The Story of The Story of the Ghost

tsofg2When Phish went into Bearsville Studios in March of 1997, they knew they were going to record, but they didn’t necessarily know what. In addition to some demos that Tom and Trey had made, they decided to go into the studio to jam, and what would come out would be anyone’s guess.  After five days in Bearsville, NY during March, and five more in September, the band had a large amount of material to work with.  After the March sessions, they selected their favorite segments of improv and began writing songs around them- lots of songs.  Taking this unique approach to songwriting, much like “The Blob” from Billy Breathes, what would eventually emerge over the course of a year was Phish’s seventh studio album, The Story of the Ghost.

Phish largely reversed the process, focusing on what they do best, and based songs off their creative improvisation.  Remember in Summer ’97 when the band came out with an arsenal of new tunes?  These were Anastasio / Marshall songs written just before, and recorded during, these sessions; “Ghost,” “Limb by Limb,” “Piper,” “Dogs Stole Things,” Twist,” “Vultures,” “Velvet Sea”- I could go on.  But the songwriting that resulted from the Bearsville Sessions was one of the most interesting eras of the band’s career.  Songs such as “Birds of a Feather,” “Meat,” “Roggae,” and “Frankie Says,” all resulted directly from the group’s studio improvisation.  Phish returned to Bearsville in September of ’97 for more experimentation.  Then came more songs- “Fikus,” “Shafty,” “Black-Eyed Katy”- and when all was said and done, they had enough material not only for The Story of the Ghost, but also for the all instrumental Siket Disc, released in ’99.  The Siket Disc was made entirely of outtakes from these same sessions.  And there are still songs from these sessions we have never heard.

Bearsville Studios, Bearsville, NY

Bearsville Studios, Bearsville, NY

When Phish took their abundance of material back into the studios in April 1998, they had some deciding to do.  With over forty songs from which to choose, they had to whittle out an album.  Phish had flirted with the “concept album” with Rift and Billy Breathes, and would make a more outright attempt this time around.  Aside from “Guyute,” and the radio-friendly “Birds of a Feather,” all the tracks resembled an apparition of its whole self that we had come to know live.  Snippets of the entire picture faded in and out like ghosts passing in the night.  With two to three minute musical passages, Phish created their most flowing album to date, piecing together a musical collage.

The sound of the album mirrored the band’s looser live sound of the era, led by Gordon’s round, prominent bass grooves.  The clearest examples of this are found on “Ghost,” “Meat,” “Fikus,” “Shafty,” “Roggae,” and “The Moma Dance.”  The musical character of the album was both funky and sparse, creating a spacious rhythmic palette throughout.  “Guyute” was the one song that didn’t really fit in with the album’s vibe, though the fact that they finally recorded the complex composition offset its somewhat awkward placement.

Fall '98 (T.Wickersty)

Fall '98 (T.Wickersty)

At the end of the album, an insane “Moma” groove fades into the mix as the band begins to sing the lyrics right over the liquid funk.  Just as “Ghost” brings the album in, “The Moma Dance” completes its circle, as the band layers the lyrics to “Ghost” over the crack-like groove.  This is the perfect ending to a pretty perfect album; the only thing is, that it is not the ending.  Phish added the two-minute ambient verse “End of Session” to close the album.  This passage must be significant to the band, perhaps marking the literal end of their recording sessions, because it doesn’t necessarily fit.  A beautiful snippet in its own right, its music diverges from anything on the record, and comes after the album’s natural conclusion.  It translates like a “hidden track” that Phish decided to label, and perhaps that is the point.

Trey recently stated in Rolling Stone that he wasn’t convinced Phish had yet made a great album, upping the expectations for their 2009 installment.  Yet, looking back through Phish’s catalog, Rift, Billy Breathes and The Story of the Ghost jump out as valiant attempts.  With each of these albums, the band furthered the conceptual framework of what they were trying to do.  While Rift had an overall story behind it, Billy Breathes took an idea and began translating it to music, painting a certain mood.  However, when Phish dropped The Story of the Ghost in Fall of 1998, they released the most artistically coherent album of their career.

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Check out The Phish Archive of reviews and articles about The Story of the Ghost from 1998.

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DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:

9.30.95 Shoreline, Mountain View, CA < LINK

9.30.95 Shoreline, Mountain View, CA < TORRENT LINK

shoreline-amphitheatre

Shoreline Amphitheatre

This performance at Shoreline marked the fourth show of the band’s massive Fall ’95 slate.  This show marked the beginning of the band vs. audience chess matches which ran throughout the Fall and would eventually end in a 1-1 tie on New Year’s Eve at The Garden.  Highlights include the first set “Reba” and “Antelope,” while the second set brings a hot “Runaway Jim” and a sinister “Mike’s” jam that segues into “Keyboard Cavalry”- not to mention Fish’s first glorious cover of Elvis.  Trey also dedicated “Blue and Lonesome” to Jerry Garcia, in his amphitheatre, only months after he had passed.  (Here is a link with an overlay of “Steal Your Face” on Shoreline as pointed out on yesterday’s picture- pretty cool.)

I: My Friend My Friend, Cars Trucks Buses, White Rabbit Jam*, Reba, Uncle Pen, Horn, Run Like an Antelope, Blue and Lonesome**, Sample in a Jar

II: Runaway Jim, Fog That Surrounds, If I Could, Scent of a Mule, Mike’s Song > Keyboard Cavalry, Weekapaug Groove, Suspicious Minds# > HYHU, Cavern

E: Amazing Grace, Good Times Bad Times

* The Band vs. Audience chess match is introduced.  Page and a tourhead named Pooh played a 3-4 move intro to set up the board during the White Rabbit jam.  #First time played.  **Dedicated to Jerry Garcia.

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136 Responses to “The Story of The Story of the Ghost”

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  1. EJ Says:

    Good stuff, Miner! Keep it up, my phriend.

  2. Bobby Caplewood Says:

    RAMDOM post……I heard “Antelope” on The Weather Channel last night, about 25 seconds during national wrap up……Crazy…Anyone else ..Just flippin by…http://www.weather.com/tv/music/apr2009.html….

  3. c0wfunk Says:

    the three you mentioned are OK, but as a studio work -considering songwriting, production value, and palpable energy- undermind is still my favorite phish album…

    I always thought ghost would be better if they had written segues for between the songs like ghost, fikus, shafty, and moma that share similar grooves ..

    I’ve coopted phish’s songwriting style from this album in my own projects- I’d much rather comb through hours of improv and find snippets that are song worthy than sit down for hours at my piano alone trying to write out a song.

  4. bhizzle Says:

    @ c0wfunk regarding the latter portion of your post:

    By no means would I consider myself a musician, but I mess around and have composed songs and would have to agree with you regarding the style of song writing. Sitting down alone trying to write out a song is not how it should be done, especially if you don’t get paid to do it. I enjoy letting the sounds flow instrumentally and lyrically as opposed to trying to force things.

  5. camman Says:

    haha miner!!!!! i listen to the stroy of the ghost last night while driving around with my uncle, the whole way thru. He has seen trey a couple of times, but had never heard ghost. Needless to say the funk was quite infectious!!!

  6. Brimley Says:

    Bobby, this isn’t completely uncommon to hear on the weather channel…over the years i’ve heard Divided Sky, YEM, and SCI’s Birdland…all of course with that beautiful elevator music style

  7. Weyoun42 Says:

    Yep, somebody at the Weather Channel is a closet Phan. I first noticed it one night almost ten years ago. It was the “local on the 8’s” thing. It was completely over and I really hadn’t been paying attention, but some small part of the back of my mind said, “Hold on. Was that Phish?” Sure enough, it was. I’ve heard them here and there infrequently since then. (I get most of my weather off the computer now, so I don’t tune in as much, though.)

  8. hooks Says:

    birdand originally by Weather Report. go figure.

  9. hooks Says:

    “birdland”

  10. Danny B Says:

    I have to agree with almost everything you said about Story of The Ghost, except the part about end of session. I think that end of session really captures the mood of the album perfectly, leaving the listener wanting more. I think that if Moma Dance had ended the album it still would have been good, but end of session leaves the listener with a total connection to what the band was feeling during these recording sessions. I agree about Guyute maybe being a little out of place, but everything flows in a way that I don’t think they had acheived before these sessions. Ghost is still my favorite album, not because of song selection, but because of the vibe and connection of all the songs. It also contains a slightly sinister sound, especially with some of the gordon singing. We all know that they could kick out a dark sinister jam at any point live, but this album showed a darker side of Phish buried within the funk. I wonder why Vultures never made the cut, I think it could have fit in nicely. My 2 cents.

  11. Pence Says:

    listening to worchester 03 where phish played some of the solo project stuff together (clone, drifting etc..) and the Moma is very nice. Funk so thick you could cut it with a knife.

  12. Jacob Says:

    I’m going really off topic here, although I love Story of the Ghost. It was the first Phish studio album I bought on the day on which it was released. I remembered loving Velvet Sea right off the bat.

    What is everyone’s take on buying tickets from ticket vendors like Stub Hub, Tickets Now, etc? I really, really want a pair of good Deer Creek pavilions, but I’m struggling to justify paying $200 or more for them. Part of me says “I can afford it, go right ahead.” But even though I can afford it, should I do it? I want to pull the trigger, but if I do, doesn’t that just mean that ticket requests from scalpers will continue for tours to come? I thought I’d bring this question here, because at PT I would get “Heady lot trade brah.” No thanks.

  13. Weyoun42 Says:

    Another thing–that I’m sure Mr. Miner will touch on some day–is that there are recordings of stuff from those Bearsville sessions that can be had on the internets. Studio recordings of NICU, Tube, Vultures, Meatstick, Bittersweet Motel and several others (43 in all!). Some of them are rough, some are repeated, some have only Trey singing all the vocal parts (which makes a couple of them hilarious as he rushes through each line to get to the next), and some are just strange. But, they’re all good. Searching for “phish bearsville sessions” should turn them up. If not, I’m sure Mr. Miner will get around to them at some point.

  14. msbjivein Says:

    Nice Mr. MinER, Story of a Ghost is also my favorite studio album. One of only a couple Phish studio albums I can listen to from beginning to end. ( Rift & Billy Breathes are the others) I can’t think of a better way for a band like Phish to go about song writing. It really captures the power of their Improv and creativity. Which IMO makes Phish who they are. I knew Phish came up w/ a lot of new songs during those sessions. But haven’t really thought about how HUGE the addition of those songs were to their live performances. Some epic songs came from those sessions no doubt!! Thankyou Mr. MinER!

  15. Pence Says:

    @Jacob.. IMO if you want really nice pavs, you might have to bite the bullet. If Im guaranteed to get close id pay an extra $50 or so. Yes it blows, but to be honest I dont think that will ever change.

  16. msbjivein Says:

    @JAcob, I personally don’t give a shit what you do w/ your money. You are right though about the scalper BS. But that’s gonna happen either way bro. Unless you can convince every Phan not to buy scalper tix. I understand why you want other head’s opinions. But really Who fucking gives a shit? It really is hard as shit to get in these shows. You either have to be lucky, Have connects, or buy from scalper. There are still people who get shut out no matter how much they have their shit together when tix go on sale. That used to not be the case . This is just my two cents.

  17. Pence Says:

    here is the link to what the bearville session just for easy access 🙂

    http://bt.etree.org/details.php?id=521720

  18. A_Glide Says:

    ^”I personally don’t give a shit what you do w/ your money”

    right on. If you work it you can get wherever you want to go for face (except red rocks/fox… at this point) but then you gotta get pavs, trade for better pavs, trade for better pavs, and then your sittin 100 level at whatever show you want. Or, since your time is worth something to you, just throw dough and get down.

  19. msbjivein Says:

    Thanks Pence!!

  20. hawkinbj Says:

    I was just about to post that until I read the comments Pence 😛

    Great album, my favorite as well.

    As for Phish on TWC, I’ve stumbled across both YEM (the beginning part) and Divided Sky back in ~2003, but haven’t heard anything since. Good to know there’s a phishhead behind the scenes there haha

  21. Manny Phresh Says:

    @jacob

    If you are able to afford it, buy the tickets and have a blast.

  22. Weyoun42 Says:

    There ya go! Thanks Pence.

    Another reason I like Ghost: My name is neither Brian nor Robert, but that one is definitely for me. It’s like the words to that song were written specifically for me. That and Waste off of BB. I don’t listen to Phish for the lyrics, but sometimes they’re just spot-on.

  23. Weyoun42 Says:

    Oh, and I can’t get enough of the song “Somantin” off of the Bearsville Sessions. I think it only got played live three times by Trey’s band. Love the song, though.

  24. bhizzle Says:

    thanks for the etree link Pence

  25. Jacob Says:

    Thanks for the comments guys, I’ll definitely take your advice into thought. Now, back to the subject at hand.

    How great is the guitar solo on Limb by Limb? I always have to play a little air guitar when that comes on. Love it. And the cover artwork to me is fascinating. Check out George Condo’s other works if you haven’t, they are wild!

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