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Reba

Reba has not been seen in 12 Phish shows.
It was last played: 2023-12-31.
It was played at 20.06% of live shows.
It has been performed live 403 time(s).

Music/Lyrics: Anastasio

Vocals: Trey (lead), All (backing)

Debut: 1989-10-01

Historian: Grant Calof (That_Guy), Tim Wade (TheEmu)

In a lifetime (or lifetimes, for those with round-trip tickets) of consecutive and continuous years, days, hours, minutes and milliseconds, it’s sometimes difficult to keep track of everything we’re doing, let alone everything we did. And if we are in fact the sum of our experiences, then without our memories… we wouldn’t add up to all that much. Yet as the years roll on, three-to-five days of class evolve into five-to-seven days of work, weeks begin blending into one eternal month, and memories start melding together thanks to the entropic nature and inescapable passage of time ("time" being a Swiss-born conspiracy to make the world “more efficient”, but that's a story for another... time). 



Yet there’s one thing everyone remembers, no matter how much proverbial water flows under that infernal bridge, no matter how good, bad, great or late it was… everyone remembers the first time. Your first memory, first wave, first waterfall, first date, first kiss, first dis, first sushi, first sandwich at Langer's Deli, the first time you realized all TV is formulaic, and of course, your first Phish show. And regardless of how many times it’s played, there’s one song that always feels like the first time. Give me an “R”… an “E,” and a “B” and an “A”! What’s that spell? (If you’re struggling, put down the edibles-- We’ll try again tomorrow).



Watch Reba on YouTube Phish "Reba" – 8/3/91, Auburn, ME. Video by cleantones.



“Reba” may sound like your average, everyday song about a capitalistic moon-shiner’s questionable relationship with the local meat proprietor-- or a riff on your hermetic, neo-hippie Grandmother’s recipe from the Merry Prankster’s Cookbook for organic, gluten-free, non-hypoallergenic motel-bathtub gin… But that’s just the first layer. 



“Reba” is a feeling, a groove… Call it a meditation, a state of mind: “Reba” by any other name would undoubtedly smell as sweet.  Ask any number of fans from just about anywhere, and they’ll tell you “Reba” simply *is* Phish. The song’s whimsical lyrics, unpredictable changes and soaring end-jam embody everything magical and alluring about the band’s music. It's the kind of song that busts you out of those dimensionally bound blues-- never really knowing what universal secrets it’s going to unlock as you plunge into the audial abyss.



“Reba’s” mind-boggling four-part structure, written by one Ernest J. Anastasio III in a decade lovingly known as the eighties, came as a direct result of time spent under the tutelage of his mentor, composer Ernie Stires. It’s one of the more complex and challenging pieces in the band’s repertoire, and required several years of polish before it hit ‘third bowl of porridge status’ (aka ‘just right’). 



Trey wrote “Reba” as an exercise to create a cohesive piece of music that never repeats itself and never develops, and the result was the aforementioned musical offering. It’s been said that the song's numerous time changes and breaks also presented Phish “Fifth Beatle,” lighting director Chris Kuroda, with one of his most amusing challenges.



Watch Reba on YouTube Phish “Reba” - 12/31/13, New York, NY. Video by Lazylightning55a.



The first melodic piece (after the bouncing introductory notes) features stick-in-your-head, sing-along lyrics, then ascends smoothly into an intricately composed instrumental section that glides up, down and across the scales like a Looney Tunes cartoon gone wonderfully awry. It’s the way the band plays over these changes, separately yet entirely together, shifting in and out of the fugue-like structure that’s been known to drive fans into a manic frenzy. 



And while the terms “fugue” or “fugue-like” are often used to describe certain Phish songs, they’re rarely defined, so let’s drop some Webster’s knowledge… The word “fugue” refers to a composition in which themes stated successively by a number of voices (and/or instruments) are developed in counterpoint to one another. Or, to put it more simply... “Reba”. That-said, the debate over whether “Reba” and a few select tunes are “fugues” in the truest sense of the term, or merely “fugue-like,” still continue to this very day.



Watch Reba on YouTube Phish "Reba" – 6/16/95,Noblesville, IN. Video by willm62690



On the surface, the disjointed lyrics of “Reba” appear to relate the recipe for a mysterious creation that may very well be “the finest in the nation,” but deeper, exploratory interpretations of its lyrics abound (I know, shocker). Some speculate about a connection to the word “ryba,” which means “fish” in some eastern European languages; while in Hebrew, it translates into the word “jam” (the kind that goes with toast). 



Literalists see “Reba” as equal parts mad scientist / entrepreneur, while others interpret “Reba” as an innocent little girl with an elaborate recipe and zero supervision.  And when she takes a taste of her creation– The remainder of the composition is the consequence of that fateful sip, as her spirit (the ending jam) begins a patient and slow resurrection leading to its triumphant climax… “Reba” reborn.  Of course, that’s just one opinion (or is it everyone's opinion but yours?). “Reba” also has the honor and distinction of being a favorite name for tour-head puppies (along with "Tela," "Esther," and "Harpua").



The middle of this epic composition is among the most difficult passages that Phish performs– with melodies soaring at breakneck pace as they blaze from one side of bliss to the other, tearing their way through starts and stops which ultimately coalesce into a smashing crescendo that launches into the ethereal, improvised jam where some fans claim to have “seen the light.”



The jam builds and builds until that one glistening note pierces the void and bursts into existence. The final section, a wordless whistling of the first verse, wraps up neatly with a chorus reprise, then exits on a characteristically and wonderfully idiosyncratic note. And while many songs (as well as creative additives) can bring about epiphanies and inspiration, “Reba” is one of those songs that has the power to melt away whatever weighs you down.



When “Reba” made its first complete appearance in on 10/01/89 ("Reba" was teased during the intro to "Bowie" on 09/09/89), the song contained a now-defunct instrumental bridge between the lyric and composed sections, consisting of a bluesy riff and a longer “Bag it, tag it” chant. That same instrumental piece later evolved into “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” with lyrics penned by the Marvin Hamlisch of Harmonica himself, John Popper. “Don’t Get Me Wrong” was only played three times in 1990, each time with Popper on stage (10/06/90, 10/08/90 and 12/28/90 if you want to hear all three).  The multilayered studio version of the song was recorded for Phish’s second album, Lawn Boy (1990).



The jamming portion of the song (a prime example of the tension and release concept) remained relatively straightforward for the first few years of its existence, although in December of 1992 they twice sandwiched “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash between the end of the jam and the whistling section. 



Watch Reba on YouTube Phish "Reba" – 10/31/14, Las Vegas, NV. Video by Lazylightning55a.



The whistling part, despite conflicting reports, has been a part of the tune since its debut. It wasn’t until 1992 that the band chose instead to end the song after the improvised jam (11/30/92 specifically). Over the years though-- increasingly from 1994 through 1996-- the whistling reprise has become more sporadic and can sometimes end up on the cutting room floor for the sake of a segue into another tune. 



The speed at which the first half of the song is played also varies from time to time, ranging from slower, laid-back grooves to blistering streams of sound exploding from the stage. Over the years, the atmospheric jam has also benefited from the evolutionary process, constantly transcending to even greater dimensional planes, continuously mystifying and enchanting listeners new, old and jaded.



The next quantum leap took place in the winter of 1993 at the Roxy Theater in Atlanta. On 02/20/93, an astounding, mind-bending “Reba” helped to spark one of the most memorable sets in Phishtory (if you own it, you cherish it; if you don’t, you will). The song essentially remained a Type-I jam until August of 1993 (both 08/12/93 and 08/16/93 are worthy of your attention), while the Flynn Theatre, (04/04/94), also featured an unusual Type-II version



The jam took interesting twists and turns throughout the year. Memorable versions include 07/03/94 at Old Orchard Beach (featuring a “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” jam), 07/06/94 in Montreal, 07/08/94 at Great Woods and 07/15/94 at Jones Beach. Then something happened. Something called Fall Tour 1994… and “Reba” sailed its way into the eye of some rather epic storms (musically vs. climatologically speaking). 



One of the more notable versions of “Reba” (Type-II) appeared on 10/18/94 in Nashville amidst an atmospheric jam that hints at the Dead’s “Eyes of the World.” Another magnificent feast of “Reba”-like proportions, can be found in Set I of the Glens Falls Halloween show (10/31/94), mere hours before the band repainted The White Album with their own unique palette.



Watch Reba on YouTube Phish “Reba” - 11/27/98,Worcester, MA. Video by telekinetica.



“Reba” is apt to pop up anywhere in the middle of either set, but makes occasional appearances in the opening slot as well (ie: 07/22/92, 07/06/00, 06/19/04 and 10/19/10). Two other notable placements of the song occurred on 12/30/98 at MSG when it closed the behemoth first set and on 09/21/99 in Arizona, when it was played as the first tune in a two-song encore. Before those two nights, “Reba” had never closed a set and hadn’t been encored since 1991. What’s all the more intriguing about those two uniquely placed “Reba’s,” is that they were both played at the request of the same lucky fan.



There are so many versions worthy of consumption that to list and analyze them all would fill up a book unto itself (Editor's note: Or a calendar). That said, 05/16/95 in Massachusetts is often mentioned in ‘best of’  “Reba” conversations (words don’t do it justice-- just listen) along with the “Reba” from 10/31/94.



There are myriad pre-hiatus versions not to be missed, like: 04/17/92, 05/28/94 (without the whistle finale), 10/21/95 (people swear by it), 12/31/95 (botched composed section but an awe-inspiring jam), 08/14/96 in Pennsylvania, 8/17/96 at the Clifford Ball, 08/15/98 (Lemonwheel doesn’t get much sweeter), 07/13/99 (when it provided an interesting transition into ‘Carini’), and of course on 12/31/99, when it was played flawlessly, despite already being three to four hours into the NYE set at Big Cypress, when the song started at approximately 3:41 a.m. and lasted until about 3:56 a.m.



Watch Reba on YouTube Phish “Reba” - 12/31/95, New York, NY. Video by steveofarrell.



Then, during JazzFest 2000, somewhere amidst the crawfish tails and Abita beer, “Reba” (a portion of it, anyway) reared its head on 05/04/00 in the middle of the now legendary Oysterhead show at the Saenger Theater… and she never knew what hit her. Venture if you dare, fair listener, to the end of “Jerry was a Race Car Driver,” when Les Claypool starts singing the “Bag it-tag it” chorus (with a few improvised lyrics)... and Trey goes sonic. 



A few instances of “Reba” were scattered throughout the remaining months of 2000 (delve into 06/16/00, 07/06/00 or 09/14/00 if ye be so inclined), and made its last pre-hiatus appearance on 10/04/00 to the cheering masses at Chula Vista. When the band left the stage on 10/07/2000, the fate of “Reba” (as well as the band’s) legitimately hung in the balance for the next 2.5 years… 



But one fateful night in the City of Sin (02/15/03 for the fact-checkers), the band dipped their ladle back into the toxic waste, some purple paste and “Reba” was reborn… The song once again etched its spot in the rotation (check out 07/19/03 or the “Reba” from “IT” on 08/02/03) and closed out 2003 with a third set offering on 12/31/03 that was “bombastic and brilliant” to some ears and “just a bomb” to others. The song was only played twice in 2004 (06/19/04 in New York).



"Reba" returned to the stage on 03/07/09 in Hampton and continued to pop up throughout the summer (listen to 06/02/09 from Jones Beach or 08/02/09 from Red Rocks). The song was played regularly throughout 2010, until 10/19/10 in Maine, when the song took the rare encore slot for the fourth time ever, replete with "Manteca" teases.



Watch Reba on YouTube Phish “Reba” - 6/7/12, Atlantic City, NJ. Video by Phish.



"Reba" was played steadily over the next few years, like 08/06/11 at the Gorge, 08/28/12 in Missouri, 10/29/13 in Pennsylvania, 07/25/14 in North Carolina, 07/24/15 at Shoreline.  The versions from 01/16/16 in Mexico, 09/02/17 in Colorado, 08/05/18 in Georgia, 06/16/19 in Tennessee and 12/07/19 in South Carolina are all worthy of merit.  And “Reba” shows no sign of slowing down… The song was played 5x in 2021 (like 10/29/21 in Vega$), an impressive 7x in 2022 (give 05/28/22 in Alabama a listen), and numerous times throughout 2023 (ie: 04/15/23 in Seattle and 10/10/23 in Ohio).



Watch Reba on YouTube Phish "Reba" – 10/31/95, Glenn Falls, NY. Video by IkoIko95



Last significant update: 12/19/23


Albums: Lawn Boy, At the Roxy, Live Phish 03, Live Phish 06, Live Phish 11, Live Phish 13, Live Phish 19, Walnut Creek, New Year's Eve 1995 - Live at Madison Square Garden, IT, Live Phish 15, Star Lake 98, Alpine Valley, Niagara Falls, Chicago '94, The Clifford Ball, Amsterdam

Lyrics:

(Anastasio)
© Who Is She? Music, BMI

Reba sink a boulder in the water
Reba tie a cable to a tree
Reba stuck in a game of lipstick perfume flypaper
Reba press a razor to a slide cross a needle with a prune

Knee deep in the motel tub
Reba dangle ladle form her lip
dip
sip
Reba babble to the nag with the lipstick perfume
mutter to a farmer in a truck

Take a peek at the cheetah, Reba
cheetah on the prowl in a cage
sink a boulder in the water
tie a cable to a tree

Mutter "nature" to the nag
with the lipstick perfume
Reba flush a fleshfarm leftover
thunder in a circle
down the pipes

Bag it
Tag it
Sell it to the butcher in the store

Reba put a stopper in the bottom of the tub
picked up a jar unscrewed the top
and watched it drop into the water

A little scoop of plaster mix
some coffee grounds and mud
and then she stirred it with the ladle
that her Grandmother had bought her
threw in a pot of melted wax
a forefoot and a hoof
apple core, worms galore
and a can of some corrosive

coconuts and chloroform
some wicker and some cork
Toxic waste, some purple paste
she hoped was not explosive

Reba dip a ladle for a taste of her creation
and she knew that what she make
would be the finest in the nation

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