The 1995 New Year’s show at Madison Square Garden is often seen as the coronation of one of the greatest years of Phish, and also the culmination of their their career to that point. Showcasing a musical smorgasbord of all things Phish, the band tore the roof off the most famous arena in the world announcing their definitive arrival to the music industry. After years of grassroots touring and dedication to their craft, Phish had proved to themselves, and to all, that they had succeeded. Peaking their musical style of the fall with boisterous arena improv and tightly wound compositions, Phish was at the absolute top of their game, and it showed.
Churning out what many consider to be the finest Phish show ever, the band played several top-notch versions of their most popular jam vehicles. The towering highlights included a divine first set “Reba,” second set adventures in “Drowned” and “Runaway Jim,” and a third set that featured a celebratory “Weekapaug,” and a near-flawless “YEM.” But despite these multiple peaks throughout the night, none were more engaging, vicious, and masterful than the “Mike’s Song” that concluded set two- the final jam of 1995.
The band built on the outrageous momentum created over the fist two sets, and as they approached their second setbreak, the piercing riff of “Mike’s” jumped off the stage like a shotgun blast of adrenaline flooding our collective consciousness. The Garden was soon engulfed in the heaviest improv of the evening, and with their razor sharp chops of December ’95, Phish created a timeless piece of improv that is still revered today.
Launching into the jam, Page brought his classic organ swells as the band climbed into a fierce and dirty “Mike’s” groove right off the bat. Fish and Mike developed a tight pocket in this initial part of the jam, allowing Trey to freely express his thoughts within the framework of a slammin’ groove. Trey got into some vicious lead lines quickly, and the room transformed into a sinister sonic dungeon as the band furthered their foray into darkness. The intensity of the music was palpable, as there was no laying back during ’95 “Mike Songs.” The band attacked the music with aggression and created a smoke-filled monster out of the first jam, but the real improv started when Phish dropped into the second.
For years, the most creative section of “Mike’s Song” was the second jam, following the power chords- the same chords that signaled the song’s conclusion in latter years. Somewhere along the way in the late ’90s, the band neutered one of their greatest songs, lopping off its ballsiest segment without notice. But we were still in ’95 here, and when Phish dove into the more menacing and improvisational jam, what resulted was the stuff dreams are made of. Following the drop, Trey almost immediately entered some solo-shredding that led the band into the meat of the song. On point and playing like one entity, Phish locked onto Trey’s pattern, entering some full-band grooves that got the room shaking in earnest.
As the jam progressed, it got more and more coherent as they collectively created passages of pure improvisation, related, but not connected, to “Mike’s” structure. This was 1995 Phish doing their thing, exploring outer rings of the musical galaxy with enthusiasm, determination, and a sense of unbridled adventure. Unsure of where they would end up, the band was squarely focused on the moment-to-moment progression of this masterful music.
Bringing the jam to a dissonant crescendo, the textures fell away, and the only sounds left audible were Trey’s multiple loops at the onset of a digital delay jam. One by one, the other band members left the scorching stage, eventually leaving Trey on stage, silhouetted by the smoke and lights, continuing his innovative one-man jam. Providing a psychedelic denouement to one of the raunchiest pieces of the entire Fall, the drone patterns created a fitting end to a raucous set. In the midst of this sonic collage emerged Trey’s voice, bringing us out of our meditative dreamstate, quietly saying, “We’re gonna be back in about 15 minutes. Don’t go away. Thank you.”
It was safe to say that no one was going anywhere. We had just witnessed a piece of Phish history, one of those moments you didn’t need to hear on tape to confirm its magnitude. Phish was in the process of annihilating The Garden in their first New Year’s Eve performance in the building, and we were all lucky to be along for the ride. When the band came out to “Auld Lang Syne > Weekapaug,” 1996 had arrived, and though many lasting moments came from the last night of ’95, this “Mike’s Song” was a crowning homage to one of the greatest years of the band’s career.
R1’s DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY – (Written by contest winner, R1)
7.17.1999 Oswego County Airport, Volney, NY < TORRENT LINK
“Continuing my trend of showcasing sick first sets, I come to you with another reader-request, suggested by several folks.
On an obscenely hot weekend in upstate NY, Phish matched the intense temperatures by bringing the heat, albeit a slow burn, for their weekend mini-festival. Busting out of the gate with a fiery, funktastic “Tube” replete with ubiquitous ‘Crosseyed’ phrasing, followed by a smooth “Boogie On,” it was clear that the fellas were in a dancing sorta’ mood. The highlight of the first set is the “Tweezer > Have Mercy” combo, featured in Miner’s Pick’s: Summer ’99. The jam starts off gooey thick, with a descending progression, before the band takes a collective inhale and releases as Trey’s notes seem to ping-pong between Mike’s bass bombs. Wonderfully melodic, yet full of searing Trey work, this relatively laid-back version segues sublimely into the Mighty Diamond’s plaintive reggae gem.
The second set saw the band welcome to the stage “Funky Bitch” sribe, blues guitarist Son Seals, to join them for a ripping version of the frequent cover as well as another one of his tunes, “On My Knees.” From there, the set blasted off with a ferocious” DWD.” What followed was some more of the relaxed summer flow, with a beautiful, fluid “Wolfmans > Sally > Timber” sequence and a “YEM” that struts to a similar reserved groove. This is some oxymoronic chilled-out, summer heat.”
I: Tube, Boogie on Reggae Woman, Birds of a Feather, Guelah Papyrus, My Sweet One, Roggae, Tweezer > Have Mercy*, Taste, Character Zero
II: Funky Bitch**, On My Knees**, Down With Disease*, Wolfman’s Brother > Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley > Timber Ho!, You Enjoy Myself
E: The Squirming Coil, Tweezer Reprise
*Trey on keys. **With Son Seals.
Source: Schoeps cmbi + mk2s > AD1000 15″ spread 130 degrees FOB