In honor of April Fool's Day we've put together a list of just some of the pranks Phish has played over
the past 30 years. They run the gamut from a college prank war guitarist Trey Anastasio
participated in to "faux" guest appearances to setlist antics.
[By Jamie Huntsman via Threadless]
In the spirit of Frank Zappa, humor has always had its place in Phish's music. The quartet
has used their audience as the straight man at points and other times they used their fans
to prank the mainstream. There are dozens of instances of Phish pranks over the years, but
today we want to shine the JamBase List light on 17 of them.
1. Trey's Heart Prank - Circa '84
A young Trey Anastasio engaged in a prank war with a friend in Colorado that hits its
climax when Anastasio sent his friend a hand and a heart (there's debate as to whether the
heart was from a human or goat) from UVM's anatomy lab with a note attached that read,
"I've got to hand it to you, you've got heart." The guitarist was suspended from the
school for a semester which led him to attend Mercer County Community College in New
Jersey, where he rekindled his friendship with lyricist Tom Marshall. After meeting up
with his old friend in early 1984, Anastasio invited Marshall over for a home recording
session for the material that would wind up being released as The White Tape. The
two went on to form an extremely fruitful working relationship that still pays dividends
30 years later.
2. Christmas In May - 05/28/1989
If you want to hear Phish at their loosest, look no further than the band's May 28, 1989
performance at Connie Condon's Farm in Hebron, NY. The Vermonters provided the music at
one of friend Ian McLean's now legendary parties and didn't hold back on enjoying the
festivities. There's plenty of drunken banter from Trey throughout including in "Contact,"
where he takes numerous opportunities to shout "Merry Christmas," more than five months
after the holiday.
3. John Popper Trampoline Hijinks - 7/11/1992 & 7/27/1993
At the Holmdel, NJ inaugural H.O.R.D.E. tour stop on July 11, 1992; Phish invited up
longtime friend John Popper of Blues Traveler during the trampoline section of "You Enjoy
Myself." A note on Phish.net explains what happened next, "On his first jump, though,
Popper jumped right through the trampoline. Embarrassed, he left the stage." A little over
a year later, on July 27, 1993 in Richmond, a wheelchair-bound Popper jammed on harmonica
during "YEM" from the side of the stage while an effigy of the (then) big man was lowered
onto the stage. Phish had it set up that the cord lowering the effigy of Popper would snap
and break right through the trampoline leading to cheers from the crowd.
4. Fun With The Radio Audience - 12/31/1992
Flyers were distributed to fans attending the band's New Year's Show on December 31, 1992
at Matthews Arena in Boston cluing them in on a batch of new secret language signals
"designed to confuse and confound the average radio listener" as a recording of the
performance was to be aired the next day on Boston's WBCN radio station. Anastasio clued
fans in as to when to react by holding up signs. Some of these signals included "mass
hysteria" in the middle of "Fly Famous Mockingbird," "yay/boo" during "I Didn't Know" and
the "lip flop" for "Harpua."
5. Phish "Fires" Mike Gordon - 2/6/1993
When Phish returned for the encore at NYC's Roseland Ballroom on February 6, 1993 they
started up a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Fire." The band struggled with the intro leading
Trey to tell the crowd they were relieving Mike Gordon of his bass duties so Jimi Hendrix
Experience bassist Noel Redding could take over. Redding then emerged on bass, while
Gordon moved over to keys. In the middle of the song Anastasio "let Popper take over" as
the Blues Traveler front man came out for a harmonica solo.
6. Gene Simmons Guests At The Roxy - 2/20/1993
In the middle of one of the most memorable "Mike's Groove's" in Phish history at The Roxy
in Atlanta on February 20, 1993; the band brought out fan Jay von Lehe, who was dressed as
Gene Simmons of KISS, to help sing the chorus of "Rock And Roll All Nite."
7. Neil Young Guests In Portland - 4/01/1993
On April Fool's Day in 1993 Phish not only headlined their own show at the Roseland
Theater in Portland, OR; they also performed at a benefit for Ancient Forests. Neil Young
was among the artists who played the benefit leading some fans to wonder if Phish
would be able to convince Neil to guest later that night. The band played into the rumors
by inserting teases of a pair of Neil Young songs at their headlining show. According to
Phish.net, "After the Big
Ball Jam, Trey looked offstage and introduced 'Neil Young,' which turned out to be
[drummer Jon Fishman]. Fishman responded by singing a line of 'After The Goldrush' before
launching into 'Terrapin.'" In 1998 Phish finally had a real opportunity to perform with
Neil Young at both Farm Aid and that year's Bridge School Benefit Concerts.
8. Phish Teases Thriller Musical Costume - October '95
As there are every year, there were rumors Phish would cover Michael Jackson's
Thriller as their musical costume on Halloween 1995 in Chicago. The quartet only
added to the speculation by teasing "Black & White" and "Beat It" on October 21, 1995
followed by "Beat It" teases on October 27 and 29. Then, during a first set "Harpua" on
Halloween, Trey said Jimmy was listening to the album Phish would cover later that night
and the band started playing "Beat It." The joke continued into the second set as the
group's performance of Quadrophenia was preceded by recorded bits of Michael
9. Fans Help Record The Dog Log Album - 12/11/1995
On December 11, 1995 Trey told the crowd the band was recording an album filled with 15
different versions of the soundcheck staple "Dog Log." Anastasio asked fans to scream
boo them following the first short take on the tune, while on the second take he asked
crowd members to let out high-pitched squeals. Nineteen years later we're still waiting
for the Dog Log album to come out.
10. Trey Teases Bruce Springsteen Guest Appearance - 7/16/1999
For the encore of Phish's July 16, 1999 performance at PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, NJ
Trey introduced "the greatest songwriter of all time," who like himself and keyboardist
Page McConnell grew up in the area around the venue. While Anastasio was leading the
audience to believe Bruce Springsteen would emerge, it was Tom Marshall who came out
dressed like Springsteen to deliver vocals for a cover of The Boss's "Born To Run."
Springsteen would go on to perform with Phish at Bonnaroo '09.
11. Say It Like You Mean It - 1/1/2000
In yet another case of Phish screwing with the mainstream, Trey instructed the crowd at
the band's Millennium shows at Big Cypress in Florida to chant "Cheesecake" at the end of
"Heavy Things" that was broadcast on ABC in an attempt to confuse the television audience.
12. Tom Hanks Welcomes Back Phish - 12/31/2002
At Phish's "comeback show," held on December 31, 2002 at Madison Square Garden, a scene
from the movie Cast Away was shown in advance of a performance of "Wilson." During
"Wilson," Trey brought out the film's star - "Tom Hanks" - to sing the final lyric. Some
fans (and news outlet) believed it really was Hanks, but it was actually keyboardist Page
McConnell's brother Steve.
13. Eric Clapton Guest Appearance - 6/18/2004
On June 18, 2004 Phish welcomed hip-hop star Jay-Z to guest on "99 Problems" and "Big
Pimpin'" at Keyspan Park in Brooklyn. Following a performance of "Chalk Dust Torture,"
Trey announced that Eric Clapton would be joining them. Alas, he was only kidding.
14. Phish Re-Starts "You Enjoy Myself" In Hampton...Again - 3/6/2009
Here's the most controversial entry on our list as it's not confirmed Phish was actually
playing a prank on this one. When the Vermonters first played the complex "You Enjoy
Myself" in Hampton, VA on January 3, 2003 just a few shows after returning from a hiatus,
they struggled with the intro leading them to re-start the song. Six years later, at their
first show following a five-year "breakup," the quartet once again screwed up the start of
"YEM" and re-started the tune. Was it a nod to the 2003 version or did they just mess up a
tough song? Depends who you ask.
15. "Sarah From Pittsburgh" Plays Drums With Phish - 12/31/2009
For Phish's New Year's "gag" in Miami on December 31, 2009; drummer Jon Fishman was placed
inside a cannonball and supposedly launched from a cannon. The band appeared to have lost
Fish, leading Trey to ask if anyone in the audience knew how to play drums. Anastasio
picked out a woman named Sarah from Pittsburgh, who told him her favorite Phish song was
"Fluffhead." At some point the actress swapped places with Fishman in drag and the band
launched into "Fluffhead." Fish went on
to play the rest of the third set and encore dressed as Sarah.
16. Zepp Madness And Fun With Feat - 10/30-31/2010
Atlantic City legend Pinky Kravitz said that Phish would cover a Led Zeppelin album on
Halloween in a Pinky's Corner column that ran just before the band's three-night
at Boardwalk Hall in 2010. While Phish wound up covering Little Feat's Waiting for
on Halloween, they did work in parts of four Led Zeppelin songs into "Tweezer" on October
30, 2010 and later "Whole Lotta Love" into "Chalk Dust." Then, on the 31st, before Phish
kicked into "Fat Man In The Bathtub" the band had some fun as described in the notes on
Phish.net, "In the tradition of some of Phish's previous crowd experiments in the early
'90s, flyers explaining a new Secret Language prank were included in the Phishbills that
were passed out to fans as they walked into the show. The prank, designed to confuse those
who would later listen to the recording, consisted of an announcer introducing Phish (as
Little Feat). When the announcer would say a letter of the band FEAT ('Give me an F!'),
the crowd would respond with letters corresponding to PHISH ('P-H!')."
17. Most Shows Spell Something - 8/30/2013
Phish started two traditions on September 2, 2011: annual Labor Day weekend runs at Dick's
Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, CO and setlist antics at the first show of each run.
Every song the band played that night started with the letter "S." The first letter of
every song played at the 2012 Dick's run opening show on August 31, 2012 spelled "Fuck
Your Face" leading up to a performance of the tune itself followed by a fitting "Grind,"
"Meatstick" encore. Then, at last summer's Dick's opener the band spelled out "Most Shows
Spell Something" using the first letter of each song played in reverse order.
Thanks to Phish.net for providing
some of the info used in this post.