These covers smell Phishy

Seeing Phish in Maryland at the Merriweather Post Pavilion got me thinking about one of my favorite musical topics: covers. And Phish is the master of the cover.

They are known for doing whole albums by other bands on Halloween. They’ve done Talking Heads‘s Remain in Light and Velvet Underground’s Loaded. In 2009, they did Exile on Main Street. I’m not sure if this cover is from that night, but it’s brilliant:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrbdtsLSy0Y&w=560&h=315]

Follow the jump for a few more examples of inspired cover choices…


While Phish has an abundance of great original material to draw on, they like to keep their audience on their toes by playing a sampling of covers. They’ve played dozens of covers over the years. They once played Dark Side of the Moon on a whim at a show in an out of the way location. It was sparsely attended, so the band decided to reward those who made the trek with a spontaneous rendition of the entire record.

Phish – “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (The Beatles) October 31, 1994, Glens Falls Civic Center, Glens Falls, New York.

Phish – “Good Times Bad Times” (Led Zeppelin) October 21, 1995, Pershing Auditorium, Lincoln, Nebraska.

Phish – “Rock & Roll” (Velvet Underground) August 2, 2003, IT Festival in Limestone, Maine.

Phish – “Watcher of the Skies” (Genesis) March 15, 2010, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Cleveland, Ohio.

Phish has already played both “Rock & Roll” and “Loving Cup” on this tour, along with a stack of other tasty covers. They played “Mellow Mood” (Bob Marley), “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” (Stones), and “Fire” (Hendrix) when I saw them at Merriweather. They’ve also played “Boogie On Reggae Woman” and “Look Out, Cleveland” – a rocking song by the Band – on this tour. I’m sure they’ll play more exciting stuff on the remaining summer tour dates. And when is it time to start speculating about what album they’ll play this Halloween? Is it time yet?

30 thoughts on “These covers smell Phishy”

  1. this. totally. rocks.

    (also very cool to see sharon jones singing along up there on the right)

  2. I don’t hate Phish, though it’s an easy thing to do. Lord knows they give you plenty of reasons to despise. I actually think they can be a really interesting little pop band when they concentrate on original, short pop songs. But the covers thing just emphasis how awful they can be and how limited their skills are…particularly Trey’s singing. That Genesis cover, as well as the other one they did for the HOF induction were just dreadful. Stinky and tuneless. That record they made before they broke up called “Undermined” was really underrated. They used a good, no-nonsense pop producer, and kept the meandering nonsense to a minimum. They would serve themselves well to stay away from covering other, more talented artists and do their own quirky pop stuff.

  3. Bob, I would agree that Undermind is an under appreciated collection of smart, catchy pop songs, and well produced by Tchad Blake. I’ve always found the panning some Phish fans give it a bit surprising. I would argue, though, that one of the things that has enabled Phish to write and play good pop songs over the years are the covers they’ve learned – particularly the White Album by the Beatles. Doing so can’t help but improve one’s songcraft. But the notion that they’re unskilled as musicians, well, that dog just don’t hunt.

  4. i went to school in a town full of jam bands. which in turn, made me despise them. but i’d still love to see phish someday.

  5. Long-time reader here, puzzled these last few days/weeks. Usually find a lot to like here, or at least a good piece every couple of days, but there’s honestly WAY too much jam-band stuff here for my taste lately.

    Can we get a reprieve, and have a little power pop or something to clear the palate?… thanks.

  6. I may be opening up a can of worms here, but I want to ask… why do some music lovers hate jam bands so viscerally? The term jam band is used to describe a wide variety of bands, the common elements generally being that jam bands “share a collective penchant for improvisation, a commitment to songcraft and a propensity to cross genre boundaries… [and] are unified by the nimble ears of their receptive listeners.” [that’s from Wikipedia]. What’s so bad about that? I mean, I’m not suggesting every music nerd should have a soft spot for jam bands, but why the hostility for that as opposed to, say, hip hop? Did a jam band beat you up as a child? ;-) Just curious… help me understand, my fellow music nerds!

  7. I think we all know there are people who hate hip hop as passionately as others hate jam bands. I don’t hate jam bands at all but do often get bored senseless by the improvisation. It’s neat that dudes can run up and down the neck of their guitar for 12 minutes but I lose the plot after a while and just drift away. I tend to like pop music that’s concise and structured. Not all the time, but usually.

    I am also usually more annoyed by the fans than by the bands. They’re all so damned earnest. I am a sarcastic bastard and I like my bands to be too. That goes double for the fans.

  8. Phil, when you say “there are people who hate hip hop as passionately as others hate jam bands,” you’re really talking about yourself, aren’t you? You’ve always hated the hip hop and what not. Hater! :-)

  9. I agree with most of Phil’s points. There are lots of exceptions for me personally (Neil Young, Funkadelic, Jay Bennett), but in general I don’t like noodling or frankly much improvisation at all. It seems like a lot of self-indulgent wankery. I also tend not to like to listen to live recordings, again, in general.

    I can respect a lot of these dudes as musicians — just like I respect jazz musicians or the dudes in Rush — but it’s just not my thing.

    I don’t mind the fans. They know how to have fun, and heaven knows we need as much fun as we can find these days…anywhere we can find it.

    I think it’s just one of those genres that people love to hate. Like ska. When I was younger, I used to hate on Phish (LOUDLY) before I ever heard a note. Then one day a frat guy got me high and turned on some black lights (true story) and played me some Phish. I was surprised how Beatley it sounded. After that, I stopped badmouthing Phish. I’ve also never listened to them again since then.

    But at least I no longer hate them…despite the fact that they were all music majors in college (which of course is at least 2.75 strikes against any rock and roll band).

  10. Phil, do we need to go at it, right here, right now?! I know you don’t want to see me with my shirt off…

  11. Mike, I think a lot of jam band detractors would take issue with that “commitment to songcraft” line. One of the things you often hear jam band critics say is that many of the songs take a long time to go nowhere. This seems to be a general criticism of the bands. For myself, I prefer Phish when they are concise and no-bullshit in their approach to songs: their more “Beatley” stuff, as Jake says. And I think another thing is the stratification of music and fans. I started a thread on the board about listening to progressive rock again for the first time in a long time and asking for recommendations, and one notion that came up (and was refuted by others) was that if you like Ramones/Black Flag/Fugazi type music, you probably find it next to impossible to tolerate progressive rock. I think that attitude extends to jam bands, or hip hop, or whatever. Some of the most passionate fans of a given genre are often the most passionate haters of another.

  12. I’m totally in agreement with you on prog rock. As long we acknowledge that the vastly overrated Radiohead is prog. So is this crappy group of bands like Grizzly Bear, Animal collective, Panda Bear,etc. Even that band Beach House that everyone seems to be pooping their pants about…sounds like prog to me. Stop pretending you love the Beach Boys…we know it’s really all about Pink Floyd records. The lame ones no less!

  13. Well, I do love me some noodling on the guitar, which is part of what draws me to the 3 jam bands I really like – The Grateful Dead (and all the post Dead bands that arose from the ashes), Phish, and Umphrey’s McGee. I can be dumbstruck, my face melting, when I hear a great extended guitar solo. But I can appreciate why some might no get into that. I think part of why I love it is because I play guitar. I’m a mediocre player at best, but I know enough that I’m awed by great playing.

    As far as prog rock goes, Phil, are you just trying to get my goat? Because you know I love me some prog rock, too! I’m with jaimoe0 on Genesis ad King Crimson, and I’d throw Pink Floyd and Rush into the mix, too. Maybe Traffic and Zappa, too. I mean, I’m a huge Zappa fan, but I’m not sure he qualifies as prog rock? The only band of today that interests me prog rock-wise is Ween (seeing them on Friday!), and they approach it a bit from a jokey/tribute angle. Which just made me think of Tenacious D. Who doesn’t love the song City Hall? A prog rock masterpiece!

  14. i was against them before i was with them…

    i saw phish for the first time back in 1992 at michigan state. i was working at the concert promotions group that put on shows. that was on of the shows, so i showed up to work security. it was an unbelievable intimate venue and a good show. though, i was too much of a snob to really let go and enjoy the show. it was all hippie shit to me.

    flash forward some 17 years and i find myself being handed a pair of free tickets to a show in the burbs of chicago at toyota park from my brother-in-law, the biggest phish fan i’ve ever come across. turns out that his grown up responsibilities left him in a bit of a spot in which he couldn’t go to the show. i took them with a bit of hesitation. why the hell would i really want to go to a phish concert? i mean, hand’t the already broken up a couple times?

    i actually ended up really enjoying the show. there were elements of jazz, funk, country, blues, and yes even guitar noodling. though, it all seemed to work this time around. i’ve gone back and dug through the back catalog of live shows and have found some really great stuff. i can honestly say i’m a fan now. though, a lot of the folks i’m around day-in and day-out still give me shit for getting into phish, but i could care less. it puts a smile on my face. so little music does that these days. it’s nice to hear something and grin. so, count me in.

    anyway, here’s a list of covers that phish have done over at phishcoventry.blogspot.com. pretty damn impressive mix of covers to play along with their tunes.

    Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress) – The Hollies

    In The Midnight Hour – Wilson Pickett

    Eyes Of The World – Grateful Dead

    Fire – Jimi Hendrix

    Scarlet Begonias – Grateful Dead

    Whipping Post – The Allman Brothers Band

    Cities – Talking Heads

    Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley – Robert Palmer

    Melt The Guns – XTC

    The Mighty Quinn (Quinn, The Eskimo) – Bob Dylan

    Have Mercy – The Mighty Diamonds

    Skin It Back – Little Feat

    Peaches En Regalia – Frank Zappa

    Swing Low, Sweet Chariot – Apollo Jubilee Quartet

    Shaggy Dog – Lightnin’ Hopkins

    Mustang Sally – Wilson Pickett

    The Little Drummer Boy – Frank Sinatra

    She Caught The Katy And Left Me A Mule To Ride – Taj Mahal

    Good Times Bad Times – Led Zeppelin

    Boogie On Reggae Woman – Stevie Wonder

    Ya Mar – The Mustangs

    Corinna – Taj Mahal

    Free Bird – Lynyrd Skynyrd

    Funky Bitch – Son Seals

    Sparks – The Who

    Ride Captain Ride – Blues Image

    Take The “A” Train – Duke Ellington

    Timber (Jerry The Mule) – Josh White

    The Ballad Of Curtis Lowe – Lynyrd Skynyrd

    Aveenu Malcainu – Suzzy & Maggie Roche

    Light Up Or Leave Me Alone – Traffic

    La Grange – ZZ Top

    Jesus Just Left Chicago – ZZ Top

    Rocky Top – Osbourne Brothers

    Terrapin – Syd Barrett

    Love You – Syd Barrett

    Bike – Pink Floyd

    Satin Doll – Duke Ellington

    On Your Way Down – Allen Toussaint

    Bold As Love – Jimi Hendrix

    Walk Away – James Gang

    Time Loves A Hero – Little Feat

    If I Only Had A Brain – Ray Bolger & Judy Garland

    Undun – The Guess Who

    Donna Lee – Charlie Parker

    Highway To Hell – AC/DC

    Frankenstein – Edgar Winter

    Auld Lang Syne – Guy Lombardo

    Caravan – Duke Ellington

    Carolina In The Morning – Al Jolson

    Communication Breakdown – Led Zeppelin

    Uncle Pen – Bill Monroe

    Sweet Adeline – The Pittsburghers

    How High The Moon – Les Paul & Mary Ford

    Paul And Silas – The Stanley Brothers

    Manteca – Dizzy Gillespie

    Wipe Out – The Surfaris

    Touch Me – The Doors

    Argent – Hold Your Head Up

    Cracklin’ Rosie – Neil Diamond

    My Mind’s Got A Mind Of Its Own – Jimmie Dale Gilmore

    I Walk The Line – Johnny Cash

    Loving Cup – The Rolling Stones

    Amazing Grace – Judy Collins

    Pig In A Pen – The Stanley Brothers

    The Great Gig In The Sky – Pink Floyd

    Crossroads – Cream

    Daniel Saw The Stone – Silver Leaf Quartette of Norfolk

    Nellie Kane – Hot Rize

    Also Sprach Zarathustra – Deodato

    Yerushalayim Shel Zahav – Shuli Nation

    Purple Rain – Prince

    Bill Bailey Won’t You Please Come Home – Patsy Cline

    Ginseng Sullivan – Norman Blake

    I Wan’na Be Like You – Louis Prima

    Over The Rainbow – Judy Garland

    The Old Home Place – The Dillards

    Foreplay – Long Time – Boston

    While My Guitar Gently Weeps – The Beatles

    Why Don’t We Do It In The Road? – The Beatles

    Cry Baby Cry – The Beatles

    I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome – Bill Monroe

    My Long Journey Home – The Monroe Brothers

    Lonesome Cowboy Bill – The Velvet Underground

    A Day In The Life – The Beatles

    Johnny B. Goode – Chuck Berry

    Hello My Baby – The Barbershop Singers

    Suspicious Minds – Elvis Presley

    Life On Mars? – David Bowie

    The Real Me – The Who

    Sea And Sand – The Who

    Drowned – The Who

    The Star Spangled Banner (live from Super Bowl XXV) – Whitney Houston

    Crosseyed And Painless – Talking Heads

    Love Me – Elvis Presley

    My Soul – Clifton Chenier

    When The Circus Comes – Los Lobos

    Beauty Of My Dreams – The Del McCoury Band

    Soul Shakedown Party – Bob Marley & The Wailers

    Izabella – Jimi Hendrix

    Ain’t Love Funny – J.J. Cale

    Emotional Rescue – The Rolling Stones

    Psycho Killer – Talking Heads

    Roses Are Free – Ween

    Sexual Healing – Marvin Gaye

    Albuquerque – Neil Young

    If You Need A Fool – The Del McCoury Band

    Been Caught Stealing – Jane’s Addiction

    Sabotage – Beastie Boys

    Back At The Chicken Shack – Jimmy Smith

    Something – The Beatles

    Rock And Roll – The Velvet Underground

    Cool It Down – The Velvet Underground

    Oh! Sweet Nuthin’ – The Velvet Underground

    Misty Mountain Hop – Led Zeppelin

    Mellow Mood – Bob Marley & The Wailers

    Shine A Light – The Rolling Stones

    and to add to the list, here are some songs from this summer i’ve heard from listening to the sets…

    instant karma – john lennon

    in the aeroplane over the sea – neutral milk hotel

    the rover – led zeppelin

    cold water -tom waits

  15. To me, one of Phish’s great strengths is the variety of influences they draw from, and it’s reflected in that list. Not a lot of bands operating today with that kind of breadth of influence and that love of the music to play it for their fans. Great list. I see an iTunes playlist there with the originals. Got to work on that.

  16. Widely diverse taste in music is a great quality in a fan, but a terrible quality in a band. When you put too much different crap in the blender it comes out tasting like a mushy veggie burrito. A band needs FOCUS!

  17. I disagree with part of your premise, Jake. A band needs to bring focus to a song, an album, a performance, but drawing from one well is a recipe for BORING! And Phish, again, is a great example. On their album tracks, when they are focused and concise is when they write and record their best stuff, but those songs aren’t all cut from the same cloth. Where prog and jam bands fall down is when they throw four different influences into one sloppy song, but I’ve got no problem with a band that does a poppy song, a hard song and a country song, as long as the style fits the tune. And I think that in a live performance, a band can be even more free-wheeling.

  18. Point taken re: song vs. band, especially considering two of my all-time favorite albums are Exile on Main Street and Wilco’s Being There, both of which are all over the damn place.

  19. ‘Widely diverse taste in music is a great quality in a fan, but a terrible quality in a band’

    you obviously haven’t spent time with NRBQ. They understood and could play nearly anything. They might have the deepest, most varied record collections ever. Probably the greatest American band ever too.

  20. I like that Vitas dude. Agree totally. I got Lawn Boy when someone told me that Phish was the new Dead. Hated it. Sold it back. Got A Live One from the radio station I worked at (you think we’d actually play it?!) and kind of liked it. But Billy Breathes blew me away. Loved how Lilliwhite made them focus on the song; it’s got all those qualities that people like Jake enjoy. Susbribed to their newletter around that same time and got tickets to a few shows. The show here in Iowa was great-very organic, lots of country influences and accoustic guitars, etc. Then the next night was in Omaha. They had cops on horseback hassling the hippies and the show was the definition of boring noodling. Way too much jazzy extensions, solos that were impressive in theory but boring to listen to. When they broke up the first time, I didn’t pick up on their material when they re-formed. I think I’ve got Joy somewhere, but haven’t listened to it. Anything worth a damn since Ghost?

    Also, I really like Space Wrangler from Widespread Panic. What are some other jam bands I should look into? I’ve heard good things about Umphrey McGee here and with friends who still follow jam bands. Moe? I tried Donna The Buffalo once with mixed results.

  21. Phil, is that why your childhood nickname was “Phil”? Because you love you some Phil Collins? ;-)

  22. Vitas, that list of covers is staggering. I had no idea it was that extensive. Thanks for posting it.

    Todd, Undermind is a great post-Ghost record you should check out. It’s got many of the qualities you like about Billy Breathes. It also comes with a short documentary on an an extra DVD that covers the sessions for Undermind.

    Jonathan, I’m going to suggest that the next time you sit down to burn a fat one, throw on Billy Breathes. In particular, check out the song Waste. Perfect for that kind of, uh, occasion. :-)

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