Pink Talking Fish, the accurately named “hybrid tribute fusion band” that includes songs from Phish, Pink Floyd and Talking Heads, made their debut in Austin, TX at 3Ten at ACL Live on Saturday night and treated a packed house to songs from their namesakes.
As legends from the Mount Rushmore of rock ease into retirement or pass away, a new crop of musicians has stepped up to keep the music alive. The most prominent in the jam band scene is Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, though the concept has been around for a while and has included bands like Dark Star Orchestra and A Live One; but Pink Talking Fish have a unique spin due to highlighting multiple bands in their repertoire. Their approach differs from JRAD, who use the music as a launching point for lengthy type II jams. PTF plays it relatively straight, presenting the songs mostly as recorded with some type I jam action around the edges.
The band took the stage a bit past 9 p.m. and locked in, eschewing their typical two-set format for one long set that lasted almost two-and-a-half hours. The attendees were ready and the presence of sunglasses inside at night made it clear that this was a jam crowd.
The clock sound effects alerted the audience that Pink Floyd’s “Time” would kick off the set. Keyboardist Richard James’s vocals were similar enough to Floyd mainstays David Gilmour’s and Richard Wright’s that listeners could be carried away by the sound. Anyone skeptical only needed to check out the clock videos on the screen behind the stage. In fact, the band is at its strongest on the Floyd tunes, despite their general format being clearly inspired by Phish.
PTF got down to business with their second song, Phish’s signature tune, “You Enjoy Myself”. They showed their chops, nailing the song’s intricate composed section. For anyone who has listened obsessively to Phish, it was apparent how reliant Phish is on gear to achieve their signature sound, something that no other band could recreate. PTF added some nice flourishes around the edges, but chompers drowned out some of the quiet bits, something that would never happen at an actual Phish sh—right, never mind.
Just as the “boy man god” section was to kick off, PTF dropped into Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” This was the biggest risk they took all evening, with one jaded fan noting “Phish would never do that!” To be fair, it was a bit jarring, but live music is best when it surprises, even when not entirely successful. PTF has begun adding Beastie Boys songs to their regular rotation after a recent Beasties-themed event. The vocals are tough to pull off (Phish also struggled with this one) but they absolutely killed the funk.
“Sabotage” was followed by a quick run through Talking Heads’ “Psycho Killer”, emphasizing the ’70s funk vibe more than the original and continuing the run of songs covered by Phish. After that it was back into “YEM” for the finish. By this point the band was clearly having fun and even goofed around during the tramps section with some mock dance moves. When Mike Gordon’s solo rolled around, bassist Eric Gould stepped to the plate. James and guitarist Cal Kehoe could be seen exchanging grins at one of the show’s highlights.
Next up was a pair of Floyd classics, “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and “Money”. The band welcomed a saxophone player, nattily attired in a suit, who added to the vibe with solos and tasty licks. There was an audible gasp from the crowd when James introduced him, for it was none other than Russ Remington, former member of Phish’s 90s horn section, the Giant Country Horns. Remington stuck around for a funky take on Talking Heads’ “Crosseyed and Painless” as well, adding to the Phish-y vibe.
PTF brought out Phish’s “Reba” next, once again nailing another composed, fugue section. They skipped the whistling section and outro, dropping instead into another Beasties number, “Root Down”. This was followed by the most surprising selection of the evening, Phish’s “What’s The Use?”. The Siket Disc-era piece highlighted PTF’s skills, and James’s keyboard effects highlighted one of their strongest numbers of the evening.
After this, it was time for the home stretch: the audience sang along with Talking Heads’ “Take Me To The River”, Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb”, and Phish’s “Harry Hood”. Drummer Zack Burwick was deeply in pocket for “River”, and his warm smile anchored the fun groove machine. Kehoe sounds like more of a Gilmour disciple at heart, so was once again at his best during “Numb.”
For the encore, James returned alone for a run through The Wall’s “Nobody Home,” followed by “Once In A Lifetime”, with James doing the signature David Byrne arm motions from the video. They threw in the vocal sample from Thrilling Chilling’s “Martian Monster” and a sing-along of The Who’s “Baba O’ Riley” just for fun before saying goodnight.
Taken as a whole, PTF provided a fun night out with a plethora of beloved tunes. The band would clearly be fun in a fest setting or a night out when they hit your hometown.
Next up for PTF is a gig tonight, Sunday February 16th at Deep Ellum Art Company in Dallas, TX. After that, the band continues northward with shows in Indianapolis, Illinois, Ohio, New Hampshire, New York, and Connecticut before heading west. For tickets and a full list of dates, head to the band’s website.
Set: Time, You Enjoy Myself > Sabotage > Psycho Killer > You Enjoy Myself, Shine On You Crazy Diamond*, Money*, Crosseyed And Painless*, Reba > Root Down, What’s The Use? > Take Me To The River, Harry Hood
Encore: Nobody Home, Once In A Lifetime**
*with Russ Remington
**with “Martian Monster” and “Baba O’ Riley” teases