Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Band That Wouldn't Die

Okay, so let me be clear...I am a fan of the band Phish. I am not a "phan", because I think that such terms are ridiculous. I am not a "deadhead" or a "beatlemaniac" either. But let me talk a bit about why I love Phish.

I have always been a listener who appreciates musical complexity and skill, probably because I am really nerdy when it comes to music theory and such things. I also appreciate a sense of humor in my music, as well as a weird, quasi-avant-garde sensibility. Listening to Phish's early records, especially LAWN BOY (1990) and A PICTURE OF NECTAR (1991), one can hear all of these elements, and they worked together to create something really magical. Now, let's all understand that I was not a fan of their live work early on because I had no access to it. I didn't know anyone who was in on the tape trading network, and Phish never came to my town, so I didn't get a chance to really explore what they did live until their first live album came out in 1995 (I did manage to see them play twice in concert before this, in 1992 and 1994, but these shows were relatively tame and straightforward). Little things trickled out here and there for a number of years after that, and then, in 2001 or so, the LIVE PHISH series of CDs started to hit stores, and a veritable deluge of high quality live Phish music was available to me. This all came after their first breakup (or "hiatus" as it was called) towards the end of 2000.

All of this is meant to illustrate that, to me, Phish really were a studio band. Did they make a few lousy records? Yes, perhaps more per capita than most bands I'm a really big fan of. But the good stuff, I SWEAR, is REALLY good. The high point for me has to be BILLY BREATHES, their 1996 album. I don't care who you are or what you lean towards; it's a nearly flawless rock record.

The quandary is that, to themselves and many of their followers, Phish were a LIVE band. That was the meat and potatoes of what they did. So, even after they came back from the hiatus, and made a really GOOD record (UNDERMIND), they quit again because the touring lifestyle wasn't working out anymore (mind you, there were some things going on underneath the surface that many didn't really know about at the time...Trey's addiction to hard drugs being the main one), and because the music wasn't moving forward to speak of. This was in 2004.

So, this brings up a number of questions for me in regards to this upcoming reunion. Apparently, they're doing three shows in March at the Hampton coliseum, and then additional touring for 2009 will be announced. What are they playing? The same shit that they were tired of four years ago? Is four years really long enough to decide that you want to go out there and play "The Divided Sky" again? And will there be a new record? Any new material at all? These are my questions, because if there is no new record or new material, and if there is no serious consideration being given to what's on/off limits in terms of setlists (I have LONG been vocal about the fact that, at some point, they should have cut everything from before 1994 out of the set, and that way they could really develop some of the newer songs without worrying about playing "You Enjoy Myself" or "Mike's/Groove" all the time), then this will die a quick and ugly death. It (the reunion) will have most of the same problems and issues that contributed to the 2004 breakup, and it will continue to sully and weaken the reputation of a band that many parts of the music community regard with a LOT of trepidation to begin with. And they don't deserve it. They really don't. At least, not YET. This latest announcement could change all that, if they're not careful.

Stay tuned to www.phish.com for more details, and stay tuned here for more opinions.

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