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”

  1. ren Says:

    Dorn- agreed on the taxation of that geerage. I’m too young to be counting death breaths….too much time left for that. Need more savoring life breaths…like sticking your head out of the window somewhere near Plattsburgh at like 2am heading to a festi….or Utah…I remember Utah having a very unique and not unpleasant smell

  2. sumodie Says:

    Plenty of hip places to live in the northeast too

    I learned my lesson when I moved to chase a job

    Where I live and with whom are primary for me

    Work / career is third place or less

    I say move if youre unhappy in NYC, esp since youre without kids

    Change is hard fo’sure

  3. phlorida phan Says:

    $549,000 gets ya around 3,500sqft here. But you have to deal with all these beautiful beaches.

  4. ren Says:

    “Where I live and with whom are primary for me
    Work / career is third place or less”

    Yup. Couldn’t agree more.

    We’re 1st world peeps, there’s no escaping that at this point, but we like to consider ourselves less focused on material things and all that BS. We can certainly adjust to and thrive at a lower income level which seems to be the likely scenario when leaving NYC.

  5. tela's_muff Says:

    Boulder is another place i wouldn’t live in unless i was in my 20’s. don’t get me wrong, it has some great restaurants, breweries, and music. great location next to foothills. BUT, it’s a little much for me, people-wise. i hate driving in Boulder, and riding your bike there can be hazardous. the cost of living as mentioned, isn’t cheap. you could live in Longmont, Erie, or Lafayette, and get everything Boulder has to offer. great time to be investing in property in any of the above mentioned towns.

  6. ren Says:

    Thanks again for all of the thoughtful commentary…I’ve monopolized enough of the board today but am certainly leaving in better spirits than when I arrived.

    Now go listen to this amazing show FROM THE YEAR 2000 ::singing::

    You will not be disappointed

  7. ren Says:

    Current plan du’jour:

    -quite jobs towards end of Aug
    -head to PACNW since we’ve never been
    -work our way behind the Redwood Curtain (With) and lend Stoney a hand
    -mosey on down and over to CO being sure to stop in Moab

    I should probably get a Subi first

  8. Jerome Garcia Says:

    I should probably get a Subi first

    ^yes yes you should & ftr it’s spelled Subie 🙂

  9. Gavinsdad Says:

    One more of these miner 96>97 picks to go. On that French 2001…typical wah chicka chicka. I liked when they slowed it down even more and porno’d it by summer time.

    I love the relo talk tho my anchor dropped pretty permanently when I chose to live in the burbs of Philly. Dirty hard ass place that I find charming. Who knows…I am not bitter about this…but if my wife wasn’t a died in the wool “northeast girl” I would be in Sonoma or near Telas. Done and done. But in the meantime my rapidly growing brood have great schools and friends and community and access to a city. I’m much more portable and forgiving. U can plop me down anywhere and I’m good. Learned that by touring more than anywhere else.

    Hope u get some clarity Ren. Sounds like u gotta go. Also, have MIA school u on the twin cities. Another great place to live and work.

    Chill ass NE spots: Northampton, Ithaca, Portsmouth, Portland, Burlington.

  10. hoedown Says:

    I’ll chime in to add support to Chill ass NE spots:
    -NH: Portsmouth / Dover / Newmarket very chill, cool and accesible place to reside. Mountains are 1-3 hours in all directions north and your 20 minutes from the seacoast which is literally some of the nicest shoreline on the right coast.

    -Maine: Portland = Just as cool / chill as NH or Sourthern Maine Seacoast just a bit further out of the way which has both pros / cons.

    If it wasn’t for my better half wanting to move out of the NH seacoast region (she grew up there), I would have easily stayed in that region to start buidling our “foundation”.

  11. ren Says:

    Couple hundoK more and you get 10 acres, a barn and a Yarmouth address

    Comes with a voicemail greeting personally made by Mike….in which he says “NO”

  12. btb Says:

    Moab is really cool. Telluride & San Juan Mtns in general are also a must.

    SW Colorado, although sparse and rural as fuck, is really beautiful. Not sure what the economy is like there, but that didn’t matter to Henry David Thoreau so to hell with it. 🙂

  13. shred Says:

    NYC is a crazy and hard place to live but I will never leave again. in my blood. But if I were in another person’s shoes I would certainly go for it as long as the new place is well researched and WE had a job and a place to live.

  14. garretcorncob Says:

    A thing I learned yesterday:

    Dick’s 11 Piper can’t take the place of morning coffee, but it sure doesn’t hinder the waking up process.

    Would love to see some top 10/20/50 jams of the year for some 1.0 years to compare head to head with the 3.0 lists Miner’s put together. Those are what I’ve had on my phone for a couple weeks so I’ve been spinnin nothing but 3.0 for the last month, progressivist style. Some quality music the last couple years, regardless of how it stacks up.

  15. jtran Says:

    make sure you like the heat if going to moab year round

  16. garretcorncob Says:

    Or if you’re going to be in the kitchen. Because otherwise I politely suggest that you get the fuck out.

  17. Dorn76 Says:

    Guess you guys like Julius then. Or I guess you’ll be out in the lot slinging hetty burritos by the time the encore drops…

  18. vapebraham Says:

    jackie greene band + rich robinson band combined tonight in filly. thoughts?

  19. btb Says:

    3.0 is all about the Possums

  20. vapebraham Says:

    spinning 1.1.11 Snally yet again. the drop out of the vocal jam never gets old. hearing trey on point doesn’t either.

  21. Gavinsdad Says:

    MIA – while I haven’t pinpointed the birth of type 2 I have enjoyed looking at track times on the Phish OD app. I checked Gin and the first biggie is the Amherst 95. A classic not my fave type of gin that melts into monotonous mini kit blather. Not my cup. Very next Gin is longer, Spectrum 95 and I’m on that now.

  22. Jerome Garcia Says:

    I like San Diego & I definitely dig this SD Mike’s!

    kayabrah my suggestion is to GO. Been very much impressed w/ JGreene as of late. & Rich Rob’s band looks pretty good taboot taboot. Check out Rich & band tackle Got To Get Better In A Little While. Sick!

  23. Jerome Garcia Says:

    ^pardon me it’s Got To Get Better

  24. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Rich Rob Band set from SXSW at the famed Continental Club.

  25. RoosterPizza Says:


    Come on up to Plattsburgh!

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