The Night The Moma Was Born

It was late one winter night, past midnight in fact, when The Moma Dance first joined the world.  It’s older and rougher sister Katy, had stomped around all fall- making particularly boisterous appearances in Hampton, Cleveland and Winston-Salem.  But tonight, a baby would be born.  It was December 30th, 1997, and Phish had just finished playing a marathon, Harpua-laced, second set with an long and twisting AC/DC opener, a phenomenal Hood and a smoking Guyute to close the set; and with all that enthusiasm, the Phish had accidentally played way past the MSG curfew of 11pm.  It was a quarter to twelve, but instead of killing the hyped crowd without an encore, Trey announced they would “just keep playing until New Years Eve,” since the fine had already been levied.  And so the band played on, and that’s when our story begins.

It only seemed proper that on such an occasion, the encore would match the crazy and unique situation.  A show which had unleashed the first Sneakin’ Sally since 1989 , and was crystallized by Harpua and the udder-ball, deserved a special encore.  You got the feeling this would be more than a Bouncin, Rocky Top.  As the band took their spots, the anticipation rose after Trey’s curfew explanation- a hush fell over the crowd.  A hush that would be powerfully crushed by the opening metal chords of America’s first-ever “Carini.”  Having debuted the song in Amsterdam, back on 2.17 under the name of “Lucy,” and played it only five times in Europe that winter, it was only fitting that Phish would drop this monstrous song in such a monstrous venue.  It was huge- the place literally blew up as they sat into the song’s long-sought darkness.  They even brought Carini (Fish’s Drum Tech) out on stage after they slowly ripped through the sinister verses; the vibe was infectious in there, everyone in the building was having the time of their lives- band included.

Yet, as the chorus ended, and Trey would normally rip into a seething solo, the band just dropped into the most ridiculously dirty segment of music.  It’s the crunchy and metallic dinosaur residue of Carini mixed with the deepest, slowest, most ’97est funk.  It is the greatest.  It’s only about thirty seconds before they gradually reach a change, and began playing Black Eyed Katy- slowly- really slowly.  So slowly that after the show, many fans hadn’t even realized that they had played Katy at all.

If you go back and listen to this section of music, you’ll realize those thirty seconds of crack represented The Moma Dance pushing through the universe’s birth canal into the lap of Madison Square Garden.  What ensued was a super-thick, super-slow Black Eyed Katy; but listening years later, it’s an instrumental Moma Dance-literally.  It even launches into a bit of the soon-to-be-familiar funk-rock that became the end of the song.  But this night, it was back to the funk, as they remained thick as tar while smoothly moving into a slowed down Sally reprise, stamping this encore as officially “best ever,” even before the band ended with a raging Frankenstein.  Given the circumstances, and the music, there can barely be an argument.

Not to be seen again until the debut of “The Moma Dance” in the dark stone surroundings of Copenhagen’s Den Gra Hal, this version in New York was truly the night the band figured out what they would do with this ridiculous funk groove.  Slow it down a bunch, throw some lyrics on top, add a chorus, and- boom-everyone’s favorite song.  At least for a while.  But it was one of those that got every one out of their seat and amped every time.  Even the non-dancers managed to get some sort of rhythmic or arrhythmic groove on to The Moma Dance, as it became a setlist staple for years to come.

The song truly became a relic of the funk era, a reminder of what Phish was doing every night during 1997.  It was only fitting that it would transform with a change of the calendar, in the early moments of New Years’ Eve.  Taking only the Island run off before coming back to a white hot spotlight during the summer and fall of 1998, The Moma Dance would grow, mature, and become an adult Phish song.  But now you know the story of its’ birth and when it took its first thick breaths of funk on a cold winter night, a long time ago.



DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY>>4.21.92 Redwood Acres, Eureka, CA

Along Phish’s famed spring west coast run in 1992, with the band’s best playing to that point in their career, they stopped in Humboldt County for a show.  Smack in the middle of hippie-central in Northern California, a polished and young geeky-hippie band from Vermont threw down a sick show amidst clouds of weed smoke covering the small venue.  Taken from an archived review, Trey announced before the encore, “We hope you enjoyed the show as much as we enjoyed your dope!”  Ah, the old days.  A raging set closing Bowie foreshadowed what was to come.  The epic second set features an adventure with Colonel Forbin on a houseboat to find the evil King Wilson, a gorgeous  Tweezer that still stands out today, and a fierce Mike’s Groove.  Enjoy some old school greatness!

04-21-92 Redwood Acres Fairgrounds, Eureka, CA

I: Suzy Greenberg, Uncle Pen, Split Open and Melt, Rift, Guelah Papyrus, Possum, It’s Ice, Eliza, NICU, Bouncing Around the Room, David Bowie

II: Dinner and a Movie, Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Famous Mockingbird, Tweezer, Tela, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Weigh, Catapult*, Lively Up Yourself, Vocal Jam, Sanity, Maze

E: Memories, Sweet Adeline, Cavern

*Mike only, a capella.

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13 Responses to “The Night The Moma Was Born”

  1. Monster Says:

    This night may be my greatest phish memory of all time. 12/30 was my second show ever, and the first that was really tangible to me. 12/29 was a musical explosion that took me so many different directions I couldn’t make sense of it. This is the night that everything came together for me.

    I was a high-school sophomore(I think) at the time, and had managed to score some seriously great tickets only a few rows up on fish side. I remember having to ask a kid from the grade above me what the name of Guyute and Punch were, and had no idea what Harpua was. I remember the huge smile on my face when trey announced that they were playing on into new years, and talked about feeling the bounce of MSG because the floor was on springs. Then the encore just didn’t stop! I had a train to catch back to long island, and a mom waiting up for me. I was supposed to be on the 11:19, I think we ended up on the 12:49, and with out cell phones my mom was a little freaked out. I remember talking her down though, explaining how cool it was, “they just kept on playing!”.

    If I had a choice to re-see any phish show I have been to, this would be it.

  2. Phish — Moma Dance « Musical Stew Daily Says:

    […] Mr. Miner’s Phish Thoughts: […]

  3. Matso Says:

    The context of that encore cannot be overstated. Unlike say the 8/8/98 Sabotage, which was a similarly explosive encore, what happened in the preceding 2/3 hrs really set the stage for this:

    A Sneakin’ Sally opener – a serious bust-out at the time – which they jammed on in brilliant fall 97 fashion – and segued into a perfect version of Taste – a notable Stash – everyone seriously happy by set break (I was in the taper’s section that night with my sister, which can be a bit dull as the dancing could be muted and the attitudes jaded, but even the tapers were mighty pleased).

    Set II – I’ve hinted at my feelings about the Bag (see my comments on MM’s Create Your Dream Jam post) – but then McGrupp, oh sweet mercy, what a beautiful song – and then Harpua madness through to raging Isabella through to glorious Hood – I thought that was it but it went on – Sleeping Monkey and Guyute – there could be no doubt that the band were having a great time that night – minds were completely blown (I remember thinking about how I could possibly explain to my friends, who had been at 12/29 with me but hadn’t got tickets for 12/30, that as good as that night was, this was even better).

    And then the encore…

    I’ll leave it to Mr Miner – “it was only fitting that Phish would drop this monstrous song in such a monstrous venue. It was huge- the place literally blew up as they sat into the song’s long-sought darkness… the vibe was infectious in there, everyone in the building was having the time of their lives- band included.”

    Right on!!

    It was so huge it made me wonder if they had deliberately shelved Carini for the summer and fall just to be able to bust it out as viciously as this.

  4. shpongleyez Says:

    great show, great encore (and another great article, mr. miner). i enjoyed from section 420 high in the rafters. one of my favorite (if not THE favorite) of my darkhorse shows. somehow i always manage to forget about it, but it was a great one on spaceship phish.

  5. JD Says:

    All I have to say about that encore is GORDO. Talk about dropping the hammer. Okay fine….I can say a lot more. Page did a cool little thing on the keys right before they morphed into Katy/Dance.

  6. themanatee Says:

    what a great article on the bouncin baby birthed at msg! thank you mr miner. your eloquence is appreciated, what a night.

  7. Andy Says:

    That transition into BEK stilll gives me goose bumps every time.

    What an amazing way to end that show!

  8. ecmartin003 Says:

    12/30/97 -> the night all the stars aligned in my world of phish.

    i was in law school and could not do any touring so this was the only show i saw in the fall 1997. the last shows i had attended were in the summer at the great went. also, i really was not tied into any phish discussion groups or anything like that so i was largely unaware of the change of musical style the band was experimenting with during that tour. boy, was i surprised.

    it sure was amazing to experience that harpua live, but i get it that it does not translate well on playback for those who did not attend this show. where’s the dvd??? i would love to see a commercial release of a dvd of this show b/c seeing the video of this magical evening will surely help those who did not attend to appreciate it a bit more.

    i’ll go out on a limb and say that the ac/dc bag from that show is one of the best jams i ever witnessed (phish or gd -> judas, i know). Filled with creative, musical ideas, it is the kind of all-consuming jam in which you can get lost. hypnotic, funky, spacey – this version has it all. in fact, my brother turned to me during the ac/dc jam and asked me to remind him what song they were playing. we both had crazy grins when i told him it was *still* ac/dc bag.

    if you listen closely, there is a brief bit of magic that occurs at the very end of the jam. Just before dissolving into “mcgrupp”, the jam takes on a spacey-jazzy feel that references “playin in the band” circa 1973-74. It is just for just a few brief moments. it was thrilling for me to hear phish reference the other band that i loved so much. i remember feeling disappointed that they decided to abort that theme and end one the greatest phish jams of all time.

    The first American Carini>BEK, and a Sally>Frank reprise, just bananas.

    i was unfamiliar with carini and bek at the time but i could definitely appreciate the specialness of a curfew-breaking, 4-song encore. i loved the evil chords of “carini” right from the beginning. i remember that kuroda bathed the stage with blood-red lights to capture a spooky theme that called to mind the bowels of hell. for his part fishman started screaming for carini to “come out!” very, very intense!

    next up was a welcome break from the instensity and back into the dirty funk song now known as “black-eyed katy.” this eventually led back into some classic phish chaos using an unlikely musical vehicle – “frankenstein.” again, the tapes do this version no justice whatsoever. during the synth part at the end the strobe lights and fog machines continued for an extended period of time until it became clear that phish had yet *another* trick to up its sleeve.

    trey started the madness by throwing glowsticks back into the crowd. this looked incredible. he then grabbed fish and the two of them did a hilarious, semi-choreographed tribal dance. next, fish wheeled out his elextrolux vacuum and began sucking for dear life adding to the cacophony of noise that was already going on. finally, fish returned to his drum kit and the band slammed back into the ending of “frankenstein.” simply incredible.

    i should have sold my new year’s ticket b/c there was nothing that phish could ever have done to surpass the magic of that evening. for me, it was never equaled again.


  9. butter Says:

    figured a 2011 comment should be in here since the toyed with BEK during RnR on 8/5/11 at the Gorge !!!

  10. angryjoggerz Says:

    Thanks, Miner! Love that there are 8 comments on that post. My how things have changed.

  11. willowed Says:

    I like funk music!


  12. P.S.H.S Says:

    Matso is so old school bb, respek

  13. ae Says:


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