Walls of the Cave

Originally Performed ByPhish
Appears On
VocalsTrey (lead), Fish, Mike, Page (backing)
Phish Debut2002-12-31
Last Played2023-10-11
Current Gap18
HistorianMartin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update2015-10-02


Plato suggests in his Allegory of the Cave that what mankind sees as reality is actually a collection of shadows cast on the walls of the cave in which we are imprisoned. Enlightenment comes when an individual grasps the idea that there is truth beyond sense. The light at the end of the tunnel isn’t always a freight train heading your way. Sometimes, that light is freedom and salvation. Upon realizing this higher knowledge, we become involved in the process of evolution. We are inclined to return to the darkness of the cave with the good word of the world beyond. We risk the ridicule and rejection of our fellow prisoners in hope that others may be aroused out of the regrettable state of slavery and illusion. Rather than force the information down the throats (or in the ears) of our former peers, we, the newly illuminated, choose to leave subtle messages inscribed upon the walls of our common prison of conventional reality.

”Walls of the Cave” > “Slave to the Traffic Light” – 6/19/11, Portsmouth, VA

In the lyrics of “Walls of the Cave,” Phish have left behind such a trace fossil, a subtle reminder of a singularity in time and space that marks the transition of our existence from one reality to another. In that moment, thousands of lives and the financial center of our world were traded for a mountain of rubble and an illusory war on Terra. As the second plane hit, stunned silence was the only answer to the previously inconceivable question. As the twin towers fell, our hearts followed in a downward spiral of unfathomable loss. There were just so many names that could not be saved by the valiant men and women of the NYFD. With the passing of time restored, the mountain of rubble in lower Manhattan became a hill. As this horrific pile was flattened, an undisclosed number of mountains, caves and their inhabitants in distant Afghanistan suffered the same fate. Therein lays the shadow of darkness and illusion that clouds our new reality.

Musically, “Walls of the Cave” sounds like what it is: two shorter songs (presumably “Walls of the Cave” and “Listen to the Silent Trees”) that were fused into a longer hybrid, united by the moment of silence commemorating our paradigm shift. The “Walls of the Cave” segment opens with a somber piano eulogy. Interrupting this respectful moment of mourning is the industrious and insistent beat of the jackhammer against the pile of rubble. Out of tragedy leaps forth the hope of a better future on the heels of an encouraging yet delicate fanfare for the uncommon man. We can overcome the adversity. We can rebuild it. But if we build it, will they come again? 

Beyond the moment of silence, the “Listen to the Silent Trees” segment is a fiery amalgamation of The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” and Blondie’s “One Way or Another” (I’m gonna get you!) that disintegrates into an explosive conflagration of daisy cutters and bunker busters that is reminiscent of the Phish adaptation of the Velvet Underground’s “Rock and Roll,” in both the Round Room version and many of the live performances of the song to date. This firestorm of jam typically leads back to a reprise of the “Silent Trees” theme and a final plea for the Ents to be heard.

The debut performance was as a third set closer in the triumphant end to the hiatus on 12/31/02, a few short miles north of Ground Zero. During the winter 2003 tour, “Walls of the Cave” was played frequently, often as a first set closer. Standout versions from this tour included performances in Los Angeles (2/14/03), Cincinnati (2/22/03), and Long Island (2/28/03). The summer 2003 tour found the silent trees to be sparser, with two of the three summer versions played as solid second set closers and the third a seeming afterthought to the big, black, and monstrous Utah “Mr. Completely” on 7/15/03. The final walk through the silent trees of 2003 came on 11/28/03 during the first half of the “Two by Four” run.

The "Walls of the Cave" were visited four times during the bleak days of Summer 2004, when it appeared the final words of Phish were being etched into the millstone they had placed upon their own necks. Most notable of these appearances was the – much like the band at the time – epically "Diseased" version that closed the second set of the last time pre-Coventry Phish would appear at Deer Creek (6/24/04). 

”Walls of the Cave” – 10/18/13, Hampton, VA

Following the band’s return from self exile, the song remained an allegory of a former time, staying in the deep recesses of its cave for the entirety of 2009. “Walls” emerged from its hibernation on the second night of the post-Coventry Phish return to Deer Creek on 8/13/10, ending a 76-show absence since opening the gates to purgatory. A second 2010 etching of this brilliant story upon the stoned followed in the fall, on 10/26/10 Manchester, NH. Phish wasted no time getting it into the rotation early the following year on 1/1/11 at MSG, playing it four more times including a special birthday request on 6/19/11, and an alright version to close the second set of 9/4/11, the first annual running of the Dick’s.

Bader Field (6/17/12) served as the only landing spot for the tune during Annum Apocalypsis. Fortunately the Mayans had the timing wrong and 2013 arrived, bringing with it no less than seven visits to “The Cave.” Both of the second set performances that year – 7/27/13 Gorge and 8/30/13 Dick’s – were in shows that reminded us of our ongoing constant state of vigilance against terror, since most shows spell something… see something, “Say Something!” All four 2014 performances closed first sets, with the first two (7/8/14 Mann and 7/20/14 Northerly Island) being the place “Ocelot” went to hide, and the last (11/2/14 MGM Grand) serving as refuge for a “Martian Monster.”

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