Vocals: Trey (lead), All (backing)
Historian: Phillip Zerbo (pzerbo), Mark Toscano
Last Update: 2016-02-11
Like "Reba," "Fluffhead" is many a fan’s favorite Phish tune. Also like “Reba,” the song seems to embody every aspect of early Phish: a catchy intro, bizarre, surreal lyrics (“elevated prime did edit her?!”), a complex multi-part composition, and a blissfully climactic ending jam.
Before the song finally premiered live in its “final draft” form – i.e. "Fluffhead" and the six-part "Fluff's Travels" suite – on 9/27/87, it went through many changes. To start with, it was written in separate parts (parenthesis represent the timings on the Junta studio version of "Fluff's Travels"):
“Fluffhead” debuted on 12/1/84 at Nectar’s with guest vocals from The Dude of Life, who penned the song's lyrics. The opening three verses were written by The Dude about a guy he and Trey had seen at a Grateful Dead show in 1983. The Dude’s older brother was dying of cancer at the time, so when they saw some guy at the Dead show, also a cancer patient, with cotton balls stuck all over his bald head to simulate hair, it struck a chord.
”Fluffhead” – 4/29/90, Woodbury, CT
The rest of the song’s lyrics, in the “Clod” segment, were composed by Trey and chosen more for their sound than their meaning. On its first performance, the song was quite primitive compared to what it would become, and was comprised of what can best be described as the “Fluffhead” and “Arrival” segments (though not exactly as we know them today), running only about 4:40 total.
By late 1986, the composition had been altered slightly to incorporate a new segment, “Fluff’s Travels,” which along with some meddling with the format, extended the length of the average version to roughly nine minutes (see: 10/15/86, 12/6/86, or 4/24/87). Also around this time, other segments of the future epic “Fluffhead” began to surface as individual compositions in the band’s live repertoire. The final chunk of “Who Do? We Do!” made appearances following “I Am Hydrogen” (see 4/24/87 or 8/29/87). “The Chase” made up part of another early tune, “Lushington” (see 10/15/86).
By the 8/21/87 Ian’s Farm show, “Clod” and “Bundle of Joy” had surfaced, but still not within the context of “Fluffhead.” “Clod” appeared on its own in a slightly extended version in the first set, while “Bundle of Joy” was sandwiched in the middle of “Harpua” – sans narration. Also, visit the freaky 10/31/87 show for performances of almost every individual part, including the then-incomplete “Fluffhead” itself.
Although “Fluffhead” had permanently codified by February of 1988, the band temporarily shelved the song in the latter half of 1989, when it was not played between 8/26/89 and 12/9/89 (short by modern standards, but still a 40-show span). During this period, several of its individual segments were performed independently (none of which had made an appearance outside of "Fluffhead" since the 2/8/88 performance). Indeed, "The Chase", "Clod," and "Bundle of Joy" all made appearances during this "Fluffhead" mini-hiatus, and "Who Do? We Do!" even appeared to have found a new home, as it was performed at least nine times following the end of “McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters."
”Fluffhead” – 8/17/96, Plattsburgh, NY
Many fans keep “Fluffhead” near and dear to their hearts as a favorite tune that hasn’t mellowed with age. Countless outstanding versions can be found in great shows that you should check out anyway, including: 2/20/93 Atlanta (on Phish at The Roxy); 6/11/94 Red Rocks; 6/22/94 Columbus (LivePhish 10); 8/17/96 Clifford Ball; 11/23/97 Winston Salem; 8/16/98 Lemonwheel; and 9/29/00 Vegas, with an unusual jam that eventually led into “Meatstick.” Due to a fire alarm during the 4/20/89 version, the song was aborted. When the band resumed the show, a spontaneous “You Shook Me All Night Long” jam segued beautifully into the "Clod" segment of “Fluff’s Travels” to finish out the song.
While not often thought of as a springboard for extensive improvisation, “Fluffhead” burst through its structure in one especially notable sequence in 1999. After a pair of excellent 22-minute versions on 7/10/99 Camden (LivePhish 08) and 7/18/99 Oswego, the floodgates opened on 7/24/99 at Alpine Valley, with the band extending the “Arrival” segment out to realize a 30+ minute outing of the song, culminating with a segue into “TMWSIY.”
Though always welcome at a show, “Fluffhead” suffered a bit in the latter 90s, as the band’s looser, improvisational approach sometimes made it difficult to pull off the tightly composed numbers without several hitches. To understand these difficulties, do yourself the questionable favor of checking out the “Fluffhead” from 12/5/99.
Post-hiatus, the song took on a new life in the minds of many fans, as the song seemed on the verge of a long hibernation, or even extinction. 2003 was the first full year of Phish performances that “Fluffhead” was not played in concert. Fans noticed, to say the least. While it was clear that many fans wanted the band play “Fluffhead,” they had seemingly picked the method least likely to achieve the desired result: the chant. Toward the end of the second day of the IT festival on 8/3/03, the crowd engaged in a particularly spirited “Fluffhead” chant; Trey famously responded: “Mike says No,” before launching into “Mike’s Song.”
”Fluffhead” – 3/6/09, Hampton, VA
The discerning listener will notice a minor tease of the opening notes to “Fluffhead” before the 12/31/03 encore – the band was clearly aware of the fans desire for the song to be played, and seemed content to build on the tension. The "Fluffhead" teases continued the following summer as Trey could be heard playing the "Fluffhead" intro at the 6/17/04 soundcheck (included as an Easter egg on the Live in Brooklyn DVD).
The tension – and that created by the four-and-a-half year absence of Phish entirely – was joyously released with the opening notes of Phish 3.0 on 3/6/09 in Hampton. Opening a show for the first time in almost 18 years (3/13/91) and only the fifth time ever, “Fluffhead” exploded back on the scene and will forever be remembered as the ecstatic embrace between fans and band that was the return of Phish on that day. Aside from the meta tension-release, the precision performances of the equally difficult "Fluffhead" and "Divided Sky" to open the show sent a clear and unambiguous message that Phish 3.0 meant business, with a rededication to the craft of performing their immaculate compositions with the care that they deserve.
"Fluffhead" sought to make up for the lost time during 2009. The eleven 2009 performances were by far the most in any one year since 1994, with excellent versions offered on 7/30/09 at Red Rocks (unfinished, with an atypical jam and a "DEG" tease); 10/31/09 during Festival 8, and during the third set of the 12/31/09 Miami NYE gig with “surprise guest” “Sarah from Pittsburgh.”
”Fluffhead” – 12/31/11, New York, NY
“Fluffhead’s” prominence continued throughout 3.0 with notable versions including: 8/5/10 Greek Theatre; 6/3/11 Clarkston, MI featuring a segue out of the 25-minute “Disease Supreme;” closing the first set of 12/31/11 at MSG with an “Auld Lang Syne” tease; and 7/17/13 Alpharetta, an unfinished version emerging out of “Energy” with a “Heartbreaker” tease. On 6/22/12 in Cincinnati Phish performed “Fluffhead” as an encore for the first time in nearly 22 years, a role that was reprised on 8/3/14 to close out that outstanding summer tour, and then again at the very next appearance on 8/30/14 at Dick’s, with “Dave’s Energy Guide” and “In a Hole” teases.
And then… “Fluffhead” once again went missing. Fall ‘14, NYE ‘14, and then all of 2015 passed without a single “Fluffhead” appearance, creating the second-longest gap in the song’s performance history. When asked on Twitter whether it was still even a song, Mike Gordon replied that it had been “desonged.” Mind you, taking Mike at “Face” value is probably not the best bet in this case… but you never know. Stay tuned!