When “Wolfman’s Brother” debuted at the Flynn Theatre on 4.4.94 in accordance with Hoist’s release a week earlier, it was nothing more than a groovy filler tune that played second-fiddle to the album’s more played anthems of “Disease,” “Julius” and “Sample In a Jar.” Early arrangements, including the Burlington debut, included horns to enhance the song’s bouncy texture. But throughout its early life, “Wolfman’s” never really found a direction, and was shelved after 6.26.94’s “Gamehoist” show for over a year.
Reemerging to open Fall Tour ’95 at Cal Expo in Sacramento, “Wolfman’s” made only sporadic appearances over the next two years. The song didn’t quite sit with Phish’s breakneck style of play, but as the band began its transformation into a millennial groove machine toward the end of ’96, the potential for the song was reinvented. On December 28th, at Philadelphia’s Spectrum, “Wolfman’s” sprouted a tail for the first time as the band extended the song’s groove for the first time ever, albeit for six minutes, foreshadowing what was to come.
During the band’s early Europe run of ’97, Phish continued peeling away the layers, seeking a certain collaborative groove-based style of play- a process that began with their cover of Remain in Light the previous Halloween. On the penultimate night of tour, on March 1st in Hamburg, Germany, Phish would realize their musical transformation during a “Wolfman’s” jam forever immortalized on Slip, Stitch, and Pass. The summer of ’97 saw several “Wolfman’s” that far surpassed anything anyone imagined from the song. Beginning during the band’s exploratory tour in Europe, “Wolfman’s” became an improvisational vehicle for deep, liquid funk grooves that defined Phish’s new musical direction, often stretching out over twenty-plus minutes. Culminating with a memorable and monster version at The Great Went, “Wolfman’s” was officially on the map as one of the newest great Phish jams.
Fall ’97 offered four versions of the song, each seemingly bigger than the next. While the band transcended mere funk in Utah, creatively working their way into “Piper,” Champaign’s version on 11.19 absolutely blew up. Boasting an extended funk jam and a subsequent foray into crazy psychedelia that incorporated a “Crosseyed” jam, this immediately stood out the as the most epic version to date. This tour would also see the longest “Wolfman’s” ever played with the well-known heavy-metal, repetitious, and surreal version from Worcester on 11.30. Famously used to birth the comeback of “Boogie On” in Dayton, after Fall ’97, “Wolfman’s” was one of the band’s most prominent launch pads.
Yet the foundation laid in ’97 as was expounded on even further in “Wolfman’s” finest year- 1998. Beginning with the Island Run’s scorching version that segued seamlessly into “Sneaking Sally” during the year’s first show, it appeared that there was no slowing down for the funk-laden vehicle. Blending seamlessly with the laid-back funk of summer tour, Phish wove multiple versions throughout the season that integrated this style and fit perfectly into summer shows. Though the summer funk was fun, some of the greatest versions ever dropped in Fall ’98.
Following the club-style grooves at The Fillmore in San Francisco, the subsequent version in Las Vegas on Halloween would become the new standard against which all are judged. Integrating Fall ’98’s textured, ambient and abstract style of jamming into the dark musical milieu of “Wolfman’s,” the result was both monstrous and mind-boggling. Taking the song on its most intense journey ever, Phish used “Wolfman’s” as the eerie, scare-the hell-out-of-you, Halloween jam that drew a legendary response from the crowd, including a spontaneous glowstick explosion at one of the deepest points in the jam. This was pure Phish, and although many were confused by a jam so maddening, this is truly the song’s definitive version.
Beyond Vegas’ epic, “Wolfman’s” would make notable appearances at Cleveland (11.13) featuring a Mind Left Body jam, and at Greenville, SC, including an abstract exploration out of the funk before eventually segueing into “Lizards.” No conversation of ’98 “Wolfman’s” would be complete without mentioning the second half of MSG’s 12.28 raucous and masterful “Carini > Wolfman’s.” Incorporating spaced-out textures into funk mixture, this version was a centerpiece of a notoriously dark set.
Beyond the peak years of 1997 and 1998, “Wolfman’s” lost a bit of its edge, and was used primarily as a funk vehicle when that was no longer the band’s primary focus. Dancy, yet less experimental, versions continued to pepper setlists as the band kept it in rotation throughout 2000 and post-hiatus. While some versions certainly stood out more than others during these years, the improv had been toned down a notch.
It will be interesting to see what direction the band take’s “Wolfman’s” as they enter this summer. Hampton’s version was uber-funky, yet contained as most of the improv in Virginia, and was no real sign as to where it might go. As things stretch out in the heat of June and August, we will discover where “Wolfman’s” fits into the path of 3.0, or if it will primarily remain a relic of another era.
***A Sampling of “Wolfman’s” Through the Years***
LISTEN to 12.28.96 Philly “Wolfman’s Now! < LINKS (roll over, click play)
R1’s DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY – (written by contest winner, R1)
2.1.91 Brown University, Providence, RI SBD < TORRENT LINK
“This show, from my alma mater, kicked off a massive spring tour (63 shows) in the formative Phish year of 1991. This tour saw the band honing its chops at small theatres, festivals, bars, college gymnasiums, and even a prep school. These guys are young and obviously having a damn good time. The first set is where it’s at here. The rare “Tweezer” directly into “Reprise” is pretty scorching, with Trey ripping it up. “Guelah Papyrus” is played for the first time, a short-but sweet “Jim,” and an interesting, if somewhat odd and discordant, “Bowie” finish out the set. The second set begins with the premiere of “Chalk Dust,” features a sweet “Reba” with a little Dixieland tease thrown in at the onset of the jam, and a funky “Cavern.” All in all a nice start to an epic tour. If only I was 5 years older…”
I: My Sweet One, Foam, Tweezer > Tweezer Reprise, Magilla, Guelah Papyrus*, Runaway Jim, Split Open and Melt**, Bouncing Around the Room, David Bowie
II: Chalk Dust Torture*, Reba, The Landlady, The Mango Song, Cavern***
E: Alumni Blues, Carolina
*debut. **Screwed up on master recording. ***Interrupted by security telling the band informing the band of the midnight curfew. The Mango Song was played for the first time since August 19, 1989 (132 shows).