The Phishiest Set Closers

With the strong response and discussion generated by the set openers column on Monday, I’d figure we’d spend a day pondering set closers.  Just like set openers, set closers had a specific role to play each show.  Set closers were the songs that offered a vibe “to go.”   Heading either into into set break, or heading home, Phish’s last notes were meaningful.  Always specific to the set that preceded them, set closers punctuated Phish stanzas with various intonations.  They were the band’s last statement before the “15 minute” break, or before moving onto the usually short encore and the next gig.  Often times, closers could climax a set with a natural peak, or they could also offer the set’s denoument- the post-peak come down.  Regardless of their individual purpose, set closers were chosen with intent, and throughout their career, a category of songs used for this purpose evolved.  In no particular order, here are some of Phish’s most popular set ending songs.

Run Like An Antelope: Closing 185 sets in its career, Antelope was one of Phish’s quintessential set closers.  More often featured at the end of the first set, the song always pumped up the energy in the venue, signaling bigger things to come.  An Antelope jam was a fierce exclamation point on a set that had included some adventurous improvisation, yet the tone of that improv could have been light or dark.  Antelope was a foolproof way to leave the set on an energetic high note.  Antelope defines what a set closer is all about, a last stint of madness resolving in a happy, high-paced colorful ending.

David Bowie: Generally reserved for darker sets, Bowie closed 155 times in its life- also preferring placement at the end of a first set.  Bowie existed as a dive into intricate depths as a way to take a larger journey to close things out.  Sometimes used in a set that was lighter in improvisation, Bowie ended things with a bang.  Always leaving with a searing peak, Bowie was one of Phish’s the favorite musical finale.  This composition, as old as the band itself, offered both dark and prestigious overtones to any set it ended.

You Enjoy Myself: There was arguably no better set closer than YEM.  Any set, any time- YEM blew the place apart.  It really didn’t matter what preceded a set-closing YEM- dark or blissful jamming- it always worked.  Whether this 25 minute dance session came as a celebratory resolution to an evil adventure, or as the icing to an incredibly fun and flavorful cake, Phish’s defining composition never failed to obliterate the end of a show.  More reserved for second sets than firsts, when a YEM closer came in the first set- you knew you were amidst a special evening.  YEM funk emerged as its own genre of Phish music over their career, and these bass led grooves put a smile on everyone’s face, regardless of where in the set it was placed.  A no-brainer, YEM always ended things in a happy space.

Slave to the Traffic Light: Far less common than most of the closers on this list, Slave marked an emotional crescendo to the set in concluded.  Most often used as a emotional and cathartic release after a dark, harrowing, journey- Slave brought the light of the divine into your lap.  A more poignant than fun statement, Slave tapped into the emotional channel that runs between you and the skies above.  You always left a show inspired with a Slave ringing in your ears, and it brought a collective sense of reverence to the ending of any set in which it appeared.

Harry Hood: One of Phish’s most classic pieces of music, Harry Hood was used in the same emotional vein as Slave, but brought out much more liberally.  Almost exclusively used to close second sets rather than firsts, an inspirational Hood was an unparalleled way to end a show.  With the most glorious versions coming in 1994 and 1995, there continued to be standout Hood closers through 2004.  Transporting audiences back to Phish’s earliest days, Harry Hood was a climactic musical interpretation of the human experience.  Providing an intricate study in melody and harmony while illustrating the the majesty of life’s wonders, Harry Hood defines Phish in so many ways.

Weekapaug Groove: When Weekapaug closed a set, and sealed up a Mike’s Groove- odds are you just got finished hearing some dark and heavy music.  Whether at the end of large Mike’s Groove “sandwich” or just a Mike’s >H2>Weekapaug to end a show, this was always an upbeat and fun way to end a set.  Not as spiritually charged as some of the previously discussed closers, Weekapaug was all about high-octane enjoyment.  A fast syncopated jam characterized this closer which often built to a frenzied pace before landing in the ending chorus.  A song stressing the communal vibe at a Phish show, every one leaves happy having “shared in the groove.”

Possum: This post-Gamehendge saga was another popular bookend to sets throughout Phish’s career.  The band used Possum to end 121 sets, and while it was never a personal favorite, most seemed to always enjoy the bluegrass influenced staple.  Possum, like Weekapaug, was used as an upbeat and fun way to end sets, and could be placed at the conclusion of most any frame.  Often popping up when a Bowie seemed likely, Possum took those shows in a different ending direction.  Before 1997, Possum had more raucous psychedelia in its jam, and often reached some crazy places.  However, around 1997, Possum turned into an almost exclusively bluesy-twangy-bluegrass jam that brought the song down a notch, in my opinion.

Cavern: The first song on this list that is not a heavy hitter, Cavern was often the funky afterthought to a creative set.  Often used as that “extra” song after the large song you thought would close, Cavern was always a welcomed addition to the conclusion of a setlist.  Describing a nighttime mission, very much like that of a Phish concert, Cavern provided some bass slapping funk and a Phishy melodic refrain that initiated a sing along.  The song ended in a style perfect for that last big note that Phish would crash down at the end of every set.  Cavern added an extra five minutes of fun to the end of your night every time it popped out of the bag.

Character Zero: This song worked its way into a regular set closing spot in the years of 1996 and 1997, and would remain there for the rest of the band’s career.  While not always a welcomed closer by the masses, the initial guitar line that popped out of the ending of so many songs almost always signaled the ending of a set.  While always remaining within the confines of its structure, Zero gave Trey the opportunity to do his best Jimi Hendrix impression with distorted “talking” guitar solo that led the band to the ending of the song.  Good for its bombastic and rocking qualities, this song inevitably ended the show with energy.  The vocal harmonies at the end of the jam always gave some melodic resolution to the typically dirty song.

Tweezer Reprise: Perhaps the biggest jolt of adrenaline to the end of a show is an unexpected Reprise.  Those times you forgot it was coming- and then all of a sudden the venue was vibrating with energy, and so were you.  Taking one last shot at the cosmic bullseye, Phish stomped through the rowdy anthemic ending.  If you were hearing a Reprise to close, you had just experienced a Tweezer at some point in the show, and it reminded you of the sublime liquid improvisation that had preceded.  Much more effective as a set closer than an encore, the ultimate exclamation point in Phish’s repertoire, Reprise brought the house down every single time.

These were some of the most used set closers in Phish history; each took on a character of their own and lent a divergent feel to the ending of sets and shows.  While fans’ sometimes question the band’s decisions, more often than not, their choice of set closers was spot on.

What were your thoughts on set closers?  Respond in comments and share your ideas!

In following with tradition here at Phish Thoughts, to go with the compilation of set openers, I put together a short two and a half hour compilation entitled Miner’s Picks: Closers. Below you will find the download link and track listing, as well as the Download of the Day.  Enjoy!


1. Run Like An Antelope 12.29.1997 MSG

2. David Bowie 7.6.94 Montreal

3. YEM 12.2.1999 Auburn Hills, MI

4. Possum 8.12.96 Deer Creek

5. Harry Hood 8.17.1997 Great Went

6. Slave to the Traffic Light 8.17.1996 Clifford Ball

7. Weekapaug Groove 7.2.97 Paradisio, Amsterdam

8,9. Funk Jam > Cavern 4.5.98 Providence, RI

10. Character Zero 12.2.97 Philadelphia, PA

11. Tweezer Reprise 8.17.96 Clifford Ball


DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY: 11.23.94 Fox Theatre, St Louis, MO

Having featured both the Tweezer and the YEM from this show on different compilations, I wanted to give everyone the opportunity to download this show in its entirety.  A magnificent showcase of Phish in the middle of one of their best months ever, this show is a classic that needs to be in your collection.  A perfect example of Fall 94 Phish, the first set is all Phish classics, while the second set is all Phish improv.  With some best-ever versions tucked in this one, it’s truly a can’t miss

I: Wilson > Sparkle > Simple > It’s Ice, If I Could, Oh Kee Pa Ceremony> Suzy Greenberg, The Divided Sky, Amazing Grace

II: Maze, Fee, Scent of a Mule, Tweezer, Lifeboy, You Enjoy Myself, Tweezer Reprise

E: Sample in a Jar

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