Pop the Cork: Theme-Based Phish Openers

Madison Square Garden, 12/31/98, 1999

This festive Prince opener is one of the very few times I actually remember that the buzz was really out on what song the band would play to open a show. Given the lyrics “we’re gonna party like it’s 1999,” this made for a great dance party, with Mike and Trey getting things started in classic form with some hot synchronized moves. The opener made several returns throughout the night, including in the opening of Weekapaug and via teases in Runaway Jim.

Glens Falls Civic Center, 10/31/94, Frankenstein

Before launching into the legendary Halloween show where Phish  performed The Beatles’ White album in its entirely, they started the mood off right with Edgar Winter’s rocker, Frankenstein.

Deer Creek, 8/3/98, Rhinoceros

While Phish really nailed this Smashing Pumpkins’ cover and took everybody by surprise, it comes with the sad circumstances of fan Philip Andrew Cassels’ passing. Phish paid tribute to Phil by opening the Deer Creek show with song he was listening to before he took his life shortly before the band kicked off Fall Tour 1997. Phil’s brother, former Pharmer’s Almanac editor and HT contributor Kevin Cassels, was at Deer Creek that night for Phish’s only performance of the song. It’s certainly tough to listen to the somber tune now, knowing why they played it.

Spreckels Theater, 12/8/94, Makisupa Policeman

The Makisupa opener of this show references the pre-show troubles with the fuzz, which I believe is the first time for this trend of Makisupa show openers in relation to run-ins with the law in the parking lot.

The E Centre, 7/4/00, The Star Spangled Banner

Pretty self-explanatory this one: starting off the 4th of July hurrah with the Star Spangled Banner makes for an obvious choice. Still, given that Phish only performed the national anthem on 12 occasions and only four times outside 1996, this made for a fun beginning to the holiday show.

The Centrum, 11/29/98, Paul & Silas

Here is another one that relates to a run-in with the cops, as longtime soundman Paul Languedoc got arrested the previous night. Hence, the band twisted the words up in Paul and Silas to tell the story of Paul’s apprehending. They also went back to Paul’s saga later in the show during Makisupa. Funny stuff.

Paradiso, Amsterdam, 2/17/97, Soul Shakedown Party

The perfect choice for Phish’s Amsterdam debut, Phish not only gave the nod to Bob Marley, but chose to debut a song with some most festive lyrics to highlight the fact a great night was just getting underway. This led to a great all-around show and a mayhem filled second set.

Great Woods, 7/12/99, Foreplay/Longtime

A bust out of the highest order, Phish dusted off their popular cover segment from back in 1999 after waiting 309 shows performing it electric for the first time ever. Concurrently, this was Phish’s first time playing Great Woods since 1995, so it was a fitting return song. The Foreplay/Longtime choice seems to be a fairly common call for a Hampton opener, given the “It’s been such a longtime” lines, but this made a lot more sense for the return to Great Woods (Boston) than it does for the return in Hampton.

Walnut Creek, 8/7/98, Water in the Sky and Drowned

In a nod to the famed rain and lighting storm that ensued at Walnut Creek, Phish came out of the gates with Water in the Sky and kept the wetness theme going with a rocking Drowned from there.

Big Cypress, 12/30/99, Water in the Sky and Light Up or Leave Me Alone

Big Cypress kicked off with another themed double whammy so-to speak. Fortunately, this time Water in the Sky was not referencing rain, but simply the “filter out the everglades” lyric. The following tune; however, did make mention of the one big issue at Big Cypress, which was the traffic. After many fans waited for 10 to 12 hours to get inside the grounds, the Traffic favorite, Light Up or Leave Me Alone made for a fitting celebration to forget about the travel snags and get on with the music.

We’re sure there are more that we missed, so feel free to keep ’em coming if we forgot any you’d like to add by leaving a comment below…

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13 Responses

  1. I always thought the “Roadrunner” opener at Great Woods in 2000 was great. With opening lyrics “I am in love with Massachusetts” it worked pretty well.

  2. When they opened with Divided Sky at Red Rocks, a typical Rocky Mountain summer afternoon thunderstorm had blown through the venue about an hour before showtime. As the sky began to clear, the band took the stage. It was the only opener they could have played. Literally, the sky overhead was half gray and half blue. It’s still probably my favorite memory of any concert anytime anywhere.

  3. 05/02/94 – Five Points South Music Hall, Birmingham, AL

    Great Gig in the Sky opener!! The entire band and crew, as well as many of the heads in the show had all seen Pink Floyd the night before at Legion Field in B’ham.

    Classic Floyd opener at one of the smallest Phish shows ever (at least in my Phish life) after seeing what was the biggest stadium tour in history at that point the night before. Greatness!

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