8.11.04, Great Woods (Libby McLinn)

The way a set opened always paved the tone for the next ninety minutes. Whether a first or a second set, an opener was used to get the proverbial party started.  An exciting opener gets the crowd, and the show, going much more quickly than a Get Back On the Train or a Water in the Sky.  Some openers are messages from the band to strap on your seat belt, because the ensuing ride might be a bit bumpy and quite maddening.  Others are clearly used for warm up, or to get the stage sound set.  Bottom line – sick openers, while never crucial to a crazy set, often pointed the initial course for your intergalactic nightly ride in a direction that delivered a message.  In thinking about openers in general, I compiled Miner’s Best Set Openers.  I stuck to songs that were often used as openers- and therefore didn’t list the biggest ten Phish songs as the top ten openers- that would be too easy.  I didn’t consider first or second set, because any way you cut it, these openers meant business for that set of music.  The list is in absolutely no particular order whatsoever.

1.The Curtain: The ultimate Phish opus, dating back to the mid-eighties, this song opened big sets throughout Phish’s career.  The Curtain was not only made to be a great set opener, but it was also a “launch” song, after which you knew something huge was coming-( e.g. Curtain > Tweezer, Curtain > Mikes.)  An adreniline filled song that travels into dark places before coming to a climactic an abrupt peak, this set up a perfect drop into a big song.  Especially in the mid to late 90’s, a Curtain opener generally foreshadowed a big improvisational set.

2. 2001: Originally conceived as a short three minute set-opener to get the rev up the crowd in 1993 and 1994, 2001 was also used as a launch pad much like Curtain.  Yet 2001 was used much more liberally, and transitioned into big jam songs as well as non-jam songs in the earlier days.  As things got later in time, 2001 became a song that could appear anywhere in a set and stretch out to twenty minutes, but when used as an opener, a la Gorge ’98, or Charlotte ’99, it is a fool proof killer.  Every one gets up for this one as Kuroda enters his visual play land to the delight of all.  Pure audio-visual Phish crack- I don’t think there was one person who wasn’t psyched for it every single time. (Though ’93 heads may have got sick of it a bit when it opened something like 15+ consecutive second sets!)

3. Oh Kee Pah Ceremony: While the Oh Kee Pah Ceremony references a Native American rite of passage into manhood, for Phish, it was a college ritual in which the band would ingest massive amounts of mushrooms, lock themselves in a room, and jam endlessly- honing their musical communication.  Famed for their hilarity and their intense off-kilter wackiness, Oh Kee Pah Ceremonies became a part of Phish in the early days.  The short quirky instrumental has been used to open many sets through out the band’s career, always setting up a drop into something bigger, and more rambunctious.  Two-thirds of the time, the band followed Oh Kee Pah with Suzy Greenberg, but they were also known to drop Oh Kee Pah > Bags, Oh Kee Pah > YEMs, and a few Oh Kee Pah > Golgis.  This opener is one that signified the band was in a playful mood, and to get ready for a hot show.

4. Buried Alive: More of an old school opener, this one became a rarity in the later days.  A frenetic instrumental, featuring wails by Trey and some fast, almost nervous- percussion; a musical interpretation of this deathly fate, Buried Alive gave you a desperate tone.  You needed to get that breath of air, or it was done.  A smothering opener, it kicked off many an old school gem, while always holding a place in the hearts of all fans.  The much needed gasp of air came in the song that followed Buried Alive, as this was also a composition used to launch into something more upbeat.  In the early ’90s, this more upbeat song was most often Poor Heart, but as it became less frequently played, it began leading into different songs.

5. Punch You In the Eye: Punch, while being more of a rarity as an opener, was one that stoked the crowds’ fire immediately.  From the pre-start rhythmic scratches of Trey’s guitar to the opening grooves, there is nary a better way to start a show within the non-jam song category.  The fierce rhythms and lyrics generally meant that the band was ready to fire right from the start.  Well-loved by all, Punch was an sinister opener that was an omen of dark things to come.

6. Wilson: Always a treat when coming at the beginning of a set, Wilson set a bombastic tone for the set to come.  Rife with audience participation, and the supported by the myth of Gamehendge, Wilson got the band’s and crowd’s energies moving in the same direction- against the evil King Wilson.  Often giving way to some more heavy “metal” jamming, Wilson was an opener that got the heart pumping right away, and brought expectations of things to follow.  Potentially more powerful as a second set opener than a first, Wilson nonetheless graced the beginning of more than a few setlists during the band’s career.

7. My Friend, My Friend: The rarely used My Friend, My Friend opener is one of the dirtiest, most sinister way for Phish to start a show.  With the almost orchestral beginning segueing into the eerie opening piano chords and verses, if this song opened a show, you knew it meant special things.  A virtual bust-out in the later years, My Friend was always a welcome addition to the setlist, where ever it appeared- but more often than not, it was at the beginning of the first set, signaling the dark debauchery that was about to take ensue.  Foreshadowing a unique set, this song’s popularity never waned.

8. Mike’s: Now we are getting into some powerhouse openers.  I feel ok using Mike’s in this list because it opened 43 sets in its life, again, mostly before the latest era of Phish.  There is not a song that can get a Phish crowd amped like the opening guitar licks to Mike’s Song.  Like an adrenaline shot directly to the heart, this melody causes feelings to stir inside you, preparing you for the dark drop into an evil smoke-filled land that was a mere three minutes away.  If the band decided to open with Mike’s in the latter years, it was a sign of delving deep right off the bat, and a clear suggestion to hold onto your hats.  Especially if it was a second set opener, you could assure yourself of twenty minutes of dark space-groove exploration coupled with some soaring dirty guitar leads and big organ washes, taboot.  It doesn’t get much better than this at the beginning of a set.

9. Down With Disease: Disease became another larger improvisational song that became a staple set opener by the time Phish called it quits.  Starting in 1994, with the onset of the song, it was always used to explore deep percussive realms.  Disease went through a thematic phase in 1996 when the jams stayed within the context of the chord progression, but starting in 1997, this song transformed into one of the band’s biggest, and most divergent, jam vehicles.  The catchy and melodic hooks at the beginning of the song, reeled people in right away, and then the band carried everyone out to sea in improvisational vessels that often took twenty plus minute round trips.   Played abundantly in later years, the band created very different types of jams out of this song, and coming at the beginning of the set- it could very much set the high energy tone for the rest of the evening.

1,2. Oh Kee Pah > AC / DC Bag 11.24.95 Pittsburgh, PA

3. Wilson 8.9.97 Alpine Valley, WI

4. Mike’s Song 11.22.97 Hampton, VA

5,6. Punch > Free 7.9.99 Merriweather

7,8. Down With Disease > Piper 8.16.98 Lemonwheel

9,10. Buried Alive > Reba 12.7.91 Portsmouth, NH

11. 2001 11.19.97 Champaign, IL

12,13. The Curtain > Tweezer 11.12.95 Gainesville, FL



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The way a set opened always paved the tone for the next ninety minutes. Whether a first or a second set, an opener was used to get the proverbial party started.  An exciting opener gets the crowd, and the show, going much more quickly than a Get Back On the Train or a Water in …

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