Music/Lyrics: Jeff Holdsworth
Vocals: Mike, Jeff Holdsworth
Albums: Live in Brooklyn, At the Roxy, Hampton Comes Alive, Live Phish 05, Live Phish 09, Live Phish 20, Sharin' in the Groove, Colorado '88, The Man Who Stepped into Yesterday, Live in Brooklyn DVD, Niagara Falls, The Clifford Ball
Historian: David Steinberg (zzyzx)
Last Update: 2015-10-02
Ironically, this song about the untimely death of a marsupial is one of Phish’s most enduring tunes. Appearing first in the tenth show with a known setlist, it has never suffered a lengthy gap – outside of a brief attempt to avoid the creature in 1997. As a result this is the second most frequently played song in Phish’s history.
What makes this song so popular with the band? Lyrically, there’s not much going on here. Outside of the double meaning of “your end is the road” and the pun on “opossum,” this is a straightforward song about roadkill. Musically, there’s nothing complex going on. It’s a rocker, very similar to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Swamp Music.” The jam – with a few exceptions – tends to go to the same place. What keeps it around is that it rocks and rocks hard. The energy of the song makes it quite popular as a set opener or closer. More than half of its performances are as an opener, closer, or encore.
“Possum” has evolved over the years. Early versions – such as the one that mysteriously appears at the end of Trey’s thesis – are under five minutes long. Both the mid-song jam and the introductory section slowly extended over the years until the average “Possum” came to be twice that length. During the early ’90s, the introductory part was considered a prime location for Secret Language signals; the versions on 3/13/92 and 3/20/92 were preceded with instructions on how the language worked in order to prepare the audience.
Other standout versions are 2/16/91 (“Rocky Mountain Way” jam), 12/6/91 (with a maddeningly annoying yet fascinating “Wait” theme in the intro), 5/17/92 (teases of “L.A. Woman,” “Rocky Mountain Way,” “China Grove,” “It’s Ice,” and “The Divided Sky”),5/27/94 (with the audience playing boxes of macaroni and cheese as percussion), 6/30/95 (first “Possum” out of “2001”), 12/29/97 (with “Can’t Turn You Loose” jam), 11/24/98 (arises out of “Tweezer” and burns the house down with old school panache),11/3/98 (acoustic for KBCO), 1/3/03 (first post-hiatus version and a favorite of many; this was a great visual spectacle as the band switched instruments during the rave-up ending), 12/1/03 (Jeff returns to sing the song he wrote), and 8/7/09 (normal jam shelved for a cool call and response between Trey and Page).
Even if you can’t find one of these, it’s not hard to hunt down a “Possum.” Nearly every version of the song is good and it’s as easy to find this song on a Phish CD as it is to find its namesake on a road through the swampland. That’s good eating!