Down with Disease, by far the most jam-friendly tune from Hoist, has gone through many different evolutions and styles over its 20 year history. It has gone from a straight ahead rocker to a vehicle for psychedelic exploration to a funk monster to a shredding masterpiece to an open ended number that could be anything at anytime. It has proven to be one of the most versatile songs of Phish's original catalog. It has adapted as Phish has evolved in style and focus and has been a consistent heavy hitter in every era.
From its introduction in 1994 (barring the coda jam post Auld Lang Syne from 12-31-93) it got the standard album treatment in the live show setting and it continued that way in early 1995. The break through came at SPAC on 6/26 as they opened up the song in a gem that segues beautifully into Free. After that venture they didn't delve back into Disease until 12/12 in Providence for a 30+ min monster.
By 1996 Disease had become a more consistent vehicle for exploration with a standout version in Seattle on 11/27. But 1997 was the true tipping point. Highlight versions abound from spring in Europe through the Fall Tour and New Years run. From 1997 on Disease was officially a powerhouse.
From this point on Down with Disease morphed along with the current style and focus of the year in question. In 1997 it got the funk workout, in 1998 it went to a more ambient nature and then took a turn to the groove in the millennial era. The advent of 2.0 brought a renewed energy to many songs and Disease was certainly one of the beneficiaries. In 2003 Disease broke new ground when the wide open approach led to multiple versions that explored a variety of themes within the same jam. In 3.0 Disease has continued to be a consistent performer that every year has produced versions that can find a place in the top 10 of any complete year review.
After going through the years I found 3 distinct high points, 1997, 2003 and 2013. I definitely have a bias towards 1997 as it is one of my favorite years of Phish, but I picked that as the first high water mark because that is the year that Disease became a true improv beast. It proved to be a perfect fit for the cowfunk that developed that year right from the get go in Amsterdam in the spring and continuing through summer and fall. Before 1997 Disease always had the potential to be the highlight of a show but that potential was only realized on occasion.
The next peak year for Disease, imo, is 2003, when the song became truly open and could go anywhere and through multiple themes during the course of one version. Again, right from the start in spring Disease took on new forms and this approach continued throughout the year, leading to some major highlights in a year that was renown for its deep exploration.
In 3.0 Disease has proven reliable once again to deliver highlight worthy jams. I would classify 2013 as another high point in the evolution of Disease. Unlike previous high points this year did not necessarily debut a new style or form for the song, but 2013 in general it could be said did not produce a new signature style that was distinct from previous years. Rather this year just turned in a number of peak performances that will be revisited often.
Before I started this review I thought about how difficult it would be to narrow it down to some sort of Top 10 list. I have decided instead to come up with a list of candidates for a pantheon list of Diseases. The list includes 28 versions that ideally could get whittled down to a top 10 or 15 that could vary from person to person. Enjoy!