Free has not been seen in 3 Phish shows.
It was last played: 2012-12-28.
It was played at 8.27% of live shows.
It has been performed live 131 time(s).
Vocals: Trey (lead), Mike, Page (backing)
Historian: Craig DeLucia; Mockingbird Staff
"Free" was one of the many songs that debuted at the Lowell benefit concert on 5/16/95. Fans quickly took to the song, which tells of a man who is thinking of throwing his wife from the boat on which they sail. In fact, a minor lyrical change from earlier versions was released on the Billy Breathes version of the song and all subsequent live performances; this change from “as we go sliding by” to “as the ship goes sliding by” cemented the song’s imagery.
While the song has always been an outlet for jams, it has gone through several minor structural changes since its debut. The truncated album version was the most dramatic of all, as the band axed the swirling guitar-based intro. Some feared that the original intro was gone forever, but the band has usually left it in the song’s stage performances (see 7/10/03 for an example of this intro being omitted). As a whole, the music present in early versions conjured underwater images for many (which perfectly matches the nautical theme of the lyrics). Post-1995 versions featured a stylistic change that effectively combined the coarse texture of good southern “rock” with the in-your-face sound of loud arena “roll.”
The first fully jammed-out “Free” arose from an insane “Runaway Jim” at the 6/16/95 Walnut Creek show in Raleigh. Just ten days later, fans in Saratoga Springs, NY were treated to an inspiring “Down with Disease” -> “Free” second set opener. Three days after that, the second set at Jones Beach opened with a “Free” -> “David Bowie” combo and fans were left with little doubt that a new jamming star had been born.
The fall 1995 tour brought Trey’s percussion rack to the stage, and a new dimension was added to the jams. No song was greater influenced by the percussion rack than “Free.” Using the rack allowed Trey to lay back in the jam while Page took control. Favorite versions include 11/10/95 at The Fox in Atlanta and 12/30/95 at MSG. The 11/22/95 Landover version was also particularly intense, as the song followed an attempt at “Rift” that was aborted after a drum foul-up by Fishman. This “Free” clocked in at over thirty minutes and included “Bouncing” teases and a segue into “Llama,” as well as an intro from Trey where he dedicated the song to Fishman after his “Rift” gaffe.
The summer 1996 tour saw “Free” become a spacier number. Notable versions include one from the third set of the wild 7/12/96 Amsterdam gig and a version at the historic Red Rocks Amphitheatre on 8/7/96. “Free” continued to develop through the fall, with 10/19/96 and 12/29/96 (“Rift” > “Free” without the flubs) providing strong showings. However, the jam section had started to become predictable, and many fans were losing interest. Phish changed this during the summer of 1997, slowing the tempo a notch and adding a drip of blues-rock inflection. The lyrical reprise of the chorus that had been inserted after the jam was also axed and was replaced by the ending from the album version of the song. “Free” quickly returned to the spotlight. See the 7/2/97 encore, 8/8/97 Tinley Park (arising from “Wolfman’s Brother”), 8/14/97 Darien Lake, and the must-hear 11/30/97 Worcester “Stash” > ”Free” > ”Piper” jam-laden combo.
In 1998, Phish managed to stick the quirky “Ha Ha Ha” inside of “Free” on 11/21/98. 1999 brought us the oft-debated and sometimes maligned 12/15/99 version, as well as the first of three memorable combinations of “Ghost” and “Free” on 7/23/99. This combo appeared twice post-hiatus, on 2/15/03 and 12/29/03. The latter included a sublime duet with Mike and Trey, and generated a profound audience demonstration afterward that lasted through the opening of the subsequent “Divided Sky.” Also swimming by is the “Free” that emerged from “Weekapaug” on 7/31/03. Though 2004 is maligned by many fans for its sloppiness and sometimes directionless jamming, the 6/17/04 "Moma" -> "Free" is a strong version (of both songs). Since the 2009 reunion, "Free" remains a frequently played song, though not one that varies far from the norm. The song still provides a reliable showcase for Mike to lay down some watery bass tones, but otherwise there's not much to recommend any particular version over another. Representative 3.0 versions can be found in the second sets of 6/5/09 and 11/18/09.
Albums: Billy Breathes, Hampton Comes Alive, Live in Brooklyn, Live Phish 14, Live Phish 17, Walnut Creek, Sharin' in the Groove, JamGrass, Coral Sky