It’s hard to pick a favorite song. Picking my favorite Phish song is almost impossible. There are various types of Phish songs and I mentioned those when I made a start on a regular Phish post, jams, covers, blue grass and many other songs that fall into various different classifications. If I had to pick one song though that has stuck with me over all of these years, it’s Reba.
Reba has pretty much all of the elements of a song that makes it a Phish song; excellent and intricate composition, interesting, if ridiculous lyrics, a great use of tension and release throughout the structure of the song and an avenue for great improvisation. Yet unlike the other songs that are bona fide launching pads for improvisation, Reba keeps things together. The song usually ranges in between 12-15 minutes. Yes a long song by most standards, but such consistency is pretty remarkable. I’ve seen mentioned regarding many other songs that one can identify when the music “breaks” from the song that led it, meaning it no longer “sounds” like that song. Not the case with Reba. Even at the deepest, jammiest, section of the song, it still feels and sounds like Reba.
Personally, Reba is a fairly constant song in my listening mix. I put it in most playlists I make up. Generally it is a great cool down song. I also love it when I’m writing or working. It just has a natural groove that helps me relax and concentrate.
When the song first starts, you wouldn’t guess that it has a great, smooth groove. The song starts out very fast with a quick riff that simply bounces. It quickly becomes a steady background to the lyrics, which become the active part of the song. I won’t even try and divine what exactly the lyrics are about. Like many of Phish’s early songs, Reba tells a story, a weird story, but a story nonetheless.
After the “bag it” section, the music takes over. The energy stays high with what is best described as “the chase.” Page and Trey run through a series of scales and progressions that show off the musianship of the band. Sometimes this section can sound a little sloppy. One of the draw backs of recording every show, fans dissect the songs and pick out what is wrong.
While like these parts of the song, it’s after the the composed sections are finished with a series of flourishes that Reba finds it’s voice. As Mike lays down a steady backing rift, Trey often leads the song, while Page adds great texture. When I see this song live, I often sit down, just experiencing the music. I must admit, I like it when the band doesn’t finish the song. To “officially” conclude Reba, the band returns to the “bag it tag it” lyrics with a whistling bit to reintroduce the original structure of the song. It’s ok, but really after the great mellow groove that makes up the heart of the song, the little coda in this case seems superfluous. It’s not enough to make me dislike a version, per se, but a matter of preference I suppose.
Speaking of preferences, some of my favorite versions are ones you’ve probably heard before, namely the version from the Clifford Ball, the version from 8/10/96 at Alpine Valley, available on one of the Live Bait releases and possibly my favorite version, Halloween 1994. I also like the version from 6/30/12, another Alpine Reba. Of course you could just bop on over to Phish.net and see the wonderful jam chart. You can’t go wrong with any of the versions they recommend. You pretty much can’t go wrong with Reba in general.