This Wednesday, October 31st, Phish will take the stage at Las Vegas’ MGM Grand Garden Arena for their three-set Halloween throwdown. One of the most beloved Phish traditions is their Halloween “musical costume”, which dates back to their 1994 Halloween performance at Glen Falls, NY’s Glen Falls Civic Center. In 2016, Phish honored the late and legendary David Bowie by performing the entirety of his 1972 album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars in Las Vegas. However, the two years prior to that, Phish took a break from the “classic rock album” tradition, delivering sets of (at the time) unheard original material. In honor of Halloween, let’s go backwards down the numberline and take a look at Phish’s nine previous “musical costumes.”
1994 – The White Album by The Beatles
For their first-ever musical costume, Phish asked their fans what album they’d want to hear via a mailed-in voting system—the overwhelming winner was The Beatles’ White Album. The show took place at the Glen Falls Civic Center, with Phish playing a full set of originals, followed by the 28-song Beatles record, then a third set of originals as well. The band had never performed any of the songs on White Album before, barring a one-off performance of the silly track “Piggies” a decade prior. Fans were absolutely stunned, leaving the venue around 3:30 a.m. after a ridiculous and triumphant night. The legend of this show continues to propel Phish forward, as the show launched a Halloween legend that is still going on today.
Watch the full White Album set from 10/31/94 in the playlist below (use the icon in the top left to navigate between songs).
1995 – Quadrophenia by The Who
After the wild success of their tribute to The White Album, Phish decided to continue the Halloween tradition, asking fans to send in suggestions for albums to cover the next year in 1995. While Frank Zappa‘s Joe’s Garage was the clear winner, the band decided that the album’s extensive production and potentially offensive lyrics were a non-starter, so they chose to cover the runner-up instead: The Who‘s Quadrophenia.
The show took place at Rosemont Horizon in Illinois, and Phish absolutely tore through the album, delivering a powerful performance of another classic record. When the band took the stage, they were joined by a horn section and some backup vocalists to fill out the album’s sound. Phish turned in a true masterpiece performance on that evening, surpassing the already-high expectations that they had set for themselves the previous year.
Listen to Phish’s entire Halloween show from 10/31/95 below.
1996 – Remain In Light by The Talking Heads
When Halloween came around in 1996, Phish eschewed the fan-vote process and decided to simply pick their own musical costume. It’s a great thing that they did, because, in 1996, the world was blessed with Phish’s full-album cover of The Talking Heads‘ Remain In Light. With two huge albums under their belt with The White Album and Quadrophenia, perhaps the band wanted to pick a shorter album that they could really perfect. Adding horns and a percussionist to the mix, the band absolutely nailed the album, especially their version of “Crosseyed and Painless”, which remains a standout jam-vehicle for the band to this day.
Phish would go on to say that the work they put into perfecting their cover of Remain In Light had a major impact on them moving forward, and you can hear it on the albums that they released in the late 90’s. As if the Halloween tradition couldn’t get any more exciting, it started to become clear to the band and fans alike that this yearly process was helping launch Phish in new and exciting directions.
Watch the full set of Remain In Light from 10/31/96 below.
1998 – Loaded by The Velvet Underground
After taking a year off from Halloween in ’97, Phish returned to their Halloween tradition the following year with a performance at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. With heavy rumors of Pink Floyd‘s Dark Side of the Moon circulating, the band surprised everyone when they performed Loaded by The Velvet Underground. This performance lacked any guest musicians, focusing instead on the four members of Phish as they performed the classic art-rock album. Of course, “Rock and Roll” remains the true standout from the night and has found a home in Phish’s rotation of covers ever since.
Funnily enough (or not so funnily enough depending on who you talk to), Phish would deliver on the Dark Side of the Moon rumors just two nights later, performing the album in its entirety at an undersold “E” Center in West Valley City, Utah as an unofficial entry into their Halloween catalog.
Full video of Phish’s cover of Loaded from 10/31/98 below.
Listen to full show audio from 11/2/98, including Phish’s cover of Dark Side of the Moon a few nights after Halloween.
2009 – Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones
With an eleven year gap between Halloweens, so much happened in the world of Phish during the interim. The band went on hiatus, reunited, officially broke up, and then reunited again. 2009 marked the ultimate comeback, with Phish kicking off the “3.0” era by hitting many of their old favorite venues, including combining their festival and Halloween traditions into one giant extravaganza dubbed Festival 8.
Phish’s three-day Halloween event took over the Empire Polo Club (also known as the home of Coachella), drawing in smiling crowds as far as the eye could see. The anticipation for what album they band would cover was turned into a full-on Phish event. The band launched a website with 99 albums that would get “killed” each day as Festival 8 drew nearer. Finally, ten albums remained, and the festival housed themed campgrounds based on each remaining album.
On the day of Halloween proper, fans were handed a Phishbill upon entry, announcing that The Rolling Stones‘ Exile On Main Street was the winner. When the band hit the stage, they were joined by Sharon Jones and a few of her Dap Kings horns for a truly special performance. Phish nailed the album, and “Loving Cup” and “Shine a Light” remain two of the most beloved songs in Phish’s repertoire of covers to this day.
Watch Phish perform “Loving Cup” from Exile On Main Street on 10/31/09 below.
2010 – Waiting For Columbus by Little Feat
In 2010, fans were laser-focused on one band and one band only for Phish’s Halloween costume: Led Zeppelin. Rumors of Led Zeppelin II or Led Zeppelin IV were flying as the band descended on Atlantic City for a three-night run. The band put the Zeppelin rumors to bed by performing an epic “Chalkdust Torture” -> “Whole Lotta Love” -> “Chalk Dust Torture” on 10/30/2010. The band played “Ha Ha Ha” afterwards, essentially laughing at the crowd for all the rumors, marking one of the Phishiest moments in the band’s history. The show’s second set would go on to feature snippets of “Heartbreaker”, “Ramble On”, “Thank You”, and “Stairway To Heaven”, further cementing the joke for fans and band alike.
The following evening, on Halloween proper, Phish performed Waiting For Columbus by Little Feat—an out-of-left-field choice for sure, but one that perfectly fit the band’s vibe. Phish was joined by a five-piece horn section that evening as well as legendary percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo, who expertly added to the sound. The show featured many standout moments including excellent renditions of “Fat Man in the Bathtub”, “Dixie Chicken”, and “Time Loves A Hero”; the clear winner of the evening was a raging version of “Spanish Moon” that left the Boardwalk Hall in awe of Phish’s abilities.
Watch Phish perform “Spanish Moon” from Little Feat’s Waiting For Columbus below.
2013 – Wingsuit by Phish
After taking a few years off from Halloween shows, in 2013, Phish returned with a huge surprise. While the band returned to Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City for the show, the band chose to cover their future selves for the evening. Eschewing the traditional cover of a classic rock album, Phish performed a full set of material that they were about to record in the studio—what resulted was a full set of brand new material, much of which went on to be included on their 2014 album Fuego.
2013’s Halloween set was well played, but many in the audience were let down by Phish’s unexpected decision to change up their tradition. Love it or hate it, the Wingsuit set signaled a shift in Phish’s musical direction, choosing to focus more on original material and less on incorporating covers into their shows. In fact, many fans took their choice to “cover themselves” as a sign that the musical costume was being put to bed by the band entirely. The highlight of the night was easily the funky “Wombat”, which featured a slew of dancers and a totally random guest appearance by the inimitable Abe Vigoda, who was dressed like a wombat for Halloween, because of course.
Watch Phish perform “Wombat” on 10/31/2013 below.
2014 – The Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House by Walt Disney Records
In what will go down as the most creative of their musical costumes, Phish surprised damn-near everyone with a unique cover of The Chilling Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House. The album is comprised of two sides: side one containing short, spooky stories, and side two holding a variety of sound effects to match the narration. Phish took this album and rolled with it, creating brand-new compositions while using the sound effects as samples and/or inspiration. What resulted is one of the most important Phish shows in recent memory.
The band opened the set inside of a haunted house, with a makeshift cemetery, full moon, and lots of zombie dancers surrounding them. When the walls of the house eventually blew off, it revealed the members of Phish in white tuxedos with zombie makeup on, performing in close quarters while totally jamming out a full set of new instrumental material. The performance demolished everyone’s expectations while also re-opening the door to one of the band’s most beloved traditions.
Watch Phish perform their entire cover of “The Chilling, Thrilling Sounds Of The Haunted House”.
[Video: Jonny S.]
2016 – The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars by David Bowie
In 2016, Phish returned to the MGM Grand Arena, using their Halloween set to pay tribute to the late and legendary David Bowie, who had died earlier in January of that year. Phish’s choice to cover David Bowie for Halloween was not necessarily surprising—the band has never been shy about proclaiming Bowie’s influence on their music, and 2016 saw the band play a number of tributes to their hero in the wake of his death. However, their choice to cover Bowie’s iconic album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars was still beyond meaningful, for both the band and fans alike.
During the performance, Phish truly did justice to one of the most-wished-for musical costumes over the years. The band offered up stellar renditions of some of Bowie’s most beloved songs from his glam era, including “Suffragette City”, “Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide”, “Moonage Daydream”, “Ziggy Stardust”, and “Starman”. Plus, the band’s sound was supplemented by backup vocalists Jennifer Hartswick, Jo Lampert and Celisse Henderson as well as a string section composed of Sylvia D’Avanzo, Alisa Horn, Hiroko Taguchi, Todd Low, Antoine Silverman and Alissa Smith. At the end of the night, it was a truly touching and perfect way for one legendary act to honor another.
Watch Phish’s a capella rendition of “Space Oddity” from Halloween in 2016.
[Video: Nate Anderson]