Phish, a US band, was formed in 1983 (1983 in music) at the University of Vermont by guitarist/vocalist Trey Anastasio, rhythm guitarist Jeff Holdsworth, bassist Mike Gordon, and drummer Jonathan Fishman. In 1985, Page McConnell joined on keyboards. In early 1986, Holdsworth left the group, thus solidifying the band's classic lineup. After 21 years together, the band parted ways in 2004.
Origins and elements
Phish began playing at local clubs in Burlington, and their live shows gained a reputation for extended improvisational jams. Their musical ethos is a playful mix of skilled improvisation, psychedelic rock, folk, bluegrass, funk, a capella/barbershop quartet, and intricate compositions. Some of their original compositions (such as "Theme from the Bottom" and "Farmhouse") tend towards a psychedelic-rock and bluegrass fusion, with more rock and funk elements than the Grateful Dead and other earlier so-called jam bands. Their more epic compositions (such as "The Divided Sky" and "You Enjoy Myself") are often said to resemble classical music in a rock setting.
They recorded their debut album, "Junta" in 1988 (1988 in music), and began touring nationally soon after, playing 150 concerts in 1990 (1990 in music) alone. They were signed to Elektra Records and released.
Phish is also releasing a steady stream of recorded live concerts from their archives, which contain thousands of concerts. Six albums are released twice each year. The Live Phish Series began in late 2001. They have also released a DVD of a performance in Las Vegas from September 30, 2000, a documentary about life on the road entitled "Bittersweet Motel" and a documentary about their 2003 festival in Limestone, ME called, simply, "IT".
Phish is a live band, and studio albums often don't give an accurate picture of what the band is really capable of. To really hear Phish, you must get live recordings, which can be bought through the Live Phish website, or traded on any number of music messagesboards. Phish fans are extremely giving, and with a little cajoling, you'll be on your way.
Their fame grew with each successive release and, instead of succumbing to the pressures of huge stadium concerts, the band began organizing massive festivals such as the Clifford Ball (1996 in music), Great Went (1997 in music), Lemonwheel (1998 in music), Oswego (1999 in music), a 3 day millennium concert at the Big Cypress Seminole reservation at the end of 1999 (1999 in music), and the "It" festival at Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine held in August, 2003.
The concert at Big Cypress was particularly notable, for the band and the fans alike. The final day of this festival was capped by a now legendary eight hour set that ran from shortly before midnight on 31 December 1999 until roughly 8 am the next morning. The "Midnight to Sunrise" set included a performance of "Heavy Things" that was broadcast on ABC at around 2:30 am EST as part of the millennium celebrations.
The band later commented that this performance was a true highlight for them, so much so that it was the apex of their time as a band. It is, in this sense, not altogether surprising that the band's hiatus came but 10 months after Big Cypress.
Phish toured throughout the summer and fall of 2000, and began a hiatus at the end of the tour (The first break longer than a few months for 17 years). The band members then began embarking on side projects: Trey fronting his own 10-piece band and working with Stewart Copeland of The Police and Les Claypool of Primus in the super group Oysterhead, Page forming the trio Vida Blue with Russell Batiste (The Meters) and Oteil Burbridge (Allman Brothers), Fish performing with Pork Tornado and Jazz Mandolin Project, and Mike working on films such as Outside Out and The Deep End, along with touring with The Benevento Russo Duo.
Phish ended the self-imposed hiatus with a sold-out New Year's Eve (12/31/02) show at Madison Square Garden in New York City followed by a 3 show run in Hampton, VA. They completed a Winter and Summer Tour for 2003. Notable during this summer tour was the July 29th show at the Star Lake Ampitheater in Burgettstown, Pennsylvaina. During the first set, the first 9 songs played made their first appearance that tour, with many being the first versions since Hiatus ended, delighting those fortunate enough to be in attendence. During the second set the song "Harpua" was played for the last time. "Harpua" is one of the most rarely played Phish originals, and is known for the stories Trey tells during the middle section. On this night, Trey declared that the ficticious character "Jimmy" mentioned in songs like "Squirming Coil" and during nearly every "Harpua" story was really drummer Jon Fishman, cluing the fans in to one of Phish's inside jokes (similar to Paul McCartney of The Beatles being the "Walrus")-JDF... After the IT festival, a few days after the Starlake show, Phish played a 4 night anniversary run from Nov. 28th - Dec. 2nd, a stellar four night New Year's run in Miami, a three night April 2004 Las Vegas run, and the final summer tour of 2004. This 2 segment tour ended with the Coventry festival on August 14th and 15th, 2004, which was a very emotional, though not well played, farewell. Coventry is further discussed below.
Despite the great successes by the band, the group seldom found themselves regularly on the radio or MTV. In fact, the group only had one foray into music video, that for their song Down With Disease, cobbled in part from their legendary live performances, and directed by Mike Gordon. In fact, the culture surrounding the Phish was discussed much more frequently by the media than the actual music. The band in fact only had one non-album b-side on all of their officially-released singles, an outtake from Billy Breathes entitled "Strange Design" from overseas copies of their song "Free".
Ben and Jerry named a flavour of ice cream after them, "Phish Food." It has chocolate ice cream with gooey marshmallows and fudge fish. It is Ben and Jerry's third highest selling flavor as of 2000. The band's share of the profits go towards the cleaning of Lake Champlain. Other music groups have had flavors named after them as well, with the Grateful Dead being the first ("Cherry Garcia ") and Dave Matthews Band being among the more recent ("One Sweet Whirled") and ("Dave Matthews Band Magic Brownies").
Phish fans are often associated in the public eye with a revival of some elements of hippie culture, especially marijuana use. The free and artistic community which often accompanies them has as its roots the followers of the Grateful Dead. While the band knew and emulated the group they are quick to point out they are technically very different from them.
Like the Grateful Dead before them, Phish (along with an increasing number of bands these days) have always allowed people to record and distribute audio of their live performances. Though soundboard copies of Phish's shows are now pressed and sold on the band's website, fans are also permitted to tape any performance they so desire, with the understanding that no profits from the recording are to be made. They may freely give or trade them with other fans, however, and many do. All net profits from the sale of soundboard recordings from their website are donated directly to the Mockingbird Foundation, a non-profit organization of Phish fans supporting music education for children.
Phish truly transcend genres, as evidenced by the sheer number of guests who have taken the stage with them over the years. Notables include Phil Lesh and Bob Weir of the Grateful Dead (who showed up at their final pre-hiatus show, 7 October 2000), blues legend B.B. King, George Clinton of Parliament Funkadelic, Jay-Z, and bluegrass legend Del McCoury.
On May 25, 2004 Phish frontman Trey Anastasio announced via the Official Phish website that the Summer 2004 Tour would be their final tour, and that the 2004 album Undermind would also be their final album. Trey stated ".. We don't want to become caricatures of ourselves, or worse yet, a nostalgia act." So ended Phish's twenty-one year run, with a two-leg tour of 14 shows.
The tour was quite a send-off, however. It started with two shows at Keyspan Park on Coney Island in Brooklyn, a venue radically different from the arenas and ampitheaters that had been Phish's domain (with a few exceptions) since around 1994. Two shows at the beautiful Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, NY, followed, before the band headed to the midwest to hit the classic Deer Creek Ampitheater and Alpine Valley Ampitheater for two nights each. Both midwest venues had long been fan favorites.
The tour then took a break of several weeks, building the fans anticipation of the final run. To augment this anticipation, Phish added another show at Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, VA, just two weeks before the run started. Then Phish headed home, to the Northeast, for two shows at Great Woods in Mansfield, Mass., a show in Camden, NJ, and the final show, Coventry.
Coventry was held in the band's "home state" of Vermont on August 14 and 15, 2004. The festival was an emotional event for the band and fans alike, attended by well over 70,000 fans and was also broadcast locally on FM radio, on XM satellite radio, and simulcast in high-definition video to hundreds of movie theaters nationwide. Many of those in attendance hiked upwards of 20 miles to the show after weather conditions made further onsite parking impossible. Early Saturday morning, Mike Gordon painfully announced via their radio station, The Bunny, that no further cars would be let into the venue. Because of this, many, MANY people turned around and left the show, leaving an upsetting taste in many of the fans mouths. On the positive side, even more people pulled their cars to the shoulder of the interstate, parked, and began the day long hike. Vermont state police were overwhelmed with the amount of cars on the side of the road, so the fans were confident that towing would not occur. The majority of the fans who participated in the hike felt like they part of something incredibly special. Also, it should be noted that anyone who was unable or unwilling to take the hike was invited to present their un-checked ticket in return for a book of band photos taken by Danny Clinch and autographed by the band (which have since become quite valuable) as well as a free download of the entire event from the Live Phish website.
Though considered by some to be technically lacking, the emotion of both band and fan was palpable, and it was an experience many will never forget. Show highlights included the "sending-off" of the trampolines used during the bands perfomances of "You Enjoy Myself", a very emotional "Wading in the Velvet Sea", where band member Page McConnell was too choked up to sing the lyrics, a magnificent glowstick war during "Down With Disease", and of course the show closer "The Curtain With".