Phish Friday | The Debut of “Spock’s Brain”

This week’s Phish Friday post is brought to you by Nate Leskovic, someone that commented on our “Spock’s Brain” PF post with his own story of what that song meant to him. He’s graciously giving us the background today.

While the general nature of Phish’s political views could always be easily deduced, the band steered clear of “preachy” banter and political activism for the most part and focused on uniting through the common cause of good vibes and dancing (the 80s rarity “Dear Mrs. Reagan” being a notable exception). Right-leaning heads felt just as home at shows as anyone. The boys were classy like that.

Why did the band move beyond the omnipresent Greenpeace and Waterwheel tables and throw its support behind abortion rights at the 5/16/95 “Voters for Choice” benefit in the Lowell Memorial Auditorium? I don’t know, but the special show for some 3,000 fans became a special night of debuts akin to the 9/13/90 Wetlands gig or the 6/6/97 Brad’s House party.

Debuts are nice for their moment-in-time-ness, but obviously often lack the true potential the tune will eventually grow into. I do enjoy the pre-Billy Breathes “Free,” which does not yet include its Trey wah-wankery intro and the funk jam drop. However, the original jam segment has only the slightest hint of Trey’s brilliant effects technique he was still developing and it doesn’t go anywhere.

My favorite has to be the “Spock’s Brain,” the quirky/spooky funk tune with intriguing and challenging vocals only played four more times before 2000. I never understood why this was shelved and why for so long. Wouldn’t it have fit in nice with the 97 funk, sandwiched in between a “Wolfman’s” and a “Cities” or something? Trey lets the audience choose its title from “The Plane,” “The First Single,” “Israel” or the obvious winner.

The “Theme,” just rocks without complexity here, minus the heavy textural jam it would soon acquire. It goes into the Page-lead ascending part at the end, but far less dramatically. Though first-timers, you could tell “Free” and “Theme” would become monsters.

Aside from the debuts (which also include the Fish original “Ha Ha Ha,” “Strange Design” introduced as “Ahhh, Page Sing,” and the “Guyute” extract “Glide II”—sometimes referred to as “It’s Time” or “Flip”—that only reappeared in instrumental form on the Billy Breathes outtakes) the “Reba” just plain soars. After developing a brilliant and spacey psychedelic theme at the beginning of the jam that trails off just as you begin to recognize its weight (as if to tease, “Yeah, we’re so good that we don’t care”), it rapidly develops into the usual triumphant fireworks, but with a biting elegance that ranks it as one of the best.