Brian and Robert
Vocals: Trey (lead), Fish,Mike, Page (backing)
Historian: Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update: 2016-03-08
To the average fan of the intricate, extended, upbeat jams featured in many other Phish songs, “Brian and Robert” is everything they hate: slow, reserved, simple, and completely undanceable. The song is, however, a lyrical masterpiece, an ironic description of the epitome of what a Phish fan is not: a detached, morose, lost soul who finds no joy in life. Someone who would rather be at home in their TV seat, since there is no one they would care to meet. They are the solitary diner, the loner on the playground, the grumpy old man that bangs on the apartment wall when the stereo is too loud. “Brian and Robert” – named for Eno and Fripp – calls out to the lost soul and hopes to save them from their self-imposed misery.
Phish, "Brian and Robert" – 10/18/98, Mountain View, CA
Musically it is a lilting melody riding a mellow swell of ambient hues. No, the song does not jam, but the message it bears should register loud and clear. Life – much like the music of Phish – is to be enjoyed and shared with others. Since the song’s debut on 6/30/98 in Freetown Christiania, Copenhagen, the live versions of “Brian and Robert” have not strayed far from The Story of the Ghost studio release in style or duration. The resonating whine of an empty TV screen – a stylistic underpinning of the song directly borrowed from and presumably in tribute to the work of Robert Fripp – was reproduced perfectly in the constructive feedback that closed the 7/15/98 Portland version.
“Brian and Robert” has been performed as an acoustic arrangement on several occasions by both Phish (10/18/98 Bridge School Benefit) and Trey during solo first sets (e.g. 2/15/99, 5/8/99), as well as a rare open mic night appearance (4/12/99 at Sweetwater, Mill Valley, CA) prior to the Phil and Friends run at the Warfield. Trey also performed the song at the Tibet House Benefit at Carnegie Hall on 2/22/99, accompanied by Nawang Khechog on Tibetan long flute and Foday Musa Suso on kora. Nawang Khechog reprised this role on 7/31/99 when Phish played the tune at the Fuji Rock Festival.
Phish, “Brian and Robert” – 11/1/09, Indio, CA
The 9/11/00 version at Great Woods was also notable, as it was accompanied by a sign language interpreter. The last pre-hiatus “Brian and Robert” was delivered like an unexpected psychic gut-punch from a good friend. sandwiched between the rather celebratory and upbeat performances of “Golgi Apparatus” and “Bold As Love” that closed the second set at Shoreline on 10/6/00.
The first two post-hiatus performances were both much less painful: the first materialized out of the silence which followed the piano solo tail of "The Squirming Coil” midway through the first set in Denver on 2/18/03; the second it was served up as a palate cleansing sorbet between the spicier “Gumbo” and “Taste” that closed the first seating of the 4/16/04 “Three of a Kind” buffet. “Brian and Robert” was in fairly regular rotation during Trey's 2005 tour, and enjoyed another resurgence during TAB performances in 2008.
Phish continued the light-but-steady rotation of the song upon their return to the stage in 2009, including performances at Hampton on 3/7/09, acoustic at Festival 8 on 11/1/09, and at Merriweather on 6/27/10. Phish performances then slowed to a trickle, with large to moderate gaps separating them: 6/8/11 Darien Lake (46 show gap), 7/31/13 Tahoe (83 show gap), 7/19/14 Chicago (38 show gap), 10/27/14 BGCA (19 show gap), and 8/9/15 Alpine (23 show gap). If you get a “Brian and Robert” these days, it is likely you are at one of those stats-padding “bust out” shows.
“Brian and Robert” was scored for orchestra by Don Hart, and made its orchestral debut during Trey’s performance with Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on 5/21/09. It has remained a fixture in the orchestral rotation, including appearances by Trey with Scorchio Quintet on 11/18/10 in Princeton, NJ; Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on 2/14/12; National Symphony Orchestra on 5/22/13; and most recently the Los Angeles Philharmonic on 9/26/14 at the Hollywood Bowl.