Among all the wonderful things from Phish’s blowout in Utica on 10.20, one of the most impressive segments was the mid-first set David Bowie. During this year’s summer tour I had the “Jam Leader Board” on the right side of the page–it was made up of their most improvised songs. Under each song was a list of summer tour dates when that song was played; each version was in order of overall jam. After Phish played Bowie three or four times throughout summer, I erased all the dates and simply put: No Point. Any of you remember that? Remember all the emails you guys sent me saying I was being too harsh?
I stand by the action; those Bowies were weak. Each started out with, maybe, a 20 second intro before Trey scratched his guitar, looked at Fish and the song started. Each jam was painfully mediocre. Trey played knowing exactly where it was going to wind up–always a linear jam upward to the sometimes stumbled trilling segment at the end.
Due to the intense amount of comments disagreeing with my assessment of 3.0 Bowies at the time, I can only assume that most are not aware of what the song once was. David Bowie became a true improvisation juggernaut (no, I don’t throw that term around like Mr. Miner.) in 1993. The length and depth of the jams that the song produced blossomed substantially from the end of 1994 to 1998. Some were laced with teases from other songs, some reached pure type II original exploration, and some were simply just wickedly long (all three for some).
I feel that most people’s first thought of the song is that it’s a rocking set closer–not the case at all. In the mid to late 90’s, it wasn’t uncommon for Bowie to open up a second set or be buried withing the meat of a closing set. What makes Bowie unique is that it’s one of the most closed-ended songs they have, but it’s commonly played like a completely open-ended song (like Tweezer).
Both the Broomfield and South Carolina Bowies had me excited. Both of them had been better than any other version we had seen since the band’s return in 2009. Not only was the jamming a bit more focused, but both segued out of other songs and had playful intros. Broomfield’s version contained a unique ending segment, something common in 90’s versions.
Last night’s Bowie blew both of those out of the water. The improvisation took some fans back deep into the history of the song. The intro was spooky, how it’s supposed to be. You are supposed to wonder when the hell the song is going to start! Trey loosely teased Guyute notes over Fish’s hi-hat and quoted a passage from the song in a demonic fashion before the band exploded into the composed segment of Bowie.
As Mike and Trey left the composed for the improv, Mike started an up-tempo Wilson tease and Trey quickly followed. Fishman backed up the tease with his kick-drum. The crowd was feverishly chanting Wilson, trying to keep up with the speed at which the ax men were playing it. Trey started following the chant with “bouncing like a newborn elf”, eventually changing it to “[Wilson!] is bouncing like a newborn elf”–everyone cheered, and just then the lights faded back to blue, Trey took a step back from the mic and strummed out the trademark Bowie “chord”.
While patience was apparent in the jam, it still sped faster and faster towards the finish line–until the Wilson tease came right back into the room. Wilson loomed heavy–was this it? Were they going into it now? Nope! Trey licks his fret board to exit back into the Bowie jam and we had lift off. Bowie eventually finished in high-energy fashion. However, the song’s energy was shadowed by the audience’s. Seconds after the song finished; bum bum, bum bum–Wilson had finally made it to the stage.
For examples of some monsterous versions of David Bowie, please check out the following. They will not to let you down:
5/08/1993, 6/15/1995, 12/29/1994, 12/1/1995, 12/3/1997, 12/29/1997 ,11/14/1998