“AC/DC Bag” is one of the earliest Gamehendge tunes to appear in Phish’s live repertoire, making its debut on 4/1/86 at Burlington’s Hunt’s a full two years before the completion of Trey’s project. “Bag” was initially its own tune, and appeared on the original 1986 White Tape cassette. Trey’s Senior Study The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday – which incorporated “AC/DC Bag” – wasn’t completed until 1988, where “Bag” slots in as the fourth song of the musical between “Wilson” and “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent.”
“Bag’s” lyrics have a loosely narrative, stream-of-consciousness feel to them. While interspersed with characters from Gamehendge and telling a well-developed story, the song’s lyrics are built with bricks of clichés: “The thousand dollar question”; “Sit up and take notice”; “Tell it like it is”; “Time to put your money where your mouth is”; “Let’s get down to the nitty gritty”; “Let’s get this show on the road,” and so on. Indeed, in writing the song Trey borrowed directly from The Dictionary of Clichés.
The chorus’s chord progression (well, almost – it’s actually an F-major, not a B-major) gives “AC/DC Bag” its name. The lyrics to this groove-rock tune speak of a certain Mr. Palmer, who is most decidedly “concerned with the thousand- dollar question.” He is about to be hanged by the AC/DC Bag (the name of Wilson’s plug-in, robotized, bag-headed executioner) under orders from Wilson himself. Mr.Palmer is Wilson’s accountant, you see. However, he was also a member of the anti-Wilson revolutionary effort. Palmer helped support Errand Woolfe, Tela, and the other rebels by channeling funds from Wilson’s regime to bankroll the revolution. Of course, Wilson eventually found out, and sentenced Mr. Palmer to death, thus substantially crushing the revolutionary effort.
Hammered into the Gamehendge narrative, the song’s lyrics end up having meaning, however vague. In this context, the song is sung as a duet between Wilson and Palmer. In the first two verses, Wilson torments Palmer in a facetious manner. Palmer takes over the second two verses, defiantly challenging Wilson (“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”). The final lines of the fourth verse indicate Palmer’s steadfast resistance to Wilson as he shouts for the commencement of his own execution. Following this, Palmer muses over his complete lack of a future.
Back in the world of mortals, the “Roger” mentioned in this song (as well as in “Wilson”) is an old friend of Trey’s, Roger Holloway, with whom Trey shares credit on the band’s White Tape for the tune “Aftermath.” For the Gamehendge saga, Roger is the name of Errand Woolfe’s son, who was murdered by Wilson. The real Roger appeared on stage at the band’s 4/14/93 gig at the beginning of the second set and proposed to his girlfriend. She accepted, and the band happily responded by playing the song that made that “crazy little kid” Roger a star, “AC/DC Bag.”
1997 brought a wave of myriad musical experiments in jamming out the most unexpected tunes, a force that propelled “Bag” to the most extraordinary of jam spaces. From 1997 up to the hiatus, “Bag” served as a useful springboard for the band to launch into expansive and exciting jams, only seldom finding its way to the drizzle of escalating notes that makes up the song’s traditional, composed ending. Standout versions include: 6/25/97 Lille, France – a funk explosion anchoring the first set of this brilliant yet underappreciated show; 11/21/97 Hampton – and epic 25+ minutes with plot twists galore; 12/30/97MSG, also ~25 minutes with “Third Stone From the Sun” and “Psycho Killer” teases; 8/9/98 (Virginia Beach "Terrapin Station" gig, with an “Electric Funeral” tease); 11/7/98 Chicago (transport to outer space, -> to “Ghost”); and the brilliant 9/14/99 “Boise Bag” ("Peaches" > "Bag"!).
Post-hiatus versions we’re reigned in a bit from the late 90s heydey, though more than respectable versions can be found on: 2/14/03 Great Western Forum (for Valentines lovers and stage jumpers); 7/9/03 Shoreline (between excellent versions of “Boogie On” and “Piper”); opening IT on 8/2/03 (“put ‘em in a field and let ‘em fight it out”); and 8/14/04 Coventry (a 2.0 masterpiece that belies the ridiculous claim that Coventry lacked improvisational spark, despite the accompanying train wrecks).
The return to a more compact presentation and utility kick-off role of “Bag” gained steam upon Phish’s return to the stage in 2009, with its role as an improvisational springboard apparently a bygone of a past era. Punchy versions can be found opening otherwise outstanding gigs including: 8/1/09Red Rocks; the Gamehendge-infused 8/14/09 Hartford gig; 12/31/09 Miami (with an "Auld Lang Syne" tease); 7/2/10 Charlotte (with a "Buried Alive" tease); 5/29/11 Bethel Woods; 8/26/12 Charlotte (with a “Machine Gun” tease); 12/31/13 MSG; and 7/12/14 at New York’s Randall’s Island.
This is my first comment on this website. A Phish Phan from the time I was introduced in 2003 a year in Phish that changed my life forever. Since I have been listening and building my own personal catalog of memorable, historic Phish Jams, my choices never seem to align with any others that seem to voice their opinions online or in person. I understand that everyone has their own brand but I urge everyone to please check out these renditions and appreciate their authenticity.
2003-02-25 First Union Spectrum, Philadelphia, PA AC/DC Bag
Let me start by noting how amazing 2003 was for Phish in its own unique way. This version of AC/DC Bag was tight, jammed out, and one-of-a-kind. It was both intense and controlled at times. There are many different sections to this jam, all as interesting and thought-capuring as the next. Trey absolutely explodes in the climax of the jam. One of my all time favorites.
Other amazing renditions include: 1996-08-13 Deer Creek Music Center, Noblesville, IN (Hard, Intense, Tight, Cool Intro)
1998-08-16 Lemonwheel (Equally Intense as the 96 version)
I read ulysses in college, and early on in the book, a character says to another, " if I were near you, I wouldn't be far from you." this may be an old cliche that I don't recognize, but it happens to be in the chapter when mr. bloom and a woman on the beach show each other theirs.