Oh! Sweet Nuthin'
Music/Lyrics: Lou Reed
Vocals: Page (lead), All (backing)
Original Artist: The Velvet Underground
Original Album: Loaded (1970)
Albums: Live Phish 16
Historian: Mark Toscano, David Steinberg (zzyzx)
"Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" is the final song off of Loaded, the last real Velvet Underground album. It tells the stories of the disaffected, the poor Jimmy Brown, the homeless and depressed Ginger Brown, his fellow street person Polly May, and poor Joanna Love who finds herself in an endless stream of failed relationships. Between that and the chorus of, "Oh, sweet nuthin'/She ain't got nothing' at all," you'd think this was a miserable song, one to listen to when you're looking for that last bit of motivation to slash your wrists. That would be the easy approach. Rather, "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" is incredibly life affirming, especially in the end section where drummer Doug Yule – filling in for Moe Tucker who was on maternity leave – suddenly kicks the whole jam into overdrive. The guitars soar and the drumming continues to pound and it builds until it finally resolves to a reprise of, "She ain't got nothing at all," which suddenly feels like a reward instead of a lament. Who says that you can't make something out of nothing?
Phish's first version came at the tail end of the 1998 Halloween set. Page sang the lyrics with the delicacy that they deserved and then Trey just exploded on the final solo. Not many people in the Thomas and Mack were familiar with Loaded before the set started, but "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" made a believer out of many who were stunned by this performance.
Unfortunately for them, "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" seemed to be yet another Phish Halloween one timer. Years went by. The band went on hiatus. The band got back together. They broke up again. They got back together again. And then one night in 2009, in the middle of an underwhelming second set on top of a reclaimed landfill, "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" was unexpectedly reborn. While the version was far from perfect – largely due to some lyrical amnesia – the passion displayed showed that there was something in this song that Phish could mine. They gave it another chance ten days later at Merriweather and got a little closer, especially as Trey and Fishman played more with fills and pacing. Halloween is still the gold standard, but the 2009 performances point to a stunning potential.