Performing live at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester NY on FEB 23 2019.

by Ryan O’Malley

Two years ago, Pink Talking Fish made its debut at the historic Capitol Theater in Port Chester, N.Y. where the quartet brought along numerous friends for a complete rendition of the classic Talking Heads live masterpiece, Stop Making Sense, intertwined with songs from – as the name suggests – Pink Floyd and Phish. It was a memorable performance which was so well received by the audience and venue that the group returned last year for a run through the Floyd classic, “The Wall,” along with cuts from the other two aforementioned acts.

In keeping with the yearly tradition, PTF returned to The Cap this past Saturday for a blistering take on Phish’s debut studio album, “Junta.” While the album is complex on its own, the band again added songs from the Talking Heads and Pink Floyd and also utilized the New York’s own Big Apple Circus, who not only brought impressive acrobatic skills to the evening, but also gave life to the music as the ensemble acted out the message of several songs throughout the brilliant performance.

Before the performance officially began, Greg Ormont – lead singer and guitarist for popular funk outfit, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong – emerged as The Ringmaster and welcomed everyone with numerous references to Phish songs scattered throughout his speech. Immediately after his speech, Ormont grabbed a megaphone which he would use to deliver the verses of the “Junta” opening number, “Fee.” The song was the perfect start to the evening as it is rarely performed by Phish these days, so many of those in attendance relished the opportunity to sing along with the fan favorite.

Sticking true to their name – and introducing the crowd to what the evening had in store – bassist Eric Gould dropped the recognizable bass line to the Talking Heads classic “Once In a Lifetime” while keyboardist Rick Umlah handled the vocals. Throughout the song, various members of the Big Apple Circus appeared as clowns or acrobats which helped intensify the bouncy number. Going back to “Junta,” the familiar beginning to the prog rock opus“You Enjoy Myself” started with guitarist Dave Brunyak’s nearly flawless run through the frantic scales of the opening segment. During the extended opening jam, drummer Zack Burwick’s prolonged hi hat part stopped short of kicking off the piano solo in “YEM,” instead leading off a thumping version of the later-era Pink Floyd number, “Learning to Fly.” Eventually, the quartet returned to “YEM” and completed the song including Ormont and most of the Big Apple Circus coming to the stage to recreate the trampoline segment which accompanies the song during Phish shows, with Ormont remaining on stage to take part in the spacey vocal jam towards the end of the song.

An unexpected highlight of the night occurred when the outfit brought out Ben “Junta” Hunter to lead the band through the early Pink Floyd number “Free Four.” Gould was all smiles when he introduced Hunter, who was Phish’s first manager and the namesake for the album being recreated that night. Wearing a hat that nearly covered his eyes, Hunter had one of the most energetic performances of the night as he commanded the stage and used his arms and fists to as he belted out the lyrics. “Esther” featured one of the best visual displays of the night as the Big Apple Circus acted out the message of the song and showcased Human Marionette, who provided a solid aerial performance. The energetic Talking Heads cut “Life During Wartime” brought about what may be best described as the freakiest portion of the show as several people took to the stage in oversized gray suits (ala David Byrne) with masks that resembled a cross between clown faces and Japanese kabuki masks.

Always a live favorite, the band ended the first set with a lively “Golgi Apparatus” from “Junta,” which saw four cannons located in the balcony shoot hundreds of commemorative fake ticket stubs onto the floor during the chorus of “I saw you, with a ticket stub in your hand.” It was the perfect way to send the crowd to set break, as people were seen trying to find one of the tickets as most of the floor emptied for a break.

Kicking off the second set with Phish’s “Foam,” the theater was filled with bubbles to help act out the number, with a member of the Big Apple Circus emerging in an oversized bubble where she maneuvered to the music and used a feather string to whip around the feathers that were located in the bubble to create an almost snow globe type effect which was accented by darker lighting. The craziness continued with Pink Floyd’s “Have a Cigar,” which saw a circus clown walk onto the stage on stilts and a contortionist cigar feature.

If there were any questions about what else to expect from the evening, it’s safe to say it was anyone’s guess at this point.

Kicking off what was basically a Phish trilogy, circus members paid homage to vaudeville and set up a table for Ormont and a date to sit at while the band performed the “Junta” number, “Dinner and a Movie.” The always enjoyable “Cities” followed with the band playing the fast version of the Talking Heads number for the first half song, before slowing it down to the familiar speed of the version Phish plays when they cover it during their concerts. It was a nearly perfect transition which was led by Burwick’s meticulous timing. Phish’s “Divided Sky” provided a highlight of the evening as the band broke the song into two parts, sandwiching Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky” in between both sections. The Floyd instrumental was augmented by Maryn Azoff who delivered a powerhouse vocal performance on the number while the Big Apple Circus provided an incredible aerial display that included a silk rope contortionist who delivered a graceful acrobatic routine.

The “Junta” number “David Bowie” provided the only non Pink Floyd/Talking Heads/Phish number as the quartet sandwiched Bowie’s “Fame” in the middle of the song. Bowie’s material is not uncommon for PTF and was certainly a welcome surprise to the evening’s shenanigans. A spot on take on the Heads’ “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Medley)” meshed into one of the loudest singalongs of the evening as Brunyak started off the fan favorite “Fluffhead,” a song that was written with six parts to it. Aside from the tightness of the outfit during “Flufflhead,” the song featured the loudest crowd participation of the evening during the part where Fluff went to a banker asking for some bills. The Mike Gordon penned “Contact” featured a plethora of special guests joining the band on stage including Ormont as The Ringmaster on a hobby horse, cyr wheel, and unicycles.

The highly anticipated performance of the improvisational Phish juggernaut, “Union Federal” followed, and although PTF didn’t deliver the 25 minute version that was on the album (they did have to adhere to curfews and still perform six other songs), they did tackle Phish’s live version with sincere authenticity to the main themes of the jam, and brought out a clown show to add some more flare to the number. Dipping back into the Floyd catalogue, the band utilized the ending of “Dark Side of the Moon” by the four-piece from England as they kicked off with “Brain Damage.” In the middle of the song, the band began laughing after the lyrics of “the lunatic is in my head” which enticed the Big Apple Circus to come on to the stage and the band to welcome them by launching into the “Junta” live cut, “Sanity.” With the circus cast acting like patients of an insane asylum, PTF segued back into “Brain Damage” before meshing into the inevitable “Eclipse.” It was a unique way to bid farewell to the Pink Floyd catalogue for the night, and was a standout performance from the circus.

With the circus members still on stage, Ormont narrated the spoken word opus “Icculus” to wrap up the second set and conclude the performance of “Junta.” The entire circus cast remained on stage in various capacities and was joined by a returning Maryn Azoff to help on vocals as PTF encored with a blistering version of the Talking Heads anthem “Burning Down the House.” It was an appropriate finish as the quartet’s performance brought down the house with yet another explosive Capitol Theater show. The band has now paid homage to all three acts mentioned in their name with shows at the historic theater; after this past Saturday’s assault on the senses, it’s tough to think how they can top it next year.

Photo by Dino Perrucci

Taped by Keith Litzenberger. Full show audio, use the arrows to toggle between songs.


Wed, FEB 27

Green Parrot Bar

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Thu, FEB 28

Green Parrot Bar

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 Fri, MAR 01

Revolution Live

Fort Lauderdale, FL

 Sat, MAR 02

The Orpheum

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Club XL

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The National

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The NorVa

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Blind Tiger

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Orpheum Theater

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Last Exit Live

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Winstons Beach Club

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Fri, MAR 29

Winstons Beach Club

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Sat, MAR 30

The Teragram Ballroom

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Sun, MAR 31

House of Blues Anaheim

Anaheim, CA

Tue, APR 02

Crazy Horse Saloon and Grill

Nevada City, CA 

Photo by Dino Perrucci