To recognize, celebrate, and commemorate our favorite band’s first 40 years, Phish.net will be presenting a series called “40 for 40” featuring curated selections by the Phish.net/Mockingbird Foundation community that highlight important aspects of the band’s history. First, get ready for 40 epic JAMS! Each Friday for the next four weeks, look out for 10 jams to enjoy that speak to the depth of Phish’s incredible live improvisational performances across the decades.
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So without further ado, this is one of those Phish song and jam selections that I will volunteer to a non-phan as a gateway to “get” the band - both the style of their songs and the IT factor of jams. “CDT” as a song is one of the more palatable songs lyrically for wider audiences; it's relatable, fun and catchy. But, when this jam begins (early around the 3 minute mark) it just keeps building. It's a thing of beauty, so coherent and cohesive that it almost feels arranged. Then, around the 9-minute mark, it launches into a whole new stratosphere with true bliss jam peaking that almost any music fan could appreciate. Bon Appetit!
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Similar to some other versions of Phish songs (like the 12/2/95 New Haven “Tweezer”) Trey is on fire from the first few notes of the jam segment, and somehow manages to sustain the ferocity and hose-em-all-down spirit of those opening measures for several minutes, o'er masterful accompaniment from Mike, Page, and especially Fish. The phrasing of Trey's solo just couldn't be better, it tells a story, and that story IS FUCKING AWESOME!!!! This is among my favorite pre-93 versions of a Phish tune, and if you can't hear why? YSAP!
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When anyone asks me what the band sounds like recently, I point them to this “Tweezer”–my favorite jam of the last few years. The energy of this one to open the second set is undeniable on the night before the infamous Rescue Squad incident. This version gels into a moody beast somewhere in the middle and takes turn after turn on the way there. I always wish for a “Tweezer”–who doesn't?–and this one had me shaking my head in disbelief several times on the MSG floor. It only gets cooler with each subsequent listen, so step into the freezer indeed.
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I elected to write this from my handheld mobile device, as my cellphone, ubiquitous in our culture, is one thing that I always carry with me. And, every cellphone I've had since they were large enough to have a download has had the 6/11/94 “YEM” from Red Rocks on it, added usually during the set up period before I even call anyone. What this means is that, at any time of any day, whether feeling sad or happy, or just needing a familiar refrain, I can click play and have 19 minutes and 58 seconds of constancy. And, it doesn't hurt that Trey plays his best "note" at 6:54 and his solo at 11 minutes in is his best work. Ever.
Beyond that, I don’t really want to get into a note by note or second by second recap of the song itself. I’d rather you all find your joy in this masterful version. I think that we all as Phish fans are a little more attuned to the joys and elation of music, how music can affect our moods and our psyches, how music can elevate us to a higher plane and hold us all in an emotional fugue.
It’s been my go-to for introducing new fans to Phish’s music, and I actually found this version of “YEM” when I was the proverbial “newbie.” This would have been back in 2000. So, I’ve had this as my favorite singular jam for almost 25 years now. This song has been with me through my graduation from high school and then going off to college, played (multiple times!) on the 29 hour drive down to Austin from Upstate NY.
It’s been with me for new relationships and break-ups, through personal tragedies and accomplishments. It was there for me when I got married in 2013 and through the birth of my three children. At times it's been what I wanted to hear and at others it's been what I needed to hear, with me in good times and bad times. As stated, I keep it on my phone so that it’s always with me when I want to listen to it, so it’s always in my pocket.
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Many of us are now accustomed to the term "4th Quarter," that ubiquitous phrase borrowed from sports by the Phish community to mean "the end is near" or the beginning of the end of the night's show. It is the symbolic point of many shows–but not all–where Phish plays a ballad-type song that signals that the jamming free-stylin' exploratory part of Set II is over, that we are winding down for a breather and maybe one more song before the Harry/Antelope/Bowie's of the world bring the end of the show.
Again, it’s not every show but a fairly consistent formula. Often met with an audible sigh from the ungrateful, that song that serves as the start of the 4th quarter is usually a song that is pretty much the same every time played. Usually slow, usually uneventful, usually unremarkable, just...there. Beautiful…but just there. On the ninth night of the Baker’s Dozen, Phish bucked that formula, ending Set II with a high-energy trifecta of “46 Days” > “Piper” > “Possum.”
But, you could have been forgiven if you weren't sure which way the “Maple” show was going to go. After opening with a near 20-minute Golden Age, the 2nd song of the 2nd set was Leaves. I love Leaves. Leaves is beautiful. But a party song it is not. When Phish moved to the third song of the 2nd set, it was a 5 year-shelved 192 show bustout of “Swept Away” > “Steep.” Great, we love bustouts. But here? Now? This 3 minute pairing from Billy Breathes? And you may have found yourself thinking: are we just in for a chill-vibes 2nd set?
Well, some of my most cherished musical moments are not the bustouts, or the 20 minute jams, or the type I fire/hose, but the ones that are least expected–where a song that has never been jammed, has no business being jammed, that you wouldn't bet $1 in Vegas on 1000-to-1 odds to be jammed, let alone long-form aka Type II–gets jammed. It is those, the ones that come out of nowhere, that aren't just a novelty, but legit blow-you-away and make you say "OMG what am I witnessing," that bring a tear to your eye and a smile to your face–particularly when that jam follows the audible sighs from the crowd–that is what I live for! That is a big part of why I Phish…expecting the unexpected.
I chose this jam over so many favorites. I debated some 1995 masterpieces, I debated something from Big Cypress, I debated so many jams from Fall 2013, maybe from the reunion run, from forgotten 2.0 obscurity... In the end, I thought nothing quite speaks to modern day Phish like the 13 shows of the Baker’s Dozen at the world’s most famous arena, their home: not repeating a song, showing incredible patience throughout the run, clearly plotting their sets out thinking about the theme for each night, thinking about where they want those jams to fall.
I would love to have been a fly in the room for the conversation (if there even was one) when they chose to take “Steep” for a ride. While the Baker’s Dozen brought epic jams, and I'll be shocked if someone doesn't choose that “Lawn Boy” for this exercise, few packed the emotion, the story, the artistry, the serenity of this unexpected masterpiece of this then-5-year shelved pair, complete with a nice couple of Mike bombs in the middle. Enjoy! [EDITOR’S NOTE: Don’t forget to help give more of @ProfJibboo’s money to MBF by bumping his annual thread!]
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This selection is from my second show, when I happened to be in Orlando for a conference and saw that Phish were playing over in Tampa. I corralled a couple of Deadhead friends to rent a car and road trip to the relatively small venue in Ybor City, just outside of Tampa. This “Gin” was my primary musical memory from that evening because it departed so much from the recorded version I knew well.
It’s also noteworthy that this was the last “Bathtub Gin” played before the famous Murat "Gin" 11 nights later, which is considered by many to be the first true Type 2 jam. But, listen to this one, too. It starts out slow and then gets even slower as they explore a syncopated rhythm that was made for awkward dancing, before moving to an uptempo section that segues smoothly into “Makisupa Policeman.” Trey's solo is gorgeous, and they tease “Low Rider” and “I Feel Pretty.” The “Murat Gin” didn't come out of nowhere!
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When it is late at night and I get handed the "aux" while a room full of people wait for the perfect music to get lost in, this is my absolute go-to. Like many great “Bowies,” this one arguably goes “Type 2" before it even gets started; its 2:30 of Mike taking us into the stars before Jon even touches the hi-hat and another 2 minutes–including a by-then-very-rare “Simpsons” Secret Language signal, called to honor Matt Groening who was said to be in attendance–before the drop into the song. Once it starts, it is everything you ever wanted in a Bowie: immaculately nailing the composition with the speed and energy of a runaway locomotive.
The drop into the jam takes us back out into space, with the sound breaking down into almost nothing. Then, out of nowhere, a reggae groove appears and we are off. Trey and Page coast above the waves as if they're sailing on a cool Caribbean breeze while Mike and Jon slowly build the chaos from way down deep. And chaos wins: Trey and Page are eventually swept up into a glorious cacophony. It’s as if Trey is riding the top of this aural wave while simultaneously doing everything he can to somehow break free of it. Eventually, it all comes crashing down into syncopated madness that is one of the most infectious things I've ever heard them play.
Then… There it is. That glorious melody. I will say that now, all these years later, you can hear the “Cities” coming a mile away. But in 1997? When it hadn't been played in the US in over 8 years? Pfft! Anyone that says they heard it coming is probably lying. But, suddenly a quick shift in key and we are thinking of London (small city). You can *hear* the grin on Trey's face through the tapes. Everything after that is denouement. Glorious, wonderful, soul cleansing denouement.
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It’s the kind of moment that happens seemingly out of nowhere with this band over and over through time, where the random conditions are just right for that special something to manifest itself on stage pulling us all along in rapt awareness, before it’s “Swept Away” by the next song toward the next opportunity, tugged as though by a “Mule” ever forward. Thanks to tapers and the magic of interconnected computers, it’s thankfully easy to find our way back to almost every one, even across four decades.
Like Trey, I've said it before and I'll say it again (another jam that deserves recognition: "Divided Sky," Deer Creek, 8/13/96): one of my favorite facets of Phish is when Trey alights upon an idea, and, within a week–as is the case, here–or soon thereafter, tries to better what the band has done before. Perhaps my favorite example of this is when Trey eschews any sort of song, let alone "Hydrogen," and drops from "Mike's" directly into "Paug." If the first instance, 12/1/95, is a response "philosophical," what transpires a few shows later, inside a cold, creepy, concrete airplane hangar, is metaphysical.
Fans know that, for years, the band (Trey) worked one another through wild and innovative rehearsals. One of the coolest Phish traditions was opening practice–following a mug of Marijuana Hot Chocolate, or Mushroom Tea–with a few bluegrass numbers .… You know: to open the mind. To "Set Your Soul Free." So, after touring with the band throughout 1995, I knew that Niagara was going to be different when the band rattled "The Old Home Place" throughout the crazy old venue's rafters to open their historic, 12/7/95 LP.
Many of us at set break were discussing tour highlights. Others–a couple friends of mine–were shaking off their first live "Guyute" …. There was something in the air. And by this, I mean other than the phenomenal first set: the smell of decent weed. Trey seemed pointed. Direct. And boy, man, would this prove correct when, fifteen minutes later, Phish took the stage. I was really young, and I had that headfull and fearless mindset that all was "innocence," given enough experience.
But, this "Mike's Groove" pushed limits. Kuroda wasn't helping. And neither was that chessboard, which wouldn't stop melting. Thankfully, I moved past nervousness into the horizontal plane of Trey's catch-me-if-you-can play cum watery effects, and I heard the music as a challenge, the echoes bouncing around the room becoming something I ought to consider, and process. Weak-kneed, I grabbed my girlfriend's hand and pointlessly held on, as no one, not a person, was moving–we were drenched, pummeled, and pounded with sound, Phish holding us steady.
It's funny, now, to listen to that "Paug," which plays as celebratory. Back then, though? In real time? The "Groove" confused–no "Simple," no anything, again?–and arrived like a cup of water offered by a volunteer while completing a marathon. Unsure, I reached for the cup, but most of the liquid ran down my face. But oh .... What a beautiful buzz. There was only one way to cap that sequence - which we wouldn't see again until the Gorge, circa 98 - and that was with a “DDLJ.” An auditory, if not hallucinatory bow, this is how Trey caps what he knows to be a most truly memorable experience. And, MFMF's: It doesn't get much more memorable than this. Then. Or now.
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If you're looking for the raucous fun and pure energy of 1.0, this is your jam. There's no point in detailing individual sections because this is no delicate prancing of the hooves. The launch is obvious from the beginning. Maybe it's the rosy glow of having been in attendance but this chaotic version has it all–wild frenetic playing by all 4, secret language, racing around the stage megaphone carrying shredding Redman–punctuated by a brief foray into “Catapult” (with nice percussive playing by Page and loving Fishman banter). A quick return to Antelope's cacophony and maniacal screaming glory sends the crowd wild.
I was fortunate enough to be dead center, Trey-eye level, and can tell you the entire audience was pulled right up there on stage. I honestly thought we were going to fall over and tumble down the remaining 10 ft. of slope. Also, note that the rest of the show is certainly no slacker: “Harpua” with Jupiter and Poster being hit by a comet, a lovely “Hood” with no audience call-back (yeah! Sorry, Benjy Eisen), and more. The show sent us off into the VT mountain night blissed, fulfilled, and sure to come back for more. Honorable Mention: 7/29/23 MSG “Fuego.” Ok, it was a birthday show and we had great seats, but it was fir-ah!
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If you mention Ghost/Europe/1998, everyone is going to talk about Prague. But, the sleeper of the entire tour to my ears, is the Copenhagen “Ghost.” Launching from the fresh new arrangement, this version covers it all–fast and tight, slow and spacey, right up to danceable boogie. Situated at the front of a 4-song set,the last set of an intimate three-night stand in Christiania, after a first set filled with debuts and on-stage chit-chat, it's a powerhouse that portends the dynamic role “Ghost” would come to serve as a jam-launching centerpiece at many future Phish shows.
I was fortunate to have been in attendance for this, after having recently graduated applied for a job at Dry Goods (didn’t get it). While I was well-aware of Phish.net as early as 1995, I hadn’t yet written a single line of code or aspired to write a website, let alone predicted that ten years later I’d be the architect and creator of this incarnation of Phish.net. After six years as President of the Foundation, I would like to echo Chip’s words above from the first of these ten jams: Phish.net is possibly the most important Mockingbird asset and a key to its success as a grant-making organization supporting music education. Helping it grow has been a great personal experience that required an incredible amount of work. I’d also like to ask you to please consider donating to celebrate this special anniversary, recognize Phish.net, and to support Mockingbird and its mission.
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This LivePhish playlist (thanks to @TobinsQ) is only lacking the Red Rocks "YEM" (available as an FM SBD) and Freetown "Ghost" (which is available on the 17th volume of From the Archives). Enjoy this Phish.in playlist, and here's the YouTube playlist for these jams!
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