Rock and Roll
Music/Lyrics: Lou Reed
Vocals: Page (lead), Fish, Mike, Trey (backing)
Original Artist: The Velvet Underground
Original Album: Loaded (1970)
Historian: Mark Toscano, David Steinberg (zzyzx)
Last Update: 2015-10-02
Ah, yes, "Rock and Roll.” What can one say?
Each time Phish covers an album for Halloween, at least one song ends up getting a decent amount of mileage following the debut. The 1994 White Album set fostered a few, with “Cry Baby Cry” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” getting the most play over the next few years. “Drowned” from the 1995 Quadrophenia became the anthemic Phish cover from that album. In 1996, “Crosseyed and Painless” was, not surprisingly, the candidate voted most likely to succeed from Remain in Light, and the band subsequently played many a slick version of this tune. Then we come to 1998.
Phish, "Rock and Roll" – 12/31/99, Big Cypress, FL (Part 1)
Phish, "Rock and Roll" – 12/31/99, Big Cypress, FL (Part 2)
Phish, "Rock and Roll" – 12/31/99, Big Cypress, FL (Part 3)
The song Phish ran madly with after their cover of Velvet Underground’s Loaded in Vegas was the aptly named “Rock and Roll.” Trey tells a great story about running into Lou Reed at one of Phish’s early European shows. Reed gave him encouragement about the show that night and reminded him that “we invented rock and roll.” The twist comes when Trey realized he didn’t know if Reed meant “we” as in Americans, or Velvet Underground.
They may not have officially invented rock and roll, but the Velvets sure as hell re-invented it. Their first album is still mind-blowing today, and, put in its 1967 context, is a swift kick in the face no matter who you are. As if to remind themselves of what the Velvets injected into rock and roll, Phish has injected “Rock and Roll” into its playlist since its first performance in Vegas. Four of these appearances have been encores (7/12/99, 10/4/99, 12/3/99 and 6/4/09), where Phish used the tune as an exclamation point at the end of each of those shows, making their message clear: “Yes, that’s right, we play rock and roll!” This statement is taken to an extreme with the epic 12/31/99 version, a half-hour opus that included a spine-chilling “After Midnight” tease. “Rock and Roll” continued to make more appearances in 2000, including jump-starting a nice second set segue-fest on 9/17/00.
Phish, "Rock and Roll" – 7/19/03, East Troy, WI
That was the role that it took on after the hiatus. Nearly every version played in 2003 launched a jam oriented set. The 1/4/03 Hampton version started a set that returned many fan favorites to the rotation. The first night of IT had an amazing third set that was book-ended by “It” songs; “Rock and Roll” said “it was alright,” and “Bug” told us that “it didn’t matter.” Phish’s 20th anniversary show (12/2/03) second set opened up with a fiery version. This ended with a build jam that surprisingly segued into “Weekapaug Groove.” A “Rock and Roll” set opener now quite often meant something special was coming.
While it hasn't quite stuck with that role in more compact 3.0, there were some signs from the early days of their return (8/1/09 and the amazing 8/8/09 version) that it still could take on the role of set launcher. While there have been plenty of high energy versions (such as 6/7/11), in which Phish tried to demonstrate first hand the live saving power of music, a different approach was taken at the Gorge. On 8/5/11 they played a performance that teetered on the edge of chaos. Taking the lead from the Storage Jam, this got dark and twisted. This nearly 20-minute version included Page playing the theremin for something other than a novelty cover and Mike slowly singing, "It was alright" over the most terrifying part of the jam, an act that somehow made things even less reassuring. It's a different feel for the song, but one that is a must listen.
Fans who want to compare Phish renditions with one of the Velvet’s own may want to pick up a copy of the latter’s Live 1969.
Phish, "Rock and Roll" – 6/7/11, Mansfield, MA