Phish’s memorable Halloween-run Vegas covers extend beyond its musical costumes

Phish, as themselves.

Phish’s performance of other artists’ albums during Halloween-night concerts (dubbed “musical costumes”) have become the stuff of legend, an entry point of interest among rock fans who might otherwise dismiss the Vermont jam band, and the topic of anticipation and debate among the “phaithful.” But Phish’s general penchant for covers—some as beloved as the band’s own material—means other reinterpreted songs have also found their way into its local Halloween-weekend runs. Among the three previously staged in Las Vegas, and just ahead of Phish’s longest one to date, here are some of the most noteworthy non-costume covers.

“Also Sprach Zarathustra” (October 31, 2016; MGM Grand Garden)You know it as the signature song from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. But Phish has long played Richard Strauss’ 1896 instrumental piece as a funky prog anthem, with noodly passages giving way to those famously ascending chords, much to the delight of Phish’s glowstick chuckers who create a chemiluminescent fireworks show inside the arena. Other favorites that Phish has also worked into the Vegas Halloween runs: Jimi Hendrix’s “Bold As Love,” The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” Edgar Winter Group’s “Frankenstein” and Los Lobos’ “When the Circus Comes.” –Mike Prevatt

“Free Bird” (October 30, 1998; Thomas & Mack Center) Yes, Phish has occasionally covered Lynyrd Skynyrd’s oft-called-for Southern-rock classic, but rather than a soaring electric version, the Vermonters’ take is a capella, performed barbershop quartet-style at the foot of the stage, often during the encore, as it was the night before the band’s Velvet Underground Loaded costume concert here in 1998. Other songs presented in a similar fashion jere include “The Star Spangled Banner” (played at MGM Grand Garden Arena on November 1, 2014) and David Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” which appropriately capped Phish’s Ziggy Stardust show at the Grand Garden Arena on October 31, 2016. –Spencer Patterson

“Golden Age” (October 31, 2014 & October 28, 2016; MGM Grand Garden) The group typically dips into the more distant past for its cover choices, but modern songs occasionally pique its interest, too. Barely a year after Brooklyn indie rock outfit TV on the Radio released this joyous 2008 track, Phish began incorporating it into its rotation, and Vegas has caught it twice. The 2014 stab was fun but relatively uneventful compared to the 2016 incarnation, a 26-minute rager that featured significant “Type II” jamming (portions that detour significantly from the song’s primary structure) and sent the crowd to the sky 17 minutes in … and again seven minutes later. –SP

“Crosseyed and Painless” (November 1, 2014; MGM Grand Garden) Not only did the band cover the plucky classic during its Halloween 1996 take on Talking Heads’ Remain in Light—a post-punk classic that nonetheless ventures into Phish comfort zones like funk and world music—but it has played it 46 other times and teased it in other songs countlessly. Many selections from previous musical costumes have also lived on; the 2016 Vegas run saw several reappearances of tracks and samples from Disney’s Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House (originally reworked in full at MGM in 2014), as well as “Shine of Light”—a highlight from Phish’s 2009 performance of The Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street in Indio, California. –MP

“Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley” (October 31, 1998; Thomas & Mack Center) Phish had recently resurrected its early-years cover of this Robert Palmer number (written by Allen Toussaint) when the band pulled it out during the first set of its Halloween ’98 show. The resulting 11 minutes of funked-out Phish found the foursome in a deep groove (dig Page McConnell’s slinky clavinet work)—and teasing James Brown’s “Super Bad” before segueing smoothly into “Chalk Dust Torture.” On a night when a lot of things went right, this jam might have been the most righteous. –SP

PHISH October 31-November 3, 7:30 p.m., $75. MGM Grand Garden, 702-891-7777.

Tags: Music, MGM Grand
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Spencer Patterson

Spencer Patterson is the Editor of Las Vegas Weekly, having previously served as Managing Editor, Arts & Entertainment Editor and ...

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