Tide Turns

Originally Performed ByPhish
Appears On
VocalsTrey (lead), Fish, Mike (backing)
Phish Debut2016-06-29
Last Played2018-07-28
Current Gap255
HistorianTaylor Franklin (taylorfranklin)
Last Update2021-07-09


The tide was high and the child shed tears as the moon disappeared behind the crowns of trees. 

As he grew up, exploring the world, he started to lose sight of the moonlight that once guided him. He journeyed out on his own, trying experiences he proclaimed and believed from which he would always abstain. “Just once” turned into “Once a month”; and then “Only weekends” until it naturally transformed to every day. 

He reveled in mountains of fun as he mined his expanding consciousness and floated above himself while rambunctiously laughing like a youngster; late night heart to heart talks with transients; and city hurdling and tripping with no curfew. 

Ultimately his choices became a compulsive habit; allowing him to feel lighter and free from pain as he grew isolated and spiritually tired. Blinded by the dominant forces of circumstance, something wasn’t right. The pain was unavoidable and this way of living wasn’t enjoyable, safe or healthy anymore. The beer turned to tears, the smoke caused blindness, the pills buffered emotions and the bad trip predicted ghastly departures which seemed substantial. 

The sky shifted to dark, the heart broke its silence, and still, the mind fought against a simple choice. 

He lay deep in the water, calling out for her. 


* * *


The moon reappears, the tide is low, and he is still here, as are friends old and new, nurturing family, and beloved sweetheart. They all await on the beach for him to emerge and dry off. There is a band by the rocks playing a song of hope. He makes a promise to not tread back into the turbid deep waters of fear.


He emerges and steps out. 


* * *


Phish’s "Tide Turns" is about the cyclical relationship of evolving from a place of despair and yearning for guidance to a place of strength and solidity which provides a foundation to offer that same support to the next person in need of guidance.

Trey’s lyrics are connected to his personal experience; in the early morning hours of December 15, 2006, he was arrested for "third-degree aggravated unlicensed operation, seventh-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and DWI - drugs" while driving in upstate New York. This led him to 18 months of a felony-drug-treatment court. During this time, he entered a court-ordered drug treatment program and subsequently served his time with community service. This resulted in a two year period marked by the fewest live performances since the start of this typically prolific musician’s career. At some point during or after this time he discovered and committed to a new life in recovery. When he returned, from a fan’s perspective, the difference was unequivocal; something changed within him and it was reflected in his appearance, attitude, and music. 

Although “Tide Turns” could be interpreted as a song about a general offer of support, the specific meaning is quite clear to one of Trey’s best friends and bandmates Jon Fishman, as he explains his interpretation in an October 2016 Rolling Stone article, stating how this song is a “clear description of a sponsor/sponsee relationship.” The article states, “Fishman heard it as a message to the people Anastasio sees daily at recovery meetings. ‘He was the guy that needed someone to help him get his head out of his ass,’ says Fishman. ‘And now, he’s the guy who says, ‘I’ve been where you are. I can’t get you out of where you are, but I’ll sit with you.’ You are helped, and when the tide turns for you, then you become the helper.”

Two years after its debut in 2018, on Jam On’s second installment of the “Ask Trey” interviews, Trey opened up about addiction. Never has Trey been so candid about his own experience and recovery practice, going into detail about his pre-show ritual involving praying in front of a toilet, avoiding his reflection in the backstage mirror, and meditating silently behind the barriers of the crowd’s frantic roar. 

Trey describes what happens next, saying, “We walk on stage, I clear my mind, and I also have to admit that I often think about whether there's someone in the audience who's trying to get sober. I try to tell myself ‘that's enough’ for me to try to be in unity with that person in the back row. Like it doesn't have to be a good show or a bad show. Just standing there, not behaving the way I used to thirteen years ago is enough of a gift for me, and that usually gets me to the center of the stage in the right headspace.” 

He goes into detail about what performance can mean to him personally. Trey sees every musical act not necessarily as an opportunity for the tide to turn, but rather to just be there for one another; caring and supporting by way of love. Maybe one day that person can stand on the beach to reach out to someone who has gone out too deep for their own good.

A few months after the Jam On interview, Trey was interviewed for a GQ article about musicians and their experience with addiction and recovery. He describes how getting arrested “was the greatest thing that ever could’ve happened to me.” He again goes into detail about someone in the audience who is out in the deep waters: “I walk on stage thinking, ‘I wonder if somebody’s out there trying to be sober tonight.’ And I would never say anything, but it makes me feel good to think somebody’s out there in the same boat I’m in. We’re at this event that is high energy, and there’s people smoking pot all over the place, and they’re having fun smoking their pot, and we’re having fun not smoking our pot. You walk on stage thinking, ‘Oh, my God, I wonder if somebody is in the back row at their first sober show?’ And then I kind of wink in my mind to them. I’m like, ‘Hey, man, I’m not gonna take that stuff either today.’” I can say for certain I know of at least one person upon whom he has had this direct impact; today that person is looking up at the bright moon in the sky.

Lyrically, this song is aligned with the more candid songs on 2016’s Big Boat album. Bob Ezrin, the producer of both Fuego and Big Boat encouraged the band to write directly from the heart. Never has a body of Phish songs been so overt and to the point as other Big Boat tracks such as "Miss You,” “More,” and Page’s “I Always Wanted it That Way.” Not only is “Tide Turns” a very personal song for someone who may want to stay anonymous, but the song is also a literal offer of support each time it is played. Trey may be up on the big stage, but he is equally experiencing life on the same rough seas as his intended audience.

Musically this song sings with the spirit of Muscle Shoals soul and grooves with the heart of breezy seventies AM Gold. The studio version of this song is hard to beat, with the graceful organ locking in with the soothing horns and heartwarming vocals. Phish’s live versions do not differentiate much, yet a highlight from 7/6/16 in Portland, Maine features Page's piano solo soaring like the seagulls over the nearby rocky Atlantic coast.

Another highlight is from New Year’s Eve 2016 when in the first hour of 2017 Phish played multiple songs complete with a horn and percussion section including three TAB members; James Casey on saxophone, Natalie Cressman on trombone, and Jennifer Hartswick on trumpet, as well as Andres Forero on percussion. This version includes a slight variation with a Page Rhodes piano solo after the second chorus in place of the regular Trey solo and Trey playing the outro solo instead of the usual piano outro. 

Trey debuted his solo acoustic version of “Tide Turns” on 3/10/17 in Troy, New York where he also debuted the acoustic version of “Shade.” The full band TAB debut appeared soon after on 4/20/17 in Charlotte, North Carolina, becoming a regular song in their repertoire, including a recommended stripped-down, bare and profoundly heartfelt version with the rare trio lineup on 4/27/18 in New Orleans. 


The important thing is to know that there is a way out. And the life at the other end of that is a beautiful life. Everything bad turns into an incredible gift. If people can find the way out. But I sympathize with how hard it is and how hopeless it seems.

- Trey Anastasio, GQ

Phish ”Tide Turns” – 06/29/16, Philadelphia, PA. Video by LazyLightning55a

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