Oysterhead, the supergroup power trio featuring Trey Anastasio of Phish, Les Claypool of Primus and Claypool Lennon Delirium, and Stewart Copeland of The Police, has booked a healthy set of dates during 2020 as an official reunion following their brief stints together as a band in the previous 20 years.
The band originally linked up for a Jazz Fest after-show in New Orleans in 2000 (!), brought to you by the same team that started the Bonnaroo music festival, and they recorded one LP (The Grand Pecking Order), toured for a small window, came back for a Bonnaroo set in 2006, and then everything paused as Trey’s life got back on track following an arrest.
Now that we know they’re back and busy in 2020 and recently met to kick off the discussions of what to play this tour, we thought we’d round up the 10 songs from their back catalogs that we’d want to see performed as the power trio. Stew DID ask us, so we delivered.
The trio pretty much fully avoided back catalog covers on their initial tour and subsequent Bonnaroo performance, although The Police classic “Walking on the Moon” did make a brief appearance over a sprawling jam that emerged out of “Army’s on Ecstasy” during their Denver show in 2001. We’d consider that jam a bit of a failure to deliver on what’s promised in that gorgeous song, so hopefully the list below will serve as a set of songs the band should rehearse, deliver well, and wow the fans in the process. Here’s to hoping Trey can hit some of those Sting high notes from the list below!
10The Police – “Demolition Man”
I’m a HUGE fan of The Police‘s Ghosts in the Machine and find almost every song on that album to be wildly exciting (even “Darkness”). The studio version of “Demolition Man” may add a lot of flourishes that the Oysterhead guys may not have live on stage with them, but the song features some shredding guitar lines and some of my favorite lyrics that Trey or Les would deliver wonderfully. Then the song vamps to a close and could really stretch out and offer new places for the band to jam into.
9Primus – “The Chastising of Renegade”
I don’t think the Primus Brown Album gets nearly enough love from fans, and I’ve always been somewhat obsessed with this obscure song that fits at the end of the album. You can’t listen to it without immediately recognizing the drum pattern would be something that Brain picked up straight from Stewart Copeland’s influence, and to that end, Stew would absolutely be an absolute MONSTER on this tune. All the flair from the players come from the bass and drum parts, so Trey would be taking a backseat on this one with a front row view of two masters playing a tune that fans didn’t know they love yet.
8The Police – “Too Much Information”
This song could be the show opener with its chant “OW! OW! OW!” Another one off Ghosts, and I think that’s when everything was at its peak form in the The Police songwriting and recording processes. I can hear Trey taking the lead vocals on this one, because he recently seemed to dive deep into the introspection process during last year’s Ghosts of the Forest project and that’s what this song is all about. “Too much information, running through my brain!” It’s a fun one, I think this would work great in the setlist.
7The Police – “Contact” > Phish – “Contact”
Stewart Copeland wrote The Police version of this tune off Reggatta De Blanc, which includes a wildly manic structure and an overly frantic groove from Copeland. But it’s something Claypool would absolutely crush. And why not transition from something frantic into something chill, like a hilarious power-trio cover of Phish’s version of “Contact” where everyone is over-playing like crazy. Fans would lose their shit on this combo, myself included.
6Phish – “No Men in No Man’s Land”
Some of the Phish songs just really wouldn’t work for Copeland’s drumming style, mostly because Jon Fishman seemed to study from a very different set of influences. But this Big Boat jam would be a great groove for all three of the Oysterhead players, and Copeland would get to flourish on this once the jam opens up. Plus the lyric “You’re happy that we’re here” would be a great line for the reunion vibes and would be an easy crowd roar for them to get energy from.
5Primus – “Those Damned Blue-Collar Tweekers”
It was hard to pare down the Primus list because they’re naturally built as a power trio and often played to the absolute peaks of all of their respective instruments. But this song seems to be straightforward in my head when I think of the Oysterhead trio on stage. The beat in this song is almost destined to feature a Stewart Copeland jam session when it breaks down to the four-on-the-floor bass drum hits — Tim Alexander got that from Copeland, no doubt. And Trey could be making some serious noise on this one while Claypool leads through the structure. I hope this one from Sailing the Seas of Cheese gets considered on the setlist somewhere. UPDATE: the song was played on the second night back in Colorado!
4The Police – “Canary in a Coalmine”
This track off Zenyatta Mondatta could bring a super high-energy vibe to the setlist; I just love how upbeat the pace is on this tune and would die to hear the trio play this one. And the lyrical play would be incredible to hear Trey or Les deliver, maybe even both of them together. It would be hilarious if one of them tried to recreate that little piano line on their instrument, too (I’d put money on Les for that).
3Kasvot Växt – “Passing Through”
Part of the output of the Phish Halloween show during the Vegas ’18 run, the Kasvot Växt í rokk classic hasn’t gotten as much play from Phish as I’d like to see. But the drum part is absolutely perfect for a Stewart Copeland driving beat while Les and Trey jam over the top and “Wayo wayo!” the vocal coda to their hearts content. This would be unexpected and not something Trey would come up with on his own, so that’s why it’s here on the list.
2The Police – “Hole in My Life
If you’re looking at some of the earliest Police tunes ever recorded, one may obviously choose something like “So Lonely” as the pick off Outlandos D’Amour. Personally, I think “Hole in My Life” would be a better song for the Oysterhead crowd, and Trey would really belt out the “something … in my soul!” line and have a lot of fun with this tune. “There’s something missing from my life!” sung so upbeat is one of Sting’s greatest juxtapositions.
1Phish – “First Tube”
This song is a major wishlist and bucket-list choice for me, because truly the Farmhouse jam continues to breathe all new life into Phish, Trey Anastasio Band, and even the main Phish events like their last New Year’s Eve gag at Madison Square Garden. It absolutely destroys any audience it touches, so seeing the Oysterhead trio deliver their version of this would be thrilling for me. They’d need to rehearse it a few times, though. 😂
Head here for tickets on the upcoming tour via Ticketmaster, and stay tuned to the blog for our coverage from their reunion shows.