Also Known As: N2O
Music/Lyrics: Mike Gordon
Historian: Ellis Godard
Though the title is formally given (on The White Tape and the LivePhish 12/31/09 download) 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 (nitrous dioxide). 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. (The opening of “Wading in the Velvet Sea,” introduced over a decade later, includes a similar sound but with a smoother Doppler vacillation, more like a lighthouse than a drill.) 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.”
The White Tape version, from Mike's original 1987 four-track recording, then segues into “Fluff’s Travels,” 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 (was released about the same time as the video).
Though it appears on two offiicial releases, it has been appeared live only five 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 on 7/13/99, once again at Great Woods, and then not again for a decade (219 more shows) on 12/31/09.