Featured Column: Do We Need Rarities?
From their first song back, Phish 3.0 has been all about playing the songs that the fans most want to hear. All sort of songs that were long assumed buried resurfaced in 2009. In just nine shows so far this year, I’ve seen “Sanity,” “Destiny Unbound” (TWICE!), “Curtis Loew,” and “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’,” not to mention quite a few songs that I hadn’t seen since the 90s such as “Hello Ma Baby” and “Sleep.”
In the wake of Hartford and SPAC, I actually heard a few people say jokingly that they could stop seeing Phish now that they’ve finally seen all of the songs that they’ve wanted to see for all of these years. And while they were kidding around, there was a degree of truth to it. Song chasing is a reality. People like to play it down sometimes, but there are many people who add a show or two in order to try to see that “Harpua” or “St. Stephen” or whatever song it is that they just keep missing every tour. It’s not stupid by any means. For whatever reason, there’s a very strong rush when seeing a loved … or liked… or tolerated song for the first time. “Dog Log” might be a song about stepping in poop, but when I finally caught one at It, I was jumping up and down.
Bustouts are a currency. You can spend one to cause a great crowd reaction, but it only works a couple of times for a song. On 10/14/89  I remember thinking during the rush of emotion from finally seeing “Help on the Way” that I don’t know if I ever could be unhappy again. Less than two years later I was in line for a soda at RFK during the set break, heard the opening chords, and thought, “It’s only ‘Help on the Way.’ I won’t miss anything if I stay in line.”
Ten minutes later there was a second lesson learned. While I wasn’t jumping up and down with delight because I was getting to hear a rarity, the actual version played was incredible, to the point where “Help>Slip>Franks” became the song (ok, songs) that I was hoping for whenever I walked into a show. While it’s fun to get the rush from hearing a song for the first time – or the first time in a while – it’s even better to hear a good song played well. Hampton’s “Fluffhead” may have been the bustout but the Gorge’s version was far better.
Ultimately, that’s how things can and will work. If a bustout is a song that you actually love for more than the novelty’s sake, then having it played more often actually is a good thing. Yes, it won’t be like that first time where it’s played and everyone goes wild and the cheering is louder than the music on audience tapes, but it was always a cliché in the Grateful Dead world that the second performance was always better, perhaps because the band could actually hear themselves play.
Do we need rarities? Ultimately, I think the answer is no. However, the question ultimately will solve itself. No band with a deep catalog can play all of their material. Even if they play all of the songs that people want right now, some people will still be unlucky. Besides, come ten years from now maybe “Friday” or “Two Versions of Me” will be played and everyone will go nuts. After all, they haven’t played that one in ages!
 RIP Adam Katz… getting on 10 years now.
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capital Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html.