Almost as old as the band itself, “Mike’s Song” has not been "trapped in time" at all. It has evolved from a simple song that Mike wrote into a springboard for some of Phish's most legendary, timeless, and transcendent jams. When Mike wrote it for the band decades ago, he did not at that time have any other songs. He also did not have a name for it. Although the band called it “Microdot” for a bit (Trey refers to the song as either “Mike Wrote That,” or “Microdot,” in the 10/17/85Finbar’s version), soon they began calling it simply “Mike’s Song.”
In the first few years of its existence “Mike’s Song” was played on its own and sometimes as a lead-in to other improvisational Phish tunes (see, e.g., 5/3/85, 11/23/85, 12/6/86, 8/21/87). These early versions were quite melodic and their improvisational style shared an affinity with Grateful Dead jams (check out the very beautiful 10/15/86Hunt’s version). The jam segment of “Mike’s Song” began to get dark and twisted in 1987, but dissonance was not a common characteristic of the song until 1989.
Beginning in Summer 1988, "Mike's Song" began to be routinely played as the first song performed in the trio of tunes – "Mike's Song," "I Am Hydrogen," and "Weekapaug Groove" – known collectively as "Mike's Groove." Although "Mike's" appeared in some shows solo (e.g., 8/27/88, 10/29/88, 7/12/96, 2/21/03), this is extremely rare. Since 1988, "Mike's" and "Weekapaug Groove" have almost always been performed in the same show, with "Mike's" always preceding "Weekapaug" in the set (7/14/00) or the show (12/31/95).
In its early and also its most recent incarnations as a complete song (rather than just a lead-in to a jam), "Mike's Song" has an opening composed section that launches a jam, but the jam concludes with another composed section that originally was led off by Page. Compare, for example, the endings of the June 1987 demo and 8/29/87 versions with 6/17/04. The initial descending chords that were originally played by Page to start the song's conclusion – and which eventually the entire band plays in later versions – sound remarkably similar to a (small) part of Rush's masterpiece, "La Villa Strangiato." (See La Villa Strangiato and watch and listen at both 4:14 and 4:24. Sound familiar?)
"Mike's Song" > "I Am Hydrogen" 3/24/92 Richmond, VA
At some point between 2/7/89 and 3/4/89, some chords were added to the beginning of the concluding composed section of "Mike's Song." These were chords that – eventually, upon separating from the rest of the original concluding composed section's chords – grew to demarcate the transition between the first "Mike's" jam segment (a.k.a. the "tramps segment" as explained below) and the second "Mike's" jam segment. These "tramps segment closing chords" or "first jam segment closing chords" are the chords that typically precede Trey's playing of the first note of "Simple" – even during two-jam-segment versions of "Mike's" played before "Simple" was composed in 1994. Compare, for example, the 8/29/87, Colorado '88, 12/10/88, 2/7/89, and even the 6/17/04, 6/25/04, 8/10/04, and 8/15/04 versions (which have a single jam segment that concludes with the original closing chords only, i.e. the original ending of "Mike's") with 3/12/89, 7/31/03, 3/07/09 (video), 7/30/09, 12/28/09, and 6/29/10 (versions which have a single jam segment that concludes first with the tramps segment closing chords -- the chords that typically precede the start of the second jam segment of "Mike's Song" -- but which are followed immediately by the original closing chords of "Mike's Song," rather than a second jam segment) with 12/06/96, 7/2/97, 7/21/99, 12/30/99, 5/23/00, and 10/7/00 (versions with one jam segment that ends strictly with the tramps segment closing chords before jumping into another song, like "Simple").
From 1989 through 1994 in particular “Mike’s Song” often contained a dark, sinister and semi-dissonant jam (for example, check out 12/30/89, 11/30/90, 11/8/91, 4/16/92, 3/3/93, or 12/28/94). In the early to mid 1990s, Mike and Trey often performed this chaotic jam while bouncing on trampolines (while Chris hit the strobe lights), hence why some people refer to it – the first jam segment of "Mike's" – as the “tramps segment.” See for example the 3/31/92 video. Fog sometimes made (and continues to make) an appearance during this sometimes psychotic, terrifying jam. For many years this intense “tramps jam” was usually (though not always) topped off with a few measures of composed chords (the tramps segment closing chords), which transitioned and bridged the groove into a new, second jam segment that typically started with the first note of "Simple" – even before "Simple" became a song in 1994.
Also, I had never seen a Mike's before Knoxville 2009 (only took 14 years!!) and was beyond excited and beyond excited for the "tramps" jam. Then disappointment hit and hasn't let up. I've seen Mike's more than a few times since Knox (strange to me how many times I've seen it in 5 years versus 95-09) and its the same everytime. Here's the difference (and the excellent song history above doesn't break it down this way):
Mike's groove, the first one after the lyrics, is in F# minor. Very funky, but can be dark (Mike LOVES to play the minor 6 during this section, it makes it sound a little more evil). Then after much badass playing, it's the composed chords part, then, they dropped down to F. That half note drop brought the supreme evil, or supreme exploration, etc. It also created the vehicle for Simple to step in and take that part away from Mike's (as Simple is in F as well). That's why Simple (and this is me being a musician and intent listener of Phish) to me, worked so frikkin well in Mike's. The chords and keys made it that way.
Now, since coming back in 2009, they've dropped that section of the song completely. Instead of a brief composed chords before the F section, it's the chords that signal the change to either Hydrogen, or Tela, or some other song. But that section in F!!!! Why did they cut it? It's like when the build up part of Theme was dropped, then Trey got a fan's letter, and they put it back in, and that build up to the solo in Theme is where it's at! I'm wondering if they'll ever bring back the old form of Mike's again...
Currently at 77 Mikes since the 2nd to last double jammed Mikes!
I like it concise... But I'd like it more if - I dunno, Possum or Stealing Time or Loving Cup stole the exploratory jam that used to be in Mikes, vastly preferable to just giving Mikes it's 2nd jam back to appease the nostalgic freaks.