Pretty much any time someone asks, “what is the most underrated jam by Phish” or “What is your favorite jam” or “what would you like to see released next from the archives” my answer is always the same: 11/16/94, Ann Arbor, Michigan, Hill Auditorium, University of Michigan. This is the show that hooked me into the band. I had listened to some tapes and been to two shows previously, but this is THE ONE, the font of all of my Phish devotion, especially the opening of the second set.
Set two starts off with my favorite set opener, first, second, other, doesn’t matter, the opening lick from Mike’s Song. Those first few notes always put a charge into the crowd, but when it opens a set, it gets turned up to 11. It is impossible not to get pumped up and excited. Tweezer elicits much of the same response, but for my money, I’ll take Mike’s Song, thank you.
For it’s part, this Mike’s Song isn’t particularly interesting. It is a pretty straight forward version that only lasts for about 7 minutes and then segues beautifully into Simple. I’m a little bias I suppose, but the Mike’s->Simple transition is a personal favorite as well and, I’m sorry to say, that it is pretty much an artifact at this point. It was quite common in 1994 and I want to say until 1998 or so, but by 2000 it has becoming increasingly rare.
Around 12:35, after only about 5 minutes, Simple is coming to an end and by 12:50 it is completely gone. As set list classification has evolved, I wonder if this would be listed as Mike’s->Simple, and leave it at that. I think that would be a mistake because what followed wasn’t related to Simple very much and it goes somewhere beyond a Mike’s Groove. In every sense of the word, this was just a Jam.
And what a jam it is. The timing and track listing from Shapiro’s latest “From The Archives” (finally some 11/16/94 love!) starts with the Mike’s, thus the title given, but if you want to hear strictly the jam, start at the 12:50 mark.
12:55 Things start to sound like music from The Wall. Trey is playing a low, dark tone while Page rests on top, delicately playing piano. At 14:38, Mike announces his presence with a strong introduction of bass to the mix. At this point, Mike is playing a strange upright-style of bass that changes notes and tone by bending the neck as Mike strummed. It has a richness that doesn’t quite get justice on the recordings.
15:11 Trey starts to light things up and at 15:30 the first real groove of the song is reached. It almost feels like a march, with Fish laying down a fantastic boogie beat. Page and Mike are right there with Fish, holding things down as Trey goes into a riff that could be in just about any classic rock track. At the 17:00 mark this portion of the jam is hitting it’s peak and at 18:00 it comes to an end with a four count pounding to sort of just sum things up.
18:45 The band stays with that four count structure, but have moved into something more playful, almost child-like. Page just floats on top of everything and the drums start fading in and out.
19:30 Everything almost goes completely quiet and gently comes back. At this point, and it would have been fantastic, they could have moved on to something else. But they don’t, they pick back up and keep going into the second major part of the song. Trey is playing something spacey and speedy and by 21:00 Mike is playing along. Page is just teasing some things out. They are definitely looking for that next groove.
22:38 And they find it! For those of us of a certain age, this groove is reminiscent of the theme song from the old TV show, SWAT. Trey leads the SWAT sound and Page has moved on to the clav. By 23:50 the SWAT jam is gone and at 24:00 another peak is reached and by 24:45 things have gone quiet again.
This time when they come back, it feels like a jazz number. Page is fiddling around and Fish is barely adding any sound, but it works. Mike eventually starts to bop along and that is what it reminds me of, just a nice boppy song you might find at the Green Mill after hours. A few times Trey drops in some feedback, kind of reminding everyone that this is a rock concert after all. The jazz interlude eventually gives way.
28:00 At this point, we get Trey working the power chords and the riff he is banging out could come from any Led Zeppelin song. Fish comes in strong on this and you can practically see Jimmy Page’s laser light show. By 30:00, Trey has picked up the pace and Fish and Mike are matching him for intensity. Page is keeping things grounded, but not holding things back either.
31:00 The music dies off again and by 31:45, it kind of feels like they are trying to figure out where this is going to go. In future years, I think they would have pulled the plug instead of trying to work their way out, per se.
34:00 The triumphant ending is starting. As it winds up toward the finish we approach Machine Gun Trey and it almost hints back to Simple. This final part kind of has a Cream-esque tone to it as well. It’s not quite Sunshine of Your Love, but it has that vibe. By the 38th minute, there is a brief coda and things just fade out, preparing the crowd for the mellow sounds of the bluegrass numbers that were to follow.
I have no idea how many times I’ve listened to this show and this jam in the twenty years since I saw it. I do know that I wore out at least two tapes in the process and I’m so happy for the Archive edition for the better sound quality. I can only hope the entire show gets released at some point. Next up, a trip back to my home town.
I finally got my podcast working the way I’d like, so if you’d like to hear some US History presented in a lively, fun way, check it out! (warning! the first two episodes audio is not good, but by episode three, I got it!) Episode 20 is up! Get Your History On! Oh and you can get it on iTunes too!