“Ya Mar” is one of few covers that many fans have confused for a Phish original. Part of the reason for this confusion is that the band has played the song routinely since its debut in 1987, and it has become a staple of the Phish catalog. Its foray into calypso rhythms never ceases to lighten up a show, and bring smiles to the faces of many grooving fans. Though Phish has played the song for the duration of their career, the history of it was a bit nebulous.
As the story goes, Mike was on vacation in the Caribbean and heard a band called The Mustangs, playing “Ya Mar,” a song that was actually a cover of Bahamas recording artist Cyril Ferguson. The cover had been recorded by The Mustangs, put on their album, and credited to them on many a Caribbean compilation. Liking the song so much, when Mike returned to Vermont, he taught the band “Ya Mar” and the rest was history. It wasn’t until years later, when The Mockingbird Foundation was doing research for the first edition of the The Phish Companion, that it was discovered that Phish had been playing The Mustangs calypso interpretation of Ferguson’s original all along, without knowing who the real artist was.
Regardless of the song’s history, it evolved into a Phish song. With countless performances over two plus decades, its origin has become mere trivia. Adding a hint of island flavor to an otherwise divergent show can often be the exact thing needed to complete that perfect set. While “Ya Mar” has appeared in all spots on a set list, some particularly well-placed second set versions appeared on 7.25.97 in Dallas, with drummer Bob Gulotti sitting in, leading into a drums jam; 4.5.98 in Providence, RI, providing melodic relief from a grinding “Disease” jam; 11.26.97 in Hartford, with a seamless segue out of “Cities,” 12.2.97 in Philly, deep in a whole-set “Mike’s Groove” leading into “Weekapaug.”
Sometimes used as a largely composed piece, and other times used as a clear improvisational vehicle, “Ya Mar” carries diverse purposes. Like Phish’s own utility infielder- ready for action at all times- happy to fill in wherever needed. Drawing enthusiastic cheers from Trey’s call of “Play it Leo!”, and Page’s subsequent organ romp, the song carries a merry and lighthearted vibe, while sometimes leading into far more.
“Ya Mar” has moved with the trends of Phish’s music, and has seen various tempos and incarnations of its polyrhythmic textures. Below are five standout versions of the song- where Phish takes it quite a bit deeper. You can listen to each right on the site by rolling over the links and clicking play or right click and open in a new window.
12.13.97 Knickerbocker Arena, Albany NY
Kicking off the last show of Fall ’97, this “Ya Mar” is many a fan’s favorite version- and rightfully so. The opener summed up the funked out tour with a groove-based “Ya Mar” unlike any other. Like many shows of this tour, funk jams popped out of non-funky songs, and Phish killed this one with an opening dance session. After playing a tight and engaging version of the song, the band “took it from the top,” as Trey strummed the opening chords just as you thought the song would end. And this is when things blew up. The second time through there was nothing but sublime, funkified improv. This is truly IT. Check this one out- it gets my vote for “best ever.”
12.02.97 The Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA
Deep in a second-set “Mike’s” sandwich, this version of “Ya Mar” emerged out of “Dog-Faced Boy,” bringing light to an otherwise dark set that was dominated by an outrageous “Mike’s” jam. This jam began in a sparsely percussive place, as Trey slithered into the mix with subtle melodies that soon blossomed into a constant flow of gorgeous lines. Page and Mike laid low for the beginning, integrating themselves into the jam slowly. With the band’s entry, the music became more layered and psychedelic, reaching a territory far away from its origin. Trey even managed to squeeze some “Crosseyed” licks into this standout version. As the adventure continued, the music wound its way into the beginning of a top-notch “Weekapaug.”
4.5.98 Providence Civic Center, RI
The Island Run “Ya Mar” was something to behold. The band worked an extended and twisting “Disease” down to virtual silence, when out of the silence came a complete change of vibe with the opening chords of “Ya Mar.” While seeming like a somewhat random placement, it fit with the celebratory theme of the run’s final set. Once the improv started, Trey absolutely slaughtered it, playing surreal lead lines as if they were coming off a record. A melodic geyser completely going off, Trey mesmerized the crowd, and his own band, with his work. Mike, Fish and Page quickly stepped out of prominence, and then into silence, allowing Trey’s quiet solo to take this version to the bank. The whole arena was silent, as his emotions poured from his guitar. The band came back from the darkness with musical bliss that is some of the most soulful of the weekend.
12.8.99 Cumberland Country Civic Center, Portland, ME
This first set version stood out with its incredibly collaborative nature. With all members contributing short complementary phrases at the onset of the jam, the band took a minute to make sure they were locked. Following this introductory portion, this jam turned into heavier music that remained loosely anchored to the song’s rhythm. The band gelled into some very interesting percussive territory during this version, and it’s largely forgotten in the middle of the first set.
8.2.03 IT, Limestone, ME
This second-song “Ya Mar” on the opening day of IT took off flying, setting the improvisational course for the weekend. Taking the crowd by surprise, Trey led the band through one of the best versions of the song ever played. The band hit a groove about a third of the way into the song from which they took off and never returned. Taking the normally upbeat tune into harrowing psychedelic darkness, Phish was at it being Phish again. The band tore through some distinctly non-afternoon music while the sun still shone brightly; it was a nice paradox. This version ran right away into “Jim.” IT was gonna’ be a good weekend!
This one deserves mention in any “best ever” discussion!
THANK YOU FOR DONATIONS!
I want to send a heartfelt thanks to all the readers for your generous contributions on day one! Your help will go directly to pay for the colossal month of March with the No Spoilers and Hampton downloads. I really appreciate your support! Thanks again!
HAPPY ISLAND RUN ANNIVERSARY! (4.2-4.5)
Today is the eleven year of one of the greatest Phish shows ever played. Period. A night that would go down in the annals of Phish history, 4.3.98 is right in the running for best show in history. Enjoy the energy that 4.3 brings, as well as the rest of the weekend. The other three ain’t too shabby either! Below are my Island Run posts from earlier this year.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
8.8.98 Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD SBD < TORRENT LINK
Following up yesterday’s topic of Summer ’98, here we have a leaked SBD of the well-loved show from Merriweather. With bust-outs of “Sweet Jane” and “Sabotage,” Phish kept the covers coming, and with the “Sneaking Sally” and “2001,” they kept the funk coming. A scorching “Piper” is the centerpiece of the second set which closes with a beautiful “Harry Hood.”
I: The Wedge, NICU, Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley, Guyute, Fikus, Farmhouse, Possum, Sweet Jane*
II: Cavern, Also Sprach Zarathustra, Tela > Piper, Sexual Healing, Harry Hood
*First time played