Originally Performed ByPhish
Appears On
VocalsPage (lead), Trey (backing)
Phish Debut1988-03-12
Last Played2023-12-31
Current Gap14
HistorianMark Toscano, Elayne Best
Last Update2016-02-10


She glided into his life like a luminous, brilliantly hued, perfectly formed leaf on a gentle, almost imperceptible wind. At first he admired her from afar, not even daring to speak with her. Then, his pulse quickened, for she called to him, beckoned him close, gazed into his eyes, and told him all about evil King Wilson, the Lizards, the Helping Friendly Book (divine gift from Icculus, the mountain god), and the revolutionary effort to overthrow Wilson, thus restoring peace and tranquility to the land of Gamehendge. OK, so it’s not your typical love story...

In his Senior Study, Trey described “Tela” as his favorite song of The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, suggesting that it was an ambitious departure from his usual compositional style. And indeed it was. As Trey originally wrote it, “Tela” was alternately a sweet ballad and a jumpy, danceable swinger with an atonal fugue tacked onto the end. Although it was definitely Phishy, it was more like a Phish song turned inside out. It was in “Tela” that Trey first tackled the challenge of writing seriously for voice, and the first song he wrote for a vocalist other than himself: Page. This unusual approach also goes for the lyrics themselves, which he conceived more as poetry than words in a song. Finally, there’s the matter of the atonal fugue at the end, which was intended to musically express the feeling and movement of the Unit Monster and the Multi-Beast tromping through the jungle with Colonel Forbin, Tela, and Rutherford atop its back. For fun theories on Tela's role in the story, see the following: Proof That Tela Is Not A Spy! Trey spent a lot of time on the fugue’s theme, and the band had to learn it quickly to get the project in on time. It’s not surprising that Trey singled out this song as the most time-consuming of the whole project. We’d like to thank him for his effort – “Tela” is a much beloved song, all the more so because of its relative rarity at shows.

"Tela" – 12/30/09 Miami, FL

“Tela” made a handful of live appearances during the first half of 1988 (3/12, 5/21, and 6/20) before Trey turned in his Senior Study that July. The excellent 6/20/88 version is more or less the highlight of the entire second set – the band goes through the entire song masterfully, all the way to the end of the fugue. This full version of “Tela” lasted through 1988, with its final performance occurring on 8/27/88. The song was then shelved, not reappearing until over a year later on 10/22/89, and not without some changes. Gone was the danceable, upbeat portion; gone was the mind-screwing atonal fugue. All that remained was the sweet, ethereal beauty of the song’s elemental structure, a love song from a lonely, aging colonel to a woman so beautiful he questions her very existence.

Since the 10/22/89 reappearance, “Tela” has remained fixed in composition, and neither abandoned section has returned for another go-round. The song’s structure is pretty rigid, not allowing for much improvisation, but the band is usually able to get some sweet mileage out of the few instrumental bridges in the song; Page especially shines in these areas. Lyrically, "Tela" has had a few changes throughout the years. Page sang, "Looks down from the Multibeast" until 6/26/95; the lyric was changed beginning on 10/2/95 when Page sang, "Looks down on the river" and it remained this way until 12/30/09 when the Mutlibeast lyric was revitalized. 

“Tela” was in modest rotation through the mid-90s, but then dropped from the repertoire entirely after 11/24/98. Many fans had wondered if we would hear this jewel again. After an absence of eleven years and 236 shows, the anticipated moment finally arrived on 12/30/09 in Miami. It seemed only fitting that the blissful "Tela" reemerged in a set that contained five other bust-outs.

The jewel of Wilson’s foul domain continues to be shy in 3.0, making only one or two appearances each year, including: 10/20/10 (Live in Utica), 6/28/12 Deer Creek, 7/31/13 Stateline, NV (coming on the heels of the epic Tahoe “Tweezer”), and 10/25/14 Chula Vista, CA. Although no 3.0 version has been as euphoric as 12/30/09 to date, “Tela” is always a welcome guest at any show.

"Tela" – 10/25/14, Chula Vista, CA. Video by LazyLightning55a.

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