Mike's Song

Originally Performed ByPhish
Appears On
Phish Debut1985-03-16
Last Played2022-12-31
Current Gap0
HistorianCharlie Dirksen (icculus)
Last Update2020-05-26


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 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 10/17/85 Finbar’s version), soon they began calling it simply “Mike’s Song.”

In the first few years of its existence, “Mike’s” was played on its own, and sometimes as a springboard for 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 10/15/86 Hunt’s version. Although the jam segment of “Mike’s” began to get dark and twisted on occasion in 1987, dissonance was not a common characteristic of the song until 1989.

"Mike's Song" – 6/23/89, Boston, MA

Beginning in summer 1988, “Mike's” 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.” While “Mike’s” has appeared in some shows solo (e.g., 8/27/8810/29/887/12/962/21/03), this is rare. “Mike’s” and “Weekapaug Groove” have almost always been performed since 1988 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 form – and also in nearly all of its recent incarnations as a complete song, rather than just a lead-in to a jam – “Mike’s Song” had 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" (watch and listen at both 4:14 and 4:24. Sound familiar?)

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.” 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 8/29/87Colorado '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, 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 – but which are followed immediately by the original closing chords, 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 end strictly with the tramps segment closing chords before jumping into another song, like “Simple”).

"Mike's Song" – 12/31/95, New York, NY

From 1989 through 1994 in particular, “Mike’s Song” typically contained a dark, sinister and semi-dissonant jam – check out 12/30/8911/30/9011/8/914/16/923/3/93, 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 it (the first, and sometimes the only, jam segment) came to be referred to by fans as the “tramps jam” or “tramps segment.” See, e.g., the 3/31/92 video. Fog also used to routinely pour forth onto the stage during this sometimes psychotic, terrifying “tramps 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. Numerous versions of “Mike’s” thus contain two jam segments, where the second jam segment segues into other tunes, or dies out instead of concluding formally with the original composed closing chords. See, e.g., 12/30/9311/11/9512/31/95 (Live at Madison Square Garden), 11/6/963/1/97 (Slip Stitch & Pass), 4/3/98 (Island Tour), 10/31/98 (Live Phish 16), 12/31/98, 7/14/00, and 8/2/17. There are also, not surprisingly, versions of “Mike’s” with a jam segment bridged by the tramps segment closing chords that eventually conclude with a reappearance of the tramps segment closing chords immediately followed by “Mike’s” original closing chords. See, for example, 9/13/90, 11/8/913/31/92, 11/28/925/8/93, 8/13/93, 7/10/94, and 12/31/94.

"Mike's Song" – 11/22/97 Hampton, VA

On 8/4/15 in Nashville, the “Mike’s Song” second jam was performed for the first time since 7/14/00. Musician and Mockingbird Foundation Board member Andrew Hitz was fortunate to speak with Trey after the pre-show soundcheck, and convince Trey to bring it back. Remarkably, while the band did bust into a second “Mike’s” jam in Nashville, they did so only after formally ending “Mike’s” with its customary closing chords. This is the first time that this happened, because in the past, they had either played the closing chords after the second jam (formally concluding the song), or the second jam had simply segued into another song or died out (as it did on 8/2/17). You can read Andrew's full story on the phish.net blog.

As one of Phish's oldest songs, “Mike’s Song” has been performed in a variety of ways. Notably, there are versions of “Mike’s” with sloppy closing chords (10/29/96, 7/21/03 and 12/31/03) and with no closing chords at all after a single jam segment (12/31/977/4/99, 10/7/99, 6/28/00, 7/1/00, 1/4/03, 2/21/03 and 6/2/09). There is even a version of “Mike’s” that concludes with an odd-but-groovy twist on the typical tramps segment closing chords before segueing into “Hydrogen” (7/9/03).

"Mike's Song" – 12/30/99 Big Cypress, FL

Although from Summer 1988 through Spring 1993 “Mike’s Song” was routinely followed by the popular instrumental “I Am Hydrogen,” since 1993 it has been anyone’s guess as to what song will follow “Mike’s.” Although many versions of “Mike’s” since fall 1994 have been followed by “Simple” (compare the rough 5/27/94 and 6/22/94 versions with the polished 12/6/96 Vegas “Simple”), some rather unusual songs have been performed out of “Mike’s Song” over the years, including “TMWSIY” on 2/4/93; “Great Gig in the Sky” on 4/10/93; “Ya Mar” on 4/18/93; the Hebrew song “Yerushalayim Shel Zahav” on 7/24/93; the Puccini aria “O Mio Babbino Caro” on 5/27/94The Beatles’ “Why Don’t We Do It In the Road” on 6/25/95; David Bowie’s “Life On Mars” on 11/15/95; “Sleeping Monkey” on 11/15/96; “Lawn Boy” on 3/1/97; “Chalk Dust Torture” on 12/9/97; "Llama" on 12/13/97; “Esther” on 8/1/98; “Frankie Says” on 10/31/98; "Light" on 12/28/09; and “Piper” on 8/4/15. In fact, in recent years, it is far more likely for a song other than “Hydrogen” or “Simple” to follow “Mike’s.” For example, on 8/2/17 at the Baker's Dozen, after the second "Mike's" jam concluded, the band performed "O Holy Night." 

Bottom line? If you want to experience the evolution of Phish's artistry over the decades, then listen to as many versions of “Mike’s Song” as you can. It continues to be a song to get excited about when Phish performs it, if only because it has become anyone’s guess as to whether “Hydrogen” follow as was customary many years ago. And while in recent years, “Mike’s” typically hasn't been taken for a long ride, many versions of “Mike’s Song” have contained at least something unusual. Here are some popular versions that you'll be wise to check out: 7/23/88 (vocal jam and percussion in opening); 12/1/89 (Trey teases Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun”); 5/10/91 (Bucket of Lard); 5/12/91 (last show at The Front; The Dude of Life on vocals and David Grippo on sax); 7/23/91 (excellent version with the Giant Country Horns); 8/17/92 (Trey sustains a note for three minutes); 11/28/92 (Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”); 12/29/92 (“On Broadway”); 12/31/92 (“Auld Lang Syne”); 3/27/93 (trippy and unpredictable); 4/10/93 (Rolling Stones’ “Miss You"); 4/18/93 (“Low Rider” jam and segue into “Ya Mar”); 5/6/93 (The Beatles' “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” with Dick Solberg on violin); 8/7/93 (“New York New York,” Irish folk theme and “Kung”); 4/29/94 (exploratory); 5/2/94 (Stacy Starkweather joins Mike on bass); 6/9/94 (powerfully weird); 6/17/94 (Run, O.J., Run!); 7/10/94 (“Midnight Rider” and “Low Rider”); 10/8/94 (features a girls soccer team’s cheer); 11/25/94 (ferocious jam); 6/25/95 (exploratory, spacey jam); 10/11/95 (Page teases Star Trek theme); 10/25/95 (incredibly psychedelic, with teasing of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe”); 11/15/95 (thrilling, spacey jam); 11/25/95 (instrument switching); 7/12/96 (aimless and sad); 10/29/96 (Karl Perazzo on percussion!); 11/15/96 (an adventure); 11/23/96 (all over the map); 3/1/97 (The Doors “The End” and Pink Floyd’s “Careful With That Axe, Eugene” quoting); 7/22/97 (mysterious); 11/22/97 (funky and soulful); 12/13/97 (Bring In The Dude); 7/17/98 (mellifluous hose); 11/27/98 (beautiful segue into “Hydrogen”); 9/22/99 (dizzying, kaleidoscopic energy); 9/29/99 ("Catapult" and "Kung"); and 8/9/15 (funk and “woo’s” in the second jam).

For more information about versions of “Mike’s Song” performed throughout Phish history, please explore its jam chart.

"Mike's Song" – 8/4/15, Nashville, TN. Video by LazyLightning55a.

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