Vocals: Trey (lead), Mike, Page (backing)
Historian: Ellis Godard
Last Update: 2012-02-19
Like "Split Open and Melt,” “Gumbo” started out as a strong tune but one that had a destiny that didn’t lie solely in its composition. A mix of acid jazz and loose funk attended with three-part harmonies and silly lyrics, it had all the ingredients for greatness. The first several versions clearly lacked something, which seemed to be fulfilled with the addition of horns – five times on the Giant Country Horn tour in 1991 (see 7/12, 7/14, and 7/19) and twice with the West Coast return of the horns on 12/2/94 & 12/3/94. The (12/2/94) version appears on A Live One (from which it was the second single released) as well as the European compilation, Stash. Other early versions of note include 7/21/91 (which featured horns as well as Steve-O on washboard) and 10/7/95 (straightforward, but one of the cleanest without horns).
The song must have inspired the band, who soundchecked it thrice before the monstrous 7/15/94 show (which nevertheless featured a tame “Gumbo”). They had already started tooling with the melody, such as in Trey’s tease during “YEM” on 4/12/93; Mike teased it a bit more years later, during “The Moma Dance” on 11/28/98. Early versions of “Gumbo” remained promising filler with good placement, such as 4/21/93 (nicely following “Weekapaug”), 6/22/94 (followed by a good “Maze”), 6/28/95 (energetic, out of a decent “Tweezer”), 12/9/95 (out of “Wilson”), 12/28/95 (nice piano outro), 12/2/96 (between “Theme” and “Julius”), 7/29/97 (religious), and 8/8/97 (providing a nice transition from “CTB” to “Lizards”).
The song took on fuller life beginning 8/13/97, the first jammed-out version, segueing into “The Horse.” "Gumbo" was no longer destined to a rote display of good songwriting, but rather a platform for exploratory jams. It thus began to fit into new places, such as between “Runaway Jim” and “Maze” (11/14/97) and “AC/DC Bag” and “Down with Disease” (9/14/99, with a jam of “Another One Bites the Dust”), and segueing into “2001” (12/3/97), “Sanity” (8/15/98, one of the most popular versions), and “Chalk Dust Torture” (11/19/98). It even started taking on the accouterments of jamming tunes, such as on 8/3/98 with “Manteca” teases more often found in “Stash,” long-established as a jamming tune. Even Jimmy Buffet (a fan of parrots) found some flexible space in it, for his contribution to Sharin’ in the Groove.
The undisputed post-hiatus version and an all-time favorite of many fans took place at Deer Creek on 7/22/03, an 18-minute monster, anchoring a powerful first set that included standout versions of "The Divided Sky" and "Possum" as well as the last live "Magilla" to date. "Gumbo" made four appearances during Phish's return to the stage in 2009 (see 3/7/09 Hampton or 11/27/09 Albany) all of which were enjoyable if consistently compact affairs of under six minutes each.