If you have seen Phish enough, you know they are musical acrobats with the ability to go anywhere at anytime. Ultimate improvisers, you never necessarily knew where the next surprise would come from. When they dropped into a Tweezer, Mike’s, Reba, Bowie, or YEM, we knew to get our dancing shoes on, because the heat was coming. However, some of the most improvisationally transcendent moments at Phish shows often occurred when the band decided to dig deep and launch an exploratory jam off of a song that doesn’t usually include one. There are many examples of this throughout their career, from the Nassau ’98 Roses to the Charlotte ’03 Hood. From the Camden ’03 Scents and Subtle Sounds to the Memphis ’96 Simple, or the IT’s Yamar, Phish has been known for picking and choosing their spots to go big, and below are a choice selection of some of their many unexpected massive jams. (The tracks are compiled and downloadable below)
1. Boogie On Reggae Woman 9.18.99 Chula Vista, CA
Opening the second set with the percussive rhythms of the Stevie Wonder cover, logic would have had it that they were just opening the set with some fun before dropping into the heat. Having been inserted in setlists rather routinely since Phish brought the song out of a nine year retirement at Dayton ’97, this version begins with some typical extended, structured funk most all versions feature. But when you think this is all about to wind down, Trey starts leading with some solo lines, and all of a sudden the band is moving away from the straight funk into some Phishy territory. Soon the band picks up on the fact that they are turning this into a different monster all together, and the other members begin to play divergent lines until the structure of the song has given way to pure Phish music- blissfully pure improvisation. A triumphant and masterful jam that stood out far after the tour ended, this Boogie On is a one-time-wonder.
2. Fluffhead 7.24.99 Alpine Valley
The ultimate old-school Phish composition, Fluffhead was always a showcase of the band’s virtuoso talent and insane precision. A multi-part composition that defined the early years of Phish- combining jazz, rock, and classical fugues- Fluffhead illustrated the band’s accuracy in nailing longer complex compositions, akin to Divided Sky. Yet, this first set Fluffhead, in the friendly wooden confines of Alpine, would take another course all together. Blowing out the ending guitar solo of the song, the band decided to side step the finish line in favor of an incredibly psychedelic section with wailing guitar over some heavy bass lines and cacophonous groove. The jam settles into a bouncy place where Mike’s bass echoes fully throughout the large pavilion, carrying the music. Transitioning from a maddening jam into a smooth dance session, the band takes a wonderfully improvised, groove-laced section out for an extremely long time. Sitting into some laid back improv that seemed like it had to have initiated from another song, and carrying the audience on a funky ride through a Phish carnival, the likes of this 32 minute Fluffhead have not been seen before or after this explosion.
3. Character Zero 11.26.97 Hartford, CT
Almost exclusively a short set closer, and often considered a buzz kill, this night was the one large exception in the rock song’s career. Taking the ending Hendrix-esque talking guitar solo to the next level, Trey led the band away from the ending vocal harmonies and into a primordial soup of sinister dissonance. This jam gets excessively dirty with Mike throwing down hard unique bass patterns, as Trey wails over Page and Fish’s sound sculpture. The band decides to dive head first into a ridiculously psychedelic roller coaster ride through the dark side. Locked into musical patterns that sound like the inside of a lunatic’s mind, Fish and Mike retain the band’s groove throughout, and Trey begins to solo as if captain of this futuristic space vessel. One of my favorite jams from Fall ’97, if not ever, the band segues smoothly, in a shimmering bass led fashion, into a raunchy 2001. This is some of the best stuff ever.
4. Crosseyed and Painless 11.2.96 West Palm Beach, FL
Two days after Phish awed their audience with a masterful rendition of Talking Heads’ Remain In Light in Atlanta’s Omni for Halloween, they found themselves in Florida, ready to revisit their musical costume. Coming out in the second set with a invigorating Crosseyed opener, the band took the Talking Heads’ song way beyond its normal ending, creating one of the most listened to Fall ’96 highlights. After tearing through over twenty minutes of uptempo collaborative jamming, and the consistent vocal reprise of, “Still Waiting…,” we had finally waited long enough, as the band segued from the improvisational odyssey into an equally enthusiastic Antelope. With this pre-FM soundboard, this is always a great listen.
5. Jibboo 7.4.00 Camden, NJ
In a summer where the band opened one of their sets with Jibboo every other night, fans expected something out of the ordinary for the second set July 4th opener. When the band began with the chords of Jibboo, people on tour were besides themselves- almost laughing. Were they serious!? Well, it turns out they were. While all Jibboos of the summer stayed within the standard structure of its groovy jam, this one, as Emeril would say, “Kicked it up a notch!” With a half-hour of improvisation, Phish used their normally fun jam vehicle to create something larger. With improvised melodies from Mike and Trey, the jam begins to get very interesting as they begin to leave Jibboo, but are still carrying the rhythmic patterns of the song. About twelve and half minutes in, you began to realize that they were not necessarily heading for the ending- and from this point out, the jam becomes very unique, while never losing its infectious danceability. Approaching Antelope-esque territory, the jam built in intensity over the course of the last twenty minutes, eventually losing any attachment to the song structure and morphing into a triumphant July 4th masterpiece.
6. Fee 7.8.99 Virginia Beach, VA
While Fees are sometimes known for containing little melodic tails on their ends, this second-song Fee is the longest ever played. Clocking in at over 22 minutes, this jam begins in the fairy tale melodies of the song’s ending, but after some minutes, Fish picks up the beat and the whole band jumps aboard as it is clear they are moving outward. Turning into some truly inspirational upbeat improvisation, this little known Fee provides quite a journey into the unknown as the show had just begun. Trey exercises his soloing muscle for a period of this jam, stirring some gorgeous melodies into the mix. Turning quite dissonant and intense, this jam leaves its launching point far below its trajectory as it soars to uncharted realms. A treat, especially if you don’t know it, this version of many people’s “first favorite Phish song” goes deep into the band’s improvisational portfolio.
7. The Mango Song 9.17.00 Columbia, MD
Known for its poppy melodies and catchy chorus, The Mango Song is usually played in a standard way that everyone loves. Typically well placed in a set, Mango can provide light at the perfect time. Yet, this night in Columbia, MD, the light of the song gave way to some extended psychedelic debauchery that would prove to be the most creative music ever to emerge from the old school composition. As Trey maintained the final staccato guitar notes, the band created an interesting musical mattress under him as he eventually joined them in a bass led groove that began to lead to alternate places. The jam remains relatively mellow for a very short time, the band adds layers upon layers, soon creating a rich melange of sound and texture with Mike and Fish holding down a patient groove. The jam soon evolves into an ambient soundscape, with all band members contributing many effects to the musical monster. Incredibly creative and out there, this eventually gives way to a bombastic set-ending, Free. If you don’t know this jam, it will make you listen twice to take it all in.
8. Funky Bitch 11.22.94 Columbia, MO
Popularized as filler on one of the Live Phish releases, this jam finally got its due respect. Opening the second set, on this night the standard bluesy funk cover got down right nasty. Phish uses the natural ending point of the song to launch directly into a completely different type of jam with Page playing masterfully from the onset. This is typical of ’94 improvisation in its sense of unbridled adventure. At a time when you really never knew where the band would go next, this jam serves as a precise illustration of this phenomenon. Moving through several very different segments, this jam is a golden relic from the monstrous month of November ’94.
9. Johnny B. Goode 11.17.97 Denver, CO
I always feel that when Phish plays this song, they are grasping for something that is truly not them. With the Dead having covered the ground-breaking Chuck Berry rock and roll classic, Phish probably should have just left it alone. However, in one of the band’s greatest shows, the song appeared in an oddly constructed second set, and wound up being the improvisational centerpiece. In a show that is known for its outlandish first set, the second usually goes unmentioned. Yet, as the band built from Disease into Oblivious Fool (old school version) and finally into Johnny B. Goode, it seemed like they were having a lot of fun. As soon as the song was coming to a conclusion, they carried out the high paced rock groove for a few bars and then switched gears into some truly crazy Phish music. Nothing but pure improvisation on a night where the band could only spin magical tales, this jam is the one and only time Johhny B. Goode has added something to a Phish show. It added one of the best jams to one of the best shows of Fall ’97.
So, to commemorate all these instances of being “Pearl Harbored” by Phish, I put these out-of-left-field jams into a compilation called “Miner’s Picks: Sucka’ Punched.” Download them and enjoy all those times you were hit with a jam, and swept off your feet without ever expecting it. Add your own “sucka’ punched” experiences in comments!
1. Boogie On Reggae Woman 9.18.99 Chula Vista, CA
2. Fluffhead 7.24.99 Alpine Valley, WI
3,4,5. Character Zero > 2001 > Cities 11.26.97 Hartford, CT
6,7. Crosseyed and Painless > Antelope 11.2.96 West Palm Beach, FL
8,9,10. Jibboo > I Saw It Again > Magilla 7.4.00 Camden, NJ
11. Fee 7.8.99 Virginia Beach, VA
12,13,14. The Mango Song > jam > Free 9.17.00 Columbia, MD
15,16. Funky Bitch > Jam 11.22.94 Columbia, MO
17. Johnny B Goode 11.17.97 Denver, CO
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
Another classic relic from the analog era, this soundboard copy will re-up your old school XL II. Playing in their backyard, Phish ripped a typically loony and adventurous old-school show featuring many transitions and balls to the wall jamming. This show also features the debut of Axilla, Fast Enough For You, Lengthwise, and I Walk the Line, as well as the first Big Ball Jam complete with Trey’s explanation of the concept. With Gordon Stone on guitar for three songs, and an “Ice, Ice Baby” interpretation in the Mike’s jam, this show has more than enough to keep you engaged. As if that were not enough to mark this night as special, Bold As Love was brought back after a two and a half year, 318 show, absence for the encore.
I: Maze, Fee > Foam, Glide, Split Open and Melt, Mound, The Divided Sky*, Esther, Axilla#, The Horse > Silent in the Morning, Run Like an Antelope**
II: Mike’s Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Bouncing Around the Room, It’s Ice, I Walk the Line#, Tweezer## > Big Black Furry Creature From Mars## > Tweezer Reprise, Big Ball Jam+, Poor Heart^, Fast Enough for You#^, Llama, Lengthwise#^, Cavern
E: Bold as Love
*Trey teases “Those Were the Days” (“All in the Family” theme by Adams/Strouse) during his solo. #First time played. **With “Those Were the Days” and “Lizards” teases, and “All Fall Down” language. ##With “I Walk the Line” teases. +First time played; followed by explanation of how the “Big Ball Jam” works. ^With Gordon Stone on pedal steel.
Source Notes: Sets I and II were at two different decibel levels and set II had a couple significant level changes throughout the set. I evened everything out a little more with WaveLab4 prior to resampling.Tags: Jams