4.1.86 Hunt’s, Burlington, VT < LINK

Phish circa 1986

I: Quinn the Eskimo, Have Mercy > Harry Hood > Dave’s Energy Guide, The Pendulum*, Jam#, Icculus, You Enjoy Myself

II: Help on the Way > Slipknot! > AC/DC Bag, McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters, Alumni Blues, Dear Mrs. Reagan, Not Fade Away^

*Trey says, “That was the Bob Dylan Band. Don’t ask which one is Bob, though.” #With Zenzile, a poet from South Africa who may have been a student at Goddard College. ^Featured members of The Joneses, with whom Phish alternated sets.

10.31.86 Sculpture Room @ Goddard College, Plainfield, VT < LINK

I: Mustang Sally, Camel Walk, Golgi Apparatus, Slave to the Traffic Light, Melt the Guns, Dave’s Energy Guide, Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley, Halley’s Comet, Back Porch*, Shaggy Dog, Fluffhead

II: Jam > AC/DC Bag, Swing Low Sweet Chariot Jam, Peaches en Regalia, David Bowie, Have Mercy > Harry Hood, Sanity, Skin It Back > Icculus, Alumni Blues

*Max Creek cover.

We are taking it WAY back for this weekend’s selections!  We find ourselves in 1986, on two special nights of the year- April Fool’s Day and Halloween.  The April Fool’s show contains the musical pun “Help > Slip > Bag,” as well as the Buddy Holly cover, “Not Fade Away.”  Early classics “Harry Hood, “You Enjoy Myself” and the old school rarities “Dear Mrs. Reagan” and “Alumni Blues” also grace the setlist.  This is classic stop amidst the genesis of Phish.  The Halloween show is much Phishier featuring many more old-school classics such as Slave, Bowie, Halley’s, “Fluffhead” and beyond.  This show is an early gem, foreshadowing the madness that would come in the future on All Hallow’s Eve.



With so much excitement in the air around next summer, the rumors continue to roll in.  I have heard a few new things recently.  First, expect a month long tour mostly in June, including two nights at Alpine at the end of the month (6/25 & 6/26?).  An appearance at the mega-sized Rothbury Festival in Michigan seems like it will compliment the band’s slot at Bonnaroo.  Obviously, rumors are just rumors until we see dates on, but to summarize what has been reported :

-Red Rocks 4 nights around July 4th

-The Gorge 3 nights

-Shoreline 3 nights

-Alpine 2 nights

-Bonnaroo and Rothbury

-Approximately a month long tour anchored in June



“Bathtub Gin” Halloween 1989 – (Absurd Trey Footage)

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“McGrupp” 2.14.91 State Theatre, Ithaca, NY

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DOWNLOADS OF THE WEEKEND: 4.1.86 Hunt’s, Burlington, VT < LINK I: Quinn the Eskimo, Have Mercy > Harry Hood > Dave’s Energy Guide, The Pendulum*, Jam#, Icculus, You Enjoy Myself II: Help on the Way > Slipknot! > AC/DC Bag, McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters, Alumni Blues, Dear Mrs. Reagan, Not Fade Away^ *Trey says, …

Weekend Nuggets: Old School Read More »

11.28.03 Nassau

Thanksgiving has arrived, marking the beginning of the holiday season and a very Phishy time of year.  So many storied Phish anniversaries occur this weekend.  Some of the most memorable are the Worcester runs of  ’97 and ’98, along with the epic long weekend in ’94 spanning half the country from UIC > Minneapolis > Bozeman, and ’96’s run from Seattle > Cow Palace > Sacramento.  While celebrating these anniversaries and the holidays, you might as well celebrate that there are only 100 days left until Phish returns! Needless to say, we all have a lot to be thankful for this season.

With everyone busy with family, friends, football, and food, I figured I’d go light on today’s post and just provide some great music for the holiday.  I’ve selected some choice cuts that should go especially well with dark meat and canned cranberry sauce! The selections, and a blurb about each, are below.  Enjoy your turkey (or tofurky) and Happy Thanksgiving!

1. Bathtub Gin 6.30.99 Bonner Springs, KS

Kicking off the first show of Summer ’99, Phish wasted no time in giving the audience a preview of the insanity that would follow all tour long.  Opening with not just a Gin, but an improvisational beast, Phish introduced new styles that would characterize the year. This jam moved through multiple feels, making significant stops in groovy, ambient, and transcendent realms.  This pretty much knocked the socks off everyone at Sandstone, as this was the first Phish song performed since since New Years.

2,3. Ghost > Wilson 12.5.97 CSU Convocation Center, Cleveland, OH

11.29.03 Philly – photo: Piranha

This segment was the opener of the first show of an other worldly weekend in Fall ’97 that followed with Detroit and Dayton.  This “Ghost” got things underway quickly with thick grooves over a slower tempo, allowing the musical canvas to breathe and inviting the band to collectively crush it.  Trey gets into some quality rhythmic playing throughout this version, but also takes some perfectly improvised solos, sounding like he is leading a march of soldiers into battle.  This one isn’t talked about too much, but it is a superb version.  A segue into “Wilson” cemented the Phishy and militant feel of this opening portion.

4,5. Reba > Fast Enough For You 7.16.98 The Gorge

Taking on the vast and mellow vibe of its surrounding, this “Reba” settles into a unique funk groove that typifies the feeling of the moment that was Summer ’98.  One of those times where Phish was playing nature, or vice versa, this version diverges from standard form to congruently fit the majesty and laid back atmosphere of the Gorge.  Not ending, Phish continued the jam just until the sun dipped below the horizon, at which point they moved into a beautiful and appropriate “Fast Enough For You.”  This segment is summer Phish at its greatest.

6. Stash 9.9.99 GM Place, Vancouver, BC

The only real highlight of the first set of Fall ’99, this “Stash” is one of the more overtly psychedelic pieces of music they played all show.  Featuring layers upon layers of ambient effects, this jam built into a quintessential ’99 soundscape of seriously menacing music.  This one is a diamond in the rough, as the night is always revered for its standout second set.  Put this one on late at night.

7. Tweezer 9.23.00 Allstate Arena, Rosemont, IL

11.29.03 Philly – photo: Craig

This was the long awaited first “Tweezer” of Fall ’00.  Waiting until the eleventh show of tour to drop it, this one was long overdue and highly anticipated, as you can hear from the roar of the crowd as it starts.  It did not disappoint.  Traveling through some classic “Tweezer” territory at the onset of the jam, Phish took the second half of the jam out to more exploratory and dirty places.  Locking into psychedelic bass-led drone pattern, the band uses deep distortion and delay to create machine like textures.  ’00 Represent!

8,9,10. Halley’s > Simple > Walk Away 11.11.98 Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI

This Halley’s is simply stupendous.  Almost a half an hour of madness-inducing music, this version leaves the funk behind for some high-octane shredding.  Bouncing musical ideas around like lottery balls, this jam takes some focus to keep up with.  Unrelenting for the first section, the band does settle into some groovier playing that sees Trey spitting sublime full speed rhythm licks.  Passing through multiple improvisational sections to reach “Simple,” including a beautiful ambient portion, this Halley’s is one for the ages.

11. Slave to the Traffic Light 11.18.98 Bi-Lo Center, Greenville, SC

In a mid-week out of the way show, Phish threw down a huge second set.  Part of a late set “Slave, Fluffhead” combination, things couldn’t get much more uplifting.  A gorgeous version played to a half-empty venue that many walked into without having their ticket checked, this defining atmosphere is one place where Phish does special things.  A tender, slow and delicate build to a soaring peak, this Slave is a personal favorite.

12,13. Piper > What’s the Use 9.11.00 Great Woods Mansfield, MA

12.1.03 Albany – photo: Staunchy

The middle section of a tremendously coherent set of music, this “Piper” is typical of the many breakneck-paced standout versions of ’00- until about half way through.  After the initial psychedelic sprint, the band, led by Mike, broke down into a much slower tempo that proved to be the perfect juxtaposition to the preceding insanity.  Carrying out this slower jam that one would never guess to be “Piper,” the band sits in some bass heavy dance rhythms for an extended period.  Growing more ambient as it goes, the jam eventually slides into a the stunning post-apocalyptic jam-composition, “What’s the Use?”

14. You Enjoy Myself 11.14.98 The Crown, Cincinnati, OH

The Cincy YEM- one of the most interesting YEM’s from Fall ’98.  Right out of the trampoline section, Trey loops some rhythm chords and then begins “telling stories” via his solo on top of his own licks.  Resulting in some infectious dance music, this version had the house bumpin’ right throughout its unique jam.  A dark-horse version from a fall filled with so much amazing Phish, this version is sure to put a smile on your face whether you’ve heard it or not.

15. Down With Disease 5.21.00 Radio City Music Hall, NYC

5.21.00 Radio City Soundcheck

The first show after Big Cypress was as hard of a ticket as any in Phish history to that point.  As Phish entered the legendary New York venue to follow up their Everglades adventure, everybody wanted in the 5,900 person theatre.  Batting second in the second set, this blistering Disease just about peeled the paint of the Radio City’s walls.  The energy in the room matched that flowing from the stage, as the highlight of the show filled the hall with enough adrenaline to kick start a dead horse.  A well-known version, this is another gem from the underrated year of 2000.

16. Drowned 12.3.97 The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA

Smack dab in the swamp funk that dominated Fall ’97, this “Drowned” set the tone for the rest of the danceadelic evening.  Moving away from its characteristic uptempo rock textures into a Phished out groove-fest, this version illustrates how every song was getting the James Brown treatment during this superbly fun two-night stand.  One of the standout jams from the show, this longer version laid the foundation for the continuous flow of funk for the duration of the show.

17,18. 2001 > Velvet Sea 1.1.00 Big Cypress

Quite possibly the greatest finish to any show, this combination of songs reached the spectrum of human emotion under the first sunrise of the new millennium.  With the emotions of all so deeply touched by this epic evening, Phish brought out the first ever sunrise 2001, welcoming us to a new age.  After a surreal dance session, the band wound down with one of their most beautiful and poignant compositions, “Wading In the Velvet Sea.”  Overwhelmingly majestic at this point in time, there was no better song Phish could have played to capture the feeling of the moment.  This is why they are Phish.  As Trey’s solo dripped over us, it was a lullaby reawakening us to the wonders and spectacle of life.  Cleansed, renewed, and entering a new segment of history, Phish capped the most magical evening of their career in the only way possible.

1. Bathtub Gin 6.30.99

2,3. Ghost > Wilson 12.5.97

4,5. Reba > Fast Enough For You 7.16.98

6. Stash 9.9.99

7. Tweezer 9.23.00

8,9,10. Halleys’s > Simple > Walk Away 11.11.98

11. Slave to the Traffic Light 11.18.98

12,13. Piper > What’s the Use 9.11.00

14. YEM 11.14.98

15. Down With Disease 5.21.00

16. Drowned 12.3.97

17,18. 2001 > Velevet Sea 1.1.00

Thanksgiving has arrived, marking the beginning of the holiday season and a very Phishy time of year.  So many storied Phish anniversaries occur this weekend.  Some of the most memorable are the Worcester runs of  ’97 and ’98, along with the epic long weekend in ’94 spanning half the country from UIC > Minneapolis > …

Miner’s Picks: Turkey Music ’08 Read More »

So many aspects of their career made Phish more than just a band.  A combination of playfulness, inside jokes, and connection to their fans created a community around Phish from early on.  One of the distinct factors contributing to this phenomenon was the myth of Gamehendge.  Written as Trey’s senior thesis at Goddard College in 1987, the songs comprising this story soon became the foundation for early Phish.  As the band emerged from their college days, playing less covers, Gamehendge became central to the Phish live experience.  As fans learned about Phish’s fantasy land of lizards and multibeasts, they felt like they were being let in on something different, something special.

Brewing with unlimited inspiration at such a young age, Trey scribed The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday without knowing it would soon define the acid rock of early Phish.  Gamehendge was not only significant for its brilliant music, but for the consecrated place it represented in the fan community.  As people began to see Phish regularly and picked up the story of Gamehendge, a common reference point in the Phish experience was born.  Creating a narrative for all fans to latch on to, this mythical place catapulted Phish into the realm of the sacred for their loyal followers.  The Phish community began to form around fans’ connection to this story- its characters, its songs, and most significantly, its literary themes woven throughout.

AC/DC Bag – The Character

While the story of Colonel Forbin climbing a mountain to meet Icculus and re-capture the Helping Friendly Book may seem like a childhood fable, many implicit themes spoke to the left-leaning Phish audience.  Gamehendge was a communal utopia where the Lizards lived in peace and harmony with nature and each other.  These were fundamental values of the hippie counter-culture that populated the crowd.  The Lizards attained bliss through living by the code of Icculus’ book; by not over-complicating life with their own desires, they lived as one, free from corruption.  Freedom in simplicity, a cornerstone of the enlightened path, defined the life of Lizards, and represents what so many of us chase every day.  Yet, this Edenic society is taken over by a human traveler, the evil Wilson, who steals the book and locks it away from the Lizards, representing man’s conquest over the natural world.  Illustrating Trey’s personal ideals as a college student, fans felt a connectedness to these lessons in Gamehendge, that when combined with the live experience and Trey’s attention to the story’s every detail, Phish became more than just music.  The freedom from worry and focus on simplicity were the exact feelings we we had at shows, creating a magical congruency between what we felt and what we heard.  All of these aspects of Gamehendge helped create a sacred space for fans, both literally and figuratively.

Similar to Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunters use of Americana myth to inspire some of their most revered epochs, Trey used his own, far more playful perspective, to evoke Phish’s central values via Gamehendge.  Like the tribulations of August West in “Wharf Rat” and the glorified bygone era defined by Workingman’s Dead, Trey created a parallel reality with reptile inhabitants, a beautiful infiltrator, Tela, and the heroic knight, Rutherford the Brave.  As the Weir / Barlow songwriting team added the spice of the old West to the Dead with such tunes as “Mexicali Blues,” and “Black Throated Wind,” the mythology embraced by Dead culture grew deeper rooted in the country’s past.  Yet, the myth of Gamehendge remained purely allegorical and certainly more light-hearted . The overthrow of Wilson by Col. Forbin and the Lizards is followed by the traitorous actions of Errand Wolfe, who keeps the Book for himself, never returning it to the Lizards, becoming the next dictator of the Gamehendge.  Rife with political allusions, and human lessons, Gamehendge was Trey and Phish’s way to work meaning into their music.  While wholly different that the mythology of the Dead, the dynamic is parallel.

In the end, the moral of the story remain tucked in Icculus’ word’s to Forbin’s atop the mountain:

But I warn you that all knowledge seeming innocent and pure
Becomes a deadly weapon in the hands of avarice
And greed

A lyric that seems incredibly appropriate in this day and age, the timelessness of Gamehendge’s lessons is ironic.  In the end humans corrupted the natural world of Gamehendge, upsetting the states of Llamas, Spotted Stripers, Multibeats and beyond.  One can take the comparison to our real world as far as they’d like.

Written as a psychedelic fairy tale, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday grew into something far larger than Trey could have imagined.  It became the ethos of a community; so far that seventeen years later, when Trey had to call it quits due to his personal battles, he was defamed as “Wilson” by many bitter fans.  What started out in a college dorm room, finished at Coventry, and is about to start again.  A door will appear in mid-air, and we will have the same choice that Colonel Forbin did- and I think we will all make the same decision.



This is the original recording of Trey’s senior thesis from Goddard in 1987.  Complete with the full story narration that is woven in pieces into live shows, this will take you on an hour long journey through Gamehendge. If you ever had any questions about the story, this will answer them

The first-ever live performance of Gamehendge at the place where it all started.  Below is a cast of characters, thanks to Wikipedeia.

  1. The Lizards (the race of people who inhabit Gamehendge and are dependent on the writings of the Helping Friendly Book for their survival)
  2. Wilson (a traveller who arrives in Gamehendge and eventually captures the Helping Friendly Book from the Lizards and locks it in the top of his castle, thus becoming the sole ruler of Gamehendge)
  3. Colonel Forbin (a retired colonel who embarks on a mission to rescue the Helping Friendly Book from the tower of Wilson’s castle)
  4. McGrupp (Colonel Forbin’s dog)
  5. Rutherford the Brave (head knight of the Lizards who leads a team of allies to help overthrow Wilson)
  6. Tela (member of the allies and Colonel Forbin’s object of desire who is eventually revealed as a spy for Wilson)
  7. Errand Wolfe (member of the allies who keeps the book for himself after overthrowing Wilson instead of returning it to the Lizards, thus declaring himself ruler)
  8. Roger Wolfe (member of the allies, Errand’s son)
  9. Mr. Palmer (Wilson’s accountant who is hanged by the AC/DC Bag in the town square after he is caught embezzling money to fund the allies)
  10. The AC/DC Bag (a robotic hangman with a bag on its head used to hang traitors and enemies of Wilson)
  11. The Unit Monster (a giant monster who is a member of the allies and is killed along with Tela for spying)
  12. Spotted Stripers (Three legged messenger birds sent by Tela the spy to reveal information to Wilson about the activities of the allies)
  13. Multibeasts (giant four-legged creatures that are used as transportation by the people of Gamehendge, much like horses or camels. They have long curly hair and splotches of brown and white color.)
  14. The Famous Mockingbird (a bird who is sent by Icculus to fly to the very top of Wilson’s castle and retrieve the Helping Friendly Book for Colonel Forbin)
  15. The Sloth (a hitman who is hired to murder Wilson after the Helping Friendly Book is rescued)
  16. Icculus (the Supreme God of the Sky and author of the Helping Friendly Book)
  17. Llamas (giant animals used by the Lizards in combat; complete with huge guns on each side)
  18. Jimmy (young resident of Gamehendge)
  19. Poster Nutbag (The cat owned by Jimmy; always dies some form of death towards the end of the song ‘Harpua’, an ever-changing narration sometimes taking place in Gamehenge)
  20. Harpua (A mean bulldog owned by an old man who was banished from Jimmy’s village; invariably ends up in a terrible fight with Poster Nutbag, usually resulting in Poster’s death, sometimes set in Gamehenge.)

So many aspects of their career made Phish more than just a band.  A combination of playfulness, inside jokes, and connection to their fans created a community around Phish from early on.  One of the distinct factors contributing to this phenomenon was the myth of Gamehendge.  Written as Trey’s senior thesis at Goddard College in …

Gamehendge: More Than Music Read More »

Along with the big guns that always ensured a large section of intense improv, Phish has so many great songs that were not always stretched out.  Being Phish and always prone to taking musical risks, from time to time they extended one of their songs, turning it into something out of the ordinary.  Sometimes staying within the songs’ chord progressions, and other times taking them out, these jams always took on a sense of excitement because you never knew they were coming.  “Theme From the Bottom” was one of these songs.

“Theme” Hampton ’03 – photo: picture man

Debuted at the Lowell, MA show of 5.16.95 along with several other new songs, Theme soon became a crowd favorite.  Combining aquatic symbolism for life, poignant lyrics, and infectious melodic hooks, this song about friendship and the unknown became a staple of Phish setlists in years to come.  With a delicate composed section and an soaring emotional guitar solo “jam,” few were disappointed when Fishman’s shimmering cymbal hits initiated this one.

When the band decided to use Theme as a vehicle for improvisation, the resulting textures from this blissful song varied with the times.  Below are six versions of Theme that move beyond its standard structure to varying degrees.  When listening, you’ll notice how the sound of the each jam is definitive of Phish’s point of sonic evolution at that time.  Ranging from 1995 to 2003, these are some of the most interesting versions of “Theme” you’ll find.

6.22.95 Finger Lakes PAC  Canandaigua, NY II

1995 – photo: Tim Mosenfelder

Only the seventh Theme ever played, this one opened the second set of this epic show known for its 40+ minute Tweezer that slid out of this Theme’s amorphous post-song jam.  The actual Theme jam features some ripping Page piano work coupled with some inspired soling by Trey, forming an extended and soupy version- akin to many ’95 “Free”s.  While the jam grows into some spirited full-band shredding, the most exploratory part of this Theme comes as Trey sustains the ending note of the song and the band builds an amorphous space-scape of sound around it.  This post-peak jam develops into some quintessential Summer ’95 abstract psychedelic madness.  Eventually gaining momentum, heading towards the opening lick of Tweezer, Fishman adds an aggressive beat and the band is off into an exciting second set that would read “Theme > Tweezer > Tweezer Reprise.”

LISTEN TO JAM NOW! (Roll over link and press play!)

(The Tweezer lick slowly builds right as this track cuts off)


11.27.96 Key Arena Seattle I

1996 – photo:

In this version which emerges out of “Free,” the band delves into some darker exploration outside of the song’s melodic theme.  Notice the slower pace of the grooves as the band is amidst their transformation to the style of 1997.  This version features some wailing Trey work, as well as precise soling.  Almost sounding like a “Tweezer” at times, the band finally resolves to more melodic territory as they re-enter the song’s peak.  A concise, yet excellent version.



7.21.97 Virginia Beach, VA II

photo – photorazzi

In the historic first show of the US Summer ’97 tour, Phish went big on Theme in the second set.  A twenty minute version, this Theme was an outright highlight of the show.  Right away you will notice the incredibly slowed down playing that characterized the year.  Giving the music more space to breathe, Trey is able to use shorter phrasing and let his notes carry over multiple beats.  Using this more sparse style of soloing, Trey, Page and Mike all compliment each other much more than playing “on top” of each other.

Leroi Moore

As the songs triumphant composed jam came to a peak, Trey began hitting some rhythm licks that initiated a transition into deep Summer ’97 funk.  As this Theme becomes a dance party, the band welcomed the late LeRoi Moore from The Dave Matthews Band to stage to join them on saxophone.  Easily joining in the thick groove Phish was churning out, Moore added a jazzy element to the jam as he took front and center with his solo.  After some time of locked in jamming, Moore picked up a second sax and began playing both at once.  Mimicking the silly vibe, Trey grabbed a second guitar and slung it around his neck, began rhythmically strumming both.  Soon Page was on all fours playing four keyboards, Trey added a third guitar, and Fish began to play with upwards of seven drumsticks before running around the stage with cymbals.  Mike joined in and played two basses for this part of the jam that somehow sounds more coherent than you would think.



7.26.99 Deer Creek II


6.16.00 Zepp Osaka, Osaka, Japan II

This version, also included in the last set of a tour, provided an expressive centerpiece in an emotive set.  Following the standout “Runaway Jim,” the band lost no steam as they entered into the Theme jam.  With a perfect pace to the improv, the band began toying within the chord progression of the jam.  Yet, as the melody settled, the band progressed into some strapping grooves and heavy drone patterns that provide a juxtaposition to the song’s standard course.  This is the version- this past Saturday night- that inspired this post.  This is some vintage ’00 Phish, before the band started to lose steam later in the year.


2.25.03 The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA II

2.25.03 The Spectrum

A definitive highlight of a relatively thin show, this Theme moved creatively through a precise composed jam the highlighted the band’s newly rejuvenated chops. Before the jam reaches its composed peak, the band entered a “breakdown” section out of which they flow a funky groove.  This groove is still loosely attached to the song, though that attachment would soon be snapped as Fishman switched to a sparser beat, encouraging Trey to get into some dirty ’03 soloing.  This section moved away from the song’s usual focus and transformed into a dancy, psychedelic segment of music.   Hitting the ending lyrical verse, this version would enter a post-song dissonant crescendo, eventually segueing into Runaway Jim.




The highlight show from the three nights in Barcelona ’98, this one has outstanding improv throughout.  A top-notch opening trio of “Carini, Boogie On > NICU” got the show started quickly.  A ripping Split and a sublime Gordon-led “Tweezer” highlighted the first set, while the second set featured a unique “Drowned,” and yet another big second set “Theme From the Bottom.”  The improv only gets hotter throughout the set, culminating in a phenomenal “Hood > Izabella.”  (The Chalk Dust encore is missing from this recording)

I. Carini > Boogie On Reggae Woman > NICU, Split Open and Melt, Meat, Poor Heart, Tweezer, Hello My Baby

II. Drowned > Theme From the Bottom, When the Circus Comes to Town, Scent of a Mule > Blister In the Sun > Scent of a Mule, Harry Hood* > Izabella

E: Chalk Dust Torture

* unfinished

Along with the big guns that always ensured a large section of intense improv, Phish has so many great songs that were not always stretched out.  Being Phish and always prone to taking musical risks, from time to time they extended one of their songs, turning it into something out of the ordinary.  Sometimes staying …

From the Bottom, From the Top Read More »

Soaring back from the stratosphere, your mind slams into your skull.  Phish holds their final climactic note as Trey announces the band’s return in fifteen minutes.  You wipe away the sweat from your eyes, catching your breath as that note comes crashing down.  The silence is loud; glancing around, you get your bearings.  Night turns to day.  It is setbreak.

Hampton – photo: picture man

Feeling far different than you did when the set started, Phish has taken you to away to that place deep inside.  You see your friends collecting near that staircase over there, as some Dave Brubeck gently wafts through the house speakers.  Making your way over before the rush, you reunite with your crew, all together in the lair of the Phish.  Absorbing the atmosphere surrounding you, everyone glows with vibrant life in the aftermath of the first half.  Spotting a patch of empty seats, you head over and set up shop.  For the next thirty to forty minutes, you have nothing to do but reflect on the music, enjoy your friends, run to the bathroom, and burn a few.  Time literally turns elastic.

Deer Creek

Sitting back, you relax and gaze through the spectrum of color, and movement in front of you.  Running through the highlights of the set, mentally and verbally, you pull out a couple of pre-rolls, as you’ve learned that your rolling capacity can be astonishingly diminished in this vortex between the music.  Sparking one, you are soon passed a bowl from your buddy, and before too long you’re in the middle of the ritualistic setbreak session.  Allowing the smoke to enhance your fantasy land, you inevitably have some clowning interactions with heads you never met before; familiar strangers traveling a common path.  A time when the humor of the absurd rears its bizarre head, setbreak often becomes a straight-up comedy session of psychedelic hilarity.  Everyone’s heightened states and the ever-present magic present at Phish can combine to create side-splitting interludes between the music.

photo: picture man

Soon your awareness shifts to your corporeal self, and you set your compass for the bathroom in order avoid the urge during the ensuing madness.  Thrusting yourself into the herd of cattle filling the arena corridor, you slither your way through a space preposterously packed with people perfectly content to inch around like snails.  In an uncrowded venue, this mission is a cinch, but when the big shows arrive, the secondary protocol is needed.  After executing your plan, you head back in the direction of your crew, everything around you sliding past in slow motion.  Light on your feet, you float through the hallway and touch down back at your home base.  (Unless you get lost, and then your mission takes on unknown dimensions of confusion and horror.)

photo: picture man

Returning to your crew, a few spliffs still circulate, as the talk has turned to the approaching music.  There is nothing quite like the anticipation of the oncoming freight train that is set two.  If the first set was hot, you knew the second set was going to be something special.  If the first set dragged a bit, lacking many highlights, you knew the band would come out and blow the place apart.  It was a win-win situation, but the course of your cosmic adventure was yet to be charted.  Some fans create betting pools on the set opener; some merely venture a guess, and while almost always wrong, there is nothing like the band coming out and dropping into the song you called five minutes earlier.  A smile engulfs your being as you cannonball into the bottomless musical ocean.

photo: picture man

It’s been over a half an hour, it must be getting close.  As you stand, clinging to the rail, a handy metaphor for your present reality, you are ready for the music.  You’re done talking, there is nothing else to say.  As you see Paul and Chris making their way back to the boards, you hop out into the aisle and down the steps, reclaiming some dance space before the flood of people arrives.  As you sit on the railing, just waiting, you spot some of your other friends down on the floor.  Leaning over, you point them out to your buddy.  “Where? Who?” he asks.  “Not there!” you respond.  “The section to the right.  See that guy in the yellow shirt?  Go back three rows from–”

And the lights go black.  Everything falls into irrelevancy.  That feeling of divine possibility peaks inside your chest as your soul smiles, awaiting to receive the music.  Walking back on stage, the band assumes their places as Trey noodles and scratches at his guitar, checking in with each.  “One. Two. One, two, three four…”

Post your most absurd setbreak anecdotes in Comments below!



The Patriot Center, Fairfax, VA

A crispy soundboard recording from the spring of ’94, this one contains a great second set.  With shredding set-opening “David Bowie” followed by a rare pre-97 jammed-out version of “Wolfman’s Brother,” this set starts out with a bang.  Including a typically smooth and exploratory ’94 “Reba” and a manic “Maze,” the show certainly does not lack in improvisational chops.  Respek.

I: Loving Cup, Foam, I Didn’t Know, The Divided Sky, Mound, Down With Disease > If I Could, My Sweet One, Cavern

II: David Bowie, Wolfman’s Brother, Uncle Pen, The Sloth, Reba, Big Ball Jam > Maze, Contact, Golgi Apparatus

E: HYHU > Cracklin’ Rosie, Bold as Love

Soaring back from the stratosphere, your mind slams into your skull.  Phish holds their final climactic note as Trey announces the band’s return in fifteen minutes.  You wipe away the sweat from your eyes, catching your breath as that note comes crashing down.  The silence is loud; glancing around, you get your bearings.  Night turns …

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