Bridging the Gap

Phishbill 10.31.96

Phishbill 10.31.96

When Phish concluded 1995 with a peak performance at Madison Square Garden on New Year’s Eve, nobody in their fanbase could have predicted that the band would return to the same room, two years to the day, and sound diametrically different. In fact, the same could be said for the their two-night MSG stand that nearly bisected these year-end holiday shows in late-October of 1996. There was still no hint as to the band’s oncoming metamorphosis, despite the fact that it would start in just over a week. In just the opposite vain, the band, for the first time in their career, had downshifted into a stylistic neutral following the end of their crowing year of ’95. That’s not to say didn’t play great shows. Virtually the entirety of their short US Summer Tour were standout shows. The Red Rocks, Deer Creek and Clifford Ball runs were stuff the of legend (and still are), while Hershey has come to light over the years as a show on the level with any of them. The only standard performances that aren’t still discussed today were their stateside return at Wolf Mountain, and Alpine Valley. But despite these standout Summer shows, Phish was treading stylistic water. They were riding out the wave of fast-paced psych rock that had delivered them to The World’s Most Famous Arena on the biggest night of the year, but they didn’t quite possess the same full-throttle nature as the previous Fall. Having only played a handful of headlining gigs in Europe while opening for Carlos Santana earlier in July, and with a resultingly truncated US Summer, they hadn’t had much on-stage time to develop a new direction before the start of Fall.

Billy Breathes

Billy Breathes

Phish released their sixth album, Billy Breathes, the day before kicking off Fall Tour ’96 in Lake Placid. And as they set out in support of this album (whose songs were virtually all live staples already), their shows—in retrospect—were pretty uninspired. This may seem hard to believe, but in the 11 shows that pre-date Halloween on Fall Tour, there are but three jams with all-time musical value eighteen years later—Pittsburgh’s “Maze,” Charlotte’s “Simple,” and Tallahassee’s “Mike’s Song” (whose treasure lies in its sub rosa rehearsal of Talking Heads’ “Houses in Motion”). That’s slim pickings for twenty-two sets of Phish, regardless of what year it is! Only two months removed from a stellar Summer run, Phish’s sense of purpose had faded and their shows were suffering.

But then came Halloween. A proverbial shot in the arm if there ever was one, Phish’s musical costume of the Talking Heads on October 31 in Atlanta, forever changed the course of their career. To learn “Remain in Light” for their third Halloween set, the band had to embrace a percussive style of groove-based playing with which they had only flirted. Composed with a far more democratic style Phish was used to up through 1995, “Remain in Light” gave the band a new way of looking at improvisation. This seminal performance was the first brick in the road to the band’s funk-based paradigm shift of 1997.  But five weeks of Fall Tour still remained!

Markthalle—Hamburg, GR

Markthalle—Hamburg, GR

And in these last five weeks, Phish’s new direction began emerge. The tempo of many jams slowed down. Trey became more and more enamored with his wah pedal, playing sparse and chunky chords structures for his band mates retort. Highlights began to bubble up at a far quicker rate—inspiration was clearly afoot—and they sounded far different than the music before Halloween. The thick grooves that we would come to know so well started to seep into Phish’s repertoire slowly but surely over the rest of Fall. This time period represents the beginning of a process that culminate on that fateful night in Hamburg, Germany, March 1, 1997—commemorated on “Slip, Stitch and Pass”—when everything “clicked” for the band, and they had fully realized their new direction.

During a 1998 interview with David Byrne, himself, for Sessions at West 54th St., Page looked back on Halloween ’96 and noted:

It may have had the biggest effect on us because we really learned the grooves and we really tried to get inside the grooves on the album…I took so much away from that. And the groove-oriented playing that we’ve done in the last few years – repetition, pulling things out, putting them back – all that sort of thing, a lot of it was from learning [Remain In Light].

The point of today’s playlist is to bridge the gap between Halloween and the the Hamburg’s March 1st arrival. I have selected tracks with which you can track the band’s stylistic progression over this time. Enjoy the selections. (And forgive the repetition of songs, there were only so many jams they were taking in this direction.)

Crosseyed > Antelope” 11.2.96 II, West Palm Beach, FL

The band was so amped about their Halloween set that they brought “Crosseyed”—and the whole Talking Heads style of jamming—directly to their next show. The results were legendary.

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Tweezer” 11.3.96 II, Gainesville, FL

Still with Karl Perazzo, acting as training wheels for their first excursions into full-blown groove, Phish continued their percussive style of play with this “Tweezer.”

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Mike’s Song” 11.6.96 II, Knoxville, TN

After a more conventional and high quality “Mike’s” jam (some with Trey on  mini-kit), the band breaks into an extended section of collaborative funk grooves, bobbing and weaving through some straight James Brown steez! This jam illustrates just how gargantuan of a pivot point that Halloween truly was, as only a week later, the band’s jamming sounds completely different.

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Tweezer” 11.11.96 II, Grand Rapids, MI

Here’s a “Tweezer” I’ve featured a lot before that sounds like it could be plucked from some point in ’97. Only 11 days after Halloween and the band was already turning the party out with dance music funkier than they had ever played before.

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Suzy Greenberg” 11.13.96 II, Minneapolis, MN

In between more torrid musical bookends to this long-form jam, Phish slows down into some serious wah-funk.

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Tweezer” 11.18.96 II, Memphis, TN

Gary Gazaway sits in on trumpet for this slowed down and swanky “Tweezer” jam. A cool diversion from the norm, but underneath Gazaway’s soloing, the band is plugging away at thick, collaborative grooves.

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Tweezer” 11.27.96 II, Seattle, WA

Within this standout “Tweezer” jam (and even within the composed song) you can feel the oncoming funk train slowly moving in. The pace has slowed and the music is thick. Toto, “Are we still in ’96?”

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Mike’s Song” 12.4.96 II, San Diego, CA

In this “Mike’s,” Trey starts in with the wah feel early in the first jam, and then again about ten minutes into this monster “Mike’s” jam, the band shifts into a very forward-looking musical feel without losing the harder edge of “Mike’s.”

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2001” 12.6.96 I, Las Vegas, NV

From the first set of Fall Tour’s finale, this is one of the very first jammed out “2001s,” and none had reached this length or absolute smoothness.

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Down With Disease” 2.17.97 II, Amsterdam, NL

I can still remember hearing this tape for the first time in college and thinking, “Who is this band?!” with beaming excitement. In this gooey “Disease,” the band is honing in on Cowfunk.

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2001” 2.18.97 II, Paris, FR

While this version may sound relatively common place after all these years, in the Winter of ’97, it was blazing a funkwards path.

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Down With Disease” 2.21.97 I, Florence, IT

Phish had begun to shift jam vehicles already, shying from “Mike’s” a tad more and leaning towards “Disease.” This version from Florence is brniging the band closer and closer to the goal of their collaborative quest. This one is an under the radar, first set gem.

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335 Responses to “Bridging the Gap”

  1. Stoney Case Says:

    Lol at yogurt scam place. We have two by us suddenly.

    Summer Tour. Multiple helpings of #Jambrosia

  2. bobby weird Says:

    Sumo, the older your case gets the better the result. After a while no one gives a shit and all judges want older cases off their dockets. Doesnt look good efficiency-wise. Judge much more likely to give a sweetheart deal to rid of an old case, stupid to begin with, and the ADA handling the old case also has pressure to squash it. Like fine wine, aged cases get better and better for the defndant. Whats that? You have a family emergency in Dec? Yes.

  3. IrieWalton Says:

    If jambrosia is anything like ambrosia I don’t want to see what it looks like after six hours in Camden’s lot.

    In the throes of packing for our vacation down south. Five days of no work emails, calls, meetings all being replaced by tall trees, fat nugs, and heady hops.

    Stoney, we’re coming for you!

  4. little umbrellas Says:

    At the Tune Up Cafe in Santa Fe, La Cumbre Elevated IPA is really really good. Win!

  5. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Think I need to find another JG Stealie avatar circa 1967-68 aka clean shaven Jer. I’d def hire the no facial hair me before the facial hair me. Sage advice from my good friend & mentor & whose good name got me in the door. But still #whothefuckisthisguyinthemirror

    Succinct & to the point assessment phishm. Kudos.

    This former Teton County Jailbird pulling for you sumo!

  6. Jerome Garcia Says:

    More proof in the pudding that teeny b & his SLF do shit The Right Way

  7. Random Poster...Nutbag Says:

    Jabroni’s are encircling me! Help! I kid. I don’t even know what one is to be perfectly honest (I’m thinking Jersey Shore?). Denver proper seems pretty similar to me as it did 17 years ago fwiw. It’s always been a nice place to live. Although the cost of housing is pretty dumb. When I moved here they said it was the “Californication” of Colorado. You don’t get a lot of house for what you pay and the housing market has exploded here in the last year. Commute is key though and mine is 15 minutes, no highways.

  8. Stoney Case Says:

    Yes! Jersey Shore. Often older. Their influx to Denver is exaggerated by me. Just love the word!

  9. Random Poster...Nutbag Says:

    It really is fun to say. Tomorrow I go shopping for steroids, bottle tan stuff, and Miami Vice suits. Gotta keep up with the locals.

    #milehighjabroni

  10. JP Says:

    Great read. I just want to say that I was at Wolf Mountain, as well as the first two nights of Red Rocks and the Clifford Ball. Wolf Mountain was one of my favorite Phish experiences. I’m sure a lot of this is personal experience (first show west of the Mississippi, 16 years old, etc…), but I really think the only reason this show isn’t talked about that much is that there really weren’t that many people there and, to date, I’ve never heard a good recording. For me, it was one of those beautiful flowing shows that Phish just crushed. You could feel their excitement about being back state side and it was an excellent precursor for the weeks to come. Two cents given. Carry on.

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