After finishing most of the rough tracks for their album Billy Breathes in early spring (see TMIPH February 1996 and TMIPH April 1996), Phish returned to Bearsville Studios in May to complete the album. By June, most of the songs for Billy Breathes were tracked and ready for overdubbing and mixing. At Bearsville, the band, Producer Steve Lillywhite, Engineer John Siket and assistant Chris Laidlaw put the polish on their new work.
About that time, Phish decided to play a stealth show at Joyous Lake in Woodstock, near Bearsville. Apparently it is somewhat of a tradition for groups recording at Bearsville to grace the small club with a concert following their work at the studio. The concert was announced on the day of the show, June 6th, with Phish donning the moniker “Third Ball” for the event. The performance at Joyous Lake was small and low-key with the band playing on gear brought from the studio and using the club’s sound system. Chris Kuroda ran the club’s low-fi lighting rig and Paul Languedoc manned the front-of-house mix. In keeping with the relaxed atmosphere of the evening, Paul provided soundboard patches to the few tapers who brought recording gear. New monitor engineer, Mark “Bruno” Bradley ran the monitors that night for his first live appearance with the band. The club was filled beyond its capacity of 200 people by the time the band came onstage around 11 PM. A local band called Juan Hung Low provided support, playing an opening set before Third Ball took the stage. Third Ball performed two sets that night consisting of longtime classics and some material from Billy Breathes. Set one was mostly older material, kicking off with Split Open and Melt followed by Poor Heart and Runaway Jim. Theme From the Bottom was the only selection from the first set that appeared on Billy Breathes. Trey played keyboards for part of Scent of a Mule, which included teases of Eric Clapton’s Cocaine. The tempurature inside Joyous Lake had increased quite a bit by the time the band closed the set with Highway to Hell. Given the crowd and tempurature, an outdoor patio offered a good set-break hangout. Third Ball’s second set kicked off with more classics, including a spirited AC/DC Bag, You Enjoy Myself, Chalk Dust Torture and Stash. The evening’s only debut songs, Waste and Character Zero, punctuated the set. The new songs were pretty raw, with Trey explaining that Waste didn’t yet have an ending. Set two concluded with David Bowie followed by Fee into Sample in a Jar. The encore consisted of Ya Mar and Fire, leaving the small audience energized as they rolled out onto the streets of Woodstock.
The rest of June was occupied with sequencing the album and other pre-mastering details for Billy Breathes. On June 24th the band and Marley did a photo shoot at road manager Brad Sands’ house in Burlington. Later that evening, Fish performed with his band Pork Tornado at Burlington’s Club Toast as the other band members and crew prepared to depart for Europe.
The album was mastered the last week of June at Gateway Studios. Meanwhile, the band and crew headed to Europe for a short tour consisting of some support dates for Santana and a number of headline and festival performances. They would finish touring for the summer with shows in the U.S. culminating in August with their first large outdoor festival, The Clifford Ball.