a Project of the Mockingbird Foundation

Performances Song History Lyrics Jamming Chart


Music/Lyrics: Anastasio, Marshall

Vocals: Trey (lead), Page (backing)

Albums: Round Room, IT

Debut: 2002-12-31

Historian: Mockingbird Staff; Jeremy D. Goodwin

Last Update: 2012-12-04

Just as the gravitational force of the moon regulates the conduct of the Earth’s ocean tides, those of us with feelings have discovered that it’s quite possible sometimes for a singular entity to control the waves of emotion that flow within us. In fact, sometimes it takes just a few words from such a person to literally take one’s breath away, or cause one to collapse to the floor, deflated. Such seems to be the fate of the speaker in “Waves,” who ponders this question in the song’s opening couplet: “How is it I never see the waves which bring her words to me? For though unseen they drift around, they catch my breath and knock me down.”

“Waves” is a mysterious, enchanting poem of sound and words. Although the gently repetitive guitar figure that dominates throughout the verses suggests the motion of the sea, it seems quite possible that the “waves” discussed within are sound waves. The action in the dream-scape of “Waves,” though, does not translate literally to the ways of the waking world. The overriding theme is the power that an unnamed female has upon the speaker, through her words. The speaker ponders the method by which the words reach his ear (transmitted as sound waves through the air? literally floating underwater?), and measures their impact: even his own reply, he says, has the force to leave him “stranded on my knees.”

In the song’s final painful twist, the speaker realizes that his words might not even reach their intended recipient. Visualizing his words as physical objects which travel through time and space, the speaker muses that it would be nice if his correspondent could at least see the words which flow past her, and thereby sense their presence.

By the end of the song, he is speaking directly to the woman – thus making “Waves” itself the message, which is perhaps doomed to float around forever without reaching its target.

”Waves” – 5/27/11, Bethel, NY

This ethereal, watery prayer is the masterpiece of Round Room, in the opinion of this writer. Phish provided the song pride of place in its debut appearance, opening the second set with “Waves” on the night of the band’s return from a two year Hiatus, on 12/31/02. It remained a frequent caller on the following winter tour, appearing five times over the twelve nights. (All but two shows on this tour included either “Waves” or “Walls of the Cave.”)

The song remained fluid in terms of set placement throughout 2003; though utilized again as a second set opener upon its second appearance (2/15/03), “Waves” wouldn’t open a second set again until the auspicious occasion of the first night (11/28/03) of the Anniversary Run. Within the bookends of the song’s first and last appearances in 2003, the song popped up in all different show locations, though never as a show opener or encore. Three consecutive versions on winter tour ’03 (2/20/03, 2/24/03, 2/26/03) emerged deep within a set, with each gently splashing in or out of an adjacent song. A twilight-greeting “Waves” at Shoreline (7/10/03) segued out of a show-opening “Spices”; the mid-second set version in Atlanta (7/26/03) transitioned into “Tweezer.”

Versions of “Waves” did not vary greatly during the song’s first year of play, with one major exception: the late second set rendition the first night of IT (8/2/03) seemed to conclude in typical fashion, but then bled into an experimental, ambient jam which ranks with the other notable astral explorations of that weekend.

Phish continued to make "Waves" in 2004 with the highlight being the gorgeous 6/20/04 offering (thanks in no small part to the fine work of Mike). When Phish returned to the stage in 2009, the frequency of "Waves" was noticeably diminished with just three appearances in 2009 and then falling off the map entirely in 2010. While enjoyable versions were offered up on 6/10/09 (paired with its aquatic cousin, "A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing") and 8/2/09 (with Bill Kreutzmann), from a jamming standpoint, the adventurousness of the IT version or even the SPAC '04 performance was seemingly a thing of the past. 

After a 78-show absence, “Waves” returned to Bethel Woods on 5/27/11, in an almost 14-minute excursion that thrilled fans and anchored the second set of one of the finest tour-opening performances in recent memory. 

As good as the 5/27/11 version was, it turns out it was not nearly the best version of “Waves” played at Bethel Woods that weekend.  During the first of three “From the Archives” broadcasts at Super Ball IX, Phish archivist Kevin Shapiro shared a version of “Waves” from Phish’s soundcheck on the eve of the Bethel run. This 30-minute behemoth, lauded my many fans as among the best pieces of music the band has played in the 3.0 era, at times touched on Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” and at times recalled vintage Pink Floyd.

Most notable among the post-Bethel performances is the 8/15/11 UIC rendition that spawned an elemental jam that resolved into a buttery segue into “Undermind.”

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Recommended Versions: 2003-08-02, 2004-06-20, 2004-08-11, 2011-05-26, 2011-05-27, 2012-06-28

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DriedupGoliath Reply
DriedupGoliath There should definitely be mention of the amazing Bethel tech rehearsal performance. One of the greatest Phish jams of all time.
Score: 2
AngelMarie Reply
AngelMarie thanks for the info on the song....Fell deep at SBIX...when it came to be ~Light~Waves~Whats the Use~most impressively grouped as a Trio, a composition from PHISH that I will NEVER forget~thank Love and Light~~~
Score: 1
J_D_G Staff Reply
J_D_G @DriedupGoliath said:
There should definitely be mention of the amazing Bethel tech rehearsal performance. One of the greatest Phish jams of all time.
Read the penultimate paragraph.
Score: 1
HotPale Reply
HotPale Waves is undoubtedly one of the most phenomenal songs I have ever had the pleasure of hearing. (IT, SPAC, Bethel, SBIX) After the Friday Bethel show my buddy asked what that beautiful song was they played and I had to think for a minute because...well, we were at a Phish show. I realized he was talking about Waves when he started quoted something about the wind and water. As we sat around the campfire I pondered how it was he, a veteran much like me, had not picked up on Waves over the years. (because I know he's heard it in concert) He caught his 1st show (an amazing one taboot) at Canandaigua '94 and me Lake Placid '95. Well, like any Phish phan we have our phaves and then comes songs like Waves. It wasn't until Bethel this year that I caught my 1st Oh Kee Pa! That's what so special about this scene...the boys and the rest of us sausageheads (and I mean that with the utmost respect) keep on giving! Peace, Love & Phish
Score: 1
theHC Reply
The imagery of the relationship between the Earth and moon seems to find its way into this song as I listen to it. Ocean waves created by the motion of the moon, the Earth's gravitational pull tugging back in response, almost a conversation. "On the wind, and underwater"... the movement of elements of the Earth mirrored by the movement of the moon... the interconnectedness present in nature, the yin and the yang. Although the Earth is often depicted as a feminine energy, its masculine side is emulated throughout the song in response to its feminine lunar counterpart.

"How is it I never see
The waves that bring her words to me
For though unseen they drift around
They catch my breath and knock me down"... 'her words', the action of the incessant pummel of waves on the shores of the Earth constantly eroding its solid surfaces. In response the Earth feels the effect as the waves roll out to sea, carrying pieces of land to the depths of the ocean, or "into the dark of night". The 'attempt to stay upright' is futile for even the densest of rocky cliff, as the erosional action of the waves ultimately change the structure, in a sense, bringing the Earth to its knees.

It is, on the other hand, these geologic, hydrologic processes that keep the Earth functioning as the system we live upon. The moon is an essential component of how the Earth functions, and the gravitational pull of the Earth on the moon could serve to be the "the words that sought her".

The classic tug-of-war between the masculine and feminine, the energy of the yin and the yang seems to be present in the song. The water element has often been connected to the emotional aspect of life and the song seems to invite a journey into the multitude of emotions that accompany the relationship at hand. The highs and lows, the layers encountered. Wind connects to the element of air, often associated with the mental plane. In some cases, the two converge in a limitless way, other times not so much...equally true in relationships.

To put it simply, its a good old-fashioned love song.
Score: 1
westbrook Reply
westbrook how come no ones comments on song histories lol
Score: 1
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