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Strange Design

Strange Design has not been seen in 79 Phish shows.
It was last played: 2022-07-29.
It was played at 3.29% of live shows.
It has been performed live 66 time(s).

Music/Lyrics: Anastasio/Marshall

Vocals: Page (lead), Trey, Mike, Fish (backing)

Debut: 1995-05-16

Historian: Grant Calof (That_Guy)

Deconstructing the pillars of reality into the seemingly disparate but nonetheless interconnected dimensions of space, time and consciousness (or an infinite assortment of vibrating strings, depending on your plane of existential perception) are feats usually left to the quantum physicists of the world. But on 05/16/95 at the Lowell Memorial Auditorium in Massachussetts, an historic Italian Renaissance style theater from 1922, Phish dipped its musical hand into the proverbial plasma pool, drank deeply... and suddenly the threadbare seams of the universe itself became readily apparent to all in attendance. 

If you’re in the mood to piece apart the reality hologram of Tom Marshall’s dream-like ballad, you won’t be the first, nor the last. Unconfirmed rumors abound that Neil deGrasse Tyson’s next book will be based on Phish songs and their relation to maintaining the fabric of the Universe. 

Strange Design” was one of a handful of new tunes offered up to a batch of politically-savvy fans attending the Benefit Concert for Voters for Choice for victims of the 12/30/94 Brookline, MA, family planning clinic shootings.  And despite Howard Dean’s pleas for endorsement, and another prominent Vermont politician's proclamation,  05/16/95 remains one of the few Phish shows that commingled with politics. 

The inaugural performance of “Theme,” “Ha Ha Ha,” and “Free” took place as well on that memorable day in May, which garnered the band enough respect and admiration to receive an introduction to the crowd by legendary women’s right’s advocate, Gloria Steinem

Watch Strange Design on YouTube Phish “Strange Design” – 10/21/95, Lincoln, NE. Video by PhrankieC87

Despite being penned by Trey, "Strange Design" is a ballad sung by Phish’s own “Chairman of the Boards” and it’s held in the same lofty regard as other occasional Page-sung throw-downs like “Sea and Sand,” “Ride Captain Ride," and “The Ballad of Curtis Loew.” Originally written and recorded during the Billy Breathes sessions, “Strange Design” was omitted from the album’s final cut. 

The band nevertheless recorded a handful of studio versions of the song, one of which ended up on the B-side to the European CD Single for “Free” (a slightly more atmospheric version vaguely reminiscent of King Crimson). An mp3 of this studio version was readily available for download from the February, 1996 installment of “This Month in Phishtory” at

Watch Strange Design on YouTube Phish “Strange Design” studio version. Video by cosmicdebr1s.

Conceived a few weeks before the birth of Trey's first child (as described 02/16/10 at Terminal 5 in NYC), Trey explains that he wrote "Strange Design" when he was thinking about "making that strange step from being a non-parent to a parent." The lyrics are more ethereal, introspective, and illuminating than many of Trey and Tom Marshall’s earlier songs, a trend that became more tractable during the inception of Billy Breathes

“Strange Design” can be interpreted in as many ways as Schrodinger’s Cat, but its reflections on life itself and the evolution of thought are notions that run throughout. Thematically, the song hints at an oft-repeated philosophy permeating Tom Marshall’s poetry as well as the band’s music…“Surrender to the flow”-- and even goes so far as to apply that concept to questions of mortality in the song's last refrains.

“Strange Design” was most frequently played in 1995 and typically appeared midway through the first or second set, often to give the band and the audience a much-needed breather. “Strange Design” made a rare appearance as the closing tune in the second set on 11/22/95, and was one of many highlights during the great musical assault of 12/31/95. The song was also featured as a follow up to “Train Song” in a trio of mini acoustic sets during the summer tour of 1996 (08/05/96 at Red Rocks comes highly recommended).

Watch Strange Design on YouTube Phish “Strange Design” – 8/16/96, Plattsburgh, NY. Video by NotCorbinDallas.

It was played only three times in 1997 (11/29/97 followed a monster hour-long “Runaway Jim”), twice in 1998 (08/15/98 from Lemonwheel is particularly affecting), and three again in 1999 (wedged between “AC/DC Bag” and “Divided Sky” on 12/12/99). “Strange Design” made its first appearance of the new millennium when it was played during the first set at Lakewood Amphitheatre (06/24/00). 

Then something happened, some call it hiatus, others recall a psychotic break, a fugue state where there was lots and lots of music, but very little of it based out of Vermont. It’s worth noting that Trey played acoustic versions of “Strange Design” on his solo tours (05/10/99 or 02/24/01 are both worthy of seeking out). Amfibian’s acoustic set on 03/31/01 also featured a Trey and Tom “Strange Design” duet. 

Vida Blue offered up its own rendition of the aforementioned tune with local hero, Page McConnell on acoustic upright piano (04/09/03 and 04/10/03 should fulfill your “Strange” desires). 4/11/03 features an acoustic duet with Massachusetts’ own M. “Cactus” Gordon that everyone should have in their musical stash.

But then, on New Year’s Eve, 2002, towards the end of the third set, “Strange Design” unfolded from the implicate back to the explicate, and balance was once again restored across the universe. The song made two appearances in 2003 (07/17/03 in Kansas & 11/29/03 in Philadelphia), before it served as a mid-set delicacy on 12/30/03 in the tropical mecca of Miami. It was only played once in 2004, on 04/16/04 in Sin City, NV. 

When Summer tour restarted five years later, people wondered whether they'd once again be able to “bring a few companions on this ride"-- and on 06/07/09 in Camden, their questions were resoundingly answered. Another notable appearance on 08/15/09 at Merriweather and a rare acoustic version outing on 11/01/09 in Indio, CA are both binge-worthy. 

Watch Strange Design on YouTube Phish “Strange Design” – 7/14/19. Video by shinepigeon.[/credit]

The song was played five times from 2010-2013 (like 10/10/10 in Colorado & 07/20/13 in Chicago), three times in 2014 (check out 10/29/14 from San Francisco) but only two between 2016-2019 (ie: 07/14/19 in Wisconsin). And then, on 04/20/22 at MSG, as the fog of the pandemic faded away, “Strange Design” made its grand return to the stage.

Last significant update: 12/19/2023

Recommended Versions: 1995-12-31, 1996-08-05, 1998-08-15, 2003-12-30

Albums: Live Phish 12, New Year's Eve 1995 - Live at Madison Square Garden, Niagara Falls, The Clifford Ball, Amsterdam


© Who Is She? Music, BMI

I'm needing less restraint before
I'm needing to hit the lights and close the door
I'm fine, I'm fine cause I'm...

Dripping in this strange design
None is yours and far less mine
Hold the wheel, read the sign
Keep the tires off the line
Just relax, you're doing fine
Swimming in this real thing I call life
Can I bring a few companions on this ride?

I'm feeling, my heart's not beating anymore
I'm feeling. it's alright, this happened once before
I'm fine, I'm fine cause I'm...

(chorus 2x)

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