As Phish’s music transformed into deep heavy funk grooves during the year 1997, and would subsequently evolve from there, their musical catalog would be similarly altered. Some songs remained structurally the same, while others made the transformation with the band, finding themselves slowed down, and funked out. Songs like Wolfman’s Brother, Tube, and Free became permanent funk vehicles. Old songs and covers like Camel Walk, Sneakin’ Sally and Cities re-emerged. New songs were written specifically in this vein- Ghost, The Moma Dance, Meat and later Sand, and Jiboo. What they played was certainly adjusted to how they played.
One of the songs most profoundly effected by the onset of the “funk era” was Gumbo. Initially debuted in 1990, Gumbo was a loose jazz-based composition that came into its own during the Summer ’91 tour with the Giant Country Horns. The horns added the necessary accompaniment to the band in Gumbo, making the composition sound complete. Up until 1997, the song stayed within its structure and was more often than not, part of one of those first set string of jamless songs. Featuring nonsensical Phishy lyrics, the song was fun, but nothing to get you pumped up. This all changed in the summer of 1997, when making three fifteen minute plus explorations- two of which were among the best jams of the summer- Gumbo took on a whole new character. It now became a song that included exploratory jams, and was always good for at least ten minutes of dancy improvisation. As Phish’s career progressed after 97, many standout versions would be played. Below are five versions that you should, and probaby do, know about. Let’s revisit each of them.
1. 7.29.97 Desert Sky Pavilion, Phoenix, AZ
This desert Gumbo was the first time the band truly jammed the song out with any significance, and it worked out great. Trey has referenced this jam as a personal favorite, and an example of the type of playing they were striving for in the Summer of ’97. With the band completely locked, they work cooperatively to produce some quintessential whole-band Phish grooves in this fourteen-minute version. A week into the tour, this Gumbo provided a preview of what was to come over the following two plus weeks on the way to the Great Went.
LISTEN TO 7.29.97 DESERT SKY GUMBO NOW!
2. 8.13.97 Star Lake Amphitheatre, Burgettstown, PA
A personal favorite, this Gumbo has all the dialed in funk of the 7.29 version, but then transcends it, adding layers of melody and harmony on top of the heavy grooves. Known among many fans for its “Frankin’s Tower”-esque jam towards the last third of the song, whether intentionally or coincidentally, the band hints strongly at the Dead classic within the context of their own Phish funk. This version includes some Phish-crack funk grooves at the onset of the jam, illustrating their musical progression over the summer. This version has a certain flow to it the entire way through. An A+ version all the way, this one is a can’t miss.
LISTEN TO 8.13.97 STAR LAKE GUMBO NOW!
3. 7.17.98 The Gorge, George Washington
This version, directly preceding the sunset serenade of Divided Sky, gave the crowd some extremely thick open-air grooves to navigate, juxtaposing the band’s looseness and precision. The Gorge’s huge bellowing, uninhibited sound brought the band’s playing even slower, as this version resembles an elephant strolling slowly down to the watering hole. Some classic ’98 Trey licks are contained in this version that also sees some round and perfectly atypical Gordon basslines leading the way. A laid back version that practically transports you to the Columbia River, this one is perfect is setting and ambiance.
LISTEN TO 7.17.98 GORGE GUMBO NOW!
4. 8.3.98: Deer Creek, Noblesville, IN
Perhaps the best Gumbo ever played, this set opener goes deep and clocks in just under twenty minutes. With Trey leading the way right out of the gate, he picks up on a familiar melodic lick that he continues to play with and reference throughout the extended improv, and finally uses to peak the jam at the end. This jam is a Deer Creek classic, and one of the highlights that never faded from the Summer of ’98. Flirting with Manteca at points, this Gumbo is non-stop entertainment from beginning to end, and sees Trey absolutely shredding staccato funk lines the whole time. Including some melodic resolution to the funk as well, this version illustrates how big this song had become in the post-’97 era. This version sees the band firing on all cylinders in the middle of one of their best years ever.
5. 8.15.98 The Lemonwheel, Limestone, ME
Inseparable from its completely epic combination of Gumbo > Sanity > Tweezer, and following a divine Reba, this Gumbo had magic written all over it. Taking on a larger-than-life feeling up at Limestone, this Gumbo moved slowly, yet powerfully, echoing through the vast concert field and showering the crowd with searing guitar lines and heavy bass bombs. Once the band drops into the jam of this version, its gets downright dirty. Ridiculously thick and percussive, this Gumbo initiated a 80,000 person throw down while taking on a life all its own. One of those times you felt that band was channeling the universe into your brain, this Gumbo felt perfect. As the jam progresses, the band begins a Tweezer Reprise chord progression, signalling the huge upcoming Tweezer that was minutes away from blowing up. The ending of this jam builds into some melodic territory that out of nowhere leads you directly into Sanity. The most bizarrely natural transition, the age old classic brought the set to new heights.
What’s Your Favorite Gumbo? Respond in comments below??
Coming at the end of a transformative tour in the Fall of 1996, this show would become known for one of the best guest sit-ins of the band’s career. Welcoming Peter Apfelbaum on tenor sax to the stage for the second set sequence of 2001 > Timber Ho! > Taste, and Funky Bitch, the show transformed into a psychedelic jazz fusion performance, with Apfelbaum taking center stage multiple times. Simply an epic portion of Phish +1. The first set also featured John McEuen on banjo for My Old Home Place and Uncle Pen for you bluegrass fans out there. Everyone united for a sublime Amazing Grace jam at the end of the night. This one is special.
I: Runaway Jim, Punch You in the Eye, All Things Reconsidered, Bouncing Around the Room, Stash, Fluffhead, The Old Home Place*, Uncle Pen*, Prince Caspian, Chalk Dust Torture
II: La Grange, It’s Ice, Glide, Brother, Contact, Also Sprach Zarathustra-> Timber (Jerry)**, Taste**, Funky Bitch**, Amazing Grace, Amazing Grace Jam#
*With John McEuen on banjo. **With Peter Apfelbaum on tenor sax. #With Peter Apfelbaum on tenor sax and John McEuen on lap slide guitar.