Phish is a live band whose musical essence lives in their on-stage improvisation. Because of this truth, their many attempts at studio albums throughout their pre-1997 career, never truly captured their live sound. With 1996’s Billy Breathes, they had finally succeeded in making an industry-accepted and widely acclaimed studio album, yet it still didn’t reflect their live sound. In the days following Phish’s Winter 1997 Europe tour, where they had fully completed their funk transformation, the band stepped into Bearsville Studios in Woodstock, NY with a new approach to their work.
Having discovered a looser approach to their live jamming, the band decided to bring that approach into the studio. Throughout 1997 and 1998, they would be in and out of the studio for sessions of straight improvisation. Phish had no preconceptions of what would come out of these Bearsville Sessions, and the goal was just to create. After the sessions, the band went back and listened to their jams, and began to write songs around the most interesting and catchy sections. This was how The Story Of the Ghost came to be. On the album, the tracks existed as shorter ghost-like apparitions of the songs they represented, often fading in and out without any hard endings. A true concept album, The Story of the Ghost came closest to representing their live sound. However, when the band released their favorite outtakes from their sessions of March 11-15, and September 29-October 2 of 1997, on an instrumental album The Siket Disc, a new level of studio and live sonic resemblance emerged.
Page went back and listened to the material not used on their official release, selecting portions of music he found particularly interesting. These portions were then brought to engineer, John Siket, who mixed the selections- but there was never any other music played on the album. No overdubs, no retakes, just snippets of live Phish- in the studio. Totaling nine instrumental, bordering on ambient, tracks, The Siket Disc was a instant favorite of fans favoring more abstract Phish soundscapes and darker psychedelia. When it dropped less than a month before summer tour on June 3, 1999, many fans wondered if these live outtakes would somehow be incorporated into the upcoming tour.
Needing to wait no longer than two sets to find out the answer, late in the second set of Bonner Springs’ tour opener, Phish started a dark ambient jam out of Bug that built into layered sheets of distorted sound, eventually segueing into the beginning of Stash. Phish had just debuted “My Left Toe,” the first track of The Siket Disc. This abstract jam would work its way into setlists all summer long, providing dark intros, and outros for jams- the most glorious coming in an dark-turned-blissful extended exploration at Star Lake on 7.21. In addition, the post-apocalyptic sounds of “What’s the Use,” the album’s most impressive track, regularly worked into sets as well. With such precision, melody, percussion, and subconscious bass work, it’s hard to believe that this “song” is really just a jam. Transforming into a composed piece, this heavy musical segment was awe-inspiring to see live, and helped define the 1999 sound.
“The Name Is Slick,” evokes the feel of a late-night smoky jazz club, and it’s choppy guitar licks came straight out of Trey’s repertoire. The track’s melodies appeared live both before and after the disc’s release. The “Slick” melodies are particularly prominent in the Great Wood’s Split from 7.12.99. “The Happy Whip and Dung Song,” a track sonically resembling a crazed psychedelic merry-go-round, made one live appearance in Alpine Valley’s huge second set of 7.24.99, out of the end of Mango song. The only other track off The Siket Disc to appear live was “Quadrophonic Toppling,” a soundscape that came at the end of the gargantuan 40 minute Big Cypress “Sand,” cementing its place in the annals of Phish history.
Mere snippets of improvisation, The Siket Disc, brought forth studio-set Phish jams, that when compiled into an album, transports the listener right into the middle of Phish jams. With no context surrounding the deep musical segments, it’s not necessarily an album for Phish beginners; but when you know what’s going on, it emerges as Phish’s most creative and interesting album to date.
1.4.03 (Weekapaug >) What’s the Use
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
Miner’s Picks: Summer ’96 & Miner’s Picks: Fall ’96 (links below)
Because these didn’t make it up to the site until the end of the day yesterday, I wanted to give you a chance to download this great music. Totaling 15 hours, it covers most all essential 1996 Phish, as they moved toward a new sound. I am giving you second links right below here, but the track listings, and original links, are in the previous post. Enjoy!
In other news, with all the Phish hubbub these days, Scott Bernstein, of Hidden Track fame has started a Phish portal site called You Enjoy MyBlog. With links to articles, videos, and audio downloads, its a place for all things Phishy. Check it Out!