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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2010/09/30

The Best and Worst Phish Guests

Guest appearances are pretty rare in the Phish world. When they do happen, they tend to inspire fairly extreme reactions, with fans of the guest being incredibly inspired and others feelings like it was a waste of their Phish time. Between the extremes there is plenty of room to argue. Here in a convenient list form designed for everyone to explain to me why I’m completely wrong are the 5 worst and 10 best guests Phish have ever had.

The 5 Worst Guests

5) Bob Weir- The three song encore, 10/6/00

This was a good idea that didn’t quite work. Starting out with a solid version of “El Paso,” this seemed like it was going to be a lot of fun, but then Bobby seemed to have a lot of trouble keeping up with “Chalk Dust Torture” and then – for some reason – they ended this section with a Jerry song. “West L.A. Fadeaway” isn’t exactly a triumphant encore to begin with, but it’s not a song associated with Bobby. Nice idea, nice start, lousy execution.

4) B. B. King – the last three songs of the first set, 2/24/03

Ask anyone who was there. The B. B. King section of this show went on forEVER. If there’s one thing that makes the difference between a good guest and a bad one, it’s how long they stay on stage. A forty-five minute section of a concert with a guest is going to get much worse reviews than a fifteen minute one. By the end of the set, people were about to walk on stage with one of those vaudeville hooks to drag him away. That’s rule number one for a guest: don’t overstay!

3) Jennifer Hartswick – “Girls Girls Girls” 4/15/04

I have become a big fan of Hartswick over the past decade. Trey was completely right when he saw how talented she would become. Not only that, she is one of the nicest people you’re ever likely to meet. Therefore, it’s sad that her only Phish appearance was at one of the worst shows in their history, the one that led directly to the breakup. It’s a bit weird putting her on the list because she’s not the problem in the song; her wails and Page’s fills desperately try to salvage it. Still though, this was one of the worst moments in Phish’s history and it would be dishonest to not mention this in the list.

Here’s hoping at some point down the line, she gets a chance to come out and play again, perhaps this time making the other list.

2) Baby Gramps – “Mice and Bats” 8/26/93

I have to confess a personal bias here. As a northwesterner, I’ve been exposed to Baby Gramps’s act a number of times and he just scares me. With a voice that sounds like a cross between Popeye and a child molester, there are few announcements that have the potential to deflate a crowd that’s not in the mood for it than the announcement of a Baby Gramps appearance. In fact, the entire column idea came up when I discovered that Baby Gramps came out twice on this tour.

So I wrote this long rant about Baby Gramps and only then I actually listened to this version and… errr… it’s actually not bad. This is the very opposite of Jennifer Hartswick’s performance, where a very strong Phish are able to take a performer than I don’t normally like and distill what’s good about his weirdness without completely devolving into Baby Gramps terror world.

Still though, Phish made me sit through two Baby Gramps opening sets in Seattle 1995 so he stays there. Besides, I defy anyone to listen to his verses without getting a little creeped.

1) Kid Rock – last three songs of second set and encore 9/29/00

Not only did Mr. Rock violate the overstay rule – I suspect that some of the criticism would have been toned down if he just hadn’t come out for the encore – but his stage presence was the exact opposite of Phish’s. While some people liked the change of pace, especially in an environment like Vegas, one of the attractions of Phish for me is that they don’t point to the crowd to make us sing the choruses and strut around the stage and change the lyrics to “We’re an American Band,” to, “We’ll pull your panties down.” Yeah it’s Cock Rock and yes it has an energy to it, but I don’t really care about Trey’s and Kid’s (invented?) encounters with strippers at the Mandalay. Thankfully, there was no repeat of this.

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