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Esther

Esther has not been seen in 96 Phish shows.
It was last played: 2017-07-30.
It was played at 6.77% of live shows.
It has been performed live 126 time(s).

Music/Lyrics: Anastasio

Vocals: Trey (lead), Mike, Page (backing)

Debut: 1988-09-12

Historian: Phillip Zerbo (pzerbo), Mark Toscano

Girl goes to fairground. Girl meets Armenian man. Armenian man gives girl doll. Girl flies around and encounters many angry people. Girl jumps naked into lake. Doll pulls girl beneath surface of water, drowning her. And so the thread of yet another human existence is cut short by the scissors of badness.



“Esther” made its live debut relatively late compared to its Junta compatriots, first appearing on 9/12/88. Even then, it featured decidedly less macabre lyrics than the version that ended up on Junta. These original lyrics, aside from containing various differences of detail (“a hot summer night,” “a wrinkled old man”), feature a story that takes on a “just desserts” theme, rather than the wonderfully demented “ruination of an innocent” theme that the final draft lyrics eventually offered. These darker, more familiar lyrics that most fans are used to first appeared at the song’s second appearance, on 2/7/89.



Watch Esther on YouTube Phish, “Esther”  – 8/11/93, Grand Rapids, MI



Although she doesn’t play any role in The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday, Trey has mentioned that Esther does hail from a part of Gamehendge. The so-called “flying jam” in “Esther” also appears as the transitional music between several of TMWSIY songs when performed live (3/22/936/26/947/8/94), and on Trey’s senior study recording. Additionally, Mike’s bass line for this “flying jam” is identical to what he plays during Page’s solo in “McGrupp.” Even one of the “Secret Language” cues – the “random note” – is signaled by the same “circus” theme that kicks off “Esther.”



“Esther” was the subject of the first Phish video. The computer-animated piece was designed by an acquaintance of the band, Scott Nybakken from the Company of Science and Art (CoSA). Playing more like a slideshow of still images than a full-motion cartoon, the video was shown between sets at the 7/19/91 Somerville Theatre gig.



Watch Esther on YouTube Phish, “Esther” Music Video



“Esther’s” music is lyrical, evoking a circus mood, soaring flights through the clouds, and helpless drowning. Unlike most Phish songs where live versions reign, the quintessential version of “Esther” is the Junta studio version. A setlist fixture from 1989 through 1994, “Esther” became a rarity thereafter, with only ten appearances from 1995 through the end of Phish 1.0, and none in Phish 2.0. “Esther” is such a delicate song that it is easily harmed by the inevitable vagaries of live performance. Its very fragility is perhaps one reason the song dropped from regular rotation.



Exceptional early versions of “Esther” include 4/18/92 Palo Alto, 2/12/93 Poughkeepsie, NY (with secret language), 4/23/94 Atlanta (“Caravan” teases), 7/5/94 Ottawa (“Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies” teasing), and 9/30/00 (on Live in Vegas, with Trey forgetting the entire last verse, instead summing it up with “She died. Dead.”) Additionally, “Esther” teases popped up during the 5/6/89 “You Enjoy Myself,” 9/27/91 “Buried Alive” and 11/30/97 “Wolfman’s Brother,” while an “Esther” jam found its way into the epic Orlando “Stash” on 11/14/95.



After nearly a nine-year absence and to the delight of the crowd at Red Rocks, "Esther" returned to the stage on 8/1/09. She has been an occasional visitor since with notable appearances on 11/1/09 at Festival 8, 6/18/11 in Raleigh, 8/30/13 at Dick’s as part of the “MOST SHOWS SPELL SOMETHING” gig, and on 8/9/15 Alpine Valley during a first set that featured a wealth of songs not commonly played.



Watch Esther on YouTube Phish, “Esther”  – 8/30/13, Commerce City, CO. Video by LazyLightning55.


Albums: Junta, At the Roxy, Live Phish 07, Live in Vegas, Chicago '94, The Clifford Ball

Lyrics:

(Anastasio)
© Who Is She? Music, BMI

It was late one fall night at a fairground near town
When Esther first saw the Armenian man
Who groveled toward her and stood by her side
With a bucket that swung in his hand

His grin stretched the folds of his pasty white cheeks
And his lips hurled a dollop of murk on the curb
And the lights from the rides showed a mischievous sparkle
That flashed in his hollow eyed stare

He said "Little girl, you can chop off my legs
And then peel off my socks if you want to.
But I'd rather you took this old puppet from me
That I hold in my pail as we speak."

And he stood looking down at the innocent girl
And she stared at the bucket bewildered
Til he lifted the doll for the young girl to see
And a giant smile grew on his face
She saw the doll's eyes and she couldn't resist
And she thanked the man quickly and ran to the church
And she burst through the door with puppet held high
And a hush filled the chapel, and the people looked mean

Esther tried in vain to pacify the mob
Quibble grew to spat, to wrangle, then to brawl
The frenzied congregation struggled desperately to fetch
The pretty puppet snugly nestled deep in Esther's leather sack
Through the window of the church a storm began to rage
And Esther knew the time had come to flee

She scurried down the aisle toward the doorway in the distance
And out into the rainstorm where she felt she would be free
But the wind was blowing harder
And her skirt began to billow
Until finally her feet began to lift

And she rose above the people and the houses
and the chimneys
And Esther and the doll were set adrift
Floating higher over the hills, and the valleys and treetops
they'd flutter and glide
Soaring and turning suspended on air
With the earth far below them they'd tumble
And dive through the clouds

And she began to plummet earthward till she
Landed in the nasty part of town

She glanced about the village sure to find the evil men
Who rob and pillage in the darkest hour of night
Nervously she fumbled for the pouch that held the
Puppet on her rump.

Feeling quite outnumbered Esther hid behind
A nearby pile of lumber, where she waited
Till the dawn
Cause it would have been a blunder to
Succumb to a hoodlum on the prowl

When the morning came, she wandered through the streets
Along the chilly lake that lay beside the town
At last a peaceful moment, but she thought she heard a sound
It was an angry mob of joggers coming up to knock her down

As Esther stood and shook her head
The joggers were approaching
And she knew she had no choice left but to swim
As the frosty water sank its bitter teeth into her hide
She tried to slide the heavy clothing from her skin

Naked now she made her way toward the shore
When suddenly she felt a tiny tugging at her toe.
And the puppet she'd forgotten wrapped its tiny
Little arms around her ankle and wouldn't let her go.

The waves seemed to open and swallow her whole
As the doll pulled her down through the eerie green deep
And the sound of the laughing old man filled her ears
As she drifted away to a tranquil
And motionless sleep.

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