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.



Tags: , ,

335 Responses to “Bridging the Gap”

  1. ren Says:

    Congrats to T3!!!! Making it happen TIMES TWO YO!

  2. phlorida phan Says:

    Jabroni migration…..hilarious!

  3. Stoney Case Says:

    My girl right here! :love:

    Humboldts finest export

  4. MiA Says:

    Be in high ground. Next to the craft beer joints.

  5. Jerome Garica Says:

    Congrats to the T3 familia!

    Happy birthday Michael Gordleone.

  6. Jerome Garica Says:

    ^er ah Don Gordleone

  7. MiA Says:

    BBATX needs to get together this Friday for happy hour

  8. MiA Says:

    BBATX needs to get together this Friday for happy hour

  9. Jerome Garica Says:

    It’s a distinct possibility…

    BBATX show alert Fri 6/27 Brownout does Brown Sabbath @ Empire Control Room & Garage. JG bday show a day early but whatevs. Attendance required.

  10. ren Says:

    Picking a new city may be like waiting to see what shows MiA is gonna hit before buying tix.

    Where will MiA go next?

  11. tela's_muff Says:

    i don’t spend a lot of time in Denver, but when i’ve gone downtown to a place like LoDo or down on Colfax, i’ve always had fun, and never ran into any jabronis. if anything, lot of craft beer drinkers, pot smokers, road or mtn bikers, etc. i also never hear one peep from locals here who have any of the same issues with Denver that i’ve heard from the likes of SnubbyCase or AW. i get where AW comes from with the attitude towards pits. regardless, i’ve lived in or near Cincinnati, Chicago, and Phoenix, and Denver is safer, less jabroni’d, and overall just happier, as far as I can tell. all big cities are going to have their warts, but i’d take Denver in a heartbeat over a lot of the other options.

  12. Kaveh Says:

    Congrats @T3!

  13. btb Says:

    There’s a Casa Bonita in Denver so….it’s pretty fucking sweet imo

  14. MiA Says:

    @ren I want to go where I don’t have to work and can sit around and not do anything and get paid for it.

    Actually, I’m already there.

    That’s why moving is difficult for me. Never underestimate my lazy.

  15. btb Says:

    Bonner Springs Gin melting my noodle over here

  16. ren Says:

    What are your thoughts on NYC Telas? Just trying to establish a baseline

    Sometimes I feel like the only reason I still here is because of my fam

  17. dorn76 Says:

    Stick around The Northeast long enough and the jabronis will all head out West to the Legal Weed Belt.

    Come with me on the ship of dreams to a not too distant future…….The year is 2020, Phish has just slayed Great Woods, dropping a 30 minute Piper to an attentive audience. Later at the Gorge, Trey gets in an argument with the crowd up front for taking selfies and yapping all night. They receive a Julius encore.

  18. MiA Says:

    Colorado is great. I just like being a dick and jealous.

    Our company has a facility in Boulder. I shoukd look into it.

    I’d probably have to work though.

  19. ren Says:

    Being complacent can be the worst curse in life. I know from experience.

    To All: Think about when the last time was that you surprised YOURSELF of what you are capable of. If you can’t remember you’re likely not trying hard enough

  20. dorn76 Says:

    That Boulder garage is $549,000?


  21. Jerome Garica Says:

    btb +5 for Casa Bonita reference

  22. tela's_muff Says:

    only been once, for ’95 NYE, Phish. thought it was incredibly huge. if i could afford to live there, and be in my 20’s again, i’d be all over it. it’s an amazing place. at this point in my life i’v accepted i’m kind of a country bumpkin, but more CO than Oklahoma City style. it’s as much to do with where I want to raise my kids than anything. i get some would love to have their kids raised in a cool city like MYC or Chicago. it’s not me though. i live near horse farms, it’s like a suburb of a suburb. but we’re very happy now.

  23. ren Says:

    I get paid fairly well to post on the BB for whole days at time….but it doesn’t feel cool to me. More like I’m wasting my life away and just waiting to die.

    That is not to be taken as an opinion of time spent on the BB. I love this place….but it takes way more than the BB to keep my brain happy. My brain can be a real pain in the ass

  24. dorn76 Says:

    One breath closer to dying.

  25. ren Says:

    Well said Telas…and pretty much where I’m at. Whats cool about NYC is fleeting though…things are changing so fast here. You’ll pay twice as much for 1/2 the cool these days. Also, takes a while for kids to grow…can’t imagine how much more NYC is going to suck 15-20 yrs from now

Leave a Reply