Pink Talking Fish Take San FranPhishco

Pink Talking Fish mix the repertoires of Phish, Pink Floyd and the Talking Heads. Now they’re boldly joining the Phish aftershow party cottage industry.
Pink Talking Fish

It’s a magnificent summer night for jamrock fans because Phish have just thrown down a stupendous show at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, quickly hailed by many as arguably the best show of the band’s 2016 summer tour. It was just the second show of a three night run at the venue, so fans are at the crest of a musical wave. There’s always going to be a sector of fans looking to keep the party rolling, though, and so it’s just a short walk over to the Mezzanine where Pink Talking Fish are set to deliver the aftershow party for the Phish Nation delegation that wants to rock ‘n’ roll all night (or at least until 2AM.)

Largely an East Coast band until now, Pink Talking Fish have been generating a growing buzz based on their unique concept of mixing the repertoires of Phish, Pink Floyd and the Talking Heads. Now they’re putting that concept on the line in a bold manner by joining the Phish aftershow party cottage industry. Some might suggest that covering Phish directly following the real thing is overkill, but when you add in the Pink Floyd and Talking Heads to the mix, you get the kind of psychedelic dance party formula that Phish fans are known to love, so why not?

Many in attendance had already been to the Mezzanine earlier in the day for the PhanArt show, where a variety of Phish-inspired artists hawked artwork and other merch. This included the non-profit Mockingbird Foundation with their new Phish Companion encyclopedia, as well as ace local piano player Holly Bowling with vinyl of her dynamic piano versions of Phish and Grateful Dead songs. Bowling exemplifies the organic phenomenon of how Phish shows can literally change the lives of fans in completely unforeseen ways. The pianist was so moved by the band’s instantly legendary performance of perennial jam vehicle “Tweezer” at Lake Tahoe in 2013 (a 36-minute epic that naturally became known as “the Tahoe Tweezer”) that she arranged it for solo piano. Bowling has been building her own musical career at least since she debuted her version of the “Tahoe Tweezer” at a pre-Phish lounge performance to much acclaim right here in San Francisco during the band’s October 2014 run at the Bill Graham.

It all goes to show what an influential band Phish has become in their 30+ year career, demonstrating how deeply the band’s adventurous music has affected the counterculture by generating so many branches. Pink Talking Fish are another of these branches, “a band created by musicians who love the music of these acts” in order “to heighten people’s passion for this music by creating something fresh and exciting for fans.”

Pink Talking Fish demonstrates that they’re keenly aware of the tightrope they’re walking by not playing any Phish songs that have been performed by the band over the past two nights and leaning toward rarer fan favorites. “Punch You in the Eye” for example is one of the most unique songs in the Phish catalog, a dynamic tune about a revolutionary’s angst for an evil dictator. Segueing into the Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” makes for a brilliant thematic pairing, not to mention a groovy combo.

The thoughtful setlist continues with Pink Floyd’s “Time”, showing the band has put some real effort into creating a setlist that has some genuine flow. The Floyd tunes are also where the band has a chance to show some real psychedelic craft, whereas the Phish and Talking Heads performances tend to be more straight ahead rockers.

Performing Phish’s intricate “Lizards” takes musical daring though, a song considered sacred by both the characters in it as well as the fans that chase it on tour where it tends to appear only once or twice a year. Pink Talking Fish adds a new wrinkle here by segueing into Talking Heads’ “Girlfriend is Better” and then back into the end of “Lizards”, a move that wins a round of approving applause from the engaged audience.

The band shows similar creativity at the end of the set, saying that since we’re in San Francisco they’d like to throw a Grateful Dead tune into the lineup with “Tennessee Jed”. But they give it a fresh twist by mashing it up with Phish’s “Ocelot”, a twangy number with a sound that seems like a bite from “Tennessee Jed”. A rousing encore of the Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime” seems like a fitting finale, an ever popular tune which Phish had played only one time on Halloween in 1996 before reviving it during a stupendous seven song encore to cap their 2015 summer tour in Denver last year.

In the end, Pink Talking Fish live up to their promise. “The epic emotion of Pink Floyd” + “the funky, danceable layerings of The Talking Heads” + “the multitude of styles, unique compositional structures and pure fun of Phish” do indeed merge into a unique musical experience that keeps the party people rocking out until the end.