Phish, which kicked off its fall tour this past weekend in Virgina, has a body of work large enough to provide fans with endless fodder for "best ever" and "all-time great" arguments. Such discussions often devolve into pointed and passionate debates. It's not that Phish fans are easily agitated or eager to disagree. It's just that they care about the music. A lot. So for those whose zeal for one poignant jam may have caused them to discount another, here's a list of the ten most overlooked Phish jams.
See also: Phish's twenty most interesting covers
10. "Runaway Jim" - Shoreline Amphitheatre, 7/31/97 If "Runaway Jim" had its own Mount Rushmore, this version would be up there with the likes of NYE '95, Worcester '97 and Camden '00. While shorter than most other versions of stellar repute, Shoreline '97 compensates with improvisation that is loose, triumphant, and psychedelic -- perfect ingredients for an extended summertime jam that's sure to leave your jaw on the floor. Performed only an hour or two prior to the birthday of Jerry Garcia, the tune had an unusual spaciness in Trey's phrasing that could've be interpreted as a subtle nod to the man himself. Like a great movie, subsequent playbacks of this rendition reveal intricacies that are hard to catch on the first go-around.
9. "Simple" - Bryce Jordan Center, Penn State, 10/9/97 Phish's '97 fall tour has been discussed and dissected ad-nauseam. And despite clocking in at just under thirty-minutes, this jam continues to be overlooked by the masses. Sections of quiet, thoughtful playing bookend a victorious peak that ranges all the way from 12:30 through roughly 17:45. The downright spooky segue into "Timber" is preceded by slick, 2001-esque jamming and ominous teases of "David Bowie."
8. "Split Open and Melt" - Mullins Center, UMass,11/3/94 This one should come with a warning label. Novices beware: The jam you are about to consume is dense, dangerous, and unrelenting. Side effects include dizziness and confused perception of space/time. Do not operate heavy machinery. The dissonance is heavy, and the musicianship beautiful. The version of "Split Open and Melt" leaves you speechless.
7. "Mike's Song" - Leon County Civic Center, Tallahassee, Florida, 10/29/96 The show-long guest spot given to percussion prodigy Karl Perazzo adds texture to the music without holding it back or stealing Phish's mojo. The improv section of this version opens with methodical chugging that's quickly overtaken by explosive licks from Trey. These bursts of sound are punctuated by periods of space that let the music breathe. The guitar work is fierce and deliberate throughout. A break into the F-minor jam so typical of mid-to-late '90s Mike's Songs comes at around 9:27, followed by some chaotic yet controlled digital delay feedback. Minutes later, the band locks in and rips off an absolutely stunning take on the Grateful Dead's celebrated Mind Left Body chord progression. The monstrous peak is followed by a proper return to the signature "Mike's Song" finish. And yes, they stick the landing.
6. "Stash" - Macauley Theater, Louisville, Kentucky, 8/15/93 This version of "Stash" finds Phish taking a typically gritty composition and turning it inside out. Like an Oreo cookie, this "Stash" features a fluffy, sweet filling sandwiched between two sturdy layers of crunch. The juxtaposition of twisted darkness and grin-inducing bliss makes for a listening experience that any fan will be happy to relive over and over and over again. If this one doesn't make you get up and dance, you might not have a soul.
5. "Bathtub Gin" - Starplex Amphitheatre, Dallas, Texas, 7/25/97 A multifaceted behemoth that runs over twenty-minutes, this "Bathtub Gin" showcases the full spectrum of styles with which Phish began tinkering as early as Summer '96 and fully mastered during the '97 Fall Tour. A variety of soundscapes are covered as the band transitions from funk grooves to space rock to jazz fusion. Somewhere in between, Jon Fishman puts on a drum clinic. The song culminates Trey's guitar playing which is euphoric enough to raise goosebumps and an extended return to the "Bathtub Gin" theme proper.
4. "Run Like an Antelope" - Murat Theatre, Indianapolis, Indiana, 6/24/94 This show is often overlooked due to the wild popularity of the other gigs from June and July in '94 (Columbus, Milwaukee, Red Rocks, Sugarbush, etc.). But Phish brought its A-game to Indianapolis that year, and those who haven't heard this "Diseased Antelope," would be wise to give it a spin. The meat of the jam begins around the thirteen-minute mark, at which point Phish embarks on a musical 180°. With listeners likely convinced that the tension will never cease, the band breaks into a major-mode "Down with Disease"-jam that's entirely out of left field. Such moments of spontaneous joy and unexpected pleasure are what keep Phish fans coming back for more.
3. "Harry Hood" - Mahaffey Theatre, St Petersburg, Florida, 10/20/94 The grandaddy of underrated masterpieces, St. Petersburg's "Harry Hood" may be the most overlooked jam in Phishtory. Occurring among legendary versions such as Sugarbush, Gainesville, and Kent '94, you can argue that this version outshines them all. Over twenty-minutes of extraordinary musical adventure is topped off with a climax of unspeakable headiness and bone-crushing force that glorious, epic and damn-near unbelievable. The folks at Faux the Archives remastered the track for an invaluable upgrade to the original audience recording.
2. "Tweezer" - GM Place, Vancouver, British Columbia, 9/9/99 While this jam adheres to a relatively linear structure, the rawness of the playing creates a magnetism that draws you in and refuses to let go. The band can be heard building toward a tremendous wall-of-sound as a single unit, making this 1999's equivalent to the notorious Nutter Center "Tweezer" in '95. Layers are added with patience and care. Each member adds their part to a storm of sound that brews and bursts open like sheets of rain and hail following thunder in the distance.
1. "Reba" - Civic Center Arena, St Paul, Minnesota, 10/25/95 Simply put, this is a must-hear piece of music for any and every Phish fan. It ranks among such all-time greats, such as St. Louis '93, Montreal '94, and Lowell '95. The unexpected placement only adds to its uniqueness ("Reba" has opened a second set less than a handful of times). When you think the jam has reached its peak, it hasn't. Trey pushes this version several notches beyond its normal framework, paying close attention to the other band members, while exhibiting complete mastery of the guitar in the process.
See also: - Phish's twenty most interesting covers - The twenty smoothest Grateful Dead transitions - The ten greatest jam-band meccas - The ten biggest jam-band scene stereotypes - Phish at Dick's, Labor Day Weekend, night one, night two, night three
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.