The Best Cover Band Ever

The best cover band in history.  That is one trophy Phish could take home and put on their mantle- no contest.  For a band that wrote so many excellent originals, Phish never lost sight of their ability to nail and integrate the perfect covers into their sets.  Beginning as a cover band, way back when, Phish continued to play the music of other bands throughout their career.  Whether they adopted songs into their own repertoire, or dropped one-time covers that were inevitably your favorite songs from years past, Phish could nail them.  Any way you cut it, Phish could learn a song, or even a whole album in a short while, jump onstage, and shred it apart.  The hallowed Utah “Dark Side of the Moon” performance was conjured up in a few hours before the show.  We have all seen the off-the-cuff “Roses are Free” rehearsal in Bittersweet Motel, backstage in Rochester before they went on.  With the ears and abilities Phish possessed, cover songs were always fun tangents, or centerpieces, to their epic shows.

First, there are all the cover songs that we all just consider Phish songs- “2001,” “Funky Bitch,” “Yamar,” “Ginseng Sullivan,” “Loving Cup,” “My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own” (not a Gordon song), “Timber Ho!,” Hold Your Head Up,” “Frankenstein”- songs that worked their way so far into the fabric of Phish that were inseparable from the band itself.  You certainly didn’t think to yourself when they dropped into a Funky Bitch- “another cover song.”   Part of Phish’s greatness was recognizing and weaving nuggets of other bands’ work into their own staples.

Next, you had songs that Phish ripped apart, made their own and incorporated, but you could never separate them from their original artists.  These were songs like “Cities,” “Roses Are Free,” “Izabella,” “Rock N Roll,” “Peaches En Regalia,” “Purple Rain,” “Sneakin’ Sally,” “Crosseyed and Painless.”  They were Phish songs, no doubt, but you knew where they came from. Always.

Then you had the one-time (or few-time) covers, highlighted in the summer of 1998; the band seemed to break out another hit you had once put on a mix-tape, every single show.  Smashing Pumpkin’s “Rhinoceros,” Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage,” Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On,” Van Halen’s “Running With the Devil,”
Jane’s Addiction’s, “Been Caught Stealin’,” The Dead’s “Terrapin Station,” The English Beat’s’ “Mirror in the Bathroom”- you knew these songs from sometime in your past, and so did the band.  Playing them was like a collective trip through our individual memories, going back and placing each song in the context of our own lives.

Finally, you had Halloween.  Armed with confidence and bravado for four years, Phish took on the challenge of covering an entire album- start to finish.  They played entire sets of non-Phish music, and at least two of them are thought of as “best ever” Phish performances.  The Talking Heads’ “Remain In Light” ‘s polyrhythms and percussion patterns forced the band to look at music from a different perspective in 1996- a perspective that revolutionized the way they would play all of their own music.  Absolutely crushing that set, fans looked to the next time the band would don a musical costume.

Waiting two years, the band next played Halloween was in Vegas ’98- a set in which they played Velvet Underground’s “Loaded.”  This was one of the more emotionally poignant sets of the band’s career.  Nailing the ’70s emotional pop-rock and ballads of Lou Reed, while making the songs their own and jamming on their musical themes- when the band walked off stage, everyone in attendance knew they had witnessed something very special.  It didn’t matter if you knew the album or not.  It was that good.

Amidst their 1995 marathon tour, they stopped at the Rosemont Horizon to cover The Who’s “Quadrophenia.”  Definitely the dark horse out of the Halloween sets, this night provided a spot on,

jim pollack

jim pollack

emotionally-driven, Who impersonation as they ran through the saga of Jimmy, the boy with four personalities.  Many expected them to come out and play a disco set of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” on this night, and the band played along, coming onstage to “Wanna Be Starting Something” over the PA.  Many fans were greeted by a British punk-rock opera that that they weren’t familiar with; others were thrilled.  They did a particularly good job in nailing this show, though it seems to have sat into the background of 1996 and 1998.

The original Halloween bash took place in 1994, when the band played into the wee hours of the morning after covering the Beatles double-LP, “The White Album.”  A more straight-up interpretation of the songs, the magic came in seeing the new Fab Four play the classics of the original Fab Four.  Each of them incredibly accurate to form, comprising the longest Halloween set in history.

Yet, regardless of what “type” of cover Phish played, they always seemed to nail it.  They sounded authentic; they sounded real.  The adrenaline kicked in when they would take one of these familiar songs and turn it into a Phish odyssey.  Examples of this phenomenon were the Nassau and Cypress “Roses,” the Cypress “Rock and Roll,” the Went’s “2001,” Merriweather’s ’98 “Sneakin’ Sally,” Star Lake’s ’03 “Crosseyed and Painless,” Albany’s ’97 “Yamar,” or Orlando’s ’95 “Manteca.”   These instances represented when the Phish universe merged with the more mainstream musical landscape, producing some epic portions of improvisation.

So next time the debate of cover bands come up- if that ever happens- be sure to interject, and let it be known that you are a die hard fan of the best cover band of all time.  Then you can explain they even had some pretty good music of their own.

To commemorate all the cover songs of Phish’s past, I’ve put together a compilation of covers (and jam sequences involving covers) that you are sure to enjoy. Below is the link and tracks for Miner’s Picks: Cover Songs. Download of the Day: Alpine 7.24.99 is below the video.


1. Yamar 12.13.97 Albany, NY

2,3. Timber Ho! > Simple 11.16.97 Denver, CO

4. Funky Bitch 11.30.97 Worcester, MA

5,6,7. Character Zero > 2001 > Cities 11.26.97 Hartford, CT

8. Rhinoceros 8.3.98 Deer Creek, IN

9. Rock And Roll 12.31.99 Big Cypress

10, 11. Twist > Izabella 7.31.98 Columbus, OH

12. Been Caught Stealin’ 8.1.98 Alpine Valley

13. Sneakin’ Sally 8.8.98 Merriweather

14. Running With The Devil 8.6.98 Atlanta, GA

15,16. Ramble On > Slave 8.12.1998 Vernon Downs,  NY

17. Roses Are Free 12.31.99 > 1.1.00 Big Cypress

18. Sabotage 8.8.98 Merriweather


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With all the talk of Alpine Valley in a recent post, this show was requested for uploaded by several people.  A truly great night at the end of Summer ’99, this show was all that and a bag of chips.  Starting off with a second song Fluffhead that stretched out to over 30 minutes of serious whole band improv, this show was on fire to begin with.  The second set brought another huge Alpine Tweezer, this time highlighting methodical funk that segued into a digitally looped Catapult, and finally settled into Mango > Happy Whip and Dung Song.  The only appearance ever of this Siket track certainly added a special aspect to this show. After they busted out Glide, Camel Walk, and Alumni Blues for an encore- everyone went home happy.  This show is a top notch showcase of the band’s playing at the end of a great summer tour.


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12 Responses to “The Best Cover Band Ever”

  1. king william Says:

    thanks for having a fresh ass show for a boring (awesome) day at work. ive downloaded all the shit on this site! i enjoy the reviews as well, i feel like im talkin with one of my bros about some shows….

  2. shpongleyez Says:

    very nice one, mr. miner. and great picks from the vault! i remember walking by the mgm grand at some point (maybe 2/03?) and the edgar winter version of frakenstein was coming out of the outside speakers, and i remember being totally disoriented in the best way: phish seeping out of every corner.

  3. ThinMan Says:

    While Phish was incredible in their covers and could nail somehting within 20 minutes of practicing…i still think JGB takes the throne of best cover band, so there is at least a discussion.

  4. R1 Says:

    Jerry Garcia Band? Seriously?

  5. themanatee Says:

    its interesting that you say that about the JGB. I was recently particularly unimpressed by their cover of the harder they come and have never particularly cared for their rendition of second that emotion.

    although this doesn’t really have anything to do with a “cover song” i remember the first time I saw Sleeping Monkey played live thinking to myself how well the band had just played a power ballad!

    love that albany 97 Yamar. Funny cause thats the one of two sets Trey ( I think) points out in the Phish book that he did not like of the whole 97 fall tour.

    god I remember that 8.6.98 Atlanta show and being totally disoriented when they began the weird intro to running with the devil and the look on your face miner when I turned around as Trey began the riff was priceless. it was melding our childhood with the present. Trey was freakin giddy playing EVH!

  6. Moment Man Says:

    No mention of them covering Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin Nowhere”???

    By far my favorite phish cover. (although only done once)

  7. Jish Says:

    Hope you find a HG ticket Miner, you deserve one for sure. Love the point about the guys making cover songs like Timber, Funky Bitch and 2001 their own — at most shows a cover song sticks out like a sore thumb, but not at a great phish show.

  8. ThinMan Says:

    well harder they come and second that emotion are not his best covers imo…i more impressed with shining star, dixie down, simple twist, that’s what love will make you do, after midnight, i’ll take a melody, the maker, knockin, dear prudence, etc….

    in fact if you compare the songs that both trey and garcia covered – garcia shreads trey – johnny b. goode & after midnight come to mind

  9. themanatee Says:

    hmmm interesting. i know his cover of dixie down, simple twis, knockin and dear.

    guess i’d have to take a look at johnny and after midnight,..but not sure jerry can match the energy of the cypress midnight…maybe the “solo” who knows

  10. Matso Says:

    Miner, I think you’ve parsed out the different types of Phish covers perfectly. I know this post wasn’t supposed to be a complete account of all Phish covers, but I think Good Times Bad Times needs to be mentioned in the first category given that it was a staple throughout their career (from early days through to post-hiatus), Boogie On Reggae Woman merits a nod in the second category, and Vernon Down the House trumps all in the third (for me anyway).

  11. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^^ totally forgot GTBT- great call- and Boogie On

  12. R1 Says:

    Some other favorites of mine that I don’t think were mentioned: Quinn the Eskimo, Emotional Rescue, Ride Captain Ride, On Your Way Down, Have Mercy

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