Phish Halloween 2013: The Case for _Thriller_

Brian Stollery on October 22, 2013

Our Phish Halloween series continues with another cover possibility for the Atlantic City run later this month. This time, we’ll take a look at Michael Jackson’s 1982 album, Thriller. 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 and Led Zeppelin II.

Phish finds inspiration in fan speculation. In 2010, fans strongly predicted Physical Graffiti which predicated the famed “TweeZeppelin” show at Boardwalk Hall. Earlier, in 1995, widespread conjecture that the band might play Thriller at the Rosemont Horizon’s Halloween spectacle similarly led the group to tease “Beat It” repeatedly in the weeks leading up to the performance. Then, on Halloween itself, the band performed a textbook Phish fake-out: “Harpua” found Jimmy listening to “the Halloween album” while the band teased “Beat It” yet again, and “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” and “Thriller” preceded the second set over the venue’s sound system. Michael Jackson’s classic album seemed imminent, but the band opted for Quadrophenia instead.

Thriller teases remained dormant until Summer Tour 2010. On June 25, the one-year anniversary of Michael Jackson’s death, the best selling album of all time reared its head once again: “2001” contained “Wanna Be Startin’ Something” quotes and the ensuing “Billie Jean” jam contained “Thriller” teases from Trey.

Which leads us back to Boardwalk Hall for this year’s Halloween show. Certainly, the album Phish decides to tackle is anybody’s guess. However, a very strong case may be made for Thriller. The year 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of Phish and Thriller alike. Furthermore, the Atlantic City press reported earlier this year that Phish had allegedly asked permission to use Boardwalk Hall’s recently restored, 33,000-pipe pipe organ. The Midmer-Losh Organ would be in good hands, should the chairman-of-the-boards utilize it for the album’s title track. Page would also adeptly replicate the signature synth line from “Human Nature” with his Yamaha CS-60 Polyphonic Synth (The actual song was recorded with the CS-80). That song also has a polyrhythmic multi-vocal pattern at the end that Phish would nail a la “Limb by Limb.” Also, one of Gordo’s new toys, the Markbass Super Synth pedal, would give “P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)” the powerful bass blasts it requires, while Trey’s signature overdrive would appropriately serve “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” as it has in the past. A first set “Dog Gone Dog” (aka “Dog Log”) might even foreshadow the “doggone girl is mine” lyrics in “The Girl is Mine.”

Perhaps the silliest aspect of a Phish version of Thriller would be the absurd theatrics. Look no further than John Landis’ landmark “Thriller” music video. That red jacket Michael wore would look damn good on our Michael, especially with a white glove taboot. Fishman as a prosthetic werewolf with a tattered muumuu would be all too perfect. Imagine the grin on Trey’s face as a horde of zombies performs the famed “Thriller” dance routine behind him. And let’s not forget about the spooky stage design and smoke machines. However, the absolute best part of this theoretical situation would be the unique stamp that Phish applies to every cover they play. Thriller may be considered the ultimate pop album; Phish would make it a funk album.

Why They Might Do It: Because it is very much on the table. It’s been theorized for years, and they’ve already jammed on four of the album’s nine tracks. Furthermore, 80’s glitz and warm analog funk are both part of the vast sum of influences that have informed Phish’s aesthetic as a band.

Why They Won’t Do It: Because it would make too much sense.

Listen to Thriller via Spotify: