Vocals: Trey (lead), Fish, Mike, Page (backing)
Historian: Jeremy D. Goodwin, Mark Toscano, Mockingbird Staff
"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, 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.
One of the oddest versions of “Icculus” occurred on 10/31/95 (also the only known use of the tune as a show opener), when Trey announced: “the Book is getting its ass kicked!” by the evil Halloween spirits. Although the band often tries to literally scare the audience on Halloween, this may be one of the most disconcerting things Trey has said on-stage. 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.
It’s hard to ascribe any pattern to the emergence of the few other extant versions of the tune scattered through the Phish oeuvre, other than to note that Trey’s wandering “Forbin’s” narration has led into “Icculus” on four occasions, all between 4/16/92 and 3/25/93. Due to its rarity, unique structure, and thematic concern, “Icculus” is one of the most special songs in the Phish catalog.
“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.
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 amused the band by loaning them her tape of 7/25/88, which included the aforementioned two songs. 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.
“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, its frequency of appearance dropped off severely in the ‘90s, with only a few performances in ‘92, ‘93, and ‘94. The song made only one ‘95 appearance, at the aforementioned Halloween show. 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.
Absent from the Phish stage for the next ten years (including both the "hiatus" and "breakup"), "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 exclaiming "when is the last time one of you picked up a fucking book?!"
Always fun and interesting, some standout versions include 8/10/87 (for then-soundman Paul Languedoc’s mother), 8/12/89 (with Steve Drebber on vocals), 5/2/92 (with amusing ARU references), 6/22/94 (unexpected and awesome, released as Live Phish 10), 10/27/94 (out of “Slave” encore!), 11/20/94 (references the O.J. Show), and 7/18/99 (with “Smoke on the Water” and “Cat Scratch Fever” jams).
You must be logged in to leave a comment!