This mellow ballad with strong harmonies and a guitar line similar to “Lifeboy” reminds some fans of the Grateful Dead, in particular a “slow Jerry tune.” It’s not much to write home about musically, and fans often use its appearance at a show as an excuse for a bathroom break. Its most impressive facet is Tom Marshall’s lyrics, which concern in some way the tug-of-war between the conscious and the unconscious.
It began life in the acoustic sets of Trey’s spring 1999 solo tour. Trey initially called it “Bake and Boil” but soon changed it to “Mountains in the Mist,” making it one of two “Mist” songs debuted on that tour. The other, “Kissed by Mist” – a song dedicated to Julia Butterfly Hill, who lived in an old-growth Redwood tree for two years to protest logging – has to date not made it into a Phish set.
“Mountains in the Mist” was one of the first songs from that tour to make it into the Phish repertoire, debuting in the second set of 7/3/99 in Atlanta as a breather between “The Moma Dance” and “Antelope.” Most subsequent versions were deployed similarly. For typical examples, see 7/10/99 (officially released on Live Phish 08), 9/16/99, 3/1/03 and 8/3/03. Its most notable placement came on 1/4/03 in Hampton, when it unexpectedly occupied the coveted slot between “Mike’s Song” and “Weekapaug Groove.” A unique version of the song was offered at Trey’s performance on 8/3/01 at Jones Beach, a duet with Trey on acoustic guitar and Mike on bass, opening the encore.
While it did not make the final cut of Farmhouse, it did show up as a bonus track on the Japanese edition of the album, with its title shortened to “Mist.” (On Live Phish 08, it is credited with the full title.) This version is, believe it or not, even slower than the concert versions, though the studio setting provides an intimacy that is well suited to the song.
Surprisingly, the studio version is missing the song’s final verse, which sums up the whole consciousness theme: “Woven in the fairy tales / We fabricate each day / Are bits of golden strands of truth / That glimmer in the light / The colorful material / You hold a certain way / Can keep us from the cold / And help to get us through the night.”
Oddly, given the album placement and the mountainous terrain in Japan, the band did not play “Mountains in the Mist” on its June 2000 tour there. In fact, the song was not played at all in 2000, leading fans to wonder whether the band had dropped it from the rotation for good. But Phish revived it after the hiatus, breaking it out on 1/4/03 and playing it five more times that year.
On 7/6/08 at Rothbury, the lyric "till I'm released awaken beasts, I'm on the road again" seemed quite appropriate as Trey had bantered about his arrest before launching into the song. Trey also played "Mountains in the Mist" at the 9/18/08 Newport Folk Festival.
It seemed that the time could have been right for this song to reemerge at the 6/9/09 Asheville show as the Blue Ridge Mountains correlate nicely with the lyrics, but alas it was not in the master plan. It was a pleasure when Phish chose to perform this during the special acoustic set at Festival 8 on 11/1/09. The version was played well, and although the audience had been asked reluctantly to 'sit down' and enjoy the music, many fans arose to their feet to feel the flow of this beautiful tune once again.
Phish certainly could not deny the mountain inspiration on 8/9/10. As a great 2010 version of "Piper" ended, the majestic mountains surrounding Telluride Town Park provided the perfect atmosphere to finally see "Mountains in the Mist" performed in an appropriate geographical setting.
I went to this show from Indy while blizzarding and just generally fucked bare knuckle driving. 15 hours in the sun just barley started to come up in the am and all of a suddenly the snow stops and it is misty and I can finally see for more than 50 ft. I look left and there are mountains in the mist literally it was surreal!
The outtake version from the Farmhouse album sessions is another favorite of mine. The band slows it down even further, and closes with an exquisite solo section. Page plays chord clusters on the piano that would be lost on stage in an ampitheater, but in the studio it brings the song momentum without speeding up the tempo.