Vocals: Trey, Page (lead), Fish, Mike (backing)
Historian: Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Whether a circling vulture is a good sign or a bad sign depends entirely on the philosophical frame of reference of the observer. To a wayward hiker overcome by the midsummer sun of the southeast Oregon desert, seeing the vultures moving in could be a bad omen indeed. To the Tibetan villager relinquishing the useless corpse of a loved one to the macabre ritual of sky burial, the vulture instead symbolizes something good. To Tibetans, the vultures that feast on the discarded remains of a now useless body are the Dakini. The Dakini, or Sky Dancers, are the supreme embodiment of highest wisdom and feminine divinity to Tibetan Buddhists. The role of the Dakini in the sky burial is to transmute suffering by removing anger, greed, and delusion from the scene. The role of the Sky Dancers at a Phish show should without question be the same. Too often this is not the case.
With their clear reference to timing, expectations, and those expectations not being met, the lyrics of “Vultures” appear to be an indictment of the dissatisfied Phish fan. Too often the anger, greed, and delusion of the fan unhappy with the length of a given song, setlist, or show is manifest in an irrational feeling of being somehow cheated by the band. This ungratefulness must wear thin at times. In a broader sense, “Vultures” reflects the impending death of anything. Whether it be a job, a relationship, a way of life, or a really good show, when the end is near, the signal is clear. At times we can all see the vultures moving in. Clearly, based on one’s perspective, this can be a good thing or a bad thing.
“Vultures” was one of several songs (which included “Ghost, “Dirt” and “Limb By Limb”) that were first played 6/6/97 at a pre-tour party at Brad Sands’ house. Unlike many of the songs first played at Bradstock, “Vultures” has yet to find its way onto a Phish studio album. It debuted before a paying audience a week later (6/13/97) at the tour opener in Dublin, Ireland. “Vultures” was in fairly regular rotation throughout both the European and U.S. legs of the 1997 summer tour and had a curious association with “Dogs Stole Things” in setlists. “Vultures” was reworked during studio sessions for Story of the Ghost. A studio outtake version of the song includes an additional verse where the "razor to the throat" is replaced with "a potato," a line which Trey sang in one (11/27/98) of only three versions played in 1998, all of which were the new reworked version. The Worcester “Vultures” was subsequently released on Live Phish 06, and the original potato-free four-track recording by Trey and Tom was released on Trampled by Lambs & Pecked by the Dove. “Vultures” came circling more often during summer and fall 1999 with repeat performances in some venues suggesting preferred roosts (Shoreline 7/31/97 and 9/16/99; Deer Creek 8/11/97 and 7/26/99; Atlanta 8/6/98 and 7/4/99; and TAFKAK 12/13/97 and 10/10/99).
This propensity for favored feeding grounds did not continue with the summer 2000 tour, as the Vultures chose instead to make their return (7/1/00) from their winter migration at the Meadows in Hartford. The remaining two pre-hiatus “Vultures” descended on Great Woods (9/11/00) and Phoenix (10/1/00).
"Vultures" – 11/28/09, Albany, NY
In 2003 “Vultures” flew into Chula Vista, CA (7/8/03), made a return visit to Deer Creek (7/21/03), and picked at IT way up in Limestone (8/2/03). The last of the "Vultures" to tear flesh from the decaying corpse of the pre-Coventry Phish returned to Deer Creek (6/24/04) for a fourth meal.
Happily the Dakini, like the band, returned from the land of the dead in 2009, staying with its curious migration routes by visiting for the third time another one of its preferred ceremonial altars in Albany (11/28/09).