a Project of the Mockingbird Foundation

Performances Song History Lyrics

Spock's Brain

Music/Lyrics: Anastasio/Fishman/Gordon/McConnell

Vocals: All

Albums: Live Phish Downloads 6-20-1995

Debut: 1995-05-16

Historian: song history staff

Last Update: 2014-03-06

Phish’s one-set show at Lowell Memorial Auditorium on 5/16/95 (audio) was the main attraction for a Voters For Choice benefit. It was an unusual gig, the first of 1995 but preceding their summer tour by almost a month away, so fans were unsure what to expect. Further, renowned feminist Gloria Steinem delivered an extended speech immediately preceding the set, adding to the odd-for-a-Phish-show feel. Phish then unleashed a ground-breaking set featuring a whopping ten debuts, compared to only four familiar tunes. 

Midway through the set when Fishman came out front for the debut of “Lonesome Cowboy Bill,” 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. Trey listed the potential titles: “The Plane,” “The First Single,” “Israel” and “Spock’s Brain.” The crowd went wild for the last option. Fishman assessed: “well, I guess we know the title to that song!” 

Originally broadcast on September 20, 1968, the Star Trek episode “Spock’s Brain” 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)

“Spock’s Brain” 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. “Spock’s Brain” was performed four more times in the summer of 1995, then seemingly dropped from the rotation after the Mann Music Center gig on 6/24/95

By 2000, fans had all but forgotten about or were either completely unfamiliar with “Spock’s Brain.” 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), providing a surprising segue out of a fiery “Down with Disease.” 

"Spock's Brain’s" final appearance on the Phish stage to date was 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"). 

"Spock's Brain" has yet to grace the Phish stage since their 2009 return, but Mike Gordon introduced it into his “other” band’s repertoire on 3/1/14 at New York’s Webster Hall. One suspects that with the song fresh on the brain of at least one band member that it may be hovering in a jar just off-stage for easy retrieval by Phish someday soon. 

Mike Gordon, “Spock’s Brain” – 3/1/14, New York, NY


Contributors to this history include Benjy Eisen and Phillip Zerbo.

Submit notes/corrections

Login Register