Original Artist: The Surfaris (a.k.a. The Safaris)
Original Album: Single (1962)
Albums: Live Phish 06
Historian: Ellis Godard
"Wipe Out" has been a humorous knick-knack in Phish setlists, and has come in three meaningful spurts (though only played in full during the first and third).
Early versions typically came after a band fumble; it was thus teased in the meanderings of the 12/9/89 “David Bowie,” opened the second set of 4/15/91 (after a trampled first set, but preceding a strong “Mike’s Song”), and followed a wobbly “Squirming Coil” on 4/27/91. But by that April, Trey had finally visited California. Over successive tours out West, he attempted surfing – and later spoke spiritually about it, and its similarities to improvisational music. Within three years, wipeouts seemed to be by band design.
Later appearances of the song seem deliberate, esp. 11/17/94 (within “Vibration of Life” as part of an orchestrated narration following “Colonel Forbin’s Ascent”) and 11/27/98 (early in the second set and then throughout the set, especially in “Chalk Dust” and “Weekapaug”). Between those two appearances, as the band was hit by successive waves of attention and rising popularity, their jams dropped from the rock heights of earlier years to an almost ambient-level groove, even within their great early compositions (such as “Divided Sky,” during which Mike teased “Wipe Out” on 6/26/94).
But with the waning of the ambient "pornofunk" days (which reached their peak on 10/31/98 III). Phish’s music, in composition and delivery began a return to its original and soaring aspirations. Though Trey stepped back musically (and slipped up personally), the band as a whole continued to try to hang ten musically. The final two appearances of “Wipe Out” anticipated this reversal, coming during wandering versions of “Possum” on 11/29/98 and 12/30/98. Though the band continues surfing, and though their woodies have wobbled even more significantly (witness Coventry for the bottom), they have yet to again acknowledge it with this song.
Note that the original was recorded not by The Ventures (as is commonly reported) but by The Surfaris, the Glendora, CA, quintet not to be confused with the original Surfaris, an Orange County quartet who changed their name when “Wipe Out” became a hit.
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