Historian: Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update: 2013-12-20
"If life were easy, and not so fast, I wouldn’t think about the past.” That is to say, if the years did not fly by so quickly, we might not have to take the occasional moment to reflect upon what it is about the people, places, and events of days gone by that shape our current perceptions of ourselves.
“Roggae” is a moment of lyrical self-reflection for Phish. The distribution of the lines in the song’s opening verse gives a brief glimpse into the personality of each of the band members. Fishman’s feeling at home in the “bears and clowns and noise” that comprise the traveling circus that is Phish gives a sense of his childlike joy of life. Trey’s love of the “shiny music that descends from overhead” suggests awareness that his band is merely the conduit that allows the wondrous sounds of the universe to gush from on high. Page is almost self-effacing in his glorification of Mike’s “moment” in the sculpture room at Goddard College “when the stars all turned around.” Mike in turn offers his comedic indifference toward the seemingly mind-blowing paradigm shift with a nonplussed frown. These guys clearly realize that to some people in their audience they are responsible for the revolution of the Earth upon its axis, yet they are careful not to take even themselves too seriously. Instead they celebrate their opportunity to wander together across a landscape of “heat and light and sound and mist, provoking dreams that don’t exist.” Phish is apparently as awed by their ability to generate our shared reality as we are. In our union we share a peaceful coexistence in this “circus of light” snuggled into the warm embrace of an all encompassing dream of what everyday life could be if we could all just get along.
“Roggae” was first released on Story of the Ghost and debuted on 6/30/98 in Copenhagen, Denmark as a mid first set breather following an inspired combination of “Stash” and “Cities.” This performance was comparable to the album version of the tune and quite unlike the instrumental version played during rehearsals a day earlier that apparently exceeded a half hour in duration. Though some would likely opt for the behemoth instrumental if given a choice, the rather frequent 1998 versions of “Roggae” that followed were similar to the debut in both length and placement. Two stylistic exceptions were the acoustic performances of the song at the Bridge School Benefit (10/18/98), and the KCBO radio appearance in Boulder, Colorado (11/3/98) a day after the “Brain Damage” the band had inflicted upon those lucky enough to be in Salt Lake City.
Despite obvious space within the tune for further musical expansion, “Roggae” has been relegated to predominantly first set utility player status and its number of appearances has dwindled accordingly, becoming less frequent in 1999 and almost a rarity since then. Notable performances since the heyday of its rookie year include a Trey solo performance (Asheville 5/10/99), the 9/12/99 Portland Meadows version in the midst of a stellar second set, and the 2/26/03 Worcester “Roggae” that was wedged into a sequence of Phish “side-show” compositions.
Since Phish returned to the circus, Roggae has served as the de facto canary in the coal mine for the band’s condition. As Phish has scaled new performance heights, so too has Roggae. Phish celebrated their first year back flying without a net with the excellent version offered on 12/28/09 in Miami. Soaring higher still in 2010, “Roggae” graced the stage four times, a run that was initiated with an over-the-rim "Roggae" that exploded upon the patrons of SPAC on 6/20/10. The following year, the frequency was dialed back to a trio of performances with the 8/5/11 Gorge version veering into some spellbinding type II jam space and being widely considered one of – if not the – best versions offered to date. Of the fraternal twin performances in 2012, the 8/19/12 Bill Graham “Roggae” was by far the prettier one. Considering the recent trend as a west coast gem, the equally dazzling 8/2/13 Bill Graham performance may be the solitary pearl in this anniversary year strand.
The origin of the word “Roggae” appears to be a fusion of the words rock and reggae, another self-referential nod to the band’s style. However, an advertisement spoof portraying “Roggae” as a pharmaceutical product intended to counter male pattern dreadlock loss (PDL) contained within the 1998 Halloween Phishbill suggested that it is actually the melding of Rogaine and reggae. In this light, perhaps the potential side effects (hearing loss, trench mouth, the grippe, the clap, croup, dreadlock growth around the buttocks, the vapors, Old Man’s knee, scurvy, and rickets) associated with the use of “Roggae” are what are actually responsible for its infrequent application in recent years.
"Roggae" 8/5/11 George, WA