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. Stoney Case Says:

    Bingos! I may have to progress all the way to Chicago then. Rattle Alice’s baby rage cage all day, float with the bees and honeycomb all night at northerly!

  2. BingosBrother Says:

    You’re always welcome here you cynical old bastard.

    Ithink that was the joke dorn. The ? is how will they get home after all that random arm waving?

  3. Jerome Garcia Says:

    Regressivist Case do yourself a favor & mix it up. Spin this gem:

    Chris Robinson Brotherhood
    TXR, San Rafael, CA

    Set 1:
    Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go
    Someday Past The Sunset
    About A Stranger
    Roll Old Jeremiah
    Shake, Rattle & Roll
    Vibration & Light Suite
    Beware, Oh Take Care
    Clear Blue Sky & The Good Doctor

    Set 2:
    Love’s Made A Fool Of You
    The Wheel
    Mr. Charlie
    Ramble On Rose
    Minglewood Blues
    Big Railroad Blues

    The Dolphins

  4. Kaveh Says:

    Morning BBers…

    Pittsburg Maze = thank you sir, may I have another.

  5. Kaveh Says:


    Free webcast tomorrow! 8:30 ET @HeadCountOrg benefit show with @BobWeir, @RatDogLive and special guests

  6. little umbrellas Says:

    Fully inspired. The Canyon delivers. Will be back to do it the Right way.

    Thanks again Irie, all worked out nicely.

  7. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    What’s going on in Chi-town Friday night? I will be in town.

  8. IrieWalton Says:

    Nice, LilUm!

    It’s a special spot and one that I was fortunate to work and live at for almost half a year. However, I know that I only scratched its surface during that time. The force runs so deep in that place that you could spend a lifetime there and not fully realize its power.

  9. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    Lil Um,

    Just outside of Fagstaff are some sweet lava tubes to explore. Between FLag and the Canyon.

  10. ren Says:

    “Cease phish listening, go to show, dose face, hear Imaginary Mikes Jam, hug a brother.”

    ^I like where Bingos head is at on this!!!!

    Grand Canyon likely the most amazing/awe inspiring thing my two eyes have seen….well, not counting L visions anyway….apples and oranges really

  11. Stoney Case Says:

    Get spun and it’s Saul Goode! Love it. Remember I’m a progressivist. Dicks12?

  12. BingosBrother Says:

    We got Styx and Foreigner at Northerly Island baby! I will look for more. Where’s Absent AJ been? He knows this shit.

  13. Jerome Garcia Says:

    lil um sending the diggity dank pics of sunrise this AM (or perhaps ystdy’s sunset) over the Canyon. Beautiful!!!

  14. ren Says:

    Just something I’ve been pondering…thought I’d toss it out here…..

    Would it be REALLY crazy for Mrs. Ren and I to just up and leave NY?….Move somewhere we’ve never lived before and start life anew?… jobs, no support structure. I mean, I’m kind of answering my own question here…..but running out of ideas otherwise….thought there might be some insight that the BB could provide.

    We love each other very much, want to be together and want to get started on having a family….just stuck in a dead end lifestyle here in NYC that we can’t seem to escape. Sometimes it seems like moving will at least get the ball rolling…while staying just perpetuates our current situation of maintaining and getting by. We’re both smart and hard working professionals with lots of good professional and overall life experience. We’re creative and enjoy that kind of work but know our experience doesn’t translate all that well to the rest of the country as far as opportunities etc. so we’re flexible in that regard.

    Seems risky but also adventurous at the same time….no risk, no reward kind of thing.

  15. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Do it… I wish I did… Now I’m stuck.

  16. Phamily Berzerker Says:

    Go for it, Ren!

    Santiago, Chile!

  17. Kaveh Says:

    And yes to the Tallahassee’s Mike’s Song!

  18. kevin Says:

    1 month till SPAC!

  19. Kaveh Says:

    We love each other very much, want to be together and want to get started on having a family …. We’re both smart and hard working professionals

    ^ @ren: this two are solid foundations to do whatever you two want to do. Don’t let yourself be limited. It is a scary process at times, but also extremely exciting. It is all which side of the coin you want to look at.

  20. btb Says:

    What kind of work?

    I’d move to Oregon / Nor Cal or Colorado in a heartbeat if I could. I’m a partner in a firm though so no way I can leave CLE for another 5-7 years at least.

  21. tela's_muff Says:

    @ren – plenty of job opportunities here in CO. i’ve done what you’re suggesting on 3 occasions. some times it works sometimes it doesn’t. at a minimum use a connection in a place of interest and have a little job situation ready just to make it a little easier. other than the family thing, i see no reason to live anywhere east of I-25. ::ducks::

  22. MiA Says:

    Free webcast of Ratdog is appropriately priced.

  23. little umbrellas Says:

    Thanks @Bezerker. Just headin out.


  24. Mr. Palmer Says:

    Loving these picks, Miner… Not familiar with many at all…

    Been a whirlwind last few days….Discovered a bear and a bobcat in our neighborhood in last 3 days…crazy…

    My little sister got married ..awesome time.. A little bittersweet that we had to say goodbye to my cousin, who on friday begins a 13 yr fed sentence for something stupid..leaving behind two young sons… Also learned yesterday an old HS friend lost a long, tough battle with cancer..37 yrs young….

    Puts things in perspective, for sure.. live life to the fullest

  25. Stoney Case Says:

    Lol MiA!

    Ren, come out this fall, make some cash, do west coast Phish, checking Sea, PDX, and SFO, LA. Then decide.


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