Five Versions of Free

Debuted at the classic Lowell 5.16.95 show, with an assortment of new material, “Free” grew from a song many fans were initially skeptical about into a fan favorite over the course of a few years.  Using metaphor to describe birth, its earliest incarnations featured Page-led piano based jams, with the band diving into soupy


and often amorphous textures (Check out SPAC 6.26.95, Jones Beach 6.29.95).  The addition of Trey’s mini drum kit in Fall ’95 took the guitar out of the mix, and the jam seemed to lose direction at times, but it was working its way into the regular rotation.  When a reworked studio version appeared on 1996’s, Billy Breathes, it had lead guitar lines not previously played.  This new format helped transform the song when Phish shifted towards funk in 1997, taking on a whole new character and danceability.  Featuring a crowd rousing Mike bomb section followed by a Trey led group jam, It continued to be a staple until the end.  Below are five of my favorite Free’s- I’m not trying to argue them as the “top 5”- just five I love.  Read a mini-review and listen to each standout version of the song, or download all five versions below.

1. BONNER SPRINGS, KS: 6.30.99: Like a freight train driving into your skull to open the tour, this Free highlights the second set of the first show of 1999.  With the huge Bonner Springs open-air sound, Mike in the middle for the first time, driving the course of the jam, and with smoke machines pouring against the blood red lights blanketing the stage, this Free was as nasty as they come.  Amidst this scene Trey swoops in like a hawk with a nasty scowl and rips a dirty melody to initiate his solo line.  This massive militant mixture of darkness and groove evokes the very essence of what Free’s jam is all about.


2. MCI CENTER, DC: 12.15.99: It is always a debated decision among fans whenever Trey picks up an instrument other than guitar.  Yet, this Free contains extended precise rhythmic and melodic use of his late ’99 keyboard.  Trey on keys, begins a drone pattern, that sets up a playfully large and bouncy jam with Mike playing some totally unique bass lines.  Minutes later, Trey then he hops off keys and begins to shred infectious guitar melodies over the top of it all.  This Free is a multi-faceted jam during the climactic two-week run of December 1999- only two weeks before reaching the mountain top at Big Cypress.   A unique 15+ minute version that diverts from its usual format, this Free comprises half of the centerpiece of the second set with the beautiful Reba.


3. UIC, IL: 11.9.98: This first set Free on the third night of an epic Chicago run was an instant classic.  The heavy crunching groove factory opened as soon as the jam commenced.  The band industrially chugs together, as Trey begins coloring the groove with accented rhythm licks.  This is straight Phish crack.  Page comes in with some masterful symbiotic clav melodies as he and Trey communicate over the plodding beat and bass bombs. Truly a whole group gem, this one stood out immediately after the show, and after not hearing it in years, it really shines and reminds me why I used to listen to it constantly.


4. Columbus, OH: 7.23.99: Far heavier and thicker than Polaris ’98’s light summer funk of Curtain > Free; this version is the ending point of an aggressive set-opening Ghost, and a boisterous stop off before some exploratory jamming in the Birds that follows.  Basking in the hugeness of the moment, jumping and stomping around while playing searing walls of tone and sound, Trey left his delicate rhythm and funk licks for another night.  Shredding in commanding fashion, Trey wails heavily in the post bass-bomb section of the jam.  This Free brought the amphitheatre to insane levels of energy amidst a second set that would end in a torrential downpour.   Massive in both shape and sound, this is a “can’t miss” raging version of the classic song.


5. Darien Lake, NY: 8.14.97: Somewhat of a dark horse, this first set version is one of the early great funk-based > guitar solo shaped Free.  Trey uses delicate rhythm chords to set up the texture of the jam, and then begins to weave tales over the top with great melodic phrasing in his classic ’97 tone.  Mike and Fish are holding down a deep pocket as the band moves into a directed adventure in groove.  This version totally rips, strewn with raw Summer ’97 funk, and often gets overshadowed by the second set Bozo-laced journey to Gamehendge.



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9 Responses to “Five Versions of Free”

  1. Scott Says:

    Keep up the great work! I’m enjoying the summer 97 right now and look forward to the 5 versions of Free!

  2. lanser Says:

    i showed up at bonner springs from colorado, to go to that show and head home. the free was so sick i had to do the rest of the tour!!!! the power of the PH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. themanatee Says:

    makes me want to listen to each and every version you have up. don’t remember the UIC version. was out of the country at the time and sometimes I lose tracks to in the dust and haze of other adventures. have to get down with it later!

  4. dan raznick Says:

    I can understand your fondness for this song. If I may, I’d like to add a couple.

    11.30.95 A great standard pre-guitar solo version, at the tail end of what will become a legendary show.

    11.22.95. I always dreaded the idea of a 30 minute ’95 Free. When I finally heard it, I quickly agreed: “Best Free ever!”

    Chula Vista ’99 was like a spiritual experience, but i don’t know that it holds up on recording.

  5. Calvin Tanrahan Says:

    Man, this blog is like the gospel according to Miner, straight from THE book! Please continue to drop knowledge Mr. Miner. 2 Frees down, 3 to go.

  6. Pete Says:

    great blog….loving it.

    a great Free you may have forgotten about, or at least one of my favorites is 12/29/98, Madison Square Garden. Check it if you haven’t in a while. It opens the 2nd set..

    Speaking of 12/29….just as you mentioned that there were many great moments that took place on 8/16-17 weekends, new year’s runs are an entity in and of themselves as well…with lots of great 12/29 moments…maybe a discussion for another day…

    Thank you Mr Minor!

  7. evan Says:

    wow, listening back to that free from 99 ohio right now…haven’t heard this since that night. ah, the memories. summer 99 was my longest run of consecutive shows on a single tour (caught VA beach > deer creek) and OH was one of those intense nights of phish and insanity. i remember hitting a point of needing to go to the bathroom so bad that i couldn’t hold it any longer during the free (should’ve gone duriing setbreak, but was in no condition to battle through the crowd at that time) and the insanity of trying to rush through the crowd to get too and fro the bathroom without getting distracted is a journey that i’ll never forget (that and the way that the police lights flickered off the rain on the way out of the venue – SUREAL). the place was wild and the music was the perfect backdrop for all of us who found the wonderful liquid that trailed the band that summer…

    couldn’t agree with you more about summer 99. truly one of my favorite times in phish-story. SO many gems in that era. and let’s not forget how crazy the fall tour was. my favorite all time phish ac/dc > gumbo (9.14) or halley’s tweezer (10.08), the ambient jam > yem from albany (10.10), 12.11, 12.12’s drowned, and countless 5 or 6 song 2nd set jam fiestas. the jamming in 99 is why i love phish and follow them around the country. i think a lot of phans were disollusioned with 99 because the band would tear out those amazing jams and then totally kill the vibe of the set with a ‘filler’ track. and 99 is also a great year in example for phish’s encore problem.

  8. Madtown Cows Says:

    Pete, my friends and I have often said, “12/29 is the Phishiest day of the year.”

  9. ben f Says:

    1) 11/22/95 – cap center – best free ever!

    2) My birthday is 12/29, and i was lucky enough to catch bday shows in 95 (21st, drank a bottle of dom in the parking garage), 96, 97, 98, 99 (soundcheck), and finally 03. All of them were amazing!

    3) great site, miner, thanks!

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