Debuted at the Warfield Theatre on May 27, 1994, “Simple” has played several roles through Phish’s career. A central use of Gordon’s composition has been as a high-energy interlude between “Mike’s” and “Weekapaug,” supplanting “Hydrogen’s” role for much of the late ’90s. Giving any “Mike’s Groove” a vastly different contour, “Simple” became a somewhat galvanizing song among fans. Some loved it’s catchy hook and bombastic energy, while others thought it was an intruder on sacred ground.
Although the band integrated standalone “Simples” into their setlists, it wasn’t until 1996 that it emerged as a vehicle for improvisation. Taking its feel-good melodies for the musical equivalent of mellow sails across the bay, Phish began to gradually explore the song’s potential. During Fall ’96, this potential was realized with several standout versions; specifically Halloween’s third set standout, Champaign’s powerful version of 11.8, Memphis’ emotive rendition of 11.18, and the popular twenty minute excursion from the tour’s last stop in Vegas.
1997 brought some outstanding versions of “Simple,” as the song straddled the fence between its independence and its connection with “Mike’s.” The Great Went‘s super-sized version was one of the most poignant ever played, while 12.9’s half-hour exploration brought the song to depths uncharted. 1998 brought “Simple” closer to its roots, as it was again the primary link in “Mike’s Grooves.” Yet 1998 is where our story begins.
A week after Phish had unveiled a stunning ambient journey through “Simple,” immortalized on Hampton Comes Alive, the band found themselves in Worcester, on the cusp of their last set of their ’98 fall tour. As they picked up their instruments for the final frame, they decided to open with “Roses Are Free!?” As the opener of the last set of tour, the sky was the limit! My mind zoomed directly into the stratosphere, dreaming of Nassau’s hallowed trek. As the song moved out of its composed section and into the distorted grooves that followed, all hopes were peaked for about a minute of music filled with aggressive textures.
Then, like a slap across the face, Trey came over the top of the potentially explosive launchpad and laid down the “Simple” lick completely out of context. Catching the rest of the band totally off guard, the “transition” was a trainwreck. “Ouch!” I thought to myself. Cutting of a “Roses” that had a full head of steam for “Simple!?”- that just didn’t seem right. But it was what it was, and I rejoined the concert after a momentary reflection on the musical incongruity. As the song passed through its verses and the band entered the jam, the music dynamically glided through the guitar-led improv.
Just when “Simples” usually trickle out into a quiet melodic ending, Phish chose the road less traveled. Instead of moving into silence, Trey began playing searing strings of notes that signaled to the band that they wouldn’t end there. Quickly getting the message, the others hopped back on board, creating an improvised realm that took very little time to grow into something wholly different. Taking a moment to collect their bearings, Phish plunged into a dark and evil jam. From the onset, the intensity was electric as the band molded a ball of dissonant sonic madness.
As the effects and distortion provided the glue of the jam, Trey and Fishman broke out into a cooperative groove that Mike and Page meshed their way into. For a period, this “Simple” existed as a driving rhythmic canvas dripping with excessive psychedelia, but it transformed quickly into outright lunacy. The band entrenched themselves in one of the craziest jams of the entire tour with absolute aggression. Mike’s basslines thumped a unique pattern buried deep under layers of experimental dissonance. Trey and Page created a terrifying wall of sound as Fishman threw down a barely-human beat behind it all. This was a voyage to the center of the earth, descending through the pathways of Hades. This was the power of Phish rearing its head in a brand new way; this time as the soundtrack for an insane asylum.
Peeling away some of the layers in play, Phish took the madness down momentarily before returning to a peak that ended this twenty-minute adventure. As the band let their effects echo out over the crowd, most people were completely floored by the sheer intensity of it all. Phish had entered a whole new territory and it took a mental adjustment to process the music. Yet, just as our minds were organizing the lunacy, Phish skillfully slid into the opening of “Makisupa.” Ever the tacticians, the band used one of their more relaxing songs to bring people “back” from the netherworld of “Simple.”
The rest of the set would progress to great heights, closing the tour with the triumphant farewell of “Bathtub > YEM.” However, none of jams would approach the daring experimentation and outright psychedelia of the not-so-“Simple” episode that took place at the beginning of the set.
“NO SPOILERS” HAMPTON DOWNLOADS UPDATE
The feedback received to the idea of “No Spoilers” downloads was a resounding, “Hell, Yes!” That being said, we are going to give it a whirl! There were many questions that came up, as well as some good suggestions- I will address a few now, but there will be a FAQ put up soon regarding the process.
The downloads will be hosted on a separate page. This is where the FAQ will also be posted, and I will publish that URL as soon as it’s up. Regular downloads (tracked and labeled) of the Hampton shows will be posted around the same time on Phish Thoughts’ home page, which will be the norm. The goal is to have two mp3 files for download: “Set 1” and “Set 2+E.” Every effort will be made to have one show posted before the next show starts, yet there is only so much within our control. (This time would be greatly decreased if there was a taper willing to join in on this project!)
While this all takes a lot of restraint on your part, it seems that people are willing to exchange patience for excitement, and we are gonna give it a go! More to come…
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
Here is Phish’s stellar performance at Great Woods in the revered Summer of ’93. A ripping second set opened with the fire of “2001 > Split, Fluffhead,” while also featuring a strong “Mike’s Groove” with an outstanding “Weekapaug.” Phish were a week away from entering August ’93, one of their peak months ever, and here you can begin to see why.
I: Llama, Horn, Nellie Cane, The Divided Sky, Guelah Papyrus, Rift, Stash, The Mango Song, Bouncing Around the Room, The Squirming Coil
II: Also Sprach Zarathustra > Split Open and Melt, Fluffhead, Maze, Glide, Sparkle, Mike’s Song > Y-Rushalayim Schel Zahav > Weekapaug Groove, Purple Rain > HYHU, Daniel, Good Times Bad Times
E: Golgi Apparatus, FreebirdTags: 1998, Jams, Songs