Watch Phish Play All of The Rolling Stones’ Classic Album, Exile on Main Street, Live in Concert

I’m rid­ing a mighty big band­wag­on when I tell you that Exile on Main Street is my favorite Stones record. It’s like cham­pi­oning the virtues of Sgt. Pepper’s or Dark Side of the Moon. Real­ly, those are great albums? Wow, who knew. But here’s the thing… my favorite Stones songs—“Street Fight­ing Man,” “No Expec­ta­tions,” “Get off of My Cloud” (hell, I even love “Shattered”)—do not appear on Exile. It is a per­fect (dou­ble) album with­out one per­fect sin­gle on all of its 18 tracks. Exile is a string of beau­ti­ful­ly flawed pearls—gospel sketch­es, coun­try weep­ers, bar­room stom­pers, bare-bones blues. And this is why I think that any band approach­ing the album with ideas about cov­er ver­sions should just go ahead and play the whole damn thing.

This is what Pussy Galore, one of my favorite New York scuzz-rock bands, did in 1986, with a cas­sette-only release that “sounds like it was record­ed in the tank of a Low­er East Side toi­let.” If that seems like hyper­bole, you have no idea how trashy, and thus, in a way, how per­fect­ly apt, their take on the 1972 clas­sic is (find out here). But now let’s take the case of Phish, who offer their own live ver­sion of Exile (above) from their 2009 “Fes­ti­val 8” tour. I’ve nev­er been much of a Phish fan, I’ll aver, but I must also cop to a grudg­ing respect for them. Part­ly that’s due to their respect for music not their own. Per a long­stand­ing tra­di­tion, Phish dons a dif­fer­ent musi­cal “cos­tume” every Hal­loween show, play­ing a full album from a band they admire. For exam­ple, we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured their 1996 live cov­er of the Talk­ing Heads’ clas­sic Remain in Light. Does it work? Not entire­ly, but their love for the mate­r­i­al shines through.

They seem much more at home with the Stones, and the almost note-for-note live set is a hell of a lot of fun to watch, I have to say. Phish is not by any stretch a hip band, and they avoid any kind of exper­i­men­ta­tion in this lov­ing trib­ute. But that’s kind of what makes it great. While the unpre­ten­tious enthu­si­asm, tight musi­cian­ship, and pro­fes­sion­al­ism might seem to mark this as the antithe­sis of what L.A. Times Ran­dall Roberts calls Pussy Galore’s “crim­i­nal­ly unprac­ticed rock and roll stunt,” what unites them both is that both groups “obvi­ous­ly loved the orig­i­nal album,” whether their take on it is man­gled par­o­dy or well-rehearsed, fun-lov­ing rock out.

The orig­i­nal Exile is, yes, a mas­ter­piece. It’s also a great con­ver­sa­tion piece. Ask any die-hard Stones fan about its record­ing and you’re sure to hear anec­dote after deca­dent anec­dote (as ful­ly doc­u­ment­ed in the 2010 film Stones in Exile). The band record­ed the album in 1971 at Kei­th Richards’ rent­ed vil­la, Nell­côte, in the South of France, where they’d relo­cat­ed to evade tax­es in Britain. Dur­ing months of all-night ses­sions, thou­sands of dol­lars of hero­in flowed through the house, along with vis­i­tors like William S. Bur­roughs, Ter­ry South­ern, and Stones’ coun­try-rock muse Gram Par­sons (who man­aged to get him­self thrown out). It’s a true tes­ta­ment to the band’s for­ti­tude and razor-sharp cre­ative focus that their extend­ed stay in a rock star play­ground pro­duced such a bril­liant­ly eco­nom­i­cal record, instead of the bloat­ed mess it could have been.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Watch Phish Play the Entire­ty of the Talk­ing Heads’ Remain in Light (1996)

Jean-Luc Godard Films The Rolling Stones Record­ing “Sym­pa­thy for the Dev­il” (1968)

Kei­th Richards Wax­es Philo­soph­i­cal, Plays Live with His Idol, the Great Mud­dy Waters

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Wash­ing­ton, DC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • moiracampbell says:

    One of my favorite long-play LPs, too. “Do the hip-shake baby … and got to kick the shit right off your shoes”. Agreed, pick­ing one tune out of con­text is like excerpt­ing one from a livw Dead show. Obvi­ous con­nec­tion of Phish to the Dead and the Stones here. Mod­ern rock sym­phonies.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.