Five Flavors of Gumbo

As Phish’s music transformed into deep heavy funk grooves during the year 1997, and would subsequently evolve from there, their musical catalog would be similarly altered.  Some songs remained structurally the same, while others made the transformation with the band, finding themselves slowed down, and funked out.  Songs like Wolfman’s Brother, Tube, and Free became permanent funk vehicles.  Old songs and covers like Camel Walk, Sneakin’ Sally and Cities re-emerged.  New songs were written specifically in this vein- Ghost, The Moma Dance, Meat and later Sand, and Jiboo.  What they played was certainly adjusted to how they played.

One of the songs most profoundly effected by the onset of the “funk era” was Gumbo.  Initially debuted in 1990, Gumbo was a loose jazz-based composition that came into its own during the Summer ’91 tour with the Giant Country Horns.  The horns added the necessary accompaniment to the band in Gumbo, making the composition sound complete.  Up until 1997, the song stayed within its structure and was more often than not, part of one of those first set string of jamless songs.  Featuring nonsensical Phishy lyrics, the song was fun, but nothing to get you pumped up.  This all changed in the summer of 1997, when making three fifteen minute plus explorations- two of which were among the best jams of the summer- Gumbo took on a whole new character.  It now became a song that included exploratory jams, and was always good for at least ten minutes of dancy improvisation.  As Phish’s career progressed after 97, many standout versions would be played.  Below are five versions that you should, and probaby do, know about. Let’s revisit each of them.

1. 7.29.97 Desert Sky Pavilion, Phoenix, AZ

This desert Gumbo was the first time the band truly jammed the song out with any significance, and it worked out great.  Trey has referenced this jam as a personal favorite, and an example of the type of playing they were striving for in the Summer of ’97.  With the band completely locked, they work cooperatively to produce some quintessential whole-band Phish grooves in this fourteen-minute version.  A week into the tour, this Gumbo provided a preview of what was to come over the following two plus weeks on the way to the Great Went.


2. 8.13.97 Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA

A personal favorite, this Gumbo has all the dialed in funk of the 7.29 version, but then transcends it, adding layers of melody and harmony on top of the heavy grooves.  Known among many fans for its “Frankin’s Tower”-esque jam towards the last third of the song, whether intentionally or coincidentally, the band hints strongly at the Dead classic within the context of their own Phish funk.  This version includes some Phish-crack funk grooves at the onset of the jam, illustrating their musical progression over the summer.  This version has a certain flow to it the entire way through.  An A+ version all the way, this one is a can’t miss.


3. 7.17.98 The Gorge, George Washington

This version, directly preceding the sunset serenade of Divided Sky, gave the crowd some extremely thick open-air grooves to navigate, juxtaposing the band’s looseness and precision.   The Gorge’s huge bellowing, uninhibited sound brought the band’s playing even slower, as this version resembles an elephant strolling slowly down to the watering hole.  Some classic ’98 Trey licks are contained in this version that also sees some round and perfectly atypical Gordon basslines leading the way.  A laid back version that practically transports you to the Columbia River, this one is perfect is setting and ambiance.


4. 8.3.98: Deer Creek, Noblesville, IN

Deer Creek - photo Sean A

Deer Creek - photo Sean A

Perhaps the best Gumbo ever played, this set opener goes deep and clocks in just under twenty minutes.  With Trey leading the way right out of the gate, he picks up on a familiar melodic lick that he continues to play with and reference throughout the extended improv, and finally uses to peak the jam at the end.  This jam is a Deer Creek classic, and one of the highlights that never faded from the Summer of ’98.  Flirting with Manteca at points, this Gumbo is non-stop entertainment from beginning to end, and sees Trey absolutely shredding staccato funk lines the whole time.  Including some melodic resolution to the funk as well, this version illustrates how big this song had become in the post-’97 era.  This version sees the band firing on all cylinders in the middle of one of their best years ever.


5. 8.15.98 The Lemonwheel, Limestone, ME

photo- Dan Gareau

photo- Dan Gareau

Inseparable from its completely epic combination of Gumbo > Sanity > Tweezer, and following a divine Reba, this Gumbo had magic written all over it.  Taking on a larger-than-life feeling up at Limestone, this Gumbo moved slowly, yet powerfully, echoing through the vast concert field and showering the crowd with searing guitar lines and heavy bass bombs.  Once the band drops into the jam of this version, its gets downright dirty.  Ridiculously thick and percussive, this Gumbo initiated a 80,000 person throw down while taking on a life all its own.  One of those times you felt that band was channeling the universe into your brain, this Gumbo felt perfect.  As the jam progresses, the band begins a Tweezer Reprise chord progression, signalling the huge upcoming Tweezer that was minutes away from blowing up.  The ending of this jam builds into some melodic territory that out of nowhere leads you directly into Sanity.  The most bizarrely natural transition, the age old classic brought the set to new heights.



What’s Your Favorite Gumbo? Respond in comments below??


DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY: 11.30.96 ARCO ARENA, Sacremento, CA

Coming at the end of a transformative tour in the Fall of 1996, this show would become known for one of the best guest sit-ins of the band’s career.  Welcoming Peter Apfelbaum on tenor sax to the stage for the second set sequence of 2001 > Timber Ho! > Taste, and Funky Bitch, the show transformed into a psychedelic jazz fusion performance, with Apfelbaum taking center stage multiple times.  Simply an epic portion of Phish +1.  The first set also featured John McEuen on banjo for My Old Home Place and Uncle Pen for you bluegrass fans out there.  Everyone united for a sublime Amazing Grace jam at the end of the night.  This one is special.

I: Runaway Jim, Punch You in the Eye, All Things Reconsidered, Bouncing Around the Room, Stash, Fluffhead, The Old Home Place*, Uncle Pen*, Prince Caspian, Chalk Dust Torture

II: La Grange, It’s Ice, Glide, Brother, Contact, Also Sprach Zarathustra-> Timber (Jerry)**, Taste**, Funky Bitch**, Amazing Grace, Amazing Grace Jam#

E: Possum#

*With John McEuen on banjo. **With Peter Apfelbaum on tenor sax. #With Peter Apfelbaum on tenor sax and John McEuen on lap slide guitar.

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20 Responses to “Five Flavors of Gumbo”

  1. Kevin McEvoy Says:

    THANK YOU! You have no idea how much it means to me to finally have the Arco show – I wore the shit out of the tape I had back in the day, and I’ve always dreamed of having a digital copy. You rule.

  2. JD Says:

    Yeah Gumbo just turned into a driving funk groove after summer tour 97. 2 other Gumbo’s worth mentioning (not the best but very good) are Boise Idaho 9/14/99. Sandwiched in a crazy second set between Peaches->AC/DC Bag and DWD, Frankenstein, this Gumbo is fairly short but packed with funk and a decent tease of Another One Bites the Dust. Also I remember the 9/9/00 Pepsi Gumbo being pretty sick. Haven’t heard this one in a while but man I remember getting down!!

  3. bernieboop Says:

    You probably couldn’t have picked a better 5. I’m not sure if I would put that Gorge ’98 one in the top 5, but I couldn’t say which version I would replace it with either. The other 4 are for sure spot on top 4 versions… with Star Lake ’97 being my personal favorite (just edging out the other 3).

    Nice work on the Arco show as well. I probably haven’t listened to that in 10 years… but it was an old favorite tape that I wore out not unlike Mr McEvoy.

  4. bernieboop Says:

    Okay… after a bit more thought… how about Grand Rapids ’98 to replace Gorge ’98? That’s my best contender. Still can’t really argue with the Gorge version, though. It is great.

  5. touchmytooter Says:

    throw in 6/14/2000 japan and u got yourself a list 😉

  6. shpongleyez Says:

    Star Lake Gumbo rules! I had a “connected with Trey” moment during it, but I still don’t get the Franklin’s connection. This is the biggest, funkiest pot of Gumbo there is. No doubt about it.

  7. bernieboop Says:

    I forgot about that Japan version. Good call. It’s a different beast entirely from the lot listed already… but it definitely deserves mention. And could just as easily sit in the Top 5 instead of Gorge ’98, Grand Rapids ’98, or MAYBE even Phoenix ’97.

  8. will-I-am Says:

    i really like the Ames Gumbo from fall 99. not sure if it is a top 5 but it is worth a listen for sure. i remeber thinking during the jam that this is the definition of funk.

  9. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^^ love japan and ames…..could only chooose 5.

  10. ricky Says:

    desert sky 97! oh to be 17 again on full tour… of my favorites!
    humble request: best transitions segment

  11. Greg Says:

    ^^I 2nd the best transitions request!!!! Thank You Mr. Miner for posting the Arco show. As has been mentioned in a few of the above posts this was one of the tapes I wore through about 3 times!

  12. kbill23 Says:

    ^ just stating opinion, when you get into the top 5 i think it really comes down to maybe an experience you may have had during that version

  13. grizzly twylyte Says:

    i approve this blog.

  14. timmy Says:

    great list. thanks so much!

  15. Jimmy Says:

    7-3-99 should go along the top shelf.

  16. Frankie Says:

    I love the 8.3.98 Deer Creek Gumbo. I had both those shows (Deer Creek ’98) back in the analog days and i listened to them so much, i knew them by heart! The Ghost from the night before is a masterpiece also…

    Thank you Mr. Miner!

  17. Ryan Says:

    Gumbo from 7-22-03

    doesnt even get any love

    18mins of insanity for a gumbo. type 2 jam?

    I know its not mid 90s but come on. it doesnt even get the #5 spot

    everyone I talk to says its the 2nd best gumbo ever behind gorge

  18. rob Says:

    re: Best Transitions

    I nominate 12/18/99 Weekapaug -> Buffalo Bill > Weekapaug

    stellar work.

  19. Ryan Says:

    Great picks Miner..each one of us would have a different 5

    I have to mention one of my favorites. Even though the show gets torched (mainly to it being at one of the worst venues in the country) 8-8-97 belongs with the best of the bunch from Summer 97 (Don’t sleep on the Wolfman’s->Free either!)

  20. Alfred T Sawyer Says:

    Love dat Jumbo 18258G27

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