Historian: Dan Mielcarz (ColForbin)
Last Update: 2016-01-26
The common wombat (Vombatus ursinus) is a marsupial native to Australia. Herbivorous, crepuscular, cuddly and muscular, the wombat is uniquely suited to life in arid regions, with a thick cartilaginous posterior that helps it fend off predators. The Phish composition, "Wombat," is a quirky, funky, funny, danceable tune uniquely suited to life inside a Phish setlist, that gets everyone moving their hind sections. Wombats can be dangerous if agitated – one is advised to climb a tree and wait for the animal to calm down; Phish fans are advised to dance their asses off should they encounter the tune.
Debuted as part of the Wingsuit set on 10/31/13, "Wombat" became an instant fan favorite. The infectious groove – that is indeed "kinda like the theme from the 'Fish' TV show" – and amusing lyrical interplay among the band members quickly captured the attention of fans. This was before the highly entertaining on stage antics that included perhaps the most improbable guest appearance in Phish's history.
Phish, “Wombat” – 10/31/13, Atlantic City, NJ
During this premier rendition of the tune, a person in a wombat costume was gingerly led to the center of the stage by some very athletic looking dancers. Over some funk vamping at the end of the tune, the dancers – including the person in the wombat costume – busted out a choreographed dance that sent the crowd into a frenzy. As the tune wound down the dancers left the stage, but then Trey called them back up to introduce the person in the wombat costume as none other than 92-year-old legendary actor Abe Vigoda (of The Godfather, Barney Miller and the aforementioned Fish TV series). While the person who was actually dancing in the suit was not Vigoda (the wombat disappeared from the stage for a moment), it was still an amazing sight to see him soak up the crowd's adoration when he was brought on stage without the wombat mask. As an addition to the fun, the band screened a hilarious short film at setbreak (both in the venue and via LivePhish webcast) that featured Vigoda reenacting the scene from The Godfather when Tessio is driven away to get whacked and the famous final scene where the door shuts on Kay, with Page playing the part of Tom Hagen, Fishman as Kay and Mike as Michael Gordleone. Sadly, Abe Vigoda passed away on January 26, 2016 at the age of 94, but Phish fans will never forget one of the strangest roles of his amazing career.
Phish, Don Gordleone - 10/31/13, Atlantic City, NJ
In the Phishbill handed out prior to 10/31/13, the songwriting process was described as being sparked by a collection of favorite jams that Mike brought to the studio. Fans have noticed connections between “Wombat” and the 12/6/96 “Harpua” with Les Claypool, the 7/14/13 “Light,” and the soundcheck from 9/14/11, although the band has yet to confirm any of these particular guesses.
The Bob Ezrin-produced studio version of “Wombat” – the ninth track on Fuego – starts off as a much more chill affair (disappointing many fans) and is in a different key than the live version. But following a literal explosion at 1:55, the studio track adds backup singers (one of whom said in an interview, “I'd never had to sing a line like that in my life”) and horns to build to a fiery finish. This arrangement, along with the studio versions of “555” and “Winterqueen” makes one pine for a horn section on a future tour.
While the debut and the three subsequent versions of this tune were relatively straightforward musically, on 7/18/14 at Northerly Island the first jammed-out version of "Wombat" emerged from its burrow. In a fantastic segue-filled second set, the band slid effortlessly from an unconventional “Halley’s Comet” into the opening notes of “Wombat.” As could be expected, the jam started off funky, but then melted into a buttery major key type II jam with outstanding contributions from the entire band which then catapulted into an extremely high energy "Chalk Dust." Later appearances of “Wombat” in 2014 hewed closer to the standard, and the tune was shelved completely in 2015. Here’s to hoping that on its return, the type II subspecies of “Wombat” becomes the dominant one.
Phish, "Wombat" - 7/18/14, Chicago, IL