The mind of Mike Gordon works in strange ways. His unpredictable behavior resonates in his playing, creating a spontaneous style that can lead a jam to places never thought possible. Often, Mike will forge a brand new song from thin air simply by altering the pattern of his notes. One of these such songs that actually came to life is “Simple”, one of my personal favorite Phish songs (click here to listen to Mike’s demo version). The song was originally titled “Skyballs and Saxscrapers and was recorded during the sessions for Hoist. However, it was decidedly left off the final cut. “Simple” made its official live debut at the Warfield on 5.27.94, but traces of the song can be heard in jams during “Mike’s” dating back to ’93. Since then, the song has undergone numerous musical transformations on its quest toward becoming a jam vehicle. Let’s now take a look at the evolution of “Simple”, and some of the great jams it has produced.
In ’93, a new theme began to emerge during the jams on “Mike’s”. In the version from 5.1.93, Trey and Mike can be heard toying with the theme that would eventually become “Simple”. At this point, it was merely a jam, but the roots of the song can clearly be heard. The same theme emerged again in the “Mike’s” from 12.30.93, leading to a jam more representative of the actual song.
“Mike’s Song” (1993.5.1)
After its official debut (5.27.94), and famous version from the “OJ Show” (6.17.94), the band brought “Simple” into regular rotation. The early jams were focused around the chord changes, and featured Trey’s soaring solos as the main highlight. The version from Halloween ’94 is perhaps the best version of this type, and is well known for its pure beauty.
By the fall of ’94, the song was beginning to be be stretched out and explored. On 11.16.94 in Ann Arbor, the band let loose in a 30 minute adventure that took the song to new found heights. However, while this little stint may have indicated to the band the song’s potential, they did not initiate it into their catalog of jam vehicles until later.
The following year “Simple” returned to its melodic form, and lacked any real exploration (other than 11.21.95). Rather the beauty of the song was emphasized through concise melodic jams that flowed over the chord progression. In 1996, “Simple” jams began to stretch out once again, carrying the song into unknown territory. By fall, the song was often extending over 20 minutes, and was becoming a band, and fan, favorite. On Halloween ’96, Phish delved deeply into the funked out style of the Talking Heads, a welcome departure from the standard melodic jam. The rest of the fall would see several standout versions including the one from Champaign, IL on 11.8.96. Again on 11.16.96, in Memphis, the band played a version that that continued to push the song’s limits (this version was released on the bonus disc to Vegas ’96, Road to Vegas). On 12.6.96 in Vegas, one of the definitive versions of the song was played, and by this point it was clear the band had found a true jam vehicle in “Simple”.
In ’97, when the funk took over, “Simple” returned to a standardized jam. It’s melodic section that had previously led to wildly outside jams was unfriendly to the heavier funk grooves, and fell out of favor with the band. However, toward the end of the year as a more ambient style began to emerge, a magical version of the song was performed. On December 9th at the Bryce Jordan Center, the band explored “Simple” in an all new way. Filled with loops, and spacey effects, they continued to transform the songs musical landscapes to suit to their style.
As the ambient grooves replaced the funked-out jams of ’97, “Simple” reemerged as a strong jam vehicle. Its dreamy progression easily allowed jams to drift into ambiance, and was well suited toward the bands new style.
1999 once again saw the song return to its more standardized form. However, in 2003 Phish turned things around once again when they dropped a very outside 20 minute version in Rosement, IL.
2009 has kept the song tame, thus far. Let’s hope 2010 will change that…