Sample in a Jar

Originally Performed ByPhish
Appears On
Music/LyricsAnastasio, Marshall
VocalsPage, Trey (lead), Mike (backing)
Phish Debut1993-02-04
Last Played2023-12-28
Current Gap14
HistorianCraig DeLucia; Mockingbird Staff
Last Update2022-02-16


Has any Phish song been received in as many different ways as “Sample?” When it debuted in early 1993, it was seen as a short, rocking number that had the potential to jam heavily. However, when Hoist was released, some fans viewed the song as “The Apocalypse That Will End the World of Phish as We Know It” – the song that would bring mainstream radio success to Phish. Of course, that never happened.

"Sample in a Jar" – 12/30/94, New York, NY

Granted, the song has a pop-hook chorus and a much more mainstream feel than the majority of the Phish catalog. In The Phish Book, Page even remarked that it “contains a catchy little progression reminiscent of Status Quo's ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men.’” It is a song that turned many Hoist-era fans on to the band. But those who dismiss the song as pure radio pop are missing out on quite a lot. It is rare that a studio version of a Phish song receives acclaim among the faithful, but many fans agree that Trey’s outro solo is among the finest pieces of studio work he has ever recorded. The vocal harmonies, both on the album and the live stage, are difficult and eerie. Most fans agree on one thing, though – they’re waiting for the moment when “Sample” goes the way of a song like “Gumbo,” which toiled in jam obscurity for years before finally blossoming into a song that is sometimes ripe for improvisation. Maybe not all the time – but just every once in a while, for a change of pace.

"Sample in a Jar" – 8/17/96, Plattsburgh, NY, from the Clifford Ball DVD Box

On the surface, the lyrics seem to deal with a relationship argument while intoxicated. In The Phish Book, Trey mentioned that the song is “basically about sitting in a car with the seatbelt on, drunk.” But many fans have taken their own meaning that probes deeper and provides a look at something that most of us can relate to: that feeling of being trapped and viewed like a specimen, or a sample in a jar. Also, as in other Phish songs, the lyrics reference family friends. Here we learn of Elihu, father of Dave Abrahams, in a fictional capacity as a bed-dancer. No need to search for the connection with Leemor, though; he’s a work of fiction that Tom and an old boss created after passing a man on the side of the road.

"Sample in a Jar" – 2/16/97, Cologne, Germany

“Sample” is noteworthy – along with “Lifeboy” – as being one of only two Hoist songs to be played in their entirety before the album was released. It is also noteworthy for its setlist versatility. It is as likely to open a show as to close one, and as likely to be played early in a set as late. Other bands have shown an affinity for the song as well: Little Feat covered “Sample” on their 2000 album Chinese Work Songs and also offered the track for inclusion on the Mockingbird Foundation’s tribute album, Sharin’ in the GroovePhil Lesh and Friends, including members of Little Feat but sans any members of Phish, covered the song in concert on 7/22/00.

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