Harpua is a Phish song, written by Trey Anastasio and Jon Fishman. It's one of the 50 or so Phish songs that has never appeared on a studio album, nor is it likely to. However, you can hear live versions on the following CDs:
Harpua was never a common song in setlists, but by the time the band was playing arenas it was down to one or two appearances a year. This only made phans crave it more, as it unquestionably promised a very special show. (It is believed the band quit playing it not because they stopped having fun with it, but because they wanted the audience to focus on how they were playing, not what, and to cut it out with all this old-school-er-than-thou nonsense.)
When "Harpua" was (according to all available information) debuted on 8/9/87, the A and B sections were bridged by an instrumental piece called Bundle of Joy. By 1989, Trey had begun telling a story in the middle while the rest of the band played dramatic accompaniment.
The story concerned the interaction of the two characters from the A section, the nameless old man and his malevolent bulldog Harpua, and the two characters from the B section, the innocent boy Jimmy and his lovable cat Poster Nutbag. Inevitably, Poster would fight Harpua to the death, and lose. (Actually, once, on 2/12/93, Poster did triumph, but he was so surprised he immediately died of a heart attack.)
The reason phans craved this song is that, starting in 1992, Trey would alter the story to make it unique to each performance and even sillier than usual. The band would also usually slip a cover in there, usually one they had never played before, such as Smells Like Teen Spirit or Jimmy Olsen's Blues. This is a rundown of the last 12 Harpuas, with the elements that make them special.
Thanks to Yancy Davis and the rest of the Mockingbird Foundation.
- 7/16/94: North Fayston, Vermont
This show was the last of the Summer '94 tour. This was the night that the Shoemaker-Levy Comet crashed into Jupiter. Poster and Harpua witness this event, and somehow, Poster is hit by the comet. The cover is the Deodato version of Richard Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra (aka 2001), signifying the journey through outer space.
- 10/31/94: Glen Falls, New York
This show was the first of the musical costumes, for which the band covered the entire White Album by the Beatles. Because it was Halloween and things get evil then, this version features not only the Vibration of Life but the Vibration of Death. Jimmy plays his Barney the Dinosaur record backward and hears a cover of Black Sabbath's War Pigs.
- 11/25/94: Chicago, Illinois
The Thanksgiving show. Harpua and Poster in New England in the 1600s. This set off the first ever glowstick war, symbolizing the "angry red hate beams" and "happy green love beams" of their respective pets.
- 6/23/95: Stanhope, New Jersey
Only the A section is played; in fact, there is no mention of Poster at all. This show was played at the Waterloo Village Music Center, and Jimmy listens to ABBA's Waterloo, with John Popper guesting on harmonica.
- 10/31/95: Chicago, Illinois
The cover album that year was the Who's Quadrophenia. Jimmy listens to Michael Jackson's Beat It. Also contains Mike's dream narration, which is hilariously bizarre. All I'll say is, it's about raccoons. In the B section, according to Trey, Jimmy no longer wants a dog, but a raccoon.
- 8/17/96: Plattsburgh, New York
A section only. This was the encore at the Clifford Ball. Jimmy goes flying over the crowd. This version was aborted when a stunt plane missed its cue.
- 12/06/96: Las Vegas, Nevada
The encore at Phish's first show in Sin City, which also closed out the fall tour. This version is over half an hour long, featuring Les Claypool and Larry LaLonde from Primus (with Les reciting his Wildwood Weed poem), I Wanna Be A Cowboy's Sweetheart with the August sisters yodeling and John McEuen on banjo, and Fishman (playing the part of Jimmy) singing Suspicious Minds in competition with The Flying Elvises from Honeymoon in Vegas.
- 12/30/97: New York City, New York
Lyricist Tom Marshall made a guest appearance to perform the sandwiched cover: Champagne Supernova by Oasis. Much like his vocal rendering of Collective Soul's Shine on New Year's Eve 1995, this was intended to mock the source material.
- 8/16/97: Limestone, ME
The Great Went, first set, second song. B section only; continuation of the Clifford Ball Harpua. As such, there is no story to report, except that, technically, 92 shows were performed inside this Harpua.
- 12/30/97: New York City, New York
The story has no mention of any of the song's characters. Instead, Trey tells a Very Profound and Important tale of practicing black magic when he was ten with olive loafs, fried eggs, and udder balls. The following night, at midnight, there was a massive balloon drop (this moment is visible in the film Bittersweet Motel). The balloons were painted with pictures of these same satanic objects. The cover was I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles), by The Proclaimers, with Tom Marshall on guest vocal.
- 11/02/98: West Valley, Utah
This was the first show after Halloween in Vegas, when the band had performed Loaded by the Velvet Underground. The story picks up where the 12/6/96 Harpua left off, with Jimmy still hitchhiking in the desert. He gets in a pickup truck, and the driver puts an album on the tape deck. The band then performs Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety, which they learned earlier that day. It is perhaps worth mentioning that before the White Album was played in '94, Speak to Me was broadcast over the PA, as a prank.
- 7/29/03: Burgettstown, Pennsylvania
Jimmy, seeking direction in his life, searching for "IT" (a reference to the band's upcoming Limestone festival), joins a rock band, then leaves it and settles down for family life. Contains Bittersweet Motel and a cover of I Fooled Around and Fell in Love by Elvin Bishop sung by Fishman, complete with vacuum cleaner solo, dedicated to his baby daughter.