Exclusive Premiere: Phish Plays 30-Minute ‘Simple’ At Bryce Jordan Center In 1997
Between November 13 and December 13, 1997 Phish embarked on a 21-show Fall Tour that all these years later still stands among the best in the band’s history. JamBase has been celebrating the 20th anniversary of the historic run with a series of Remembering Phish Fall Tour 1997 remembrances in partnership with The Mockingbird Foundation from a variety of fans who attended each of the shows. Today, JamBase is excited to premiere audio from the Phish vault featuring an incredible jam from a concert which took place at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College, Pennsylvania on December 9, 1997.
The history of “Simple” traces back to a demo bassist Mike Gordon created in advance of the 1993 sessions that would yield 1994’s Hoist. While Mike’s original version mixed doo-wop and bluegrass influences, Phish’s live version – debuted on May 27, 1994 in San Francisco – was much different and more vocally-oriented. When “Simple” next emerged on June 17, 1994 it was a rocker and featured improvised lyrics about O.J. Simpson, who was in the middle of his infamous car chase as the band watched in disbelief during setbreak. The quartet didn’t wait long to turn “Simple” into a jam vehicle and by 1996 the song was one Phish would often use as a platform for wild improvisation.
“Simple” was a staple of the rotation during Fall Tour 1997, as the song made four appearances during the 21-show run. The version played on the campus of Penn State University was an adventurous rendition in which the foursome explored multiple jam spaces over the course of 30 minutes with each member making impressive contributions. Phish quickly broke through the song’s normal structure for a quiet and contemplative improvisation. Mike picked up the pace, Fish followed along and Trey started throwing Hendrix-esque, wah’d out licks into the mix as the Penn State Simple reached the 16-minute mark.
After the guitar-heavy peak, keyboardist Page McConnell moved over to Fender Rhodes as the Vermonters embarked on a groovy segment of the jam. Trey focused on rhythms while Mike and drummer Jon Fishman provided a strong foundation. While the “Simple” from Bryce Jordan isn’t solely driven by the cow funk that was at the heart of so many great Fall 1997 jams, the quartet did work some of the lessons learned from James Brown listening parties into the version. Around the 22-minute mark, Anastasio employed a delay loop and proceeded to reel off one powerful riff after another as the band reached a more spacey oeuvre. The jam eventually faded to ambiance and while it appeared Phish was about to start “David Bowie,” they wound up making a move toward “Timber Ho!.”
Yesterday, JamBase premiered the first installment of The JamBase Podcast. One of the segments features a chat about Phish Fall Tour 1997 and co-host David Onigman mentioned the stellar Penn State Simple and opined fans may feel differently about how good the PSU ’97 show was if an official recording was available. The next day Phish archivist Kevin Shapiro responded to a thread in which JamBase asked to premiere audio from the tour by offering the Penn State Simple.
Stream audio of the unhinged “Simple” from December 9, 1997: