Vocals: Trey (lead), Mike, Page (backing)
Albums: The White Tape, At the Roxy, Live Phish 02, Live Phish 09, Live Phish 12, Live Phish 19, Live in Vegas, Colorado '88, The Man Who Stepped into Yesterday, Hampton/Winston-Salem '97, Alpine Valley, Niagara Falls, Chicago '94, The Clifford Ball
Historian: Phillip Zerbo (pzerbo), Mark Toscano
Last Update: 2015-10-02
“AC/DC Bag” is one of the earliest Gamehendge tunes to appear in Phish’s live repertoire, making its debut on 4/1/86 at Burlington’s Hunt’s a full two years before the completion of Trey’s project. “Bag” was initially its own tune, and appeared on the original 1986 White Tape cassette. Trey’s Senior Study The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday – which incorporated “AC/DC Bag” – wasn’t completed until 1988, where “Bag” slots in as the fourth song of the musical between “Wilson” and “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent.”
“Bag’s” lyrics have a loosely narrative, stream-of-consciousness feel to them. While interspersed with characters from Gamehendge and telling a well-developed story, the song’s lyrics are built with bricks of clichés: “The thousand dollar question”; “Sit up and take notice”; “Tell it like it is”; “Time to put your money where your mouth is”; “Let’s get down to the nitty gritty”; “Let’s get this show on the road,” and so on. Indeed, in writing the song Trey borrowed directly from The Dictionary of Clichés.
"AC/DC Bag" – 10/31/89, Plainfield, VT
The chorus’s chord progression (well, almost – it’s actually an F-major, not a B-major) gives “AC/DC Bag” its name. The lyrics to this groove-rock tune speak of a certain Mr. Palmer, who is most decidedly “concerned with the thousand- dollar question.” He is about to be hanged by the AC/DC Bag (the name of Wilson’s plug-in, robotized, bag-headed executioner) under orders from Wilson himself. Mr.Palmer is Wilson’s accountant, you see. However, he was also a member of the anti-Wilson revolutionary effort. Palmer helped support Errand Woolfe, Tela, and the other rebels by channeling funds from Wilson’s regime to bankroll the revolution. Of course, Wilson eventually found out, and sentenced Mr. Palmer to death, thus substantially crushing the revolutionary effort.
Hammered into the Gamehendge narrative, the song’s lyrics end up having meaning, however vague. In this context, the song is sung as a duet between Wilson and Palmer. In the first two verses, Wilson torments Palmer in a facetious manner. Palmer takes over the second two verses, defiantly challenging Wilson (“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”). The final lines of the fourth verse indicate Palmer’s steadfast resistance to Wilson as he shouts for the commencement of his own execution. Following this, Palmer muses over his complete lack of a future.
"AC/DC Bag" – 12/30/94, New York, NY
Back in the world of mortals, the “Roger” mentioned in this song (as well as in “Wilson”) is an old friend of Trey’s, Roger Holloway, with whom Trey shares credit on the band’s White Tape for the tune “Aftermath.” For the Gamehendge saga, Roger is the name of Errand Woolfe’s son, who was murdered by Wilson. The real Roger appeared on stage at the band’s 4/14/93 gig at the beginning of the second set and proposed to his girlfriend. She accepted, and the band happily responded by playing the song that made that “crazy little kid” Roger a star, “AC/DC Bag.”
For the first decade or so of its life, “Bag’s” functional utility was as a standard, compact rock tune. Versions through 1988 also feature a cute little intro preceding the song’s opening chords. Notable versions include: 4/1/86 (“Help on the Way” > “Slipknot!” > “AC/DC Bag”); 10/31/86 (first Halloween gig, with long intro); 8/6/88 (appearing on Colorado ‘88); 7/12/91 (with the Giant Country Horns, on LivePhish 19); 4/14/93 (with a "My Woman From Tokyo" tease"); 7/3/95 Sugarbush (latent exploratory jam energies bubbling to the surface); and 8/13/96 (Deer Creek, on LivePhish 12).
1997 brought a wave of myriad musical experiments in jamming out the most unexpected tunes, a force that propelled “Bag” to the most extraordinary of jam spaces. From 1997 up to the hiatus, “Bag” served as a useful springboard for the band to launch into expansive and exciting jams, only seldom finding its way to the drizzle of escalating notes that makes up the song’s traditional, composed ending. Standout versions include: 6/25/97 Lille, France – a funk explosion anchoring the first set of this brilliant yet underappreciated show; 11/21/97 Hampton – and epic 25+ minutes with plot twists galore; 12/30/97 MSG, also ~25 minutes with “Third Stone From the Sun” and “Psycho Killer” teases; 8/9/98 (Virginia Beach "Terrapin Station" gig, with an “Electric Funeral” tease); 11/7/98 Chicago (transport to outer space, -> to “Ghost”); and the brilliant 9/14/99 “Boise Bag” ("Peaches" > "Bag"!).
"AC/DC Bag" – 10/4/99, Normal, IL
Post-hiatus versions we’re reigned in a bit from the late 90s heydey, though more than respectable versions can be found on: 2/14/03 Great Western Forum (for Valentines lovers and stage jumpers); 7/9/03 Shoreline (between excellent versions of “Boogie On” and “Piper”); opening IT on 8/2/03 (“put ‘em in a field and let ‘em fight it out”); and 8/14/04 Coventry (a 2.0 masterpiece that belies the ridiculous claim that Coventry lacked improvisational spark, despite the accompanying train wrecks).
The return to a more compact presentation and utility kick-off role of “Bag” gained steam upon Phish’s return to the stage in 2009, with its role as an improvisational springboard apparently a bygone of a past era. Punchy versions can be found opening otherwise outstanding gigs including: 8/1/09 Red Rocks; the Gamehendge-infused 8/14/09 Hartford gig; 12/31/09 Miami (with an "Auld Lang Syne" tease); 7/2/10 Charlotte (with a "Buried Alive" tease); 5/29/11 Bethel Woods; 8/26/12 Charlotte (with a “Machine Gun” tease); 12/31/13 MSG; and 7/12/14 at New York’s Randall’s Island.
"AC/DC Bag" – 12/31/11, New York, NY