Phish Halloween 2013: The Case for Synchronicity
Our Phish Halloween series continues with another cover possibility for the show later week. This time, we'll take a look at The Police's Synchronicity. Be sure to check out the previous installments where we discussed Bob Seger's Nine Tonight, Stevie Wonder's Songs in the Key of Life, Derek and the Dominos' Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, The Flaming Lips' Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Led Zeppelin II and Michael Jackson's Thriller and The Band's The Last Waltz.
Synchronicity represents the peak of The Police’s career, and may well have played a role in the band's premature end. The album has a bit of everything, including a monster opener, blockbuster ballad, kick-ass rocker and overall great flow. It features one completely wacko Andy Summers song, as well, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Somehow it is only No. 448 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list (seriously, WTF, whoever voted in that poll, there are 447 albums that are better?). “Every Breath You Take,” “King of Pain,” and “Wrapped Around Your Finger” were all mega-hits, and we don’t even get to them until album Side 2.
Phish may well have given a clue via the 1983 album release/30th anniversary tie-in speculation with those Huey Lewis and the News’ Sports "hints" during the Glens Falls webcast intermission video. No way it’s Huey (although get the Giant Country Horns together and the possibility is fun), but the year is still key. And it allows for tipping the cap to a band that was at the height of rock stardom that year, while Phish humbly began. Though any Police studio album would make great Phish fodder for Halloween, Synchronicity has the best overall incentive package and potential payoff.
Why They Might Do It: Because of the album’s worst track, “Mother,” perhaps one of the top 10 worst songs imparted by a potentially top 10 band. Except it’s dismissed because it’s “an Andy Summers song,” kind of like the sometimes subpar “Ringo Starr song” but toward the absurd. And it is absolutely perfect for Jon Fishman. He would have a blast with this, just as he has for the rare tunes he gets to sing on Halloween.
The aforementioned opener and title track is also fitting and would fire up the crowd to full energy right from the starting gate. The lyrics speak directly to the relationship with the community, something to which Phish acknowledges that besides its own musicianship it owes its 30-year existence—especially the long-running, unique live concert experience. “With one breath, with one flow, you will know synchronicity … A connecting principle, linked to the invisible, almost imperceptible, something inexpressible …”
On a logistics side, Trey Anastasio spent quality time with Police drummer savant Stewart Copeland during their time together in Oysterhead, and one would think heavily digested the trio’s repertoire even more than presumably when he was in high school. Maybe Stewart pitched in during rehearsals.
Why They Won’t Do It: None of Phish’s musical costumes have come from bands with fewer than four members. However, although The Police were a trio, this album features tons of extra sounds. A repetitious piano hammer punctuates the darkness of “Every Breath You Take,” and “Walking in Your Footsteps” is rife with background effects that Page McConnell could own.
The other obvious knock comes is the vocals, in particular the occasional cringe-worthy results when Trey tries to hit high notes (I’m looking at you, “Backwards Down the Number Line” opening). Sting was about to transition to a more masculine approach to singing, but Synchronicity falls mainly in Page and Mike territory but still could be a strain. On the plus side it’s only 10 songs. I can only recall one Police cover I know Phish has played—“So Lonely” from Outlandos d’Amour, a great pick during the year of covers (11/14/1998). So that might mean they’re not into the Police all that much … or just make Synchronicity that much more fresh for them to have practiced and now deliver.