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. sumodie Says:

    CRB in Stowe BT tomorrow that is

    Denver is way cooler than expected after my buddy showed us around last year. Guess I can book Dick’s when I get home tonight. Thank god I dont have to fly weekly as part of my job. Awake since 4am and feeling it

  2. Gavinsdad Says:

    Right on Sumo hang in there.

    Cliff ball Reba is a personal top 5. It’s the one that makes me feel the most blissed out.

    I don’t remember being at two shows and I was totally sober. Philly 03 and a Nassau 10/7/99. Literally don’t remember anything. For most others I remember a blip. I’m def one of those dudes who leaves a show and can only remember 2 tunes they just played tho. When I go in I go in and it all turns into one big thing. Music and people merge and I get spit out the other side when the encore ends. That’s just me…sober or bent.

  3. Jerome Garcia Says:

    On the downside, driving up to Stowe VT to catch CRB seems unlikely

    ^that’s a bummer man. But good news on the Carini front.

    Fixin to get my stache of 5 yrs & beard of 18 months cut off…the things we’ll do to impress the suits…

  4. MiA Says:

    Since I have to get on planes to see most of my shows, or plan out travel vacation long in advance, it’s pretty tough for me to forget those things like complete shows or tours.

  5. little umbrellas Says:

    ‘Jimified funk’ yes!

    Albuquerque. Phew… Kinda reminds me of a mix of Reno and LA.

    @PB. Dig your PSA. I can agree with that. But will the BB wives agree?

  6. jtran Says:

    giving set 2 a spin in honor of mia

  7. tzara's Says:

    It’s a testament to the good vibes given off by ren and mrs ren that the whole BB is trying to recruit them. Great peeps. I put in a pretty good pitch for SEA I think.

  8. George W. Kush Says:

    Gosh the BB fires up my uproot syndrome again. Good chatter to overhear today. Need a place with fun waves, decent real estate prices, hetty mamas, preferably smaller town-ish feel. Gluck Ren. Choices aren’t easy but the cosmic forces will steer you in the right direction. Good to have a wonderful woman willingly in tow.

  9. Gavinsdad Says:

    We already told u Kush. Up the hill from Santa Cruz.

  10. Gavinsdad Says:

    ^or OB w @jtran and them

  11. phishm Says:

    “Good to have a wonderful woman willingly in tow.” And no kids. You can basically go anywhere anytime you want. You seem to be happy, but don’t like your environmental surroundings. Make a change and stick with it. Don’t over think it and just let things happen. Make sure your wife is all in on the change and just do it. It will be that adventure that you and her share forever before you settle down and start living your lives for the little ones that will surely be created during said move. It seems the move is intended to find the right environment to raise a family if I’m reading you right. I wish you luck in your future endeavors and hope for the best. I personally never felt true happiness until I had kids so theirs that. That’s just me however and everything I wrote is IMO of course. Good luck.

  12. George W. Kush Says:

    Your right Gdad. OB/PB is a great area. soon as masters degree is done, Im on the search.

  13. Dorn76 Says:

    Brushing a 3+ year old girl’s long wet hair should come with a manual.

    It should come with a fifth of Scotch too.

    100% endorse the wall too wall Ball spins. Those are some of the few I put on end to end. Great gift in SBD.

  14. butter Says:

    Detangler spray after shampoo and conditioner while in shower Dorn 😉

  15. dorn76 Says:

    That’s what that stuff is next to the shampoo.


  16. butter Says:

    Nice Sumodie

    Sounds like your lawyer knows what’s up

    Gotta slow play those effers till they say “oh what we’re we worried about that this guy did”

    It’s stressful to play the waiting game, but much better than taking their sucker deals

    Way to take care of your shit. Best wishes moving forward

  17. butter Says:

    Nice read Miner

  18. gavinsdad Says:

    Kids asleep. Wife in NYC for work. Watching Phils v Nats. I know one of you mentioned it but they do the full blown Wilson chant w duh dunt duh dunt for Wilson Ramos. Kinda crazy….our tv color guys didn’t even say anything about it.

  19. Dorn76 Says:

    Trey should be content with the common man popularity of the Wilson chant.

    Fuck trying to record a hit.

    Sample got some radio play.

  20. sumodie Says:

    Thanks, guys. Waiting game has been nutty at times. At least summer and fall are cleared

    One more flight to go till Im in Hartford. Up since 4am for this down & back 2 hr mtg

    Spinning Phil’s Cap shows with Nels & Co. Phish for the last leg tho

  21. Stoney Case Says:

    Wilson chant a nationwide hit.


  22. BingosBrother Says:

    Re-release Wilson a la Let Me Lie. Instant hit. Jam City all tour. Crapdick should hire me. I’d think about it.

  23. Thomas Says:

    Does no one else find it just a little TOO convenient that both sports fanbases that have taken the Wilson thing on are in places named Washington?

    There is more to the story here, people. Don’t let the media tell you the “facts”

  24. MiA Says:

    I played “Heavy Things” for all my Dawson’s Creek loving friends

  25. BooVT Says:

    Sixth grade band and chorus concert.
    Frozen yogurt scam place.

    I need one of these above Mikes Songs to cleanse my head… How many more days til Great Woods? I can’t wait.

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