Nate Leskovic is back with his second Phish Friday post…
In honor of the lightning-enhanced Walnut Creek “Taste” being released on DVD next week, it’s well-worth noting the glorious polyrhythmic tune’s journey through 1995. Debuted on the opening night of the summer tour—June 7 at the Boise State University Pavilion in Boise, ID—early versions were a disjointed jumble. All the Tetris blocks of the eventual grooves, mixed-meters and melodic themes are in cue but haven’t quite yet found the best way to drop together. It’s exciting to hear the band cautiously snake along through the changes and explore the possibilities. Trey starts discovering some of the licks that will serve him well in future versions. Other noodles are best left behind. But, as is often the case, they soon find comfort as a band during the jam, not worrying about the intricacies of the new composition and plain locking into their unrivaled cohesion.
Here’s the fourth version from June 15, at the Lakewood Amphitheater in Atlanta, GA, with a thank you from Trey for listening to them work their way through the future classic. Notice Fish’s hypnotic cowbell/tom patterns that eventually define the groove are noticeably absent; instead a more timid hi-hat sets the feel.
The band hammered away at “Taste” throughout the tour and it was a perfect first set twirler for sinking bare feet into grass during sunset. After a little time off they launched into a fall tour with an announcement from Trey in the beginning of the first set: “You think you know this song, some of you, but you don’t.”
Complete with a wavering falsetto intro from Fish as he attempts to find his first pitch (which he painfully strains for each time, eventually lowering the note and opting for a speaking/singing hybrid), the new version of “Taste” confounds. “The Fog that Surrounds” may have given Fish his first “serious” singing opportunity not covered by the masks of Henrietta and other characters, but it almost ruined the song. The music stays the same, but it drops Trey’s inspiring verse for more somber Fish musings. The debut was Sept. 27 at the Cal Expo Amphitheater in Sacramento, CA:
About a month later, the band throws another curveball with another version. “Tasty Fog,” or preferably, “Taste that Surrounds”—never official titles—starts with Trey’s “Taste” verse, then goes into Fish’s Fog. Here’s the debut from 10/24/95 at the Dane County Coliseum in Madison, WI:
“Taste that Surrounds” itself switches up after a couple weeks. A second version (within a version) blends both Trey and Fish’s vocals together in a confusing mashup. There’s a little too much going on, and the beauty of Taste—and how it makes complexity sound simple—is lost. Here’s the version from 11/12/95 at the O’Connell Center in Gainesville, FL:
Though its success was limited, the “Fog” diversion at least got Fish singing for real and helped instigate what would mature into quite a sweet and comforting voice. After a last performance of “Taste that Surrounds” on the holiday tour, our old “Taste” made its triumphant return in 1996 by cutting back Fish’s vocals and placing choice cuts of his part in the pre-chorus. It eliminates Trey’s solo, instead opting for a full-band jam which is heavy on Page’s piano. While working on Billy Breathes during the spring, did producer Steve Lillywhite have any input in finalizing the masterpiece? The power this arrangement produces is exemplified in the Clifford Ball version. The subtle beauty that begins just after the three-minute mark is brilliant:
The final stage in Taste’s evolution comes with the separation of the jam into separate Page and Trey solo sections during fall 1996, dropping the final refrain of the chorus and letting Trey fly into the extreme outro (I want back in on this!). The two peaks push the tune into more epic territory, allowing space for numerous moods and motifs—including Trey’s “middle-eastern” musings he began bringing into play. The collective breath the audience grabs between solos, in giddy anticipation knowing the intense shredding that is to follow, is one of those true Phish moments that kept us coming back.