Originally Performed ByNeil Young
Original AlbumRust Never Sleeps (1979)
Music/LyricsNeil Young
Phish Debut2017-07-26
Last Played2017-07-26
Current Gap188
Last Update2019-04-14


The origins of “Powderfinger,” easily one of Neil Young’s most anthemic songs (and his third most often performed) stretch back to the 1960s. It wouldn’t be finished until 1975 when Young recorded the original acoustic demo about a family who lives on the edge of the law for Chrome Dreams, one of several albums Neil recorded in the 1970s but didn’t see fit to release. Some artists are prolific enough to leave a legacy of great unreleased songs. Neil Young has multiple unreleased albums.  Though several tracks from Chrome Dreams would end up on 1977’s American Stars ‘n Bars, “Powderfinger” was not among them. 

Neil Young, “Powderfinger” (Acoustic Demo)

Around that time, Neil was apparently unsure what to do with the song and even sent the demo to his friend Ronnie Van Zant to record with Lynyrd Skynyrd.  After Van Zant tragically died in a plane crash a year later, Neil decided to record the song himself. It finally saw its official release in the electric form familiar to most fans on Rust Never Sleeps in 1979. On an album that famously glamorizes the idea that “It’s better to burn out than to fade away,” “Powderfinger” takes a more sober view of the untimely death of its narrator, who leaves the world “with so much left undone.” 

After over 30 years together, it would appear there’s little left undone for Phish, but that just seems to make them look harder. 2017 saw Phish cross items off their “to do” list that most couldn’t have imagined were there in the first place.  As if a thirteen show run at Madison Square Garden wasn’t enough, Phish upped the degree of difficulty by doing it without repeating a single song. On top of that, Phish did something that (mostly) ran counter to over thirty years of zigging when everyone expected them to zag.  For these 13 nights, Red Velvet meant “Sweet Jane.” Jam-Filled meant Is This Still Lawn Boy? And on 7/26/17, Powdered meant that after arguably the best second set of the year Phish provided us with the obvious, yet still powerful, “Powderfinger” exclamation point. As welcome as an extended second set opening rendition or even additional straight ahead encore versions would be, the smart money says the Powdered performance will remain a one-timer. I know I’ll miss her.

”Powderfinger” 7/26/17 New York, NY

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