Just by reading this headline, some of you already have the whistling melody running through your head. However, the first-ever version of “Reba” played by Phish was a little different from how the song is played now, but still maintains the song’s nonsensical charm.
28 years ago, Phish brought out “Reba” for the first time while playing at The Front in their hometown of Burlington, VT. Unlike how the song is arranged now, the debut actually opens with the composed instrumental section before going into a slowed-down version of the familiar quickly-sung verses. Interestingly, the lyrical part of “Reba” ends with the same build-up, but goes into a bizarre distortion-heavy breakdown where the band members sing “bag it, tag it” in falsettos.
From there, the debut “Reba” goes into the familiar “Chase” section, with Trey Anastasio and Page McConnell going note-for-note. It’s Jon Fishman that leads the transition, before the band settles into a great jam session. Perhaps a little less melodic than a “Reba” jam might sound today, there’s no denying the song’s potential even during its first performance.
The band hadn’t yet come up with the whistling component of “Reba,” so the jam ends with Fishman’s familiar drum line into a vocal breakdown, with the band riffing off of the words “bag it tag it” into utter nonsense. At the end of the song, Trey informs the crowd that “Reba” was a new song, and dedicates it to “the spirit of Nancy.” You can listen to the full track below.
If you want to dig deeper in late 80’s Phish, listen to the full show audio, streaming below courtesy of fromtheaquarium.
SETLIST: Phish | The Front | Burlington, VT | 10/1/89
Set 1: Alumni Blues > Letter to Jimmy Page > Alumni Blues > McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters > Who Do? We Do! > Golgi Apparatus, Harry Hood > The Chase > Wilson > Foam, Ya Mar, The Oh Kee Pa Ceremony > Suzy Greenberg > Run Like an Antelope
Set 2: AC/DC Bag > My Sweet One > Reba, Dinner and a Movie > Bundle of Joy > Possum, You Enjoy Myself > If I Only Had a Brain, Contact, Split Open and Melt, The Lizards
Encore: Highway to Hell
 Debut. No whistling.
 First known Phish performance.
Trey teased Purple Haze in Suzy. I’m A Man in Antelope, and the Brady Bunch theme in Possum. Trey dedicated the debut performance of Reba to the “Spirit of Nancy.” Reba did not have the whistling ending. This show also marked the first known Phish performance of Highway to Hell.