoon” had the surreal gender swap of, “But everyone knew him as Nancy,” referencing Richard Wright, the friend of the band who wrote “I Didn’t Know” and “Halley’s Comet” and who was saddled with that nickname. In addition to that, “Don’t Pass Me By” was rearranged to have a bluegrass feel (Note for those who only know this set through the Live Phish release: After the line, “You were in a car crash and you lost your hair,” Fish screams, “Lost your hair?! OH NO!” Somehow this didn’t make this onto the soundboard.) However, the one lasting memory of the night came at the end of the set. Fishman just couldn’t resist the call of “Revolution 9,” and followed the advice of, “If you become naked,” and doffed his clothes. Nudity is a costume too right?

This year might have been an experiment, but if you asked anyone who was filing out of the venue at 3:20 AM, they would have called it a success. It’s not surprising then that this would become a tradition.

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Comments

There is 1 comment associated with this post

Kristine September 16, 2011, 20:35:52

Thanks for this article! The Indio shows were my first Phish shows ever so they’ll always hold a dear place in my heart…great to have some of the background though. I look forward to more Halloween shows and more Festivals (might we be so lucky as to have both together again?)

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