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”

  1. hairy pood Says:

    looks like it was taken at the climax of 2001. its been a while for me, but i clearly remember that moment being very white

  2. Frankie Says:

    Good topic Mr. Miner! While my favorite moments have already been mentionned, i have to say the composed section of Reba, followed by the punches, and then the jam release, is probably my favorite Phish moment of all time! Listening to a new version or one that i don’t remember hearing and being totally in the moment with what everyone is playing while i’m walking or biking, is one of the great joys of my life!


  3. Chalkdustin Says:

    Oh boy, where to begin. Reba jam, definitely. Set the gearshift for the high gear of your soul. Can’t I live while I’m young. Hood drop, of course, and Divided Sky pause. Gives me chills. Stash build up and peak- the orgasm, as I refer to it. The guitar solo in Mexican Cousin gets me too.

  4. nonoyolker Says:

    Ooh, great topic. I love the drop into jams after the composed sections of bowie, stash, and reba. That part where the planned ends and unknown lies ahead. The quiet moment for the boys to set the tone, just before they set out on their mission. Love that moment…

  5. Matso Says:

    Not the opening lick of Tweezer, but the first break, where Page usually gets to do something fun on the clav (frequently with some feedback from Trey underneath). That’s the point where you’ve been through the motions (it’s sometimes a long and routine 4.5 minutes to there) and there’s just the big Ebenezer to come with full blown abstraction before they land back down into the jam and take off. I also get super psyched when I hear that break.

    Oh yeah, and the high-pitched locomotion notes signaling Possum.

  6. Chalkdustin Says:

    Also “Come waste your time with me,” the guitar in Horn, the first notes in Tweezerprise…giggity, dear lord I can’t wait until I see the boys again.

  7. In Flagrante Delicto Says:

    This one is actually not as well done by Phish as on the original recording, but there is a brief pause, just a moment, before Jimmy Page (or Trey) lays down a flurry of notes in the first Good Times Bad Times solo. Freaking kills me. It’s almost like a quick, sharp inhale before a huge exhale of notes.

  8. johnny the boy Says:

    As much as i love the DWD drop, i really LOVE when the DWD funk coalesces back into the classic DWD trey guitar lick. this doesn’t always happen (it didn’t in hampton, for example).

  9. Dr SF Jones Says:

    Any time I hear a secret language signal is always a very cool moment.

  10. Mdawg Says:

    My favorite drop was when Phish dropped the Star Spangled Banner as the set opener on us at Phenway Park back in the summer of 2009!


  11. SOAM Says:

    I really like after the lyrics end in AC/DC Bag (Carry me Down) there is a decension and then BANG- a high sick note-sustain and I just start to fucking powertweak.

    8/13/96 -sick

  12. OlFactoryHugh Says:

    How about the moment when they start singing A capella and it’s NOT Hello My Baby?

  13. JerZ Says:

    I don’t think that I fully appreciated it until Hampton- but there are several of these moments within one Fluffhead. I also love once 2001 starts to come together and form the nuts and bolts of the jam. I took your recommendation on the way down to Hampton and went back and listened to the Lemonwheel 2001 and it really took me back- there were some of those moments where I thought I was going to explode

  14. Al Says:

    Fluff went to a banker..asking for some bills, the banker said I ain’t got that but i sure have some powerful pills, oh yeahhh

  15. Jed Says:

    The reba drop is my favorite, such a simple bass line that starts the jam and as it develops with the band adding their own textures. good stuff…
    Also love when they bust out a ohkeepah cuz usually it goes into a suzy but remember the island tour in providence with ohkeepah dropping into yem? Epic….good topic miner

  16. themanatee Says:

    great topic.
    number one is definitely the hood drop – that sacred moment brims with such anticipation for me that at any time of any time listenting to any hood it will easily send chills throughout my body , sometimes i am expecting this , sometimes it surprises me. funny thing is, i think i am so used to it that at shows i expect it and sometimes it doesn’t happen. talk about needing to be in the moment without any expectations!

    the doo-wop beginning to Halley’s is big for me too. I am so moved by the hooks in the composed section of Halley’s that the beginning lets me know i am approaching bliss.

    the slave drop, the mikes drop, the reba drop, … hmmm…actually the drop into a wolfman’s jam – “the whole shirley temple” lyrics (at least from the album) that lead into that signify an impending journey as well…

  17. matt1w Says:

    love near the end of Gumbo lyrics section when Trey drops out and you get the drum beat…

    “there ain’t no (*) time to stash the (*) Gumbo…”

    * w/ Mike singing his “chooooooo” thing to set the lay the heavy beat…

    …then they lay out some ridiculous 8/13/97 funk

  18. Dan Says:

    The tickling of the ivories at the beginning of vultures. One of my absolute favorites!!! Had the opportunity to see them play it a few times, and every single time it got me. Also agree on the opening of tube.

  19. Jay Says:

    beautiful photo at the bottom Mr. Miner (01-phish-preview.jpg)

  20. hawkinbj Says:

    Man – and I’m serious about this – nothing gives me goosebumps like that last little chord progression and the final strumming of the D chord in Theme From the Bottom. There are some REALLY explosive TFTB jams that just give me goosebumps and bring a huge smile to face 🙂

  21. Frankie Says:

    First i heard and surely my favorite Theme is 8.9.97 Alpine opener! The jam is so good and throws you right in for the evening of music ahead for the next two nights… Awesome choice!

  22. Matso Says:

    Not sure if this was floated yesterday, but how about a Foreplay/Longtime opener at Fenway?

    “It’s been such a long time!!!”

    (Still one of my favourite phreak out moments at GW99. Trey just rocked that one! Btw, Miner, how a weekend double of those two shows sometime?)

  23. Chalkdustin Says:

    One of my favorites is in First Tube when, after Trey is done pounding that one note, the song erupts and Ck goes crazy with the lights seizure-style.

  24. Frankie Says:

    Good call Matso! Love that! Done ’94 style! 😀

    Also, thanks for the story of your first live Phish experience last saturday… I could really picture it and it put a smile on my face. I was 13 and the first tape i bought was Jimi Plays Monterey ’cause it had a guitar on fire on the cover and looked cool! I didn’t know what i was in for… 🙂

  25. Frankie Says:

    I meant i was 13 at the time of that show… Killing Floor opener! 😀

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