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.

***

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”

  1. Al Says:

    Isn’t it great that SAND from Cypress and BATHTUB from Great Went will be released on the Bonnarroo site!!!!!!
    Go here:
    http://bonnaroo.com/news/2009/04/22/bonnaroo-365-phish-clifford-ball.aspx

  2. wanderin Says:

    Don’t know if you already know this, but during these recording sessions, they turned up one night at a local bar in Bearsville / Woodstock and played for about 2-3 hours for about 50 people. Being in college in Albany at the time we were called to come down an hour or so into the show. By the time we would of got down there it would of been too late. Nevertheless, for those that went there that night, it was a real treat.

  3. Pencilneck Says:

    Was so pumped when this album came out, my and my roomie went down to the late nite record shop the day before release ’cause the dude on the phone said he’d sell it to us. When we got there he was not willing to do it. After about a half hour of busting his balls and a “You’d do it if it were your favorite band man.” He gave up and sold us the cd, most likely to get us out of his store. We dosed and cranked it, and it’s been my favorite album release day of my life since. Whoo!

  4. Wax Banks Says:

    Miner, tt’s important to make a distinction between the free-form jams that apparently evolved into songs (Moma, Fikus, Shafty, What’s the Use, etc.) and the complete arrangements Trey brought in to the studio (Limb, Twist, Velvet, etc.). Trey’s demos show that ‘Twist’ and ‘Limb’ changed very little in the band’s hands (modulo the mild tweaking that happened in ’98). The improv > album path worked well, but improv > show ended up being a lot less effective. So I agree that SotG is a great album in its way, but the best Phish tracks of that era were still traditional Anastasio/Marshall compositions.

  5. HYHU Says:

    Ha I just listened to the album last night. I look forward to reading your post later when I have more time.

  6. msbjivein Says:

    @ Jacob, I just checked out some more of Condo’s art work. Yourright there’s some wild shit out there that he’s painted. I dig the Limb By Limb also. For some reason I love Fikus! I used to jones to hear it live. I’ve seen it 2 times both in ’98. Fikus is one of my favorite rare Mike tunes.

  7. SOAM Says:

    I am amazed people actually give a shit about studio recordings from a band that makes a living and is known for the live experience…are you telling me if you had a choice between listening to live phish or an album -you’d choose the album?-They are one of the few bands that should be proud that what they do in a corporate studio has no effect on their success.

    The only time I listen to an album is if I don’t have anything live.

  8. Mr.Miner Says:

    ^ obv not, but it is an artistic statement by the band. It deserves to be looked at.

    And yes, the more composed pieces of the era, like “Limb” etc did come from Tom/Trey demos, true- though there are not many of them on the the album

  9. Al Says:

    @soam – Pebbels & Marbles sounds pretty live on the album. That’s why I like it so much. The song Billy Breathes on the album is really nice and was never played that beautifully live. But I see your point…

  10. SOAM Says:

    Fair enough.

    do any of the band members still party?

  11. Manny Phresh Says:

    @soam

    I think the entire band has changed their ways.

    http://view.exacttarget.com/?j=fe5c15797264047b711c&m=fefe1373716407&ls=fdf013717061027d721c7774&l=fe631575716106797214&s=fde6157575630275711d787c&jb=ffcf14&ju=fe2b16727d6d027d741074

  12. Weyoun42 Says:

    That’s like saying that if I could have prime rib every day, why would I ever eat a cheeseburger. Why? Because I still like cheeseburgers. Just because a live show is the peak experience doesn’t mean that the studio stuff isn’t fun or enjoyable. It’s just different.

  13. Selector J Says:

    Don’t know why, but when SotG came out I remember being somewhat disappointed after the first listen. I remember thinking it sounded slow and tired as a whole. The album just didn’t take to me right away for some reason, especially when compared to their previous studio effort, Billy Breathes. After a while, I liked it more and more but it took a few listens to really sink in. I think I was expecting lots of fireworks and for the most part it is one of their more solemn and understated albums.

  14. SOAM Says:

    Thanks MP

  15. msbjivein Says:

    @ SOAM, Being in the studio is part of being a musician. As a musician you want to put out a great album. Yeah they’re a live band but they like the challenge that the studio presents. For them to be able to get a point or feeling across on an album is a great acomplishment. We all know they’re pros at doing this live. Plus being in the studio gets your creative juices flowing. Believe me Phish would not be who they are today without the studio.

  16. SOAM Says:

    Seems to me that studio work would be like practice for a pro sports team and the gigs, the games. IMO

  17. Selector J Says:

    Interesting to note:
    I must not have been alone in finding this album difficult to grasp. Though peaking at #8 in the Billboard 200, SotG was comparatively unsuccessful in regard to record sales with their other pre-hiatus studio albums. The only one (pre-hiatus) yet to go gold.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phish_discography

    With the advent of mp3 purchasing, I think it’s unlikely any of the remaining albums yet to go gold will do so in the near future.

  18. Mr.Miner Says:

    Note: Article was just edited to delineate Anastasio/Marshall songs from group improv based songs.

  19. voopa Says:

    Miner, thanks for posting 9/30/95…an often overlooked show, since that tour had so many great moments. The opener at Cal Expo was OK, San Diego was better, LA was great, so we knew Shoreline would be crazy. And it was.

    It was setting up to be a perfect evening early on. Left LA early, dropped a friend home at the coast, got to the lot early to find hometown friends…was hanging around the early shakedown scene, and someone with a laminate (Jason Colton? I dunno…) said to expect something “special” in the middle of the 1st set. OK…

    Never found my friends, so I walked in…and there they were right inside! One handed me a double-dose, and I went off to the bathroom…on my way out, who’d I pass but Tom freakin’ Constanten.

    Everyone was sooo happy to be at Shoreline, especially with the GD scene teetering. I still remember feeling Fish’s bass drum in my chest when My Friend started. Boom BOOM! Boom BOOM! The White Rabbit jam is a treat, and there’s a great moment when Trey starts Antelope, but changes his mind and SLAMS into Horn. This Reba is tighter and better than 12/31/95, imho.

    Runaway Jim is good, but merely a precursor to the monster versions that came later that tour. The Mikes gets REALLY heavy before morphing into KK. And of course, GTBT rips. Check it out!

  20. Jay Says:

    @SOAM, many people don’t really care about the studio albums except hard core fans like us. As Miner said, it’s another vehicle for their artistic expression that warrants a look see. My plate is never too full to take the time to listen to Phish’s studio efforts. That being said, once I listen to it a few times I rarely return to listening to it again.

  21. Gary Lipp Says:

    This Shoreline show was my 1st Phish show

  22. Asher Says:

    Story of the Ghost came out 2 days before Fall 98 kicked off at the Greek in LA. My buddies and I were on our way West and we made a point to pull off the highway somewhere in AZ or Southern Cal (I don’t exactly remember where) so we could find a record store and grab a copy of the cassette. We bumped it all the way to the Greek.

    If push came to shove SotG is probably my favourite Phish studio album. When it came out I had been on tour long enough to have heard most of the songs develop live. The funk is to deep. What else can you say! If I could get down to one Phish tune it would be Ghost. Roggae is hands down my fav slower tempo song. And I still dream about the sick thick funk stew that the boys could stir up if they ever wanted to take Shafty for a ride for 15, 20, 30 minutes. They’ve got to add that one to their live repertoire. Just imagine the bombs that Gordeax could unleash on a live funky jammed out Shafty.

  23. bhizzle Says:

    Sorry to post this here, but for some reason I couldn’t get on the ticket exchange board. Want to trade 1 Darien lawn for 1 SPAC lawn.

  24. Pence Says:

    Over/Under on the Party Time announcement : Monday, May 18th

  25. msbjivein Says:

    ^^ Announcement of what?? The release date?? Or just an announcement that Party Time is the new album???

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