Music/Lyrics: Anastasio, Marshall
Vocals: Page, Trey (lead), Mike (backing)
Albums: Live Phish 06
Last Update: 2015-06-04
“Buffalo Bill” actually does appear on a studio album – sort of. Ever wonder what that “Riker’s Mailbox” madness is on Hoist? Most of the puny track is actually a half backwards, half forwards chunk of the unused “Buffalo Bill” studio recording from the Hoist sessions. Phish recorded a purportedly long and bizarre version of the song but then decided it was a little too wacky for the overall sound they were going for on Hoist. After altering part of the track with various studio effects, it was decided to plug it into the album following “If I Could,” creating an interesting bridge between that sweet and sad number and the hard-rocking “Axilla (Part II).” As if to add to the time warp feeling of “Riker’s,” Jonathan Frakes (Commander Riker of Star Trek: The Next Generation fame) plays trombone on the track.
Live incarnations have been a little less outrageous. Debuting unusually as an encore on 11/21/92 (including a Fishman washboard solo), the song then completely disappeared except for soundcheck practices on 4/23/93 and 7/18/93. Almost two years later, the song resurfaced during the first set of 10/29/94, an unusual and fun show. The song showed its homely hide once again that year, on 12/31/94 in the middle of “Mike’s Song.” Following this bewildering performance, the song disappeared again for another two and a half years.
"Buffalo Bill" – 11/29/97, Worcester, MA
Many fans at The Great Went on 8/17/97 had seemingly forgotten “Buffalo Bill” even existed; listen to the huge crowd reaction occur only when the chorus is sung. A nice segue into “NICU” followed, leaving “Bill” in the dust for another few months until 11/29/97 in Worcester when it was played as part of an amusing encore that included “Moby Dick.” For this version, Trey introduced the song as Fishman’s favorite as a joke, referring actually to the Led Zeppelin tune to follow. “Buffalo Bill” disappeared again for another year, reappearing in Worcester on 11/27/98 in the middle of a completely insane second set documented on Live Phish 06. Two additional pre-hiatus versions appear in Hampton on 12/18/99 during the “Weekapaug” set closer, and then at another fan-favorite venue, Deer Creek, on 7/10/00.
After the hiatus, “Bill” returned to Deer Creek on 7/23/03 (teased before “Disease” and then played in full emerging out of “Makisupa”). On 11/29/03 “Buffalo Bill” made a special appearance during the 20th anniversary run at Philadelphia’s My-Bank-Ate-Your-Bank Spectrum. With guest and song co-author Tom Marshall on vocals, before launching into the song Trey noted: “Tom is now going to sing you a song about a boss, a log, and a piece of rope.” The lyrics should provide the rest of the details. Just try thinking of “Buffalo Bill” as a verb rather than a noun.
After a final pre-breakup appearance on 6/25/04 at Alpine Valley and a six year hiatus of this song, "Bill" awoke from his slumber for the first time in 3.0 on 8/12/10 for the song's third appearance at Deer Creek. This song proved to be a crowd favorite and a beautiful cool down to the smokin' "Drowned" and "Gin" earlier in the set. “Buffalo Bill” has remained in light rotation since, including 10/15/10 North Charleston, 6/8/11 Darien Lake, 8/17/11 UIC and its final performance to date, 6/22/12 Cincinnati.
For a curious insight into what the tune would sound like jammed-out, visit the 6/17/12 soundcheck version, and for a loose and fun mash-up with Wings’ “Jet” check out the 7/30/13 Tahoe soundcheck. For the completist, don’t miss Trey’s solo acoustic offering from 2/19/11 in Albany.
"Buffalo Bill" – 6/22/12, Cincinnati, OH