Phish Halloween 2013: The Case for _The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle_

Jack McManus on October 31, 2013

Our Phish Halloween series concludes with a final cover possibility for tonight’s show. This time, we’ll take a look at Bruce Springsteen’s The Wild, The Innocent & The E Street Shuffle. Just because we’ve posted it last doesn’t mean we think it’s any more likely than the previous suggestions. Be sure to check out those 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, Todd Rundgren’s Todd andRadiohead’s OK Computer.

It seems like musicians from New Jersey all end up inescapably linked to the state’s identity. Nobody understands this like Bruce Springsteen, who has somehow become an icon of Jersey culture even though many of his songs do not cast a positive light on the state. Jersey Boy Trey Anastasio may have escaped the full weight of this burden by founding Phish in the underrepresented rock state of Vermont, but its impossible to ignore theGarden State connection anytime a homegrown act plays Atlantic City, a town with so much N.J. cachet that it has its own Springsteen song.

The connection between Springsteen and Trey/Phish has become more obvious during the 3.0 era, with Bruce sitting in with the band at Bonnaroo in ‘09, Born To Run showing up on the list of potential musical costumes before Festival 8 and the band covering “Thunder Road” the day after Clarence Clemons died in June 2011. While these clues might logically make Born To Run a more likely choice for Halloween, I think its song structures are a bit too rigid and its lyrical themes are frankly just too depressing for a Phish Halloween. On the other hand, Bruce’s previous album, The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle, has the perfect loose energy and party atmosphere for a raging Halloween set. It also has some musical moments that Phish could absolutely destroy.

Released just nine months after Bruce’s wordy debut album in 1973, The Wild and The Innocent caught Bruce at the peak of his musical creativity, as he would permanently return to a lyrics-first mentality starting with Born To Run in ‘75. The E Street Band also had its tightest, most musically-capable lineup in the pre-BTR days, with Bruce as the band’s only guitarist, future jazz heavyweight David Sancious on keys and “Mad Dog” Vini Lopez on drums (note: “Mad Dog” is a great drummer nickname). This lineup was fully equipped to take on the fusion sounds that Bruce was so interested in at the time—a sound that Phish has built their whole sound on.

With only seven tracks on the record, four of which being over 7 minutes long, The Wild and The Innocent fits Phish’s second set formula nicely. With the exception of “Wild Billly’s Circus Story” (a weird carnival song that Fishman could sing or something), every song on the album has room for improvisation somewhere, and there is potential for “The E Street Shuffle,” “Rosalita”and “Kitty’s Back” to become monster jam vehicles. These songs pulled the E Street Band into jamband territory during their live shows around ’74 and ‘75, with “The E Street Shuffle” becoming a 15-minute mellow soul sermon and “Kitty’s Back” sometimes erupting into a 20+ minute shredfest of dueling guitar and saxophone. Legendary rock DJ Richard Neer once described a ‘75 “Kitty’s” as “pure rock and roll hysteria,” and with Phish already tearing up Fall Tour, we could expect nothing less from a Wild and Innocent Halloween.

Musically, Phish is perfectly suited to take these songs to interesting new places. Page and David Sancious have the same jazz sensibilities and penchant for huge organ sounds, Trey can probably handle Bruce’s vocals and Vini Lopez and Fishman are a match made in drummer heaven. Both of them have an unhealthy obsession with intricate cymbal rhythms, they both love savage, raucous fills, and most of all, they both seem a little crazy. I think combining their musical voices could only go well. Of course, covering The Wild and The Innocent would require the heavy participation of a horn section, but hasn’t that always been one of the best parts of Halloween?

I think the band still has a surprise up their sleeve for the Halloween set. Covering The Wild and The Innocent would be a great surprise indeed, and it could lead to some unforgettable moments in Phish lore.

Why They Might Do It: Beyond the obvious Jersey Shore connection, Bruce’s sophomore album has a distinctly Phish-friendly sound and structure, mixing light funk, high-energy rock, fusion and touches of piano jazz. Many of the songs even have multifaceted, peaking, turn-on-a-dime structures like the ones that Trey uses so often in his compositions. The album’s ‘70s house party atmosphere would also fit an AC run nicely.

Why They Might Not Do It: The album’s sequencing is an obvious problem, with its energy peaks (“Kitty’s Back” and “Rosalita”) sandwiched between quieter songs that could keep momentum from building throughout the set.