If I find the interview I'll post it.
Vocals: Trey (lead), All (backing)
Historian: Phillip Zerbo (pzerbo), Mark Toscano
Last Update: 2013-04-13
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; when fans refer to "Fluffhead, they are generally referring to both of these songs) 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"):
I. “Fluff's Travels” (0:00-1:09)
II. “The Chase” (1:09-2:21)
III. “Who Do? We Do!” (2:21-4:12)
IV. “Clod” (4:12-7:21)
V. “Bundle of Joy” (7:21-9:10)
VI. “Arrival” (w/ outro) (9:10-11:38)
“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 Dead show in 1983. The Dude’s older brother was dying of cancer at the time, and 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. The rest of the song’s lyrics, showing up 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 9 minutes (see: 10/15/86, 4/24/87, 4/29/87). Also around this time, other segments of the future epic “Fluffhead” began to surface as individual compositions in the band’s live repertoire. For instance, 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 “Lushington,” another early tune (see 10/15/86).
By the time of 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 – in set two. Also, see 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", "The 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".
For a representative early '90s snapshot, have a listen to the 4/29/90 version from the Woodbury Ski & Racket Club in Woodbury, CT:
The majority of fans keep “Fluffhead” near and dear to their hearts as a favorite tune that hasn’t mellowed with age. Outstanding versions can be found in great shows that you should check out anyway, including 2/20/93, 6/11/94, 6/22/94, 8/2/96, 8/17/96, 11/30/96, 7/10/99, and 9/17/00. 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. Especially notable is the 7/24/99 Alpine Valley version, which proved that the song could jam; the band extended the “Arrival” segment out to realize a 30+ minute outing of the song, segueing nicely into “TMWSIY.” The version offered in Vegas on 9/29/00 was also followed by an unusual jam that eventually led into “Meatstick.”
Though always welcome at a show, “Fluffhead” suffered a bit in the latter 90s as the band’s looser, improvisational approach sometimes makes it difficult to pull off these 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 when Phish was performing that “Fluffhead” was not played in concert. Fans noticed, to say the least. While it was clear that many fans desire that 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 now-famously responded: “Mike says No,” before launching into “Mike’s Song.” 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).
That tension – and that created by the four-and-a-half year absence of Phish entirely – was definitively 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 known 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" one-two punch to open the show sent a clear and unambiguous message that Phish 3.0 meant business, with a re-dedication to the craft of immaculately performed compositions that made Phish 1.0 so thrilling and challenging for band and fans alike.
Indeed, if anything "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. Seemingly every big stage during the comeback year was graced with an excellent version: 6/6/09 at Great Woods; 7/30/09 at Red Rocks (unfinished, with an atypical jam and a "DEG" tease); 10/31/09 during Festival 8 (anchoring an excellent "#Line" > "Fluffhead" > "Ghost" combo); 12/3/09 MSG ("Fluff came to New York!"); and during the opening hour of 2010 during the third set of the 12/31/09 Miami NYE gig.
“Fluffhead’s” prominence continues to this day with notable versions segueing out of a 25-minute “DWD” on 6/3/11 and a particularly fierce version closing the first set of 12/31/11. On 6/22/12, the band played “Fluffhead” as an encore for the first time in nearly 22 years. Given the challenges of technical precision, latent power and improvisational opportunities (if often only briefly realized) as well as the virtually unanimous love among fans, "Fluffhead" seems quite likely to be a fixture of Phish setlist for many years to come.
You must be logged in to leave a comment!
If I find the interview I'll post it.
I've grown more fond of Fluffhead over the years; I've never not liked it, but now I appreciate it even in second sets (where a grumpier me would say "this is precious improv real estate being taken up by a song with no improv whatsoever), as it's a) fiendishly difficult to play, and b) has a truly great climax. I get why everyone loves it so much now.