Phish Halloween 2013: The Case for _OK Computer_

Sam D'Arcangelo on October 30, 2013

Our Phish Halloween series continues with another cover possibility for tomorrow night’s show. This time, we’ll take a look at Radiohead’s OK Computer. 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, The Band’s The Last Waltz, The Police’s Synchronicity and Todd Rundgren’s Todd.

I’ve had a lot of fun reading our “musical costume” speculation pieces over the past few weeks, but I’ve noticed a trend. Of the nine articles we’ve published so far, only one of them has dealt with an album that was released at some point in the past 30 years. Maybe this is because, historically, Phish have made it a point to honor classic albums that have withstood the test of time, or maybe its because the modern age just hasn’t produced as many quality LPs. Nevertheless, it’s easy to forget that the Talking Heads’ masterpiece Remain in Light was only 16 years old when Phish gave it the Halloween treatment in 1996. That’s why I’m proposing that the Vermont quartet cover Radiohead’s OK Computer--an equally groundbreaking 16-year-old album–during this year’s Halloween show.

An OK Computer costume might not be likely but–oh man–it would be awesome. Imagine Trey taking on the soaring climax of “Lucky.” Try to visualize the look on his face as he pours every ounce of himself into making that guitar weep. Imagine Page banging his way through “Karma Police.” I can hear the crowd singing along already. Sure, it would be difficult for someone to fill Thom Yorke’s vocal shoes, but it’s not like Phish does the best job of mimicking David Byrne or Roger Daltrey either.

The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, the Talking Heads, Pink Floyd–these are the titans of rock. There are few bands from the modern era (think post-Nevermind) that one could even consider including amongst their ranks. Radiohead are one of those bands and OK Computer is their magnum opus. Hell, it’s arguably the greatest album of the past quarter century. If Phish want to continue covering bands of that caliber, then why not make it one of their few worthy contemporaries?

It makes sense that Phish have stuck to older albums because the band has historically used their Halloween costume as a way of paying tribute to artists whose body of work they respect. However, there is ample evidence to suggest that the band has plenty of respect for Radiohead. Certainly more so than other groups whose heyday overlaps with their own. Three members of Phish have covered Radiohead with other projects–Vida Blue did “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” TAB have done “Knives Out” and Mike Gordon made “15 Step” a part of his solo repertoire. Jon has never played one of their songs on stage, but he did say they were only worthwhile Britpop act during a 1996 interview (that was pre-OK Computer, the dude had foresight). On top of all that, Mike and Trey have also put their spin on “Paranoid Android” with the Benevento/Russo duo.

If one thing is for sure, it’s that an OK Computer costume would be a dream come true for countless Phish fans. The floor at Boardwalk Hall would be drenched in tears of joy, which might help the maintenance staff mop up after god-knows-how-many people literally shit themselves. A Radiohead cover is long overdue and all of the ingredients are there. We just need the chefs to pick the right recipe.

Why They Might Do It: As stated above, most of the band has covered Radiohead with different projects. It’s also an incredible album by an incredible band (I won’t waste time arguing that totally indisputable point) that was/is making great music at the same time as Phish. Now that Phish have expanded into the territory of contemporary covers (“Energy,” “Golden Age”) its about time they got around to covering one of the titans of the modern era.

Why They Might Not Do It: No one in the band is really equipped to do Thom Yorke’s vocals justice. There is also a lot going in some of those songs, and a second guitar might be necessary to fill in all of the spaces. There are other considerations as well. Just as the construction of the Large Hadron Collider led many to worry about the dangers of smashing newly discovered sub-atomic particles into each other at incredibly high speeds, we should all be concerned about the potential unforeseen consequences of combining two things as awesome as Phish and Radiohead.