The Evolution of “Wolfman’s”

Hampton '04

Hampton 2004

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.

21a6fe8b9cb047de956c1c6e6dd0b378During 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.

dscf0160Fall ’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.

phish-halloween-98Following 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.

1998-12-28moBeyond 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)

LISTEN to 6.24.97 Strasbourg, FR “Wolfman’s” Now!

LISTEN to 11.18.98 Greenville, SC “Wolfman’s” Now!

LISTEN to 12.28.98 MSG “Wolfman’s ” Now!

LISTEN to 7.26.99 Deer Creek “Wolfman’s” Now!

LISTEN TO 6.13.00 Nagoya, JP “Wolfman’s” Now!


R1’s DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY (written by contest winner, R1)

2.1.91 Brown University, Providence, RI SBD < LINK

2.1.91 Brown University, Providence, RI SBD < TORRENT LINK

Brown University, Providence, RI

Brown University, Providence, RI

“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).

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107 Responses to “The Evolution of “Wolfman’s””

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  1. ColonelJoy Says:

    Yup, I was lucky enough to be in Hamburg. I remember the Wolfman’s moment vividly. I saw every show that tour and I remember thinking that the band was struggling a bit, searching for the next avenue to approach mind-melts. And then we had Hamburg…Mike busted out the Modulus. During the Wolfman’s I thought to myself, “Yes, this is where we will be going in the future. They are onto something.”

    My next shows were Prague in the summer and Amsterdam..Italy. It was so awesome to see the evolution. The Hamburg Wolfman’s is as seminal to Phish’s late 90s development as the Split Opens form 93′ were to the mid 90s development….Am I Wrong?

  2. yisseroff Says:

    No, you’re not wrong. The band says so themselves in the Phish Book, but even before that, when I heard the Hamburg Wolfman’s I immediately fell in love. This was a few years ago, but till this day I still look back to that song often as a standard of perfection jamming.

  3. mr. icclus Says:

    How odd i put in my slip stich and pass this morning and went straight to track 2 (Wolmans) love that fucking jam on that CD truly and epic one. Than i get to work and read this. Miner how about some Fenway predictions.
    Foreplay/Long Time
    What are the odds? This show would be an instant classic with this opener.

  4. mr. icclus Says:

    Where is the link for the Holween Vegas Wolfmans?

  5. ColonelJoy Says:

    As far as Fenway, probably a HYHU>Sweet Caroline>HYHU….

    Peter Gammons might come out and jam on guitar. Maybe Joe Perry will sit in.

  6. bhizzle Says:

    I heard something about Wolfman’s having to do with Fishman. Any truth to this? Or anyone hear anything about the song’s origin?

  7. bhizzle Says:

    How about a Walk This way w/ Run DMC at Phenway?

  8. Manny Phresh Says:

    Peter Gammons on guitar, that would be epic.

  9. Ortweezer Reprise Says:

    There will be a Tweezer at Fenway. But my bet is on less gimmicky Red Sox related covers and more first show warm up tunes / big stadium show rockers. 1: Runaway Jim Farmhouse Moma Dance Rock + Roll. 2: 2001 Disease FEFY Tweezer Cavern type show.

    Hey R1, great selection. I went to Brown too. I was there 94-98. Were you? If you are like me, you are happy we have the Slip to get us through the post Phish-2000 Era.

  10. Uberchef Says:

    Any post incorporating the word ‘milieu’ is great in my book 🙂

    ^^Hey Mr. Icculus, great call on the Foreplay/Longtime opener…I was thinking the same thing over the weekend! It’s Boston for one, and for many of the people at Fenway, it will have been a long time indeed.

    Lots of people have been turning their nose up at the Fenway gig because it’s the tour opener, and it’s a bigger venue, etc. But that’s all somewhat ridiculous…the band is probably more psyched to play Fenway than the fans are to see them there! You can count on an amazing night.

  11. R1 Says:

    ^Thanks Ortweezer, glad you like it.

    I was there from 96-00. I love the Slip. It was so great that they were basically our campus band – so many shows at the Underground and spring weekend, etc. At first I was disconcerted by their transformation from a jazz-based jamband into basically an Alt-rock bank, but now Eisenhower is one of my favorite albums. Their songwriting frickin’ great now. Haven’t seen them in a while, but am gonna try to see them at Bowery Ballroom next month.

  12. Pence Says:

    For those going to Knoxville>Bonnaroo, will you travel to manchester right after the show, or stay in knox for the night and go to roo on the morning of the 11th. Im thinking of leaving right after the show, to avoid some of the traffic on thursday.

  13. Chalkdustin Says:

    Hey R1, congrats and thanks for the SBDs. Looking forward to your other picks this week.

    Miner, want to thank you for setting up the ticket board for us all. Just sold my JB tix to another reader and it was easy and pain-free. It’s nice knowing they’re going to a fan. Now got to get rid of Knox.

  14. In Flagrante Delicto Says:

    No mention of the acappella version from Jazzfest?

  15. In Flagrante Delicto Says:

    R1, I grew up in Providence, and probably snuck into most of those on-campus Slip shows. I grew up with the Barr boys, and started seeing them at the Living Room when they were 14 and still playing Dead and Allman Bros covers (and playing them well, too). I agree with you on Eisenhower and the band’s transformation, too. I like the new direction.

  16. Jay Says:

    I love these “Evolution of” pieces. Reminds me of the whole evolution of Phish. If you were going to give a name to the three different era’s of Phish, what names would you use for Phish 1.0, 2.0, 3.0?

  17. Jay Says:

    I believe there will be a “8th inning” massive sing along of Sweet Caroline at Fenway..

  18. msbjivein Says:

    Phenway Opener…….Curtain W/ Or Buried Alive>Mound!!!

  19. mr. icclus Says:

    ^^^Pence: My crew and I were planning on leaving the night after the Knoxville show and going straight to Roo, seems like the most logical thing to do, and hopefully we will avoid some conjestion. But did you see Roo’s Thur. shows, never heard of any band on that list. Guess i will give me time to recoup for the long hot Roo that i said i would never go back to again and than phish had to go and play it…… owell it will rock!!!! The knoxville show is going to be sick, just have that feeling. Hope i get a campsite close to the music this year.

  20. msbjivein Says:

    Having said that it will be neither…….

    @Miner, Love the evolution of Wolfmans read today. Can’t wait to listen.
    Thanks again for arrowhead Nugget!!

  21. Corey Says:

    I second the missing Nawlins acappella version, although it was mentioned in Miner’s earlier post about the Nawlins Jazz Fest show.

    But it is a small yet important piece of the Wolfman puzzle.

    Regarding Fenway, I’m a Yankee fan…please no Neil Diamond, unless it’s accompanied by a vacuum and a naked Fishman. Nuff said.

  22. Jay Says:

    Neil Diamond Rules! Maybe we will get a medley 🙂

  23. Frankie Says:

    Yeah, Wolfman’s! One of my first favorite song! SS&P is musical perfection! Love the lyrics also… “It’s like a cross between a hurricane and a ship that’s run aground…”

    Don’t dismiss the Hampton version as i believe it is the footprint to where the new ones will go this summer. I have a feeling they are gonna bust huge versions of this at some point this summer…

    Thanks R1 for that pick! Love the ’91 sound and i haven’t explored it yet! Dynamite!

    Regarding The Slip, i saw Brad play with Marco Benevento Trio (w/Andrew on drums) last wednesday in Montreal and after the show, he played me some new Surprise Me Mr. Davis songs he was mixing in Boston that same day! Sounds really really good! He said they are trying to find a new name for the band and that the new album will be released later this year…

  24. shpongleyez Says:

    @bhizzle: fishman is the wolfman’s brother.

  25. Little Buddy Says:

    If they play Sweet Caroline at Fenway those of us who are not a part of Cheeseball Nation will simultaneously vomit. The Sweet Caroline ‘So Good’ chant is the dumbest tradition in sports…

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