My Favorite Segue: Phish Beautifully Connects Led Zeppelin Cover & Original In 1998

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Jam fans love segues, moments when bands connect two songs without stopping. Some are quick as a group moves from the final note of one song to the first note of the next, while others are more drawn out affairs. My favorite segue took place on this date in 1998, when Phish gorgeously connected a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Ramble On” with their own “Slave To The Traffic Light” at Vernon Downs racetrack in Vernon, New York.

Phish’s first and only concert at the upstate New York racetrack was close to Syracuse, where drummer Jon Fishman grew up. Guitarist Trey Anastasio used the opportunity to make plenty of mentions of Fish’s youth including that when the drummer was 11-years-old he was lucky enough to see Led Zeppelin. Trey then said the band would cover Led Zeppelin in Fish’s honor. With that, he lit into the intro of “Ramble On” – a Led Zeppelin cover Phish unveiled earlier that month at Alpine Valley. The quartet’s performance of “Ramble On” at Vernon Downs would be their last version of the tune until an impromptu, butchered take in Atlantic City on October 30, 2010.

The foursome did “Ramble On” justice with Anastasio dropping Jimmy Page-like leads and Fishman pounding away with Bonzo-like abandon. Yet for me what makes the version so special is the way it ended. Now, bear in mind Led Zeppelin never played “Ramble On” live, at least during John Bonham’s lifetime. Phish used the descending riff towards the end of “Ramble On” to open up the song improvisationally.

Trey would vary the riff and his mates followed along, with bassist Mike Gordon offering counterpoints and keyboardist Page McConnell adding layers of synth. Trey, Mike, Fish and Page jammed on the riff for a few glorious minutes before it faded to near silence. At that point Anastasio started playing a beautiful chord sequence and his mates quickly joined in. Mike’s bassline is the stuff dreams are made of. As the band and crowd are in a full state of bliss, Trey starts up “Slave To The Traffic Light.” On most audience recordings you can hear a guy scream “Oh My GOD!” as “Slave” begins and I couldn’t agree more.

Listen to “Ramble On” -> “Slave To The Traffic Light”:

And oh what a “Slave” it was. The band worked in “Ramble On” teases to the delight of the audience, while Mike and Trey teased “Those Were The Days,” aka the theme to popular ’70s TV show All In The Family. Page starts off on electric piano and adds glorious accents before moving over to piano for what turns into one of the most powerful “Slave” climaxes of the era. There were plenty of other highlights on this night, but talk of this show often turns to its encore. Phish Summer Tour 1998 was the “jukebox tour” in which the band seemingly debuted a new cover each night. Eighteen years ago tonight the quartet ended the show with their first and only cover of “Burning Down The House” followed by “You Enjoy Myself.” Phish cleverly changed the lyrics for the Talking Heads’ song to “Vernon Downs The House.” Listen:

Here’s audio of the entire show thanks to From The Aquarium and the original taper:

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