As the end of October approaches, we’re normally gearing up for a slew of concerts and festivals around the country in celebration of Halloween. While many of us may have outgrown trick-or-treating, live music fanatics are usually still able to dress up in silly or spooky costumes and head to themed concerts. With slim pickings this year for Halloween shows due to the ongoing pandemic—and little room within social distancing protocols to do a true Monster Mash—we’re looking back at some of our favorite themed sets from the last five years.
Dopapod – Grateful Sabbath – Putnam Den – Saratoga Springs, NY – 10/31/2017
Dopapod‘s Grateful Sabbath set on October 31st, 2017 in Saratoga Springs, NY was one for the ages. For this seemingly mismatched mashup, Dopapod performed the music of the Grateful Dead in the style of Black Sabbath, and vice versa. Things started off normally, with standard runs through “Eyes of the World” and “War Pigs”. Then the show took a turn with the hardest rendition of “Scarlet Begonias” anyone has ever heard. The head-banging rendition of the Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter classic was then followed by the most blissed-out cover of “N.I.B.” on record.
Things continued on in this fashion with paradoxical takes on “Friend of the Devil”—which actually sounds like it could be a Black Sabbath song—as well as “Sweet Leaf”—which could also very well be a Grateful Dead song. Dopapod also went authentic with a “Drums” and “Space” section. “Black Sabbath” was played like “Terrapin Station” and also saw a sit-in from “Jerry Osbourne” (aka lighting designer Luke Stratton) on guitar, and “Fire on the Mountain” was played like “Paranoid” and “Iron Man”. Check out the full crossover set below.
[Video: mk devo]
Widespread Panic – Andy Kaufman – UNO Lakefront Arena – New Orleans, LA – 10/31/2019
This one falls more under the category of “trick” than “treat.” On Halloween 2019, Widespread Panic took the stage at the UNO Lakefront Arena at the University of New Orleans for a Halloween show of comical proportions. The Athens came in ready to pay tribute to anti-comedy legend Andy Kaufman with a set inspired by his rather unconventional career. With each member of the band dressed up to represent a different era of Kaufman’s illustrious comedic evolution, the stage was set for tricks aplenty.
With a little help from NOLA funk legend George Porter, things got off to a relatively (for this show) conventional start with some classic tunes from The Meters including “Chicken Strut” and “Hey Pocky Way”. It was during the second set, however, that things began to take on a true Kaufman tone. Starting off with the Mighty Mouse theme, the band’s juicy “Arleen” sandwich with “Surprise Valley” bread was a bit out of focus as an unknown patron sat down at a table onstage to eat and drink during the performance. This was a reference to Kaufman’s “Eating Ice Cream” sketch, and was the first real indication of the avant-garde comedy to come.
Later in the set, the band later brought out a fellow Athens fixture, R.E.M.‘s Mike Mills, to join in on the band’s debut performance of the alt-rockers’ “Man On The Moon”. A reference to the 1999 biopic of Kaufman starring Jim Carrey, the song was also featured in the film itself and is itself a touching tribute. However, for the encore, things got less touching and more terrifying.
Trying to translate the whole quadruple-encore into a digestible form is a daunting task (though not impossible for Panic reviewer extraordinaire Otis Sinclair, who covered the evening’s events), so here are a few highlights. A lineup shift brought Dave Schools to the mic for a ghoulish “I Trusted You” during which the bassist interrupted Jimmy Herring at every turn of his guitar solo. After that, Mills and John Bell exchanged vocals on Fabian‘s “This Friendly World”, a song often sung by Kaufman. But the absolute highlight—and the true Kaufman blurring of reality—came when JoJo Herman took the stage as one of Kaufman’s most infamous characters: Tony Clifton.
Clifton’s entrance was prefaced by Steve Lopez asking the audience to please stop smoking, a regular part of Kaufman’s Clifton act. A take on Dean Martin‘s “Voltaire” was soon derailed as Clifton insulted the keyboardist for not knowing the song. Instead of JoJo at the key’s, however, it was Dave’s guitar tech dressed in JoJo’s costume. Things only got more confusing and chaotic when Clifton took on his iconic song “Tacos”—which Panic hadn’t played in 24 years.
As Clifton derailed this song as well, audible disdain came from an audience eager to hear some Widespread songs and leave this sketch comedy parody behind. When Tony “JoJo” Clifton expressed once again, “Hey, I don’t need this. I got a show at the Tropicana. It’s a Michael Nichols song. It’s a classic,” one female fan was especially vocal screaming, “[Expletive] you! We want Widespread!” to which Tony “JoJo” Clifton responded once more by saying, “Yeah? Well, I don’t need this. Well, suck on this now, girl!” and threw a slice of pizza into the audience.
Whether the audience member was in on the joke or just a genuinely bemused Widespread Panic fan is the subject of fierce debate, just the way Kaufman would have wanted. Watch a collection of videos from Widespread Panic’s Andy Kaufman-themed Halloween show below and listen to full audio on Panicstream or Nugs.
Widespread Panic – “Chicken Strut” (The Meters) (ft. George Porter Jr.) – New Orleans, LA – 10/31/19
[Video: Widespread Panic]
Widespread Panic – “Arleen”– New Orleans, LA – 10/31/19
[Video: Fred Ramadan]
Widespread Panic – “Spoonful” (Charlie Patton) – New Orleans, LA – 10/31/19
[Video: Fred Ramadan]
Widespread Panic – “Starman” (David Bowie), “Man On The Moon” (R.E.M.) (ft. Mike Mills) – New Orleans, LA – 10/31/19
[Video: Fred Ramadan]
Widespread Panic – “I Trusted You” (Andy Kaufman) – New Orleans, LA – 10/31/19
[Video: Stephen Denner]
Widespread Panic – “Voltaire” (Dean Martin), “Tacos” (Michael Nichol) – New Orleans, LA – 10/31/19
[Video: Stephen Denner]
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong – Dead Zeppelin – 9:30 Club – Washington, D.C. – 10/30/2015
Another great Halloween mashup came on October 30th, 2015 when Pigeons Playing Ping Pong took the stage at the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C. for Dead Zeppelin: Moby Dick’s Picks. The evening saw the venerable bird band, then on the brink of a breakthrough into the mainstream jam market, stringing together the music of the Grateful Dead and Led Zeppelin. Despite the paradoxical nature of the two classic rock groups’ music, Pigeons were able to put together some mammoth segues and sandwiches that kept this one-set performance rolling all night long.
Starting off with a pair of originals in “Ocean Flows” and “Walk Outside”—the latter of which contained “Dancin’ in the Streets” teases—things quickly got rolling with the eerie intro to “No Quarter”. This then begat a continuous string of music with segues galore as Pigeons skillfully wove together the two expansive catalogs. Highlights included “Help On The Way” into “Slipknot”, which then took a hard turn into “Black Dog” before returning back to “Slipknot”. The band would eventually complete the classic Blues For Allah trifecta after detours through “Kashmir” and “The Ocean”, which finally led into “Franklin’s Tower” to complete the movement.
The band then hit the reset button with a return to its own catalog with “Melting Lights” into “Horizon”, which would then kick off a highlight of the evening referred to as “Horize of the World” as one of Pigeons’ most celebrated tunes rolled right into one of the Dead’s. After reprising “Horizon” to make a jam-filled sandwich, it was time to show Zeppelin some more love with “Fool In The Rain” stuck between two helpings of “D’yer Mak’er”. The show went on in a similar manner as the band toggled between the Dead and the Zepp, only to be broken up with the sly debut of “Skipjack” late in the program. The set finally came to a close as the band shifted back and forth between “Shakedown Street” and “Whole Lotta Love” twice before closing it out with “The Liquid”.
For the encore, Pigeons kicked off with “Zydeko” before cooling off with an instrumental take on “Ripple”, only to reprise “Zydeko” and ultimately lead into “Schwanthem” to bid the crowd goodnight.
Check out some pro-shot videos from Pigeons Playing Ping Pong’s Halloween Dead Set concert below, as well as audio of the full show on Internet Archive.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong – “No Quarter” > “Help On The Way” > “Black Dog” > “Slipknot” > “Kashmir” > “The Ocean” > “Slipknot” > “Franklin’s Tower” > “Melting Lights” – Washington, D.C. – 10/31/15
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong – “Horizon” > “Eyes of The World” > “Fool In The Rain” > “Horizon” – Washington, D.C. – 10/30/15
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong – “Shakedown Street” > “Whole Lotta Love” > The Liquid – Washington, D.C. – 10/30/15
Phish – Kasvot Växt: í rokk – MGM Grand Garden Arena – Las Vegas, NV – 10/31/2018
What will surely go down as one of the greatest Halloween costumes in all of Phishdom, as well as live music as a whole, was the Kasvot Växt í rokk set from 2018. Ahead of the concert at MGM Grand Garden Arena, rumors circulated that the choice would be an “obscure album from 1981,” but it wasn’t Rush or Genesis or King Crimson that appeared on the Phishbill when fans filed into the venue that night—it was obscure Scandanavian group Kasvot Växt and their only known album, í rokk.
As fans filed in and examined the Phishbill for the evening, many heard of the band for just the first time. Some probably looked the group up on Discogs and other websites, but aside from a few old webpages soon found to have been planted just days before, there was no information to be found. As the curtain rose for set two of three, Phish took the stage in sleek white 1980s outfits. Trey Anastasio was complete with a white Fender Stratocaster, meanwhile Page McConnell was equipped with a much simpler setup comprised of a furry synthesizer and clavinet.
With colored squares floating in the air and the audience most likely baffled, the band kicked off the costume set with “Turtle In The Clouds”. While the lid had not yet been fully blown on the Kasvot Växt gag, there were clear signs of the music’s origin as slight Phish influences could be heard in the opening number. Complete with choreographed dance moves from Trey and Mike Gordon, the song had minor Phish notes sprinkled throughout as the band switched off vocal duties during the song.
Phish kept the show moving, and gave audiences little time to ponder, with “Stray Dog”. This Trey-led tune was much more conventional that its predecessor and, in hindsight, could very well have been a cut Phish song from a post-reunion album. Things then got deep and dark with “Everything is Hollow” which played up more of the progressive rock style that Kasvot was supposedly steeped in. The prevalence of English lyrics may have deterred from the perceived authenticity of í rokk, but luckily Phish is good enough at writing nonsensical lyrics that this song could have been translated from the original Norwegian tongue.
After the more joyous and conventional “We Are Come To Outlive Our Brains” came the rocking “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.”. Since Halloween 2018, “S.A.N.T.O.S.” has remained in fairly regular rotation for Phish concerts and has fully assimilated itself, even with the band out of costume. Though its title may indicate otherwise, “The Final Hurrah” came in the middle of the set. This song introduced the “faceplant into rock” sample of which Page has become so very fond since the concert, adding to his samples alongside the “Chilling, Thrilling” sounds.
After that came “Play By Play”, which so far has only been played three times ever including during this Halloween concert. Two heavy-hitters would come next with the Jon Fishman-led “Death Don’t Hurt Very Long”, which would transition well into a post-Kasvot rocker, as well as “Cool Amber And Mercury”. Finally, the whole thing came to a close with the catchy call-and-response “Passing Through” which finds Phish—or should we say Kasvot—nailing the group vocals that were a focal point of the set
By the end of the set, it was abundantly clear—Phish had trolled everyone by inventing a fake band with a fake backstory and “covering” their fake album on Halloween.
Watch the first-ever performances of “Turtle In The Clouds” and “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” from Phish’s 2018 Halloween show covering í rokk and listen to the full set below.
Phish – “Turtle In The Clouds” – Las Vegas, NV – 10/31/18
Phish – “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” – Las Vegas, NV – 10/31/18
Phish – Kasvot Växt: í rokk
Aqueous – Nick Toons – Knitting Factory – New York, NY – 10/31/2018
Last, but certainly not least, we have the nostalgia-inducing Aqueous Halloween show from the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn back in 2018. The show found the ever-rising Buffalo jam quartet reliving their childhoods with a set built around the classic Nick Toons era of Nickelodeon.
While older heads may not agree with the placement of this show among the best Halloween sets in recent years, the memorable soundtrack to the childhoods of the current wave of 20 to 30-something jam aficionados was a welcome reference—rather than some classic rock album. Plus, it’s not like we were watching these cartoons all by ourselves. Surely, there were plenty of parents there who found the show just as nostalgic as their now-grown children.
The two-set show immediately dug into the theme with “Killer Tofu”, a deep cut from The Beets, a fictional band from the show Doug. After runs through a trio of originals including “Realize Your Light”, “The Median”, and “Don’t Do It”, the latter of which contained Doug teases, the second cover debut came with the theme to CatDog. One of the benefits—or possible detriments, depending on the way you looked at it—of the Nick Toons theme was that the cover songs aren’t that long and usually only ran for a minute or so. Even if you didn’t like the theme, the band would quickly move on, which is exactly what they did out of CatDog when Aqueous reprised “Don’t Do It”.
After “Split the Difference” the band debuted the B52‘s-penned theme to Rocko’s Modern Life, followed by the Rugrats theme which they hadn’t played in 200 shows. Just before setbreak, Aqueous had time to reprise “Split the Difference” before calling it halftime.
A second-set opening “Aldehyde” would flow right into the Ren & Stimpy theme for the song’s debut. With Mike Gantzer dressed as Quailman from Doug, Dave Loss as Chuckie from Rugrats, Evan McPhaden as the titular Rocko from Rocko’s Modern Life, and Rob Houk as Ren from Ren & Stimpy, the audience had somewhat of a hint as to which songs were going to be played. By this point in the show, however, the themes from all of those shows had been played and the question was whether the band still had more tricks and treats for the crowd.
Following a run through “Good Enough”, the answer came in the form of a resounding “kinda?” as Aqueous debuted its version of “Ocean Man”. Now, bear with me here—”Ocean Man” comes from the Ween album The Mollusk, which supposedly helped provide animator Stephen Hillenburg with the inspiration for SpongeBob Squarepants, so this cover certainly tracks. This was then followed by the reliable “Origami” which flowed into a relevant “What’s the Connection?”, which served as a springboard into the Hey Arnold! theme, a song that features some built-in jazz elements that were ripe for improvisation. It was also during this song that opening act Mungion came onstage and, one by one, switched instruments with the Aqueous guys. Then, during the Hey Arnold! jam, Aqueous returned to the stage and reclaimed their instruments all while the song kept on going.
After a reprisal of “What’s the Connection?” came the triumphant return of the Doug theme, which hadn’t been played in 200 shows. Finally, this segued into a Doug-infused “Weight of the Word” to end set two. Upon returning for the encore, Aqueous went with the radical Rocket Power theme to close out the show.
Watch pro-shot footage from Aqueous’ Nick Toons Halloween show below. The entire concert was taped by the good people over at The Curtain With, or you can listen to soundboard audio via Nugs.
Aqueous – “Realize Your Light” – New York, NY – 10/31/2018
Aqueous – “Split The Difference” > “Rocko’s Modern Life Theme” > “Rugrats Theme” > “Split The Difference” – New York, NY – 10/31/2018