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Scent of a Mule

Scent of a Mule has not been seen in 64 Phish shows.
It was last played: 2022-09-01.
It was played at 6.83% of live shows.
It has been performed live 137 time(s).

Music/Lyrics: Gordon

Vocals: Mike (lead), Page, Trey (backing)

Debut: 1994-04-04

Historian: Chris Bertolet (bertoletdown)

Bluegrass + aliens = spacegrass. Such is the warped algebra of this Mike Gordon opus.

“Scent of a Mule” describes an alien invasion gone amok. Instead of invading a metropolis with laser beams trained on command and communications targets, or centers of finance, this hapless alien landing force alights on Kitty’s farm. But Kitty is prepared and offers both a carrot and a stick. On behalf of Tomahawk County, she insists that the aliens mind their manners, or “you’ll smell my mule.” Newly and properly respectful, they fall into line and step inside for a taste of Kitty’s lemonade. And they liked it. They really liked it!

“Mule” was one of the songs written and recorded for Hoist that was not played live until after the album’s release. Mike had penned the lyrics sometime before; he had the first verse as far back as May 1993. The music for the third verse came much later, and consists of the chords and phonemes of the chorus played backward. (In other words, if you play the chorus backward, you get the third verse). The studio version, recorded in late 1993/early 1994, features Béla Fleck on banjo; he can be seen in the Tracking video, as can Mike, bellowing the lyrics while stinking drunk. 

When the band took “Mule” on the road, they adorned it with a brief piano solo – reminiscent of silent movie accompaniment – that gave way to a klezmer riff, accompanied often by suitably peculiar dance choreography from Mike and Trey. By 1995, this sequence evolved into the “Mule Duel,” a more conversational approach to the improvisational section, with Trey and Page trading statements over an ever-accelerating tempo until the whole piece resolves to the chorus.

Watch Scent of a Mule on YouTube Phish, "Scent of a Mule" – 7/20/14, Chicago, IL. Video © Phish.

Many latter-era “Mules” (beginning with 7/14/13 MPP) feature yet another approach to the jam section that revolves around Fishman’s Marimba Lumina – a MIDI controller that lets a musician play music via a control surface that’s based on the layout of a traditional marimba. These Marimba Lumina interludes often, but not always, find the other players abandoning their normal instruments in lieu of percussion.

Absurdity breeds absurdity, and so it is with “Scent of a Mule,” which seems to inspire departures into distinctly unusual quadrants of musical space. Some such memorable versions of "Scent" include 6/26/94 (part of the Hoist set); 7/13/94 (“BBFCFM” lyrics to “Scent” music); 10/18/94 (with Béla Fleck); 6/6/96 (with a “Cocaine” jam and Trey taking over Page’s keyboards); 7/23/96 (the duel is a cappella); 8/17/96 (Fish gets a drum solo instead of the usual duel); 10/27/96 (with “Catapult” and a theremin solo from Page); 12/30/96 (with comedian Steven Wright playing a triangle); 11/28/98 (duel between Fish and Mike, squared off with matching Viking helmets); 7/29/03 (with a tease of “Wouldn’t It be Loverly” from My Fair Lady); 4/15/04 (jam section replaced with godawful take on Jay-Z's "Girls Girls Girls"); 8/11/04 (jam section replaced with "Tears of a Clown"); 7/14/13 (Marimba Lumina debut); and 10/31/14 (complete freakout in keeping with the Chilling, Thrilling theme of the evening).

Watch Scent of a Mule on YouTube "Scent of a Mule" – The Muppets

Albums: Stash, Hoist, Live Phish 02, Live Phish 10, Live Phish 18, Alpine Valley, The Clifford Ball


© Who Is She? Music, BMI

Kitty Malone sat on a mule
Was riding in style
When suddenly, like the sound of a buzzard's breaking
Kitty felt laser beams being fired at her head
She said, "I hate laser beams
And you never done see me askin'
For a UFO
In Tomahawk County"

Well she kicked the mule
And it walked the path
And the aliens fired from behind
'Til she stopped the mule
And she kicked the rump
And the big old mule took a big old dump

Scent of a mule, you better watch out where you go
Take your laser beams away
Scent of a mule, you better watch out where you go
You better stop that laser game
Or you'll smell my mule

She felt the fire against her neck
And it saddened her to feel it burn
When suddenly, like the sound of a breeding Holstein
Kitty said, "Stop, we ain't lookin' for fightin'
In Tomahawk County."

A little guy from the UFO
Came on out and said his name was Joe
She said, "Come on over for some lemonade
Just follow me now with the whole brigade"

Scent of a mule, you better watch out where you go
Take your laser beams away
Scent of a mule, you better watch out where you go
You better stop that laser game

They walked into her cabin shack
They had never seen a southern home
And they liked it, better than their UFO
They liked it, they really liked it
They said, "Here's a place of elegance
Here we shower ourselves in lightness"

Scent of a mule, you better watch out where you go
Take your laser beams away
Scent of a mule, you better watch out where you go
You better stop that laser game

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