First Tube

Originally Performed ByTrey Anastasio
Appears On
MusicAnastasio, Lawton, Markellis
Phish Debut1999-09-09
Last Played2024-04-21
Current Gap4
HistorianMartin Acaster (Doctor_Smarty)
Last Update2016-03-02


The name with which this blistering rocker ultimately became adorned is a misnomer on two counts. Apparently, “First Tube” owes its title to the belief that it was the first song Trey performed with the 8-Foot Fluorescent Tubes at Higher Ground on 4/17/98. If the version released on Farmhouse is any indication of the original composition of the tune, then it was in fact preceded at the Higher Ground show by a brief instrumental prelude. Furthermore, the 8-Foot Fluorescent Tubes version actually featured lyrics of a sort – lyrics, which further compound the misidentification of the song. Following some introductory banshee-like wails from Heloise Williams (formerly of viperHouse), the phrase “Free Thought” is repeated incessantly over the wailing combo of Anastasio, Lawton, and Markellis. “Free Thought” (a.k.a. “Mozambique") being the title of another TAB song that also ultimately made it into the Phish repertoire.

"First Tube" – 8' Fluorescent Tubes, 4/17/98, Burlington, VT

Despite the inherent confusion of its identity – prior to its formal identification on Farmhouse – “First Tube” had quickly become a fan favorite. So much so in fact that nary a complaint was heard about the song being overplayed following its 9/9/99 debut, typically not the case when a new song is so frequently revisited after its first appearance. This curious response is likely due to just how electrifying the song can be. Often getting the call as a show opener, “First Tube” is guaranteed to crank up the energy level of the crowd a couple of extra notches. 

The incandescent liquid metallic fire of the song usually causes Trey to bounce higher than he does when jumping on the tramps and at times (see Radio City Music Hall 5/21/00) has even incited Pete Townshend-style rock guitar god pinwheel strumming. The fat groove dropped by Mike and Fish is guaranteed to make a dancer out of even the most rhythm-less among us, as Trey’s soaring guitar and Page’s neo-medieval trance-space keyboard fills carry stray thoughts to where they truly can be set free. Anybody who does not like “First Tube” just does not know how to have a good time. If you do, feel free to call on the following pre-hiatus Phish performances: 9/12/99 Portland, OR; 10/10/99 TAFKAK; 12/18/99 Hampton; 6/9/00 Tokyo, Japan; 6/28/00 GSAC; 7/11/00 Deer Creek; and 10/7/00 Shoreline. In 2001 “First Tube” garnered Phish their first Grammy nomination in the category "Best Rock Instrumental Performance," losing out to Metallica, Michael Kamen and the San Francisco Symphony’s "The Call of Ktulu."

"First Tube" – 6/11/00, Tokyo, Japan

During the hiatus, “First Tube” remained a TAB staple. A 6/4/02 Red Rocks version of “First Tube” was released by Trey on Plasma, a two-disc collection of live tracks compiled from the big band incarnation of Trey’s 2002 campaigns. Trey’s side project versions of “First Tube” on 5/31/02 in Las Vegas and 10/22/02 in Burlington featured guest appearances by Page. Fishman joined Trey and his band for the entire 6/16/02 Darien Lake show wherein “First Tube” was the first set closer. Although not as common since the hiatus as before it, “First Tube” made one appearance per 2003 tour: winter (3/1/03 Greensboro), summer (7/13/03 The Gorge), 20th anniversary (11/28/03 Nassau) and New Year's (12/31/03 Miami). 

"First Tube" remained a fixture of Trey's solo adventures – big band TAB, 70 Volt Parade, and Classic TAB – after Phish "broke up" in 2004, appearing over 60 times between 2004 and 2008. Notable Trey performances of "First Tube" include the 11/8/05 Roseland performance which was a second encore featuring guest appearances by Page, Peter Apfelbaum, and John Medeski; the 10/11/06 Electric Factory encore version which was preceded by a bass duel between Mike and Tony Hall while Trey played keyboards; and the 10/21/08 Lupo's encore which included Bill Kreutzmann on drums, Russ Lawton moving to percussion, Oteil Burbridge replacing Tony Markellis on bass, and Scott Murawski on additional guitar.

"First Tube" – 7/12/14, New York, NY. Video by LazyLightning55a.

Upon Phish's 2009 return for their 3.0 incarnation, "First Tube" would make a strong return. First dusted off mid-second set at Hampton (3/6/09), on its next dozen appearances in 2009 and 2010 it would be used exclusively as a set closer or encore, including at high-profile gigs such as 6/14/09 Bonnaroo8/1/09 Red Rocks, 12/4/09 MSG and 7/4/10 Atlanta. 2011 witnessed similar positioning, including a top-off to the 6/12/11 redemption encore at Merriweather, and the exclamation to SBIX – with requisite fireworks – on 7/3/11

Through the 8/21/15 Magnaball version, with the exception of three show opening slots (6/1/11 Holmdel, 8/31/12 Dick’s, and 7/14/13 MMP) and one second set opener (10/29/14 BGCA), the role of high energy set closer or encore has continued for “First Tube.” Of the three show opening performances, the version that played the part of the first “F” in the “Fuck Your Face” show at Dick’s has the greatest notoriety. A week later (9/7/12) Trey joined The Roots during their Headcount benefit show at the Capitol Theater for an all-star jam performance that included covers of “First Tube” and “Bathtub Gin.” Trey and The Roots were then joined by Grace Potter for “Pigtail” and then Bob Weir, Warren Haynes, and Bobby Keys for covers of “Dancing in the Street,” “The Thrill is Gone,” and “Whipping Post.”

"First Tube" – 9/26/14, Los Angeles, CA

If your tastes trend toward the more refined end of the concert going spectrum, “First Tube” is no stranger to the orchestral stage, with the full-bodied arrangement of the tune featured as the opening piece of Trey’s orchestral appearances with Atlanta Symphony (2/9/12), Pittsburgh Symphony (2/14/12), Colorado Symphony (2/28/12), Los Angeles Philharmonic (3/10/12 and 9/26/14), National Symphony (5/22/13, featuring our own First Tubist Andrew Hitz dropping some bass), Oregon Symphony (9/9/14), and Seattle Symphony (9/11/14). The symphonic performances of these familiar and not so familiar tunes is something that everybody should experience at least once, but if you go show some respect… I mean… it’s “literally Trey!

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