What's the Use?
Historian: Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update: 2016-03-08
“What's the Use?” – the majestic gravitational centerpiece of The Siket Disc – is a lush soaring spacescape of digital effects and electronic loops set to an ominously dark and ponderous bass line. It echoes the crush of the singularity of matter and energy at the core of a gently spiraling galaxy of reason, as viewed by a hesitant psychonaut during those first hesitant steps across the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon, Europa. With the sound of orbiting gravity drive craft whirring overhead, the psychonaut chips through the thick layer of ice, revealing an ocean of liquid oxygen beneath the surface. The sight of the fluorescent Glowphish hurtling through the roiling mass of thick air beneath the icy crust inspires pure joy and longing in the heart of all who see them. After taking one last look at the galaxy of reason spiraling overhead, the psychonaut leaps once more into the icy abyss of infinite love, and greets the inherent death of self with a smile.
“What’s the use in going fast if you’re not in a race?” is the lyrical question that goes unasked on The Siket Disc release of “What’s The Use?” However, an abbreviated version that circulates on the Bearsville Studio outtakes contains these (and other) lyrics from which the song’s title is derived. This is quite an appropriate question, considering the “Taste(y)” “Norwegian Wood” on Quaaludes melody it is nestled within. Considering the lyrics were abandoned after Bearsville, we have to look to the 8/16/97 “Theme From the Bottom” and the soundcheck jam from the 1997 visit to the Mothership for early signs of the song emerging from the icy depths. Though twice bitten, the song remained shy for a while longer.
“What’s The Use?” debuted on 7/4/99 and was played sporadically during the rest of the east coast leg of the summer ‘99 tour. Following two performances (9/10/99 and 9/14/99) on the west coast leg of the tour, “What’s The Use?” remained frozen in the icy depths with the Glowphish. With the thaw brought on by the radiation of the sun that was summer tour 2000, the frosty instrumental flowed in rivulets from the stages of the Creeks (6/25/00 Walnut, and 7/10/00 Deer).
During 2003, “What’s the Use?” oozed out of a spacey “Weekapaug Groove” in Hampton (1/4/03), as well as the jam that followed “Ghost” at the Nassau Coliseum (11/28/03). In 2004, when the band was asking itself the unanswerable question, “What’s the Use?” was shelved for the duration.
Toward the end of 2009 – the year the band started to provide an answer to the imponderable query – Phish became aware that they were nearing an all-time record for the most individual songs played during a given year. “What’s the Use?” was one of ten songs played during night three (12/30/09) of the Miami NYE run that helped push them over the top for the record. In 2010, the question was pondered at an opportune time for fans, emerging out of a hot "Down with Disease" on 8/14/10 and officially released on the Alpine Valley CD/DVD combo.
With the exception of the blank space in 2013 which resulted in a 77 show gap between the 8/25/12 Atlanta and 8/30/14 Dick’s performances, Phish had implemented a faulty plan of keeping “What’s the Use?” in an irregular rotation of one or two performances a year. The orbital plane was expanded in 2015 with four total occultations, the most in a single year since the song debuted in 1999. Each of these versions feature mid-song episodes of almost complete radio silence, with the 8/23/15 Magnaball and 12/30/15 MSG versions being regions of particularly empty space. During the 1/15/16 Barceló Maya Beach bash, the void is repopulated with a bass and resupplied with drums of Tang for good space sustenance.