We all love Phish for their ability to rearrange our realities with improvisational jams channeled from the ether. The transportive nature of their music was the central reason that Phish became such a musical phenomenon and a central part of our lives. Traveling to places deep within, riding the rapids-filled river of Phish music, we were able to discover things about ourselves, our friends, and the world around us. We learned to believe in Phish and trust that their musical maze would lead us where we needed to go. Yet, between these extended periods of cosmic improv, Phish possessed a completely different side. They wrote great songs. I’m no longer thinking of improv based pieces, but the classic Phish songs that we all love, that are the same every time out. After seeing twenty, fifty, or hundreds of shows, these songs became “filler” in the evening, as they were consistently taken for granted as breathers before the next huge adventure.
Yet, not everyone had an older sibling or friend usher them into “the scene,” and these songs that later became less relevant to our show experience were once central in lassoing our interests away from hip-hop, alt rock, metal or whatever we were into at the time. You may not remember the first time you heard “Bouncin’ Around the Room,” but you remember how you felt. Enchanting and different- the harmonies were so rich and the melodies sang in your head for hours after. The percussive beat and the singing in rounds added to the intrigue, and then it was over. Hey, this was pretty good.
One day, maybe in a parents’ car, high school party or dorm room, someone put on “Sample In a Jar.” Wow! This was pop rock taken to a whole new level. The guitar sounded so warm and inviting, and the grooves just felt right echoing inside of you. The verses sounded just as cool as the chorus, and that big peak at the end got you every time. You began asking your buddy to play that song each time you saw him.
At some point ,”Fee” provided an introduction to Phish’s narrative lyrical nature. Listening to the tale of Floyd, Fee and Millie, you couldn’t help but be tickled by the absurdity of it all. Floyd, the chimpanzee tried to court Millie away from the weasel only to being sliced on the nipple by Millie, herself, and fall to his aquatic death. Fee’s life was saved and their romance lived on. Listening to the details, the music simultaneously narrated the story, complementing the words perfectly- pretty clever these Phish guys were.
Soon, your interest was peaked and you turned to a bootleg. You had been told of this Gamhendge story, and when you heard “Lizards,” a new world opened- not only to Colonel Forbin. This was the song that hooked me and I needed to know more. The fairy tale magic combined with Trey’s sublime super-emotional guitar in the second part, had me wanting to discover what Phish were all about. The verses, the chorus, the musicianship- everything! Who was this band, and why was I listening to Use Your Illusion all the time? (n.b. They are great albums!) Before long I found myself at a Phish show and the rest is history.
While everyone’s path to Phish was different, at some point, these anthems, with no jamming whatsoever, played a significant role in our love for the band, and perhaps still do. Maybe it was the quirky lyrics and multi-faceted music of “Golgi Apparatus” that caught our ear first. Or possibly, “Picture of Nectar” was the initial song you were jonesing to hear- oh yeah, they call that one “Cavern.”
The fact is, those five-minute songs are as Phishy as twenty-minute “Tweezer”s. These songs that so often got ignored in our later days of being a fan were just as much a foundation of Phish’s success as “You Enjoy Myself” or “David Bowie.” Not everyone could latch onto intricate psychedelic journeys right off the bat, but if those twenty minutes were surrounded by “NICU” and “Sparkle,” it all became more palatable. And even though you were at your two-hundred and seventy-fifth show, the band always understood that there were many present for the first time.
As we sit on the brink of Hampton, creeping closer everyday, the fact is that there will be a whole new generation of Phish fans once we step back into the freezer. Kids who were twelve, thirteen, and fourteen when Coventry happened, and have spent the last few years listening to shows and posting online, are dying to experience Phish for the first time. There will also be those who will be those who will be discovering Phish for the first time ever, like we did so many years ago; some with no knowledge of the band’s music at all. As they always did, Phish will play to entire room in Hampton, mixing new and old school “singles” in with their improvisational adventures. Yet this time around, when Bouncin’, Golgi, and Sample boom through the PA, they will sound a little bit sweeter, and a lot more meaningful. They will be sonic blessings whose musical paths will bring us back to a time long ago, while introducing others to their future. Anyway you cut it, they will be magic to our ears.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
Here we have a crispy DSBD of a free show in Phish’s hometown during the Summer ’91’ tour with The Giant Country Horns. This show marks the first performance of The Doors’ “Touch Me,” and features bust-outs of “Frakenstein” and “Flat Fee” after 217 and 348 shows, respectively. Amidst a tour of standout shows with the horns, the band was ripping as the next night would be their a classic show in Keene, NH released as Live Phish 19.
I: Oh Kee Pa Ceremony > Suzy Greenberg, The Divided Sky, Flat Fee, My Sweet One, Stash, Lizards, The Landlady
II: Dinner and a Movie > Cavern > TMWSIY > Avenu Malkenu > TMWSIY > Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, HYHU > Touch Me*, Frankenstein
E: Contact > Big Black Furry Creature From Mars
With The Giant Country Horns. *First time played.Tags: Culture