Vocals: Trey (lead), Phish (backing)
Historian: Craig DeLucia; Mockingbird Staff
Last Update: 2013-12-20
Fans expect that a Phish song will usually undergo changes and tinkering from the time it debuts to the time the band finally settles on an arrangement. “Taste” took this expectation further. It may, in fact, be the musical equivalent of cloning, but only if the clone and the original then had a beautiful baby. Kind of sick, eh? Lucky for us, it was actually kind of cool.
Like “Maze,” “Taste” is one of the few songs that contain inspired solos from both Page and Trey, and though the guitar-led jams of the latter are usually greater in length, the impressive piano work of the former should not be dismissed. Also, like “Maze” and “Chalk Dust Torture,” “Taste” has remained a song that features interesting interplay and solos but that does not usually jam outside of the predetermined structure of the song. Interestingly, Page usually renders his contributions to this song on the baby grand piano, ignoring the electronic pieces of his arsenal. Even in 1997, when the cow funk was prevalent and keyboards and synthesizers were used for jams in most numbers, the “Taste” in Page’s mouth remained the wonderful “Taste” of ivory.
"Taste" 6/22/97, Koblenz, Germany
“Taste” debuted on 6/7/95. It was actually written along with the batch of songs that were previewed at Fishman’s house on 5/14/95 and debuted in Lowell two days later, but was the lone number in this group of originals that did not make it to the stage that evening. Most versions from that summer are fairly nondescript, as the band seemed to still be mastering the song’s complexity. As “Taste” combines different rhythms among the four instruments and an odd-key jam, it undoubtedly took considerable work to master. The first curveball was subsequently thrown at the fall tour opener on 9/27/95. Phish began playing the music to “Taste” but Fishman assumed lead vocals and the lyrics were entirely different from the anticipated Trey-led song. This twist would become temporarily known as “The Fog That Surrounds.”
The changes in “Taste” were coupled with the band’s 1995 trend of all band members playing simultaneously on the same instrument: in the summer, we had “Acoustic Army” and the fall produced “Keyboard Army” (sometimes called "Keyboard Cavalry"). Good-natured conspiracy theories abound. Some fans thought the trend would continue for two more tours, speculating that we’d be eventually treated to “Bass Brigade” and “Drum Demons” while also receiving new lyrics to “Taste” while Mike and, finally, Page assumed lead vocals.
The band put most of the rumors and speculation to rest later that fall when, on 10/24/95, they threw us our second curveball – a combination of “Taste” and “Fog” that has never been officially named but that goes by either the shorthand “Tasty Fog” or the generally accepted title “Taste That Surrounds.” Actual indications are that the band again called it “Taste” at this point, but fans wanted a different name in order to keep the two incarnations separate. In the summer of 1996, the band unveiled the “final” structure of “Taste,” paring most of the “Fog” lyrics but keeping one refrain of Fishman’s lyric as an added verse, and adding the manic percussion work that would subsequently appear on the Billy Breathes album version. The first new “Taste” was performed on 7/3/96 and featured an inspired jam, led by guest appearances from Carlos Santana and Karl Perazzo that segued nicely into “Llama.”
Now that the band had settled on an arrangement, they seemed to play the song with a mission to jam. Fall 1996 produced several inspired versions, including 10/27 (with a beautiful “Norwegian Wood” tease) and back-to-back smoking versions in California on 11/29 and 11/30. The latter was unforgettable, as West Coast legend Peter Apfelbaum was featured on tenor saxophone.
Momentum continued into 1997, Phish continuing to toy with the jam segment. Trey began to move away from his loop-driven, textural tones to the dual-solo format, with Page taking a swipe at the jam before handing the reins over to Trey. 2/17/97 stands out as memorable for the fluid second-set jamming that engulfed and surrounded the song. Nothing, though, prepared fans for what they heard in Raleigh on 7/22/97. During one Phish show that can literally be described as electric (and has since been released on DVD), Phish jammed away to “Taste” during a torrential downpour and lightning storm, with the rises and falls of the jam seamlessly coinciding with the force of the storm. Fans who listen to tapes of the evening can only shake their heads as they hear the brute force of the thunder explode in their speakers.
“Norwegian Wood” continued to show up at the end of the jam segment and seemed to signal Trey’s intent to return to the end of the song; in the coming years, this cue would morph into the similar but slightly different melody of “What’s the Use?” Standout versions of “Taste” continued to rock 1997 as it became one of the most frequently played songs in the Phish repertoire. A sampling includes 8/3/97 (a highlight at The Gorge), 8/9/97 (Phish combines two newer jam outlets with “Ghost” -> “Taste”), 8/17/97 (fans at The Great Went were treated to a “Tweezer” -> “Taste,”) and 12/30/97 (out of the “Sneakin’ Sally” breakout).
"Taste" 6/6/09 Mansfield, MA
“Taste” was regarded highly enough to be included in the Sessions at West 54th television broadcast that was originally recorded on 10/20/98. Ironically, the song was played that night as an afterthought. After running through a studio set of new original material and the then-recently added cover of “Albuquerque,” Phish had time for one more song and quickly polled the audience for a request. That request was “Taste,” and it was the highlight of the show. The last few years have included more typically solid “Taste” jams. No collection is complete without 11/19/98 (“Rock and Roll” -> “Taste”) and 7/17/99 Oswego. Other tasty versions (ugh!) include 12/30/99, 2/14/03 (with a segue out of a jammy “Fee”), 7/21/03 and 7/30/03. "Taste" remains a fixture in the band's post-breakup repertoire, with one interesting wrinkle: most 2009 versions feature a riff near the end of Trey's solo that is essentially "NICU" in a different key (see 3/6/09 or 6/21/09 for examples). "Taste" became a bit more rare in 2010 (and began to lose the obvious "NICU" climax), though the 10/24/10 Amherst version – which does contain the "NICU" homage – is a winner.