Also Known As: In an Intensive Care Unit
Vocals: Trey (lead), Mike, Page (backing)
Historian: Craig DeLucia, Phillip Zerbo
Last Update: 2016-03-11
Has any Phish song had as many names with as many explanations as “NICU”? At its debut in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, Trey introduced the song as “In an Intensive Care Unit.” Shortly thereafter, the name was changed to “NICU,” which some considered a play on a line from the backing vocals in the chorus (“and I see you”) and others noted was the abbreviation for the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Shortly thereafter, the “controversy” began, as controversy can only begin among rabid Phish fans. Some called the song “And I See You.” Some stuck with the original “In an Intensive Care Unit.” Other interesting theories developed, including one from the Internet where a fan noted that the elements Nickel (NI) and Copper (Cu) are side-by-side on the Periodic Table and that the title “NICU” may thus be a reference to nickels and pennies or, more likely, small change.
Whatever the explanation, fans quickly took to the song. The signature guitar licks managed to combine a reggae beat with rock-and-roll spirit, and the swirling organ touches from Page only serve to complement the instrumentation. Combined with the sing-along chorus (quite rare for a Phish song) and fun falsetto-led bridge, “NICU” was one of the more popular debuts on the spring 1992 tour and was one of the most frequently played tunes from its debut through the notoriously excellent month of April 1992.
And then, seemingly as quickly as it arrived, “NICU” disappeared for 249 shows until 6/23/94 in Pontiac, MI. The reggae stylings morphed into a sped-up calypso beat and the falsetto bridge was gone, replaced by a solo segment that, as time progressed, allowed Page to show off his chops.
It was at the famous 12/14/95 Binghamton show (LivePhish 01) that “NICU” finally seemed to find its comfort space in Phish’s repertoire. From this night on, the song appeared at more regular intervals, placating those fans who crave to hear Page wail on the organ. In 1997 and 1998, the song followed a path of evolution that saw it used as either a springboard or capstone for other songs, an evolution that continues to this day.
”NICU” – 7/19/03, East Troy, WI
While most versions of “NICU” are quite similar, “NICU” is far from a first set wonder. Check out 7/13/94 Big Birch with a slick segue to “Tweezer,” while 10/30/98 returned the favor with a nice segue from “Tweezer” into “NICU.” 12/1/94 Salem OR (a LivePhish archival release) featured “NICU” sandwiched in a classic sequence between “Makisupa” and “Tweezer.” The segue from “Buffalo Bill” -> “NICU” combo from The Great Went 8/17/97 is actually a highlight of an otherwise (if understandable) letdown from the majesty of the preceding second set. From the 2.0 era, don’t miss 7/19/03 Alpine Valley, where “NICU” was immortalized as part of the “Leo Trio.”
“NICU” remains a fixture in Phish 3.0, not having seen a notable gap from the repertoire in over twenty years. From their return year, the 6/20/09 version that slickly segues out of an abbreviated “YEM” is worth a visit. If you are twisted enough to have ever considered what you’d take as your Desert Island 3.0 “NICU,” look no further than 7/27/14 Merriweather, where it served a starring role in one of the best sets of the era, with a sick segue from “Disease” and another into the “HYHU” that would result in “Jennifer Dances.”
”NICU” – 12/31/10, New York, NY