Historian: Craig DeLucia; Mockingbird Staff
Ever wonder how many obscure terms for body parts made it into Phish songs? “Chalk Dust” has a slew, and “Heavy Things” has a few, but “Axilla” and its successor, “Axilla (Part II)” are the only songs named for one (with apologies, of course, to “My Left Toe,” which is not at all obscure). The axilla is the armpit, or, more specifically, the cavity between the forelimb and the body. Given the warrior-esque mythology of the lyrics, some speculated that the song was a piece of the Gamehendge saga. Page made reference to the connection in The Phish Book, noting that “Axilla” was the last Gamehendge song written. There’s a definite but obscure lyrical connection – “axiluh” is the ancient Aztec word for “the lizard.” But now we’re digging really deep, aren’t we?
So, what does the song have to do with the armpit? No one is quite sure. The lyrics tell the story of a battle with a witch; one singular line refers to a particularly stinky axilla that makes the narrator lose his/her appetite. The word is cool enough that it gets shouted over and over at the end of the song. Musically, it and its brother were the hardest, heaviest originals to see the light of day in the ten years between “Big Black Furry Creature from Mars” in 1987 and “Saw It Again” in 1997.
After its debut in 1992, “Axilla” was played regularly through the remainder of that year and into 1993. Given its heavy tones, it was often used as a set-opener to get the crowd moving. The appearance of the sequel, “Axilla (Part II),” doomed the original to the shelf, except for a lone appearance on 10/16/94. The sequel went in the can after 12/31/95, though, and the original entered re-runs. The band tagged the ending of “Part II” onto the original and often performs “Axilla” in this manner. It ceased to be a set-opener and, like “Part II” in its day, is likely to be heard just about anywhere in a set.
Most versions are fairly similar – straight ahead and rocking, balls to the wall. One notable exception is 11/16/96, where the lighting crew received a strange tribute from the band. During that same show, “Axilla” was teased during “Suzy Greenberg.”
"Axilla" 12/3/09 New York, NY
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It seems the narrator encourages a witch he finds in the "foggy ditch" to help him out in the battle (he wakes her up) as he is outmatched by the multitude of sheep with "weapons in their hooves" (akin to llamas with firepower). Things don't bode well for the narrator however, as his loins soon dissolve and he yells out to Icculus above that he should have known better when he smelled the sheep's armpits (axilla).
Is there a stranger way to kick off the second set of the first night of NYE Run than this Axilla jam that makes you feel like you're being stalked by a killer who occasionally shoots arrows of DMT into the base of your neck? I don't think so. On one hand, this jam is the definition of going nowhere. On the other, it's as 1997 as it gets. Getting weird and scary for the hell of it, jamming out Axilla for the only time and setting the tone for the rest of the night perfectly. Trey's lysergic runs from "Axilla Part III" pop up again in the Simple jam, along with some jamming on something that sounds a lot like Bouncing.