Once upon a time, a monster jam vehicle transformed itself into a stage antic favorite; however, while first appearing in the days of yore, and briefly rearing its head in the middle and late 90’s, it soon disappeared…forever? While we shouldn’t expect a cover song to be around forever, there are a few that were put on the shelf for different reasons.
The first known performance of Whipping Post came almost exactly one year after the first known performance of Phish. On, November 3, 1984 the tune emerged out of the Grateful Dead’s Eyes of the World, eventually fading into a drums jam with Marc Daubert. With its debut on that date in 1984, Whipping Post has been in the Phish catalog longer than some of the band’s oldest originals, including You Enjoy Myself, Slave to the Traffic Light, Fluffhead and even Possum.
Representative of both its creator’s and its followers’ commitment to improvisational jams not possible in the studio, the Allman Brothers Band released the studio version of Whipping Post in 1969, at a length of 5 minutes 20 seconds. The song became one of rock and roll’s lengthiest and most well-known in part due to a 22:30+ epic included on the Live at Fillmore East album released in 1971. When Phish started its career in the Northeast, Whipping Post was there to help the band grow.
From its debut in 1984 through 1989, Whipping Post dotted both first and second (and even third) sets on its own or segueing out of epics like Eyes of the World and original jams. While the band expanded its repertoire to include more originals and a more diverse offering of covers, Whipping Post continued to find its way onto setlists several times a year, most commonly in 1988 when it was played 13 times, and always breaching the 10-minute mark.
Whipping Post, as is the case with the Allman Brothers, regularly stretched its legs during these days in Phish’s adolescence. During its five year run as a jam vehicle, Whipping Post averaged over 15 minutes and 30 seconds. Versions of the song can be heard with lengths of 15:22 (5.15.88), 16:03 (11.23.85), 18:23 (5.3.85), 25:46 (6.21.88) and the longest known version coming in at 26:09 (5.24.88). While these are some impressive jams in length alone, two common questions about a Phish show or specific jam come to mind 1) How do they hold up over time? 2) How’s the energy?
Taking a look at the song as a whole, rather than each individual performance, its quickly clear that Whipping Post represents a bridge between Phish’s influences and where they wanted to go as musicians. Within these Whipping Post jams, elements of both Type I and Type II jamming can be found, both in their infancy and often in the same song, as well as blues riffs, start-stop techniques and more. With its debut timing in 1984, versions of the song can be heard with the band featuring two guitars, as a quintet and with the lineup we all know and love today.
With this in mind, it is important to note Page’s work on the keys after joining the band in 1985 (where the argument could be furthered that Whipping Post is a transitional song for the band). Obviously, Page’s first sit-in with the band is a must listen for any fan, and it’s especially interesting to see how quickly he jumps into the mix on another lengthy Whipping Post. During that show, and its almost 19 minute Whipping Post, you can pick up his efforts to fill in the jam. Other versions highlight a more synthesized organ component that is common in many originals and jams thereafter. This organ component also seems to mimic the ABB’s original sound as well.
Many of these older versions of Whipping Post represent a sound and jamming style seen throughout the years.
Obviously as influences and the band’s gear adapted natural changes occurred over time, but improvisational trends remain. For many bands starting with covers is important for two reasons. One, it helps put fans on the floor:
“Ever heard this band before?”
“No, but they play a great version of [insert recognizable song here].”
“Alright, I’ll check ‘em out.”
It’s a conversation heard across college campus and city streets. Second, covers help the band gain confidence in their own ability. Matching a jam they know they can play well helps members interact and grow to add a more personal connection. Whipping Post likely represents one of several songs from Phish’s formidable days that fits both points. Basically, the energy was there in the small rooms of the late 80’s and many of the jams do in fact hold up over time.
Hold Your Head Up
My first show was 8.10.96 at Alpine Valley when I was 14. Regulars like Wilson, Bathtub Gin, Harry Hood and Cavern were present. The next day I recapped the show with two friends (their parents wouldn’t let them go – thanks to my godmother for taking me!). After the opener, jams and segues, my friends asked “were there any stage antics?” Of course, Fishman’s second round of the night on the vacuum cleaner during Whipping Post was the highlight. It goes without saying, I had no idea what was going on – and in the best way possible.
Stage antics are an important part of the fan’s experience with the band. The band-audience Chess Game, vacuum solos, “Mad Science” experiments and even the Meatstick dance help connect the stage to the crowd. On February 7, 1989, Fishman took the microphone on Whipping Post and transformed the band’s relationship with the song forever. Bringing a, um, unique voice to the song, Fishman found himself singing Whipping Post adding fretless guitars and vacuum cleaners to the mix sporadically throughout the early 90’s .
Whipping Post as a “stage antic” brings just as much energy as it did as a 26 minute jam. This energy is just channeled through and into different sources. While fans of extended jamming obviously feed off the improvisation, interchange between structure or directions, band interaction, free flow and overall playing ability, fans of stage antics connect with the happy-go-lucky, free spirited and uniquely Phish element of the show. While some fans may prefer adding a more traditional song in place of the HYHU antics, no one can deny Fish’s ability to stir the crowd into a tizzy. It’s what the band does next that defines the show.
It was 208 shows between Whipping Posts – with (8.10.96) and without (7.25.99) HYHU. It has been 293 shows since the song showed its head in the middle of a pumping first set of a top Midwest show. A sequences of jams that many fans know by memory and stands out in 1999, featured a song that may well have found its way on the shelf for good. This fan, however, could make an argument to bring the song back as either a HYHU sandwich or a raucous follower to say, Tweezer.
Having been out of rotation as a jam favorite for years, most fans have probably forgotten where Whipping Post fits into the band’s history; however, I urge you to download the playlist below, or find yourself an 80’s show online and see where the band came from and what else may be up their sleeve. If one thing’s true about 3.0, its that no bustout is too far fetched.
Be sure to check out… (download playlist here)
- 5.3.85 – A widely circulated show, 18+ minute Whipping Post out of Eyes of the World and Page’s first show with the band
- 5.24.88 – 26+ minutes (jam returns to Whipping Post chorus around 15 minutes and finds its way off again)
- 11.3.88 – W/ Dave’s Energy Guide teases
- 2.7.89 – First known version with Fishman on vocals – as comedy
- 10.28.91 – Fishman on vocals and fretless guitar
- 7.25.99 – Sorry to use this show two issues in a row, but I mean, it’s a rocking show