Twelve years ago today, and four shows into 1997, the Phish created a monster. In their second visit to Amsterdam, and their first to Paradiso, Phish played a second set that was not only musically superb, but pointed in the direction the band would head during the famed year. It wasn’t until the Hamburg show in Germany on March 1st that the band say they “clicked” during the “Wolfman’s” jam, finally realizing the style of collaborative play they had sought. Yet, this epic night in Amsterdam was like a neon street sign pointing in the direction of Hamburg.
Opening the second set with “The Squirming Coil,” the band built the piano outro directly into the amorphous intro of “Down With Disease.” Throughout 1996, “Disease” had become a central jam vehicle, creating upbeat rock textures and extended feel-good excursions. Sparked by the Clifford Ball’s third set version and strewn throughout Fall ’96, “Disease” had developed into a melodic Type I Phish anthem. This version from Amsterdam would be vastly different.
The band sat in “Disease” territory for the first part of the jam, but as the improv progressed, some layers were pared away and the pace began to gradually slow. When Fishman dropped his driving beat, things began to get quite interesting. The entire band found themselves in a more spacious musical medium, allowing them to greatly alter their phrasings. This segment first developed into a mid-tempo rendition that still held some ties to “Disease,” but that all ended at once.
As the band moved into one of the first extremely slowed down “Disease” jams, a trend that would dominate ’97, this music sounded different! I vividly remember getting this tape and when listening to it for the first time, being staggered by the pace and patience of Phish’s playing. This was the same band that wound up 1996 in Boston’s Fleet Center only two months earlier, but they sure sounded completely different. This was the first early ’97 jam I heard that opened my ears to where the band was heading. Mike was far more prominent in their slowed down grooves, while Trey played far more sparsely, accentuating the band’s rhythms. The music seemed like molasses compared to the arena rock of late ’96, and it sounded amazing!
Careening down I-95 with a couple of friends, we sat in silent amazement as this analog uncovered the raw ’97 style for the first time. The band brought the music to a creeping pace where every note offered by each member could be heard distinctly and meant something. There was no high-speed layering, but a focus on completing the musical ideas that were started by each other. As the jam hit a few rhythmic stops and starts along the way, listening to this tape was like rediscovering Phish. Their improv just kept getting deeper and deeper, leaving any remnants of “Disease” far in their wake.
Right out of this dark and methodical jam, Phish seamlessly moved into the debut of “Lucy Had a Lumpy Head,” a song that seemed to fit congruently with their new style. Far slower than most versions played in the future, the song was a revelation- a dark, eerie composition that catered to the new sound Phish was moving towards. This wasn’t your happy-go-lucky-Phish; this was something wholly different. After the band moved through the verses of their newest song, they briefly sat in the thickness before Trey initiated a soaring guitar lick that brought the jam in a totally different and triumphant direction.
Leaving the song behind and embracing sublime adventure, Phish built this segment into a cathartic piece of music, complete with spontaneous melodic chants. Before long, the band was back to a quicker place and carried a strong melodic theme that directed the jam. Page commandeered the lead with his aggressive piano patterns, while the rest of the band created a dissonant backdrop for his work. This was Phish in the process of discovering; taking risks with abandon and just creating.
Flowing through more overt psychedelic textures, the band naturally arrived at a chugging rhythm which transformed into yet another section of improv; one far closer to the groove-based sound the band was gradually uncovering. Spanning several peaks and valleys of musical creativity, this surreal jam out of “Lucy” is must hear Phish- and was so revolutionary in its context.
Accessing a far more mellow and transcendent realm in its final stage, this jam contained it all- a beautiful illustration of Phish at their best and on the brink of something huge. Without any awkwardness whatsoever, the band transformed their gorgeous ambient creation into the beginning of “Taste.”
This “Taste” was phenomenal, carrying all the energy and momentum Phish had built over the course of the night; however, instead of focusing on the jam itself, I want to highlight one of the most masterful transitions in the band’s history. As Phish built the song’s polyrhythmic patterns, it was clear that their musical brains were adhered tightly together. Moving effortlessly through the soaring jam, the band prepared to approach the final ascent to the peak of the jam- and they were absolutely crushing it. Building…building…building…the peak was imminent, as Trey hit the melody signaling to his mates to enter the final stages. Yet, instead of playing the shrill peak to “Taste,” Trey perfectly- and i mean perfectly- laid down the “Disease” lick at the peak of the jam, bringing them back to where this madness had begun. The rest of the band moved triumphantly with him, reentering “Disease” immediately. This was one of those spine-tingling Phish moments that my friends and I listened to at least 1000 times, often cheering in response, as if the band had just hit a home run.
Phish pulled off such a full-speed and wildly creative idea with absolute flawlessness it was almost too much to believe. The perfect apex to an incredibly new-sounding set, Phish was off and running down the yellow brick road of 1997. The final three songs- “Suzy, “Caspian,” and “Sleeping Monkey”- were mere afterthoughts to the revolutionary playing that had preceded them. This was only the beginning, but what a beginning it was!
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY:
I: Soul Shakedown Party*, The Divided Sky, Wilson, My Soul, Guyute, Timber Ho!, Billy Breathes, Llama, Bathtub Gin > Golgi Apparatus
II: The Squirming Coil > Down With Disease > Lucy Had a Lumpy Head* > Taste > Down With Disease, Suzy Greenberg, Prince Caspian
E: Sleeping Monkey, Rocky Top
*First time played
“NO SPOILERS” HAMPTON DOWNLOADS – UPDATE
We are making quick progress in our quest to bring “No Spoilers” versions of the Hampton shows to anyone and everyone who can’t make it. We have created a FAQ and all information related to this project will be hosted at https://phishthoughts.com/nospoilers. If you have any further questions, comments or suggestions, please email them to email@example.com.
If you are patient enough to stay off the grid, this will be the next best thing to being at Hampton. You will experience the show in tape delay, but also in mystery, without knowing what Phish decided to bust out. You can have a legitimate Phish party if you have enough like-minded friends!
Remember, bookmark https://phishthoughts.com/nospoilers !! (This URL is subject to change; stay tuned!)
NO MORE LANGUEDOC
The rumor that has bounced around the Internet has been confirmed, Paul Languedoc will no longer be mixing sound for Phish. Here is some recent correspondence between a Phish Thoughts reader (name removed) and Paul:
you’re probably getting a lot of this but the band wont be the same with out you. I hope your back to keep those boards consistent and the band pumping. They need you and most of all we need you! A band is like an instrument with out a main component it will never be the best! You know this better then anyone!
Thanks so much for the compliments, but I’m sorry to say I won’t be with the band on the upcoming dates. I had to move on a few years ago and I like very much what I’m doing now. It’s true that I’m getting a lot of this, nice to be appreciated.
Best of luck, Paul. We will miss you.
Just keep making those guitars for Trey!