25 in 25 of 2016: #2 06/24/2016 Wrigley Field, Chicago, IL (Stu Kelly, @sbkelly9)
I Think My Spaceship Knows Which Way To Go
First off thank you so much to @LawnMemo for curating another installment of his 25 in 25 series and having me back as a contributor. When I was considering which angle to approach this with I quickly realized how much of a curve ball Phish threw us in 2016 with the addition of “Space Oddity” to their repertoire and I couldn’t look past the opportunity to write about it for this project.
Phish has the natural ability of creating something out of nothing, like any other successful jam band. They have plenty of jams that break through the threshold and take us to that special place musically. Persevering through a musical segment that isn’t working at the five-minute mark could blossom into something beautiful at the 11-minute mark, for example. There’s no doubt that when all four members surrender themselves to the limitless possibilities through improvisation that nothing short of pure magic happens.
What’s even more impressive is their ability to carry the same impact sans instruments huddled around a series of microphones. Performing a capella has always played a role in Phish’s history. From the gibberish vocal jams at the end of “You Enjoy Myself,” to the farcical cover of Prince’s “Purple Rain,” to the times Fishman butchers a sacred song in the most comical way and gets away with it, to Little Feat’s “Don’t Bogart That Joint,” there’s a full spectrum of a capella songs that help add a unique twist to Phish’s sets.
When David Bowie tragically passed away in January of 2016 there was immediately a lot of speculation surrounding Phish’s first appearance at the Barcelo in Riviera Maya, Mexico. Would the band pay a tribute to one of their fallen icons? Would they liberate “Life On Mars?” or would they find space in their original song “David Bowie” to pay their respects to the Starman. Unfortunately, the 2016 Mexico run came and passed without a single tribute to David Bowie.
As fate would have it that tribute to David Bowie came in the midst of Phish’s summer tour when they made their debut performance at Wrigley Field in Chicago. After an incredible first night of music the band came out huddled around a series of microphones. Fans were most likely anticipating “Grind” or something else that’s more frequent as an a capella song in the encore slot. The end result is the most beautiful a capella song in the band’s rotation when Phish debuted “Space Oddity” to a sold out crowd who were in complete awe of the long-awaited tribute to David Bowie. From the moment Trey sang the first couple lyrics a roaring cheer of shock and approval rang loud and clear from the audience. As the Vermont quartet worked through the number, it just got better and better. There were moments when the crowd laughed at Trey mimicking the beloved guitar solo, moments where the crowd sang at the top of their lungs in unison with the lyrics, and most importantly moments where the crowd stood still, in complete shock and astonishment, as each member contributed their own vocal range to form one driving force.
Of the five total times Phish has covered “Space Oddity” there hasn’t been a version to really encompass the magic we experienced on that warm summer night in Wrigley Field. The stars looked very different that day.