Down with Disease
Vocals: Trey (lead), Mike, Page (backing)
Albums: Stash, Hoist, Vegas 96, Live Phish 02, Live Phish 11, Walnut Creek, Still Phishin', JamGrass, The String Quartet Tribute to Phish, Live Phish 15, Hampton/Winston-Salem '97, Star Lake 98, Alpine Valley, Chicago '94, The Clifford Ball, Amsterdam
Historian: Craig DeLucia; lumpblockclod
Last Update: 2016-02-17
If ever a Phish song came along at just the right moment, it was “Down with Disease.” Upset with the perceived radio-friendly appeal of Hoist, some fans were poised to rebel against the album and the songs it contained. While it would take sibling “Wolfman’s Brother” almost three full years to develop, “Down with Disease” jammed the first time it hit the stage and proved to the naysayers that Phish was still writing songs that they intended to stretch out live.
The first true “Down with Disease” was played at the Hoist tour opener on 4/4/94, though fans who bought the album recognized the tag ending jam from the 1993 New Year’s Show just three months earlier. Having already recorded “Disease” in the studio, Phish jammed it out of the traditional “Auld Lang Syne” to ring in 1994. In true Phish fashion, the performance produced footage for Phish’s only video to date, but at the time most fans weren’t even aware that they were hearing a new song!
"Down with Disease" Official Video
Like all infants, “Disease” spent most of its first year learning to walk. Some versions stand out as noteworthy, such as 6/16/94, and the mammoth 11/12/94 “Disease” -> “Have Mercy” -> “Disease,” but most versions followed a fairly standard pattern of a short, guitar solo-based jam to close the number. A second monster version was played on 6/26/95 at SPAC, combining relative newcomers “Disease” and “Free.” The length and depth of this combination left fans drooling for more, but “Disease” was only played three more times in 1995, including another extended version on 12/12/95.
“Disease” returned with a bang in 1996. Indeed, it's development as a jam vehicle was one of the major highlights in what some fans considered to be an “off ” year. Again, “Disease” was in the right place at the right time. The band seemed more comfortable with the groove of the jam, adding texture and layers and not relying on Trey to dominate. The song’s development was punctuated with showcase moments in the year’s three biggest shows: The Clifford Ball (“Disease” -> “NICU”), Halloween (first set placement directly before “You Enjoy Myself”), and New Year’s Eve (out of “2001” -> “Auld Lang Syne” while the band was immersed in a sea of balloons). “Disease” also showed that it could be a near set-long showcase song, a la “Tweezer” or “Mike’s Groove.” Witness the “Diseezer” from 11/27/96, which ran from “Disease” to “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” paused for “Scent of a Mule,” and closed with “Tweezer” -> “Disease Reprise,” with a “Sweet Emotion” jam, taboot.
1997 brought the Cow Funk, led by a thick bass groove and a greater emphasis on full-band improvisation. In addition to long interwoven jams on 2/17/97 (with “Carini” and “Taste” sandwiched inside), 11/23/97 (“Low Rider”) and 12/11/97 (melting into “Maze” in the first set, with a reprise arising from the second set “Ghost”), “Disease” provided its own share of stand-alone glory. See 6/25/97 (with “Piper”) and the literally electric lightning-inflected 7/22/97 (legendary segue into “Mike’s Song,” memorialized on the Phish: Walnut Creek DVD). Once again “Disease” was played in the showcase shows, appearing at The Great Went and jammed while the band painted their pieces of art.
”Auld Lang Syne” > "Down with Disease" – 12/31/99, Big Cypress, FL
Groovy versions continued to punctuate setlists in ‘98 and ‘99. 8/16/98, 7/26/99, 12/15/99, and Cypress’ 12/31/99 version stand out as memorable. Then on 4/17/99, Trey and Page played “Disease” with “Phil and Phriends” at The Warfield, between legendary Dead tunes “Terrapin Station” and “Dark Star,” with Phil Lesh plucking out the signature “Disease” opening bass line.
“Disease” continued to rock into 2000, with interesting versions played both during the Farmhouse promos (5/21/00 Radio City) and on the Japan mini-tour (6/10/00, with a “Weekapaug Groove” tease). Post-hiatus, “Disease” turned in strong performances on 2/16/03 (sandwiched around “Seven Below” and subsequently jammed coming out of “Piper”), 7/8/03 (solid, straightforward jamming), 7/18/03 (with a “Catapult” ending), 8/2/03 at IT, and 12/30/03 (with a delicate return to the “DwD” theme).
Despite the nearly five year breakup, "Disease" didn't appear to lose a step, providing the only instance of extended, exploratory jamming from the band's Hampton reunion shows on 3/8/09. "Disease" continued to serve as one of the band's most reliable jamming vehicles in 3.0, making sixteen appearances in 2009, including strong versions on 8/1/09 (with "L.A. Woman" and "Taste" teases), 8/14/09 (with a "Reba" jam!), 11/18/09 (one of several 2009 versions to be paired with "Free") and 12/3/09 (possibly the year's best). "Disease" capped off 2009 by being featured as the first song of the New Year for the fourth time.
Strong versions continued in 2010, with 6/17/10 (segues into "Sand") and 8/14/10 (segues into "What's the Use?") topping most fans' lists. 2011 brought us the 6/3/11 "Disease Supreme" (not only one of the most thrilling versions from any era, but also contains hints of "A Love Supreme"), and the 8/16/11 UIC rendition (a more subtle, textural jam led by Mike and Page that departs quickly from the "DWD" theme in favor of more atmospheric spaces). "Disease" capped off 2011 by being featured as the first song of the New Year for the fifth time, more than any other song. 2012 proved to be an uncharacteristically pedestrian year for this jam stalwart, but do not miss the 12/30/12 MSG epic.
Many thought 2013 was a turning point for Phish in the “modern era,” and “Disease” was a beneficiary of a year where nearly every second set delivered deep improvisational journeys. Both 7/22/13 and 12/29/13 (with a magical return from the beyond to the “DWD” theme) deliver the goods, but don’t miss the transcendent Reading 10/29/13 version that features five minutes of the most perma-grin inducing jamming to be found this side of the Went “Gin.”
Worthy versions from 2014 were played on 7/11/14 (Randall’s Island), 7/15/14 (Canandaigua), 8/1/14 (Orange Beach, AL), and 10/24/14 (Inglewood). The sprawling 1/3/15 Miami version contained a jam so focused and engaging, some fans thought it might be composed. The balance of 2015 was a relatively pedestrian year for “Disease,” but they made the last one count, anhoring the final set of Dick’s on 9/6/15 that birthed an ascending progression so catchy they revisited it in other jams (see, e.g., 1/2/16 “Tweezer”). On 1/17/16, Phish took “Disease” on a trip south of the border to Riviera Maya, Mexico and, though they encountered a “Shipwreck” along the way, the result was la manguera para todos los aficionados.
“Disease” has done all this jamming while also being an interesting lyrical work. The chorus provides an anthemic line that is rivaled only by “Chalk Dust Torture” in terms of high school yearbook quotability. Much speculation has been made about the song’s cryptic verses – some interpreted it as a way of deflecting the band’s then-new-found fame while others argued that it referenced a true story where two teenage fans showed up on Trey’s lawn to meet him one day. Tom Marshall has neither confirmed nor refuted these stories, but the lyrics may be more biographical than fans ever credit. Tom noted in Richard Gehr’s The Phish Book that he wrote the lyrics to “Disease” while laid up in bed with mononucleosis.