Under the Covers Vol. 9 – Drowned

There are only a handful of songs in the Phish catalog – cover or otherwise – that debut under five minutes and find themselves regularly pushing such jam milestones as long as 15, 20, 25 or even 30 minutes (with some sincere apologies of course to Roses are Free and Simple). One cover song, however, has achieved this goal and once found itself as a regular vehicle for extensive jams almost immediately after its debut. Unfortunately, this extensive piece of Phish’s history has become a rarity. In this edition of Under the Covers, we’re talking about Drowned.

Phish 1995 Halloween PosterFirst gracing fans hears with its presence as part of the band’s second musical costume at the Rosemont Horizon in 1995, Drowned has not only been the most common takeaway from that set, but The Who’s song has made its mark on sets and entire shows for years. Quadrophenia, a rock opera and one of the best rock and roll albums in history, was first released in 1973 and features some of The Who’s most popular songs.

Not exactly commonplace on your hometown’s classic rock station, Drowned is a composition that lets the piano shine and features its own “jam” portion. At the same time, a Pete Townshend guitar sound and Moon’s drum fills seem to match that of Trey and Fish perfectly. Not only does Page’s grand piano seem made for this song, but Mike’s vocals draw on Townshend’s unique British tone as well.

While its clear The Who has influenced Phish in many of the same ways as other great British rock groups have (Zeppelin, the Stones, etc.), Drowned is another example of the band making a song truly their own. It’s a natural cover from the start; however it’s not their ability to match the original that makes Phish fans yearn for Drowned.

Although its debut clocked in at only 4:53, by its fifth round it tapped out at 16:37 of energy. With versions of Drowned reaching 21:26 (12.11.97), 21:52 (6.20.04), 25:51 (12.31.99 – including After Midnight Reprise), 26:06 (8.14.04), 31:16 (12.12.99) and its longest at 31:22 (9.14.00), fans of Type I and Type II jams know what’s possible when those distinctive taps of the keys start. By era, Drowned as averaged 16:50 (1.0), 18:25 in a small sample size (2.0) and 12:45 (3.0).

Drowned isn’t a second set jam-setting-tone tune only though. Great versions have marked the first set of great shows. Check out 12.3.97 (16:37), 9.21.99 (17:19), 6.29.00 (18:00) and 7.11.00 (15:33) for standout first set versions of the song at some great shows – some more popular than others. In 2.0 Phish, one of the band’s most popular runs of the era saw Drowned in set I of night 2. SPAC’s run that produced Walls of the Cave, Piper, Seven Below and Twist all over 19 minutes continues to have replay value, in part due to another amazing first set monster Drowned. In 3.0 you ask? Lots of second sets and, at 7 of 11 shows as set II opener, with the longest coming at Darien ’09.

PNC 2011 (Courtesy of Dave Vann)

Perhaps the most important version of Drowned is also the most debated. Opening the second set of what many fans would name as a top 5 show of all time, and even the number 1 show in the eyes of many, not only does Drowned lift the energy through MSG’s roof and segue fantastically into The Lizards to open the set, but it also contains the oft-debated Fire on the Mountain tease. As the folks over at Phish.Net point out, this tease could be coincidental or planned. With this potential tease being one of only a handful of musical hat-tips to the Grateful Dead since Phish’s pre-adolescence in the mid-80’s, its one of the more enjoyable debates in the Phish community. Take a listen for yourself and comment below with your own opinion.

What’s next?

While Drowned has its number called once every 16 shows, on average, since its debut it has been exactly double that – 34 shows – since the band played it in New Jersey on 5.31.11. In the song’s history with the band, its longest gap was 82 shows, between 12.31.95 and 2.2897. Gaps of 30 shows plus are no uncommon for Drowned in the past, but that doesn’t seem to fit with the 3.0 model. Possibly a summer downpour at say, PNC, could bring the song off the shelf.

With Crosseyed and Painless, Sneekin’ Sally, Cities and Rock and Roll finding themselves in cover rotation with regular jamming, will they remain as such in 2012? Rock and Roll earned “Top 3 of Jams of 2011” honors and the UIC 3 Crosseyed blowout helped cap Crosseyed as a favorite cover of the band in 3.0. Are these signs for their fate?

While those covers have been high points in 3.0 and featured some of the best jams of recent memory – outside of DWD, Ghost, Bathtub and Tweezer – there is something to be said for shaking up the structure. Sprinkling in a couple of Drowned covers in the first or second set of shows could bring new improvisation and energy to sets, or an entire tour. Obviously the band has taken this song to deep boundaries in the past; maybe a reemergence in the New Year will drive a new jamming sound? Only time will tell.

Happy New Year, you guys.

How Many Times Will We Hear Drowned in 2012?

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Be sure to check out…(download the playlist)

  • 10.31.95
  • 12.31.95
  • 12.3.97
  • 12.12.99
  • 12.31.99
  • 9.14.00
  • 6.20.04