Tales of Mental Tangle #3: New Year’s Grooves

The Skinny
Weekapaug Groove has appeared in nine of Phish’s fifteen New Year’s Eve shows. Most of those versions have included Auld Lang Syne teases, and three either went into or came out of Auld Lang Syne. Many–and in particular, ’94 and ’03–have included other teases or jams of note. But two New Year’s Weekapaugs have stood out from the rest: 12/31/95 and 12/31/97. Those two will face off in this Tale of Mental Tangle to determine which stands tallest.

The Mental Tanglers
opt50x50Arguing for 12/31/97 Weekapaug: the eponymous OPT. Favorite non-NYE Weekapaug: 12/1/95.

Arguing for 12/31/95 Weekapaug: Guy Forget. Favorite non-NYE Weekapaug: 11/22/97 (with 4/3/98 a very close runner-up).

The Hard Evidence
Download 12/31/95 Weekapaug (or get the whole show from LivePhish)
Download 12/31/97 Weekapaug
Download every New Year’s Eve Weekapaug ever (including ’95 and ’97)


Opening Statement: Guy Forget
Guy Forget12/31/95 has been referred to as the pinnacle of Phish’s career, and its Weekapaug Groove could rightly be called the pinnacle of the show (so could Mike’s, but that debate is best left for another mental tangle). It represents Phish at their absolute best: Trey charging along like a locomotive, with the band right on board, complementing his every move.

The 12/31/97 Weekapaug is great, but it simply isn’t Phish playing to the top of their abilities. It actually has a good deal in common with the funked-out version from Hampton the previous month, but isn’t nearly as fluid, creative, or energetic.

OPT’s Rebuttal
opt73x73While I agree that 12/31/95 may be Phish’s best performance, and its Weekapaug is certainly historic, I strongly disagree with the notion that 12/31/97’s Weekapaug has anything in common with any other version, from ‘97 or any other year. Saying that 12/31/97 lacks fluidity, creativeness or energy compared to 11/22/97 is an irresponsible thing to say. I feel that even an ear untrained to Phish shows would agree with me on this.

The ‘Paug that ended 1995 is one of my favorites, but the one that ended arguably Phish’s best year of music takes the cake. Allow me to break it down for y’all.

Both end unusual Mike’s Grooves; 95’s comes out of Auld Lang Syne in the third set, after Mike’s Song closed the second in truly epic fashion–big style points for that–and 97’s closes the second set after a (nearly) set-spanning Mike’s Groove. The way Trey snarls his guitar into the beginning of ‘Paug out of the second-time cover, Roses are Free, is the definition of sick. Both span approximately 18 minutes, too–long for any version of Weekapaug.

While 95’s begins with energetic and crisp guitar work featuring ALS teases, 97’s sinks into thick funk right out of the gates–per late ‘97. The ’95 ‘Paug busts into some heavy wah pedal playing from Trey before he goes right back into the soaring.

One of the reasons I side with ’97 is because I enjoy the fact that Trey’s (and the band’s) playing is far less linear than it is in 95’s. The 12/31/95 jam is completely led by Trey–par for the course for a Weekapaug Groove. 97’s version goes through so many different segments, each of which is led by a different band member–and let’s not forget the solos each takes at the end.

One of my favorite parts of 95’s is that Weekapaug’s theme gets reprised at about six minutes, as if they are going to end the song, but then Trey blows past it. However, ’97 features this as well, so no winners or losers here.

Guy’s Re-rebuttal
Guy ForgetI’m not going to argue with your point that the ‘95 version is more linear. But basically, I think it’s a fucking awesome line. I’ll elaborate.

There are three things that I think make the 12/31/95 Weekapaug such a powerful version. The first is that, during the Weekapaug jam proper, Trey plays with as much energy and direction as in just about any jam out there. He moves from one brilliant theme to the next with a confidence that’s jaw-dropping, even by December ‘95 Trey standards. Check out 4:10 in the official release. Trey plays some wahed chords for eight bars, then does some rockstar-Weekapaug soloing for eight, then some octaves for eight. He continues in this manner, coming up with a totally new and totally incredible theme every eight bars, for a good couple minutes. This is composition on the fly, to a degree that even Trey rarely reaches.

Second, the full-band-punctuated-chord thing. (I can’t think of a better description, but it’s the section beginning at 12:20 in the official release.) The band just moves in perfect lockstep, with Fishman making the whole thing rhythmically a bit more interesting as it goes on. This is a great example of how tremendously tight the band was, and how well they were listening, at this point in their history.

Third, the section that follows. This part, which has no relation whatsoever to Weekapaug, is about the best example there is of what the funk sounded like in late ‘95. After a bit of chording, Trey busts out with this theme that’s so well designed, it’s almost impossible to believe it’s improvised. He keeps going with it for a couple minutes over the band’s backing, which morphs from funky to reggae-tinged.

And there are so many moments of incredible inspiration I didn’t mention. Yes, most of those moments are Trey’s, but that’s a feature, not a bug: when Trey does great things, Phish does great things. And Trey does some amazing things in this jam.

Obviously Phish has a million ways of blowing minds, and these jams represent two very different ones. My feeling is that, for the direction they took on the ‘95 version, they executed it about as well as they possibly could have.

OPT’s Re-re-rebuttal
opt73x73I agree that Trey blows doors down in the ’95 ‘Paug. I also mentioned the wah playing before busting into soloing. I love the way Trey experimented with a funky tone before it really picked up steam in lat ’96. In the Weekapaug, the whole band is playing dirty (but in such a clean and crisp way) in and out of nearly ten totally different sounding sections, put together like a patchwork quilt.

I like the way that the ‘Paug from ‘95 can basically be recognized all from the lick Trey lays down around 14 minutes. Eventually Page and Trey fade away in a beautiful way. The Hood-esque/reggae jam that evolves has a very organic feel to it, much like most of the show boasts. When Page leads his crew into an unexpected Sea & Sand, minds are blown–no doubt.

However, I feel that the entire band contributes equally strongly on 12/31/97’s version. Mike’s truly bulbous bass lines over the typical-for-97 funky Trey work set a special tone for this version. Throughout the entire jam, Fishman wasn’t just a drummer, he was a true innovator. Listen to how Fish is locked in with literally everyone (especially Trey) during the jam. He almost predicts all of Trey’s up-and-down, in-and-out playing. He was ready for every peak, every transition and every crash–although I think he was caught off guard when called upon for a solo. Usually Fish waits to be led out of the Weekapaug theme once the jam starts. In this version, he leaves the Weekapaug groove almost immidiately–he’s ready to go for it.

There are times where Trey leads, where Trey mimics Page and where Trey follows Mike. The first band buildup becomes electric when Mike takes his Modulus for a jog around the block on the way up. Trey switches between pristine tones, gritty rock tones, and funk tones throughout. He plays a far more dynamic role in every respect, from tone to overall prominence, than he does in NYE 95’s take.

They tease the audience too: it seems like they pretend going back into ‘Paug like five times. There’s a part around 8:00 where Trey takes an ‘underwater’ sounding tone, kind of like the part right before he busts his tongue out on 7/06/98’s Ghost (check it if you haven’t seen the best clip on the webs).

Shortly thereafter, Trey sounds like he is actually done–for real–with the song this time. Nope, it’s just another tease. The jam becomes broken down and distorted…it goes into somewhat of a more evil sounding ‘throb’ jam compared to 12/31/95’s throbbing segment. Fish starts drumming heavier, only instead of going into the funk like when Fish got heavy out of the throbbing in 95, Fish pops over to the ride and Trey starts annihilating MSG. The soloing turns to licks diseased with his infectious wah pedal.

My favorite part–the part that hooked me on this version–is around 10:00, when it sounds like Trey starts losing control of the jam. Trey branches farther and farther away from the rest of the band, Fish rolls, and ‘WHAAAAAAA!” Trey blows everyone away with his powerful reentry back into the jam. You can hear the place explode on the recordings at 10:40. It’s one of my favorite Phish moments ever.

After the band twists into an evil-space territory, the throb comes back with a vengeance. Trey joins in the completely original sounding jam with a high-pitched and distorted guitar before busting into the Weekapaug theme again. Fish follows, rolls, and sinks, right back into the real ending theme for the song. However, that’s not the end: Trey, Mike, and Page take their respective ‘Paug-themed solos before Trey bids the crowd farewell until next year (set III). He hesitates and comments that it wouldn’t be fair not to give Fish one of these little breaks, that this is his shot, this is his chance: “Go Fish!”

Guy’s Pure Re, No Buttal
Guy ForgetI love Fishman’s polyrhythmic breakdown at the end there. I was trying to count along, but failing, so I asked a drummer friend of mine to explain what he’s doing. Basically, while he keeps up the regular (4/4) beat on the hi-hat, he plays a 3/4 (or 6/8, depending how you count) beat on the snare. And he actually doesn’t go for exactly eight measures–he closes things out with a bar of 5/4, and wraps his ending fill in the middle of the seventh measure. He makes the whole thing sound pretty effortless.

Anyway, one thing I really like about the ‘97 Paug – and this is true of a lot of ‘97 versions – is that it always feels like the band has no idea quite what will happen next, but it always seems to work out pretty well. That’s sort of what improvisation’s all about. But on the other hand, there’s method to 12/31/95’s madness. And I think the jam feels more confident. I agree with you that that moment at 10:40 in 12/31/97 is great–it’s amazing that the tension in a tension-release jam can come from the band just about losing control–but all things being equal, I think it would be even cooler if the tension were intentional.

The other thing I mentioned about 12/31/95 was that it represented Phish playing that particular style of jamming as well as they could. I don’t think the same is true of 12/31/97. The funk groove is cool, but is it as good as 11/22/97 Weekapaug’s funk groove? I don’t think so. Trey’s Weekapaug soloing is good, but I don’t think it has any kind of historic Weekapaug peak. And the unique elements, which mostly happen between 9 and 14 minutes, are good, and at times great, but I disagree that they’re up there with some of the best moments in Phish history, as the finest moments of 12/31/95 are.

OPT’s Final Thoughts
opt73x73I’d like to respond to a couple things before I close. I completely agree that 12/31/95 Weekapaug is gorgeous; the style of purposeful jamming, to the point where the improv is almost a song in-itself, bring a feeling of nirvana over me. Some similar styles (albeit not on the same level) of Weekapaugs that come to the top of my head are NYE 1994 and 4/3/98.

Also, I don’t look at NYE 97’s version as a typical 1997 Weekapaug. I like that it holds some of the funk they established in the months leading up to it, but it breaks the mold with the other places they take it. Trey’s control over his tone is impeccable in this version, too–something that he should try to get a better hold of nowadays.

While I love both versions, if I were given only one version to have for the rest of my life, I would probably pick NYE 1997’s just because of both the places it takes me and the memories it delivers. While NYE 1995’s helped me discover the true beauty and magic of Phish, Weekapaug Groove from New Year’s Eve 1997 helped me become a man.

Guy’s Final Buttal
Guy ForgetOPT, are you trying to tell us you lost your virginity to 12/31/97 Weekapaug?

Just kidding. Although I’d totally share in 12/31/95’s groove, if you know what I mean. Anyway, though, I have to say that I’m glad we had this debate, because I hadn’t given 12/31/97 ‘paug its fair share of listens before. I still feel the same way about which one’s better, but these Tales of Mental Tangle aren’t about changing minds; they’re about enriching minds.

We hope all your minds have been enriched. Enrich ours with your comments, and by voting in the all-important poll.

Which Weekapaug Groove is better?

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