Historian: Dan Purcell
In early 1996, Phish went into the studio in Woodstock, NY to record its follow-up to Hoist. In an attempt to distance itself from Hoist’s L.A.-infected studio sheen, the band instead crafted a dense, layered improvisational swirl of music that eventually became known as The Blob. Phish eventually rejected The Blob as too unfocused and meandering, but saved one small part of it for inclusion on Billy Breathes.
That small slice of The Blob is “Steep,” a rhythmic and melodic variation on the album’s preceding track, “Swept Away.” Where “Swept Away” is gentle and lilting, “Steep” is creepy; "Swept Away" is sung in three-part harmony, while "Steep"'s vocals are stated, not sung. In contrast to “Swept Away”'s effortless glide,“ Steep” jerks along in an unsettling, stop-and-start rhythm before ending with a tidal rush of bass effects that falls away into the album-closing arena-rock resolution of “Prince Caspian.” The live versions of the song take it a step further: they end with a blood-curdling scream, a 180-degree pivot away from the bucolic vibe of “Swept Away.”
As on Billy Breathes, “Steep” has always followed “Swept Away” when performed in concert. Phish frequently used the pairing as a second-set breather in the fall of 1996 and the spring of 1997, but the tandem appeared only three times in the summer of 1997 and twice in the fall. After that, the combination became a genuine rarity, appearing only five more times to date: 6/30/98 (Copenhagen), 6/30/99 (Bonner Springs) 7/1/00 (Hartford), 12/31/09 (Miami) and 6/20/10 (SPAC).