It was the fall of 1995. Jerry Garcia had died that August after a very poorly received Grateful Dead tour and Deadheads were at a lost. Then people started talking about this other band that was creating similar live experiences as The Dead and though they spelled their name funny, they might be worth a see. They had booked a date at the newest auditorium in Chicago-the soon to be parking and acoustic nightmare called The Rosemont Horizon. All sounded good, so we began to look into tickets.
The show’s date was Halloween. Which was a blessing and a curse. It was great because the band had previously performed a “musical costume show” playing another band’s complete album on Halloween.The previous year -The Beatles’ eponymous white album had received the treatment and the rock rumor mills were abuzz. This just might be the perfect show to check out “The New Dead.” The bad news was that as a father of three kids under six, missing Halloween was probably not going to happen.
So I missed the show and this new bands’ legendary performance of The Who’s Quadrophenia.- perhaps my favorite album of all time. The buzz from the choice and their subsequently 40 minute version of YEM made this set noteworthy and set them on their way to their own music legacy. In early 2000s, the band pulled the then revolutionary idea of releasing 20 CDs from their grand performances. By then though, I had moved on and was way to wrapped up in fatherhood to purchase a 20 CD set of anything. And then it slipped my mind.
Until this week. For some strange reason, Phish’s 1995 Halloween show showed up at the radio station. Now, it’s not unusual for us to get a weekly batch of CDs at the station, but after some web searching, I’m still clueless as to why we were sent this particular CD. The original release was October of 2002 and there is no official reissue. So as puzzled as I was, I was also thrilled to finally get a chance to hear what all the buzz was about even if it was two decades removed.
Now the performance of the Who’s second and undeniable superior rock opera is something I had clamored for a long time. Even flying to New York in 1997 for the original band’s performance of the album in it’s entirety. So to hear that Phish had performed the landmark LP in total was at the time a revelation. Band’s rarely did a full album in a row as released, not alone another band’s album. It was unique to say the least.
So it was with great anticipation that I threw this lagniappe in the CD player. It was a fun throwback to an era when the crowd’s restless anticipation of what album they would perform is palpable in the set’s early numbers before they “become” the Who for Halloween. And though there is significant energy in Phish’s performance, I will not be throwing away my original CD from The Who.
But that’s not the point. This live release was a seminal moment for the band and the courage they had to tackle such difficult undertakings. Their series of Halloween shows ended when the band temporarily stopped touring but not before doing albums by Talking Heads and The Velvet Underground. It was an important way to attract a buzz pre-internet and prove you were worthy of the lineage of The Dead. In the case of Phish, it worked.