Chalk Dust Torture
Vocals: Trey (lead), Mike, Page (backing)
Albums: A Picture of Nectar, A Live One, New Year's Eve 1995 - Live at Madison Square Garden, At the Roxy, Live Phish 02, Live Phish 06, Live Phish 07, Live Phish 08, Live Phish 16, Live Phish 17, Sharin' in the Groove, Gone Fishin', JamGrass, High Neighbors: Dub Tribute to Phish, IT, Hampton/Winston-Salem '97, The Clifford Ball, Ventura, Chicago '94
Historian: Craig DeLucia; Mockingbird Staff
Last Update: 2014-01-16
Some songs are flat-out meant to rock and roll. “Chalk Dust Torture” is a prime example. One of the most often-played songs since its debut in 1991, “Chalk Dust” has been a frequent set opener because of its ability to whip a crowd into a frenzy. The lyrics speak of teen angst and rebellion, as the narrator seeks to forego the mind-numbing trappings of adulthood while he still has a few spry years left. While most versions of the song feature "Type-I" jamming and screaming guitar work from Trey, it has also served as a large "Type-II" jam vehicle on more than a few occasions.
The first memorable “Chalk Dust” was on 5/17/91 at the Campus Club in Providence, RI. The power cut off during the song, but Fishman continued playing; when the lights came back on a strong jam ensued. Other memorable early versions include 3/8/93 where a “Chalk Dust” encore moved into a reprise of a second set “Big Ball Jam,” and 7/23/93 where the song grew out of a typically angry “Big Black Furry Creature from Mars.”
Fans in Toronto on 8/9/93 were treated to the first real exploratory “Chalk Dust.” This show-opening version included a jam based on Jimi Hendrix’s “Who Knows.” Another tasty version is the 7/16/94 Sugarbush “Chalk Dust,” with a tease of Heart’s classic rock radio staple “Barracuda” (and released as part of Live Phish 02). By fall 1994 “Chalk Dust” had grown into a popular concert anthem. The band actually played the song twice on 12/10/94, returning to the song at the start of the encore while they introduced the crew. Phish thought enough of the 11/16/94 version to include it on A Live One. Phish played a shortened version during their first-ever appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman on 12/30. It was rumored that “Chalk Dust” was played at Letterman’s personal request.
"Chalk Dust Torture" 12/30/94 The Late Show with David Letterman
The 6/20/95 "Chalk Dust" is a fan-favorite from that year. On 10/23/96 and 7/25/97, the band welcomed Bob Gullotti on a second drum set for portions of the show and “Chalk Dust” was among the selections played. The second set of the Atlanta show on 7/23/97 included a tasty combo of “You Enjoy Myself ” and “Chalk Dust,” with a “Rocky Mountain Way” jam in between. On 7/30/97 the first set included a strong “Chalk Dust” that emerged from “Wolfman’s Brother.” In Worcester on 11/27/98 (released as Live Phish 06), fans were awestruck as the band moved freely in and out of “Mirror in the Bathroom” and an atypical, bluesy “Dog Log” while also teasing “Wipe Out” and never losing sight of the “Chalk Dust” theme. 7/10/99 stands out as the most remarkable version from that year, acknowledged by the band with Live Phish 08. On 7/11/00, Phish performed “Chalk Dust Reprise” for just the second time ever (after a rocking “Drowned” and before a wonderful “Chalk Dust” proper) and then whipped it out again in the encore.
But all “Chalk Dusts” prior to the second day of the IT festival on 8/3/03 were just a glimpse of what the song could be – a jam all-star of epic proportions. To close the year, Phish moved seamlessly between “Chalk Dust” and “Slave to the Traffic Light” on 12/31/03 in a highly interesting and unexpected segue. The tumultuous year of 2004 brought two more extended versions of "Chalk Dust," on 6/18/04 and 8/9/04.
Since returning to the stage in 2009, "Chalk Dust" is as frequently played as ever. While the primary role for “Chalk Dust” remains a frenetic “type-I” jamming vehicle, there are several exceptions to this rule. Three 3.0 versions stand above the rest. The first is 6/25/10, a sprawling Mike-dominated 15 minute version. Second is the 8/31/12 version from the Dick’s “Fuck Your Face” show that reached a blissful type-II peak. The third, a sprawling, multi-themed monster, occurred precisely one year later (also at Dick’s), and may just be the finest of them all.
Several other recent versions of “Chalk Dust” have traveled through alternate paths and merit any serious fan’s attention. Start with the 10/30/10 version from Atlantic City that segued in and out of the first "Whole Lotta Love" in nearly twenty years and fired the first shot in the show-long Zeppelin tribute. The 6/3/11 performance leaves a little extra “Chalk Dust” on the tongue. The 8/25/12 Atlanta rendition featured a tension-filled jam that segued nicely into “What’s the Use?”. More recently, the 7/16/13 rendition (from another Zeppelin-infused set) is an exemplar of the 3.0 less-is-more jamming style, saying more in ten minutes than many jams do in twenty.
"Chalk Dust Torture" 6/25/10 Camden, NJ
On several occasions, members of the band have expressed their affection for this number. Tom Marshall mentioned in The Phish Book that the lyrics are among his favorites, and Fishman remarked that he still loves belting out the song’s anthemic chorus despite the fact that he is obviously not as young as he was when the song was written. Phish even went so far as to lend the music to the Dude of Life, who used it verbatim in his song “Self.”
“Chalk Dust” was adapted to an acoustic format during Trey’s solo tour in the spring of 1999 and is a staple of Trey's acoustic performances to this day. When Trey and Page played the Warfield in San Francisco with “Phil Lesh and Phriends” in the spring of 1999, “Chalk Dust” was one of only four Phish originals played. The worlds of Phish and the Dead again collided over “Chalk Dust” on 10/6/00 when Bob Weir assisted on the tune (even though the song had to be re-started as Weir apparently wasn’t ready the first time).
Fish is not the only one who still loves belting out that chorus. One listen to the crowd every time “Chalk Dust” is played demonstrates that Phish fans young and old still relate to the ramblings of Jezmund, the Family Berzerker.
”Chalk Dust Torture” 8/31/13 Commerce City, CO
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I would certainly add the recent 8/31/13 to this list!It made it onto the jamming chart, though curiously without the bold print it so deserves. Fishman's work in this version, in particular, merits singular notice. One of the best jams of 2013.
Quintessential soaring phish....
Also worth noting in the history of this song is the strangely slowed and pitched down audio that made it onto the studio release on A Picture of Nectar.I had heard live versions before I ever heard the studio version. When I finally heard it in a friend's car I had to ask who was playing it, if it was a cover. At the time we just assumed that they were messing around.
Definitely slowed down and definitely weird.