Vocals: Trey (lead), Mike, Page (backing)
Historian: Phillip Zerbo (pzerbo), Mark Toscano
Last Update: 2016-03-05
Girl goes to fairground. Girl meets Armenian man. Armenian man gives girl doll. Girl flies around and encounters many angry people. Girl jumps naked into lake. Doll pulls girl beneath surface of water, drowning her. And so the thread of yet another human existence is cut short by the scissors of badness.
“Esther” made its live debut relatively late compared to its Junta compatriots, first appearing on 9/12/88. Even then, it featured decidedly less macabre lyrics than the version that ended up on Junta. These original lyrics, aside from containing various differences of detail (“a hot summer night,” “a wrinkled old man”), feature a story that takes on a “just desserts” theme, rather than the wonderfully demented “ruination of an innocent” theme that the final draft lyrics eventually offered. These darker, more familiar lyrics that most fans are used to first appeared at the song’s second appearance, on 2/7/89.
Phish, “Esther” – 8/11/93, Grand Rapids, MI
Although she doesn’t play any role in The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, Trey has mentioned that Esther does hail from a part of Gamehendge. The so-called “flying jam” in “Esther” also appears as the transitional music between several of TMWSIY songs when performed live (3/22/93, 6/26/94, 7/8/94), and on Trey’s senior study recording. Additionally, Mike’s bass line for this “flying jam” is identical to what he plays during Page’s solo in “McGrupp.” Even one of the “Secret Language” cues – the “random note” – is signaled by the same “circus” theme that kicks off “Esther.”
“Esther” was the subject of the first Phish video. The computer-animated piece was designed by an acquaintance of the band, Scott Nybakken from the Company of Science and Art (CoSA). Playing more like a slideshow of still images than a full-motion cartoon, the video was shown between sets at the 7/19/91 Somerville Theatre gig.
Phish, “Esther” Music Video
“Esther’s” music is lyrical, evoking a circus mood, soaring flights through the clouds, and helpless drowning. Unlike most Phish songs where live versions reign, the quintessential version of “Esther” is the Junta studio version. A setlist fixture from 1989 through 1994, “Esther” became a rarity thereafter, with only ten appearances from 1995 through the end of Phish 1.0, and none in Phish 2.0. “Esther” is such a delicate song that it is easily harmed by the inevitable vagaries of live performance. Its very fragility is perhaps one reason the song dropped from regular rotation.
Exceptional early versions of “Esther” include 4/18/92 Palo Alto, 2/12/93 Poughkeepsie, NY (with secret language), 4/23/94 Atlanta (“Caravan” teases), 7/5/94 Ottawa (“Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” teasing), and 9/30/00 (on Live in Vegas, with Trey forgetting the entire last verse, instead summing it up with “She died. Dead.”) Additionally, “Esther” teases popped up during the 5/6/89 “You Enjoy Myself,” 9/27/91 “Buried Alive” and 11/30/97 “Wolfman’s Brother,” while an “Esther” jam found its way into the epic Orlando “Stash” on 11/14/95.
After nearly a nine-year absence and to the delight of the crowd at Red Rocks, "Esther" returned to the stage on 8/1/09. She has been an occasional visitor since with notable appearances on 11/1/09 at Festival 8, 6/18/11 in Raleigh, 8/30/13 at Dick’s as part of the “MOST SHOWS SPELL SOMETHING” gig, and on 8/9/15 Alpine Valley during a first set that featured a wealth of songs not commonly played.