The Night The Moma Was Born

It was late one winter night, past midnight in fact, when The Moma Dance first joined the world.  It’s older and rougher sister Katy, had stomped around all fall- making particularly boisterous appearances in Hampton, Cleveland and Winston-Salem.  But tonight, a baby would be born.  It was December 30th, 1997, and Phish had just finished playing a marathon, Harpua-laced, second set with an long and twisting AC/DC opener, a phenomenal Hood and a smoking Guyute to close the set; and with all that enthusiasm, the Phish had accidentally played way past the MSG curfew of 11pm.  It was a quarter to twelve, but instead of killing the hyped crowd without an encore, Trey announced they would “just keep playing until New Years Eve,” since the fine had already been levied.  And so the band played on, and that’s when our story begins.

It only seemed proper that on such an occasion, the encore would match the crazy and unique situation.  A show which had unleashed the first Sneakin’ Sally since 1989 , and was crystallized by Harpua and the udder-ball, deserved a special encore.  You got the feeling this would be more than a Bouncin, Rocky Top.  As the band took their spots, the anticipation rose after Trey’s curfew explanation- a hush fell over the crowd.  A hush that would be powerfully crushed by the opening metal chords of America’s first-ever “Carini.”  Having debuted the song in Amsterdam, back on 2.17 under the name of “Lucy,” and played it only five times in Europe that winter, it was only fitting that Phish would drop this monstrous song in such a monstrous venue.  It was huge- the place literally blew up as they sat into the song’s long-sought darkness.  They even brought Carini (Fish’s Drum Tech) out on stage after they slowly ripped through the sinister verses; the vibe was infectious in there, everyone in the building was having the time of their lives- band included.

Yet, as the chorus ended, and Trey would normally rip into a seething solo, the band just dropped into the most ridiculously dirty segment of music.  It’s the crunchy and metallic dinosaur residue of Carini mixed with the deepest, slowest, most ’97est funk.  It is the greatest.  It’s only about thirty seconds before they gradually reach a change, and began playing Black Eyed Katy- slowly- really slowly.  So slowly that after the show, many fans hadn’t even realized that they had played Katy at all.

If you go back and listen to this section of music, you’ll realize those thirty seconds of crack represented The Moma Dance pushing through the universe’s birth canal into the lap of Madison Square Garden.  What ensued was a super-thick, super-slow Black Eyed Katy; but listening years later, it’s an instrumental Moma Dance-literally.  It even launches into a bit of the soon-to-be-familiar funk-rock that became the end of the song.  But this night, it was back to the funk, as they remained thick as tar while smoothly moving into a slowed down Sally reprise, stamping this encore as officially “best ever,” even before the band ended with a raging Frankenstein.  Given the circumstances, and the music, there can barely be an argument.

Not to be seen again until the debut of “The Moma Dance” in the dark stone surroundings of Copenhagen’s Den Gra Hal, this version in New York was truly the night the band figured out what they would do with this ridiculous funk groove.  Slow it down a bunch, throw some lyrics on top, add a chorus, and- boom-everyone’s favorite song.  At least for a while.  But it was one of those that got every one out of their seat and amped every time.  Even the non-dancers managed to get some sort of rhythmic or arrhythmic groove on to The Moma Dance, as it became a setlist staple for years to come.

The song truly became a relic of the funk era, a reminder of what Phish was doing every night during 1997.  It was only fitting that it would transform with a change of the calendar, in the early moments of New Years’ Eve.  Taking only the Island run off before coming back to a white hot spotlight during the summer and fall of 1998, The Moma Dance would grow, mature, and become an adult Phish song.  But now you know the story of its’ birth and when it took its first thick breaths of funk on a cold winter night, a long time ago.


Along Phish’s famed spring west coast run in 1992, with the band’s best playing to that point in their career, they stopped in Humboldt County for a show.  Smack in the middle of hippie-central in Northern California, a polished and young geeky-hippie band from Vermont threw down a sick show amidst clouds of weed smoke covering the small venue.  Taken from an archived review, Trey announced before the encore, “We hope you enjoyed the show as much as we enjoyed your dope!”  Ah, the old days.  A raging set closing Bowie foreshadowed what was to come.  The epic second set features an adventure with Colonel Forbin on a houseboat to find the evil King Wilson, a gorgeous  Tweezer that still stands out today, and a fierce Mike’s Groove.  Enjoy some old school greatness!

04-21-92 Redwood Acres Fairgrounds, Eureka, CA

I: Suzy Greenberg, Uncle Pen, Split Open and Melt, Rift, Guelah Papyrus, Possum, It’s Ice, Eliza, NICU, Bouncing Around the Room, David Bowie

II: Dinner and a Movie, Colonel Forbin’s Ascent > Famous Mockingbird, Tweezer, Tela, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Weigh, Catapult*, Lively Up Yourself, Vocal Jam, Sanity, Maze

E: Memories, Sweet Adeline, Cavern

*Mike only, a capella.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Get the Book!

Island Run Pins

Recent Posts


Phish News

Minor's Picks


All Right Reserved |

- 2023