Loving Cup

Originally Performed ByThe Rolling Stones
Original AlbumExile on Main St (1972)
Appears On
VocalsPage, Trey
Phish Debut1993-02-03
Last Played2023-12-31
Current Gap9
Recommended Versions1993-02-03, 1993-03-30, 1994-05-07, 1994-11-04, 1995-12-09, 1996-11-24, 1997-07-01, 1997-08-02, 1997-11-13, 1998-07-15, 1998-08-15, 1998-12-30, 1999-09-14, 2000-05-21, 2003-12-28, 2009-07-30, 2009-10-31
HistorianMartin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update2019-10-22


Originally written in 1969 during studio sessions for Let It Bleed, the piano-driven romantic trophy piece “Loving Cup” was safely locked away for three years until its release on the 1972 Rolling Stones epic double album Exile On Main St. The Stones’ studio version of “Loving Cup” was recorded in their mobile studio at Keith Richards' Villa Nellcôte, Villefranche, France in 1971. Lyrically it is an impassioned plea from a stumbling, fumbling, nitty, gritty, torn shirt wearing, broken down car driving, bad guitar playing, muddy faced, mountain climbing, rose picking, plowman for a beauty beyond his means to satiate his desires. Clearly he feels unworthy, but he’s just gotta have it. “Loving Cup” closes out the delta blues cum swampy-tonk first LP of the original vinyl release and features the New Orleans jazz flavored horn playing of Bobby Keys (saxophone) and Jim Price (trumpet and trombone), the piano stylings of Nicky Hopkins, and additional percussion from Jimmy Miller. The Rolling Stones played “Loving Cup” live during their 1972 tour in support of the album but have played it sparingly since.

Phish broke the dusty drinking vessel out of its trophy case (2/3/93 Portland, ME) as the spring 1993 tour opening song. The timing of this debut apparently had hinged on the ability of the band to tour with a baby grand piano; 2/3/93 was in fact the first show with the baby grand in Page’s touring ensemble, and the opening lick of that year was thus on the baby grand. The subsequent sipping from the font of Venus during that tour was frequent and came almost exclusively (the 2/5/93 Roseland Ballroom encore as the exception) as a first or second set opener. In contrast “Loving Cup” appeared only once during the summer tour that year (8/8/93 Cleveland), was exiled even from Maine’s streets during the holiday run, and only made three appearances during all of 1994. Most noteworthy of the 1994 performances was the 5/7/94 version which ushered in the legendary Bomb Factory “Tweezer” fest. This version, which was released on Live Phish 18should definitely be listened to on a sunny Sunday morning-after with friends and loved ones nearby to be truly appreciated. Other versions released in the series include the 9/14/00 Darien Lake (Live Phish 03) and 7/15/98 Portland Meadows (Live Phish 17) “Loving Cups.” 

Since the near-exile of “Loving Cup” early after its debut, the song has been in regular rotation and ranks among the most played cover songs in the Phish repertoire. Since late September 1999, “Loving Cup” appears to have been awarded favored nightcap status, appearing only a few times as a second set closer and more commonly as an encore. One of these second set appearances (8/3/03 IT) followed the awarding of the “Loving Cup” trophies presented to the winners of the “Runaway Jim” 5K held earlier in the day.

Variation between individual performances has been slight despite the obvious room for balls out rock and roll improvisation. A notable exception is the 10/18/98 Bridge School Benefit version, which was played acoustically. Realizing he would be unable to shred the conclusion of the song in its acoustic format, Trey yields the floor to Fishman to play the role of anchorman in draining the cup. Trey revisited "Loving Cup" in its solo acoustic form several times on his Fall 2005 tour.

Prior to the Festival 8 (10/31/09Exile set, Phish performances of “Loving Cup” had lacked the horns and sublimely soulful backing vocals, and no performance to date has had a second guitarist, and the extra percussionist present on the Stones’ studio version; however, even die-hard fans of the original auteurs have been heard to admit that: “Phish really can crank on that tune.” That opinion was cast in Stones by the Festival 8 "Loving Cup" masterpiece. With the help of Sharon Jones and Saundra Williams on vocals, Dave Guy on trumpet, David Smith on trombone, and Tony Jarvis on saxophone, Phish raised the bar on "Loving Cup" to beyond top-shelf status. It was a true peak experience that will never be supplanted as the "best Loving Cup ever!" and is actually capable of causing spontaneous human combustion and triggering multiple orgasms... seriously.

Evidence of the power of the song to elicit a strong reaction from the ladies was displayed when Phish participated in Jimmy Fallon's Late Night Exile week (5/13/10). The sight of ecstatic Phish fan Karissa dancing dead center in the crowd behind the stage as Phish was delivering a rather crisp version of "Loving Cup" is all the evidence needed to support the claims made above. Phish themselves got special attention that night as their performance of "Loving Cup" was introduced by surprise Fallon guest and legendary bad ass Mr. Keith Richards himself! Each night of Fallon's Exile week featured a musical guest performing songs from Exile as a prelude to the release of the remastered version of the album. The new Exile features bonus material harvested from the hours of outtakes that were scoured by Don Was and includes an alternate take of "Loving Cup." This version flows like hot black tar, opens with a variation on the piano intro, features several alternate lyrics, does not include horns, is slathered with a healthy dose of slide guitar, and concludes with an extended outro groove that really does Let it Bleed. It is difficult to say which version of the two is better. Thanks to the amazing re-release of Exile we no longer have to decide...one album, two "Cups!"

The longest "Loving Cup" to date was played 6/12/19 at the Chaifetz Arena in St Louis minutes after the St. Louis Blues snapped their 52-year long wait and won their first Stanley Cup. Ending the longest such drought in league history. Maybe the Mariners can get Phish to play in Seattle some October?

For a representative taste from the full spectrum of the Phish “Loving Cup,” in addition to those listed above please check out the following versions: 3/30/93 Eugene; 11/4/94, Syracuse; 12/9/95, Albany, NY; 11/24/96, Portland, OR; 7/1/97, Amsterdam; 8/2/97, The Gorge; 8/15/98, Lemonwheel; 12/30/98 MSG; 9/14/99, Boise; 5/21/00 Radio City Music Hall; 12/28/03 Miami; and 7/30/09 Red Rocks; each one guaranteed to make the listener exclaim “OH... What a beautiful buzz!” 

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