Phish‘s vast repertoire is a living, breathing organism. With their enormous amount of material and endless creativity, the band is always liable to surprise you night by night, from bust-outs to surprising new covers to deep jams on unexpected songs. Sometimes, the band will even take a song that you’ve been familiar with for years and flip it on its head, creating something new and different.

Four years ago today, on the heels of their truly fantastic Philly finale featuring a rare 5-song second set, Phish kicked off their show at Raleigh, NC’s Walnut Creek Amphitheatre with a total reinvention of “Llama”, a characteristically “Phish-y” favorite from 1992’s A Picture of Nectar. Originally written and typically performed at blistering tempos, Phish slowed the tongue-twisting tune down to half speed, instantly transforming the unhinged rocker into a smooth, funky gem.

A setlist staple in the early nineties, Phish had only played the song 10 times in the 3.0 era before the “Raleigh Llama”. While the song will likely remain a relative rarity, the slow-funk treatment was not just a one-time deal. The next time “Llama” was played since—in Philadelphia in 2016—the song was once again delivered at half speed, and it was once again a fantastic funky surprise, affirming the fact that Trey, Fish, Mike, and Page still have a few tricks up their sleeves after more than 30 years. On night seven of the Baker’s Dozen (“Cinnamon” night), Phish opened the show with the first “Llama” of 2017, returning to the song’s originally blistering speeds. The show-opening rendition of “Llama” at the band’s 2018 Merriweather Post Pavilion finale similarly saw the song return to the races at its traditional pace. On the second night of Phish’s 2018 Hampton Coliseum run, the band once again opened the show with the third-ever slow “Llama”. The two subsequent renditions (on 6/25/19 and 7/3/19), saw “Llama” return to its customary fast tempo.

It’s exciting to see a Phish staple like “Llama” take on a new element of surprise decades into its existence. Will your next “Llama” be fast or slow? The song’s evolution in recent years adds yet another line item to the big list of Phish “what ifs” that keeps us coming back again and again.

Apparently, you can teach an old song new tricks. Thanks, Slow Llama…

Phish – (Slow) “Llama” – 8/14/15

For comparison, here’s fan-shot footage of the show-opening “Llama” from the same venue 5 years earlier on July 1st, 2010:

Phish – “Llama” – 7/10/10

[Video: Zach Peele]

…And, finally, how can we talk about “Llama” without a nod to this gem of a video? There’s never a bad time for this clip, which dubs the “Llama” with Béla Fleck from 10/18/94 over video footage of an actual llama chase!

[Video: Jonny S.]

[Originally published 8/14/17]