a Project of the Mockingbird Foundation

Performances Song History Lyrics Jamming Chart


Music/Lyrics: Anastasio, Marshall

Vocals: Trey

Debut: 2011-06-04

Historian: Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)

Last Update: 2014-06-06

In simplest terms “Steam” is a song of ice and fire. To generate steam a source of heat and a source of vapor are required. The combination of these two elements can be paroxysmal, ebullient, intoxicating, or industrious. Unfortunately, depending on the ratio of each component thrown into the mix or the rate at which the heat is applied to the vapor source, the same two things can produce nothing more than lukewarm water. Therein lies both the promise and the peril of this May 2011 Anastasio/Marshall composition. The lyrics are a somber epic tale of love and death in a land of wolves and the time of horses. Though assuredly not a “Dark Tower” song, “Steam” is certainly a dark tower song. It represents a musical phase transition somewhere on a ternary diagram with “Ghost,” Trey’s “Every Story Ends in Stone” and the Phish Halloween performance of Little Feat’s “Spanish Moon” as apices. It is as dark and foreboding as the furnace room in the basement of a seedy downtown hotel. 

”Steam” – 6/12/11, Columbia, MD

“Steam” made its debut on 6/4/11, as the extremely swampy Blossom “Possum” moaned its final discordant breath. The first verse rises slowly from an effect-laden pool of ambience into the slow groove that carries the song through a landscape of loops and subtle texture. Imperceptibly the pace increases as the pressure builds toward an out-gassing of jam-space about four minutes into the song. The slow groove returns for the final verse before its eventual sublimation into “Piper.” 

The next eruption of “Steam” occurred at Merriweather on 6/12/11, again as the third song of a second set, this time evolving out of the sonic wash at the conclusion of a lively “Crosseyed and Painless.” This performance is true to the debut until the jam segment, which is initiated with a vocal twist where Trey and Mike repeat the last line of the fourth verse in call and response style, as the pressure release valve is cranked open and a soulful blast of effulgence is released. A final glimpse of the improvisational potential of “Steam” follows the final verse in a metallic deep-space nocturne that melts into the “Light” of day.

The second “leg” of Summer 2011 resulted in three additional “Steam” emissions. The first occurred at the Outside Lands festival performance on 8/12/11 at the Polo Fields in Golden Gate Park and was somber and subdued with an uninspiring vapid jam segment. “Steam” returned to the stage during the second set of the next show, the first of three nights at UIC Pavillion on 8/15/11 where it was part of an “elements” set featuring songs that refer to Earth, wind, fire, or water. This version was noticeably more upbeat and the jam segment was short but stratospheric. The themed trend continued during the first night of the Dick’s run on 9/2/11 where “Steam” appeared as part of a show brought to you by the letter S. The jam segment was profoundly more interesting than the previous two versions with Page constructing the framework for Trey’s adornment.

“Steam” was the song Phish selected to usher in the new year. The year we had all been waiting for. The year the Mayan calendar was reputed to expire. According to the legends, December 21, 2012 marked the end of the 5,125 year long Mesoamerican Long Count calendar. Interpretations of this point in time range from humanity undergoing its long awaited evolutionary transformation to dire apocalyptic planetary changes that will erase our species from existence. The New Year’s Eve performance of “Steam” featured a customary midnight stunt which consisted of “enlightened” members of the Phish fan base scattered throughout the newly refurbished MSG ascending above the non-raptured heathens to dance in the heavens. No doubt feeding off the energy of the moment, this version of “Steam” is unfinished and features a rather incandescent jam segment which culminates in the countdown to midnight and the arrival of 2012.  

”Steam” > “Auld Lang Syne” > “Down with Disease” – 12/31/11, New York, NY

Despite the rather auspicious placement at MSG, the year that followed was rather anticlimactic as far as both “Steam” and the end of days were concerned. The song was played only once – 6/30/12 at Alpine Valley – and the long awaited end of the baktun went largely unnoticed as the wheel simply began another revolution.

This lack of action was certainly not the case in 2013 as the song returned to fairly regular rotation, being played a total of six times, matching the frequency it had displayed during its debut year. The first three performances of the summer 7/5/13 at SPAC, 7/26/13 at the Gorge, and 8/3/13 at BGCA set the standard for “Steam” as each clocked in for a solid eight to ten minute whale riding voyage. Inexplicably bucking this trend, the 8/31/13 Dick’s version was abruptly circumcised and completely devoid of jam. The same could not be said for the 10/19/13 mothership performance which featured a curious lenticular cloud of improvisation that included Trey helping out on drums and Mike playing his bass and fight bell with drumsticks as well as grinding his strings with a power drill. “Steam” closed out the year making a rather triumphant return to MSG (12/28/13) bearing a swirling miasma of shrieking terror as the knot restraining the jam truly unwinds.

”Steam” – 12/28/13, New York, NY

While the role of the song was solidified in 2013 as a meaty early to mid second set groove with room to improve, the actual nature of “Steam” as an element was further revealed within the pages of the late September 2013 release of Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s sequel to his horror classic The Shining. I won’t play spoiler here, so instead advise you dear constant reader to heed the sage words of the great and knowledgeable Icculus and implore you to “Read the Fucking Book!” then revisit the lyrics of “Steam” to compare.

Submit notes/corrections

You must be logged in to leave a comment!



Register | Forgot Password

wrinkledraisin Reply
wrinkledraisin great write up of a great song, and i think the reviewer's concern about the 'inescapable sense of schlock horror cheese' is valid, though perhaps premature. for a moment, entertain the notion that this song finds itself in the rotation less than disease, but more than curtain with. so a couple of times a year, an arena/venue is flooded with hissing steam that allows kuroda's lights to dance a little funkier, and builds into a monstrously nasty jam. what that really be so bad? imagine if they debuted yem this year. do you think there would be universal praise for tandem, synchronized tramp jumping? how bout if fishman debuted the vacuum this year? this is a band hardly afraid to embrace the cheese schlock, and instead of it being a detractor, it seems to solidify the crowd's affinity for these talented musicians unafraid to embrace a little zaniness. more steam please.
Score: 7
ferody Reply
I think "Steam" is an awesome tune and that its debut was the perfect complement to another debut on the Summer 2011 tour - "No Quarter". Steam's "wolves" and No Quarter's "dogs of doom"; Steam's "snow" and No Quarter's "winds of Thor"; many of the elements are alike. I believe that these two songs are more closely related than any other. In fact, keyboard would really make "Steam" even better than it is.
No Quarter> Steam would be sick.
Score: 2
nichobert Reply
nichobert Does anyone else love that this song seems like it might have 2 jam sections? I'm going to go not so far out on a limb and predict a monster Steam in Portsmouth in honor of the steamstacks steaming across the Portsmouth Steamline. How long until we're crushed by a Steam into Theme into Steam into Theme?
Score: 2
Doctor_Smarty Staff Reply
Doctor_Smarty @nichobert said:
Does anyone else love that this song seems like it might have 2 jam sections? I'm going to go not so far out on a limb and predict a monster Steam in Portsmouth in honor of the steamstacks steaming across the Portsmouth Steamline. How long until we're crushed by a Steam into Theme into Steam into Theme?
I do...the second jam segment would follow the final verse...rather than winding down to a mellow hiss it could explode in our faces resulting in widespread meltiness
Score: 1
phan83 Reply
phan83 How you know you're a phishhead: you think this should be the main wikipedia entry for "steam"
Score: 1
TwiztAround Reply
Was at the Blossom show where this debuted. I instantly fell in love with this song, and I'm glad it's going to become a part of the regular rotation!
Score: 1
phearless Reply
phearless By far my favorite new song Trey and Tom have written since 2.0
Score: 1
llamablastoplast Reply
llamablastoplast Everytime they play steam at a show I am at it automatically brings me back to the debut in cayahoga. everyone was so stumped at the song choice, much older phans stopped dancing and pulled out there phones to see what was happeneing ( or at least know what the name was) such nastalgia. Makes me boogie super hard ever time, last nights merriweather(14') was great to hear, the steam on stage was nice n thick for kuroda to throw some.colors on.
Score: 0
Ravinus Reply
Really like this song. Tons of potential. There will be versions of this song to come that will explode heads. Saw merriweather and Hampton versions. Can't wait to see more.
Score: 0
TwiceBitten Reply
TwiceBitten 7/5/13 is a really divisive version, but should definitely be heard by all fans of "far out" phish.
Score: 0
phunguy Reply
phunguy That's funny, we all thought the GG Park version was excellent, guess you had to be there in the fog...
Score: 0
daisychain Reply
daisychain I was so stoked to have seen/heard this at Hampton 2. Loved it from the first time I heard it, wasn't chasing it and it blew me away completely. It definitely does lend a great amount of Kuroda magic and reading a few of the other posts, I agree with there being 2 possible jam vehicles.

Excellent write up of one of my newer favorite songs.
Score: 0
GitDown Reply
I'm glad I'm not the only who sees the lyrical similarity to No Quarter
Score: 0
voopa Reply
voopa But what about Michelle and TBT?
Score: 0
bigflopmoptop Reply
bigflopmoptop great song and good writeup, though I wouldn't be do fast to shun the idea that this song touches on the dark tower. I've found few parallels to ulysses, in guyute & acdc bag, so I wouldn't be surprised if this is related to that story. too many coincidences, straight out of the wolves if the callah book. even if tom Marshall specifically said it's not about that, he lyin.
Score: 0
King_Williamson Reply
King_Williamson Perhaps I'll be shat upon for this statement... but this song is (a) funky/groovy/catchy/danceable/jam vehicle... I really enjoy it!!
Score: 0
headyburritos Reply
headyburritos I feel so lucky that I was able to be at blossom last year when they debuted this...but I wish it would get some playing time in their rotation! Such a great song and I can definitely see this being a wicked jam vehicle in the future
Score: 0
Corey Reply
Corey @bertoledown, I think it sounds like something tom n trey wrote for Phish in 2011...

anywho, the dark tower references are cool. i tried to listen for a plausible tie-in and didn't necessarily hear one,... other than the both the books and song are visually striking. I got to witness the Denver Steam and it was one of the ones that really drew me in to the fact that even thou they were playing the "S" show, they were playing with intention. not just meandering through a bad phish pun or joke like they sometimes do when no one can come up with a decent song list for the night.
Score: 0
the_Landlady Reply
the_Landlady "In simplest terms “Steam” is a song of ice and fire." I love it! Ever since I started reading that series I always think of those books when I hear this song.
Score: 0
thehurricane Reply
Hilarious Phan83, very true.
Score: 0
thehurricane Reply
One of my favorite newer songs and something I wish to hear live. My first impression was a battle scene right out of the Lord of the Rings. The towers, the fortified walls and soldiers running up and down stairs. When the horses nostrils "steam" its when the ring wraiths are searching for the ring on those cursed undead horses. The style of this song is radically different than most of Phish's happy joyous lyrics and notes. The stage effects are sweet and I can't get enough of of 8-15-11's undermind> steam.
Score: 0
forbin1 Reply
forbin1 Love this song...dark, mysterious, murky..all wrapped up into one...lots of potential with this one...can really see this song go places that Ghost goes to...
Score: 0
bertoletdown Staff Reply
bertoletdown Does anybody else think this song sounds like something Bob Weir might have written for the Grateful Dead in, like, 1992?
Score: 0
Login Register