Rift – The Concept Album

Almost 16 years to the day it was released (2.2.93), Phish’s fourth studio album, Rift, still holds a unique place in their history.  It was this album that began to lift the band from college gymnasiums and their own van to the long sought-after success of tour buses and a legit crew.  Though many of the songs on the album had been played already, when Phish put them into a particular order, coupled with symbolic cover art, representing every song on the album, their first “concept” album emerged. (“The Horse” was not depicted on the cover, though they would intentionally take of this with their next release, Hoist.)

pnt-4Narrating a restless night’s dream sequence of a man in a strained relationship, Phish took their studio intent to a whole new level.  While future albums would include more production value, Rift’s conceptual collection of songs still holds the trophy, in many fans’ minds, as the quintessential Phish album.

As the man on the cover falls asleep, he drifts into a first dream thinking about the “Rift” that has come between him and his love.  Via tense, driving music and lyrical symbolism, Phish recreates the frayed nerves and impassioned thoughts of the strained lover.

I spied wings of reason, herself taking flight
And upon yonder precipice saw her alight
And glared back at me one last look of dismay
As if she were the last one she thought I’d betray

As he describes the physical separation of the two, the man comes to understand what has driven her away.  As she looks at him with disdain through in his fantastical dream state, the man assumes the blame of his betrayal.

b000002hc5The second verse shows him futilely trying to convince himself that his life is “So much better” without her, yet he is still “struggl[ing] with destiny, and “gasping” as “defeated he f[alls] of the edge.” Clearly showing signs of second guessing his decision, the dreamer is consumed by “moments like these,” remembering back to that “terrible night that shocked and persuaded [his] soul to ignite” for her.

“Fast Enough For You” is his second dream of the evening, and finds the man wishing things were different and as they once were.  “If time were only part of the equation,” he wistfully laments.  The album’s two interludes of “Lengthwise” are to be taken quite literally, as the dreamer is lonely, sleeping diagonally trying to fill up the physical and existential space she has left in his bed and in his life.

As the night moves on and he moves into a deeper sleep, his dreams get darker with the onset of “Maze.”  With music that perfectly matches the hectic lyrical confusion of the song, the man feels himself as trapped, while others laugh at his utter dismay.  To be taken in the context of his relationship, the man is “embarrassed with failure” and “tr[ies] to reverse the course that [his] tread [has] already traversed.”  Burdened with regret and plagued by helplessness, he is completely overwhelmed by his emotional state, hearing voices inside his head telling him he’s lost it” and he’ll “never get out of this maze” that he has created for himself.  His inner struggle mounts.

“Sparkle” brings in some musical relief, but when looked at lyrically, the song isn’t so happy.

The pressure builds, you buy a gift
You’re hoping that your dread will lift
It glitters on her like a glass
You shudder as it comes to pass

Circa 1993

Circa 1993

These are desperate thoughts of someone trying to rectify a wrong, possibly with a “glass” wedding ring, hoping this could be the answer.  The lyrics expound on the topics of  apology, confusion and shame- emotions that plague our cosmic dreamer, while he hopes for the best.  Phish was clever here, creating a dynamic where, ostensibly, people think it is a happy song about laughing endlessly, when in fact it’s not.  The laughing is of the self-defeated nature.  As things don’t pan out as he’d hoped, he can no longer can think of words to express himself and he is left hopelessly laughing while he emotionally “falls apart.”

“Horn” is a beautiful composition, yet tells a story of bitterness and retribution.  Our dreamer seethes:

Now that you’ve deceived me, and played my name around
And hung those nasty flyers, on all the buildings in town
Dribbled my possessions in a ring around the earth
And bought and sold my self-control for less than it was worth

We are brought into yet another fragile mind-state of the man, this time resulting from frustration and anger.  Self-control gone, this dream represents the emotional roller coaster of his recent life.  He thinks of how she has beaten him down, yet he still yearns for their mundane past, wishing to tell her, “I’ll pick you up at eight as usual, listen for my horn.”

As he drifts into deeper sleep, the music constantly shifts, representing the various dream states that permeate one’s full nights sleep.  “The Wedge,” comes next, with him reminiscing about days gone by, and thinking:

That it’s the ocean flowing in our veins
Oh..that it’s the salt that’s in our tears
Oh..cause we could have come so very far
Oh..in at least as many years!

hw77Albeit melodic and bouncy, the lyrical path is still one of a love almost lost, and the bittersweet emotions that surround this delicate time.  Looking back over their relationship, he can’t fathom it has come to this.

The subsequent nighttime interlude comes in the form of the paranoid nightmare of, “My Friend, My Friend,” formerly titled, “Knife.”  With the opening verse, we see a picture of someone who believes his friend will murder him and marry his love.  Rife with Shakespearean overtones, and parallels the deceptive plot of betrayal in MacBeth, this song is the darkest, thematically, on the album.

My friend, my friend he’s got a knife
A statement from his former life
When he was easy but alone
Beside him was an empty throne
But what of silver silken blade
Affix his gaze, his features staid
Grasps the handle, clips the cable
One steps up, sits at his table
My friend, my friend, he’s got a knife
My friend, my friend, he’s got a wife

Musically, this song is a memoir of Phish’s composition-focused days, as the intro was composed as part of a whole with passages that would later become “Guyute.” The composition gives way to an eerie groove, darkening the texture of the dreamer’s subconscious, and illustrating his self-imposed paranoia.

“Weigh,” one of two Gordon scribed songs on the album, brings an episode of comic relief to the night of terror, as the dreamer ponders the absurd notion of beheading his lover so he can weigh her head.  His other wish is to:

…gather all your razors and pick all the
Little prickly hairs so I can weigh them

Leave it to Gordeaux to consistently redefine the absurd.

hw99“All Things Reconsidered” is a semantic and musical play on the theme of NPR’s show “All Things Considered.  This lyric-less piece’s symbolism comes shining through in its title.  The music brings us on a meandering path of introverted thought through the head of the dreamer as he rethinks his relationship from an internal perspective.

“Mound” becomes a glimpse into his bleak future reality that will exist without his love.  Foreseeing himself as a “broken old man” who “burie[s] all his memories of home, in an icy clump that lies beneath the ground,” this represents a self-prophecy of what he might become if he doesn’t reconcile his relationship with the woman he loves.  Approaching the mysterious mound, potentially symbolic of his future grave, and looking back over the happier parts of his life, the song goes:

He went over to the mound
Reclining down his final thoughts
Were drifting to the time this life had shined

“It’s Ice,” one of more musically and lyrically complex songs on the album, narrates the deep inner struggle going on within the dreamer.  As he looks at his his reflection, he confronts his alternate self.

He meets my eyes, to my surprise
He laughs in full light of my frown
My double wants to pull me down

The song continues to chronicle a fierce battle with himself as to which way his life should to go in light of his current circumstances.  Each part of him is personified.

Slipping on the friction slide, my skin peels to the bone
The flesh I leave behind, is something that is not my own
I beg my mirror image for a moment with my soul
He’s leaning back, time to attack, to see who’s in control

Potentially sparked by the grim foreshadowing of the previous dream of “Mound,” our character engages himself in a struggle for his destiny. This represents the most significant part of his part of his sleep and the album, as he will emerge from this inner-battle with the revelation that is “Horse > Silent.”

The lyrics of “The Horse” speak for themselves, though they can have two very different meanings:

It’s time I sling the baskets off this overburdened horse
Sink my toes into the ground and set a different course
Cause if I were here and you were there
I’d meet you in between
And not until my dying day, confess what I have seen.

Despite all the subconscious madness he has persevered through the night, he ends with revelations.  He can’t live without her, he must “set a different course.”  Or, alternately, he realizes that his efforts have been in vain, and that his desperate nature has led him to cling to a lost love.  The “different course” he must set is without the woman plaguing hus dreams. Regardless of which meaning you ascribe to the song, he realizes his destiny, which is foretold in “Silent In the Morning.”

…you’ve found your voice
It brings me to my knees
The volume just increases
The resounding echoes grow
Till once again I bask in morning stillness, I love so

The imagery of bringing him “to his knees” can symbolize in devotion or helplessness.  The final lines are the emotional peak, as he is resolute in reuniting with his estranged love, or conversely forcing himself into more promises he knows he can’t keep.  Ultimately, he knows he’ll be better without her; he’d rather “brush her off” and move on.  The poignant final lines of the song are sung in a round.

I will not dismiss you, shelter you, speak with you
Smile at you, trust in me, he’d like to brush you off, and I’d agree

The “morning” is not only symbolic of the end of his dreams, but also the dawning of his newly intentioned life, one way or the other.  Through the darkness the dreamer quests for a new beginning with hope and redemption.

Though Phish has created quasi-concept albums after this in Billy Breathes, Story of the Ghost, and somewhat less so, Undermind;   Rift remains the strongest example of perfectly executing a coherent musical narrative.  Lyrically rich and musically diverse, the album remains as the last relic of the “old” Phish.  Starting with “Hoist,” Phish would put much more money and production into their albums, working with famed producers from Steve Lillywhite to Bryce Goggin.  While each of their future albums took on a certain character of its own, you will find few that will argue with Rift as the most intriguing Phish album of all time.





0af84b4652dadb9e49d12904a54de7e14gOK!  We’ve worked out a few kinks, and the PHISH THOUGHTS TICKET EXCHANGE board is ready to roll.   The board is something that the public can look at, but you must send an email request to ticketexchange@phishthoughts.com with your email address in the subject line, and a funny joke as the text in order to add an entry.  An invite to the board will be sent to the email you provide. Remember this is a trading board, but also a place you can buy face value extras from fans who have them!

If and when you complete a successful transaction, please, as a courtesy, send an email to ticketexchange@phishthoughts.com with “Great Success!” in the subject line and the details of the transaction in the text.  This is so we can track transactions.

I must make a disclaimer that I am not responsible for any of the transactions that go awry on this board.  It is a community resource that must be used with respect.  If we do so, there should be no problem. You can click here or the link above until I find a place for a permalink!



6.25.97 L’Aeronef, Lille, France < LINK

phish-prague-97Out of the of many adventurous outings that made up Europe Summer ’97, this one was one of the best.  The first set was filled with new songs that had yet to make their US debut, while the second set is one of the best of the entire summer.  The first half was dominated by a monstrous and funked out “Disease” that became the norm for Summer ’97, with a pre-US “Piper” wedged in the middle.  This show marked the first ever appearance of “Meatstick,” with the band improvisationally chanting/singing the chorus over a tight chugging jam.  The set ending Antelope also smokes.

I: Oblivious Fool, Dogs Stole Things, Taste, Billy Breathes, AC/DC Bag, The Old Home Place, Theme From the Bottom, Wading in the Velvet Sea, I Saw It Again, Limb By Limb, My Soul

II: Down With Disease > Piper > Down With Disease > Meatstick* > McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters > Makisupa Policeman > Cecilia^ > HYHU > Rocko William > Run Like an Antelope+

E: Guyute

*New original.  ^Simon & Garfunkel cover, sung by Fish.  +Trey introduces the whole band and crew.

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201 Responses to “Rift – The Concept Album”

  1. Matso Says:

    Btw, just to say, I love the nonsense of the early years as well as the mammoth compositions, but Rift did feel seem like a maturing and honing of that craft – the lyrics still flow off the tongue and are pleasing in and of themselves aside from any question of content, just like the early stuff, but are made even better by their meaning.

  2. camman Says:

    I’;m defintiely hoping for some of these tunes at bonnaroo, i would lvoe to boogie down to “it’s ice”.. maybe they’ll even through a mamoth segway in the middle of it…

  3. camman Says:

    after all of yesterdays excitement… ive defintiely crashed….

  4. bhizzle Says:

    Thanks for the promo vid Miner. Sweet from beginning to end, especially that segment where Mike and Fish are jamming. And Fish with the Vac and gong.

    As much as I love Rift I have never connected the songs together. After the explanation I wonder how I could’ve missed. Just getting lost in the music I guess.

    @nonoyolker -God bless the days of Fish’s goggle glasses.

  5. Wax Banks Says:

    Miner sez, re: ‘Horn’:

    He thinks of how she has beaten him down, yet he still yearns for the past, wishing to tell her, “I’ll pick you up at eight as usual, listen for my horn.”

    I don’t think this interpretation fits the song or the cycle. This seems more plausible to me: the last line is an admission that even though he knows he’s better off getting away, he’ll keep going through the motions, because he’s So In Love (or what gets mislabeled ‘love’). It’s a song-cycle about being trapped, after all, and this is one of the moments at which he realizes/admits he’s not able to do anything on his own behalf, that he’s the trap.

    The ‘as usual’ turn is the key: let’s keep with the routine and I’m sure things will work out. Well, that’s always bullshit, without exception. But morning comes and he starts to get it, a little.

    ‘All Things Reconsidered’ functions in its album context a little like ‘The Oh Kee Pah Ceremony’ at shows: as a variegating, complicating warmup to another song, this time the initially-dead-simple ‘Mound,’ which looks like a reprieve after ATR’s prog-fugue multifariousness, then turns into its own sort of echo/delay mindfuck.

    Your interpretation of the final songs seems off, to me; if the last songs are about freedom, I imagine it’s freedom from the relationship that the singer seeks. ‘I can not…shelter you, speak with you, smile at you trusting me’?? Those sure as hell don’t sound like words of devotion! And a lover/wife who’ll ‘bring me to my knees’ is both a romantic figure and a desperate one. You might say thinking of love as pleasant subjugation is precisely the trap described in the song ‘Horn.’

    I agree that Rift is in some ways Phish’s best album; certainly it contains their most interesting and ambitious batch of songs, tighter and ‘songier’ than Junta‘s multipart stuff, vastly more cohesive than Picture of Nectar (which is a party album for nerds, closer to They Might Be Giants than the Phish of Rift). But it’s also unsuccessful in one crucial sense: near as I can tell, no one but Phish fans actually likes the damn thing. The ‘single’ is beautiful but it’s an adult-contemporary ballad; the closer is gorgeous but it’s an album track, meaning you have to get through that middle section; and the middle and opener are overrun with crazy vocal arrangements, looming horror-movie chord changes, the aggressively idiosyncratic sound of Phish, and (for some people) deal-breakers like Mike and Trey’s voices and the band’s jokey side.

    Hell, I think ‘It’s Ice’ might be Phish’s best song, combining all that’s good about ‘David Bowie’ with a vocal melody that’s all the more impressive for the number of modulations and turns it makes and takes. But it doesn’t exactly welcome in a new listener. The logic is there, and wonderful, but usually not on the first listen – and the whole album is like that. All those echoing/looping vocals add up over time, but how do you turn someone on to it? I owned Rift for a couple of years before I became a Phish fan; it was just too much. That goes for a lot of listeners, I think – and for a rock’n’roll band, however arty/proggy/jazzy/experimental/Phishy, that imposing quality is something worth working against. The band didn’t find their balance until Billy Breathes – still their best album, on the terms we use to talk about everyone else‘s stuff.

  6. Chalkdustin Says:

    So Ticketmaster and Live Nation might merge….disaster or good idea?


  7. Wax Banks Says:

    Addendum to previous post: I can see how/why you’d arrive at a ‘love conquers all’ interpretation of Rift, but my objection is twofold:

    1) the lyrics seem to indicate something else;

    2) ‘love conquers all’ is nonsense.

  8. colonelforbinn Says:

    @ Jordan, I found a post on a different forum asking for volunteers. I sent it in the night before the announcement and heard back yesterday. Its through a ‘private’ vendor, so I’m not volunteering through Bonnaroo if that makes sense. But apparently they were flooded with applications yesterday after the announcement so I’m not sure they have anymore spots available.

    Let me know if you do end up going though

    here’s a vote to making a message board > chat room

  9. MangoMan Says:

    I hate ticketmaster but it might be a good idea bc as we all know.. LiveNation cannot handle the demand for Phish Tickets!

  10. camman Says:

    i thinks its a horrible idea chalkdustin…… the service charges will end up being mroe then the actual ticket…

  11. Danny B Says:

    Thank You for the ticket board!!!! I posted a negative comment yesterday, and I totally withdraw it. I was under the impression that it was for ticket trading only. Granted it may be a little easier to make a trade at this stage in the game, but at least this gives me some hope, since I am without tickets. And keep up the good work, rift is a great album, and is only second to Story of The Ghost in my opinion, but both are great. Story also seems to be themed, although a little more loosely, but “End of session” really shows what they could have acheived in the studio had they improvised a bit more. The siket Disc also has some great moments from that time period. Now I’m excited to get home from work and throw on Rift. Thanks again

  12. BingosBrother Says:

    Wow, that video was amazing! Great promo for a great record. For anyone who’s interested, the artist who created the rift cover is selling 100 signed and numbered Giclee prints on his website davidwelker.com
    Also great work on the ticket exchange, I hope everyone gets what they need. Cheers.

  13. camman Says:

    i’m about to listen to rift stright thru….

  14. dyda Says:

    oooohhh rock-a-william… nice.
    have seen the you tube video of some of the 6.25.97 show but now i have another rare song for download.

    rift is my favorite phish album. just feels like the most complete one. then again i’m partial to concept albums having grown up on floyd.

    over 420 posts yesterday. great job!

  15. Mr. Icculus Says:

    Thx you mr miner i enjoy reading your work.

  16. Chalkdustin Says:

    Ticketbastard + Live Nation = monopoly

  17. c0wfunk Says:

    in summer 2000 I remember the songs from Rift making a “comeback” .. suddenly Ice, Rift, My Friend were staples, where they had been rarities before. Still haven’t gotten another mound since my first show, when I had no clue what it was — I just remember the Blue lights and “time .. time .. time .. time .. time .. time” heh.

    The round at the end of silent in the morning to me has always symbolized a dysfunctional relationship ..

    “the shelter you, smile at you, trust in me” representing the way many people will not share everything with their mate, in order to make things simpler .. and then laugh and brush it off and just agree to move forward, though you don’t really agree at all.

    Dunno, that’s just how it spins out in my head.

  18. camman Says:

    we need some kind of a message board going on cause 427 posts is redunkulious….. thats the msot on this site so far right?

  19. camman Says:

    i agree chalkdustin.. but what can we do? it seems like maybe congress is looking into… i wouldn’t expect too much to come of that though…

  20. camman Says:

    so rift came out on 2.2.93?

    i wasn’t even two years old man…

  21. bhizzle Says:

    I turned 18 exactly that day.

  22. camman Says:

    haah so you……. 72 right bhizzle?

  23. bhizzle Says:


  24. camman Says:

    im just screwing with you man

  25. bhizzle Says:

    word camman….I wasn’t sure if you were trying to state an age or trying to state the year of birth. I was about to say something to the effect of you needing to keep your ass in school for longer.

    “not even 2″….psssstt..

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