Historian: Mockingbird Staff
When Phish played a special one-set show at Lowell Memorial Auditorium on 5/16/95 they were the guests of honor for a Voters For Choice benefit. Due to the unusual nature of the show, and with Phish’s '95 summer tour still almost month away, fans were unsure what to expect. Building anticipation even more, Gloria Steinem delivered an extended speech immediately preceding the main attraction. It was from this odd setting that the oddity of “Spock’s Brain” emerged.
Phish’s set featured ten debuts, compared to only four familiar tunes. Midway through the set when Fishman came out front to sing a tune, he answered fans’ requests to name the new songs that had just been played. He named some of them – “Theme From the Bottom,” “Don’t You Wanna Go,” and “Ha Ha Ha,” – but seemed curiously ambivalent about the third.
It turned out that the song didn’t yet have a title. Since it was a Voters For Choice benefit, the band decided to let the audience choose their favorite from four possible titles. Following a very enthusiastic reaction from the crowd, Trey listed the potential titles. The first choice, “The Plane,” spawned a rather non-plussed reaction; some folks even booed, albeit in jest. A similar reaction came from the voters at the announcement of the second title, “The First Single.” When the third choice, “Israel,” received a modest crowd response, Fishman commented, “Ah, c’mon. You can call anything 'Israel' and it works, right?” The fourth choice was “Spock’s Brain.” The crowd went wild. “Well I guess we know the title to that song!” Fishman assessed.
It turned out to be the most appropriate title as the song was inspired by an episode of Star Trek of the same name. Originally broadcast on September 20, 1968, the “Spock’s Brain” episode is famed as one of the worst Trek episodes of all time (that’s including Deep Space Nine and Voyager!) The episode concerns a race of Amazonian women who decide that they don’t want to think for themselves. In order to accomplish this, they steal Spock’s brain, leaving the inimitable Vulcan a mindless zombie. Eventually, of course, the brain is retrieved and Dr. McCoy replaces it in Spock’s skull.
Star Trek, “Spock’s Brain” (condensed)
The song itself was an instant winner, showing off many strengths of Phish’s songwriting within the boundaries of one song – great vocal interplay, time changes, and a nice groove – everything but Type-II jams. Containing no room for real improvisation, the tune averaged around five minutes every time it was played. Unfortunately, “every time” has only encompasses eight times to date.
Played in the first set five times throughout June of 1995, the seemingly final performance of this tune was at the Mann Music Center in Philadelphia on 6/24/95. By 2000, fans had all but forgotten about “Spock’s Brain,” and new fans were either completely unfamiliar with the tune. Then on 9/29/00 in the debauched and discombobulated city of Vegas, Phish let the seemingly innocent post-”Wilson” noises slam into the first “Spock’s Brain” in over five years.
Fans were treated to a nice but unsteady welcome-back version of the beloved tune, the band letting its closing refrain serve as scenic backdrop of the ensuing “Bathtub Gin.” An even stronger performance of this rarity occurred a week later at Shoreline (10/6/00), segueing unbelievably out of a fiery “Down with Disease.”
"Spock's Brain" made one post-hiatus appearance at the incredibly strong and diverse 7/30/03 Camden gig that also featured a 30-minute first set "Scents and Subtle Sounds," the one-time Dylan cover "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere" and an epic four-song second set ("Twist," "Bug," "You Enjoy Myself," and "Walls of the Cave"). You'll want to pick this one up.
"Spock's Brain" has yet to grace the Phish stage in their 3.0 incarnation, but one suspects that it may be hovering in a jar just off-stage for easy retrieval someday.
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