a Project of the Mockingbird Foundation

Performances Song History Jamming Chart


Music/Lyrics: Anastasio/Marshall

Vocals: Trey (lead), Fish, Mike, Page (backing)

Albums: Junta, Colorado '88, Live Phish 10, Live Phish 14

Debut: 1986-04-01

Historian: song history staff

Last Update: 2014-01-11

"Icculus" is one of an elite handful of Phish songs (a category which also includes “Harpua” and “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent”), which features a spoken-word performance by Trey. It is a soothing, faux-ethereal, testimonial monologue to the greatness of the author of the Helping Friendly Book, which escalates gradually before bursting into a frenzied spatter of shouting. Throw in a ten second composed ending that hints at a jam before ending abruptly, and you’ve got a quirky epic.

“Icculus” (like “Divided Sky,” “Llama,” and “Punch You in the Eye”) is a Gamehendge-related song, but not formally part of The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday. This paean to the author of the Helping Friendly Book has not appeared in any of the five full performances of the Gamehendge saga. Even though Trey and Tom wrote it as early as 1984, Trey declined to add "Icculus" to his Senior Study, perhaps because the song didn’t show off his compositional skills the way “Tela” or “Lizards” did.

Phish, “Catapult” -> “Icculus” – 8/14/09, Hartford, CT

“Icculus” is first known to have been performed on 4/1/86 (audio) at Burlington’s Hunt’s and the essential song framework hasn’t changed in close to three decades. Always fun and interesting, some standout versions include 8/10/87 (for then-soundman Paul Languedoc’s mother - audio), 8/12/89 (with Steve Drebber on vocals, on his wedding day - audio), 5/2/92 (with amusing ARU references - audio), 6/22/94 (O.J. “Simple” sandwich, released as Live Phish 10 - audio), 10/27/94 (out of “Slave” encore! - audio), 11/20/94 (references the O.J. Show - audio), and 7/18/99 Oswego (with “Smoke on the Water” and “Cat Scratch Fever” jams - audio). 

Like “Sanity,” “Icculus” made it to disc by a curious twist of chance. On 4/20/92, following a Napa Valley vineyard tour during a break between shows, Shelly Culbertson (at the time a fan, later a Phish staffer) amused the band by loaning them her tape of 7/25/88, which included the aforementioned two songs. This version featured Trey hilariously screaming the U2 refrain “THIS IS RED ROCKS, THIS IS THE EDGE!” (audio), that was more famously reprised at Red Rocks on 8/6/96. The band happened to be looking for material to fill space on the second Junta CD, and decided that including the two wacky tracks would be a kick. Shelly tracked down the guy who had taped the show and borrowed his master, a 90-minute tape with some of 7/25/88 on one side and some of 5/3/88 on the other. When Elektra received the tape, they messed up the dates, which is why your Junta CD booklet features the wrong date for those two tunes.

Phish, “Icculus” – 6/17/11, Charlotte, NC

One of the oddest versions of “Icculus” occurred on 10/31/95 (audio), when Trey announced: “the Book is getting its ass kicked!” by the evil Halloween spirits. The prospect that Icculus may indeed be fallible is surely a distressing thought within the universe of Gamehendge, or for those fans who take the saga too seriously. In any case, this only instance of an “Icculus” show opener was a powerful statement to kick off one of the most important shows in Phish history.

“Icculus” always varies from show to show, but in vocals rather than music, a rare exception to the usual Phish rule. Never a common tune, despite existing in the repertoire for almost the entire 30-year history of the band, it has been performed a total of only 25 times. After the aforementioned Halloween ‘95 gig, it wouldn’t surface again until Oswego nearly four years later, when a babbling Trey segued from an endorsement of literacy to some old-style Icculus worship. 

Phish, “Icculus” – 8/30/13, Commerce City, CO

After an absence of a full decade, "Icculus" came roaring back in Hartford on 8/14/09 out of a bizarre "Pong"-inspired "Catapult." As was the case in Oswego, the Hartford version again focused on the wavering literacy of the current generation, with Trey admonishing the crowd to put down their iPhones and DVDs and asking "when is the last time one of you picked up a fucking book?!" "Icculus" returned just under two years later on 6/17/11 (audio) in Charlotte where Trey revealed the actual face of Icculus as printed on shirts that he and Mike were wearing – that of musician David Mayfield

Another two years and 82 shows would pass before “Icculus” made a rare appearance in the (distant) shadow of the mountains, at Dick’s. The 2013 Friday night Dick’s performance – the now traditional “spelling” show – was “MOST SHOWS SPELL SOMETHING,” backwards. “It’s Ice” would have been the safe call, “Izabella” would have been bold, but this was a night for “Icculus.” A group of fans had organized to hire a skywriter, but settled on a trailing sign from a small plane that indicated we all should READ THE BOOK. Trey referenced the plane, the youth and upbringing of the band members, and all of our deep and layered love for Dick’s in this stirring and just-rare-enough admonition to READ THE FUCKING BOOK!

Phish, “Icculus” – 12/31/13, New York, NY

Despite this high-profile admonition to read the book, apparently some of us... still aren’t getting the message. And it’s pissing the band off! On 12/31/13, the JEMP Truck Set transported the assembled revelers in space and time to a simpler place, the land of Gamehendge, making even the cavernous confines of MSG an intimate setting. So as the band enters its second thirty years, isn’t it about time we got the message?



Contributors to this history include Jeremy D. Goodwin, Steve Paolini, Mark Toscano and Phillip Zerbo.

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n00b100 Reply
n00b100 Also, speaking of great Icculuses (Icculi?), the 12/31/13 version is notable for bringing us that rarest of wildebeest - a Mike smile. He is grinning from ear to ear at the end of the song.
Score: 2
Pool_Pond Reply
Pool_Pond Just a slight correction to what went down at the Rosemont Horizon Halloween 1995. While The Book getting it's ass kicked did present the "prospect that Icculus may indeed be fallible..." the play-by-play given by Trey about the battle between The Book and the evil spirits clearly acknowledges The Book's victory in the end.

"...Book, Spirits, Book, Spirits, Book, Spirits, BOOK!"
Score: 1
GitDown Reply
The version on 4/6/91 features a rare vocal contribution from Mike, in which he recites the words Icculus supposedly told them on what kind of band to be (according to Trey). What follows sounds like an excerpt from a review that the boys may have taken offense to and/or found amusing. It's worth a listen, featuring things like "deadhead band," "art rock," and "tart it up with a camp sensibility." It sounds like Mike could even be reading directly from a clipping.
Score: 1
n00b100 Reply
n00b100 The Icculus from 6/22/94 is probably my favorite moment in any Phish show that isn't related to a jam (or the Driver from 8/3/13, which is in a class of its own).
Score: 0
kipmat Reply
kipmat Given that "Icculus" was written in the mid-eighties, I presume that Trey's "preaching" style was poking fun at televangelists of the day, like Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert. Some of the old joke tunes, like AC/DC Bag and David Bowie, have managed to stand on their own as musical compositions. Others, like Prep School Hippie and In A Hole, have been left behind. If it weren't for Trey's Gamehenge thesis, and the Junta bonus-track release, Icculus might have been left behind as well (unless we're talking about the rapture)

When Phish performs Icculus in 3.0, Trey tends to come off more like a "get off my damn lawn" grumpy old codger - which I still find entertaining :)
Score: 0
Jaime Reply
Eagles Ballroom 6/17/94 = oj show.
oj references in 6/22/94 too?
Score: 0
RikersGhost Reply
RikersGhost Thanks for the great write up! This is wonderful. Thank you.
Score: 0
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