Jimmy’s Mid-Life Crisis

•February 11, 2010 • 2 Comments

Back before their triumphant and ongoing return, before what everyone thought was the end in Coventry, before the craziness of New Year’s 2003/2004 in Miami, and even before IT Phish played what would have been the last version of Harpua.  This was in the waning shows of Summer 2003 during the lead up to Limestone at Star Lake Amphitheater (sorry, it’ll always be called that to me) in Burgettstown, PA.  During this post hiatus tour there were some definite hits and misses but on this night near Pittsburgh Phish played a memorable show notable for several bustouts, a stellar Croseyed and Painless, and an intriguing Harpua that mirrored many of the things going on with the band and the scene at that time. 

Following a first set that saw several songs that hadn’t appeared since well prior to hiatus* and tucked into a second set that started off with a notable, hot Crosseyed, this Harpua was more than just another silly tale about a boy, his cat, and the dog that terrorized them.  It was the culmination of the story up to that point.  Jimmy had been up to a lot since we last heard from him back in Utah at the E Centre (where everyone was full of love after another wild trip to Vegas) and Trey was eager to fill us in on this missing chapter in Jimmy’s life. 

At some point along the way, after all of his experiences with a giant iguana, the Elvii, comets, his numerous run-ins with that evil old man, and everything else Jimmy found himself directionless.  As he sits there contemplating what he sees as his boring life he realizes that he is searching for something and that something is “IT” (the direct reference to the impending festival in Limestone, ME was not lost on the Burgettstown crowd, many of whom would be making the long trek north just a few days later).  Admittedly, he has a lot to be thankful for but he decides he needs to go out and search for IT.  Being that this is later on in Jimmy’s life a lot of what we have come to expect about Jimmy has changed, most notably that Poster and Harpua are both his pets now (remember, it’s been five of our years since our last excursion so who knows exactly how much has happened in “Jimmy Time”).  So he takes Poster Nutbag and Harpua and climbs into his old truck and heads out on the road to find whatever IT is.

Stopping along the way to wallow in his own misery, Jimmy breaks out the old acoustic guitar he brought with him and dives into Bittersweet Motel to serenade his pets.  This song, with its lyrical reference to the area, draws the crowd into the story even more and highlights what many would say is one of the central themes to life on the road:  finding meaning in the world that seems to be passing you by.  But this doesn’t help Jimmy’s situation at all, only pointing out further to him that he hasn’t found IT yet.  He then decides that joining a rock band will help him on his quest and the next thing we know, Jimmy is finding IT all over the place while he travels the country with his band (gee, does this sound familiar at all?)  It seems that every night he finds IT in some way or another and at this point Trey takes a couple of digs at Fishman by relating things we know to be true about Fish to Jimmy’s life (wearing the dress, lot stickers saying “Jimmy Hit on Me”, and the like).

Unfortunately, as with our troubadour heros, life on the road eventually leaves Jimmy where he was at the start of this tale.  But as often happens to us all life finds a way to give Jimmy meaning and Fishman comes to the front of the stage to sing us the story of what went down with Jimmy.  Debuting the old Elvin Bishop classic I Fooled Around And Fell In Love he sings a particularly fitting song for this tale, filling us all in on the latter day love of our long lasting protagonist.  After a quick run through the ubiquitous HYHU jam Trey reminds us that no matter how good things in Jimmy’s life get it always ends with his cat dead and we return for the normal ending of the song, albeit without any mention of how Poster met his demise this go around.

In the end, as we all headed off from here and on to IT and everything after we got a tiny glimpse into more than just Jimmy’s later life.  There are several pieces of this story that reflect Phish as a band and where they were at this point in the post hiatus world.  Little did we know that only a little more than a year later we’d all be struggling to reach Coventry in a swan song that thankfully didn’t end up being our final memory of the band that taught so many of us what IT is really about.  And that’s the real message of this story — whether Trey intended us to read that far into it or not.  Finding IT is not easy and just as happened to Jimmy it might happen when you least expect it and are just fooling around.  I’ll avoid taking this topic too deep in this write-up, but IT is something we as Phish fans often speak of and pine for from this music and life in general.  If nothing else, this story provides yet another example of how the band themselves understand this.

The Particulars

  • This version of Harpua clocks in at 20:38 from the first oom pa pa through the ending. 
  • It includes two songs within (Bittersweet Motel & Fooled Around and Fell in Love) along with the HYHU jam
  • There had been 171 shows since the last Harpua prior to this one (11.2.1998)

This show was a Live Phish release and can be found seeded on etree amongst other places.  I’ll let you find your own source, but you shouldn’t have to look too hard to find a good one.

* Listing how many shows between occurrences would take up a lot of space.  Suffice it to say, this was not a run of the mill tour stop.  Several items have been written about it and video exists for this show.

Yes, I’m still here

•January 7, 2010 • 11 Comments

Okay, so I know my lack of posting is getting a bit ridiculous.  I was telling my wife that I just don’t seem to have enough time to get done what I want to do here and she reminded me that I had enough time to write daily setlists for another blog so, obviously, available time is not my issue.  I think it is partially having new Phish to digest that has delayed me, but that’s just an excuse.  Suffice it to say, this is now 2010 and we have about six months before there is any new Phish.  Just to see if anyone actually reads this (I do see that there have been at least some visitors), anyone want to give me a request for a Harpua they’d like to see broken down?  I have a couple in the hopper, but maybe having the impetus will get me a little more on my game here.  Help a head out!

The Inevitable Delays of Life

•October 14, 2009 • 6 Comments

Okay, so I hate to make excuses but here’s a good one for why the posts have been so lacking lately.  I just bought a house and have been burning the candle at both ends for a while.  Now that things are starting to settle down I’ll be able to get in some posting.  At least until we leave for Indio, that is!

As a teaser, I will tell you that the next post will be highlighting a version from a classic Phish venue that will be revisited during the recently announced Late Fall Tour.  I’ll give you a hint:  it’s from the tour where a lot of the Secret Language  shenanigans began…

Oh, What a Night!

•September 24, 2009 • 2 Comments

On the last night of the Summer 2009 tour, Harpua returned in the midst of a solid second set in Saratoga.  This wasn’t a “standard” version — if such a thing exists — but one that will be remembered for being more than just the first one since the start of Phish 3.0.  Coming in as a change of pace after the jamming in Rock and Roll, this Harpua started as all good stories do:  with some oom pa pas.

After working through the initial verses Trey addressed the SPAC crowd for the first full story song since their return, the hilarity of the Hartford Icculus two nights prior not withstanding.  With the happiness of it clear in his voice, Trey voiced what many there were thinking by repeating the phrase “Oh what a night” twice and then giving thanks to the crowd for a great tour before speaking about his time living in the area in the well-publicized recent past.  Trey then easily wove in our old friend Jimmy by relating that he had  made friends with him during his time in Saratoga. 

The story that followed was clearly a reflection of sorts for Trey as he spoke about how just like everybody else Jimmy has his ups and downs and that he was going through a bit of a rough patch at that time.  He meditated and even called on his spirit guide which brings us to the divergent aspect of this Harpua.  Instead of this being another story about Poster Nutbag and the never ending feud with Harpua we were treated to a short middle aged man in a dress imparting his wisdom to Jimmy in the form of song. 

Now, Fishman has always had a penchant for singing songs that one wouldn’t necessarily pick out for him, which seems to add to the ridiculousness of the affair.  In this case, the song that he sung to guide Jimmy along was the pop song “I Kissed A Girl” popularized by Katy Perry.  A funny choice to be sure, but somehow fitting for Fishman in an odd way.  This was followed by the brief HYHU jam that usually accompanies Fishman’s ventures out to the front of the stage.  Trey remarked that the key thing to take away from the song was that “it felt so wrong” while Fishman offered no apologies to Katy Perry for his song choice.

Returning to the Harpua theme, the band went right into the “Dog in the Station” section with no mention of any fight between Poster and Harpua.  It wouldn’t have really fit with how the song had gone to this point but this was taking the song away from it’s typical form.  Granted, ascribing a form to Harpua isn’t very easy to do, but we usually end up hearing about the terrible fight between these two adversaries.  The playing on this version was just as it has been throughout Phish 3.0, which is to say that the band is clearly practicing a lot and having fun on stage.  The simple fact that they feel comfortable breaking out some of the rarer songs in their catalog speaks to the renewed energy and joy apparent in the boys.


So what do we have here?  This is a song people had been calling for all summer and it is clear that Harpua was saved for this night and venue.  Saratoga has a history of great shows for Phish but now even more so with the history it holds for Trey and everything that happened with that.  I don’t want to read too much into the narrative but Trey was clearly projecting himself a bit into the story by talking about how not every day is a good day and finding ways to cope with that whether through meditation or calling on your spirit guide.  More than anything, this version of Harpua shows that the humor is back and they are having fun being on stage together again.  The fact that Trey used Jimmy as a means of relaying a brief glimpse into what he had gone through shows that he is in a good place with this and is able to poke a little fun at it too.  I don’t think it is a stretch to think that it won’t be too long before we hear another Harpua, what with Halloween coming along in just over a month.  At that point we will probably be reacquainted with Poster and Harpua and maybe another visit from a certain spirit guide.


Note:  I am working on embedding the audio for this version and setting things up for this going forward.  I’ll get it added to this post as soon as I cough up the dough for the extra space on wordpress.  Video of this version can be found here: (part 1) (part 2).  There are other versions on youtube as well, shot from other parts of the venue.

46 Days

•September 15, 2009 • 1 Comment

So today marks 46 days until Halloween (45 until Festival 8 kicks off) and I’d like to assume 46 days until our next Harpua.  Yeah, they could play it on the first night and tease us about the album on Halloween, but I think Harpua is coming out the first set of the show on the 31st.  Along with wondering what the musical costume will be, I have to wonder what story will be told.  Something about the desert?  a fake reference to what they’ll play (like 10.31.95)?  The wondering is part of the fun…


I know I am due for some “reviews” of old Harpuas – and they are coming soon – so keep checking back.  We’ll start this thing from the back and then mix it up as we spin around.


•September 1, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I am in the process of getting “good” copies of all of the Harpuas out there and making sure everything is in order as we dive into this endeavor.  In that regard, one thing I can use some help on is finding a source for the first known version on 8-9-87.  If anybody has it, please let me know.  There are incomplete copies of the show out there but the recordings all cut off after Skin It Back (which is great, BTW).

Any help would be credited and greatly appreciated!

we’re comin’ to your town

•August 25, 2009 • 2 Comments

Probably the best place to start is to see when and where Phish has broken out Harpua.  Relying on our trusty internet resources, we learned that there have been at least 55 separate shows in which the song has appeared.  The “phishtistics” for this song tally 70 occurrences, but that includes all of the times where there is a segue into something else and then a return to Harpua proper (such as the last time 8-16-9 at SPAC…but that’s getting ahead of ourselves).  One other note:  there are several shows in the late 1980’s which have no known setlist information.  For the sake of ease, unless these setlists and the recordings surface, we’ll assume we have a complete list of Harpua performances…

So here is the list, starting with the accepted debut show of 8-9-87 at Nectar’s in Burlington, VT.  The next step is deciding whether to tackle these chronologically, by request, last-to-first, or some other way.  If you have preference feel free to let me know in the comments.

DATE            VENUE                               CITY, ST         
8/9/87          Nectar’s                        Burlington, VT         
8/21/7          Ian McLean’s Farm                Hebron, NY
8/29/87          The Ranch                       South Burlington, VT          
3/11/88          Baso Lounge (Johnson State College)        Johnson, VT
4/22/88          UVM                             Burlington, VT         
5/15/88          Beecher Hill Farm                Hinesburg, VT          
5/25/88          Nectar’s                        Burlington, VT
6/21/88          Nectar’s                        Burlington, VT
7/25/88          Nectar’s                        Burlington, VT
7/30/88          The Roma                        Telluride, CO
11/3/88          Molly’s Café                        Boston, MA
3/14/89          Nectar’s                        Burlington, VT         
4/20/89          The Zoo (Amherst College)            Amherst, MA
5/9/89           The Front                       Burlington, VT
10/14/89         Hobart College                      Geneva, NY                
10/20/89         The Front                       Burlington, VT
10/28/89         The Chance                      Poughkeepsie, NY       
11/10/89         Sigma Phi (Hamilton College)            Clinton, NY    
1/29/90          The Haunt                       Ithaca, NY
3/11/90          The Front                       Burlington, VT
4/7/90           The El Dorado Cafe                Crested Butte, CO     
6/9/90           Wetlands Preserve                    New York, NY
4/11/91          The Cave (Carlton College)            Northfield, MN         
4/18/91          Oberlin College                     Oberlin, OH                
4/26/91          Plymouth State                      Plymouth, NH           
5/3/91           Somerville Theater             Somerville, MA            
10/28/91         Elk Ballroom                        Telluride, CO          
12/7/91          Portsmouth Music Hall                Portsmouth, NH 
3/26/92          Ziggy’s                             Winston Salem, NC
4/4/92           The Fieldhouse (Univ. of Colorado)        Boulder, CO
4/22/92          Hilton Ballroom                     Eugene, OR
5/9/92           Syracuse Armory                     Syracuse, NY
11/28/92         Capitol Theater                     Port Chester, NY
12/31/92         Matthews Arena (Northeastern U.)        Boston, MA     
2/12/93          Mid Hudson Civic Center          Poughkeepsie, NY               
3/31/93          Roseland Theater                    Portland, OR           
4/14/93          American Theater                    St. Louis, MO
5/7/93           Bangor Auditorium                  Bangor, ME
7/25/93          Waterloo Village Music Center                Stanhope, NJ
8/20/93          Red Rocks Amphitheater                    Morrison, CO   
5/3/94           Starwood Amphitheater                    Antioch, TN
6/17/94          Eagles Auditorium                  Milwaukee, WI          
6/30/94          Classic Amphitheater                    Richmond, VA           
7/16/94          Summer Stage at Sugarbush North        Fayston, VT    
10/16/94         Chattanooga Memorial Auditorium        Chattanooga, TN        
10/31/94         Glens Falls Civic Center                Glens Falls, NY        
11/25/94         UIC Pavilion                        Chicago, IL
6/23/95          Waterloo Village Music Center                Stanhope, NJ           
10/31/95         Rosemont Horizon                    Rosemont, IL           
8/17/96          The Clifford Ball                Plattsburgh, NY                         
12/6/96          The Aladdin Theater             Las Vegas, NV
12/29/96         The Spectrum                        Philadelphia, PA           
8/16/97          The Great Went                      Limestone, ME          
12/30/97         Madison Square Garden              New York, NY           
11/2/98          The E Centre                        Salt Lake City, UT                       
7/29/03          Star Lake Amphitheater                    Burgettstown, PA
8/16/09          Saratoga Performing Arts Center        Saratoga Springs, NY

If you are observant, you’ll notice that there are more than 55 shows listed here.  A few are ones that show up in the Helping Phriendly Book but not the old Mockingbird Foundation setlist file (or vice versa) and there is one show where it was soundchecked but not played during the show (4-11-91).  We’ll work out the details as we get there.

So what’s next?  Any of these ring any bells or bring back memories?  From my own show history I’m itching to review 10-31-95, 12-29-96, and 12-30-97.  As the boys say, “let’s get this show on the road!”

Starting Point

•August 21, 2009 • 2 Comments

This here is the beginning of what I hope will be a useful endeavor.  For me, it will be somewhat cathartic.  For you, let’s hope it stays interesting. 

So what’s the goal? 

Throughout the history of Phish there have been 55 concerts (as of the end of the Summer 2009 tours) in which the band has broken out Harpua, that ever-changing, hilarious, strange, engaging song about Jimmy, his cat, their suburban life, and a fat sweaty bulldog from Gamehendge.  Each of these versions is unique with the story covering a variety of themes and including numerous cultural, topical,and musical references.  My goal is to provide a summary of each version which still exists on a recorded medium (usually digitized audience recording) and to try to gain some understanding of what greater theme may be found in this Phishy creation.  I’ll try to summarize the story from that night, provide background on the elements of the story at hand, and look for common themes that pop up in the tale.  If all goes well, we’ll work our way through each occurrence and end up somewhere further down the line than we were before.  I’m not saying this will be enlightening to many people – in fact, I may be working through this alone.  But I’ll do my best to provide an objective assessment of the song and a subjective perception of it as well.

So read along if you like or leave me to my personal odyssey.  Follow me, if you will, as we start this journey to one of the many corners of Gamehendge…