Also Known As: N2O
Music/Lyrics: Mike Gordon
Historian: Ellis Godard, Dan Mielcarz
Last Update: 2016-02-16
Though the title is formally given (on The White Tape and elsewhere) as “NO2” (though curiously "N20" on the Live Phish 02 CD), this song is all about N2O (nitrous oxide, a.k.a. "laughing gas") not NO2 (nitrogen dioxide, a toxic pollutant). Trey made clear (in “a little story” on 4/12/93 at the University of Iowa) that the song references his great grandfather, who graduated from the Iowa in 1908, and was later “the first to ever use nitrous in this state.” Closer to a tracking of dialogue and noises than an actual tune, "NO2" provides the audio experience of a dental nightmare in which the "singer" gives nitrous oxide to a patient.
The beginning is a whirling effect of repeated “WEEE-yooooos” not unlike a dentist’s drill, and similarly alerting, with the studio version layering additional sound effects such as an off-hook tone from a phone. Mike then begins telling the listener they're “feeling a little drowsy,” and instructs a patient to “open wide... don’t close... don’t bite.” About one third through, the sounds begin echoing, imitating the “wah-wah-wah” effect which nitrous oxide has on hearing. Then follows a slow cavalcade of drilling, whirring, occasional screeching, and babble, ending with Mike’s reassurances: “Still pretty out of it, aren’t you? You just relax; I’ll be back in a few minutes... There’s a tape if you want to put on the headphones... there you go.”
”N02” – 12/31/09, Miami, FL
The White Tape version, from Mike's original 1987 four-track recording, then segues into a plaintive acoustic guitar melody, presumably the “tape” to which the patient is listening. An extended, psychedelic version was the B-side to the analog cassette release of the “Down with Disease” single (released about the same time as the “DwD” video).
Though it appears on two official releases, it has appeared live only eight times. “NO2” may have been first hinted live on 2/20/93, between the “Vibration of Life” and “Kung,” with Mike singing/saying “Your eyes may be feeling heavy... your nose light, your eyes heavy” (see “VoL” history). However, the full debut of the “song” (6/25/94 Cleveland) was a set opener as unexpected as 12/30/97’s “Sneakin’ Sally.”
Its reappearance two weeks later (7/8/94 Great Woods) was less of a surprise, but its placement (as the second song in the last of only five live Gamehendge sets) had import: This performance included narration from Trey about Col. Forbin sitting in a dentist’s chair, inhaling nitrous, and being transported to Gamehendge, one of the few narrations to describe Forbin traveling there (and the last narration to do so). The next appearance of “NO2” (7/16/94 Sugarbush) came nestled between an early “Disease” and a maturing “Stash,” and calmed a gregarious crowd that stretched up and over the facing mountain slope.
After a gap of 356 shows, the gas was released once again at Great Woods, on 7/13/99, after a segue out of a great “Roses Are Free.” This performance was unique in that it was the only live version to feature the lovely guitar outro – perhaps fresh in the band’s minds after releasing The White Tape on CD a year earlier – from the original recording.
“NO2” was then dropped from the rotation for over 10 years, only to reappear from a segue out of “Ghost” on 12/31/09, a 219 show gap. “NO2” fans will want to check out the insane version on 8/15/15 in the middle of a funky “Tweezer” sandwich that features some bloodcurdling screams, Trey on megaphone siren, Mike on electric drill, “Martian Monster” samples, and Mike and Trey running around the stage like madmen. “NO2” also appears as part of the “THANK YOU” encore from Dick’s on 9/6/15, serving the role as the “N.” This version, part of the “Harpua” narrative, tells of Jimmy sucking on what he thought was an oxygen tank that he bought in the Phish parking lot, but that turns out to be nitrous. At the end of this performance is the briefest of hints of The White Tape outro by Trey, before “Keyboard Army” materializes from the chaos. While still rare in 3.0, “NO2” appears often enough to give sedation dentistry fans everywhere continued hope of reliving their latest appointment at a rock concert.