Limb By Limb
Vocals: Trey (lead), All (backing)
Historian: Chris Bertolet (bertoletdown)
Last Update: 2014-01-18
"During the Billy Breathes session,” says Page in The Phish Book, “we recorded something called ‘Taken Far Away,’ which consisted of us repeating that phrase along with the 'trampled by lambs & pecked by the dove’ line. Once or twice during soundchecks we played another song called ‘Chinese Wall,’ which included the lines ‘Drop me off the Chinese Wall / Peel my fingers off the rim,’ sung to a completely different two-chord progression. So we’d actually been messing with pieces of ‘Limb By Limb’ for years until they all returned as a complete song that was so much better than those earlier things that I totally forgot about them until just now.”
"Limb By Limb" – 6/22/97, Koblenz, Germany
Though the Dublin gig on 6/13/97 was the official debut of the final version of what we now know as “Limb By Limb,” the tune was road-tested at Brad Sands’ party on 6/6/97 (recordings circulate). Along with “Ghost,” it instantly became a favorite among the Anastasio/Marshall collaborations debuted on that summer tour through Europe, and has been a regular on setlists since.
“Limb By Limb” is a poly-rhythmic high wire act; like “Guyute” and “Taste,” it’s an example of Phish’s affinity for the 6/8 time signature. The lyrics are vintage Marshall, chock full of vivid imagery that suggests a relationship gone cold. But it’s not all doom and gloom; the narrator may “come unglued while in midair,” but he “land(s) to reform, limb by limb.” The jam segment mirrors the images in the lyrics, shattering, splintering and then reforming. As in “Taste,” Trey and Page sometimes weave scales and modes into the fabric of this jam that lend an Indian or Arabic tone to the proceedings, and some have likened “Limb By Limb” to the Grateful Dead’s “Crazy Fingers” in that regard. Most pre-hiatus versions of the tune concluded with an acrobatic drum-and-vocal reprise from Fishman; this ending has since disappeared.
Though most fans’ favorite “Limb” is the last one they saw, the Rochester version from 12/11/97 is particularly juicy and long. The 7/31/97 Shoreline and 8/3/97 Gorge versions both rip, and serve as interesting counterpoints. In the summer of 2000, “Limb By Limb” ventured out from its anchor groove a number of times, with varying success; see 6/29/00 Holmdel for one that works in spades. For strong and even experimental post-hiatus versions, check out 2/18/03 Denver (get some, Page!) and 7/17/03 Bonner Springs. "Limb" continues to make regular appearances at 3.0 Phish shows; check out 6/11/10 for a strong recent version.
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--Trey said that he wrote the drum part to this song on a machine and that he didn't think Fish would actually be able to play it. I think that's why it originally had the outro, to showcase Fish's success with it (not sure if that's just my theory or not).
--Besides losing the aforementioned outro, the entrance into the solo> jam also underwent a change. In early versions, Trey noodled into it while Mike continued the "taken far away" vocal. Now they have the stutter-stop explosion into blistering guitar solo, that though I like now, was fairly jarring at first and took me a few renditions to get used to.
--Maybe it's redundant/goes without saying that the Big Cypress rendition is pretty damn representative, but the Great Went version is also soaring and comparatively exploratory.