Vocals: Trey (lead); Fish, Mike, Page (backing)
Historian: Martin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update: 2016-03-10
As Trey explained during his 5/7/99 American Theater first (of several) solo acoustic performance – and later reiterated during the painfully awkward 8/15/04 Coventry “Sexy Bump” version of the song – “Wolfman’s Brother” recounts the events surrounding his first meeting with Jon Fishman. If you’ve seen any photographs of Fish from this era, you should be able to see the lycanthropic family resemblance. Much like the man for whom the song was written, there has been a great deal of transformation from first conception to present day form. Let’s examine the evidence.
The early maturation period of “Wolfman’s Brother” (both man and legend) was awkward, and sprinkled with starts and stops. Although the version on Hoist holds up as a good time, it seemed that the band had some “Alumni Blues” and didn’t quite know what to do with it, unless they had assistance from The Giant Country or Cosmic Country Horns (4/4/94 Flynn Theater, 4/15/94 Beacon Theatre, and 5/4/94 State Palace Theater). Unable to otherwise tap into the tune’s delicious groove, it was unceremoniously shelved for over a year after the 6/26/94 GameHoist show. After resurfacing from this 88-show gap as the 9/27/95 Cal Expo tour opener, “Wolfman’s Brother” was restored to a regular spot in the rotation. Although 1996 did see a 22-show gap between the 4/26/96 New Orleans Fairgrounds partially a cappella performance and the 8/5/96 Red Rocks version, there hasn’t been more than an 11-show absence since. As Fishman no doubt learned with his drumming, with regular practice comes rapid growth and improvement.
”Wolfman's Brother” – 11/14/97, West Valley City, UT
The trajectory of that trend was first revealed to the 3/1/97 Markthalle audience when “Wolfman’s Brother” suddenly doubled in size, and provided the first palpable evidence of what Phish jamming would be like in 1997 and beyond. Though this was just another chapter in the ongoing evolution of their oeuvre, the Hamburg “Wolfman’s” set the pace for the next two years of metamorphism.
Two particularly pleasing versions from the early stages of this period are 8/2/97 Gorge and 8/16/97 Great Went. “Wolfman’s Brother” got better in the fall, and the electronic funk jams that ensued were sometimes remarkable to behold. The outstanding 11/19/97 Assembly Hall version was a veritable capstone jam that got “Crosseyed” and tried to “Walk Away” from the “Makisupa Policeman” that followed. Changing course, the 11/30/97 Worcester “Wolfman’s” was a real “Heartbreaker,” featuring a heavy metal jam that caused mass loss of “Sanity” to prevail.
Once established as an exploratory vehicle, “Wolfman’s” continued to showcase cutting edge marquee jams. The 4/2/98 Island Tour version segued masterfully into “Sneakin’ Sally.” The 10/31/98 Vegas performance hosted the lion’s share of a jam-saturated bonus frame that had the fewest distinct songs of any set since the Space Camp of summer ‘95 (see the 6/22/95 “FLeezer”). Closing out the year, the 12/28/98 MSG version featured the most experimental jamming of the NYE run.
In 1999, “Wolfman’s” settled into a less experimental role, but was opened up to collaboration. First it was selected as one of four Phish compositions to be included in the April ‘99 Phil Lesh and Friends (including Trey and Page) stand at the Warfield. Subsequently, two summer Phish performances of “Wolfman’s” also featured guests (7/1/99 Antioch with Jerry Douglas on dobro, and 9/17/99 with Phil Lesh on second bass). Being in the friend zone is alright, but if it is sexy jams you want, check out the 7/13/99 Great Woods, 7/26/99 Deer Creek, 9/11/99 Gorge, and 9/24/99 Austin performances. Following the 6/13/00 Club Quattro performance, the song was relegated to a first set slot for the remainder of the pre-hiatal period.
Though usually still assuming the first set utility role, “Wolfman’s Brother” made something of a comeback in 2003 (like the band), with four of eleven performances making solid contributions to the box score. These included 1/3/03 Hampton, 2/15/03 Las Vegas, 7/7/03 Phoenix, and 12/1/03 Albany. Though seeing fewer plate appearances during the final year of the PED era, “Wolfman’s” did make its only encore appearance to date (4/17/04 Vegas) and otherwise maintained an equally robust batting average going two for five with solid extra base hits during the 6/19/04 SPAC and 6/25/04 Alpine Valley gigs. Listen to the aforementioned “Sexy Bump” fiasco to get a great sense of what that time was like, and what it should never be again.
When Phish returned to the stage in 2009, the song continued in its less experimental first set vibe enhancer role. This didn’t preclude “Wolfman’s” from being fashionably late to the party a few times (check out 7/30/09 Red Rocks and 10/30/09 Festival 8). In 2010, the “Wolfman’s” howl grew more vocal (see 6/26/10 MPP, 10/20/10 Utica, and 10/30/10 Atlantic City) and began running the “Streets of Cairo.” While four alphas (7/1/11 Super Ball, 8/15/11 UIC, 9/3/11 Dick’s, and 9/14/11 Essex Junction) separated themselves from the pack in 2011, only five more “Wolfman’s” (12/28/12 MSG, 7/26/13 Gorge, 12/28/13 MSG, 8/31/14 Dick’s, and 8/4/15 Nashville) have had that killer instinct since.
Other takes that should not be missed include the 5/14/05 Hammerstein Ballroom version with Mike joining the 70 Volt Parade, the 6/25/06 Club Chelsea Trey sit in with Seventh Hour, and Trey’s turn on the grand piano backed by the Scorchio string quintet (11/18/10 Princeton). “Wolfman’s” also remained in the repertoire of Phil Lesh and his rotating Friends. Mike was a friend for the 3/10/00 Kaiser Auditorium and 4/8/00 Boston versions, while Trey was amicable for the 2/12/06 Beacon Theatre offering.