Historian: Elayne Best (jugglerswithfire)
Last Update: 2014-09-04
"Simple" was first written and recorded by Mike Gordon in a four-track medium in the Doo-wop style and introduced to the band during the studio sessions for Hoist. This version reflected the country and bluegrass writing style of many previous Gordon compositions. The song was left off of the album and the band showed hesitation in performing it live.
Then, on 5/27/94, “Simple” debuted in a very strange and raw fashion during the “Mike’s Song” at the Warfield in San Francisco. In contrast to the song we know today, the debut version of “Simple” was Mike’s original lyrics sung by the band members over a jam that had emerged from “Mike’s.” Three weeks later, “Simple” was played for a second time at the historic 6/17/94 gig, the same night that much of the country was watching the low-speed police chase of O.J. Simpson’s white Ford Bronco through L.A. This version was significantly reworked and sounded much like the “Simple” we are accustomed to hearing today, with the exception of a minor humoristic augmentation providing the line “We’ve got O.J., cause we’ve got a band.”
Since the reworked version of “Simple” debuted on 6/17/94, the song has not left Phish’s rotation and has proven to be a band and fan favorite. In a 1997 interview with Richard Gehr, Fishman stated that it was his favorite Phish song as well as his favorite riff in Trey’s arsenal. Most often found in the second set, “Simple” has taken on a number of roles throughout the years. “Simple” was rarely a jamming vehicle in 1994 and 1995. At times it was part of a long jam the came out of a “Mike’s Song” (see 11/16/94) and on rare occasions, such as 10/31/94, the song would contain some beautiful melodic jamming as a stand-alone song.
It wasn’t until fall 1996 that the band realized “Simple” could be used a true jamming vehicle. During this period, several long and interesting jams evolved as Page would lead the jam in a new direction and Trey would patiently provide percussion on the mini-drum kit he was using at the time before picking up his guitar and joining in on lead. Some standout versions from this period include 10/31/96, 11/8/96, 11/18/96, and 12/6/96 (which many feel contains a jam reminiscent of “Caution: Do Not Stop On Tracks” by the Grateful Dead).
"Simple" – 8/6/10, Berkeley, CA
With the exception of some notable versions in the fall of 1998 that contained long, dissonant jams (see 11/29/98 and 12/31/98), the modern “Simple” jam has remained relatively unchanged since 12/31/96. Modern "Simple" jams contains gorgeous interplay by all four band members as they take the high energy theme of the song and dynamically descend with it until a point of near silence. 11/29/03 at Philadelphia’s Spectrum – with a gorgeous segue from “Twist” – is an excellent example.
In the years of Phish 1.0 "Simple” was easy to find in a set. Simply look for the “Mike’s Song” and more often than not “Simple” will emerge from the natural progression of the ending of “Mike’s.” This has led to some very flowing sets over the years. However, it has also led to many fans shaking their heads saying, “Whatever happened to ‘Hydrogen’?”
In the years of Phish 2.0, "Simple" was performed exclusively outside of "Mike's Song." In Phish 3.0, the band chose to keep the placement of "Simple" in "Mike's Groove" until 12/31/09. Although the band has seemingly struggled to get the vocals accurate in 2010, they have redeemed themselves by creating simply blissful jams. One of the highlights from the 2010 Greek run was the inspiring version on 8/6/10. The next "Simple" performed on 8/17/10 was also remarkable, albeit shorter than the Greek version. It is interesting that both of these versions had the same setlist pattern of "Mike's Song" > "Simple" > “Backwards Down The Number Line." These versions of "Simple" spark renewed excitement that "we've got a band."
"Simple" – 8/18/12, San Francisco, CA
Phish continued to deliver delightful improvisation in "Simple" during 2011. During the band's first ever New Years Day performance on 1/1/11, "Simple" was performed outside of "Mike's Song," emerging from a beautiful "Twist" and resolving into a jam so beautiful it almost sounds composed. Skyscrapers in NYC? You better believe it. On the first night of the Superball IX festival, "Simple" returned to it's comfort zone in set placement following "Mike's Song" and contained an extended outro jam replete with "Third Stone From the Sun" teases.
The evolution of Simple continued in 2012 and 2013 with enjoyable short spacey jams. At the 8/29/14, Dick’s “Lushington” show, Phish performed a tier one version of “Simple." This stand alone “Simple” was reminiscent of 1.0 version, yielding over 20 minutes of pleasure with a multi-layered funk filled jam with a spacey ending. If you dig a recent “Simple” to bring an ecstatic smile to your face, and shake to your hips, look no further.
"Simple" – 8/29/14, Commerce City, CO
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I do like that 2-20-03 version too. Definitely deserves a listen.