First, you should probably know that there was a period of my life, from the mid to late 90s, where much of my free time revolved around the band Phish. I would plan vacations from work where I could attend 5 or so Phish concerts in a few different cities over the course of a week.
When Phish announced plans to start performing live again, starting off this weekend with 3 shows in Hampton, Virginia, I reacted in a muted fashion. First, it wasn’t so surprising. I always felt it was just a matter of time before they got back together. That their final shows in August of 2004 weren’t going to be last notes these guys ever played together. For one, these are the first Phish shows to take place since I’ve had a two sons. And with two little boys, the likelihood of me actually attending those shows in Virginia was zero.
But in some ways I held back my excitement because those last few tours were actually not so great. Quite honestly, more disappointing performances like those would tarnish all the fantastic memories I have with Phish over the years.
The first time I ever saw Phish perform was the summer after my sophmore year at the University of Vermont. I was 20 years old. It was at The Front in downtown Burlington. A place that burned down not soon after, to be replaced by a ski store.
The memories started piling on fast after that. With some of my personal highlights being
The 92 show in Stowe, Vermont where they opened for and jammed with Carlos Santana on “You Enjoy Myself”
12/6/96 at the old Aladdin Theatre in Las Vegas. It was the first time they ever played Vegas. The last show of their fall tour. The epic Harpua encore with Les Claypool, John McCuen from the Nitty Gritty Dirty Band, a yodeling couple, and 4 Elvis impersanotors. To this day, I have not been to a better concert by any band anywhere.
Halloween in Vegas in 1998. – A 3 set show where they cover the entire Velvet Undeground “Loaded” album in the second set
San Diego in the summer of ‘99 at Chula Vista Amphitheatre. Me and my friends sneak down from the lawn and take over an empty American Airlines corporate box suite. Not only do we enjoy an awesome show, but the suite had waitress service!
The time that Kid Rock jumped on stage and covered AC/DC and Aerosmith songs with them.
And then there was Big Cypress. It was the end of the 90’s and I was one of 75,000 people to travel to an Indian reservation in central Florida. For a few days of carnival fun and two days of live Phish. Including one of the most impressive live experiences I have ever witnessed. Phish comes on at midnight on December 31, 1999 and doesn’t stop performing until the sun has risen on January 1, 2000. It’s astounding to even plan such a feat. It’s an entirely seperate act to actually do it. I remember Trey addressing the crowd the day before: “OK, I want to talk about our set tomorrow night. We’re playing straight through until the sun rises. We won’t be taking a break.” It was a seven and a half hour set. Just think about that for a moment.
Phish 1.0 came to end October 7, 2000 at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California. It was a great night and to this day, I truly believe that they if they wanted to stop, that was the night they should have stopped.
Big Cypress was the high water mark. It was the point where the wave crested. 10 months later in October, the wave had crashed, peacefully and beautifully washing ashore.
The break after Shoreline was always intended to be a hiatus. And when they returned to play a NYE show in 2002, I couldn’t wait to make more memories.
But it didn’t turn out that way. I went to 3 shows during the 2.0 years and they were all underwhelming. Sure, I had a good time, but the energy and spontaneity around the music just wasn’t the same. When it came to end at Coventry, I shed some tears as I listened to those final sets, but in part it was because I wish they had left on top.
Phish 2.0 was like when Michael Jordan came out of retirement to play for the Washington Wizards. Just as Jordan should have walked away from basketball after hitting that title winning jump shot against Utah and striking the perfect pose; Phish should have called it a career with the vocal jam of their You Enjoy Myself encore at Shoreline.
I’m struggling with this return of Phish. I want to be excited. I really do. I am eager to listen to the shows. And by the way they will be available for free at livephish.com. But I want Phish 1.0 back. I want the band to be the tight creative unit I knew in the 90’s. Phish 2.0 was a disappointment to many, including the band it seems. If they practice hard and bring the joy and energy back to their music…if they don’t get burnt out with what surrounds the scene they have created…if, if, if. It’s a lot like talking about the upcoming Red Sox season (if Ortiz can hit, if Lowell can stay healthy,etc.)
And most of all, I want them to come west so I can check it for myself as I also miss the joy of attending a show.