Featured Column: Hiatus 3?
Tour date announcement day is usually one of excitement. The people who get local shows cheer and those who were skipped over this time lick their wounds and try to figure a way of maximizing their shows while minimizing expenses and vacation days. All was going to plan when Phish added a statement to the announcement, “Following the summer, the band has no touring plans for the remainder of the year.” Sure they just threw it on the end of the dates like it wasn’t a big deal, but that’s going to catch the attention of an obsessive fanbase.
The initial reaction was to try to parse the statement. “The band has no touring plans?” Well yeah, they’re just organizing summer tour right now. Of course they don’t have plans yet for the fall. Others tried to distinguish between a tour and a run, hoping that at least New Year’s Eve could be salvaged. However, as the day went on, the impression leaned more and more towards it meaning just what it said, rather than being some sort of trick, summer tour (well and 1/1/11) would be all that Phish would play.
One of my rules in life is that you should never get back in a relationship after two breakups. One could easily be a mistake, but after the second one, you’re liable to fall into a habit of breaking up and getting back together for more and more trivial reasons. Once something happens once, it’s easier to find reasons to do it again. Even if you don’t actually do it, it’s hard to be quite as confident in your situation. That’s what seems to be happening here. Any talk in a break of playing gets people a little antsy. Are they breaking up… again? Are we going to have to come up with a 4.0 name now?
In this case though, it probably is exactly what it says on the tin. Providing the world doesn’t end, I fully expect to be seeing Phish in 2012. Sure people can – and will (this is why message boards were invented after all) – come up with all sorts of outlandish theories as to what’s going on. People who have never met Trey in their lives will explain in detail about how they know he’s back to using drugs. Others will assume more benign reasons; maybe they’re making an album or just wanted some time off to prevent burn out. Maybe the poor ticket sales of Fall 2010 played into things. The key about speculation is to not fall into the trap of thinking that people know more than they do. I could easily come up with dozens of reasons why they’re taking a fall break, e.g. Mike is having a new kid, Trey wants to focus on this musical for a while, Jon is building a new windmill on his farm and the permitting process is going to take his full attention, they got jealous of the attention DMB is getting with this year off thing and wanted some of their own. It seems like I shouldn’t have to remind people this in the Internet era, but there are people who like to make up facts and are good enough writers to trick people. The fact that someone literally made up some dates on PT, called them, “Here’s what I think this tour could look like if I were routing it with the rumors,” and then the thing got passed around the Internet with no labeling – I was presented them at least a dozen times – proves that our skeptical skills are not up to speed with our fake reporters. Unless the person who is telling you this has a name that rhymes with Bage BicBonnell, remain skeptical.
There are two kinds of Phish fans, those who prefer summer shows and those who think Phish are best indoors. While I understand the rationale for the fall tour supporters, I have to confess that I’ve always been about the summer. With a few exceptions ultimately most basketball arenas start to look the same. When you’re seeing a show outdoors, you’re part of the environment. You get wet if a storm rolls through; sometimes even if you’re halfway down in the covered seating as happened to me in Columbus 2000. Phoenix 2003 was so hot and dry that the mist in the mist tent evaporated about 7 feet below the ground. You have the great views at the Gorge and Red Rocks, the CRACK-A-BOOM of the “Taste” in Raleigh 97; the music and the crowd are interacting with the world instead of being shut off from it. So from my perspective (and the fact that West Coast fall shows are rare and it can be a lot harder to travel starting in late fall), I’m largely fine with this decision. There are just two exceptions I’d like to see.
Being a math geek, I’ve been very amused by the concept of binary shows. A binary number is one that only has ones and zeros in it. It can be seen as a number written in base two. Phish have played 4 binary shows: 10/01/00, 10/10/10, 10/11/10, and 1/1/11. However the great big one was coming up this fall on November 11. I was looking forward to getting excited on 11/11/11 at 11:11:11 PM. That would be towards the tail end of the second set and maybe something amazing would have happened then. Alas though, it looks like the final binary show has happened as 2011 is the last year in the 21th century where that would work.
More importantly, I’m hoping the band find a way of performing a New Year’s Run. New Year’s Eve is the one day where I really feel like I should be seeing Phish. Even after I adjusted during the breakup, I got a little sad in late December when I tried to find something else to do that night. Since 1989 the only years without a New Years show either had Phish not play at all or had them announce a hiatus or a breakup halfway through the year. I could understand if the creative well were drying up, but the stunts the last two years have been especially inspired, which of course makes it even harder to go to the Tractor Tavern and see McTuff or something.
Even if there is a sudden inspiration to do a show to ring out 2011, the lack of fall tour means that people are going to be scrambling to see more outdoor shows. The one thing I beg of management is to not delay in announcing the second leg (and the alleged Watkins Glen festival, implied heavily by the fact that there will be more summer announcements… plural). I’m trying to figure out how to maximize my shows given my vacation days, and I need to know the entire tour schedule before I can make plans. I understand that sometimes earlier plans get finalized before later ones and festivals are more complex than normal shows, but it’s hard not to come up with conspiracy theories that have the festival/second leg announced later in order to get people to buy more tickets for the first leg. If that is the case, that’s a great short-term strategy but it will backfire in the long run. You can only do that a few times before people get annoyed and delay buying tickets in general or just get frustrated to the point where they walk away. Obviously I’m way too addicted to ever claim that I can do that, but others are starting to drop off a bit. So if this is a game, please stop. We have plans to make here. There’s going to be a summer Phish tour! Even with the bad news about fall tour, that’s something to get excited about.
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 Capital Centre in 1988 and never has been the same. His Phish stats website is at http://www.ihoz.com/PhishStats.html and he’s on the board of directors for The Mockingbird Foundation. He occasionally posts at the Phish.net blog and has a daily update on the Phish Stats Facebook page