Wading in the Velvet Sea
Vocals: Page (lead); Mike, Trey (backing)
Historian: Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update: 2016-02-14
"Wading in the Velvet Sea” was among the first of the songs subsequently released on The Story of the Ghost to surface during the summer of 1997. In stark contrast to the “funk” sound which proliferated that year, “Wading” is an introspective anthemic tear-jerker in the style of “Slave to the Traffic Light.” The song swirls out of a half-speed “Nitrous Oxide” siren into a delicate piano melody, which gradually swells to an oceanic crescendo of soulful guitar licks.
Lyrically, the song carries the tone of a letter to a lost love, a message of hope for a brighter future. An account of a moment shared during a solitary trip to the coast. A moment which simultaneously captured the joy and sorrow of the past forgotten and the future lost. The title phrase, repeated incessantly throughout the soaring elegy to enduring emotion, captures the spirit of the waves. Cascading over and over against the edge of the earth; time leaks out, life leaks in, the moment ends.
However, the introductory banter from Trey and Fishman prior to the 6/6/97 “Bradstock” performance of the tune tells a different story entirely:
Trey: “This song is actually either called “Waiting in the Velvet Seat” or “Wading in the Velveeta Sea.”
Fish: “Picture if you will, a transvestite in black lingerie… lounging in a large velvet red chair, waiting...”
Trey: “for the client”
Fish: “for the client...”
Trey: “if you will...”
Fish: “if you will...and you won’t...”
Trey: “and you shan’t...”
(From audience): What color is it?
Trey: it’s a red velvet seat, surrounded by orange Velveeta cheese... over a huge sea of velvet...
The song debuted in Dublin on 6/13/97 and was in fairly regular rotation for the rest of the summer tour. Entirely absent from the fall ‘97 tour “Wading” resurfaced late in the summer ‘98 tour and has been often played since then. Particularly inspired versions of “Wading” include 8/2/97 at the Gorge, 8/16/98 at Lemonwheel, the 11/15/98 Murfreesboro wormhole to the 5/26/11 soundcheck “Waves,” a sublime performance at the 12/31/98 year-end Madison Square Garden extravaganza, and 12/16/99 Reynolds Coliseum which culminates in a spacy delay loop transition into a must-hear “Tweezer.”
Clearly the best (most beautiful, tear-jerking) version to date preceded The Show-closing “Meatstick,” as the first sun of 2000 peeked through the velvety clouds swirling over the swamps of Big Cypress. If you didn’t get all choked up by that one, you were either unconscious, or somewhere else. Perhaps in an attempt to revisit the glory of this moment, Phish selected “Wading” as their 12/31/02 encore; although this performance was anti-climactic considering the show it concluded, the nostalgic tip of the hat to Big Cypress was appreciated by many in attendance. “Wading” was played as an encore in three of its five 2003 appearances, with the other two (3/1/03 and 7/10/03) coming at rather inopportune high-energy buzz-kill moments late in the second set.
Counterpoint to the Big Cypress version, and undoubtedly the steep chasm that led to the nadir of the worst (most tragic, punch in the nuts, abject wail inducing) moment in Phish history to date, "Wading" preceded the sublimely infamous Coventry "Glide." During the Coventry "Wading," Page and Trey were both so overcome by the moment in which their past history and musical future as a band appeared to be going into the box forever, that they both broke down and wept. Even a brief scan of the crowd during this catharsis revealed they were not alone in these feelings. Fortunately, all was not lost. Though there were hardships to endure, and rough seas to cross, the past was drowned and a bright new future came wading back to shore.
"Wading in the Velvet Sea" – 8/15/04, Coventry, VT
The seven performances of "Wading" in 2009 included the Hampton run, first leg of summer tour, fall tour, and the Miami NYE run. Of these, the 5/31/09 Fenway Park and 6/12/09 Bonnaroo versions occupied their useful first set utility infielder roles. The other five were in the more cringe-inducing mid second set rally-killing position. All six 2010 versions appeared in the second set. Depending on your feelings for the song the best version for 2010 was either the shortest (4:32) on 10/23/10 at the Mullins Center, or the longest (7:00) on 12/27/10 at The Centrum. If you like sparse, delicate, and beautiful… go for the latter.
The 2011 through 2013 hydrographic cycles saw the “Velvet Sea” at a relative lowstand with only four or five performances in each year. Notable among the 2011 versions is 5/27/11 Bethel which was responsible for the existence of the soundcheck splendor; no “Wading” no Bethel “Waves”... think about that! Then of course there is the 12/31/11 MSG version which was part of a third set that some fans consider to be grounds for an assault charge to be filed against the band. Although all four of the summer 2012 versions were second set chillers (check out 8/17/12 BGCA), the NYE run appearance saw the song demoted to the first set of the Saturday night special on 12/29/12. After its three summer (7/30/13 Harvey’s getting it again was as cold as Lake Tahoe!) and two fall second set appearances in 2013, “Wading” was dropped from year-end proceedings entirely.
"Wading in the Velvet Sea" – 12/31/11, New York, NY
If you mark the passing of time by “The Phish Year,” the next orbit around the sun doesn’t begin until the end of the NYE run. By this slightly perturbed calendar, 2014 had seven performances of “Wading” including 1/1/15 Miami, which being on the beach is a no-brainer, though pairing it with “Winterqueen” is a head scratcher. Excepting 7/5/14 SPAC’s first set placement all were in the now unquestionably persistent second set breather slot and most, like Miami, were in fairly high profile shows at destination venues (7/13/14 Randall’s Island, 8/29/14 Dick’s, 10/21/14 Santa Barbara Bowl, and 11/1/14 MGM Grand). Though fewer in number, the three 2015 “Phish Year” offerings were just as prominently placed, appearing on 7/28/15 Austin, at the sick Magnaball festival on 8/22/15, and once again washed upon our Dick’s on 9/4/15. Phish on the beach in Mexico? Duh.
Other notable performances of “Wading” are of the non-Phish variety, including Trey solo acoustic on several of his May 1999 shows (5/7/99, 5/10/99, and 5/13/99), during his otherwise electric set on 2/27/01, and on 11/14/05 at Princeton with Tom Marshall on vocals. At the 3/31/01 Amfibian show at Higher Ground, it was played by Trey, Tom Marshall, Matt Kohut, and Peter Cottone, constituting the first (and to date only) live performance of any song by the band UTALK. Finally, Page has performed the song solo on upright piano during several Vida Blue shows, including 4/10/03 in Columbus, OH.