Of all the musical genres in which Phish dabbles, reggae is, perhaps, the least significant. With mere passages of “Harry Hood” and “Slave” flirting with a roots-based groove, “Makisupa Policeman” is Phish’s lone original foray into the genre. A relic from the band’s stonier days, “Makisupa” is actually the first known publicly played Phish original, making its debut on 10.23.84. Mentioning this fact in Philadelphia on 11.29.03, Trey also also noted that its lyrics were written by Tom Marshall as a kid. Though it was the “original Phish song,” the band’s homage to ganja has been somewhat of a rarity throughout their career. Always eliciting comedic cheers with Trey’s chosen “keyword,” “Makisupa” is Phish’s only musical reference to many fans’ recreational smoke. Usually highlighted by the creative dub lines of Gordon, this song has played multiple roles throughout Phish’s career.
One way that “Makisupa” has appeared in Phish shows has been as a set opener- accounting for about half of its appearances dating back to December ’94. Furthermore, many of these set, and show, openers have paved the way for outstanding stanzas in high profile shows. Examples include Worcester 12.29.95, The Clifford Ball 8.16.96, The Great Went 8.16.97, The Spectrum 12.28.96, and The Gorge 7.17.98. A relaxing way to ease into a set, Phish usually kept these versions succinct, juxtaposing them with something far more intense, as in the popular combination of “Makisupa > Maze.” Below are two examples of set-opening “Makisupas” with their accompanying pieces.
A second use for Phish’s quasi-reggae composition emerged in 1995—a landing point for, or an interlude between, adventurous psychedelia. Instead of employing the mellow music as a lead-in to something big, or simply within a string of standalone songs, Phish began to use the reggae rhythms as a gentle pillow from raucous exploration. Three illustrative examples of this “relieving” use of “Makisupa” came on 7.2.95 at Sugarbush out of a grinding jam in “Runaway Jim,” 10.22.95’s at Champaign in “Tweezer > Makisupa > BBFCFM,” and Dayton’s 11.30.95 Nutter Center performance of “Tweezer -> Makisupa -> Antelope.” Once the late ’90s hit, “Makisupa” was used far more sparingly in this role.
As the years moved on, Phish devised a third tactical use of “Makisupa”—the developed second set version, as typified by the song’s seminal rendition on 11.19.97 in Champaign’s Assembly Hall. At times, Phish treated the song as a springboard for contained improv, especially in 1999 when Trey added a keyboard to his set up. Instances during that fall where the band stretched the reggae groove out a were 9.28.99 in Pelham, AL, 10.4.99 in Normal, IL, and Hartford Civic Center’s version on 12.12.99.
“Makisupa” 11.19.97 II
“Makisupa” 9.28.99 II
Though not used too frequently over the years, “Makisupa” always seems to pop up at the right time. To begin a hot summer evening or to conclude a dark extended jam, “Makisupa” is more often than not placed in a show with care. Because, hey, when you’ve only got one reggae song, you’ve gotta be careful what you do with it!
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12.12.99 Hartford Civic Center, Hartford, CT
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This is a dark horse show within a red-hot December ’99 run. Featuring a show-defining “Drowned,” a standout “Caspian,” and a blistering “Antelope,” this show somehow slips through most conversational cracks. This show also carried a heavy first set “Stash,” and a subject appropriate, mid-second-set “Makisupa.”
I: Heavy Things, AC/DC Bag, Strange Design, The Divided Sky, Beauty of My Dreams, Bug, Stash, Chalkdust Torture
II: Drowned > Prince Caspian, The Squirming Coil, Makisupa Policeman, Run Like an Antelope
E: Runaway JimTags: Jams, Openers, Songs