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.


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.”



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.



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.



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.



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.



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?”



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.”



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.



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.



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.



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”

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  1. bearito Says:

    Old school Miner write-up ftmfw! Looking forward to revisiting these gems.

  2. the Baker Says:

    Yea! Moore tunes!! I’m taking that 2001 in the head cans for the bus ride home in a bit!!!

    Happy Monday BB!
    Here’s to ‘Murika & a reminder of what we are NOT(…yet);
    …25 years later…we’re Still up-side down…

  3. Stoney Case Says:

    Bravo! Like a chapter from a book

  4. MiA Says:

    That was an excellent read. Key Arena Seattle is an excellent show. The funk was colliding with Hendrixy solos. Trey’s over the top, digital delay sound and phasing took on a completely different sound to his shredding.

    Disease (great), JJLC, Scent, Tweezer > Sweet Emotion > Disease

    Truly inspired. So much more Hendrix after Halloween too.

    It’s like the perfect MMJ cross. Talking x Hendrix

    Gonna love this playlist one by one. Thanks Miner!!!

  5. dusty Says:

    Highly recommend Coltrane and Johnny Hartman album for a lazy sunday morning. I’m still a day behind.

  6. Buddysmyles Says:

    Some of your Phinest work… Great read Mr. Miner! I was dating a lady during Summah of ’96 whom had some connections with the Band & i totally got to hang & stay/sleep back stage at the Ball(no band access… But encounters) what a wknd! So i jumped at the chance to work security for the band during their fall opener at Placid …. What a let down musically, flatest show i had ever seen(stiill a good time of course)…. I didnt see or hear anything from the band until the Great Went… I just couldnt believe what i was hearing… Was this Phish? Thanks for shining a light on this transition….

  7. RoosterPizza Says:

    A chapter with the playlist being the references. Miner’s well read!

  8. vapebraham Says:

    nice writeup, miner, and choice picks. RiL was amazing live; riveting experience.

    some other picks from this period: 11.2.96 stash, 11.7 gin, 11.18 simple>swept away>steep, 11.29 simple>sparks>swept away>steep, 11.30 2001>timber (jammed!), 12.1.96 tweezer, simple, reba, 12.6 mike’s>simple>Hood>week, 12.29 Caravan, Bowie, Gin>lizards

  9. marcoesq Says:

    Morning all. Thanks for the great read Miner, shedding some light on a time I am lacking knowledge in. Will take this list 1×1 today.

    Do love the Gainesville Tweez though, I spin that Road to Vegas EP a lot. great pusling, rhythmic beats backed by some shred tastic soloing by Red.

  10. vapebraham Says:

    11.23.96 (vancouver) is also a personal fave show from this period.

  11. sumodie Says:

    The Gorge to engorge:

    ” Live Nation applied this month to change its land-use classification, and hopes to open a restaurant, cafe, cabins, outdoor cinema, grocery and camping stores, more stage space, additional RV spaces and camping locations. Grant County commissioners like the plans.”

  12. Dorn76 Says:

    Why I came here to begin with! Enthusiastic fantastic piece!

    Fuck Monday.

    1 month til Cetacean season opens.

  13. the Baker Says:

    *if the Hood from JazzFest is “that Bad”;
    then the Slave from Pelham’12 is “that Good”*

  14. marcoesq Says:

    Pelham Rock and Roll>Lizards IS that good. Lest us not forget.

  15. vapebraham Says:

    2.20.2003 simple — $$$. put it high on your list, if you haven’t heard it in a bit. 2.15.03 Hood treating me nice right now. phish is fun.

  16. Kaveh Says:

    Morning BBers!

    Hope all is well and that everyone had a great weekend.

    Give this Playing in the Band a listen and let your ears recalibrate:

  17. vapebraham Says:

    GoT last night — holy moses! crazy good show and gruesome.

  18. phlorida phan Says:

    Way to go Miner, 4 Tweezers in a TTFM, always good!

    @Stoney, per yesterday convo, driving 9 hrs Tampa>Oak Mtn/Alpha.

  19. vapebraham Says:

    oh damn, this 2.15.2003 Hood — $$$. in your face, aggro jam (gravely trey tone) before end of tune. tricked out, loop tacked on to the end. will wake u up out of an OG stupor.

  20. George W. Kush Says:

    Gracias Miner.

    Probably one of my least listened to periods of Phish post 1994. Thanks for the highlights! looking forward to digging in.

  21. Luther T. Justice Says:

    vape, last night’s GoT ending was so awesome, although not the ending I was looking for.

  22. vapebraham Says:

    luther: badass last scene. holy shit!

  23. George W. Kush Says:

    Cool so Jivenation is going to take a national treasure that is The Gorge and commodify it. The remoteness and ruggedness is what makes it great. Who needs a restaurant and grocery store on canyon vineyard lands? Go prepared for desert camping, or don’t go, fluffy city folk. Whats next? a Whole Foods at Red Rocks?

  24. Stoney Case Says:

    Cheers Phlorida! You alligator state fans have gotten the Red Light shaft nearly as bad as the Texans and southwest desert dwellers. 9 hour drive super legit!

    Here’s hoping Trey’s been reading these posts, listening to the jams, then reading my salty commentary. Make me PAY for missing summer!

  25. Stoney Case Says:

    George, there’s a posh vineyard resort right next door to the gorge with cabins, yurts, bar and restaurant. All that makes sense. Don’t see a full grocery store. Maybe a trading post?

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