Every once in a while it is fun to take a song and really go deep with it, listening to every version that Phish has ever performed in order. Some may find this type of exercise pointless, tiring, ridiculous, boring, or even insane (or more probably a combination of all of the above and more) but to me it offers a great way to track the development and progression of a song over the years as the band has worked through it and altered its course. There are some songs where this can get old pretty fast, particularly when the variation comes only in the few bars of Type I improv that come out of an otherwise standard performance for the tune but in many cases the song as debuted once upon a time has changed significantly over the course of time, sometimes adding or removing parts and other times becoming something entirely new along the way. One song that has had a fairly intriguing evolution (well, to me at least) is McGrupp And The Watchful Hosemasters (for the sake of brevity following this reference the song will be shown by its shorthand fan name ‘McGrupp‘), a song with a long history, connection to the Gamehendge saga, and just enough performances to make this little exercise worthwhile without becoming tedious.
In full disclosure, I will admit that some of my motivation in going down this path was in looking for the song on the wonderful resource that is www.phishjustjams.com I was shocked to discover they had only picked out a minuscule THREE performances of the song for inclusion in the jam files. Now, while the song is definitely not a big, open-jammed juggernaut I maintain that that list needs to be expanded a bit even if they don’t agree (hi, Verno!) with all that I write about the song’s jam and its 114 known performances, not to mention the four versions of the song as Skippy The Wonder Mouse (hereafter referred to as “Skippy”) before the name change and lyrical overwrite. Part of the complication here stems from the PJJ mission statement apparently forbids inclusion of anything pre 1993 and while I respect that and the reasoning behind it I will absolutely be focusing a lot on the progressions made with McGrupp in the years prior to that if for no other reason than 63 of the 114 versions of the song (plus those 4 Skippys!) occurred prior to 1993. To ignore all of that here would kind of defeat the purpose and really conflict my obsessive nature, people.
So where to start. Well, the first thing you should do is check out the Song History on phish.net which goes into a lot of the detail about how the song came to be (and check the brief Skippy Song History too since you are visiting .net). You might also want to take a gander at the Jamchart for the song as others have gone down this road before in their own way so if you find my nerdiness to be lacking check out someone else’s! Really cannot say enough about how privileged we are to have phish.net and other resources to help feed these obsessions of ours. Support them however you can!
With all of that out of the way let’s dive in! Fair warning, as I haven’t written much of late you can probably expect this one to be lengthy. I have some pent up prose to use here, people.