Anything But Me
Music/Lyrics: Anastasio, Marshall, Herman
Vocals: Trey (lead), Mike, Page (backing)
Albums: Round Room
Historian: David Steinberg (zzyzx)
Last Update: 2011-12-03
"Anything But Me" is one of the riskier songs that Phish plays. This isn’t because it’s a complicated composition or features improvisational sections that could be uninspired on some nights. The risk here is that of emotional exposure. Other Phish songs – even the ballads – tend to disguise whatever the characters are feeling through layers of detachment or open-ended imagery. “Anything But Me” refuses to do that and therefore lends itself to attack. There’s a fine line between heartfelt intent and cheesiness.
“Anything But Me” is about using the love of another person as an inspiration to survive and even transcend depression. The character doesn’t feel worthy of her love. All of his metaphors involve either his distance from her – he’s first “a satellite, high above the atmosphere” and later she’s an island separated from him by a dangerous fog shrouded ocean – or his fears of acting irrationally due to his emotions. Tidal waves and shooting stars are all unable to control their actions; even the raindrop he compares himself to is one that is accelerating without control. It’s not a surprise really that he worries that he will overstay his welcome. How often will she continue to open her emotional doors for this tidal wave and what will happen if he loses his island of sanity?
Musically, “Anything But Me” sounds more like a ‘50s song than the kind of music Phish usually plays. There’s lots of “Oooohing” and “Aaaaaahing” in the background and only a short instrumental break. As a result versions vary little from each other. The main differences are in the precision and timing of their vocals. These minor differences in playing can make a big difference in emotional impact. This spell that “Anything But Me” casts is a delicate one; precision is needed to create its power.
Because of that, no live version played in 2003 managed to reproduce the quiet beauty of the Round Room version. However, there was a steady improvement in their live performances throughout the year. Other than the stellar Page solo on 1/4/03, the winter versions tend to be more frustrating than anything. Over the course of the summer, Trey began to get a better feel as to what liberties could be taken and how to take a mid-song solo that would complement the mood. The performances on 7/7/03 (a solid version in a ballad-heavy set, near perfect until Trey calls himself a “raindop”), 7/17/03, 12/2/03, and 12/29/03 (with a beautiful Page/Trey duet) point out a path for future versions. Unfortunately, those versions haven't really materialized, as the band has played but two lonely versions of "Anything But Me" since their 2004 break-up (8/16/09, and after a 97-show absence, again on 8/15/11).
If they can master the art of consistently playing perfect renditions, “Anything But Me” will become an important song in setlists, the stunning emotional breather between the heavy jams. Until then there’s still the Round Room version for those rainy days that find you lying in bed longing for someone who isn’t there.
"Anything But Me" 2/16/03 Las Vegas, NV