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Phish Halloween 2013: The Case for Songs in the Key of Life

by Wayan Zoey on October 08, 2013

Continuing with our Phish Halloween series, we present yet another cover possibility for the Atlantic City run later this month. This time, we'll take a look at Stevie Wonder's classic album Songs in the Key of Life. Be sure to check out the first installment where we discussed the possibility of Bob Seger's Nine Tonight as a cover choice.

I’ll be honest, there’s albums I’d much rather see Phish tackle than Songs In The Key Of Life. I think they could do something really magical with any Radiohead album, and I’d personally love to see them tear through a Zeppelin record, but if we’re approaching this academically, I think Stevie Wonder’s double-album masterpiece makes perfect sense for the band to take on.

My favorite moments of live Phish are when they get funky. When their jams venture into tight, syncopated synchronicity, they remind me of all the reasons I continue to defend them against my bigger-music-snob friends. However, they frequently get in their own way when they actually write their own funk. The playing is right on, but there’s just something off about the harmonic decisions they make when they’re consciously trying to compose within that discipline. So keep Phish’s ability to execute the style, and combine it with the pinnacle work of the genre’s greatest songwriter, and you have a recipe for a truly transcendent night of music.

The band and audience would ease in to a night of soulful bliss with the opener of “Love’s in Need of Love Today,” before dropping in to the slow sway of “Have a Talk With God.” This band is practically built to take on the fusion-funk of “Contusion,” and frankly I think Trey would be the happiest person in the room to hear a borrowed horn section blasting out the lines on “Sir Duke” behind him. Given the overwhelming number of daughters the band members have, “Isn’t She Lovely” seems the most perfect of Stevie’s famous love songs for the band to attempt. We know the band isn’t afraid to bring extra personnel along for the big shows, just imagine the combination of horns, percussion, possibly even a choir that could be brought out to augment this performance, all of whom would have to be onstage for the close of the set. It has all the majesty appropriate for a Phish Holiday Show, with the promise to keep everyone dancing all the way through.

Why They Might Do It: Frankly, because they can. We know they’d love to take on a funk/soul/R&B classic, but most of the obvious options are out of their reach. They don’t have the singer to seriously take on MJ or Prince, they don’t have the discipline to do justice to James Brown or The Meters, and I don’t think they’d even consider trying a Parliament record. Stevie is not only within their capabilities, but his exalted status as a composer allows for a certain greater freedom for professional musicians to interpret his works. This is right in their wheelhouse, and perfect to mark their 30th anniversary as a band. Plus Stevie frequently wrote music for MJ, whose music was, according to legend, used to drown out the band at their first ever gig, which they mistakenly thought occurred around Halloween for a good chunk of their career.

Why They Won't Do It: Because I thought of it, and I am terrible at predicting Phish.

Listen to Songs in the Key of Life via Spotify:

Comments

I would love Phish to perform the Beatles “Rubber Soul” the American version.

By Ron - 10/08/13

Tommy Bolin—-
“Teaser” or “Private Eyes”... either would be amazing.

By Jim Wilson - 10/08/13

Time is nigh for Zeppelin.  Houses of the Holy would unleash the vaunted No Quarter.

By turnthejimmypage - 10/08/13

Zappa in NY.  A Halloween tradition at the time.  Excellent songs!

By Mike - 10/08/13

they should cover no Doy bt moe.  or ten by pj or out on a limb here terrapin station by the dead

By Ron - 10/08/13

@BY RON- Are you seriously suggesting that Phish cover a “MOE” album or “GD” album?  Neither of those will ever happen.  If I could see Phish cover an album of my choice, it would be “Joe’s Garage”.  However, that will never happen at this point in their career.  Phish could’ve pulled this off when they were in their prime, back in the mid ‘90’s.  I don’t think they practice enough and are tight enough now in order to pull off a jam in a time signature such as “Keep it Greasy”, which changes from 21/16 to 19/16.  I also read where Trey has invited Peter Gabriel two times, the latest being in a Rolling Stone interview, to come and perform “The Lambs Lay Down on Broadway” with them on Halloween, but said Phish would only do that album if Peter Gabriel agreed to sing it with them.  That would be nice to see.  I am a big fan of Gabriel’s solo stuff, as well as Genesis.

By Araujo - 10/08/13

Only thing you got wrong is Trey’s vocal capabilities aren’t even in the same universe as Stevie’s, which is ironic you’d think so after bringing up MJ’s and Prince’s superiority. You really think Stevie isn’t right up there with them? As for Trey and the gang, no one can ever argue their superb abilities as musicians.

By PeteB - 10/09/13

post toastee (Bolin)... they could stretch the jam out in the middle of that song for 20 minutes…

By Jim Wilson - 10/09/13

So you consider Wolfman’s Brother, Tube, Ghost, Moma Dance, Tweezer, Undermind, YEM and all the other funky Phish originals to be failures in the “funk discipline”. Couldn’t disagree more.

By Danno - 10/09/13

traffic.

By mike - 10/09/13

There are much better Stevie Wonder albums to choose from.

By jbs - 10/09/13

A personal favorite would be The Yes Album, or Fragile by Yes.
.02

By Woo Hoo Guy - 10/09/13

Trey can sing M. Jackson.  Camden 6/25/10

By J. Skar - 10/09/13

My vote goes for Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

By Bennie - 10/09/13

Way out of their wheelhouse. Just on vocals alone.

By dk70 - 10/09/13

Any Zeppelin album would be awesome. A Radiohead or Flaming Lips album would be awesome if they decide to go with more modern indie rock.

By McSantos - 10/09/13

3 Dog Night…greatest hits album from 1975.  Its the perfect combo of vocal blends, variety, classics, jam vehicles and fun….

By Jimmy Forbin - 10/09/13

Electric Ladyland!

By Wilson King of Prussia - 10/09/13

For giggles, how about Frampton Comes Alive?

By B - 10/09/13

Songs in the Key of Life…don’t try that guys. Right now, present day Stevie can barely sing old school Stevie. There’s no way any one of those guys can pull off that Album. There’s like 47 modulations in Summer Soft that are at the top of Stevie’s range…Trey can’t pull that off.
My vote is with Jimmy two posts above me. 3 Dog Night. Except I can’t be there, so…wait until next year. For all I care, do a Lady Gaga album this year. 

By Victoria - 10/09/13

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