Going to Phish shows is always an out of the ordinary experience. Not once has attending a Phish show gone smoothly for me, and I have seen them about nine times. I have never seen them in my home state, and have always had to travel insane distances to attend those shows (Indio, Buffalo, Colorado, etc.). One time we even got our car stolen, only to find it at a Home Depot in the desert. And of course, the shows are always live spectacles that every time, despite the sleep deprivation, stress and amount of drugs raining from the sky, impress totally. Every show is a perfectly orchestrated masterpiece, mimicking the oddity and sights that are all around me. Basically, Phish is one of the best live bands on the planet.
And not one Phish experience is ever exactly like another one. The sets are always woven together so well, and the band is usually good about not playing songs two shows in a row (although you are usually guaranteed Chalk Dust Torture and You Enjoy Myself). Its at the point now where the true Phish fans feel uneasy and almost guilty about missing any single show. People worship this band to unfathomable levels, and to the point where I feel uncomfortable around them (and usually out of place). Its no longer a fan base; its a goddamn cult.
A vast majority of people (everybody else in the world I know) do not know, or understand the glory that is live Phish. In fact, most people I ever play one Phish song for flat out tell me they would never want to see this live. I once was that way as well, but once I got a taste, I had to keep going. I want to convince the entire world to see them at least once, even if you dont enjoy 20 minute extended jams on songs about dying cats or Velvet Underground covers. Hopefully, one or several of these videos will convince you to get on the train and fork over some money to the grassroots enterprise that is Phish.
What better place to start off a Phish video compilation than the beginning. Here, the year is 1990 and we are watching Phish play at some small ski joint in Connecticut. You see, before Phish sold out arenas with their magical tickets that seem to go up in price with every tour, they played wherever would hire them to be wacky and ridiculous. And because hippies follow bands, hippies followed Phish to no end. Here, we see an ecstatic crowd of dancing fans, while Phish plays one of their oldest and most appreciated tracks, Fluffhead. The band looks a lot younger and slightly more nervous, as guitarist Trey Anastasio barely faces the crowd, looking at his guitar for comfort and precision. Nevertheless, Phish plays an exciting rendition of the track for a small, yet dedicated crowd, showing they were destined for big things. (Note: Pardon the sound quality, cameras have come much further).
Next on the menu is a video from a show where I seem to always find the bands I am writing about for these articles, Letterman. Letterman introduces the band by making a joke about them being from Burlington, VT, and asking if they need a ride home later. The band then launches into a shortened for television version of Chalk Dust Torture, a Phish classic that will ignite any show into a full-on party. When you hear those opening notes of Anastasios guitar ripple over the crowd in a crunchy blues fury, you know its on. Hope your stamina is in check too, because chances are youll be rocking to that number for about 10 to 15 minutes. This video is actually a rather poor choice in teaching people about Phish, but at least you get to hear them rip one of their best tunes on national television.
Of course, its Phishs more extensive jams that I find relatively intriguing. Not one version of a song is ever the same. There a number of tunes they play that can last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes long. And when they do stretch things, prepare to get lost deep within your mind. Jon Fishman knows how to keep the drums interesting, constantly changing the tone of the entire room, while pianist Page McConnell always mixes the keyboard sounds to keep the song interesting. Personally, one of my favorites is Harry Hood, a song about the janitor of the Hood factory located in Burlington. This particular version of the song is from October of 95, in Lincoln, NE, and lasts for about seventeen minutes. Throughout the whole thing, they keep teasing moments of Michael Jacksons Beat It, which adds an interesting element to the thought of a janitor.
The other thing that has always amazed me about Phish is their ability to bust covers out of nowhere. This past summer they got major press for playing songs like Killing in the Name” and In the Aeroplane over the Sea, but this shows that their eclectic tastes shine through their music. They even have done shows with Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z, covering their tracks while having a guest vocalist on stage. And every Halloween they cover another bands album from start to finish (I myself witnessed Exile on Main St.). This video is from 98, where Anastasio and Fishman trade instruments, allowing Fishman to step up to the microphone. The band teases with Argents Hold Your Head Up, and then launches into the then-popular Getting Jiggy With It, as Fishman raps. What more could you ask for from a show?
And finally we come to present day, a point in Phish history where things are much different than years past. Now Phish are clean-cut, rich, and hit every note perfectly. The shows all sell out, the bass licks thump harder than ever, the lights are brighter than before, and the party keeps on going. This version of Weekapaug Groove, a Phish dancing classic from their 2009 run at Madison Square Garden, is a perfect testament of where the band stands today: at the top mother fucker.
If Mike Gordons bass line, Anastasios stellar licks, and a partying crowd havent convinced you to go yet, then maybe you never will. But the people who worship and follow Phish like the Bible will always be there for every show they can get their hands on. Their New Years run is coming up and the Phish fans are already buzzing about, trying to make arrangements, score tickets, and predict set lists. Its an exciting world to be a part of, and I will continue to keep seeing Phish until the culture passes and becomes a discussion of the past. Phish is one of the most talented, smartest, and amazing bands of our generation, and the fact we have such a cultural commodity within our lifetime is something we should not only embrace, but try to be a part of. As a parting video, I leave you with this three-minute clip of Punch You in the Eye at Bonnaroo in 2009 (my second show), but this time its not the band whos important, its the crowd. And the crowd is by far the best part of any Phish experience.
Special thanks to Aaron Galloway.