Please Welcome to the Stage…
The excitement of Phish shows existed in their intense compact journeys into the unknown. While trying to craft artistically coherent sets, the band was often limited by venue imposed curfews ranging from 11 pm to 12 pm, as very few shows extended past midnight. While the band tried to squeeze many aspects of their playing within two time-constrained sets, they always left you fiending for more. One of the most frustrating things in the second set of a Phish show was when the band called up a guest to jam with them. With already limited time, when these sit-ins happened, you kissed fifteen to twenty of those precious minutes good-bye.
Regardless of who the guest was or vast their musical talent, Phish + 1 could never match the intensity and fury of the locked and loaded quartet. More often than not, when a guest came up, the resulting music was watered down by the forced, unnatural communication. Did all guest spots effect shows negatively? Certainly not. However, if given a choice to have Phish play with any guest or just rage as a band, I would cast all other musicians aside every time.
Sure, some of the guest sit-ins weren’t musically poor, but they provided no adrenaline or adventure to the course of the evening. Examples of harmless sit-ins that ate up precious Phish time are plentiful. Such occasions include Derek Trucks’ “Possum,” “Funky Bitch” double encore appearance in Charlotte on 7.7.99, Scott Murawski’s guest appearance at Great Woods for “Possum” and Skynyrd’s “Tuesday’s Gone” at the end of two great nights, Dave Matthews’ appearance in Virginia on 6.17.95 to cover “Three Little Birds, or B.B King’s extended on-stage visit at the Meadowlands in 2003. These musical passages were fun for the masses, and clearly enjoyable for the band as well, but after a show of pure fire when you are jonesing for one more ripping Phish jam, a guest appearance was inevitably a let down.
The fundamental issue at hand is that no one can enhance the Phish. They have perfected their art, and when a fifth wheel gets thrown onto the car, it is usually for fun and entertainment value rather than musical direction (see the P-Funk medley from Miami ’03). While most guest appearances fall relatively flat, there have been some instances where they turned out incredibly well, with guests complimenting Phish’s improv with some of their own. Below are some of the better guest appearances in Phish’s career.
Bela Fleck 11.29.95, “Slave to the Traffic Light”, Municipal Auditorium, Nashville TN
Adding his virtuoso talent into the mix on the delicate Phish jam proved to be incredibly successful. As Trey and Mike played off of Bela’s banjo melodies, the band created a gorgeous rendition of their old school classic. With true jazz-based improvisation, the musicians echoed and connected each others lines while Fishman balanced the jam on his shimmering cymbal-driven beat. Getting into some intense musical communication, this is an example of an improvisational maestro fitting right in with what the band does. Bela also joined the band twice previously in ’93 and ’94, and once later, with the Flecktones, in France during Summer ’97.
LISTEN TO THE 11.29.95 SLAVE w/ Bela Fleck NOW! (Roll Over link and press play)
Karl Perazzo 10.29.96-11.3.96, Tallahassee, Atlanta, West Palm, Gainesville
The veteran Santana percussionist sat it with Phish for a run of shows surrounding their transformative Halloween set in 1996. The centerpiece of this run was the band’s cover of Talking Head’s “Remain In Light,” an album for which Phish needed multiple extra musicians to round out the polyrhythmic compositions. Yet, Perazzo played a major role in the progression of Phish’s sound from fiery arena rock to collaborative groove-based playing; a shift that would alter the band’s musical direction forever. His extra layers of percussion amidst this Southern run brought Phish’s jamming to a slower, cooperative tempo- something that can be heard on many selections from these shows. The Tallahassee “Mike’s” on 10.29, 11.2′s “Crosseyed > Antelope” from West Palm, and the Gainesville “Tweezer” on 11.3 are all terrific examples of this phenomenon. Having sat in with the band earlier that year in Europe, and many years earlier in 1992, Perazzo knew what Phish was all about. When listening to shows in the Midwest after the Perazzo run, one can hear the noticeable difference in pace and groove as Phish began their transformation to 1997.
LISTEN TO 11.3.96 GAINSVILLE, FL TWEEZER w/ Karl Perazzo NOW!
Michael Ray 10.14.94, 2.26.96, 9.26.99, 9.9.00, New Orleans, Albany
Michael Ray is one of the more accomplished musicians to grace Phish’s stage. A veteran of The Sun Ra Arkestra and his own Cosmic Crewe, Ray also worked with Trey on Surrender to the Air, an album of free jazz experiments. Sitting in by himself at four different shows throughout the band’s career (and three other times as part of the Cosmic Country Horns) Michael Ray and Phish have had a close musical relationship for years. All of Ray’s guest appearances have come in his hometown of New Orleans except for the last. On 9.9.00, the second show of Phish’s fall tour in Albany, NY, Ray joined the band for most of the second set, including “Sand,” “Makisupa Policeman, “Funky Bitch,” “Cars, Trucks, & Buses,” and “Harry Hood.” Already quite familiar with Phish and their improvisational direction, Ray felt right at home coming on stage mid-jam and adding his searing psychedelic lines and on-stage antics to the final peak of a dark twenty-minute “Sand.” Ray’s Phish literacy was quite apparent as he wove in a tease of “First Tube” to his trumpet solo. The cover of “Funky Bitch” provided the perfect trampoline for Ray to bounce his melodies off, as he lent his Bayou flavor to this Northeastern excursion.
Peter Apfelbaum: 11.30.96 “Timber Ho > Tatse”, Arco Arena, Sacremento, CA
In one of the best-ever guest sit -in segments, Peter Apfelbaum took center stage in a performance that brought the audience back to the late ’70s era of jazz-rock fusion. A Grammy-nominated musician for various projects, Apfelbaum is one of few artists who has appeared on stage with both the Grateful Dead and Phish. With his tenor saxophone, he joined Phish in a twisting psychedelic adventure of “Timber Ho > Taste” that provided the meat of the second set. This segment has been a fan favorite since the night it happened- something very rare for guest spots. In addition, Apfelbaum joined the band, and John McEuen on lap slide guitar, for the encore of the best “Amazing Grace” (w/jam) the band has ever played. Apfelbaum went on to play with Trey’s solo band when it ballooned to a nine and ten piece ensemble.
Jay-Z: 6.18.04 “99 Problems” & “Big’ Pimpin” Coney Island, NY
In a genre shattering mind-fuck, Jay-Z, king of the modern hip-hop scene and Brooklyn native, blew everyone away by stepping on stage with Phish at Coney Island during their final summer. Retired at the time, no one could believe that Mr. Shawn Carter, himself, was onstage with our goofy heroes. In an appropriate role reversal, Phish provided the tight backing music to two of Jay-Z’s biggest hits as the Jigga Man stepped to the mic in front of a flabbergasted crowd. “Big Pimpin’” provided the musical highlight of the stint, even if the stoned-out hippie crowd might not have “bounced” like New York clubs. Phish held the intricate beats and melodies perfectly for the Grammy winning single, proving once again, anything can happen at a Phish show. They began the hip-hop interlude with the heavier and more recent single “99 Problems” of The Black Album. Jay-Z was clearly enthusiastic about the appearance, commenting between songs, “You was hiding all this from me! I felt it!” In a joining of two unquestionable kings of their scenes, the results were ridiculous memories nobody will soon forget.
An article about guest sit ins would not be complete without a brief mention of the “Worst Guest Appearance of All-Time.” In Las Vegas on 9.29.00, there occurred a complete debacle. After beginning the second set with the unthinkable combo of “Dinner and a Movie,” “Moma Dance,” “2001 > Fluffhead” and a buffer of “Meatstick,” Phish welcomed Kid Rock to the stage. With no idea how many drugs were done and/or shared before this miserable idea was hatched, the audience was mostly confused as Trey’s “buddy” made it to stage in the last week of shows before the hiatus. Ruining the second half of the show with songs that Phish could have slaughtered, this pristine night quickly turned into a mockery. Spoiling the potential greatness of “Rapper’s Delight” and “Walk This Way,” the band kept the guy on for “You Shook Me All Night Long” and an encore of “We’re An American Band.” Taking off into the Vegas nightlife and a hiatus that was less than a week away, the members of Phish were clearly over-indulged by this point, and in need of a break!
What are you’re opinions on Phish guests? Respond in Comments below!
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
This show is special for multiple reasons. First, it is a complete performance with the Giant Country Horns. Second, it took place at The Bayou, a great club that no longer exists. Third, it contains a performance of “Flat Fee.” Fourth, it is a crispy SBD. This is a classic from the Summer of ’91. Enjoy!
I: Chalk Dust Torture, Foam, The Squirming Coil, My Sweet One, Oh Kee Pa Ceremony > Suzy Greenberg, Stash, Flat Fee, Bouncing Around the Room, Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove
II: Llama, Reba, Cavern, Lizards, The Landlady, Tweezer, Sweet Adeline*, Dinner and a Movie, Gumbo, Touch Me, Caravan, Golgi Apparatus*
With The Giant Country Horns. *missing from recording