Music/Lyrics: Anastasio, Marshall
Vocals: Page (Lead), Fish, Mike, Trey (Backing)
Last Update: 2014-01-18
When he received Tom Marshall’s “It’s Ice” poem, Trey was so impressed with it that he was extremely nervous about writing music to accompany it. He respected the words so much that he didn’t want to risk writing music that didn’t do them justice. Many (including Tom) agree that Trey did a fine job, writing one of Phish’s most accomplished songs.
"It's Ice" – 11/30/91, Port Chester, NY
Not only does “It’s Ice” have a strong compositional structure separated into a number of distinctive but cohesive parts, but the music perfectly evokes the actions of the characters. This is best exemplified by the severe “fall” of the music as the main character breaks through the ice and sinks downward to the bottom of the frosty pond, as well as his subsequent ascent back up to the surface a minute or so later. This sort of “musical onomatopoeia” shows up in a number of other Phish songs such as “The Chase,” “Esther,” and “Fly Famous Mockingbird.” By the way, if you swear that Mike’s bass line in the main theme sounds familiar, check out an episode of The Benny Hill Show.
Lyrically, “It’s Ice” offers a blow-by-blow description of the battle between a guy skating on a frozen pond and his reflected image in the ice beneath. The lyrics are filled with vivid imagery and multiple plays on the confusion between reality and reflection, and represent some of Tom’s most impressive lyrics to date. As with “Tela,” when Trey composed the music for this tune he did so specifically with Page in mind as lead singer, writing it for Page’s vocal range rather than his own. He also consciously designed the song to highlight Page’s piano playing.
Another influence on the composition of “It’s Ice” was one of simple logistics. Trey has stated that he wrote “It’s Ice,” “Sparkle,” and “Brother” (all written in the same wave of songwriting) to fill specific niches in the band’s repertoire. “It’s Ice” offered the band a ready opportunity to play a far-out, “mind-twisting” song.
“It’s Ice” is a long tune; even the relatively jam-free studio version on Rift runs over eight minutes. Performed live, the song rarely strays from its composition, although the bottom-of-the-pond portion of the tune – the “breakdown” of the music before the final, dramatic climb back up to the surface for a reprise of the chorus – has on many an occasion gotten pretty wacky.
“It’s Ice” is also known as the tune that features “The Fish Dance.” During the succession of escalating 1-2-3-count chords that culminates in a dead-stop scream, Fishman will often stand atop his stool and do a wild, vaguely sexual dance that always seems to please the (sometimes dumbstruck) crowd.
From its debut and periodically through late 1994, "It's Ice" typically included a two to three minute jam, usually driven by Page, but often including the entire band. Almost every version from fall 1991 and spring 1992 includes an excellent albeit brief jam, with significant variation. Beginning in summer 1992, the jam portion was shortened to focus more specifically on Page's piano mastery, but with an occasional extended, full band jam.
During August of 1993 and again in the spring and summer of 1994, the band showed a renewed interest in the jam portion, and a number of excellent and varied versions were performed in this period. "It's Ice" again occasionally captured the band's attention in 1995 and 1996. Unfortunately, from 1997 through the present, with a handful of exceptions, "It's Ice" has largely become a boiler plate setlist filler, with little variation between versions other than a brief Page solo. In 3.0, "It's Ice" has gone the way of "Runaway Jim," wanting desperately for some renewed focus from the band.
Good versions of the jam in "It's Ice" at a minimum showcase Page's intricate and broad keyboard talents. The best versions include the participation of the full band, with Page typically taking the lead. For examples of strong versions of the jam in "It's Ice", seek out 3/17/92, 4/16/92, 8/24/93, 5/13/94, 6/18/94, 6/16/95, 10/7/95, and 11/30/96.
The jam in "It's Ice" has also been utilized as a launching ground to segue to other songs, usually with a return to "It's Ice." Examples include 10/29/95 and 12/30/95 ("Kung" sandwich), 12/7/97 ("Swept Away" and "Steep" sandwich), and 7/28/98 ("Lengthwise" sandwich). And then there is 3/22/93, when the jam in "It's Ice" was utilized to segue into a performance of the entire suite of Gamehenge songs, one of only five such performances.
On two occasions, "It's Ice" has stretched through the jam portion into a longer 14-plus minute musical exploration. On 4/8/94, the band embarked on a rocking jam that included the first ever "Digital Delay Loop Jam” within the “Ice” jam. Then on 9/20/00, the extended jam moved into Type II territory in a spacey and somewhat rambling jam.
"It's Ice" – 5/23/00, New York, NY
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I don't know when this practive started or ended, but when I saw Phish for the first time in summer '93, they played It's Ice, and during the middle section when Fish would play the wood block like a ticking clock, Mike and Trey stepped back onto these devices (that they must have seen one night on TV and gotten the idea for inspired zaniness) and glided back and forth in time with Fish. Besides the obvious skating simulation, it also evoked a grandfather clock's pendulum. Definitely one of several strong first-show memories (7/27/93).