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Performances Song History

Once in a Lifetime

Music: Byrne/Eno

Lyrics: Byrne/Eno

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

Original Artist: Talking Heads

Original Album: Remain in Light (1980)

Albums: Live Phish 15

Debut: 1996-10-31

Historian: Mark Toscano

Though they handled it fine, the only mildly weak spot in Phish’s fantastic 10/31/96 Remain in Light set is their performance of this song. It’s a good performance, but frankly the song isn’t as attuned to their powers as the rest of the album’s tracks. Yes, “Once in a Lifetime” is a “classic” song, an anthem (if you will) of the post-punk generation or some damn thing. Yes, everybody remembers the video with David Byrne doing dances that to this day can only be characterized as... Byrne-ish. Yes, people who don’t know anything about Talking Heads often know this song by heart. It is, however, probably the most conventional song on the disc, and, despite its genius, lies somewhere slightly outside of the electronic earth-scape inhabited by the rest of the album.

With this in mind, Phish’s version naturally didn’t quite gel like the rest of the songs. More accurately, it’s about as good a performance Phish could pull off of a song that no one could really “do” anything more with anyway. And since they stick relatively closely to the original version, fans definitely look to the rest of the performance for Phish’s shining moments.

Amusingly, this song is a classic radio and concert sing-along, despite having little or no distinguishable tune or melody. David Byrne’s singing on the album track is like the anxious ramblings of a man destroyed by (or at least seriously disillusioned with) the society he seeks to understand. Interestingly, Byrne has commented that he often wouldn’t need to sing the lyrics to this one at Talking Heads shows because the crowd would be singing along so loudly.

All in all, though Phish’s one-time version of this track was strong, one need only look to the tune’s chorus for the most concise evaluation one could ask for.

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