Vocals: Page, Trey (leads), Mike (backing)
Historian: Craig DeLucia; Mockingbird Staff
"Rift" is a perfect example of how some songs take years to develop. In fact, nearly five years elapsed between the time that pieces of “Rift” first appeared and when the song was finished and finally unveiled in March of 1992.
The song’s evolution began with an instrumental segment that the band had been playing as part of “The Curtain With.” In the late eighties, the band dropped the "With" ending and it was thought to be gone forever. Then, in early 1990, the band debuted a new original song called “Rift.” The song included lyrics almost identical to those of today. In fact, only one line was dropped, though it still appears in the liner notes of the Rift album. Musically, though, the song seemed to be lacking any emotion.
Still in its embryonic phase, “Rift” appeared five more times between February and May of 1990 and was recorded during the Wendell Studios sessions in June of the same year, but was nowhere to be found when the fall tour rolled around. Later, the band decided to fuse the lyrics Tom Marshall had written with, among other themes, the music from “The Curtain With.” The idea clicked, and “Rift” was finally born during the spring 1992 tour opener in Portsmouth, NH.
“Rift” is one of the most complex short songs in Phish’s repertoire. It certainly requires much more concentration and dedication than similar-length songs like “Sparkle” and “Sample,” as it features a difficult rhythm pattern and extended interplay between guitar and piano. From a lyrical standpoint, the song (and lead track) sets the theme for the album of the same name. The narrator speaks of a rift that has developed in a relationship. To demonstrate the confusion the narrator feels, Trey and Page share lead vocals, trading line for line as the music builds to a frenzy. Because of the raw passion of the song, it is usually played in the middle of the first set as a pick-me-up.
Early on “Rift” became one of the most frequently played songs in rotation. Phish began playing the song less often in 1996 and scaled back considerably in 1997, 1998, and 1999, playing the song one, four, and two times, respectively. “Rift” returned with slightly more regularity in 2000 with five appearances and was played four times in both 2003 and 2009. Playing it more often might be to the band’s benefit – given the difficulty of the composed sections, it seems a bit sloppier the longer it sits on the side. The most notable flub came in Landover, MD on 11/22/95, where Trey called the song off after alleging that Fishman botched the drumbeat.
As a non-jamming song, most versions of “Rift” are fairly similar. Credit should be given to the 10/29/94 “Rift,” as the band moved smoothly into the song from “Makisupa” after already winding through “Split Open and Melt” and the rare “Buffalo Bill.” Serious fanatics will want to hear the “Bathtub Gin” from Atlanta on 11/9/95 and the Vegas “Piper” from 2/16/03 – both contain “Rift” teases.
On a humorous note, fans were angered when the arena P.A. system failed during “Rift” in Worcester on 12/28/95, and were subsequently joyous when the sound returned. This led to quite a laugh when Page sang about the “silence contagious in moments like these.” And finally, few can forget the exuberance Trey showed during “Rift” on 8/6/96. Playing at the fan-favorite venue Red Rocks, Trey mimicked the line that U2’s Bono made famous in the same venue nearly 15 years earlier and that Trey himself recreated on the Junta version of “Icculus”: “This is Red Rocks! This is the Edge!”