Tuesday 06/24/2014 by Icculus


There's been some chatter online recently about "the second jam in Mike's Song," because in the radio interview that Fish conducted in Maine last week on June 20, 2014 (see JamBase article), a caller asked Fish why the band was no longer playing the second jam in "Mike's Song."

Fish was rightfully confused by the question, in part because the caller said the second jam hadn't been played since ~1998 (incorrect), but also because he didn't articulate to Fish what he meant by "the second jam in Mike's Song" in terms that Fish understood. But, in a similar vein, last year, Andrew Hitz (a professional tubist, Mockingbird Foundation Board member, and Working Group member of this site), had a chance to ask Trey about the "second jam in Mike's Song," around the time when Drew played tuba with Trey and the National Symphony Orchestra on May 22, 2013, and even Trey seemed baffled by the question, possibly since they've been playing "Mike's" a particular way, with one jam segment, since 1.0. (Listen to Drew discuss this experience with Trey and the NSO, here.) So, what do fans mean when they refer to the "second jam" in "Mike's Song"?

Well, you may already know, but if you don't or aren't sure, you can read the song history on this site. But here's a different version:

After "Mike's" more or less became the song you know it to be today, Trey and Mike used to play the first section or segment of the opening jam of "Mike's" on trampolines, while fog poured forth over the stage, and Chris created ominous and wild lightscapes. It was a pretty cool effect, especially in a small room. This section of the song became known among some fans as the "tramps segment" or "tramps jam," and even after Trey and Mike ceased to jump on tramps during this "segment," the name stuck, in no small part because the fog sometimes appeared during the segment and/or the jam took on a dizzyingly-dark and dissonant character. (The last time I recall seeing Trey and Mike on tramps during "Mike's" was 7/2/94, though I was emailed in the mid-1990s by people claiming to have seen them on tramps in "Mike's" after that I am not sure when the last time was that Trey and Mike were on tramps during "Mike's" -- do you know? -- but it would be entertaining to see the tramps return.)

After the (tramps) jam section of "Mike's" occurs in the typical version, the improv continues, of course. It was and still is usually led by Trey, soloing melodically on his custom Languedoc guitar. This opening jam segment often ended, and still ends, with a few composed measures of notes and chords that would either (a) conclude with a set of descending chords, a chromatic walkdown, that sounds like part of Rush's "La Villa Strangiato" (watch and listen at both 6:36 and 6:47 at that link), as all of the recent versions of "Mike's" have done; or, (b) conclude with a key (F) modulation and the first note of what came to begin "Simple" in some versions, but, in other versions, instead of playing and jamming on "Simple," the band would begin :::drum roll::: A SECOND JAM. Allow me to explain with help from PhishTracks (but FTR, I am 100% certain that PhishTracks song-in-progress times/timings change slightly when I go back to them, even close-in-time when I re-check them out, and so please consider the following timings with a two or three second error factor):

For example, open up 5/28/89 Ian's Farm in another browser:

3:03 Jam segment begins (no tramps in '89)
4:18 Trey teases the old HBO movie theme
4:54 Trey teases something I should know but am forgetting
5:37 Jam segment closing chords begin
5:58 Second jam begins (but not with note that eventually started "Simple")
6:48 Jam segment closing chords (again)
7:07 Chromatic walkdown begins (descending chords a la "La Villa Strangiato")
7:12 Final closing chords
7:33 Mike's Song ends, Hydrogen begins. (Total time is 7:33 or so.)

Similarly, open up 11/19/92's "Mike's" in another browser:

3:09 Tramps Jam begins
5:54 Tramps segment closing chords begin
6:11 Second jam begins (with note that eventually started "Simple")
9:00 Tramps jam segment closing chords (again)
9:17 Chromatic walkdown begins (descending chords a la "La Villa Strangiato")
9:22 Final closing chords
9:42 Mike's Song ends. (Total time is 9:42 or so.)

So 5/28/89 and 11/19/92 both have two jam segments, but 11/19/92's second jam segment opened up with the same note that eventually started "Simple" in many versions of "Mike's Groove," unlike 5/28/89's second jam segment.

And now, compare those two-jam-segment versions with the following:

7/24/1988 Nectar's:

2:13 Jam segment begins
7:05 Page plays the chromatic walkdown
7:09 Final closing chords
7:28 ends.

3/12/89 Nectar's:

2:27 Jam Segment begins (approximate time given tape cut)
5:40 Jam segment closing chords begin
6:19 Chromatic walkdown (Trey only)
6:25 Final closing chords
6:46 ends, Hydrogen begins.

7/12/96 Milkweg, Amsterdam:

2:36 Jam segment begins
{no closing chords at all}

9/12/2000 Great Woods:

2:41 Jam segment begins
6:45 Jam segment closing chords begin
7:03 Note that starts second jam
{extremely brief jam into "Hydrogen," so no real "second jam"}
{and no chromatic walkdown and final closing chords}

9/20/2000 Riverbend (SIIICK version, by the way):

2:37 Jam segment begins
9:35 Jam segment closing chords begin
9:53 "Simple" begins

9/25/00 Bonner Springs:

2:47 Jam segment begins
7:46 Jam segment closing chords begin
8:04 Note that starts second jam
{brief jam into "Hydrogen," so no real "second jam"}
{and no chromatic walkdown and final closing chords}

9/30/00 Thomas & Mack, Vegas (very strong version!):

2:44 Jam segment begins
8:26 Jam segment closing chords begin
8:45 "Simple" begins

10/7/2000 Shoreline:

2:41 Jam segment begins
9:03 Jam segment closing chords begin
9:21 Note that starts second jam
{extremely brief jam into "Hydrogen," so no real "second jam"}
{and no chromatic walkdown and final closing chords}

6/17/04 KeySpan Park, Brooklyn, NY:

2:52 Jam segment begins
8:25 Chromatic walkdown begins
8:29 Final closing chords
8:51 Total time. {there were no jam segment closing chords}

And, of course, the most recent "Mike's", 12/30/2013 MSG:

2:45 Jam begins
6:15 Jam segment closing chords begin
6:52 Chromatic walkdown begins
6:56 Final closing chords
7:39 "Mike's Song" ends with sustain before DTAD.

In other words, 7/24/88 and 6/17/04 basically have the same structure as each other, as do 3/12/89 and 12/30/13. Phish has thus been playing "Mike's Song" in the last decade largely the same way it was commonly played in its first five years as a song, but not as it was most often played in "1.0" during the 1990s.

Of course, many versions of "Mike's" don't follow the above structures. "Mike's" is so improvisational that it's had multiple jam segments and single jam segments, and sometimes there haven't even been "closing chords" for the song at all. See, e.g., the magnificent 12/31/97 version, when, at 9:18, Page sustains the chord that typically begins the "Mike's Song" closing chords and chromatic walkdown, but the jam continues, and continues in a gorgeous manner, and there are no closing chords at its end; it's just one jam segment. And two-jam-segment versions of "Mike's Song" from the 1990s that you should hear, if you haven't already, include: 12/30/93, 6/22/94 (three jam segments??), 12/1/95, 12/7/95, 12/31/95, 11/6/96 (!!!), 11/13/97, and 12/31/98.

And here are two odd versions from 1989, when the structure of "Mike's Song" was still in transition:

2/7/89 at The Front in Burlington (only one jam segment):

2:23 Jam segment begins
6:59 Page starts jam segment closing chords while Trey wails away
7:05 Page plays chromatic walkdown while Trey keeps wailing away
7:17 Final closing chords
7:38 "Mike's Song" ends, "Hydrogen" begins. (Total time is 7:38 or so.)

3/24/89 Paradise (recording fwiw is from my first live (mixed) Phish tape):

2:28 Jam segment begins
5:04 Jam segment closing chords begin
5:23 Second jam begins (but not with the note that starts "Simple")
(the second jam lasts only like 20 seconds!)
5:43 Jam segment closing chords again
6:21 Chromatic walkdown begins but it's Trey only
6:27 Final closing chords
6:48 "Mike's Song" ends.

Some of the greatest versions of "Mike's Song" also only have ONE jam segment, like 2/7/89, noted above, which is a very fierce early version. It is therefore False that a two-jam-segment "Mike's" is necessarily better than a one-jam-segment "Mike's." See, e.g., the must-hear one-jam-segment 12/16/95, 7/22/97, 12/2/97, 12/31/97, and 12/30/99 versions. And, frankly, I couldn't care less if they ever play another two-jam-segment "Mike's," because what I crave is simply any version, with any structure, that competes musically with the finest in Phish history.

The last time Phish peformed a two-jam-segment "Mike's Song" of consequence, I believe, was at Polaris Amphitheater on 7/14/2000. (Correct me in the Comments if you believe I'm wrong and that there's one in 2.0. As noted above, 9/12, 9/25 and 10/7/00 had brief, arguably inconsequential, "second jams" that segued into "Hydrogen," and so I'm not counting them. And while the 1/4/2003 "Mike's" has no closing chords but does feature the "note" that ordinarily begins a second jam, the second jam is just a long, mellow segue into "Mountains in the Mist.")

If you're interested in timings for the structure of 7/14/2000, here you go:

2:50 Jam segment begins
8:59 Jam segment closing chords begin
9:17 Second jam segment begins
{no further closing chords at all}
16:35 Jam dissolves and is over. "Mike's Song" (unfinished) ends.

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