If you were around to see this up and coming jamband from Vermont in the late eighties and early nineties, you were all but guaranteed the pleasure of seeing Phish blaze their way through the criss-crossing melodies of “Foam.” This particular gathering of “simple lines intertwining” consisted (and largely still does) of several intricately composed layers, wrapped around fugue-like moves that were a signature of the band’s playing at the time. Playful and quixotic, like that gremlin Shatner saw on the wing of that plane in Twilight Zone (musically speaking), “Foam” offers yet another example of composer Ernie Stires’ influence on the band through its flowing combination of varying styles and rhythms (check out “Reba” and “Fluffhead,” among others if you need a thicker slice o’ complex composition pie to sink your proverbial teeth into).
The puzzling but nonetheless pleasing lyrics-- referring to the ever-thickening foam despite one’s attempt to see things clearly-- are easy to interpret but somewhat difficult to define. Regardless of whether it’s meant to be philosophical, sociological, metaphorical, literal or mineral, it’s clear that the deeper the collective conscious sinks (or unconscious depending on your perception / definition of reality), the harder it is to see through the aptly named foam (metaphorically speaking, of course).
Let me take you back, dear reader, to one fateful day in a little town called Burlington, in the great green state of Vermont (4/22/88 to be exact) where 'The Fearsome Foursome' were running through a few new songs. Trey announced a song called "Marijuana Hot Chocolate" and Mike played a piece of the bass line to the aforementioned tune. No one knew it at the time, but “Marijuana Hot Chocolate” was the very same melody that would evolve into “Foam” just six months later.
Despite its free-flowing nature, “Foam” is an almost entirely scripted piece, the only exception being the atmospheric middle section with its ascending piano/guitar jam. Touted at one point by Trey as the band’s toughest song to get through, “Foam’s” complex arrangements offer a way in which the band can get warmed up on stage, and thus has largely remained a first set tune.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away-- (aka Before Hiatus), “Foam” was such a commonplace follow up to “Runaway Jim” the combination became known (begrudgingly to some), as “Runaway Foam” (check out the awe-inspiring segue from 12/29/94 on Live Phish 20, so choice). They’ve played it as a stand-alone (try 4/25/94), they’ve segued into it from songs other than “Runaway Jim” (check out the seamless segue from “Bathtub Gin” into “Foam” from 8/3/97), and they’ve always played it furiously (treat yourself to 5/30/93).
At one point, unsubstantiated rumors circulated that “Foam” had been put on a shelf along with a number of older Phish tunes (causing some amusing paranoia during Europe ’97 tours). The sad reality though, was that with the advent of new material, “Foam” was simply being played less and less. As the years progressed, “Foam” slowly began to fade into setlist obscurity. It was played five times in 1997, and by 1998, that number had dwindled to four (feel free to enjoy 11/29/97 and 11/21/98, two outstanding tour highlights). “Foam” was rumored to have been sound-checked during the summer of 1999, but wasn’t played for an audience all that year. And it remained noticeably absent until summer tour 2000, when “Foam” bubbled its way back up to the surface after a gap of three tours and eighty-seven shows, during a rain-drenched set in Camden, New Jersey (7/3/00), and again in Lewis Center, Ohio (7/14/00). But after 10/7/00, everything went dark…
Hiatus came and went with surprising alacrity, and after a long winter’s nap, “Foam” percolated back to the surface at Hampton Coliseum on 1/3/03. Few would argue that this 'offering' was rusted over with two years of salt – but as 2003 progressed, so did the renditions of “Foam” (3/1/03 is certainly worthy). Yet when “Foam” seeped its way onto the 12/29/03 setlist, who knew it would be six long years until we heard it again. As a sidenote from a side project, "Foam" made several appearances during the band's absence courtesy of Benevento / Russo / Gordon (Marco Benevento, Joe Russo and Mike Gordon), including an experimental, monster 51-minute version of Phish's bubbly classic on 4/27/05.
Fans (and everyone else who instantly downloaded the free shows – thanks again, Phish!) at the band's epic return to Hampton on 3/8/09 witnessed "Foam's" grand return to the setlist... and it only got better from there. "Foam" has since settled in to a once-or-twice-a-tour rotation and one thing is abundantly clear – the foam is once again (and thankfully) getting thicker.
Try the 8/9/97 version on for size, at 12:01 it's almost undoubtedly the longest rendition performed by Phish (At least at a public show, i'd love to be wrong though!).
With some slight digital delay loop jamming and some extra funky frosting liberally applied throughout the quasi-jam section. They take almost 9 minutes to get from the last "Falling into a Deep Well" before the middle section until the "Iiiiii'm looking through" afterwards.
This is a thoroughly interesting version of Foam. It's nice to know that one of Phish's funkiest older songs got to share in the egalitarian approach to improv that characterized 1997.
Now..if only we could get that Brother-> Plinko-> Foam-> Plinko-> Foam-> Brother! Can we make signs? My marker ran out of ink!
I'm working on a midi banjo version of the 1/1/11 Foam. Starts on slap bass then alternates between piano and electric guitar sounds. I'll debut it next summer. Maybe you folks can give me permission to post to youtube. Go in a straight line from Burlington to Mt. Mansfield, then head down the hill in the same straight line 11 miles and I'll give you a demonstration.
"philosophical, sociological, metaphorical, literal or mineral"