Vocals: Trey (lead), Page (backing)
Historian: Martin Acaster
On first listen, “Lifeboy,” the thematic centerpiece of Hoist, appears to be an indictment of blind religious faith (a theme that has been more clearly asserted since in “Sand”). The lyrics, sung by Trey, find a guy at the end of his rope, the remaining strands of his lifeline (his faith) fraying as he dangles above the “Rift” that gapes below him. When taken in the context of one of an infinite number of album interpretations (Hoist as the continuation of a tale of love and loss that was begun in Rift), his loss of faith is the result of his loss of love. The guy is reaching for straws, suspended between the light above (happiness) and the blue below (depression). His past and his future precisely divided (should he have faith in god?), he hasn’t decided. Everybody else has run out on him, why wouldn’t God too? When faced with these thoughts, he finds that to continue to have faith seems a waste, since, “you don’t get a refund if you overpray.”
The studio version of “Lifeboy” features guest appearances from Béla Fleck on the banjo and Morgan Fichter on violin. These additional strings round out the delicate acoustic structure of the song quite well.“Lifeboy” is built around a simple, haunting melody that ironically sounds as if it was lifted directly from a religious hymn. The lyrics are delivered by Trey with a melancholy tone, befitting the gloomy outlook of the protagonist. As a live song, “Lifeboy” has fulfilled a role in a setlist that is akin to its conveniently misspelled title. It IS a life buoy, a second set breather following a monster jam, a lifeline tenuously connecting the listener to the reality that was swamped by the “hose” that often preceded it. The song debuted in the first show of 1993 (2/3/93 at the Portland Expo in Portland, ME) and was a relative rarity in the rotation for the rest of the year. With the release of Hoist in 1994, “Lifeboy” experienced its heyday, appearing in 25 shows, with many of its performances following “Tweezer.” From 1994, the frequency of “Lifeboy” appearances dwindled to 1 or 2 a year until 1999 when the last fraying piece of twine snapped and “Lifeboy” disappeared into the blue below for the duration of the pre-hiatus era of Phish.
The live version of the song deviates very little from the studio track. As a result, the show rather than the song typically governs the “must hear” versions of “Lifeboy.” As evidence Phish offered a “Lifeboy” that got caught in the “Mike’s Groove” during the second set of the 8/13/96 Deer Creek show which was released as Live Phish 12. For other examples, the “Lifeboy” fan is advised to seek the following: 2/3/93 Portland (debut); 8/13/93 Murat Theatre (segued out of a rare “Weekapaug Groove”-less “Mike’s Song”); 6/10/94 Red Rocks and 11/23/94 St. Louis (follows a monster “Tweezer”); 10/18/94 Vanderbilt (with Béla Fleck); 6/24/95 Mann Center (follows an epic “David Bowie” and later teased in “Suzy Greenberg”); and 8/2/98 Deer Creek (slides out of a rocking “Ghost” before swirling into “David Bowie”).
“Lifeboy” resurfaced for the first time following the hiatus on 2/21/03 in Cincinnati. Coincidentally perhaps, this show is tenuously connected to the 1993 Murat Theater show mentioned above, in that it also features a “Mike’s Song” that is missing a “Weekapaug Groove.” The 4/16/04 Vegas “Lifeboy” was thematically well placed as it floated to the surface of “Waves” before being hoisted ashore by a silent “Horse.” Trey also played a solo acoustic version at his 11/15/05 Tower Theater show. At long last, "Lifeboy" returned to the Phish stage on 12/30/09 in Miami.
"Lifeboy" 11/16/95 West Palm Beach, FL