Phish vs the Dead: Halloween

For this installment, we compare the venerable jam bands on their approach to All Hallows’ Eve.

Criteria: Halloween

The Dead: The Dead never made too much fuss over Halloween. They played about 12 Halloween shows (the early years are fuzzy).  Occasionally they broke out “Werewolves in London”. Perhaps unconsciously they paid tribute to the ghoulish spirits in the air by using the night to kill off some favorite tunes: the last performance of “Viola Lee Blues” was on Halloween 1970, the last “St. Stephen” was Halloween 1983, and the last “Lazy Lightning” was Halloween 1984.  Probably the highlights were the 1991 performance of “Dark Star” in honor of the late Bill Graham, replete with a reading from Ken Kesey, and the Halloween show during the 1980 run at Radio City Music Hall, which was simulcast on television, and featured comedy skits by Al Franken and Tom Davis:

(more Franken and Davis on Halloween here: http://youtu.be/FZiy0A1eEU8; http://youtu.be/KldqYNV2Hwg; http://youtu.be/7oBwGzGlTlY; http://youtu.be/LE6Ro9LHqvI)

Phish: From the get go, Phish took to Halloween like a drunken Zombie Cowboy to a friendly Sexy Nurse.  Their very first Halloween show contained the debut of a song that would become an all-time fan favorite: “David Bowie”. Their second featured Fishman shaving off all his body hair. Their third Halloween included Trey wearing devil horns, latex pants, and strap-on breasts. Their fourth and fifth featured costume contests, the latter year’s resulting in a generous first prize (free admission to all Phish shows for an entire year) being awarded to one “Captain Bong Hit”. And then in 1994, they blew the doors off. They came up with the idea of a ‘musical costume’, i.e. pretending to be another band for the night (or at least a set), and playing a complete album of their tunes. In 1994 they played the Beatle’s White Album. In 1995, it was The Who’s Quadrophenia (going as far as destroying their instruments at the end of the night). In 1996, it was the Talking Head’s Remain in Light (no word if they tried to host PBS shows or write op-eds about transportation policy at the end of the evening). In 1998 it was Velvet Underground’s Loaded (which according to many reports younger members of the audience didn’t even recognize: shame on you, Millennials!!!!). Then they took a ten year break from Halloween — returning in 2009 with the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street and in 2010 with Little Feat’s Waiting for Columbus — but the idea had already taken hold in popular culture, becoming a tradition in its own right.

Analysis: Learning a new album every time? Phish kicks the Dead’s ass when it comes to Halloween.

This round: Phish

Tally so far: Dead 3, Phish 2

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