|Originally Performed By||Frank Zappa|
|Original Album||Hot Rats (1969)|
|Recommended Versions||1986-10-31, 1987-08-21, 1989-05-28, 1993-12-31, 1994-05-27, 1996-12-01, 1996-12-31, 1999-09-14, 2009-12-02, 2011-07-01|
|Historian||Mark Toscano, Phillip Zerbo (pzerbo)|
On March 12, 1988, Frank Zappa’s final tour came through the Northeastern U.S., making a stop at the Memorial Auditorium in Burlington, VT. Excited by the prospect of seeing Zappa in their hometown, a slew of folks from the local music scene went to the show, including Trey, Mike, Fish, Page, Richard Wright and Rob Dasaro (of The Joneses). According to Dasaro, Zappa was collecting concertgoers’ underthings (as he was inclined to do), and among assorted panties and bras, someone had thrown a Phish shirt to the stage. Apparently, Zappa picked it up and held it up to look at it, eliciting many cheers of recognition from the crowd. It may not have meant much to Frank, but it certainly must have been cool for Phish. Later that night and a few doors down Main Street at Nectar’s, Phish unleashed the first complete live performance of Gamehendge. Nice double feature, huh?
The music of Frank Zappa has been significantly influential on Trey’s and Fish’s musical development, considering the band has only covered two of his songs, one of which (“Big Leg Emma”) was only done briefly in the band’s first few years. Zappa, perhaps the original music iconoclast, was offending, disturbing, amusing, and challenging listeners almost a full generation before bands like The Residents, Mr. Bungle, Primus, and Phish. Frank gave us conceptual continuity, xenocrony, and The Mud Shark. He blessed the world with songs about religious hypocrisy (“Heavenly Bank Account”), questionable politicians (“Dickie’s Such an Asshole”), government mind control (“Who are the Brain Police?”), dastardly criminals (“The Illinois Enema Bandit”), debilitating diseases (“Stinkfoot” and “Why Does it Hurt When I Pee?”), false prophets (“Cosmik Debris”), bad monster movies (“Cheepnis”), hipster posing (“Who Needs the Peace Corps?”), unorthodox sex (“Bobby Brown (Goes Down)”), racism (“Uncle Remus”), and ramming things up poop-chutes (“Broken Hearts are for Assholes”).
His music is also extremely eclectic, and Zappa dabbled generously in many genres. With experiments in doo-wop (Cruising with Ruben and the Jets), experimental freak-rock ("The Return of the Son of Monster Magnet)", fusion (Hot Rats), weird jazz (Waka/Jawaka), classical music (the LSO albums, The Yellow Shark), electronic composition (Jazz From Hell), musical theatre (Thing-Fish), cinema and cinema scoring (Uncle Meat, 200 Motels), baroque chamber music (Francesco Zappa), musique concréte (Lumpy Gravy, Civilization Phaze III), and even top-40 hit pop songs (“Valley Girl”), Zappa carved a niche for himself out of every conceivable place in the music industry.
His band members were always the best in the business, and many stayed with him for years at a time. The tours were legendary, combining political commentary, offensive and hilarious stage antics, audience participation, amusing covers, and, above all, kick-ass performances of ass-kicking music. He challenged censorship of music and the arts in general, releasing such anti-censorship-oriented albums as Joe’s Garage and Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention, eventually testifying before Congress on the subject. He subverted Warner Brothers’ power when, after they refused to release his epic recording Läther in 1977, he brought the album to a radio station and enabled fans to record it themselves off the airwaves. The Mothers of Invention’s debut album Freak Out! inspired Paul McCartney to conceive The Beatles’ own “concept” album, something called Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. He helped foster the careers of many now-famous artists, such as Jean-Luc Ponty, George Duke, Ray White, Terry Bozzio, Steve Vai, Adrian Belew, and Alice Cooper. He also convinced Lowell George to leave the Mothers and form his own band (Little Feat!), telling George that he was too good to be a backing player. Frank Zappa was a remarkable guy.
It’s no wonder Phish wanted to cover Zappa. Trey and Fish are confessed Zappa fanatics, always eager to champion their hero in interviews. Mike is no slouch in the Zappa department either; he obviously takes the cue on 12/29/95 during the bass duet for a “Keep it Greasy” jam, and for a “He Used to Cut the Grass” jam out of “Halley’s” on 11/22/97. Although he respects Zappa, Page was never really a “fan.” Indeed, Joe's Garage was the leading contender for the 1995 Halloween cover album, but Page vetoed the choice based on some of the more "colorful" lyrics.
“Peaches en Regalia” is one of Zappa’s most well known works. Even those who normally can’t stomach the man’s more confrontational material have been known to like “Peaches.” As the opening track on Zappa’s second “solo” album, Hot Rats, it sets the stage rather oddly, as the music that follows this completely composed piece is largely free-form and improvisational. “Peaches” is a classic track combining Zappa’s eccentric compositional approach, quirky instrumentation, and complex arrangement. Debuted on 10/15/86, Phish performed the song regularly through 1989, when it disappeared without a trace for a full four years and over 550 shows. These early versions are usually fine, always wowing audiences who were usually impressed and surprised at the moxie of a young bar band covering a Zappa tune.
Phish, “Peaches en Regalia” – 6/23/89, Boston, MA
Phish always had a decent arrangement of the tune worked out for their setup, but the arrangement improved remarkably in late 1993. The band premiered a better, tighter, and more accurate arrangement on 12/28/93, and it was performed at three of the four New Year’s Run shows that year (skipping 12/30). Zappa had just died of prostate cancer on December 4th of that year, and the reintegration of “Peaches” into Phish’s playlist was a tribute to FZ.
"Peaches" remained in frequent play throughout 1994, with excellent versions appearing on 4/9/94, 5/27/94, and 6/18/94. The song disappeared again in 1995 and almost all of 1996 before a surprise mid-tour breakout on 12/1/96. The song then continued an on-again-off-again pattern, dotting setlists throughout 1997 (though notably only during the winter club tour through Europe), disappearing for 1998, and briefly showing up again in 1999. Solid versions of the tune from this era can be found on 12/31/96 (NYE in Boston), 2/23/97 (an incredibly strong though curiously overlooked show in Cortemaggiore, Italy), and 9/14/99 (a powerful "Peaches"> "AC/DC Bag" second set opener).
Absent from the stage for more than ten years, Phish busted out "Peaches" on 12/2/09 (186 show gap) to the great delight of the Madison Square Garden crowd. Regarding that version, Trey noted in an interview in The Believer magazine: “The problem is that some of the songs are so complicated that, if we don’t run it beforehand, then it sucks and there’s lots of self-flagellation. Like, “Oh my god, I messed up ‘Peaches en Regalia.’” You know? Which is exactly what happened when we played it last time. I felt terrible.”
After another 73 show gap, “Peaches” emerged on 6/18/11 in Raleigh, though with similar difficulties as displayed at MSG. The Raleigh version was frankly pretty rough, but redemption was right around the corner as they performed a shining, crisp version on 7/1/11 as the second song of SBIX.
Phish, “Peaches en Regalia” – 12/2/09, New York, NY