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. guyforget Says:

    Miner, i sent an email to be invited to the ticket exchange, how long does it take for you guys to send me an invite??

  2. showhe Says:

    This is how we stop scalpers from getting all the tickets (our non-profit version of scalping), as long as any extras we get we distribute to real phans. I for one don’t ask others to get me tickets (call me a purist if you want, or an idiot) but I just can’t bring myself to try to beat the system that way but don’t let me stop you.

    I think I’ve had 2 shows open with MFMF and I love it as an opener…

    7/31/98 and 7/12/00

  3. guyforget Says:

    showhe, the epic 7/30/03 opened with MFMF, and right then i knew it was gonna be something sick.


  4. showhe Says:

    I got a wedding gift in the mail and the card read:

    My friend, my friend he’s got a knife.
    My friend, my friend he’s got a wife.

    It was a very nice butcher knife sent from an old roommate and tour buddy.

    Let’s knife!

  5. Los Says:

    I luv pHISH!!!! Sooo tastety!!!

    Miner this site keeps me busy when I hood be working!!!

    Luv the dialogue…

    Thanks pholks…

  6. elbows Says:

    “(call me a purist if you want, or an idiot)”

    Ha! That’s how I always feel, too…like maybe I’m doing a ‘good’ thing, but most likely I’m just being an idiot and limiting my chances. That’s funny, showhe.

    Davey: Nice! Utah, huh? I used to live in Jamestown, Co ( about an hour from RR), I doubt I still know anybody there, but I could probably help navigate some cool stuff, maybe get in touch with a pad to crash at.

  7. Billy Breathes Says:

    It’s Ice is one of their BEST. Hands down classic PHISH.

  8. c0wfunk Says:

    clod, thanks for the link re: ticketsnow & ticketmaster & the congressman. Maybe out little petition needs to find its way into that guy’s hands. Who was it posting that link last week? Fulltour? Guy? I can’t remember..

    and beware: if you start the rift puzzle, you will find yourself in a very BLUE place for a while. It can be nice, but just watch out. 😉

  9. snigglebeach Says:

    Elbows, order as many as u can. Can’t beat em’ join em. that’s how i did it.

    And like Showhe says, better you than the greedy scalpers. If u get extras you always know someone or can come on here and hook up with regular phan.

    It’s called a lottery. U can buy 1 Megabucks ticket or a million. more chances u take better your chance of hitting the jackpot. But while a 1000 megabucks tickets probably won’t get u shit, PHISH LOTTERY PAYS. So take your chances.

    That TM – TiksNow thing in New Jersey is sweet. glad to see someone going after those jerks. Hope u voted for that guy if u live in NJ.
    Same old crap, they hold every ticket back, screw the artist, and TiksNow makes a fortune. I bet they even make it look like TM is losing money or breaking even to get tax breaks, meanwhile TiksNow must be one of the most profitable businesses in the world. I hate them so much i could strangle them, yet we should prob all invest in their stock.

  10. Billy Breathes Says:

    sniggle…not sure i agree with that theory…but i am curious, how did you do with the lottery? did you get pavilions? did you get all the shows you wanted? VERY CURIOUS!

    read entire paragraph:
    There is a limit of one ticket request per credit card. As a security measure, Phish Tickets will accept only one unique credit card number for each ticket request. If you attempt to place additional ticket requests with the same credit card number, all requests will be rejected. In addition, we will be filtering out multiple ticket requests made by the same person at the same billing address using different credit cards. Attempts to make multiple ticket requests by the same person at the same address may result in a low priority assignment or even rejection of your requests.

  11. guyforget Says:

    funk, if you don’t mind me calling you that, not me posting the link.
    sniggle – i being born and raised in NJ, can attest to two things, don’t mess with Jerseyites when it somes to The Boss or Bon Jovi!!!

  12. elbows Says:

    Well…if I score extras I promise they will be distrubuted here…Of course, I’m kind of overlooking the fact that Red Rocks is still a rumor…

    What are your thoughts on reserving a hotel just in case? Can you cancel w/no charge at ALL hotels, or just certain ones?

  13. showhe Says:

    Most hotels will let you cancel reservations up to at least 48 hrs in advance, some as little at 24 hrs.. They should tell you what the policy is when you are ready to book the room.

  14. Davey Says:

    I used to work at a hotel. Just ask for their cancelation policy and they will tell you. Just remember to do it before you get screwed. Also a MUST to ask is if your card is just to hold the room or if the amount gets charged upon booking. I have a hotel that’s really close to RR at the moment and I’ll stuff as many of you dudes in there as I can if someone can get me a ticket.

    So recap,
    “Hi I’d like to book such and such days.”
    “Will my card be charged right now? Or is it just to hold the room and it will be charged upon check-in.”
    “Also what is your cancellation policy?”
    “And who am I speaking with?”
    “Thank you.”

    Always get the name and write it down with your confirmation number, that way if there’s a problem you can say “Andrew told me it was this way and now its not.” Everytime someone had a name at my hotel they got whatever they wanted. “Andrew told me I could get the King Suite at $10 a night.” “Okay sir I’m so sorry.”

    I’m off to IKEA. I’ll be catching up on the convo when I get back. Just had to part with my hotel wisdom.

  15. Wax Banks Says:

    Miner sez:

    W. Banks. Learn the lyrics first!

    “I WILL NOT dismiss you, Shelter you, speak with you”

    Sadly, No! We’re both wrong this time around – it’s ‘I could not.’ I hear it as ‘I can not’ when singing the song to myself, and didn’t have the music on this morning when commenting; easy enough mistake to make. Mea culpa. Why the vituperation? Actually don’t bother answering that; I can guess.

    As for whether it’s possible for an interpretation to be ‘correct,’ Miner, I’m pretty sure you’d agree that it is possible (e.g. ‘extraordinary rendition’ and ‘rendition’ are not the same thing, so ‘interpreting’ Obama’s rendition policy as support for Bush-administration torture is incorrect), but I imagine you don’t feel such evaluation has any place in discussions of song lyrics. Well, we disagree on that score. Fortunately, even if my particular interpretation were indefensible (I don’t think it is), my framework is bog-standard close-reading stuff: a good interpretation is one the text supports, which allows us to commune more closely with the text. To me, ‘Silent’ is like The Joshua Tree: uplifting but really, really sad.

    None of which is super-duper important, not at site whose explicitly stated purpose is breeding good feelings about Phish. But if you’re gonna post a long long subliterary exegesis of Rift complete with pretty damned big claims about its quality and content, it makes sense that others who see things differently should chuck in two cents.

    Sorry if my comments are actually too long for the community. I can restrict things to ‘Dude, yeah!’ and ‘Dude, wrong‘ if you’d like!

  16. Mutha_Ohks Says:

    The only puzzle I ever finished was the Rift album cover. Lots of blue pieces.

  17. Selector J Says:

    Sorry I disappeared last night after the Cackalack show. I had to put my son to bed. The show afterwards is pretty good if you like Texas-style country. The band was called American Graveyard and from what I hear they’re popular locally. (I don’t pay much attention to that kind of stuff these days.)

    As far as tickets go, I’m with you, elbows. I’ve always only filled out one order in the lottery, too. And like you, I’ve been batting .000 so far. However, many of my friends that put in X number of orders got shut out, too. So I think you just had to be lucky this time around.

    I’m sure the IP address thing will work and I also found out recently that if you use different browsers (e.g firefox and explorer) that works because Ticketmaster gives you a cookie to prevent multiple windows in your browser from queuing. The cookie is saved in the browser but if you have two browsers, it’s two cookies. Also (I’ve done a lot of research on the subject recently), they use cookies to lock you out of the system if you refresh too many times or something. Just delete your cookies and try again. None of this stuff has scored me tickets, though. Basically, you get to buy a couple more raffle tickets this way.

  18. Billy Breathes Says:

    Wax – no need to apologize. Type as you wish. We need more critical thinkers and seasoned ears like you out here.

    Just understand that everyone can and will interpret the music as they wish…that is the beauty of music itself. Everyone relates to it in their own way, no matter the artist.

    PS – are you the guy at the phish shows that just stands there, staring and analyzing, doesn’t dance, and maybe bobs his head 3x per show?

    Aaahahaaaa! Sorry…I had to.

    Jeez pal…waaaaaaaaaaay too serious.

  19. guyforget Says:

    Dude, Wax, i actually don’t mind reading your comments, i think they’are pretty funny with your blatant attempts to sound more educated or enlightened by using such an elitist vocabulary. I’m not really sure which one it is. However, between you and the “Word of the Day” that gets delivered to my inbox each day, courtesy of Dictionary.com, i will be ready to bore anybody in no time!!

  20. Mr.Miner Says:

    “To me, ‘Silent’ is like The Joshua Tree: uplifting but really, really sad.”

    ^^ TO YOU. Exactly. That’s YOUR interpretation. Is it wring, no. Is it right, no. Its an opinion. You can cloud your opinion in as much intellectual banter as you want, but you are defending an opinion / an interpretation as fact, which, inherently, makes no sense.

    TO ME, “Silent” is a revelatory song about redemption. And just to clarify, the lyrics ARE:
    “I WILL not dismiss you….” So actually, you’re wrong on that one. 😉

    And to respond to you, I do want everyone’s 2 cents, but you’re the only one who feels the need to claim that you’re correct and that I’m wrong to put in your thoughts. It’s a discussion, not a debate

  21. Selector J Says:

    Dude, wrong!

    In the words of The Dude:
    “Well… that’s like… your opinion man.”

  22. Billy Breathes Says:

    Dude, as in The Dude of Life?!

  23. Mr.Miner Says:

    lol @ Guy, Billy and Selecta! You guys are spot on…

  24. Selector J Says:

    By the way, someone should put together a live mix of all the songs on Rift in the same sequence as on the album. I’d listen to that all day. Anybody wanna BnP me that? (Not really. Ha ha…. mail.)

  25. Full Tour: ANNOUNCED! Says:

    rift = phish’s “dark side of the moon” 🙂

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