Last Update: 2016-03-07
The !Kung San, a Kalahari hunter-gatherer population, was the dominant population in southern Africa for perhaps tens of millennia. The population of ~300,000 in the seventeenth century encountered Dutch colonists, and then dwindled by the 1970s to fewer than 50,000, dispersed throughout South Africa. But as their numbers shrank, anthropologists devoted increasing attention to the population’s complexity, diversity, and adaptations.
The !Kung, who perform a ritual healing dance from dusk to dawn perhaps twice each week. The !kia dance – described as “an experiential passage” – is a fatiguing process that advances an altered state of consciousness, with the aim of transcendence not only for spiritual purposes, but to address misfortune. Near its climax, the !kia ignites the “n/um,” an energy which resides in the stomach and works its way up the spine with increasing intensity: “Stand up,” it says, “stand up on your heels and sing.”
Phish, “Catapult” -> “Kung” – 11/29/98, Worcester, MA
Although the !Kung no longer rule the high desert, Phish incant their spirit from the hills of their own performances. Their noted diversity is reflected in “voraciously alternate” speeds and tones, as the words are adaptively overlaid on diverse segues and jams; compare the 2/20/93 craziness to the rising energy of 11/29/98. But the words do not vary, as the song appropriately evokes a mix of reverence and glee. On three occasions (12/31/92, 3/25/93, and 6/26/94), Trey declared the chant a requisite step to entering the land of Gamehendge. Other essential incantations include the debut – sandwiched within “Antelope” on Halloween 1989; weaving in and out of epic versions of “Stash” on 4/14/93 and 5/8/93; an appearance inside “Harpua” at the famed “OJ show” on 6/17/94; stepped into the “Tweezer” on 12/8/95; a must-hear version emerging from the slime of a frightening and unfinished “Split Open and Melt” on 7/15/99; and to celebrate the band’s 20th anniversary on 12/2/03 emerging within “Frankenstein.”
Excepting a three year stretch from ‘93-’95 that saw moderate rotation, “Kung” has been a sparingly-used treat that remains a rarity in the modern Phish era. Be sure to check out 8/12/10 Deer Creek (out of “NO2” with Trey on megaphone), 6/15/11 Alpharetta (only known a cappella performance in a combo with “Birdwatcher”) and 7/8/12 rounding the home-stretch of a three-night home-turf run at SPAC. “Kung” then emerged as the biggest club in the bag and the real “Driver” on NYE 2012-13, as the “Garden Party” gag was a Runaway Golf Cart Marathon come to life!
Phish, “Kung” > “Chalk Dust Torture” > “Auld Lang Syne” > “Tweezer Reprise” 12/31/12, New York, NY
Stand up on your heels and call
From the hills...