For the most recent batch of the Live Phish series, volumes thirteen through sixteen, the Vermont rockers are releasing a set of musical masquerades recorded over the course of four Halloween performances. The band's own versions of the Beatles' "White Album" (which they covered on Halloween, 1994), the Who's Quadraphenia (1995), the Talking Heads' Remain in Light (1996) and the Velvet Underground's Loaded (1998) will be in stores October 29th.
Frontman Trey Anastasio still feels a bit funny about hearing his versions of albums that were major influences in his life. "The whole idea of releasing them has been a little bit painful for me," he says. "I really love all those albums, but, to my ear, they are just lame versions of great albums. When we first started suggesting this release, I was reluctant at first. As cool as it is to do Remain in Light live, you're talking about this seminal record -- it would be like doing Band of Gypsies. Turning on the radio and hearing this might give me a little stomach ache. I was a huge Talking Heads fan. As you can see with my band, they were a huge influence. I'm basically going in the same direction they were -- with horns."
A recent meeting with Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz of the Tom Tom Club -- and formerly the Talking Heads -- calmed some of Anastasio's nerves. "I saw Tina and Chris at the Jammy Awards," he says, "and they came up and said something about how happy they were that we had done it. I had a huge thing for Tina, and I used to go see them all the time when they had this guy who would just hold a big light around. He would project the light and make shadows, and she would have this short skirt on. For her to say that was great."
Part of Anastasio's goal is to serve as a bridge between uninitiated fans and classic rock albums. "If you don't know about Remain in Light or Loaded or whatever," he says, "you should. And for that matter Brian Eno -- everyone should own a copy of [Eno's] Another Green World."
The biggest risk the band has taken with the "musical costume" idea might have been their tackling of the Who's Quadraphenia in 1995. Despite it being a classic record from a guitarist's vantage point, the idea to cover it didn't come from Anastasio. "I had a relationship with that album, certainly," he says, "but that was more of a [keyboardist] Page [McConnell] thing. I wasn't that familiar with that album."
Perhaps the original record that these releases will send fans into stores seeking will be the classic 1970 Velvet Underground effort, Loaded. How tough was it to capture the vibe, let alone the voice, of Lou Reed? "Well, it will always sound bad to me," Anastasio says of his effort, "but I had a great time doing it. I mean you can't sing "Sweet Jane" and have it not be a little like a joke. Why even try? But when we did those albums they were like mirror images -- it scares me a little having it out there."
Each release contains not only the set in which a classic record is covered, but also the rest of the gig's playlist. The "'98" disc features not only classic Phish material but also a raging treatment of Dizzy Gillespie's Manteca.
Phish, after a two-year hiatus, will reunite this winter for a tour that kicks off New Year's Eve at New York's Madison Square Garden.