The Moma Dance
Vocals: Trey, Fish
Historian: Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update: 2015-02-17
Debuted at the opening show of the 1997 fall tour as a delicious funk groove instrumental called “Black Eyed Katy,” “The Moma Dance,” by the summer tour of 1998, had become what may be the finest sailing song since “The Good Ship Venus.” Rather than describing a debaucherous crew of diseased pirates frigging in the rigging, the lyrics of “The Moma Dance” can be seen as the metaphorical sailing orders for those on board the flagship of the Phish armada. But that of course depends on your interpretation.
At face value, “Moma” is one of many songs in the Phish repertoire that explores perhaps the most incredible boundary to be found on spaceship Earth: the surface of the sea. Closing out Story of the Ghost (“End of Session” notwithstanding) and actually containing a “Ghost” reprise, “Moma” is the cathartic response of the album’s protagonist to the implications of “Wading in the Velvet Sea.” Realizing he won’t find moments (when he is) in the box, faced with a biting rain blowing in his heartbroken soul, he rejects “the big swim” as an option. He chooses life, his “Ghost” tells him to get up that rigging, take in the sail, mind the skipper and we’ll not fail, he’ll bring out wine, all will be fine, just hear the order, watch the sail! The moment ends. Each of us faces these seemingly crucial increments of time every day. Perhaps an attempt to subvert millennial paranoia, the song is an assurance that the Gamehendge Time Factory is still in good working order, no matter how bad (or for that matter, good) a moment may be, the moment ends, while yet another begins.
"The Moma Dance" – 10/3/98 Farm Aid
A second interpretation is that the song is in fact all about sex; either that involving a partner, or even of the autoerotic variety. The pornofunk groove of the song certainly supports this interpretation; but what about the lyrics? Moma could easily be your hot loving “momma,” the dance would then no doubt be of the horizontal bop variety. “The steady slap” is obviously the sound of flesh on flesh. “The frothy cap” could point towards a well foamed diaphragm or an amyl nitrate popper. “The rigging” would certainly be familiar to anyone who has engaged in some form of bondage. Clearly “The Moma Dance” is all about sex. Or is it drugs instead? With talk of lines and rails, frothy caps, and taking (it) in the main, the idea of being blown far from shore takes on a whole new meaning. Either way, it’s all rock and roll to me.
"The Moma Dance” is sung by Trey and Fish, and the first live performance on 6/30/98 in Copenhagen, Denmark also included a demonstration by Trey of the (now little known) dance itself. The title of “Moma” is another example of Phish Phonetics, cleverly transforming the moment ends lyric into a reference to a display of “The Rhombus” at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). In keeping with the groove-oriented jamming style of 1998, “Moma” was in frequent rotation and was typically extended well beyond the length of the album version. Often the song would slowly evolve out of a “Black Eyed Katy” instrumental groove, finally kicking into the song itself. Other times “Moma” would begin with a brief funky intro, slide almost immediately into the song, and then close with the extended funk groove.
"The Moma Dance" – 3/1/03, Greensboro, NC
A live version of “Moma Dance” from 7/15/98 Portland Meadows was released on Live Phish 17. Other exceedingly danceable pre-hiatus moments which unfortunately had to end include: 7/19/98 Shoreline; 8/6/98 Atlanta; 8/15/98 Lemonwheel; 11/2/98 The “E” Center; 12/30/98 MSG; 7/18/99 Oswego; 9/24/99 Austin; 12/30/99 Big Cypress; 5/21/00 New York; and 7/11/00 Deer Creek.
Despite the migration of “The Rhombus” from the MoMA to another museum in Houston (then eventually back home to its location near King of Prussia), and a clear decline in the percentage of “cow funk” that was being stirred into the post-hiatus Phish sound in 2003, “The Moma Dance” was no stranger to the stage. With the exception of the 2/18/03 version that opened set two and danced its way into “Limb By Limb, ”all of the 2003 “Momas” were placed in first sets, not unlike the bulk of the pre-hiatus versions.
"The Moma Dance" – 8/16/09 Saratoga Springs, NY
The role of “The Moma Dance” has and will likely continue to be as a mid-set energy regulator; if the energy is low it will raise it, if the energy is high it is intended to sustain it. The 4/15/04 Las Vegas “Moma” gave a nod to her black-eyed instrumental sire by opening with an extended introductory groove that bounced and jiggled around her Thomas & Mack Center birthplace. The version that followed at KeySpan Park (6/17/04) saw "Moma" get launched into the right field bleachers, unquestionably the MVP performance of 2004.
Since returning from their breakup Phish has continued to visit with their “Moma” on a pretty regular basis. Of the seemingly countless versions that have been played since the reformation, only three thus far have been placed in the second set, each of them in their first year back: 3/8/09 The Mothership, 8/7/09 The Gorge, and 11/29/09 The CCCC. This placement in the second stanza did nothing to break them out of their formulaic paint-by-numbers cow-funk rut that is unfortunately the characteristic form of the myriad first set versions.
Of course, “Moma” is a great song to get after it with any number of your personalized dance moves, and I certainly dropped some of mine at Fenway (5/31/09), Red Rocks (7/30/09), The Gorge (2009, 2011, and 2013), Indio (10/30/09), Berkeley (8/6/10), Bill Graham (8/17/12), and Dick’s (9/1/12) but that’s all it has become… about seven quality minutes of shaking your moneymaker and onto the next. I will admit that I haven’t heard every one of the last few dozen performances so I’d welcome a suggestion for anything recent that is not another run of the mill version of what is now affectionately referred to as “The Coma Dance” in certain dance circles I may or may not frequent.
"The Moma Dance" – 8/1/14, Orange Beach, AL