It’s a Monday afternoon at 2pm and we’re in the legendary Crazy Horse Saloon in Nevada City, CA. There are wide-eyed people drinking Bloody Marys, a pair of hipster parents holding infants and people scattered about with twinkles in their eyes. There’s a band onstage with an intricate lighting display fitting to a late night festival tent. The name of this band is Pink Talking Fish. We have an intimate connection with the song they’re playing. The lyrics go like this:
You gotta be crazy, you gotta have a real need
You gotta sleep on your toes, and when you’re on the street
You gotta be able to pick out the easy meat with your eyes closed
And then moving in silently, down wind and out of sight
You gotta strike when the moment is right without thinking
Much to our dismay and euphoric delight, they are playing Pink Floyd’s 1977 masterpiece “Animals” in its entirety. This music is already embedded in our cells and now it is about to be activated like a crystal garden growing inside a Gatorade bottle. (CHECK OUT THIS CLIP OF “DOGS”) The next hour goes by far more quickly than we would like but we will be forever grateful for it. The songs will dance in our heads for days and weeks to come. We can’t rule out that we’re still dreaming because the events of the previous night seem far too good to be true. Let’s examine…
It’s 10:15pm on Sunday night and the anticipation in the sold out room is so high, there is a pervasive sense of breathlessness. The opening beats of Phish’s “Fee” pound out of the PA and all is right with the world. Pink Talking Fish is an East Coast phenomenon just beginning to make their mark on the Best Coast. As the show gets started, they stick to the script and go 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3 from Phish to Floyd to Talking Heads. Things start venturing into the deep end during “Run Like Hell” as bassist Eric Gould melds a Black Sabbath theme into the mix. “The Wall” era suddenly sounds like something from a decade earlier.
The show begins to launch in earnest during “Twist.” If you’re going to cover these bands, it needs to be as natural as Hunter Thompson sipping a glass of Chivas while rolling down the road with one eye open. The music needs to flow like lava; especially when venturing into the realm of Phish. Guitarist/vocalist Dave Brunyak turns on the “golden hose” in the “Twist” jam and the scope of what we’re in for gains focus. After Gould carpet bombs a thunderously satisfying “Empty Space/Young Lust” that makes our loins tingle, we land on Talking Heads’ “Found a Job.”
Here we get our first real exposure to the extent of the band’s creativity as they let the song breathe like a marathon runner with a resting pulse of 38 bpm. A tornado of groove ravages the dark saloon as beams of light dissect the room in rhythm with the underrated Byrne banger. Keyboard whisperer Richard James bends the space time continuum with synth washes. Drummer Zach Burwick dances in between rain drops of thought like a warlock wary to melt. Upon the precipice of terminal velocity, the band lassos it back in on a dime. With a first frame like that, only the most ardent 9-5ers will be headed out the door.
The second set looms with a showdown at the OK Corral intensity. Suddenly our ears are shocked with a deviation from the norm. This isn’t one of the three bands. It’s David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance.” Any objections? We think not. This sold out crowd is happily willing to go wherever they dare to tread. If there is one song we wanted to hear from the Talking Heads seminal album “Remain in Light,” it’s definitely “The Great Curve.” On PTF’s version, we don’t even miss the horns and percussion from the original. The band is completely locked in as the fast-paced romp unfolds like a lotus flower under a strobe light. “The world moves on a woman’s hips,” indeed!
The thing about PTF is that they do such bona fide justice to all three bands in their canon, it’s hard to favor one over the other, even if you are pre-disposed to do so. Perhaps more vital than any other component, they treat the vocal elements with the necessary reverence. Pink Floyd is easily the most universal of the bunch. Talking Heads are a band everyone seems to agree on, but ignites the passions of some much more than others. Phish certainly has the most voracious fanbase of the group but is also the most divisive. For those who adore them, absorbing their songs in this forum presents a high novelty factor. We certainly never expected to hear the mythical “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent” echoing within the walls of the Crazy Horse. It was deliciously violent as the band slammed through the song’s ominous sections.
One of the details that makes a PTF show so special is the segues in between songs. The band goes to great lengths to map out these interludes which is integral to the overall impact of their performances. Following “Colonel Forbins” with “One of These Days” was masterful. If you don’t covet this haunting “Meddle” jaunt, this isn’t the place for you. To close the set we are served a Royale with Cheese in the form of “Wild Wild Life” sandwiched by “Character Zero.” WWL was one of the highlights of the show with a composed funk jam in the middle which milked every last bit of dance energy the Crazy Horse crowd had to offer. There was one more sandwich on the menu for the encore with The Allman Brothers’ “Whipping Post” nestled between Phish’s dazzling “Divided Sky.”
Brunyak’s wide stance gives the effect of a human oak tree as he delivers every passage with the thoughtful conviction of Moses parting the Red Sea. The guy is a freak of nature who takes his job with a disarming seriousness. Fists are pumping in the air as the band veers into “Whipping Post” with James belting out the vocals so passionately you wouldn’t believe he’s not really a southerner. Brunyak is plugged in to the source, revealing the end result of a zillion hours spent practicing in his bedroom. As they wrap up the second half of “Divided Sky,” seasoned heads in the audience might contemplate whether Phish has done this level of justice to the song since the 90s.
Here we are again on Monday afternoon. Pink Talking Fish has already made it crystal clear why every ounce of hype they’ve earned is well deserved. Now they’re about to ascend into uncharted realms of awesomeness. They are covering “Animals” from start to finish for the first time of their career. When they decided to stay upstairs in the Crazy Horse apartment for an extra night, the proposition was made: “Why don’t you play a lunchtime set?” “We could do that,” they replied without hesitation. “Do you want to do ‘Animals’?” James blurted out to his bandmates. Of course we all love “Dark Side,” but the themes of “Animals” give it a more primal mystique. Hearing Brunyak deliver the vocals on “Dogs” or James on “Pigs,” the power of the moment resounds like a tsunami surging through the North Atlantic. (CHECK OUT THIS CLIP OF “PIGS”)
This is no hungover afterthought. All four musicians are at their peak as they navigate the challenges these pieces of music present. Burwick shines as he dances through the daredevil beats on “Dogs.” James is animated like a child as the material beckons him to harness every trick in his arsenal. Gould unlocks complex groove patterns, building admirably on Waters’ original thoughts. Brunyak is in the zone, summoning subdued aggression while maintaining a Zen-like calm.
These men were born to do this. Despite the obvious, they earn the right to be considered as way more than a cover band. When the album comes to its conclusion far too soon, they throw us a bone with a Phish song which defines the catharsis of the moment. Pink Floyd would have to give its approval of “Lizards” as the fourth animal of this opus. Thanks to Pink Talking Fish, this soundtrack of our lives has gained more significance than we ever could have imagined. How are they going to follow this up next time they return to the Crazy Horse?