Chalk Dust Torture

Originally Performed ByPhish
Appears On
VocalsTrey (lead), Mike, Page (backing)
Phish Debut1991-02-01
Last Played2016-10-18
Current Gap4
Recommended Versions1995-06-20, 1997-07-30, 1998-11-27, 1999-07-10, 2003-01-02, 2003-07-30, 2003-08-03, 2004-08-09, 2010-06-25, 2012-08-31, 2013-08-31, 2013-07-16, 2013-12-30, 2014-07-09, 2014-07-13
HistorianCraig DeLucia; lumpblockclod
Last Update2016-01-21


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 with increasing frequency over the years.

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

"Chalk Dust Torture" 6/25/10 Camden, NJ

Since returning to the stage in 2009, "Chalk Dust" is as frequently played as ever. While the primary role for “Chalk Dust” initially retreated into its familiar, frenetic “type-I” jamming role, the song reprised and then surpassed its initial development to the point that it has become one of Phish’s most reliable jamming vehicles. If long, “Type-II” jams are your thing, there is perhaps no song you’d rather see open a second set than “Chalk Dust.” Quality 3.0 versions are almost too numerous to list, but let’s try anyway.  The first top-shelf rendition was played on 6/25/10, a sprawling Mike-dominated 15 minute version. The 10/30/10 Atlantic City “CDT” 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 8/25/12 Atlanta rendition featured a tension-filled jam that segued nicely into “What’s the Use?”, but was quickly surpassed by the 8/31/12 version from the Dick’s “Fuck Your Face” show that reached a blissful type-II peak. 

Another sprawling, multi-themed monster from Dick’s occurred precisely one year later and begat a mini-trend of epic set opening “Chalk Dusts.” 12/30/13 starts off reminiscent of 7/10/99 before culminating in a powerful, rhythmic-based jam.  The 7/9/14 second set opener at the Mann (the third noteworthy version from a Philadelphia area summer shed) was powered primaerily by Page. Just four days later, Phish dropped the longest version to date on the third night of an already legendary Randall’s Island run. The Randall’s behemoth travels a winding path that peaks twice -- once in the ensuing “Light” and again in the “Tweezer” that followed. If you’re looking for the best hour of 3.0 Phish, look no further. The traditional 8/31 Dick’s version was almost tame by 2014 standards, but still featured Fish driving the band to deep space and back. Don’t sleep on the underrated 10/21/14 Santa Barbara offering showcasing some gorgeous Trey/Page interplay.

”Chalk Dust Torture” 7/13/14 Randall’s Island, NY

In 2015 Phish added a new facet to their Type-II “Chalk Dust” game, moving the jam to after the final chorus. In addition to faking out more than a few fans, the performances were as strong as ever. The 8/7/15 Blossom rendition formed one half on the indomitable “Cheezer.” The Magnaball version (8/21/15) features a dark, almost “Spanish Jam” segment. On 9/5/15, they played a fourth type-II version at Dick’s that was most notable for the fantastic melt into “Twist.” Phish saved the longest version of the year for last, throwing down a 22-minute dance party at MSG on 12/30/15.

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 Torture" 8/21/15 Watkins Glen, NY

“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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