Phish: An Appreciation
The following appreciation appeared in the program for last nights Jammy Awards
Though they leave behind an impressive body of over a thousand carefully-annotated performances, a dozen studio albums and a web of carefully preserved digital shrines, it is still impossible to separate Phish’s music from its cultural impact.
In many ways, they are both the first post-modern rock band and the internet age’s first great success story; the first group to rub the avant-garde against mainstream, MTV culture with festival-size success while still reducing the meaning of life to the carefree, 1990s sentiment of ‘whatever you do, take care of your shoes.’ In an era of hard-rock testosterone and New Wave excess, the members of Phish emerged as the perennial everymen: four ordinary people known by their first names for their uncanny musical ability, personifying four tangible elements of post-Aquarius, suburban society.
While not the first rock band to embrace improvisational music, Phish turned the jam scene on its head with an original cocktail of rock, pop, jazz, bluegrass, reggae, funk and orchestral sounds that owed as much to Talking Heads and Frank Zappa as it did to Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead. In only 21 years, Phish challenged arena rock’s rules, claimed cow-funk as their own and re-fused Brian Eno ambience with the indie-rock underground. Their studio work is equally varied: From the breezy statements of Junta and the dreamy concepts of Rift to the mature, rustic emotions of Billy Breathes and the instrumental experimentations of The Siket Disc, Phish played by their own rules, setting the template for the modern festival, harnessing the power of the internet long before the blog and somehow turning a flying hotdog into an everlasting
cultural statement. Only a collegiate cycle since their curtain call, Phish’s legacy is still being set…and we still have no regrets.
Mike Greenhaus, from somewhere south of Coventry