Let Phish be Phish
So what we’ve all known for some time now is finally official. The Phish from Vermont will be reuniting for three shows in Hampton, VA, a favorite venue for both the band and fans alike and the site of many memorable shows in the band’s history. Additionally, the band has indicated that further tour dates can be expected, igniting the internet in a frenzy and giving hope to so many who had believed they had seen the last of Phish and to those who thought they never would.
So with that in mind, let me note something that should be clear and reiterate something I’ve alluded to in previous articles and stated outright in private; the band that will return to the stage in March is not the band that left the stage in Vermont, just as the band that returned to the stage in New York was not the band that left the stage in California. What I mean by that is that Phish, as a musical entity, is an evolving organism, just as any experimental and creative band would be. Whether it is The Grateful Dead, Miles Davis, Frank Zappa or Bob Dylan, stagnation is death and those artists proved that in order to move forward, one must evolve. It should go without saying, but Phish is a band that has repeatedly taken chances and experimented with various styles of music throughout their career and the results have frequently been heights to which few, if any, other bands have reached. Of course that means that occasionally you get low points that make you wonder what they’re even doing, but such is the nature of experimentation; its not going to work every time. But one thing they have refused to do, for the most part, is stagnate. 1994 was different than 1993 just as 1995 was different from 1994. The band that played Hampton in 1997 might as well have been on another planet than the band that played Hampton in 1995, but in each case, the same four guys were on the stage.
So when Phish takes the stage in March of 2009, we should hope to see a markedly different band, one that has been shaped by the solo careers upon which they have embarked. In my June column, I mentioned a variety of ideas for the band to undertake in order to make their as of yet unannounced reunion shows “different.” I stand by those suggestions, not as a cure all for what ailed the band last time around but rather as a way for the band to explore entirely new ideas for their shows. After all, they have done wilder experimentation with their instruments, why not with the underlying concepts that guide their shows and their career? Either way, a better question would be why should we expect the band not to grow? This is one of the reasons many people would be okay with the retiring of several of the band’s oldest songs. What better way to move into the future than to toss off the chains of the past? Would it be completely incorrect to posit that one reason some people were not happy with the last set of shows was because they were, at times, merely going through the motions while there was a general acceptance that “any Phish is better than no Phish?” Rather than noting the failure on the band’s part to deliver the type music that we not only have come to expect but that we know they can deliver, fans had instead chosen to blame various publications and websites that dared suggest the band, and their shows, was lacking.
So let’s call on the band to take this seriously, to decide if this new reunion is about the past, or about the future. Don’t want to be labeled a nostalgia act? Good, then let’s return to the days of practicing, let’s return to the days where we cared and let’s take the songs from Round Room, Undermind and whatever new album they should record in addition to their respective solo alums (“Traveled Too Far”!) and rip the @$#% out of them. I don’t think I am alone is believing this reunion has little, if anything, to do with money and instead has everything to do with the love of playing music with these other guys, in front of these specific people. But if this reunion is about feeling 22 again, count me out. Phish isn’t about looking backwards and should never be. Phish has always been about living in the moment and that’s why, despite all the attention on 2.28.03 (and rightfully so), I believe 2.26.03’s first set and 7.15.03’s second set resonated so well with everyone. These moments were about the now and the now is how we’re going to make this reunion work.