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Columns > David Steinberg - Some Are Mathematicians

Published: 2004/09/29
by David Steinberg

So Now What?

So, much to the surprise of no one I’m sure, I’ve been obsessing a little over this lack of Phish thing. Fortunately I also read Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer – think Fever Pitch only about college football instead of Arsenal soccer – and I’ve felt better about the whole obsessing thing. If the people in that book can wonder how they’re going to occupy their time between the end of one football season and the start of another, I sure can be curious about what I’m supposed to do when my major obsession takes a permanent off season. We don’t even get a new recruiting class to follow.
Phish has closed their books, and we’re set adrift in a cold, dark world with naught but Live Phish downloads to sustain us. Perhaps it doesn’t have to be that way. Sure Phish will be gone, but there are all sorts of ways of dealing with it.
1) Find a New Band
The jamband world has multiplied in the last few years. Between the Disco Biscuits and SCI and YMSB and the (hopefully soon) return of WSP and moe.and the newcomers like Umphrey’s McGee and Raq, surely there is a band for you.
The problem is the sheer number of bands to try out. With multiple options there is little odds that any one band will achieve critical mass. The social aspect of tour will be minimized. No longer will you be able to attend a concert and know that most of your friends will want to attend the same event. Moreover, most of these bands are specialists. They take one or two main aspects of Phish and play them incredibly well. As a result the ability of these bands to surprise is minimized.
Part of what made a Phish show so special (and so frustrating on occasion) is that you not only didn’t know what songs would be played, you didn’t even know what style they would be playing in. Phish played bluegrass themed shows, funk shows, space jam shows, progressive rock compositional shows, and silly shows, sometimes all on the same tour. You know that The Disco Biscuits are rarely going to break into bluegrass and Yonder Mountain String Band are unlikely to play a three song spacey second set.
Moreover, for those of us who have grown up with Phish for over a decade, it’s hard to replace that connection easily. Let’s face it, college years are more exciting than adult ones. Phish were the soundtrack to first learning math and my brief period of homelessness. They kept me going through the mistake that was Las Cruces and were the first to expose me to the joys of Seattle. What could a new band provide me with – music to pay the mortgage by?
While finding a new band to tour with sure sounds tempting, it’s just rebound logic talking, more for the people who liked the idea of Phish than the music of Phish.
If you can’t get one band to give you all of the nutrients that you need, why not see lots of them at once? Bonnaroo, Jazz Fest, and the intriguing Jam Cruise (which this author will be going on in lieu of his usual NYE trip) all have their proponents. See Jazz Fest in May, Bonnaroo in June, and HSMF in July and you’ll discover that your vacation days can still be used up seeing live music. Shorter festival sets make it less likely that the band that you like but don’t love will overstay their welcome with you. Even if no one band brings you to the peaks that Phish can, sometime sheer quantity can make it all worthwhile.
3) Vacation Like Everyone Else
Look at your non-touring friends. When they go on vacation, they go to places that intrigue them. Not once have they used valuable time off to travel to East Troy, WI or Noblesville, IN. They don’t go to Atlanta in the height of summer or camp out on airport runways. It’s a weird concept going to places without seeing music, but many people do it and it seems to work just fine.
One thing you can do to make the trips seem more tourlike is to plan them around an event. I’m going to Alaska next summer for the solstice. Why the solstice? There’s this baseball game they play every year in Fairbanks. It starts at 10 PM and it’s played without the aid of lights. Next year will mark the 100th anniversary of the game and I will be there to witness. Is it a show? No. But it gives structure to the vacation. After sixteen years of touring, going to a place just to go to a place seems pointless. Going to a place to do something is a whole different story.
4) Denial
You tried touring with other bands. You couldn’t handle the crowds at Bonnaroo 2007 and you’re threatening to strangle the Houseman [1] if he comes out on stage one more time. You’re finding you spend half your time on your normal vacations at Internet cafes pulling up Jambase to see who is playing in the town where you are. Maybe it’s time to join the wonderful world of denial.
Sure Phish might have said that they were done forever, yes Trey might have mocked the idea of reunion tours, sure Coventry certainly seemed quite final, but that doesn’t mean that they really meant it, does it? The four of them have a chemistry, one that is not easily duplicated.
Trey might think that he can escape people requesting the old Phish songs by ducking out of the band, but it really is too late. His legacy is defined. He will always be the guitarist for Phish. Annoying fans will scream for Fluffhead in the middle of his orchestral shows.
Give it five, ten years. The children that Page wants to spend time with will be embarrassed to be seen with their father. Trey will be sick of his other projects being patronized. They’ll get together just to hang out, pick up an instrument or two, and be reminded why the band survived for twenty-one years after all. With Phish the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. It might take some time apart to be reminded of that fact.
See you at MSG for the 2009/2010 New Years show!
...and if this doesn’t happen, well, you can find me in the back at the show. I’ll be the old codger wanting to talk about the good old days.
[1] Yes, I know that Galactic says now that they’re an instrumental band, but it could be an evil trick to confuse us!
David Steinberg got his Masters Degree in mathematics from New Mexico State University in 1994. He first discovered the power of live music at the Capitol Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at He is the stats section editor for The Phish Companion and is on the board of directors for the Netspace Foundation. You can read more of his thoughts at

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