Also Known As: In an Intensive Care Unit
Vocals: Trey (lead), Mike, Page (backing)
Historian: Craig DeLucia; Mockingbird Staff
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 in a hospital.
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. It subsequently became 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. While alert fans were able to hear the song at several soundchecks, it did not return to the Phish stage until 6/23/94. 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. “NICU” was subsequently played only a handful of times in the summer of 1994, a trend that continued until fall 1995.
It was at the famous 12/14/95 Binghamton show (Live Phish 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.
While most versions of “NICU” are quite similar, several versions stand out as more popular than others. Usually, it is because of the song’s placement in an otherwise tremendous and fluid set. See, for example, three popular “Tweezer” jams that morphed into various set-long segues: 7/13/94, 12/1/94, and the aforementioned 12/14/95. 10/30/98 gave us a nice segue from “Tweezer” into “NICU.” Looking for a show with Phishtorical significance? Pick up a “Disease” / “NICU” combo from either The Clifford Ball (8/16/96) or IT (8/2/03), or the “Buffalo Bill” -> “NICU” combo from The Great Went (8/17/97). Fans looking to hear a more recent performance may want to check out the 6/20/09 version that slickly segues out of an abbreviated "YEM." For interesting stage banter, pick up 7/19/03, where “NICU” was a part of the “Leo Trio.” ARound out your collection with 7/26/03, with a bass solo from Mike in place of Page’s usual spotlight solo.