Since the announcement of the second leg of Phish’s 2012 Summer Tour came just 48 hours ago, the internet world has been buzzing around the final sentence in the announcement email.
“No further dates will be scheduled for the Summer or the Fall.”
This news means that, quite simply, Phish will exit the stage in Denver (like they did last year) at the end of their three day run on Labor Day weekend, and not return to the stage until the first night of their New Year’s Eve run.
The issue most have with this is two-fold. One, people love Fall Tours. Historically, some of the best shows Phish has ever played have come within the months of October, November, and December. The aura of indoor Phish takes the music and experience to another level, which is something that will be missed in the Fall. Two, the band has shown multiple times that they are best when they have some momentum. The flip side of that, what we experienced last year, is that they don’t seem to have the ability to simply flip the switch and put on a great show without ample practice time. The tour opening Bethel run is the lone exception, as all three of those shows stood up as some of the best in the 3.0 era. However the most recent memory (MSG ’11) is a bad one. Many people are not over the lackluster New Year’s run, and my response to them is simple- prepare yourselves for round two.
My problem with a lot of what I’ve read in the past couple of days stem from the same theme: Phish doesn’t care.
Pump. The. Brakes.
Every Phish fan has seen this movie before. Every single one. Every fan has seen what happens to Phish when they simply stop caring. Do I need to refresh your memory? Please don’t make me post a Coventry video. Please. I don’t want to have to do it, but I will if this self-entitled, greedy attitude persists. Now, I’m not one of these people who thinks you have to love everything. I have plenty of gripes about 3.0, but this is about the big picture. Phish doesn’t care? That’s your defense? Not only is that incredibly misguided, but it’s flat out lazy. Let’s just take a second and try to gain some perspective and rationalize this situation.
Starting with the man at the center of all of it, Trey Anastasio, the diagnosis is simple.
He’s happy. He’s content. He’s healthy for the first time in his life.
That’s all there is to it. He doesn’t have that rockstar ego anymore, he doesn’t need to walk around with a chip on his shoulder. He’s been to the mountain top of rock and roll, and guess what? It got him thrown in jail and sent to rehab. There’s no reason to want to go back to that.
I’m not going to talk about his infamous “ripcord” jams or any of that, because I’m focusing on an off-stage mentality and misconception that a lot of people seem to have about him. As he’s said before, no one loves Phish like he does. And more importantly, no one respects Phish like he does. Granted, these comments were made at the height of Trey’s personal problems, but they have some significance today. I cannot get on board with Trey not caring about Phish if they are still playing shows. I believe Trey believes that they still have something to give, and will continue to tour until he feels otherwise.
The band, Trey specifically, still seems to have an absolute blast on stage. I think that ‘feeling’ is still there and the fire is still burning for each member individually. While they might not be as musically proficient as they once were, that should not be misinterpreted as a lack of care.
I’m simply struggling to find out where the disconnect is for fans. I have a feeling that it lies with the multiple commitments for the band members outside of Phish. Trey has been rumored to be working on a new solo album along with his orchestra tour, Hands on a Hard Body, and of course TAB. Honestly, I would be shocked if he truly viewed any of this to be “above” Phish on his list of priorities. Hell, to me, these are positives for Phish. Trey will bring all of these different elements and influences to the Phish stage. Outside excursions like these will only result in better playing.
Regardless of what people think of this man, when he steps on stage with Mike, Fish, and Page, he is Big Red again. He’s that goofy kid in the glasses with no shirt on in the clubs in Vermont again. He is simply Trey, and he’s just fine with that.
As for the other guys, let’s not let them off the hook. Particularly Mike. He has made it no secret how much he enjoys playing with his new band, so why don’t we hear about this? Well, we do, but Mike gets a pass because his band actually jams, right? Wrong. Here’s where I have to call out Phish fans. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. You either like these solo bands, or you don’t. But don’t single out Trey simply because you don’t enjoy what he does. That is simply unfair.
With all of that said, my advice to Phish fans is this: Calm down. Don’t make the same mistake again. Don’t take the band for granted again and spend the next 20 years regretting not appreciating them. Do it now while you still have them in front of you. Go to shows, dance, sing, talk about the music, and enjoy the ride. I’m not saying you shouldn’t criticize, and I’m certainly not saying you have to love everything they do. I’m simply saying that we have four guys who, for the first time in their lives, are happy, healthy, and really loving being on stage together again. Don’t overanalyze their investment into Phish because they have invested their entire lives into the band, as have most of you. The care, the love, and most importantly the respect for Phish stems from the four guys on stage every night, and that feeling needs to flow through the fan base once again.
So, moving forward, here are some things I will be carefully watching. The first of those is the initial run of shows. Will Phish take advantage of this shorter touring year and blow the crowd away every time they play? That will be the question. The second is the identity of Phish in this 3.0 era. We saw it in 2011 with the plinko-funk and the storage jams, but that identity was non-existent during the MSG New Year’s run. I’d like to see them get back to that early and often as it seems to be their bread and butter in the improv sections. As someone who attended the UIC run, I can confidently say that this identity and style is wildly successful amongst fans, and the band seems very comfortable with it on just about every tune (see: UIC Chalk Dust). And finally, their mood. Does the joy still bubble to the surface? Do they appear loose and in the moment rather than detached mentally? I think they’re aware of the criticisms they are receiving, to be honest, and no matter how fair or unfair some of those may be, they need to put those aside and go out and have fun for themselves and for each other.
Besides, for a band who has spent the better part of 20 years making sure the fans have fun, isn’t it about time they have some fun too?