Music/Lyrics: J.J. Cale
Original Artist: J.J. Cale
Original Album: Single (1966)
Historian: Jeremy D. Goodwin
Last Update: 2016-02-12
The opening chords to this classic signaled perhaps the most appropriate song selection in the history of Phish. About 80,000 fans had swarmed to a field in the middle of the Everglades of to witness the ambitious quartet perform an unprecedented all-night set. As anticipation grew, fans were pretty much stumped as to what in the hell was going to go down. After a stunning three-set affair the day before, happily curious fans had enjoyed a relatively normal (though long) afternoon set on New Year’s Eve, punctuated by an unreal “Melt” -> “Catapult.” Then, the boys unleashed a set closer that sent chills (and cries of delight) through the entire crowd: “After Midnight,” via the famous Eric Clapton arrangement.
J.J. Cale & Eric Clapton, “After Midnight”
The message couldn’t have been more clear: after midnight, we’re gonna let it all hang down! As if the curiosity and anticipation could get any more frenzied, this declaration somehow turned it all up a notch. It was one final tease before the main event, and as the jubilant crowd slowly walked back across the concert field after the set, an enormous roar erupted. Phish was planning to utterly throw down the gauntlet and plumb the depths of their artistic subconscious through a marathon night of musical experimentation, and this song put everything into words pretty perfectly. We’re gonna find out what it’s all about! On this night, many fans did just that.
If the landmark midnight set marked a new phase of the Phish story, “After Midnight” was the last song played by the Old Phish... before Everything Changed, and the possibilities for this phenomenon shifted into the “limitless” category. Among a laundry list of musical epiphanies that occurred in Big Cypress, seek out the “Drowned,” which features an absolutely hair-raising segue into a brief “After Midnight” reprise, featuring another go-round of the chorus.
When Phish returned to Florida in 2003 for the first time after Big Cypress, some fans wondered if there would be any kind of overt reference to the preceding occasion. Maybe so, maybe not: the Phish.net setlists record an “After Midnight” tease during the “Bathtub Gin” on 12/30/03, but reasonable fans may consider this a figment of overeager tease-spotting.
There was no ambiguity about its return, nearly eleven years after its first appearance, as one of the most out-of-nowhere show openers in the Phish canon, at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, NH on 10/26/10. It appeared again at the New Year’s Eve show two months later, receiving thematically appropriate placement as the song out of “Auld Lang Syne,” surely prompting plenty of nostalgia among fans who’d been present for its original appearance back in 1999. “After Midnight” popped up again at The Gorge in 2013, in Phish’s second show after the death of its author, J.J. Cale, and then again as part of the epic “THANK YOU” encore to close the run at Dick’s in 2015.