Crosseyed and Painless
Music/Lyrics: Talking Heads, Brian Eno
Vocals: Fish (lead); Mike, Trey (backing)
Original Artist: Talking Heads
Original Album: Remain in Light (1980)
Historian: Phillip Zerbo (pzerbo)
Last Update: 2014-07-16
In “Crosseyed and Painless,” the rocket-powered second track on Remain in Light, Talking Heads and Brian Eno pull off stunning arrangements with power, precision and explosive energy. Adrian Belew's guitar solo rumbles like a train passing a station leaving its prospective passengers scratching their heads in the kicked-up dust. The arrangements are surgically precise, cutting, and exact, sucking even the most staid listener into the heart of the thick dance groove. The RiL studio track runs a tidy 4:48, and while live Talking Heads versions were similarly concise, the urgency and vitality of their early performances is as gripping today as when the members of Phish were making their way through high school.
Talking Heads, "Crosseyed and Painless" – Rome, Italy, 1980
Phish first performed the song as part of their 10/31/96 musical costume set. Phish ripped the rug right out from under RiL’s opening tune, “Born Under Punches,” taking the residual steam from that song and embezzling it for use with “Crosseyed.” Fishman assumed lead vocals and he handles them with appreciably ironic restraint and terseness, adapting it nicely to his own timbre. Trey’s solo evokes Belew’s original well, but is arguably more ferocious and dangerous. Karl Perazzo lends his unquenchable hands on percussion to the song’s rhythm, and the entire tune is punctuated by occasional hoots and howls. This ten-minute debut version also greatly benefits from Dave Grippo and Gary Gazaway on horns.
They apparently had so much fun that "Crosseyed" entered the repertoire in the band’s very next show, on 11/2/96, in an incredible 20+ minute version that also featured Karl Perazzo on percussion and was captured on the Coral Sky DVD. After a few comparably unremarkable renditions in 1997 (2/16/97, 2/21/97, 8/13/97), "Crosseyed" then took a mini hiatus. It turned up 159 shows, later towards the front end of the historic 12/31/99 all-night set, “The Show.” This massive 21-minute jam on the heels of “YEM” as we headed to the 2am hour is this stuff fan dreams are made of. Other versions of note in the pre-hiatus era include the inspired outing on 7/12/00 Deer Creek, and the remarkable 9/14/00 Darien Lake rendition captured on Live Phish 03.
Phish, "Crosseyed and Painless" – 2/16/97, Cologne, Germany
The first "post-hiatus" version was among the most thrilling ever, a blistering 25+ minute epic opening the must-hear second set of 7/29/03 in Burgettstown, PA. The excellent 6/23/04 version at Deer Creek anchors a spectacular and underrated set that forcefully defies any laughable claim that 2004 Phish lacked improvisational vitality.
Returning to the stage in 2009, "Crosseyed" initially retained a prominent place in Phish’s improvisational repertoire. The offering from Alpine Valley on 6/21/09 propelled what was widely considered the best set of that early leg of summer tour, and the 7/31/09 Red Rocks version (emerging seamlessly out of a monster "Drowned") is not to be missed.
Phish, "Crosseyed and Painless" – 7/10/13, Holmdel, NJ
In 2010, “Crosseyed” retreated into a bit of a shell. Strong but otherwise nondescript performances followed on 6/24/10 in Camden (out of "Down with Disease"), 8/10/10 in the pristine setting of Telluride, CO (for the first time ever contained within "Mike's Groove") and opening the 10/16/10 North Charleston, SC second set. 2011 witnessed the beginning of a comparative explosion of performances – for a song that has lived in the repertoire for approaching two decades, more than half of all lifetime performances of the song have taken place since 2011. Always fun and danceable to be sure, the song’s role as improvisational anchor was at least for a time put on the shelf. The 8/17/11 UIC second-set-opening version deviated from the script by establishing a theme that permeated the entire set with teases and quotes. [Several dozen other “Crosseyed” teases are documented here, including in the 11/28/97 “YEM,” 4/3/98 “Weekapaug,” 12/29/98 “2001,” and the six different teases in 8/17/11 alone!]
When you have a club in your bag that you know will deliver, it is only a matter of time before you are going to pull out the big wood for an opening drive. The latent power was always there, finally exploding on the closing night of Phish’s first run at San Francisco’s historic Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on 8/19/12. Opening the second set, “Crosseyed” set the controls for the heart of the sun, anchoring an almost 45-minute segment that featured blistering versions of “Light” and “Sneakin’ Sally” before dropping back into the end of “Crosseyed.” With due respect to the brilliance of the FYF gig, 8/19 II stands in the eyes of many as Phish’s finest single set of 2012.
Keeping with the “less is more” approach, summer 2013 saw only two versions, but both the 7/10/13 Garden State and 7/26/13 Gorge versions are keepers, with 7/10’s 17-minute masterpiece quickly emerging as one of the most loved jams of that excellent tour. The 2014 summer tour – following the all-original ‘13-’14 MSG NYE run – started off with an open question of whether some of the anchor covers in the repertoire were getting shelved. So when “Crosseyed” emerged out of the ashes of “Twist” mid-second set on 7/9/14 at The Mann, the crowd release was viscerally enthusiastic. Phish responded with a compact yet powerful, dense offering that assured that faithful that this progressive classic was here to stay.
Phish, "Crosseyed and Painless" – 7/9/14, Philadelphia, PA