Historian: Dan Purcell
Last Update: 2016-02-28
"Fee" provides a narrative-laden counter-example to naysayers who accuse Phish of writing only nonsense lyrics. Even though that narrative – the story of the Buddhist weasel Fee’s blood feud with Floyd the chimpanzee over the affections of an aging gospel chanteuse named Millie Grace – is as fanciful as anything out of Dr. Seuss, it is a coherent story. And it even has a happy ending, if you’re into that.
Like most great love stories, the tale of Fee's romance with Millie begins in a bar. But no sooner do the two meet then they run afoul of Floyd, a cruel and vicious individual who desperately wants Millie to himself, and certainly can't bear to see her spirited away by a lower mammal. Floyd tracks Fee and Millie on a maritime voyage to Quebec, a mostly landlocked province one suspects Trey included in the lyrics because it rhymes with “lovers’ trek." (Hey, Dr. Seuss did that sort of thing all the time.) When he finds the pair sunning themselves on the deck of the cruise ship, he pounces, breaking a bottle over Fee’s head. Fortunately for the hapless weasel, Millie is made of stronger stuff; she steps in and beats Floyd down, first jamming a nectarine into the unfortunate primate’s occipital bone, and then, with Floyd left clinging in desperation to the ship's railing, above the roiling seas, slicing his nipple with a piece of paper. Floyd plummets into the ocean and is messily devoured by sharks, and Fee and Millie presumably live happily every after.
"Fee" - 6/23/89 Boston, MA
“Fee” is one of three Phish songs – “Punch You in the Eye” and “The Sloth” are the others – that include a lyrical reference to an image that must keep Trey up nights: getting a paper cut on the nipple. Apparently this is a major social problem in Gamehendge: both the Evil King Wilson’s soldiers (“Punch You in the Eye”), and the freelance hit-men of the region (“The Sloth”) are proficient in the art. In “Fee,” however, the nipple slicing is performed in the service of Good and ultimately saves the day for the happy interspecies couple.
As the lead-off track on Phish’s first true album, Junta, and one of the oldest continuously played songs in Phish’s repertoire, “Fee” occupies a special place in the band’s history. Many fans who first heard Phish in the pre-Elektra early ‘90s concede it was the jaunty verse-chorus-verse narrative of “Fee” – not the more ambitious prog-rock vibe of “Divided Sky” or “You Enjoy Myself” – that first hooked them on the band. This was a fact apparently recognized by Phish’s first label, Absolute-a-Go-Go, which appended “Fee” as a bonus track to the initial CD pressing of Lawn Boy.
"Fee" – 12/30/94 New York, NY
The other thing to mention about “Fee” is the megaphone. When Phish was recording Junta, engineer Gordon Hookailo devised a clever effect by channeling Trey’s vocal through a set of headphones, then holding those headphones up to a microphone. For years, Trey sometimes approximated this vocal effect onstage by singing “Fee” through a megaphone, which was kept, awaiting the song’s next performance, atop his guitar cabinet. Sometimes Trey would use the megaphone only for a verse or two of the song before singing the rest without it. Trey debuted the megaphone in Ithaca, New York on 10/1/90, then abandoned it for more than two years, until it reappeared on 11/19/92. From that point, "Fee" featured the megaphone the vast majority of the time until 2/25/97, after which it was again shelved. At that point the song became a rarity, too.
Since fall 1996, the song itself has been seen only rarely, likely to appear only once a tour, or twice at most. But it's never quite disappeared from the rotation. "Fee" graced the first set of the last pre-hiatus show at Shoreline on 10/7/00, then reemerged – fittingly, given the lyrics, on Valentine's Day 2003 – during the opening show of the first post-hiatus Phish tour. Although "Fee" was not heard from in 2004, it didn't take long to revive itself for the Phish 3.0 era, re-appearing in Camden on 6/7/09, and then again on 6/18/10 at Hartford, the first show-opening "Fee" since 11/21/95, a role that would be reprised at the exceptional 7/27/14 Merriweather gig. Finally, on 8/12/10 at Deer Creek, the band brought out the megaphone for the first time in over thirteen years to kick off a four-song encore. (If you're into that sort of thing, a review of all known versions of "Fee" reveals 97 renditions with the megaphone, 178 without).
For years, discerning fans have heard “Fee’s” blissful, dwindling coda as a potential vehicle for improvisation. But the band has only rarely stretched “Fee” beyond its usual form. More often they would segue gently from the coda into another song (e.g., the otherwise unremarkable 9/28/95 “Fee” -> “The Fog That Surrounds” or the underrated and crafty 8/14/96 “Fee” -> “Poor Heart”). But in Prague on 7/5/98, following one of the most comprehensively botched versions of the song ever performed (in which Trey helpfully replaces most of the second verse with “you know how it goes”), the band launched into a gloriously mellow 12-minute jam that eventually segued into “Water in the Sky.” And the lone “Fee” of Phish’s summer 1999 tour, performed in Virginia Beach on 7/8/99, spiraled into an even longer (~20 minute) jam, a hint of the bold new frontiers the little weasel and his bathing beauty could explore, if only the band would set "Fee" free.