Music/Lyrics: Anastasio, Marshall
Vocals: Trey, Fish
Historian: phish.net staff
Last Update: 2012-06-22
Many fans look forward to most Phish songs for the jams. “Sleeping Monkey,” however, has become a welcome concert treat because it offers a glimpse of the band’s sometimes-bawdy sense of humor. Sung by Trey and Fishman, with tongues firmly planted in cheek, the song tells the tale of a narrator who laments the disappearance (or, should we say, malfunction) of his “monkey.”
On first listen, one might mistake the song for a misinterpreted rendition of the traditional "Home On the Range." Laden with acute sexual references and double entendres, it is nine parts fun and one part music – rather than antelopes and buffalo making a home on the range, the revived “monkey” has been sent away on rails. Fish’s vocal performance on the final chorus – singing as high-pitched and whiny as the narrator surely feels – provides the icing on this cake. Many fans will recognize the ending jam as the tag from The Beatles’ “Let it Be”; a clever ending given “Monkey’s” frustrating tale of woe.
"Sleeping Monkey" – 10/30/10, Atlantic City, NJ
“Sleeping Monkey” began its life in the Phish repertoire exclusively in an encore role, diversified a bit in the latter ‘90s, then returned to it's encore-only role after 6/30/00. The song’s presentation doesn’t usually change much from performance to performance, but there are some versions that are especially fun to hear. Seek out 3/14/92 with John Popper on harmonica; 10/29/94 (“Monkey” inside of a raging hot “Antelope”); 10/24/95 which arose a cappella from the “YEM” vocal jam and was followed by an amazing “Antelope”; 12/6/97, near the end of a hot, jam-filled second set; 7/8/98 with Beatriz from Chile on stage; and 12/28/03 where “Monkey” is revived and rewarded with a “Loving Cup.”
2010 introduced a strong association with "Tweezer Reprise" as a one-two encore punch; in the case of 6/18/10, a one-two-three punch of "Sleeping Monkey" > "Tweezer Reprise," "Tweezer Reprise!" For another fun twist, seek out 5/2/93, where Trey forgot Tom Marshall’s lyrics and was embarrassed because Tom was in attendance!
For nearly twenty years and close to 1,000 shows, that was the story of “Sleeping Monkey.” Until 7/2/11, when Phish found themselves trapped in a storage facility. WHAT!??!?! After three sets of music on the second night of the Super Ball IX, Phish returned to play a “secret” fourth set inside a structure labelled “USA Storage” located in the festival’s Ball Square. The set consisted of roughly an hour of wildly experimental, structureless, effects-driven improvisation that culminated in by far the strangest reading of “Sleeping Monkey” they’ve ever played and, in all likelihood, ever will.
"Sleeping Monkey" – 7/2/11 (early morning of 7/3/11), Watkins Glen, NY
On 6/20/12, "Sleeping Monkey" was once again paired up with "Tweezer Reprise." This monkey, though, was brought to Virginia with the Force of the "Tuck." With a Star Wars theme tease from Trey before the song, he spoke to Fishman: "Fish, when you get to the end of this beautiful song, one last time for all of us. One final tuck.” Trey added that "it's been a beautiful two days, but It wouldn't be complete without seeing Fishman tuck his dress into his underwear one last time" [see: the previous evening] and "I'm singing this one right to you Fish, because I am your father."
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Here is how it looked from my angle.