a Project of the Mockingbird Foundation

Performances Song History Lyrics Jamming Chart


Music/Lyrics: Gordon

Vocals: Mike (lead), Page,Trey (backing)

Albums: Junta, Live Phish 02, Live Phish 09, The Clifford Ball, Live Phish Downloads 6-20-1995

Debut: 1988-06-15

Historian: Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)

Last Update: 2014-10-08

The lyrics to “Contact” appear to be lifted directly from the drivers’ education chapter in the Helping Friendly Book. Simple rules for any motorist to live by: “The tires are the things on your car that make contact with the road.” Keep that one rule in mind and one probably wouldn’t get into too much trouble navigating the road of life either. The typical placement of the song in a setlist (late second set or as an encore), and its placement as the final song on the original release of Junta, has throughout its history given the song an identity as a friendly post-show/end-of-party reminder. Keep those tires on the road and we will all live to see each other another day. 

Looking deeper into the song’s lyrics, and absorbing the sweetly simple, lullaby-like melody that pervades it, “Contact” takes on the guise of a well-crafted love song. The car that is the subject of the song very easily could be a metaphor for one’s partner in life. Taking into account the glowing headlights, the gleaming tailpipe, the tenacity for holding the road when things get tough; how could one go driving away and come back without them? 

"Contact – Junta studio track

“Contact” has been played over 150 times since 1988, and notable versions include 7/15/91 and 7/21/91 (both with the Giant Country Horns), 5/21/94 where it includes a “Big Ball Jam," 8/16/97 (The Great Went), and the Mexican Love-style “Contact” on 7/28/98, dedicated to a happy couple by Trey. Common to a number of songs written by Mike Gordon, most people either love “Contact” or they hate it, and those who hate it perhaps don’t grasp the sublime universal truths it contains. For it is true: “Bummed is what you are when you go out to your car and it’s been towed!” This point was driven home with great force (especially to those who parked in the nearby Target parking lot) by the extended 1/3/03 Hampton encore that featured stunning solos from both Page and Mike before concluding in “Tweezer Reprise.”

A portion of “Contact” was featured during the band’s appearance (in Jarret’s Room) as the musical guest on Saturday Night Live (12/14/02). The song snippet was performed by the band as part of a recurring skit about a collegiate kine brah; in this episode, one of Jarret’s friends believed he had been run over by Chuck Norris (Trey). Al Gore, who hosted the show, played the role of one of Jarret’s professors during the skit, and was subsequently given a shout out by Trey during the aforementioned performance of “Contact” at Hampton on 1/3/03

"Contact – 6/23/00, Atlanta, GA

The majority of subsequent versions of “Contact” have also been included in multiple song encores (2/28/03, 7/17/03, 12/30/03, 3/8/09, 6/6/09, 8/13/10, and 10/25/13). The 12/30/03 Miami and 3/8/09 Hampton versions took some uncharted twists and turns. In the former Trey quotes both "L.A. Woman" and "P. Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)" in place of his regular harmonies in reference to surprise covers of each played during the New Year's Eve run. The latter featured a "Happy Birthday" jam for Fish's dad, Leonard, who was celebrating with the band that night.

Most of the deviations from the encore song placement were penultimate precursors to second set closers. The 8/9/04 Hampton and 12/28/09 Miami versions both preceded “Character Zero” with the former also featuring a "Little Drummer Boy" jam. The 6/27/10 MPP version cleared a path for a second set closing “YEM” and contained a quote of the song it had followed (“Saw It Again”). The other recent late second set version was the filling in the middle of the “Mike’s Groove” finale at SPAC on 7/7/12. Coming full circle, An Inconvenient Truth of the song’s recent climatic record is that the lone opening frame version (12/28/11 MSG) was the first of its kind since the show-opening 7/30/93 version at The Veranda at Starwood in Antioch, Tennessee… the state which housed the former Senatorial seat of Mr. Gore. Eighteen years is a pretty significant amount of time for such a thing to persist.

"Contact,” “Sample in a Jar” – 12/28/11, New York, NY

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Recommended Versions: 1991-07-15, 1991-07-21, 1994-05-21, 1997-08-16, 1998-07-28, 2003-01-03, 2004-08-09, 2009-03-08, 2013-10-25

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Nova2001 Reply
Nova2001 Back in the spring of 94 I wrote a letter to Cactus asking if there was a specific inspiration behind Contact. A few months later in my mailbox I discovered a postcard that was rolled up with a rubberband around it. Opening it revealed a picture of a man wearing a bib and holding a book with a huge bite taken out of it. On the written side? "That car would be a silver 1983 Nissan Sentra hatchback. People tell me to sell it but I love it."
Score: 8
bryanarchy Reply
bryanarchy I don't usually think of Contact as a funk jamming song. However, I was unexpectedly surprised with how strong the Contact Jam was on 20111228 at MSG. That version gave me goosebumps and made me take notice immediately.
Score: 2
gladtobeaglenn Reply
gladtobeaglenn Funny about 12/28/11 MSG Set 1 Contact. I was flying solo in about the 15th row Page side and got into a convo with a young phan sitting next to me (they had seats on the floor that year!), and she gushed about how she would be sooo stoked if they played Contact. I figured she would have to wait a couple of hours to find out if they would, but there it was 3 songs (or so) in! She went bananas of course!
Score: 0
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