After a few weeks off from Phish Friday, I’m back at you with the second and final installment of historic Phish bust-outs. Which perhaps begs the question, why do we even care about bust outs? Well, for a rabid community that follows their band’s every move and mulls over every statistic with encyclopedic knowledge, the bustout carries larger than normal amounts of significance — something communal that both the band and their fans can acknowledge is a BIG EFFING DEAL. As Adam Scheinberg so eloquently put it in his Phish.net blog post earlier this month:
Most people won’t agree ..[on]…the “best” jams, but certainly, no one will argue that a bustout is a bustout when a song returns from dormancy. So it’s a common ground, easy for fans and the band to agree on, that makes an event unique and therefore, special. Harpua will always be the sign of a show we’ll remember, but that doesn’t mean we’ll all be listening to it on repeat.
So true. To use Adam’s example, the 7/29/03 Harpua wasn’t all that well executed, but you better believe I was on cloud nine and high fiving everyone around me while they were playing it. Yes, bustouts aren’t always musically appealing, and they sure as hell won’t contain the hose or IT, but they almost always automatically up the ante in the heat of the moment at a show. Sometimes they’re the gravy on an already killer set, and sometimes they can redeem a show without too much else going for it, but whatever the case, it’s always a huge jolt.
And so with that sentiment at heart, I tried to pick the 15 Phish originals that were some of the most special moments and reintroductions to old favorites (and not-so-favorites) in the band’s history. Again, I picked and ranked these 15 selections by my own subjective sense of overall quality, which I’ve defined with a patented scientific algorithm consisting of the length of the gap since the song was last played, and the importance/significance of the bustout to the band and its audience. So without further adieu…
The Top 15 Phish Bustouts, Part 2: The Originals
#15: “Brother” (8.17.96 -- first since 8.2.93, 258 shows)
Not only was this by far this biggest bustout (and save the unfinished Harpua, essentially the only one) at Phish’s first ever festival, but it also featured my favorite ice cream purveyors, Ben & Jerry, on vocals. And despite what now seems to be becoming a Father’s Day tradition, Brother remains a relative rarity to this day.
#14: “Dog Log” (12.11.95 -- first since 8.2.93, 217 shows)
A bustout showcasing the comedic aspects and crowd participation inherent in 90’s Phish (see also: #10 below), the band actually played this number twice on this date. According to Trey, the band was in the midst of recording the “Dog Log” album which was to feature 15 different versions of Paul Languedoc’s “favorite” tune. Perhaps the only time that the band was ever stoked to hear a chorus of ‘boos,” Trey was so appreciative for the indulgence that they dusted off the then-rare “Tube” as a thank you. And oh look, there’s another reference to that pesky rarity-laden 8.2.93 show again.
#13: Sanity (12.31.95 -- first since 6.24.94, 147 shows)
Sure, the 3.11.92 Sanity was the first in 340 shows, and yes, the Hampton ‘09 Sanity was the first in over 10 years, but for my money, this one takes the cake. Enough ink has already been spilled on the quality and significance of this New Year’s Eve throwdown to last a lifetime, so it’s no surprise that sometimes this Sanity gets overlooked. Yet, when you think about the perfect placement of this bustout towards the end of the third set (and immediately following a monstrous YEM), it’s obvious that the band had clearly been saving this old school gem for a significant moment such as this. The cherry on top of a great show, and an incredible year.
#12: Mound (12.31.02 -- first since 11.19.96, 276 shows)
What is it about New Year’s Eve that makes the band want to reach back deep into their catalog? No one was really sure what to expect when the band came back from their hiatus on New Year’s Eve 2002 — fans were more concerned with how rusty the band would be and what they’d open with, and so the return of “Mound” was probably the last thing on anyone’s mind. Thus, in one of the few musical highlights of this comeback show, Phish took everyone by surprise yet again, but sadly, the Mound has only reappeared once since.
#11: Spock’s Brain (9.29.00 -- first since 6.24.95, 391 shows)
The only known song to have its name chosen by the audience (at a Voter’s For Choice benefit, no less), “Spock’s Brain” fell off the face of the earth after five performances in the summer of ‘95. But as we all know, a Phish song is never truly forgotten or abandoned, and true to form, the band busted this quirky number out at a show boasting several others, “Dinner and A Movie” among them. While many fans might not have been clamoring for this song’s return, it certainly came out of left field.
#10: Chalkdust Torture Reprise (7.11.00 -- first since 12.10.94, 391 shows)
I didn’t even know this song existed until I saw the Moby Dick heavy setlist pop up on Phish.net the day after this ridiculous Deer Creek show. Probably the zaniest bustout of the bunch, this selection captures the prankster side of the Phish from Vermont to a tee. Don’t forget to buy the book and see the movie!
#9: Tela (12.30.09 -- first since 11.24.98, 236 shows)
By far, the longest gap between shows of any song in the official Gamehendge/TMWSIY saga, with the second longest being the webcasted Vegas return of Forbins > Famous Mockingbird on 9.30.00 (first since 8.7.98, 148 shows). This much sought after bustout appeared deep in the set where Phish broke the record for most number of songs played in one year, and it was a most welcomed reintroduction.
#8: Icculus (7.18.99 -- first since 10.31.95, 261 shows)
Icculus has been a rarity for the last 20 years, so it’s pretty much always a bust-out, but this one takes the cake for the superb placement. At the end of the Oswego festival, Trey reminded us all of the importance of reading a book every once in a while-- as if anyone had ever forgotten. After all, as Trey mentioned in the hilarious banter that followed this first version since Halloween ’95, it was the band’s most requested song backstage.
#7: Demand (12.31.09 -- first since 11.14.96, 392 shows)
Coming right on the heels of the first Steep > Swept Away since Summer 2000, Phish really upped the ante with this closing track from Hoist. I’m not sure how much of the crowd knew that this was the first time this 2 minute ditty had appeared in 13+ years, but I for one was jumping up and down like a madman. And as an added bonus, the band put a decidedly 3.0 touch on the song by surprisingly segueing into Seven Below.
#6: NO2 (7.13.99 -- first since 7.16.94, 355 shows)
Some people don’t really care about the 3 or 4 minute quick non-jammed bustouts, but I sure as hell do. Hence the inclusion of the only NO2 to feature the instrumental ending found on the White Tape. Bustouts are also always sweeter to me when they come out of a segue (see #2, below), and this one was no exception. For your listening pleasure, check out this killer Roses -> NO2 combo.
#5: Alumni Blues (7.24.99 -- first complete version since 7.18.91, 725 shows)
This one came at the tail end of a very atypical Phish show that seems to have split the fandom into the love-it-or-hate-it camp. Personally, I love this show, and the Alumni Blues encore bustout is only one of the reasons (30 minute Fluffhead anyone?). Immediately preceded by two songs that hadn’t been played since the summer of ‘98 (Camel Walk & Glide), the inclusion of this White Tape classic carried the aura of a “how can we possibly top ourselves now” moment. Critics of the show have always said that this encore was the band’s way of making it up to the crowd for two spacey subpar sets filled with flubs, but who cares? “I’m allright…”
#4: The Curtain With (7.12.00 -- first since 9.24.88, 1178 shows)
Supposedly resurrected by the band at the behest of Phish archivist Kevin Shapiro during the Deer Creek run in 2000, this song will probably forever be associated with the horribly botched version at Coventry (which at the time, was to be the last song the band would ever play). Thankfully, the song has since been given a third shot at life, as Phish redeemed the song by slaying their 2.0 demons when they returned to the Red Rocks last summer, and have played several outstanding versions since.
#3: Fluffhead (3.06.09 -- first since 9.29.00, 70 shows)
Sure, the gap between versions played was only at 70, but the placement and significance of this Fluffhead is unrivaled. When coupled with the infamous “Mike says no” moment at IT, Phish’s decision to avoid this complex and beloved composition for all of the post-hiatus era became all the more noticable with each passing show. Therefore when the band took the stage at Hampton last year, this selection was easily the biggest statement of Phish’s storied carreer. The band used the opening song of the 3.0 era to put the world on notice: Phish was back, and nothing was off limits.
#2: Fuck Your Face (7.02.10 -- first since 4/29/87, 1413 shows)
Speaking of nothing being off limits, what more needs to be said about this bad boy from earlier this summer? Coming at the end of the summer’s bustout/cover heavy first leg, this would be considered the bustout to end all bustouts had Phish not revived…
#1: Destiny Unbound (2.28.03 -- first since 11.15.91, 796 shows)
Until this infamous post-hiatus show, Phish.net, among other authorities, always referred to Destiny Unbound as the ultimate rarity. As the 90’s progressed, the song became the stuff of Phish lore and rumor: supposedly, the band didn’t want to play it because it sounded too much like the Dead, they had intentionally forgotten the lyrics, etc. In fact, Trey even egged the rabid fanbase on by stating that Phish would play the song again if an audience could recite the lyrics. Well, before the classic 2nd set of 11.22.97, the first few rows of the crowd, printed lyrics in hand, eagerly complied. Unfortunately the crowd’s timing was likely a bit off, and according to Trey, from the stage the noise sounded more like a cannibalistic death chant. It was probably for the best, since the band went into a legendary Halley’s, but alas, destiny would have to wait several more years. While it has come back into the rotation somewhat sparingly in the 2009-2010 era (and sadly, usually flubbed), as far as I’m concerned, that chilly winter night in Nassau boasted what will likely always be the biggest Phish bustout of all time.
So there you have it; my very subjective, but much slaved over, bustout list. So now it’s your turn: what do you think was the most significant bustout by the band? The return of Fluffhead, FYF, or did I drop the ball and miss something else completely? Leave a comment below or hit me up @PeteLikesMusic. Here’s hoping for a Prep School Hippie when I hop onto tour in Providence!