Top 5 “Down With Disease” Jams For Your Home Quarantine
Photo by Bill Kelly
One way to stay sane while social distancing is – of course – listening to live music. Recently, I’ve been diving deep into various versions of a Phish jam vehicle with an unfortunately apt title: “Down With Disease,” a song which Phish has played nearly 300 times.
“Disease” was debuted by Phish at their April 4, 1994 show at The Flynn Theatre in Burlington, Vt.; however, the signature lead guitar line and subsequent jam section was first heard at their New Years Eve 1993 performance at the Worcester Centrum Center in Worcester, Mass., where it emerged from “Auld Lang Syne.” Since its debut, the song has served as a high energy rocker, a vessel to deliver cow-funk and an opportunity to explore the limits of improvised rock and roll.
Below are five distinct versions of the song, each from a different period in Phish’s career.
Note: This is by no means a ranking of the top five versions or a statement on the best version from a given year; it is merely a collection of fantastic versions of the song that will hopefully inspire a deeper dive into the song’s storied history. The jams are presented in chronological order.
1. June 26, 1995 “Down With Disease” -> “Free”
Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga, N.Y.
This monstrous, set-two-opening pairing is exemplary of Phish’ Summer 1995 style of jamming; building on the insanity of Fall 1994, Summer ’95 saw the band continue to throw every idea they had at the wall and see what stuck. The jams from this tour are at times somewhat abrasive, in the best way; some passages are borderline nonmusical, with the band exploring sounds rather than notes. This 30-plus minute pairing, as described in the Phish.net “Down With Disease” jam chart, “has a psychological edginess to it.” It must be heard to be understood.
Watch a fan-shot video (synced with available soundboard audio) of “Down With Disease” -> “Free” below:
2. December 1, 1995 “Down With Disease”
Hersheypark Arena, Hershey, Pa.
This scorching “Disease,” in my opinion, is the pinnacle of ‘type-one’ versions of the song. While the band never bucks the “DWD” chord progression, this rendition nonetheless features breathtaking communication between the band members. Guitarist Trey Anastasio delivers some dazzling lead lines with brilliant support from keyboardist Page McConnell; bassist Mike Gordon provides a unique bed upon which Anastasio and McConnell expertly build; and drummer Jon Fishman drives the jam with pounding, yet intricate drumming.
Watch a pro-shot video of this “Disease” below:
3. December 29, 1997 “Down With Disease” -> “David Bowie”
Madison Square Garden, New York, N.Y.
This version of “Down With Disease” kicked off one of the most thrilling sets of Phish in history – a five-song behemoth featuring stand-out versions of “DWD,” “David Bowie,” “Possum” and “Tube,” with a set-closing “You Enjoy Myself” taboot. The “Disease” itself is breathtaking; it fuses quiet, intricate playing with signature Fall ’97 funk-rock. It culminates with a slick segue into the aforementioned “David Bowie.” As described on the Phish.net jam chart, this “Disease” is a “fearsome but exploratory jam.” For what it’s worth, that descriptor can be applied to the entire set.
Watch a pro-shot video of the Dec. 29, 1997 “DWD” below:
4. June 10, 2000 “Down With Disease”
Zepp, Koto-ku, Tokyo, Japan
This massive, 20+ minute “Down With Disease” opens a truly wacky set of Phish, from a song-choice perspective. The five-song first set consists of this sprawling ‘type-two’ “Disease,” “Sample in a Jar,” “Piper,” “Lawn Boy” and “Guyute.” While the setlist is unusual, the playing is sublime, particular during the “Disease.” The intensity the band manages to build during this improvisation is hard to describe. While it does eventually devolve into spaciness typical of 2000 Phish, the jam is ultimately rebuilt, leading to a thrilling return to ‘type-one.’
Click here to listen to this version–there’s no YouTube video, but I promise it’s worth it. To fulfill your YouTube needs, here’s a recording of another quality “Disease” from Phish’s Jun. 15, 2000 show in Japan.
5. October 29, 2013 “Down With Disease”
The Santander Arena, Reading, Pa.
This powerful version of “Down With Disease” (another set-two opener) occurred during one of Phish’s finest tours of their 3.0 era. This jam, like many on this list, can serve as an example of the era’s style of improvisation. It begins with minor-key exploration, moves into some more upbeat grooving as it grows in energy and ultimately delivers a stunning “hose” passage to conclude the jam.
Fortunately for us, Phish released a pro-shot video of the entire jam. Watch it below: