It's Ice

Originally Performed ByPhish
Appears On
Music/LyricsAnastasio, Marshall
VocalsPage (Lead), Fish, Mike, Trey (Backing)
Phish Debut1991-09-25
Last Played2023-12-30
Current Gap6
HistorianMartin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update2021-07-09


“It’s Ice,” originally a poem written by Tom Marshall, offers a blow-by-blow description of the battle between a guy skating on a frozen pond, and his reflected image in the ice beneath. The lyrics are filled with vivid imagery and multiple plays on the confusion between reality and reflection, and represent some of Tom’s finest work. Trey was so impressed with Tom’s words that he didn’t want to risk writing music that didn’t do them justice. We likely all agree that Trey did a fine job in writing one of Phish’s more complicated songs. “It’s Ice” has a strong compositional structure separated into a number of distinctive but cohesive parts, that perfectly evoke the actions of the duplicitous protagonist. 

As with “Tela,” when Trey composed the tune he did so specifically with Page in mind as lead singer, writing it for Page’s vocal range rather than his own. He also consciously designed the song to highlight the chairman’s mastery of his various boards. “It’s Ice” was one of several Rift-era songs – see “Sparkle” and “Brother” – written to fill specific niches in the band’s repertoire. “It’s Ice” offered Phish a ready opportunity to play a far-out, “mind-twisting” song, that aptly reflects its metaphorical battle of a schizophrenic dealing with the “Man in the Mirror.”

”It's Ice” – 8/17/96, from the Clifford Ball DVD box set

“It’s Ice” is a long tune; even the relatively jam-free studio version on Rift runs over eight minutes. The duration of live versions are dependent on the madness in the “breakdown,” which has on many an occasion gotten pretty wacky. Much like “The Fish Dance” portion of the song, wherein Fishman will often stand atop his stool and do a wild, vaguely sexual dance that always seems to please the (sometimes dumbstruck) crowd.

Early versions of “It’s Ice” typically included a two to three minute jam, usually driven by Page, but often including the entire band. Almost every version from fall ‘91 and spring ‘92 includes an excellent albeit brief jam, with significant variation. Beginning in summer 1992, the jam portion was shortened to focus more specifically on Page's piano mastery, but with an occasional extended, full band jam. The choice versions from this phase include 11/30/91 Port Chester, 3/17/92 Washington, D.C., and 3/25/92 Charlottesville. 

”It’s Ice” – 12/29/13, New York, NY. Video by LazyLightning55a.

During the spring and summer of 1993 and 1994, the band showed a renewed interest in the jam portion, and “It’s Ice” experienced the peak of its glacial advance. The great versions from this time are many; the best include 3/19/93 Redlands, 8/24/93 Vancouver, 4/4/94 Burlington, 4/8/94 State College, 5/13/94 Tempe, 5/28/94 LSD, and 6/18/94 UIC. Although “It’s Ice” had begun to retreat, the ongoing calving process during 1995 and 1996 did occasionally produce some decent icebergs. Of these, 11/30/96 Sacramento was voted most likely to sink the Titanic. The funky heat of 1997 and 1998 caused further ablation and by 1999 “It’s Ice” was gone. This interglacial period was brief and “It’s Ice” returned the following year with one lobe (9/20/00) being so powerful it made the Riverbend. 

Considering the dexterity Trey needs to play his part in this one, the low number of performances during the two-year post-hiatal period is no surprise. Check out 7/26/03 Atlanta for the best of the three from the nuclear winter stage. The 2005 reworking of "It's Ice" offered by Trey and his 70 Volt Parade (see 5/7/05 for example) is a must hear, if only to answer the question "what are Trey and Skeeto smoking?"  The post-breakup climate change continued the sporadic appearances of the tune. While the 12/29/13 MSG version is a throwback the mid-90s version, it looked like the melt was upon us and we were headed for another hothouse phase that is completely ice free. Instead, “Ice” appearances have become a shade more frequent. The Superbad Red Velvet version from 7/23/17 (at over 15 min., the longest to date) could very well usher in a new ice age. As further evidence of this new ice age, in June 2018 Ben & Jerry dipped into their secret stash of flavors to bust out It's Ice...Cream in celebration of 21 years of collaboration between Phish and the real MVPs of Burlington, Vermont.

”It’s Ice” 7/23/17 New York, NY

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