My original intentions for this article were to compile my wishlist for the New Years Eve run at MSG. With “black Friday” in the rear-view mirror and Phish’s high holidays approaching, I thought I would discuss some things I hope we get during the upcoming four night stand. The problem is that atop my list is “Mike’s Song” – a staple in Phish’s catalog that has predominantly eluded fans during “3.0.” I have been craving a thick and evil “Mike’s Song” that would transcend the tune, but I continue to yearn. So my attention shifted from assembling a list of potential New Years gifts to examining “Mike’s Song;” a former improvisational champ that is now a shadow of itself. (I intend to put out a wishlist as we get closer to the mini run; however, let’s focus on “Mike’s Song.”)
“Mike’s” has been played thirty-five times since 2009 but the band has yet to push the song’s musical boundaries. The upcoming New Years Eve run is the perfect juncture for Phish to deliver their first “3.0” defining “Mike’s Song.” Over the course of “3.0” the band has played significant versions of the majority of key tunes; but “Mike’s Song, let alone a complete and jaw-dropping “Mike’s Groove,” is missing in action. In addition, the band is at the top of its improvisational game and has produced rousing music which makes me hopeful for this four night run.
Madison Square Garden is the perfect venue for the band to break the mold and to re-explore the menacing textures of “Mike’s Song.” Throughout the band’s career MSG has been a springboard for a countless Phish tunes, especially during “3.0.” “Light” from 12/2/09, “YEM” from 12/4/09, the plinkified “Tweezer” from 12/30/10, the “Sand,” “Ghost,” and “YEM” from 12/31/10 and the “Reba” and “Simple” from 1/1/11 are just some of the Phish MSG highlights since the band regrouped. I believe the band is completely capable of laying down a gut-wrenching “Mike’s Song” off-set by a scorching “Weekapaug Groove,” they just need to have the inclination (because clearly they got the time).
As a key member of the “Mike’s Groove” trio, along with “I am Hydrogen” and “Weekapaug Groove,” “Mike’s Song” has seen it all over the course of Phish’s career. Mike’s Song debuted on 3/16/1985 and was first grouped with “Weekapaug” on 7/23/1988. Over time “Mike’s Groove” began to take various forms. Eventually “Simple” began to occasionally replace “I am Hydrogen” and other songs sandwiched themselves within “Mike’s Groove.” “Mike’s Groove” has even been the focus of entire sets as the songs reappeared several times throughout a set (most famously during 6/17/94 or 6/22/94 – among other shows). “3.0” versions of “Mike’s Groove” have included multiple songs sandwiched between “Mike’s Song” and “Weekapaug Groove.” Similarly, various songs have replaced “I am Hydrogen” and “Simple” in “Mike’s Groove,” but the band has yet to rediscover the improvisational potential of “Mike’s Song.”
Every “Mike’s Song” has been within 6:20 (Alpharetta GA, 7/4/2010) and 9:45 minutes (Miami, FL 12/28/09); however, the majority of “Mike’s Songs” fall within the seven to eight minute range. Now I am not saying that long jams indicate progressive playing or stellar jamming because there have been noteworthy versions with full-throttle guitar playing during “3.0”, but the massive and ominous “Mike’s Songs” of old are now Phish lore and memories shared in the lot. Even without the second section of the jam (last seen during Fall 99) that followed the tramps jam, “Mike’s” can still pack a powerful punch. One could make the case that “Mike’s” has been steadily declining since Phish discarded the second jam section of the song, but Summer and Fall 2000 versions pack a mean punch (7/14/00, 9/30/00 and 10/7/00 to name a few).
I remember being floored the first time I heard “Mike’s.” My brother had 11/27/98 (Live 6) on our family computer and at first I was drawn to the opening guitar riff, but after summoning up the courage to let the song play out I was impressed by the band’s musicianship and Trey’s soloing. From the opening guitar lick to the quirky lyrics to the dark and sinister jam, “Mike’s Song” had everything a phan wanted out of a live Phish song. “Mike’s Song” used to gradually deliver face-melting peaks by Trey and culminate in experimental band interplay, but now “Mike’s” often seems rushed. Although some “3.0” “Mike’s Songs” stand out like 12/4/09, 10/26/10, 6/3/11, and 6/8/11, a redefining rendition of “Mike’s Song” has yet to surface during this current era of Phish.
So keeping the MSG “Mike’s” of 12/31/95, 12/31/97, and 12/31/98 in mind, let’s hope for a “3.0” transcending version of “Mike’s Song.” They boys do not necessarily need to bring back the second jam section or play a fifteen minute version of the song; all I ask for is patience and a killer peak (a thick groove, bombs from Mike, and heavy interplay between Trey and Page would also be nice). But if that jam doesn’t unfold or if “Mike’s” does not flourish throughout the rest of the band’s career, let’s remember that the band is healthy, touring, and churning out its best music we’ve heard in years.