Vocals: Trey (lead), Mike, Page (backing)
Historian: Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update: 2016-03-01
If a revolution is to succeed, certain sacrifices must be made. Often in times of desperation, even life itself must be given up for the cause. From high atop a turquoise mountain above the war torn forests of Gamehendge comes “Llama,” a song that documents the last selfless moments of a brave rebel’s life. Equipped with a pair of bazookas mounted on the back of his trusty llama, the rebel detonates a cache of blastoplast, driving the loyalists back to their lakeside encampment, unfortunately taking his own life in the process. Knowing he has done all he could, the martyr’s last vision is of his own Taboot. A Taboot of course being a wooden, brick, or stone monument placed above the coffin of the deceased in Mohammedan burial ceremonies. Icculus akbar!
"Llama" – 3/24/92 Richmond, VA
Trey wrote “Llama,” which debuted on 10/30/90 in Crested Butte, CO, during a stay at Page’s parents house. Phish was on tour with Aquarium Rescue Unit at the time, and the blistering pace of the song was apparently influenced directly by the tempo of ARU’s performances. Perhaps as a tribute to the origins of “Llama,” it was one of the tunes played during a guest appearance by Jimmy Herring (ARU guitarist) and dedicated to the McConnell family at the 2/19/93 Roxy show in Atlanta. Other notable guest appearances for “Llama” have included Carlos Santana, Karl Perazzo, and Raul Rekow of Santana (7/25/92 Stowe,VT), John Popper of Blues Traveler (6/23/95 Stanhope, NJ), and Bob Gullotti (10/23/96 Hartford, CT).
The live version of “Llama” is typically a little wilder and woollier than the studio release, which can be found on A Picture of Nectar. As such, “Llama” is usually a great opportunity to catch a glimpse of machine-gun Trey. Particularly explosive versions include the following: 7/10/92 Syracuse; 3/19/93 Redlands, CA; 4/1/93 Portland, OR; 5/7/94 Dallas; 5/21/94 Seattle; 12/6/96 Las Vegas; 2/17/97 Amsterdam; 8/16/97 The Great Went; 11/19/97 Champaign, IL; 12/13/97 Albany, NY; 7/19/98 Shoreline; 12/31/98 MSG; 7/18/99 Oswego; 6/14/00 Fukuoka, Japan; and of course 12/31/99 Big Cypress. Fans of the odd should also check out the 12/11/95 Portland, ME, “Llama” which was sandwiched among several versions of “Dog Log,” or the 7/2/97 version which gave way to a demented “Wormtown.” Throughout its history (see 1994 setlists in particular), “Llama” has been a common show opener. This primary role resumed when Phish returned from hiatus in 2003 with four of the seven Phish 2.0 performances of the song appearing as liftoff experiences: 1/04/03 Hampton; 2/15/03 Las Vegas; 7/31/03 Camden, NJ; and 6/23/04 Deer Creek.
The show opener trend continued when the band reunited after their 2004 breakup. These more recent leadoff performances included 8/16/09 SPAC; 7/1/10 Raleigh, NC; 6/7/11 Mansfield, MA; and 7/10/13 Holmdel, NJ. Notable deviations from the trend include 10/26/10 Manchester, NH a smoking hot show that saw "Llama" on double-duty with a mid-first set appearance, followed by a second-set closing reprise; 9/3/11 Dick’s which featured another mid-first set ride led down the “Streets of Cairo”; and 6/22/12 Cincinnati, following a late first set “Stash” and after false starts of both “Poor Heart” and “Moma Dance” due to Fishman fumbles. Three of the four performances that followed were back in the show opener slot.
The exception to this trend as far as set placement goes demonstrated the band’s own reverence for “Llama,” as it was proudly displayed during their 30th anniversary throwback throwdown on the JEMP truck stage that was wheeled out to the middle of the floor for the second set of their 12/31/13 New Year’s Eve celebration at MSG. Following the warm introductory embrace of “Glide,” the wooly camelid provided the perfect high energy bridge to the triumphant return (after 86 shows) of “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent” > “Fly Famous Mockingbird.” This in turn paved the way for the remainder of the nine-song old-school set, a thoroughly enjoyable homage to the band’s early days and the youthful vitality the band hopes to carry into the future as they set out toward their 60th anniversary celebration on 12/31/2043. Save the date!
Impossibly enough, following its return to the show opener slot on 8/29/14 at Dick’s, an even more exceptional version would follow for the song’s lone performance of 2015. When the band took the stage on 8/14/15 at Walnut Creek, they did so while riding on the back of a super funky “Slow Llama,” to the great surprise of all in attendance. Must hear… check it out.
Adding to the mystique of “Llama” is the nearly unintelligible (and absent from the liner notes of APON) lyric sung before “Llama, Taboot, Taboot” in the chorus. Much fan debate has surrounded the deciphering of this all important line, with interpretations ranging from the mechanics of blastoplast detonation “Leave it on press, depress, depress!” to the recreational chemistry habits of the martyred rebel soldier “Living on Pez, Mesc, and Reds!” This “What are they saying in Llama?” powder keg might only be defused by repeated listens to the song. Sometimes sacrifices are easy. Taboot!