a Project of the Mockingbird Foundation

Performances Song History

First Tube

Music: Anastasio, Lawton, Markellis

Vocals: Instrumental

Original Artist: Trey Anastasio

Albums: Farmhouse, Live Phish 05, Still Phishin', High Neighbors: Dub Tribute to Phish, Plasma, Original Boardwalk Style

Debut: 1999-09-09

Historian: Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)

Last Update: 2014-10-09

The name with which this blistering rocker ultimately became adorned is a misnomer on two counts. Apparently “First Tube” owes its title to the belief that it was the first song Trey performed with the 8-Foot Fluorescent Tubes at Higher Ground on 4/17/98. If the version released on Farmhouse is any indication of the original composition of the tune, then it was in fact preceded at the Higher Ground show by a brief instrumental prelude. Furthermore, the 8-Foot Fluorescent Tubes version actually featured lyrics of a sort – lyrics, which further compound the misidentification of the song. Following some introductory banshee-like wails from Heloise Williams (formerly of viperHouse), the phrase “Free Thought” is repeated incessantly over the wailing combo of Anastasio, Lawton, and Markellis. “Free Thought” (a.k.a. “Mozambique") being the title of another TAB song that also ultimately made it into the Phish repertoire.

"First Tube" – 8' Fluorescent Tubes, 4/17/98, Burlington, VT

Despite the inherent confusion of its identity – prior to its formal identification on Farmhouse – “First Tube” had quickly become a fan favorite. So much so in fact that nary a complaint was heard about the song being overplayed following its 9/9/99 debut, typically not the case when a new song is so frequently revisited after its first appearance. This curious response is likely due to just how electrifying the song can be. Often getting the call as a show opener, “First Tube” is guaranteed to crank up the energy level of the crowd a couple of extra notches. 

The incandescent liquid metallic fire of the song usually causes Trey to bounce higher than he does when jumping on the tramps and at times (see Radio City Music Hall 5/21/00) has even incited Pete Townshend-style rock guitar god pinwheel strumming. The fat groove dropped by Mike and Fish is guaranteed to make a dancer out of even the most rhythm-less among us, as Trey’s soaring guitar and Page’s neo-medieval trance-space keyboard fills carry stray thoughts to where they truly can be set free. Anybody who does not like “First Tube” just does not know how to have a good time. If you do, feel free to call on the following pre-hiatus Phish performances: 9/12/99 Portland, OR; 10/10/99 TAFKAK; 12/18/99 Hampton; 6/9/00 Tokyo, Japan; 6/28/00 GSAC; 7/11/00 Deer Creek; and 10/7/00 Shoreline. In 2001 “First Tube” garnered Phish their first Grammy nomination in the category "Best Rock Instrumental Performance," losing out to Metallica, Michael Kamen and the San Francisco Symphony’s "The Call of Ktulu."

"First Tube" – 5/23/00, New York, NY

During the hiatus, “First Tube” remained a TAB staple. A 6/4/02 Red Rocks version of “First Tube” was released by Trey on Plasma, a two-disc collection of live tracks compiled from the big band incarnation of Trey’s 2002 campaigns. Trey’s side project versions of “First Tube” on 5/31/02 in Las Vegas and 10/22/02 in Burlington featured guest appearances by Page. Fishman joined Trey and his band for the entire 6/16/02 Darien Lake show wherein “First Tube” was the first set closer. Although not as common since the hiatus as before it, “First Tube” made one appearance per 2003 tour: winter (3/1/03 Greensboro), summer (7/13/03 The Gorge), 20th anniversary (11/28/03 Nassau) and New Year's (12/31/03 Miami). 

"First Tube" remained a fixture of Trey's solo adventures – big band TAB, 70 Volt Parade, and Classic TAB – after Phish "broke up" in 2004, appearing over 60 times between 2004 and 2008. Notable Trey performances of "First Tube" include the 11/8/05 Roseland performance which was a second encore featuring guest appearances by Page, Peter Apfelbaum, and John Medeski; the 10/11/06 Electric Factory encore version which was preceded by a bass duel between Mike and Tony Hall while Trey played keyboards; and the 10/21/08 Lupo's encore which included Bill Kreutzmann on drums, Russ Lawton moving to percussion, Oteil Burbridge replacing Tony Markellis on bass, and Scott Murawski on additional guitar.

"First Tube" – 7/12/14, New York, NY

Upon Phish's 2009 return for their 3.0 incarnation, "First Tube" would make a strong return. First dusted off mid-second set at Hampton (3/6/09), on its next dozen appearances in 2009 and 2010 it would be used exclusively as a set closer or encore, including at high-profile gigs such as 6/14/09 Bonnaroo8/1/09 Red Rocks, 12/4/09 MSG and 7/4/10 Atlanta. 2011 witnessed similar positioning, including a top-off to the 6/12/11 redemption encore at Merriweather, and the exclamation to SBIX – with requisite fireworks – on 7/3/11

Through the 8/3/14 Alpharetta version, with the exception of three show opening slots (6/1/11 Holmdel, 8/31/12 Dick’s, and 7/14/13 MMP), the role of high energy set closer or encore has continued for “First Tube.” Of the three show opening performances, the version that played the part of the first “F” in the “Fuck Your Face” show at Dick’s has the greatest notoriety. A week later (9/7/12) Trey joined The Roots during their Headcount benefit show at the Capitol Theater for an all-star jam performance that included covers of “First Tube” and “Bathtub Gin.” Trey and The Roots were then joined by Grace Potter for “Pigtail” and then Bob Weir, Warren Haynes, and Bobby Keys for covers of “Dancing in the Street,” “The Thrill is Gone,” and “Whipping Post.”

"First Tube" – 9/26/14, Los Angeles, CA

If your tastes trend toward the more refined end of the concert going spectrum, “First Tube” is no stranger to the orchestral stage, with the full-bodied arrangement of the tune featured as the opening piece of Trey’s orchestral appearances with Atlanta Symphony (2/9/12), Pittsburgh Symphony (2/14/12), Colorado Symphony (2/28/12), Los Angeles Philharmonic (3/10/12 and 9/26/14), National Symphony (5/22/13, featuring our own First Tubist Andrew Hitz dropping some bass), Oregon Symphony (9/9/14), and Seattle Symphony (9/11/14). The symphonic performances of these familiar and not so familiar tunes is something that everybody should experience at least once, but if you go show some respect… I mean… it’s “literally Trey!

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d21cohen Reply
For those interested in hearing a very early (and perhaps the first?) glimpse of First Tube, check out the the Halley's jam from 7/10/98 in Barcelona. Trey plays the main riff a few times midway through the jam (great show overall, by the way).
Score: 3
JonStraw Reply
Of special note, "First Tube" garnered Phish their first Grammy nomination in 2001.
Score: 1
nichobert Reply
nichobert Why would Mike hate it? I've seen that sentiment before but I love playing First Tube on bass. I've also seen people try and associate this song with electronic music (usually in an effort to write it off) but to me it's much more reminiscent of classic Afrobeat where an endlessly cycling groove takes on a life of it's own and acheives a transcendent state through repetition.

And judging by how long Mike used to stick with the basic bassline in Sand jams, I'd assume that he enjoys playing that well. The bass is a rhythm instrument first and foremost, songs like First Tube & Sand showcase a Mike Gordon getting back to the roots and playing shaman music.
Score: 1
whrdina Reply
whrdina In relation to the 8' Tube First Tube - Please, bring back that cool intro and boy oh boy and I'm glad he decided to stick with the instrumental approach. That bah, bah crap is terrible.
Score: 0
Palmer Reply
Palmer 10-10-99 was energy packed.
Score: 0
lvnphish Reply
@d21cohen said:
For those interested in hearing a very early (and perhaps the first?) glimpse of First Tube, check out the the Halley's jam from 7/10/98 in Barcelona. Trey plays the main riff a few times midway through the jam (great show overall, by the way).
Holy SHIT!!!! That's so awesome! Thanks for sharing! First Tube is my favorite Phish song and this jam is SICK! LOVE it!
Score: 0
treybegood Reply
treybegood I thought the First Tube at SBIX was great, but Lord have mercy, the First Tube encore coming out of Makisupa Policeman at Merriweather Post Pavilion this year (6/12/11) was *&^@$ ILL! My favorite thus far. Great climax, and the crowd just goes nuts! For whatever reason, the very end (around 6:20) conjours the sensation of being sucked into a vacuum cleaner, or tube for that matter (for me at least). Check it out and enjoy!
Score: 0
mikeyzen Reply
First Tube at SBIX with the fireworks was the most amazing encore ive seen of any band. It was an amazing night, and an amazing way to cap off an amazing weekend. After the song ended, the fireworks kept going to a recorded patriotic song was playing in the background. Everyone just stood there silent, all 30,000 of us watching the fireworks, and not saying a word. God it was amazing, and something i will never ever forget.
Score: 0
disconinja2008 Reply
If I were Mike, I would hate this song with a passion.
Score: 0
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