The Moments Before

Hampton (A.Kuroda)

Hampton (A.Kuroda)

Beyond sets, songs, and jams, Phish shows are made up of a series of moments.  Some of these moments seem frozen in time, allowing us to soak in the energy before moving on.  One of the special aspects of a Phish show is that everyone holds different moments in their hearts.  The band’s musical snippets and licks speak to everyone differently, personalizing the communal experience of a show.

These Phishy moments are those split seconds where you think you might explode from being so happy, so excited, so pumped and “in the now;”  those times where your thoughts transform into physical sensations and shoot through your soul, reminding you of just how real your experience is.  Often, these are the moments directly preceding colossal improv, readying you for what is about to erupt.

While improvisational triumphs are the fabric of our Phish addiction, there are plenty of these composed moments within a show that speak to us in a similarly inspiring way.  Precursors to the most serious improvisation, they are signposts along the road that read, “Danger! Phish Bombs Ahead!”  While all of these soundbites are meaningless on their own, placed in the context of their respective songs, they are the gateways to the heavens.  Here are some of my favorites:

The Drop Into the “Mike’s” Jam

Hampton (R.Siegal)

Hampton (R.Siegel)

Few moments carry more bombastic anticipation than the back and forth guitar licks immediately preceding the drop into “Mike’s.”  Preparing for a dark and sinister adventure, when this ultimate bomb drops, my head verges on bursting every single time.  Clutching my heart with the grips of their music, Gordon pounds away his initial pattern, leading the evil march.  These initial seconds of a “Mike’s” jam comprise one of the most powerful Phish moments, as the band prepares to take us on a ride to the center of the earth.

The Antelope “Jump” Guitar Lick

Hampton (R.Siegal)

Hampton (R.Siegel)

As Phish busts into the onset of an “Antelope” jam, they always hit a composed groove, directing them into the thick of it all.  Yet before they make the final plunge, Trey’s signature lick to me has always represented a sprinting Antelope leaping high into the air amidst a hurried escape.  This lick, composed of few notes, is the last signal before the band descends into the depths of an “Antelope” jam.  This metaphorical lick represents the band’s launching point, while conjuring a vivid mental image.

“Thank You Mr. Hood”

Hampton (R.Siegal)

Hampton (R.Siegel)

This moment, in one of the band’s earliest and most defining songs, exists as a sacred point in the Phish canon.  Following a gorgeous composition and a heavy musical interlude, these lyrics, sung in harmony by the band, are the last words we hear before Phish enters one of their most uplifting pieces of improvisation.  Used as a melodic device, this lyric dissolves into the ethereal textures of the “Hood” jam.  Like magic carpet rides through divine musical atmospheres, “Hood” jams are the stuff of dreams and catharsis.  With sublime interlaced melodies that seem to derive from another plane, it is here that Phish channels the higher powers – and it all happens after thanking Mr. Hood.

The Climax of the First Half of “You Enjoy Myself”

1998 (B.Brecheisen)

Fall '98 (B.Brecheisen)

An opus that combines the band’s eclectic composition with their loosest improvisation, “YEM” is the best of both worlds.  Often cited as the definitive piece of Phish music, “YEM” has been a staple for decades.  Connecting the divergent halves of the song is Phish’s most high-energy composed climax.  Following almost ten minutes of tight playing, Phish revs it up, not once but twice, before crashing into the colorful Jello funk with a resounding “Boy!”  Few moments in any show approach the point when Trey holds that note, staring at the sky, white beams blazing, as the band chugs beneath him.  Then comes the build- then BAM!- in a split-second the funk hits like you’ve splash landed in a pool of crystalline water.

The “Reba” Drop

Hampton (J.DiGiuseppe)

Hampton (J.DiGiuseppe)

Much like “YEM,” “Reba” features a ridiculously intricate opening section before loosening into a groove.  “Reba” contains some of the most complex playing in any Phish song and juxtaposed against its laid-back bass heavy jam, the composition seems even more tightly wound.  Following the fugue in the song, the band enters a pattern of collective hits that lead into the most blissful drop in all of Phishland.  As the gates to the flowing river of “Reba” are opened, you are guaranteed some of the most gorgeous music of the night.  Sailing away into a sea of euphoric grooves, paradise awaits.

The Opening Lick Of “Tweezer”

Hampton (P.)

Hampton (P.McGuire)

“Tweezers” routinely brings such adventure, adrenaline, and everything I am looking for in a Phish jam, that it takes nothing more than the opening guitar lick to bring me to the brink.  Especially when taken by surprise by this lick, like at Hampton’s comeback show, my heart virtually skips a beat as soon as the first note emanates from Trey’s guitar.  This level of adrenaline generally continues until the jam drops when all thought processes cease.  But that first lick of the song has been known to cause extreme reactions from me.

“An Asteroid Crashed…”

Similar to “Tweezer’s” dynamic, but not nearly on the same level, when Phish cannonballs into “Tube” with this lyric, all one can think about is the deep, layered funk that will surround them in a minute or two.  This moment was even more potent some years ago when “Tube” didn’t appear as much, and then took on new meaning as the song began to emerge as a jam vehicle.  Few moments are as universally exciting as the opening of “Tube.”

There are plenty of other moments that get all of us emotionally fired up for what is ahead, but when sifting through them all, these came out as my favorites.  Anticipation is one of the greatest emotions involved in the Phish experience.  The anticipation of waiting for shows to come, the anticipation that engulfs you all day before the show; the anticipation once you get inside the venue, waiting for the lights to go out- but none of these emotions approach the immediate anticipation of an impending Phish jam on the threshold of explosion.

What are your favorite pre-jam moments of Phish?  Share in Comments below!


Hampton – Photo: Unknown



10.22.96 MSG, NYC < LINK




Here is the second show of a two-night stand in early in Fall ’96.  With great playing all the way through and a killer setlist, this is one of the few shows that really stood out during the pre-Halloween east coast run of 1996.  Featured are great performances of “YEM” and “Mike’s Groove” and “Disease.”

I: The Curtain > Runaway Jim, Bouncing Around the Room, It’s Ice, Talk, Split Open and Melt, Sparkle, Free, You Enjoy Myself

II: Also Sprach Zarathustra > Down With Disease, Taste, The Mango Song, Lawn Boy, Scent of a Mule, Mike’s Song > Swept Away > Steep > Weekapaug Groove*

E: All Along the Watchtower**

*With The Madison Scare Garden dancers towards the end. **With Buddy Miles on drums, Merl Saunders on keyboards, and Fish on Trey’s mini-drum kit.

Source: B&K 4021s > EAA PSP-2 > DA-P1 > D(1) – ORTF / OTS (10F10 row 5)

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185 Responses to “The Moments Before”

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  1. Cellar Door Says:

    One of my favorite “drops” is during David Bowie. Right after the tightly wound ascension and back and forth play between Trey and Fish, there is that part where the floor just comes out and you know that something you never heard before will soon assault your ears. You know how the jam will eventually end up (the crazy speed-up-slow-down section) but you don’t really know which wavelength the band will choose to ride along the way… oh yeah….

  2. EJ Says:

    “Set the gearshift for the high gear of your soul.
    You’ve got to run like an antelope: out of control. ”

    ….I get chills almost everytime I hear this part.

  3. EJ Says:

    It’s not a “drop,” I know, but it’s a defining part of Phish in my heart.

  4. Ryan Schloffel Says:

    Um…isn’t it “Thank you Mr. Miner”??

    Either way, I’ve always noticed how similiar the drumming intros of David Bowie and Maze are….I always feel this sense of wonder: “Is it Bowie or Maze”

    And amen on the beginning of the Reba jam…I always love the beginning when Trey gets on the neck of the guitar, glides and noodles around for about 15-30 seconds.

    Last one…the silence (except for heads in the crowd going nuts) during Divided Sky? Absolutely priceless….

  5. James Says:

    the very beginning of “Free” always gets me.

  6. Mugician Says:

    The Hood Drop, the Divided Silence, the Slave Drop and the Fly Famous Mocking Bird Drop for me. But really, I get chills really easily from just hearing a Phish tune start. Like Waste, the opening chords remind me of the beautiful solo that happens at the end; Taste is just a great song all around; the Intro into Piper… the list goes on.

    I love the rim tap/kick drum beat Fish plays to start off “Bouncing” too. God, I’m still stuck on what song is going to be my first live one… I am SO excited. Fuck. 4 months. I can’t believe I have that long to wait. It’s already eating me up.

    PS – are there any other really good versions of Fly Famous floating around? I’ve only heard one other and it wasn’t so hot.

  7. Dbone Says:

    Many good ones have been mentioned by Mr. Miner and others. A couople of additional ones that come to mind for me are Trey’s sort of ascending chords that lead into the DWD jam – not when he actually plays the individual notes, but when the energy is building and he hits those three or four chords ascending towards it.

    2001 drum beat by Fishman. Its a different kind of anticipation because it doesn’t necessarily signal a direct drop into a huge jam, but it is usually such a powerful and clean beat that just sits there and sets the stage for an extended super-funk-groove.

    there are plenty more, too many do name right now.

    @Ryan it is thank you mr. miner a couple of times but the harmonizing on the lyrics that signal the real departure are thank you mr. hooooooood (with the hood drawn out like that).

  8. Mugician Says:

    Another one of my Phish moments happens twice during My Friend My Friend. Once when they go into the song from the instrumental section at the beginning and then again when Trey hits that huge solo after the insane build up. Hampton is a great example. I could watch the HD Hampton video of My Friend My Friend all day every day for the rest of my life. Really strikes a chord with me (pun intended).

    Sorry for detracting from the “pre-jam” thing. The Phish thing just happens too often for me.

  9. Ryan Schloffel Says:

    @ Dbone…

    Duh…How dare I? Hahahaha

  10. Dr SF Jones Says:

    Not really a jam either, but the guitar lead from Horn is always something that touches me. I was carrying my daughter around the house listening to the Hampton No Spoilers and she started to get a bit cranky and tired. Then Horn started and I knew that her “Uncle Trey” would have her sleeping nicely in a few short minutes. Sure enough….zzzzzzzzzz.

  11. Dr SF Jones Says:

    Was it for this for my life I sought? Maybe So and Maybe Not…..

  12. Dr SF Jones Says:

    Melt….. Split Open And Melt.

  13. Al Says:

    Plunge in the d-chord of THEME solo, Bowie drop, drop into BIRDS solo, BLACK BOOM…Wilson, Melt…split open & melt, ‘CAUSE WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER AND WE LOOVE TO TAKE A BATH!

  14. Litteringand Says:

    Omm pah pah. Never heard one live but my legs might fall off if i did

  15. Ortweezer reprise Says:

    The clicks of trey’s rhthym guitar to set the tempo right before they drop into the intro of punch you in the eye

  16. Read Icculus Says:

    …come from the north where the oceans freeze, spent three long months on the open sea.

  17. Read Icculus Says:

    ….during the PYITE at Hampton, about 2.5 -3 minutes in, when transitioning fronm lyrics to jam, the band stretches the music back then realeases it just like a rubber band. It is incredible. I haved sat and listened over and over to this. At thiat point in the show my friend actually fell over trying to keep in step I didn’t it realize at the time but listening to that preformance it becomes clear………..Phish never fails to amaze.

  18. hairy pood Says:

    Asteroid Crashed, first chords to slave, yelling wooo on twist, because its a moment when we all get hyped for whats to come.

    Any funk vehicles- wolfman’s, ghost, moma, etc. usually get me pumped from the start, in anticipation of dancing. when trey nails the telephone ring on wolfman’s, that’s a grin that eats extra shit coming from my direction.

    Certain points of songs that aren’t always leading into jams, but sometimes coming directly out of them have special places in my heart, too. Run, run, run, run… gets me running, jumoing, hooting and generally a little wild. During the part of bowie that cellar door called “the crazy speed-up-slow-down section,” at the end, I have a patented dance I made up at Alpine that kind of involves stumble-like-your-about-to-fall-over durin the ‘slow down’ section, and massive metal headbanging/fist pump thrashing during the speed up part.

    Another big music fueled adrenaline/dopamine rush for me comes during a song that is essentially through-composed, and was often hated on during the later years- The triumphant three chords about 3/4 of the way through “Guyute.” (Right after the ascending fast riff) Slo-mo fist pumps and all.
    [[Ba- Ba BA Ba ba ba, ba ba ba, Baa baaa :]]

    And, of course, the first notes of whatever song opens the show.

  19. Pence Says:

    Dont you see anything that you’d like to trrryyyyyy. Then the drop into theme jam. Gives me chils just writing about it. And DWD drop.

  20. hairy pood Says:

    I didn’t even know I had been “jumoing” so much!!!

  21. Pence Says:

    btw, thats my favorite photo from Hampton. Just a little bit more than that ROY G BIV photo.

  22. Pence Says:

    the one at the bottom before the comments.

  23. AbePhroman Says:

    When they go back into the Melt theme at the end.

    Trey’s chord in the final chorus before the Ghost jam.
    “…the story of the ghost…BWAHHHHHHH”

  24. Ed Says:

    In ‘Limb by Limb,’ the final chorus right before the jam. They say Liiiiiimb byyyyyyyyy LIMB – and everything gets real quiet. This is a major “phish drop” moment, because that quiet is followed up with the CRASHING SMASHING jam that follows. WOW!

  25. camman Says:

    Without a doubt, the three songs that get the “It” reaction from me all have to do with fishmans narly drums…. Weekapaug, 2001, and Harry Hood. The opening of all three songs depend on him and whenever i here him begin to pound out one of those beats… my foot usually starts a tapping… soon followed by full body convulsions in sync with the nasty grooves…

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