Vocals: Trey (lead), All (backing)
Historian: Grant Calof, Tim Wade (TheEmu)
Last Update: 2012-12-06
In a lifetime (or lifetimes, for those with round-trip tickets) of consecutive and continuous years, days, hours and minutes, it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of everything we’re doing, let alone everything we did. And if we are in fact the sum of our experiences, then without our memories, we wouldn’t add up to all that much. Yet as the years roll on and three-to-five days of class evolves into five-to-seven days of work and all the weeks start blending into one long month, even memories start melding into sameness due to the inescapable passage of time ("time" being a Swiss-born conspiracy to make the world dependent on its “more efficient” timepieces, but that's a story for another... time). Yet there’s one thing everyone remembers, no matter how much water flows under that infernal bridge, no matter how good, bad, great or late it was… everyone remembers the first time. Your first memory, first kiss, first sandwich at Langer's, the first time you realized television sucked, and of course, your first Phish show. And there’s one song, regardless of how many times it’s played… it always feels like the first time (rest assured this has nothing to do with Lou Gramm or Foreigner)… Give me an “R”… an “E,” and a “B” and an “A”! What’s that spell? (If you’re struggling, spend a few more hours with your kids' Baby Einstein toys and we’ll pick up the lesson tomorrow).
"Reba" – 3/6/92, Portsmouth, NH
“Reba” is more than your average, everyday song about a capitalistic moon-shiner’s questionable relationship with the local meat proprietor, nor is it your hermitic ex-hippie Grandmother’s recipe from the Merry Prankster’s Cookbook for organic non-hypoallergenic bathtub gin -- “Reba” is a feeling, a groove… Call it a meditation, call it a state of mind -- “Reba” by any other name would undoubtedly smell as sweet. Ask any number of fans from just about anywhere, and they’ll tell you “Reba” simply *is* Phish. The song’s whimsical lyrics, unpredictable changes and soaring end-jam embody everything magical and alluring about the band’s music. It's the kind of song that busts you out of those dimensionally bound blues -- never really knowing what universal secrets it’s going to unlock (or so it's been said).
“Reba’s” mind-boggling four-part structure, written by one Ernest J. Anastasio III in a decade lovingly known as the eighties, came as a direct result of time spent under the tutelage of his mentor, composer Ernie Stires. It’s one of the most complex and challenging pieces in the band’s repertoire, and it required several years of polish before Ginger-locks and the 3 shaggy bears declared it ‘just right’. Trey wrote “Reba” as an exercise to create a cohesive piece of music that never repeats itself and never develops, and the result was the aforementioned musical offering. It’s been said that “Reba’s” numerous time changes and breaks also presented Phish ‘Fifth Beatle’, lighting director Chris Kuroda, with one of his most amusing challenges.
The first melodic piece (after the bouncing introductory notes) features stick-in-your-head, sing-along lyrics, then ascends smoothly into an intricately composed instrumental section that glides up, down and across the scales like the Road-Runner chasing Wile E. Coyote across purple-stained desert highways in a Looney Tunes cartoon gone horribly awry. It’s the way the band plays over these changes, separately yet entirely together, shifting in and out of the fugue-like structure that’s been known to drive fans into a manic frenzy. And while the terms “fugue” or “fugue-like” are often used to describe certain Phish songs, they’re rarely defined, so let’s drop some Webster’s wisdom… The word, “fugue” refers to a composition in which themes stated successively by a number of voices (and/or instruments) are developed in counter point to one another. Or to put it more simply... “Reba”. That-said, years-long discussions still rage on as to whether “Reba” and a few other tunes are fugues in the truest sense of the term, or merely “fugue-like”. The disjointed lyrics of “Reba” at their surface relate the recipe for a mysterious potion of toxic waste, coconuts, hooves and an assortment of other odd ingredients as they’re brewed up in a motel bathroom for a wicked creation that promises to be “the finest in the nation.”
"Reba" – 10/31/94, Glens Falls, NY (Part 1)
"Reba" – 10/31/94, Glens Falls, NY (Part 2)
Not surprisingly, deeper, exploratory interpretations of "Reba's" lyrics abound. Some have speculated about a connection to the word “ryba,” which means “fish” in some eastern European languages, while in Hebrew, it translates into the word “jam” (the kind of jam that goes well with toast). Others see “Reba” as part mad scientist, part entrepreneur, while yet another view is of “Reba” as an innocent little girl whose parents give her a little too much leash. And when “Reba” dips a ladle for a taste of her creation... the remainder of the composition has even been described as the consequence of that fateful sip, as her spirit (the ending jam) begins a patient and slow resurrection leading to it’s triumphant climax… “Reba” reborn. Of course, that’s just one fan’s opinion (...or is it everyone's opinion but yours?). “Reba” also has the honor and distinction of being a favorite name for tour-head puppies (along with "Tela," "Esther" and "Harpua").
The middle of this epic composition has been quoted as one of the most difficult passages Phish performs. The melody soars up and down at breakneck pace as the band blazes from one side of bliss to the other, tearing their way through starts and stops which ultimately coalesce into a smashing crescendo that launches into the ethereal, improvised jam where some fans claim to have “seen God.” The jam builds and builds until the anticipation of that one note, that glistening light, finally shatters through the darkness and into existence. The final section, a wordless whistling of the first verse, wraps it all up neatly with a chorus reprise, then makes an exit on a characteristically and wonderfully idiosyncratic note. And while many songs (as well as creative additives) can bring about epiphanies and inspiration, “Reba” is one song that, be it through smiles or tears, always has the power to melt away whatever weighs you down.
When “Reba” made its first complete appearance in on 10/1/89 ("Reba" was teased during the intro to "Bowie" on 9/9/89), the song contained a now-defunct instrumental bridge between the lyric and composed sections, consisting of a bluesy riff and a longer “Bag it, tag it” chant. That same instrumental piece later evolved into “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” with lyrics penned by the Marvin Hamlisch of Harmonica himself, John Popper. “Don’t Get Me Wrong” was only played three times in 1990, each time with Popper on stage (10/6/90, 10/8/90 and 12/28/90 if you want to hear all three). The jamming portion of the song (a prime example of the tension and release concept) remained relatively straightforward for the first few years of its existence, although in December of 1992 they twice sandwiched “I Walk the Line” byJohnny Cash between the end of the jam and the whistling section.
"Reba" – 8/2/03, Limestone, ME
The whistling jam, despite conflicting reports, has been a part of the tune since its debut. It wasn’t until 1992 that the band chose instead to end the song after the improvised jam (11/30/92 specifically). Over the years though – increasingly from 1994 through 1996 – the whistling reprise has become more sporadic and can sometimes end up on the cutting room floor for the sake of a segue into another tune. The speed at which the first half of the song is played also varies from time to time, ranging from slower, laid-back grooves to blistering streams of light and sound exploding from the stage. Over the years, the atmospheric jam has also benefited from the evolutionary process, constantly transcending to even greater dimensional planes, continuously mystifying listeners new and old.
The next quantum leap (with no assistance from Scott Bakula) for the song happened early in the winter of 1993. On 2/20/93 an astounding, mind-bending “Reba” helped to spark one of the most memorable sets in Phishtory (if you own it, you cherish it; if you don’t, you will). The song essentially remained a Type-I jam until the first show of 1994 at the Flynn Theatre (4/4/94), which featured an unusual (although somewhat sloppy) Type-II version. The jam took interesting twists and turns throughout the year, especially as summer tour wound down in July. Memorable versions from this era include 7/3/94 at Old Orchard Beach (featuring a “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” jam), 7/6/94 in Montreal, 7/8/94 at Great Woods and 7/15/94 at Jones Beach.
Then came a little thing call fall tour ‘94, and “Reba” sailed its way into the eye of some rather epic hurricanes (musically vs. climatologically speaking). One of the more notable versions of “Reba” (Type-II) appeared on the 10/18/94 in Nashville amidst an atmospheric jam that hints at the Dead’s “Eyes of the World.” Another magnificent feast of “Reba”-like proportions waiting to be devoured, can be found in Set I of the Glens Falls Halloween show (10/31/94), only hours before they (royally speaking) turned the White Album into a glistening rainbow of color.
"Reba" – 8/2/09, Morrison, CO (Part 1)
"Reba" – 8/2/09, Morrison, CO (Part 2)
But that doesn’t necessarily mean the song is always played perfectly or that all ears find “Reba” to be aging like a fine Vermont cabernet. “Reba” is the one song that can boast even more flubs than “Guyute” and there are some nights where it simply doesn’t work. In St. Louis on 8/16/93, the band performed a rare exploratory nineteen-minute version that strayed far off the beaten path, containing three distinct sections in the jam (enter at your own risk, brave listener). But more often than not, it’s played near-flawlessly and with the white-hot passion of 1,000 burning suns.
“Reba” usually pops up somewhere in the middle of either set, but makes once in a blue-moon appearances as the opening tune as well (seek out 7/22/92, 7/6/00 and 6/19/04 for the last few times “Reba” jump-started the first set). Two other notable placements of the song occurred on 12/30/98 when it closed the behemoth first set and on 9/21/99 when it was played as the first tune in a two-song encore. Before those two nights, “Reba” had not yet closed a set and was only encored twice before. What’s all the more intriguing about those two uniquely placed “Reba’s,” is that they were both played at the request of the same lucky fan.
There are so many versions of “Reba” worthy of consumption, that to list and analyze them all would fill up a book unto itself. That said, the consensus as to the best “Reba” of all time is still credited to the show in Lowell, MA on 5/16/95 (words cannot describe, just get it!). Some other pre-hiatus “Reba’s” that you shouldn’t miss are 4/17/92, 5/28/94 (without the whistle finale), 10/21/95 (people swear by it), 12/31/95 (botched composed section but an awe-inspiring jam), 8/14/96 (fans were apparently sighted hovering above the field), 8/17/96 at the Clifford Ball, 8/15/98 (Lemonwheel doesn’t get much sweeter), 7/13/99 (when it provided an interesting transition into ‘Carini’), and of course on 12/31/99, when the boys played it flawlessly, despite already being three to four hours into The Show (the song started at approximately 3:41 a.m. and lasted until about 3:56 a.m.).
Then during JazzFest 2000, somewhere amidst the crawfish tails and Abita beer, “Reba” (or a portion of it, anyway) reared it’s head in the middle of the now legendary Oysterhead show (5/4/00)… and she never knew what hit her. Venture if you dare, fair listener, to the end of “Jerry was a Race Car Driver,” when Les Claypool starts singing the “Bag it-tag it” chorus (with a few improvised lyrics) and Trey, quite simply, goes sonic. A few instances of “Reba” were scattered throughout the remaining months of 2000 (delve into 6/16/00, 7/6/00 or 9/14/00 if ye be so inclined), and made its last pre-hiatus appearance on 10/4/00 to the cheering masses in Chula Vista.
When the band left the stage in October of 2000, the fate of “Reba” (as well as the band’s) hung precariously in the balance, blowing idly in the wind for the next two and half years… But one fateful night in the City of Sin (2/15/03 for the fact checkers), the band decided to put their chocolate back into the Las Vegas peanut butter… and the two great tastes tasted so great together, they decided to call it “Reba.” Since its celebrated return to the light, “Reba” has been steadily climbing the charts despite Casey Kasem’s greatest efforts (don’t be a fool and miss 7/19/03 or the “Reba” from “IT” on 8/2/03). And is there a much better way to close out any year, than a third set “Reba”? Well, it all depends on who you ask (some called it “bombastic and brilliant,” while others just called it a bomb) -- feel free to answer that question yourself when you download 12/31/03, slide into a pair of headphones (preferably Dad’s from 1978) and let the music do the talking.
Safe to say, everyone's smiles were wider than Kansas when "Reba" made its triumphant return to the Phish repertoire in Hampton (3/7/09) and continued to appear through the summer – seek out 6/2/09 from Jones Beach or 8/2/09 from Red Rocks if you need a moment to check your head. "Reba" made steady appearances throughout 2009 and 2010, but the one version that truly stands out comes from Augusta, Maine on 10/19/10. After a memorable second set, "Reba" made only it's fourth appearance in the encore slot (the first in 231 shows). And this ethereal sixteen-minute masterpiece (replete with "Manteca" teases) is not only a snapshot of the band at their current peak... it's a force to be reckoned with.
"Reba" – 8/14/10, East Troy, WI
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Call me crazy (I've been called worse), but one of the best-constructed Reba jams (or one of my favorites, anyway) is the one featured on Lawn Boy.Well, I like my Reba jams to stretch out a little bit. Among my favorites are 10-31-94, 8-16-93 (I don't care what anyone says, I love this crazy-ass version), and 8-16-96.