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. little umbrellas Says:

    Headin to Santa Fe. Gonna see the tubes. Glad to hear about my fellow brethrens inspired reflections on the Canyon. Much love to all ya all. Thanks BB.

  2. MiA Says:

    I endorse ripping up the roots occasionally. We definitely did coming to Austin from Minneapolis (for MrsMiA) but I was used to it as a kid after a while. N. Virginia, Minneapolis, La Jolla, Sunnyvale, Minneapolis, Austin.

    Austin has been a place that was comfortable like an old pair of jeans. Affordable, non-douchey, laid back, nice midwestern vibe, great music scene, fun city, etc. You wanted to know your neighbors.

    Much of that is changing, but not sure where else to go myself though. Boulder is nice, but $$$$$. So no go there. Tela’s has found an affordable place where he is at but still not “cheap” by any means. Luckily he can live “inbetween” cities, with no commute. If you can have a job where you don’t have to commute to an office, the world is your oyster.


  3. ren Says:

    Love the support of this!!!! All smart like minded folks encouraging you really is a good feeling.

  4. Kaveh Says:

    Free webcast of Ratdog is appropriately priced.

    ^ HA! Well played…poor Bobby.

  5. Kaveh Says:

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

    ^ An offer you should not refuse @Ren. (SF, Portland and SEA are all great towns…I know nothing of LA).

  6. jtran Says:

    we moved across the country too ren. granted I had a job I was transferring to, but didn’t know too many ppl out here. it’s worked out great.

  7. Kaveh Says:

    @ren: Fort Collins in CO is a killer town. Great vibe, exceptional beer and outdoor scene. They don’t call it Fort Fun for nothing.

  8. dorn76 Says:

    Colorado is divine, but I need the ocean nearby.

    Broken ground yet on the StoneyVillas? Got my $1000 set aside.

  9. tela's_muff Says:

    it always works out great when its the West you’re moving to. unless it’s Wyoming.

  10. Kaveh Says:

    @tela’s: fire me an email when you can: kjrahimi at yahoo dot com. Thanks.

  11. Kaveh Says:

    I forgot: Happy Birthday Mike Gordon!

  12. Jerome Garcia Says:

    New music rec Sturgill Simpson Metamodern Sounds In Country Music

    My buddy the funky drummer turned me on to Sturgill. Digging the cosmic cowboy tunes on Metamodern Sounds. Recent RS article that dropped today taboot:

  13. MiA Says:

    Looked into moving to “greater Southern California” area in 2004. $$$ was nuts. I can guarantee anyplace that Ren is going to is going to will be cheaper.

    He and MrsRen need to come to my suburban oasis in Austin and hang out for awhile. I can show him where the cool people in the city live. (By JG and Eli)

  14. Jerome Garcia Says:

    You can doeeeeet ren! Follow your heart & you can never go wrong my friend. Echo what Kaveh said take up Hospitable Case on his offer & go adventuring in the great Northwest! Who knows perhaps you’ll turn your recreational hobby of green thumbery into a viable profession. Plus you can help to build the BB retreat Stoney Land 😉

  15. ren Says:

    “If you can have a job where you don’t have to commute to an office, the world is your oyster.”


    Never realized so many other struggle with this…and Phish/the BB have certainly shown us that there are great folks to be found everywhere which makes leaving family sting a bit less. We’ve lived in LA, certainly love CO, will be heading to CLT later in the summer and the PACNW is next on the list for sure, maybe even as early as fall.

    I’ve always been torn between trying to do what I love for work and keeping what you love separate from work so it never gets tainted. I’m working as a product development manager in the footwear industry now, but I’ve been a footwear designer, CAD artist, concrete mason/carpenter among many other things….a true RENaissance man if you will.

    If I really loved my job/company/product I was working on I’d be willing to sacrifice more of the lifestyle I want. Conversely, I’m willing to do things I don’t love as much if it affords us the lifestyle we’re looking for.

    Just trying to find that sweet spot like I imagine most others struggle with…all just gets intensified when factoring having kids in etc. I’m 35 and my Mrs is 30 so its not dire…but we really should be building a more stable foundation at this point so we can get started.

    Its now or never!!! Thankfully I do good under pressure.

  16. Jerome Garcia Says:

    What MiA said. Would welcome yall w/ open arms.

  17. Stoney Case Says:

    Bobby Dub, send address and shirt size my way. Would look great with cut offs.

  18. tela's_muff Says:

    plenty of affordable places in Boulder County. lots of jobs. legal marijuana. craft beer joints every few blocks. mountains. recreational fun. 300 days of sun. Dicks. it’s a BB paradise.

  19. ren Says:

    Really, truly thankful for all you guys and your thoughtfulness.

    Much love to you all.

  20. Kaveh Says:

    Sorry, I’m posting too much…

    Announcing GarciaLive Volume Four: March 22nd, 1978 Veteran’s Hall

    We’re pleased to announce the next installment in the GarciaLive series — GarciaLive Volume Four: March 22nd, 1978 Veteran’s Hall. This new volume in the archival series highlights an often-requested Jerry Garcia Band line-up featuring Jerry, John Kahn, Buzz Buchanan, Maria Muldaur and Keith & Donna Godchaux. Falling just days after the conclusion of the Garcia band’s tour and days before the release of Cats Under The Stars, this intimate performance showcases a particularly relaxed, vibrant and soulful Garcia Band evident on moving versions of “Mission in the Rain,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” and the gospel standard “I’ll Be With Thee.” Rocking takes on “Mystery Train,” “I Second That Emotion” and “Midnight Moonlight” bring the surging tempos that offer beautiful balance to the performance and showcase the band’s tremendous musical range. The performance also marks the first guest appearance from future Jerry Garcia Band keyboardist Ozzie Ahlers.

    GarciaLive Volume Four: March 22nd, 1978 Veteran’s Hall will be released on Round Records in CD, MP3 and FLAC formats via the usual suspects. We anticipate an early July release, however we’re still sorting out a few production elements which prohibit us from pegging an official date. Stay tuned for an official release date and pre-order news soon!

    Jerry Garcia Band
    March 22nd, 1978
    Veteran’s Hall – Sebastopol, CA

    Set One: How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), Catfish John, Simple Twist of Fate, I Second That Emotion, The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down

    Set Two: The Harder They Come, Mission in the Rain, Cats Under the Stars, Gomorrah, Mystery Train, Love in the Afternoon, I’ll Be With Thee, Midnight Moonlight

  21. Stoney Case Says:

    Ren, come out mid September. Work for a month then do tour.

  22. Jerome Garcia Says:

    teeny b fire up Sturgill for your drive up to Sante Fe. Perfect high & lonesome desert driving material.

  23. jtran Says:

    looks like T3 and his SLF had twins this AM (or last night).

    Congrats t3!

  24. Stoney Case Says:

    Truth be told, I would move to the outskirts of Denver tomorrow if I could. It’s amateur hour out there in general. Could make some stupid money right now.

    Make money then GTFO. Denver proper is nasty getting nastier with the influx of pollution and the Jabroni migration.

  25. ren Says:

    So far we can agree that if we do the crazy up and move thing that CO is an excellent contender.


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