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The twenty best versions of Phish classics

The twenty best versions of Phish classics
Eric Gruneisen

Phish just finished a stunning run of shows on the East Coast last week in which the band debuted new material. While the new tunes will no doubt inspire much debate, the band's already sprawling archive of performances provides endless fodder for discussions of which versions are the best. Admittedly, there are probably as many amazing renditions as there are individual opinions and preferences, based on everything from longest renditions to most exploratory. And obviously, there are multiple online communities that have spent years dedicated to haggling over this very thing. Nonetheless, drawing upon all our years of Phish fanaticism, here's a list of the twenty best versions of Phish classics.

See also: Phish's twenty most interesting covers

20. "You Enjoy Myself" - Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison, CO, 6/11/94 The compositional part of the song is played with high energy; Mike Gordon's bouncy bass keeps a hard funk beat, as Anastasio hits every cue with swagger, sliding the notes in time with a bluesy rock feel. The guys step into the improvisational part carefully, with Fishman keeping a tight and steady rhythm as sustained guitar chords build tension and release into a great rock and roll solo, breaking down to a slapping bass line. The vocal jam starts out boisterous with straight beat-boxing and ends on a choral high note.

19. "Carini" - Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, 12/30/12 This dark "Carini" was a surprise, as the hard rocking song hadn't been properly jammed out in a while. The band devolves into sounds of primordial ooze, bringing in different effects and pedals, with Kuroda even darkening the lights to go with the sinister dark jam.

18. "Simple" - Mid-South Coliseum, Memphis, TN, 11/18/1996 This version is a really joyful rendition, both vocally and in spirit. The drums chug along forcefully as Fishman keeps the hi-hat beat steady, and high notes are hit and laughed about on the microphones. The tempo goes down a notch, as a triangle is hit, and McConnell plays with key. Trey makes his guitar roar like a tiger, bringing the song to the prettiest highest peak before dying down gently.

17. "David Bowie" - Providence Civic Center, Providence, RI, 12/29/94 This version really showcases how psychedelic and weird the band could get in this era. Transitioning out of "Guyute" with a "Digital Delay Loop Jam" that is quick and prog-rock-ish, Fishman brings the signature hi-hat intro in, while things stay weird for a while before launching into the song. As the guys get past the verses, they quickly go off the deep end. Trey's guitar tone sounds sinister as Fishman keeps the steady "Bowie" beat swelling in and out. Things get almost demonic sounding as a cacophony of noise and feedback mixes with McConnell's playful major keys. Things become downright celebratory and then turn on the audience, the band whistling, whispering oddities like "Lassie, come home." Screaming leads to screaming guitar until they shoot their way through an intensely charged ending.

16. "Slave to the Traffic Light" - The Great Went, Limestone, ME, 8/16/97 Starting out delicately, the buildup to this version is gorgeous, with Trey's guitar sustaining and swelling in and out as if it was his heart beating, building with tremolo picking and soaring into the peak.

 

15. "Bathtub Gin" - Riverport Amphitheatre, Maryland Heights, MO, 7/29/98 As the guys get past the compositional portion, Fishman steps the tempo up just a bit, while Trey and Page stay move through fast notes and patterns, and Gordon kicks up an upbeat bass line that takes them down a funky high paced road. Page lays it down on the organ, and the tempo never lets up the entire time, as Trey tosses the melody in, modulating it just a bit until it fits and the ending transitions in perfectly.

14. "Run Like an Antelope" - Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, 12/29/97 There isn't a deep exploratory jam in this version, just Trey playing really fast and completely on point. The climax is a cacophony of noise leading up to a peak that blows the roof off the place with amazing tension and release.

13. "Fee" - Virginia Beach Amphitheatre, Virginia Beach, VA, 7/8/99 A lyric-heavy song that is usually played pretty straight forward, this one gets the special treatment. While the rest of the show is not the best, this "Fee" stands out strong and has much re-listenable value with its continuing build of blissful sound, occasionally catching its breath with hard-driving rock.

12. "Light" - Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, CO, 9/1/12 Everyone knew going in that something was going to special about that weekend, coming in the day after the "Fuck Your Face" show from the night before. "Light" explored many different thematic jams here; it was one of those moments where you knew at the time that it was something special.

11. "Down with Disease" - Clifford Ball, Plattsburgh, NY, 8/16/96 This up-tempo, celebratory version is a fan favorite, as everything from Clifford Ball is. McConnell and the rest all play with full cylinders roaring here, piano chords blending with bouncing bass lines and chugging drums.

 

10. "Halley's Comet" - 12/7/99 This song doesn't get jammed out these days, but in the '90s, it continuously got the special treatment and really went places. This version gets faster and bigger with each measure until releasing into beautiful repeating guitar riffs that swirl around and around.

9. "Theme from the Bottom" - Madison Square Garden, New York, NY, 12/29/97 This version starts with Fishman steady and firm on the hi-hat, and as he lets loose of the tempo, Trey's guitar begins to soar. With never a moment of disconnect, they bring the song back to a strong high.

8. "AC/DC Bag" - Boise State University Pavilion, Boise, ID, 9/14/99 Experimental, spacey, start-stop jamming, this version starts out slower and instantly starts getting interesting in the jam, with Fishman's hi-hat keeping time, while Anastasio plays some killer distorted riffs. The tempo speeds up, and these guys take off with the audience.

7. "Tweezer" - Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, 11/28/94 This version probably sucked in more fans than any one song after appearing on "A Live One" in 1995. They drop into the jam, and the tempo is the same, but Trey is vamping chords and takes it further into dissonance. As it gets spacier, you get to what is referred to as "Digital Delay Loop Jam," the "Tweezer" theme playing in and out until everything breaks down to what sounds like prehistoric sludge, with Fishman staying right there the whole time. McConnell gets a beautiful solo moment on the piano, with the bass gorgeously accentuating the way, until they've built themselves up into a frenzy. Trey hits the main melody line once again, and the ending takes off.

6. "Harry Hood" - Roseland Theater, Portland, OR, 3/31/93 Starting with the Pink Panther theme teased by Gordon, this version of "Harry Hood" turns into a high energy shred fest. The band sounds tight and together, and the peak hits hard and makes you feel real good.

 

5. "Piper" - Saratoga Springs Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Springs, NY, 6/19/04 This version of the song really has it all -- Trey wailing, smooth funk grooves, ambient parts, Fishman playing like he has four arms, and when the "Tweezer" tease comes in, you can hear the audience lift off through the audio.

4. "Ghost" - McNichols Arena, Denver, CO, 11/17/97 This version of "Ghost" starts out so slow and deliberate. It gives the song a lot of room to breathe and grow and shows off the space-funk sound they had down in 1997.

3. "Reba" - American Theater, St. Louis, MO, 8/16/93 This version really shows off how many ideas the band can throw out in one song. Delving into deep funk, dissonance and bliss, this version of "Reba" shows off all different kinds of themes and sounds until it builds to a beautiful trilling peak and then drops back into whistling.

2. "Fluffhead" - Hampton Coliseum, Hampton, VA, 3/6/2009 Hampton's "Fluffhead" is the embodiment of joy. There was so much pent up energy and excitement here that you can overlook little flubs. This version, which opened Phish's first show back as a band, sounds like sheer happiness.

1. "Twist" - Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY, 4/2/98 Island Tour "Twist" is a classic. The jam is smooth and searching, Mike Gordon's bass line always there playing a great melody and keeping it light. Then they keep going and going. One moment it's a beautiful major key jam, and then they get dark and spacey on the audience with interesting pedal effects, getting far from the original theme and then transitioning into "Sleeping Monkey" for a soft landing.

See also: - Phish's twenty most interesting covers - From Phish to Floyd, the ten best light shows - Phish's ten most overlooked jams - The twenty smoothest Grateful Dead transitions





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