If I Could
Historian: Katie Holloway, Phillip Zerbo (pzerbo)
Last Update: 2011-08-12
“If I Could” was penned by Trey while distressed by a blue funk being experienced by his good friend (and famous “First Fan”), Amy Skelton. Frustrated by her sadness over a recent breakup and feeling helpless, he wrote a song to cheer her up. In it he takes them both away from worldly concerns and indulges his own desire to escape the physical constraints of gravity by running over oceans, floating through the clouds, and moving effortlessly through time and space. While the lyrics were initially written from Trey's voice alone, the use of female vocals in the second verse on the studio version gives the song a more romantic call and response quality, perhaps reflecting a desire to escape together from the dull realities of workaday life and day-to-day pain. The result is a journey of child-like innocence, joy, and empathy. Ultimately it functions for the listener as a beautiful love song, platonic or romantic.
The most popular versions of virtually every Phish song are to be found in live performances. In contrast the Hoist version of “If I Could” – featuring the renowned bluegrass fiddler and singer Alison Krauss and strings by The Richard Greene Fourteen – is widely considered one of the band's most profoundly beautiful offerings that deserves your attention.
In concert “If I Could” provides emotional opportunities not always afforded by Phish’s repertoire and improvisational palette. Fans of the song will certainly want to pick up a copy of 5/3/94 in Antioch, TN, when Alison Krauss joined the band for a reprise of their studio collaboration. Be sure to check out the performance from 7/1/95 at Great Woods to hear a partial restoration of the original solo guitar introduction; this introduction was also briefly teased before the “Antelope” on 12/29/93. In heavy rotation from its 4/4/94 debut through the end of 1995, "If I Could" has become a rarity thereafter, having never been played more than once in any given year since 1996, including a nine year absence until its Phish 3.0 return on 6/2/09. The essential live “If I Could” is unquestionably the version offered on 6/28/00 in Holmdel, NJ, the first time the song had ever closed a set. The concluding jam takes the song’s metaphorical admonitions to heart and takes the audience on a joyful ride of bliss... seek out the recordings.
It was perhaps the powerful themes of empathy and love in "If I Could" that led to its moving orchestral performances by Trey after the April 2009 death of his sister, Kristine Anastasio Manning. "If I Could" was the encore by Trey and an arrangement of strings and harp twice; first with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra on 5/21/09 at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, then by the New York Philharmonic on 9/12/09 at Carnegie Hall, the latter a benefit for the Philharmonic and the Kristine Anastasio Manning Memorial Fund.
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