What Happened to “Mike’s?”

6.16.09 (B.Kisida)

6.16.09 (B.Kisida)

If you were to ask me what my favorite Phish songs are over the course of time, “Mike’s” would definitely be in my top three.  The sinister, evil side of Phish is what I’m all about, and over the years, there has been no more routine vehicle for dark improv than “Mike’s Song.”  Including two jams- the first, quasi-structured  jam (formerly with trampolines), and the more exploratory “post-power chord” jam (often usurped by “Simple”)–  between the years of 1994 an 1998, “Mike’s” was one place where aggressive, full-on improv lived in Phish shows.  And it was a beautiful thing.  But due to the increased use of “Simple” as a “Mike’s Groove” interlude- cutting off the song precisely where the second jam started- the frequency of second jams, where the shit used to down, began to dissipate and eventually disappear.  Let’s track the development of “Mike’s” through the years, with audio examples, and see how it went from an improvisational epic to a short, relatively predictable piece of Phish music.

(Remember, if you like any of the audio clips, just click the orange title to download it!


Fall 1995

Fall 1995

Traditionally, the raging, guitar-led jam after the drop, backed with tidal organ swells, served as an adrenaline shot directly to the heart, creating menacing bombast and darkness, while the second jam was where the band improvised more collectively.  With two sections of improv that went to places of the deep, “Mike’s” was a guaranteed highlight for years.  Through 1994, especially 1995, and 1996, some insanely psychedelic jams stemmed from “Mike’s,” and it was the second jam that defined the song and shot you into the abyss.  This era defined the “Mike’s” ethos, and many of the all-time outstanding versions still remain in this era.  Listen to the audio examples below this paragraph to understand what I am talking about.

6/20/95 Cleveland, OH [audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/ph1995-06-20d2t05.mp3]

12/31/95 MSG ————————– [audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/2-08-Mike-Song.mp3]

8/13/96 Deer Creek, IN > Lifeboy (listen only) [audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/2-03-Mikes-Song-_.mp3,http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/2-04-Lifeboy-_.mp3]


phishdestroysamericaIn 1997, the song took a funkward turn like most every piece in the band’s repertoire, and saw its structure begin to change.  This year usually saw the band indulge in an all-out funk jam before stepping into the heavy guitar-led textures of the song’s “first” jam.   More often than not, the band just blew out the first segment into a wildly creative dance odyssey, creating some of the year’s highlights, but rarely playing through to the second half of the song.

8/9/97 Alpine —————- [audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/ph1997-08-09d2t03.mp3]

12/2/97 Philly > Simple [audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/ph1997-12-02d2t01.mp3,http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/ph1997-12-02d2t02.mp3]


The Gorge 1998 (S.Bernstein)

The Gorge 1998 (S.Bernstein)

1998 was “Mike’s” last truly great year, and throughout this year we saw Phish develop the trend of using the second jam to spring into blissful realms, as opposed to furthering the song’s darkness.  Many times, including at both The Gorge and MSG on New Years Eve- two of the highest profile shows of the year- Phish featured this type of improv out of the typically dark jam,  and both times the results were other-worldly.  MSG’s version on 12.31 would be the last incarnation of the song’s second jam, a fitting melodic farewell to what was once the jaws of the “Mike’s.”

7/17/98 The Gorge —————- [audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/2-02-Track-02.mp3]

11/7/98 UIC ————————- [audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/02-Mikes-Song.mp3]

12/31/98 MSG ———————————– [audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/ph1998-12-31d1t02.mp3]


Big Cypress 12.31.99

Big Cypress 12.31.99

When 1999 rolled around, the overall robustness of “Mike’s” began to decline.  Throughout the year, “Mike’s” included more structured first jams and a noticeable absence of second jams- most often moving into “Simple.”  There were still some standout versions- no doubt- but the second jam had been axed in favor of bringing the guitar-led jam to a head using variations of the song’s original closing lick.  The ’99 series of “Mike’s Songs” was highlighted by the last version of the 20th century at Big Cypress- an earth-shaking version that noone will ever forget.  The swamps saw the band take the song’s “first” jam to places unheard of in one of the weekends undeniable highlights.

7/21/99 Star Lake ——————- [audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/ph99-07-21d2t02.mp3]

9/22/99 Las Cruces, NM ——————— [audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/ph1999-09-22d3t01.mp3]

12/30/99 Big Cypress ——————— [audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/4-04-Mikes-Song.mp3]


2.22.03 Cincy

2.22.03 Cincy

After the band began to standardize the song in 2000, the post-hiatus years saw “Mike’s” cropped into the eight-minute, virtually composed, jam that we know it as today.  I was hoping that with the return of Phish this year, we’d see the return of “Mike’s.”  But thus far in 2009, the four versions have been nothing but eight-minute guitar pieces with unadventurous jams- kind of the opposite of the song’s roots.  It would be great to see one of Phish’s greatest jams get its balls back at some point this year, but with a focus on new songs, that just may not be in the cards. Interestingly enough, when planning their 80-plus song list for Hampton, Mike began to lobby against his college composition, saying that he could no longer connect to it and the song had lost meaning to him.  He eventually gave in because it was a crowd favorite, but perhaps his band should have listened.

7/31/03 (listen only) ————- [audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/02-Mikes-Song1.mp3]

6/2/09 Jones Beach —————- [audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/Phish2009-06-02d2t01.mp3]

6/10/09 Knoxville, TN —————– [audio:http://phishthoughts.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/ph2009-06-10d1t07.mp3]



7.17.98 The Gorge, George, WA < TORRENT

7.17.98 The Gorge, George, WA < MEGAUPLOAD

05summ.pop.xlWith summer’s second leg approaching, and many planning excursions to George, WA, let’s look at one of the most popular Gorge shows ever.  Hot off their European tour, this was Phish’s third show in the states.  The second set is the stuff of dreams, and keeping with the theme of the day, has a massive “Mike’s Song,” not to mention one of the defining “2001’s” ever played.

I: Makisupa Policeman, Ya Mar, Gumbo, The Divided Sky, Waste, My Mind’s Got a Mind of its Own, My Soul

II: Also Sprach Zarathustra > Mike’s Song > Weekapaug Groove, Character Zero

E: Punch You In The Eye, Rocky Top

Source: unknown

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311 Responses to “What Happened to “Mike’s?””

  1. Robear Says:

    Mugician, I would take one night each Gorge for face if you still have them.

  2. Mugician Says:

    Robear: my email is devon . dejohn @ gmail . com

    Shoot me an email.

  3. butter Says:

    apple plus or minus didn’t allow me to see cali

  4. robojibboo Says:

    i know right! when it dropped in Knoxville last month, there was a moment where i kind of had to settle myself down because ive been hurt by a “Mike’s” before (2/21/03).

    Knoxville 09 “mike’s” was, to me, technically perfect but felt uninspired,

    mikes>hydrogen>groove doesn’t have to be all about dark, psychedelic improv anymore. now we have Faulty Plan and Ocean Sing for the freaky darkness to contrast the more lighthearted moments in a show

    i think the band wants us to consider every tune a possible jam vehicle. my advice is get used to the fact that the nasty jams are coming out of stuff like Kill Devil Falls and Rock and Roll, i’m not saying that five minute Pipers or six minute Tweezers are going to be common place, I’m just saying(as usual with Phish) expect the unexpected.

    epic oldies like mikesgroove and reba are going to please the casual fan especially if theyre being played like they were at knoxville this year – kickass guitar licks and perfect timnig instead of expansive improv with subtle swells and complex patterns

    hahaha but you know that as soon as we start reading and writing “Mike’s Groove” eulogies, Phish will tear one apart and make us regret ever doubting them, the kind that’l make the deer creek 96 tape i love so much sound like a turd.

  5. butter Says:

    the composed “regular” mike’s makes me happy and excited , am i a casual fan?

  6. butter Says:

    is anyone gettin excited for Red Rocks?

  7. Robear Says:

    ^butter, yes very excited. Just found out I’m going. I’ll be at the Waterwheel table talking about salmon and clean rivers. Drop by! I saw the nasty ’95 Mikes groove at Red Rocks. I’m excited to see old phriends and the band again. It will be my first venture since Coventry.

    Miner, nice call on the dark ’95 NY Mike’s too.

  8. bkisida Says:

    I don’t know, part of me thinks that the title of this post could be interchangeable. Instead of “What happened to Mike’s” it could be “What happened to Melt” or “What happened to Bowie,” or simply “What happened to deep, dark, twisted, sick jams.” Thanks Mr. Miner for going through the evolution with the precision of studying a single song, but I do think the trend is endemic throughout Phish.

    Still, I can’t even make that comment without it meaning different things to different people. I know some commenters were upset they weren’t getting enough deep Type II funk this tour, whereas others (like me) want deeper Type II psychadelia.

    I like the funk, but for me the rise of the funk in the latter half of the nineties was the beginning of the end. The funk cripples Mike and Fish as they are stuck holding down a repititous groove for Trey to solo over. This always felt like the influence of the earliest TAB with Russ and Tony: Boring as Hell. Trey composed some songs with Russ and Tony, and then they were introduced to Phish, and then Mike and Fish started trying to sound like Russ and Tony. Probably at trey’s request. He must’ve been attracte dto Russ and Tony for a reason. Perhaps he was tired of how much freedom Mike and Fish had. Lame if you ask me. If there is one single identifiable thing that makes early nineties Phish the best of all Phish it is Fish’s drums going over the edge of the cliff and the rest of the band being drug along. And besides, who still listens to early TAB?

    Also at issue is the entire notion of a Type II jam. I am not sure the term is clear, and maybe we need to invent a few more terms. Here’s an example: In the beginning, from what I can recall, Type II meant the kind of stuff that was happening in the version of Tweezer that is on “A Live One.” Big, long, exploring jams that dug DEEP. Everyone in the band took risks, and the result was always in doubt. Would it sound good, or bad? Would it work? Could they even pull it off? The answer was both yes and no, but the important thing for this listener was that I got to hear true risk and when it worked it was something completely special, and it sounded like no music that had ever been made before.

    Jams like that surfaced in 95 and 96 and sometimes in 97 before it seems like they were crowded out by safer, funkier, easier to dance to jams. But we seem to still be calling these jams Type II. I disagree, they ought to be Type III if you ask me.

  9. bkisida Says:

    Addendum: Maybe I am not alone. Someone at Phish.net is listing Type I, Type II, and Type III. I couldn’t agree more. I think there is plenty of overlap, but these 3 distinctions are valid and useful. Perhaps Mr. Miner would provide his thoughts. So, in summary, I think Phish 3.0 has had plenty of Type I and Type III, but not nearly enough Type II. This is what has been missing from Mike’s. From Phish.net:

    Type I and Type II: John Flynn raised (date?) the distinction between two “types” of jamming. Type I jamming involves variations on a song’s written notes and tempo; Type II jamming involves additional variations on structures and keys. Or, as he put it:

    I think Phish jamming falls into two types of jamming:
    1) Jamming that is based around a fixed chord progression
    2) Jamming that improvises chord progressions, rhythms,
    and the whole structure of the music.

    Pornofunk / Type III: __ suggested (date) adding to the typology Type III jamming to categorize the funkified sound (a.k.a “porno-funk”) that evolved throughout 1997, and particularly on the summer and fall US tours, especially in Also Sprach, Cities, Ghost, Gumbo, and Wolfman’s Brother. Some feel that this is not a “type” of jamming, but something closer to a genre, and that Types I and II jamming could occur within various contexts, of which Phish adopts many (rock, jazz, funk, reggae, folk, bluegrass, et al.)

    P.S. I have a random question. Does anyone know which Antelope (I would guess it was sometime in ’92, ’93 or ’94), had a great jam that went back and forth from blistering Antelope style and then fell into reggae grooves, went back and forth like that a few times? Had it on cassette forever ago and never came across it since.

  10. Deggy Says:


    Awesome post. I love the selection of Mike’s Songs you picked. Unrelated, does anyone know of a Grateful Dead website that provides similar info and maybe even downloads like phishthoughts does?


    PS Camden and Bonnaroo this summer were a blast

  11. zippyhybrid Says:

    Excellent discussion. My two cents:

    I agree with bkisida for the most part. What initially hooked me on Phish was about equal parts the Trey-centered, no-holds-barred blistering straightforward rock (i.e. Chalkdust from “A Live One”) and the deep improvisational weirdness that took songs in completely unknown directions (i.e. Tweezer from “A Live One”). I saw a lot of shows in 97 and 98 but frankly started losing interest once the funk started to dominate. There are a few of those jams that grew on me and I will listen to, but when I listen to older Phish I often gravitate towards 93-96 era recordings.

    I think that Phish 3.0 so far has been extremely interesting to follow, since it has evolved so quickly. They’ve gone from very reserved playing with hardly any jamming, a questionable sound mix, and weird tone coming from Trey’s guitar (IMHO), to rather energetic and improvisational jamming, interesting setlists and that relaxed-yet-tight feel that we would expect from them in only half a year. Plus, I think Trey’s tone is returning to normal…..or at least he has started to learn when to use the new tone, and when to stick with the classic tones.

    However, some of their older epic pieces have lost some flair. I still haven’t heard a Mike’s/Weekapaug, Maze, Antelope, Taste, or Slave that even approach some of their best versions from the past. Chalkdust, Tweezer, Bowie, Reba, and Hood are getting close…. On the other hand, I’ve been very impressed with YEM, Fluffhead, Wedge, and a few others which have been performed about as near-ideal that I could imagine. The YEMs from RR and the Gorge did a great job of combining classic early Phish composition (the beginning section) with 97-98 style funk (during the Boy-Man-God-Shit section) with 94-95 style Trey buildups to a Gordon bass outro and percussive, scat-style vocal jams.

    This is all to be expected of course….one of the great things about Phish is that you never know when a particular song will really shine….sometimes it’s an older one that uniquely fits the style they are playing at the time, sometimes its a newer one.

    Right now it seems as though the band is trying to pull out as much as they can from all eras of their career, both in song selection with all the old-school bustouts, to the jamming-improv style which seems to have elements here and there of just about everything they have ever done. I suppose they will just keep doing that until they find out what works and what doesn’t….it’s all pretty exciting if you ask me. I certainly haven’t been this psyched about seeing a Phish show in a long, long time.

    Oh yeah, btw in response to bkisida….you might try 3/13/92 from the Campus Club in Providence. I had that on a bootleg cassette labeled “Phish On Phishin On.” The Antelope is unlike any I’ve ever heard…very exploratory. They completely stop and restart playing a few times, there’s a few reggae-ish sections mid song, and they even throw in a BBFCFM with a weird “why-oh-why/how-are-you/hawaii” vocal jam in the middle. Even if it isn’t the one you are thinking of it’s worth a listen, I think. Very cool.

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