Since Phish‘s earliest days, “Bathtub Gin” has been among the band’s most noteworthy songs. From nonsensical lyrics, to specifically-composed dissonance and weirdness, to audience participation, to the bouncing tempo and crisp, distinct guitar line that consistently prime the band for thrilling improvisation, “Gin” combines some of the most entertaining and thrilling aspects of the band’s prodigious skill set.
After decades of remaining in heavy live rotation (and 258 individual performances), fans have surely gotten more than their fair share of awe-inspiring, impassioned “Gins,” but one in particular seems to rise to the top of the pile when discussing the greatest versions ever: “The Went Gin,” a.k.a. Phish’s action-packed rendition of the song in the middle of their second of three sets of the final day of their second-ever festival, The Great Went. The entire set continues to be known as one of the best Phish has ever put together, with a grade-A “Disease,” the communally engaging “Art Jam,” and the first-ever “Harry Hood” glow stick war.
But the “Gin” in particular is a shot of rocket fuel. The jam packs more unhinged energy into 15 minutes than many of the celebrated improvs that extend much longer. All four members lock in around the 12 minute mark, press harder, faster, stretching the music’s boundaries to their limits. The results are quite literally hair-raising. Chill-inducing. Jaw-dropping. Normally, those phrases are just hyperbole, simply turns of phrase. But watch this pro-shot video of the impregnable “Went Gin” and try to tell me the that hair on your neck doesn’t raise on end, that you don’t get chills at about 12:45 in, that your jaw isn’t slacked by the time the song’s theme returns at the end. Even if you do, I don’t think I’d believe you.
Thanks to YouTube user LazyLightning55a, you can check out video of the Phish’s vaunted “Bathtub Gin” from The Great Went in all its glory below:
Of course, this is Phish, so everyone is never going to agree on which was “best.” Lots of old-school fans will tell you that the Riverport “Gin” made for a stiffer drink, and had more to offer in terms of variety. Some 3.0 kids may argue that the 23-minute “Bathtub Gin” roller coaster from the first night of Magnaball should at least be in the conversation (though that camp, admittedly, may have a slightly less legitimate claim). And more still will preach the gospels of any number of other fantastic “Gins.” But you won’t find a fan of Phish who doesn’t at least have a place in their heart for the great, great, Great Went “Gin.” 20 years later, and two things are still certain: 1) The “Went Gin” is still a pinnacle moment in the history of Phish; and 2) we still love to take that bath.
SETLIST: Phish | The Great Went | Night 2 | Loring Commerce Centre | Limestone, ME | 8/17/97
SET 1: The Wedge, Beauty of My Dreams, Dogs Stole Things, Vultures, Water in the Sky > Maze, Bouncing Around the Room > Tweezer -> Taste, Carolina
SET 2: Down with Disease  -> Bathtub Gin  > Uncle Pen, Also Sprach Zarathustra -> Art Jam > Harry Hood
SET 3: Buffalo Bill -> NICU, Weigh, Guyute, Dirt, Scent of a Mule -> Digital Delay Loop Jam -> Scent of a Mule , Prince Caspian
ENCORE: When the Circus Comes, Tweezer Reprise
This was the second show of The Great Went festival. Tweezer featured a Cities-like jam and Simple teases, and the Digital Delay Loop Jam included London Bridge is Falling Down teases. Disease was unfinished. Bathtub Gin contained a Proud Mary tease from Page. Throughout the weekend, fans painted pieces of wood that were assembled into an Art Tower. During Disease, Page and Fish painted their portions of the Art Tower; Mike and Trey painted theirs during 2001. The Art Jam saw the crowd carry the pieces of the band’s art to the side of the venue where it was hoisted onto the Art Tower and added to the fans’ art. During Tweezer Reprise, the Art Tower was burned to the ground as The Great Went came to a close. As the Hood jam kicked in, Trey asked Chris to turn the lights off and the band jammed while the front section of the audience engaged in the first Hood glowstick war. Trey remarked to the crowd at the end of the jam that the visual display was cool. Between the first and second sets, the Bangor Symphony Orchestra performed selections from Stravinsky and Debussy as a red-smoke-spewing glider synchronized its swoops and dives to the music. Buffalo Bill was played for the first time since December 31, 1994 (204 shows).
[Cover photo from The Great Went Day 1, via Bittersweet Motel]