Originally Performed ByPhish
Appears On
VocalsTrey (lead), Mike, Page (backing)
Phish Debut1991-09-25
Last Played2023-09-01
Current Gap10
HistorianMartin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update2018-11-21


"Sparkle," found on the album Rift and written for Tom Marshall’s wife, tells the tale of a man on his knee. He is prepared to ask his beloved’s hand in marriage as the weight of the future that is rapidly unfolding before him presses down upon his head, all the while his heart soars with all the unbridled emotion of a man in love. To truly know the sensation, it must be experienced. Faced with the pressure from friends, from family, from heart, and head, the groom to be is overcome by the simultaneous and conflicting emotions of courage and fear, sobriety and hilarity, unable to withstand the matter-antimatter conflict in the warp drive of his brain he laughs... and, laughing, falls apart.

Musically “Sparkle” mimics the soon-to-be former bachelor’s pulse rate. Slow at first, building to a frenetic, seizure-inducing cacophony by its end, it is blue-speed-metal-grass at its finest. The pulverizing jackhammer that “Sparkle” often becomes live, when combined with strobe lighting with the potential to induce vomiting or at the very least, disorientation, can make this often-played much-maligned song somewhat uncomfortable for the average listener.

”Sparkle” studio version from Rift

“Sparkle” has been played well over 300 times since 1991. Good evidence for the frequency with which it has appeared in a setlist is the numerous appearances (six out of twenty) it has in the Live Phish series. There is very little improvisation in “Sparkle,” with deviations from version to version being the result of the gravitational lensing caused by the speed of its delivery. Performances of note include a 5/17/92 version where it followed a Fishman vacuum solo re-enactment of the crash which transformed Steve Austin into the Six Million Dollar Man; the swirling second set launch pad for the 5/7/94 Bomb Factory segue-fest (Live Phish 18); the blood-stained solitaire of the infamous 6/17/94 “OJ show” which culminated in a “Big Ball Jam”; the 8/6/96 Red Rocks version with a dazzling sparkler accompaniment by hundreds of fans; an early second set rhinestone in the dazzling tiara that was the legendary 12/6/96 Aladdin show; and the 8/9/98 “Sparkle” which follows a blistering “AC/DC Bag” on an evening made all the more special by the gift of another jewel of a rare and different sort.

Other versions which are worthy of a look through the jeweler’s glass include 12/17/99 Hampton, 5/22/00 Radio City Music Hall, and 7/10/00 Deer Creek. Each of the times “Sparkle” appeared in 2003 (2/25/03 and 12/1/03) it followed the Round Room song “Thunderhead”; the lyrics of which are suggestive of the other end of a relationship. In keeping with this theme, "Sparkle" went unplayed throughout the turbulent times of 2004. 

The renewal and reconciliation of 2009 saw the return of the "Sparkle" in the band's eyes and our ears. Check out 6/14/09 Bonnaroo, 8/13/09 Darien Center, and 11/1/09 Indio for a good sampling of the seven gems unearthed during the band’s first year back. In 2010 the piezometric energy of the crystal started to wane and the frequency was reduced to five performances with the 6/26/10 MPP and 10/23/10 ZooMass versions displaying the song’s facets for the summer and spring varieties. “Sparkle” appeared a single time in each of the following two years, 9/2/11 Dick’s (as part of the “S” show) and 6/20/12 Portsmouth. Rather than foreshadowing the shelving of the song, this decline was actually an omen of a change in the lighting rig. When Phish returned for the 2013 season, CK5 had retooled his gear and the old spinning and strobing “Sparkle” lights were replaced by more compact yet no less seizure-inducing LEDs that were employed with greater frequency. In the midst of this summer of “Sparkle,” consecutive versions at two island destinations (Randall’s 7/12/14 and Northerly 7/18/14) were both preceded by “Halfway to the Moon” and followed (if the the Northerly “Sample” was, as is typical, ignored or used as a bathroom break) by “A Song I Heard the Ocean Sing” thereby rendering a thematic construct of marriage, engagement, and honeymoon that was quite idyllic.

”Sparkle” – 12/2/09, New York, NY

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