Music: Pete Townsend
Original Artist: The Who
Original Album: Tommy (1969)
Historian: Mockingbird Staff
Last Update: 2011-09-11
Long before Phish covered Quadrophenia, they covered another song from an epic rock opera by The Who: “Sparks,” the instrumental coda to “The Amazing Journey” on Tommy. The song is thrilling, especially live: check out Live at Leeds or Live at the Isle of Wight). “Sparks” also serves as a thematic basis for Tommy’s “Underture,” the epic track that closes that album’s first disc. Be sure to check out The Who Sell Out which contains an early incarnation of “Sparks.”
The Who, “Sparks” – 11/20/75, Houston, TX
Phish is first known to have performed “Sparks” on 3/23/87 at Nectar’s. After a half dozen performances in the late 1980s, the song had disappeared from rotation entirely and became a genuine rarity. After a 220-show gap it was performed at New York’s Wetlands on 9/13/90 before going back on the shelf for another three years. “Sparks” was dusted off during monster two jams in the magnificent month of August 1993. Following a 392-show absence, “Sparks” re-emerged at the classic 8/2/93 gig during a remarkable sequence of “2001” > “Mike’s Song” -> “Sparks” > “Curtis Loew”), and then again two weeks later on 8/14/93 (“Antelope” -> “Sparks” -> “Walk Away” -> “Antelope” -> “Have Mercy” > “Antelope”).
The next stop for “Sparks” would at one of the most famous set-long jams ever: the epic 5/7/94 Bomb Factory “TweezerFest.” The set-long jamming on both 8/14/93 and 5/7/94 helped “Sparks” earn a slot on two Live Phish releases and cemented it as song that pops up in only the most special of nights. “Sparks” would make only two more showings in the 90s: during the second set of the excellent 10/29/94 Spartanburg gig, then two years later out of a “Simple” jam on 11/29/96 at the Cow Palace, followed by an amusingly well-placed “Sparkle.”
Fifteen years later, the “S” theme would be taken to a delightfully absurd level on 9/2/11 in Commerce City, CO. In a show where each and every one of the twenty-six songs began with “S,” “Sparks” appeared for the first time in 463 shows, nestled between “Sneakin’ Sally” and “Scent of a Mule.” Epic, indeed.