Vocals: Trey (lead); Fish (backing)
Historian: Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update: 2016-03-11
The summer 1997 Europe tour was the spawning ground of the Phishy funk, which was the mind-eating great white shark that ate the remainder of the 90s. “Ghost” epitomized the constantly evolving psychotronic-aquadisco sound of the next millennium that appears to have arrived a few years early (or is it 20 years too late?). The ultrasound of the then unborn “Ghost” can be heard in the segue from “Wolfman’s Brother” to “Jesus Just Left Chicago” on the album Slip, Stitch, and Pass.
“Ghost” consists of a simple funk groove oddly reminiscent of Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell” mashup with the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight.” To suggest the Phish groove of the 90’s (and “Ghost” as its disembodiment) is not firmly rooted in old school ‘70s funk, rap, and disco would be a crime of the mind. This sound has been brought into the ‘90s and beyond via techno-space transporter beams, absorbing renewed vitality along the way.
Spring 1998 found Phish in the studio laying down tracks for The Story of the Ghost. This time in the studio pushed “Ghost” further up – to some, back down – the evolutionary ladder. While ‘97 “Ghosts” typically started abruptly materializing out of thin air, the “Ghosts” of summer ‘98 – and as performed on The Story of the Ghost – have a mesmerizing techno-spacey groove for an intro that is reminiscent of period versions of “2001.” Where in ‘97 the vocals of “Ghost” seemed edgy and disturbed, the singing in the “Ghosts” performed since summer ‘98 have been imbued with a cool hipster confidence, a smooth swagger that paves the way for the ethereal and transcendent groove for which it is typically the prelude. The vocals on the album version lie somewhere in between the two end points, slithering frantically or hurrying at a languid pace.
The Story of the Ghost as an album is just that, a story of a ghost. As the first song on the album, “Ghost” introduces us to the main character of the tale. The Story of the Ghost is one of rebirth, hope for the future, and self-extraction from a well of despair. A metaphor perhaps for the musical rebirth of Phish from the seeming improvisational stagnation endemic to the bulk of 1996, to the new frontiers they have explored since. “Ghost” has been a weather vane of sorts for the direction that the winds of change have blown. It has provided a glimpse into the progression of the jam from the “cow funk” of ’97 to the low-viscosity magmatic flows of dense metallic trance-space rock that are presently the nature of the beast.
The public debut of “Ghost” was in Dublin, Ireland on 6/13/97. “Ghost” was played frequently during 1997 and varied greatly in duration and style. In The Phish Book Trey referred to the 11/17/97 Denver “Ghost” as his favorite part of his favorite show from the fall tour, a show the band listened to many times, in a way influencing themselves. This “Ghost” was subsequently released on LivePhish 11. In contrast, quite possibly the most controversial “Ghost” of them all – played during the third set of the 1998 Halloween show – was released as Live Phish 16. A rather sparse original four-track recording of “Ghost” was also released by Trey and Tom Marshall on Trampled by Lambs & Pecked by the Dove. Trey also offered an acoustic version of “Ghost” with Mike sitting in on electric bass at the 11/11/05 Utica stop on his fall 2005 tour.
"Ghost" 12/31/10 New York, NY
Every other live performance of “Ghost” to date, spanning the spectrum from the “cow funk” of ’97 through the ethereal space of ‘98, dissolving into the more brooding darkness of ‘99, the eruption of the liquid metallic neon deliriously molten and flowing jams of the new millennium, the thick and creeping ooze of '04, and the revivified spectral phantasm of Phish 3.0 is worth a listen; but the following are guaranteed to send a shiver down the listener’s spine: 7/3/97 Nuremberg, Germany; 7/23/97 Atlanta; 8/13/97 Burgettstown, PA; 11/17/97 Denver; 11/21/97, Hampton; 12/13/97 Albany; 7/2/98 Copenhagen; 7/6/98 Prague; 7/9/98 Barcelona (not a typo or fluff, three of the greatest versions ever did indeed take place in the same week); 7/19/98 Shoreline; 8/2/98 Deer Creek; 8/16/98 Lemonwheel; 11/7/98 Champaign, IL; 11/19/98 Winston-Salem; 12/31/98 MSG; 7/4/99 Atlanta; 9/12/99 Portland, OR; 12/30/99 Big Cypress; 5/22/00 Radio City...
… 2/15/03 Las Vegas; 7/12/03 The Gorge; 8/3/03 IT; 4/17/04 Vegas; 6/26/04 Alpine Valley; 8/12/04 Camden (materializing from a "YEM" vocal jam), 8/15/04 Coventry; 6/9/09 Asheville; 7/30/09 Red Rocks ("Praise You" jam and "Windy City" tease); 8/14/09 Hartford ("Ghost" -> "Psycho Killer" -> "Catapult" -> "Icculus"); 11/28/09 Albany (the instant-classic "Seven Below" -> "Ghost"); 6/27/10 Merriweather (thrilling segue into "Jumpin' Jack Flash" in a "Saw It Again" sandwich); 12/31/10 (The Holy Ghost); 6/17/11 (one-half of the "Rock and Roll" > "Ghost" combo that anchors one of the strongest shows of '11); 9/2/12 Dick’s (stellar “Sand” and “Piper” bookends); 10/31/13 Boardwalk Hall (the Vajazzled Venus); 7/20/14 Northerly (the Swirling Samurai); and 7/26/14 MPP which proudly proclaims the simple fact that “Ghost” ain’t nothing but a good time!
"Ghost" – 7/12/14, New York, NY
Taking a deeper look at the statistics for modern era hauntings, the period running from the band’s return from the dead in 2009 through the end of 2013 featured seven to ten appearances per year with no more than one or two particularly strong versions. “Ghost” experienced a very prolific spell in 2014 however, appearing thirteen times with five of these performances being sufficiently spooky to take up residence on the song’s jam chart. It was the year of the Haunted House though… so perhaps not that surprising that it would be a strong year. The recent trend resumed in 2015 with ten total performances and two (7/31/15 Atlanta and 8/21/15 Magnaball) that should definitely be revisited by any real Ghostbusters. While the first encounter with a Mexican fantasma consisted of a rain-soaked rocker that helped transport the crowd from the “Sand” of the 1/15/16 Barceló Maya Beach into a deep space disco wormhole.