Original Artist: Artie Shaw
Original Album: Radio Years, Vol. 1 (1938)
Historian: Ellis Godard
Phish have performed several “sweet” songs, such as “Swing Low (Sweet Chariot),” “My Sweet One,” "Sweet Emotion" and "Oh! Sweet Nuthin'." But none are as sugary as the a cappella “Sweet Adeline,” written by Artie Shaw for Jerome Kern’s 1929 Broadway production Sweet Adeline, though not on vinyl for 9 more years. Phish’s rendition is fabulous, but they of course introduce much levity, such as performing the song in masks (7/12/92 and 6/24/95), using it as a challenge to Metallica (5/16/92), as an interlude during which to return a lost wallet (3/31/93), or promising yet another record attempt (6/13/95).
Fishman sings lead, and hams it up by stretching his lines and syllables. But that stretch ain’t all pork product: Early versions were interrupted by bursts of applause after the chorus, and during the final lines. As the band continued to perform the song in increasingly large rooms, crowd noise became a problem. The band began calming the audience with a ritual huddle, and Trey would hold out his hands as if to say “not yet” several times during the song. Eventually an old boxy radio mic was added, but a trick remained from earlier days: syllables held between lines near the end clued in the audience that the song wasn’t over, and allowed the band to get all the way through... well, almost all the way... most of the time.
The song is often a set or show closer, but has occasionally opened things up, even starting one show (4/25/91). It was kept in regular rotation through 1996, with heavy use during the July 1992 openers for Santana, and the three Europe tours between summer ‘96 and summer ‘97. Notable versions include 10/6/91 (performed from the balcony) and 6/14/94 (between “Guelah” and a delay loop jam). The last performance to date in the U.S. was on 8/13/97 at Star Lake, though the song was offered since then at smaller overseas venues, including 7/1/98 in Copenhagen, and most recently on 8/1/99 at the Fuji Rock Festival.