While Phish from 1996 sounds very different from 1997, Phish began hinting at what would become their revolutionary sound known as “cowfunk” towards the end of 1996. 1996 contained one of the first major pinnacles of Phish’s career, the Clifford Ball. After the festival Phish knew they needed to do something different; they needed to move in a different direction to stay fresh. Phish returned to the stage in October for a massive fall tour. While much of their playing still contained their patented high-octane improvisational rock, a new sound begun to emerge–funk.
While there are many examples of this in October, November, December and even parts of their summer tour in 1996, I am just going to mention a few to keep this post from rambling too much.
The newly sounding funk, driven by solid beats, slapped/liquid bass and wah pedal influenced guitar, emerged in some summer shows to a lesser extent (see 8/14 Jim, Tweezer); it wasn’t until their fall tour that Trey really pushed this style in a new direction. Runaway Jim was being experimented with a lot this tour, and often contained jams that ended up going into type II territory. The end of the 11/16 Jim gets real funky, lots of wah pedal over a sinister groove.
The 11/07 show had two examples of this new style. The Bathtub Gin (released with the 12/06/1996 Live Phish) is a near 30 minute odyssey through intense type II jamming. While the wah pedal funk doesn’t come through quite as strong in this, the rest of the band is ready for it to come; long and thick drumming and heavy bass until the end, eventually segueing seamlessly into HYHU.
The better example from 11/07 is the monstrous You Enjoy Myself. Coming from a time when YEMs were not so cookie cutter and structured, this is one of the best versions ever played. Trey switches between rock licks and funky wah pedal throughout the jam, Mike turns to liquid like we see come out more in 1997-1998 and Fish triggers start/stops before Trey comes in at the end to build up to the peak–he uses the same lick that he uses in the NYE 1995 YEM to build the jam. Going into the jam, Page makes sounds I can’t hear him play anywhere else, it’s reminiscent of Parliament Funkadelic. This second set is a true showcase of exciting and transitional jamming–a must have.
When Phish arrived at the Aladdin Theater in Las Vegas on December 6th, they were ready to take what the had worked on the previous month and push it a bit farther. Out of the first set Poor Heart came the wonderful 2001 that is one of the first modern day versions–where they don’t just go through the motions, but turn it inside out and lay it all out on the table, using it as a springboard for Phish Phunk. The massive Weekapaug later in the show provides one of the most high-profile examples of start/stops; despite it being during a rock segment, the idea of start/stop jamming started forming around this.
1996 may have ended with the most impressive culmination of their new style and old style merging. The 12/31 Down with Disease stands tall among other versions to this day. This version weaves beautifully through high-octane rock and serious dirty funk. I can’t express enough how amazing this version is–I feel like NYE 1996 is often overlooked since it’s between 1995 and 1997 (this could be said about the year in general). NYE 1996 is the exclamation point on what might be one of the most important years in Phish history.
1996 is the year Phish reinvented themselves and pushed themselves farther when people thought they couldn’t do any more. Fall and NYE tour 1996 is some of the most impressive, interesting and transformative examples of Phish’s ability for improvisation in their history.
While I was listening to these show for this post (and, trust me, there are many more examples than I mentioned), I came across the amazing 11/16/1996 Harry Hood that I had almost forgotten about. I think Trey holds a singles note longer than any other time in his history of playing–I think it clocks in a three minutes; with Fishman exploding on the drums. Possibly the best version of the song ever–be forewarned, it will make you disappointed in Harry Hood’s current state.
12/31/1996 Download (SBD)