Wading in the Velvet Sea
Music/Lyrics: Anastasio, Marshall
Vocals: Page (lead); Mike, Trey (backing)
Historian: Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
"Wading in the Velvet Sea” was among the first of the songs subsequently released on Story of the Ghost to surface during the summer of 1997. In stark contrast to the “funk” sound which proliferated during the summer and fall tours of 1997, “Wading in the Velvet Sea” 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 1997 tour “Wading in the Velvet Sea” resurfaced late in the summer ‘98 tour and has been often played since then. Particularly inspired versions of “Wading in the Velvet Sea” include 8/2/97 at the Gorge, 8/16/98 at Lemonwheel, and a sublime performance at the 12/31/98 year-end Madison Square Garden extravaganza.
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 The Show was appreciated by some 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 has come wading back to shore. Phish performances of "Wading" in 2009 included the Hampton run, first leg of Summer tour, Fall tour, and the Miami NYE run.
"Wading in the Velvet Sea" – 8/15/04, Coventry, VT
Other notable performances of “Wading in the Velvet Sea” are of the non-Phish variety: Trey solo acoustic on several of his May 1999 (5/7/99, 5/10/99, and 5/13/99) shows; another Trey acoustic performance during an otherwise electric set on 2/27/01; during the 3/31/01 Amfibian show at Higher Ground, it was played by Trey, Tom, Matt Kohut, and Peter Cottone, constituting the first (and to date only) live performance of any song by the band UTALK; and on 4/10/03 during a show in Columbus, OH, Page performed the song solo on an upright piano.