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. MiA Says:

    I can pinpoint my “blow my wad” Gin. Had been to quite a few shows before hearing my first Gin. Had no idea why it alluded me.

    First was Eagles Ballroom in ’94. A great night, totally psyched to hear the Gin, and thought (pre-second set) that PYITE, Gin was gonna be a great bearer of things to come.

    Second was Plattsburgh ’96. Super excited (post a Chalkdust which boded well) but I think is a meh Gin to me.

    Ames, IA in ’96. Barely remember this being anything but a stock Gin. Seemed like Gin’s were elusive to me.

    Dallas, Starplex ’97. Expected a “boring” Gin. Head.Blown.Off.

  2. lumpyhead Says:

    appreciate overhearing the career talks from you wise fellers

  3. little umbrellas Says:

    SnuggyCase puts the Ren family to work at SnipCamp!? RenFest ends up in NorCal! BB’ers all come out and love it so much that we team up and invest in land. All wives learn to live in yurts while better structures are built. Economic and Environmental collapse occurs but we make because of the group move.

    Will check that music Jerome. Currently listening to Remain In Light (a selection choosen by the lady!).

  4. Joe Says:

    Might have to check that Jackie Greene show out here on Friday. I’ve been jonsing hard for live music.

  5. dorn76 Says:


    “hearing Trey on point”

  6. little umbrellas Says:

    She is moving to describe the world
    She has messages for everyone
    She is moving by remote control
    Hands that move her are invisible

    She is only party human being
    She defines the possibilities
    Holding on for an Eternity
    Gone…ending without finishing

    Wanna define…so say so, so say so
    Divine to define, she is moving to define, so say so, so say so
    Night must fall now-darker, darker.
    She…has got to move the world…to move the world…

  7. Mr.Miner Says:

    have a companion post to this one coming up

  8. ren Says:

    Totally hooked on the site lately. Mrs. Ren loves it too. I’ve been pulling up just Tweezers recently and using the random selector to find ones I haven’t heard. If I get a 3.0 I toss it back and find an older one. I’m thoroughly enjoying this experience.

    I’ve made a list of my favs so far which I ‘ll share soon. I also mark versions where I think the rest of the show may be worth listening to for when I have time to go back.

    @Rooster- I thought you were moving north to take cat photos with DF?

  9. dorn76 Says:


  10. ren Says:

    Mr and Mrs Ren are EXPERIENCED clippers yo. We’ve got resumes. We like clipping to Talking Heads.

    I’ll make sure to save a long shower for your next post Miner!

  11. Jerome Garcia Says:

    More pts for teeny b’s SLF! That chick is alright in my book.

    Awesome Miner. Can’t wait to read it.

  12. BingosBrother Says:

    Hot Tub Time Machine Posts

    Not making it easy for Stoney Jabroney

  13. ren Says:

    Cool guys have cool girls ya’dig?!?!

  14. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    :Start PSA:

    There is no better structure than a yurt!

    :End PSA:

  15. MiA Says:

    I love these “evolutionary” style discussions. Looking forward to the companion.

    Key Arena ’96 shone far above any of the other shows I saw in ’96. I came out stunned. The Jimified funk of the Tweezer was not what I was expecting at all. Favorite of the 3 night run for sure.

  16. dorn76 Says:

    Head East, against the grain. NH/Maine, Nova Scotia, PEI… “Go West Young Man” is so 1850.

    Cliff Ball Reba is some God Music.

  17. ren Says:

    I want to see evolutionary pictures of BBers to accompany.

    All hempy crystal’d out

  18. Kaveh Says:

    Cliff Ball Reba is some God Music.

    Just spun that one…great version!

  19. ren Says:

    How the heck do you remember such detail from back them MiA?!?!?


  20. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Percussion breakdown in this SD Mike’s is ticklin my groovalator.

  21. ren Says:

    It just doesn’t get better than the Cliff Ball…period.

    MrsRen re-created it for me 2 years ago. Invited all my old show friends. Mailed everyone tickets and bracelets. Had fake grass in the living room with a tent. Goo Balls. Everything. Watched it big with the LCD projector. Surprised me and had no clue until I walked through the door. Cried like a baby.

    The goo balls caught more than a few peeps off guard LOL

  22. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Board version of this here Reba yall which is up next!

  23. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Gatdangit ren Mrs ren might be the best wife evah

  24. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Tripost ftw! Actually lots of super hetty mamas that the BB has lassoed. Remember how lucky you bastardos are. Ha!

  25. ren Says:

    Good idea JG!

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