Phish — Beyond Hampton… (repost, originally posted 10/2/08)
What does Phish coming back mean? For some of us, it’s recalling and reliving a ritual that we flocked to, enjoyed and lived for before being thrust into adulthood. We kept a close watch on them through the religious scanning of setlists and show descriptions, but alas, we couldn’t make every show. And we grew older, got real jobs and real responsibilities and started to only go to shows that were logistically convenient. For others, it’s catching a once great band that existed before their time, but the age difference now between performer and concert goer is hugely different. To still others, there is the intriguing curiosity of who these guys are. They were once one of the top touring acts around, but they never had MTV videos (barring the Mike directed, “Down With Disease”) and eschewed the conventional approach to attaining stardom. Here is a band that could play what they wanted, when they wanted, how they wanted and now they’re back.
See, I understood why Trey wanted to quit Phish once and for all back in 2004. To me, it seemed that he wanted to preserve what the band once was and not what it was becoming. The jams seemed more predictable and much, much sloppier. This band had once possessed razor sharp precision and could quiet an entire theater of 20-somethings who stared in rapt attention and polite respect, because they knew they were witnessing something special. This is how it used to be. They were the rolling party, but they were polite and friendly. They made sure that they had their garbage picked up behind them, that they cared for their fans and were interested in what made them tick. Phish truly put everything into the band. They practiced and played hard. Actually their rehearsals were legendary, add some hot chocolate and whatever else and you had an inspiring brew plus four incredibly gifted musicians and there was no telling what would come out of those sessions.
And like all great things, it was doomed to fail in the end. Things got too big. Merchandising, ticketing, marketing, etc., etc. It all just equaled headaches and bitter tensions. It never became less about the music, but it got close. The band that never seemed to make mistakes, now often did. They took a a couple of years off and called it “hiatus”. They came back, but it never felt right. They decided that they’d break-up, an acrimonious decision that they didn’t all agree on, but all knew in their heart was the right thing. They played their last shows in their home state and called it Coventry. Many theories exist on what went wrong besides the logistical and weather nightmares. Many of us don’t ever want to know what truly happened to our band that weekend because it was too painful and still too fresh.
Some bad things went down and some of the guys in the band had to choose between being rock stars or their health. Jail or family. Fortunately they chose wisely and now the day looks brighter. Actually the day hasn’t seemed this bright in Phish-land in a long time. The only focus is on the future. Who cares about the past? We love all the old songs, but we’ll all be happy as long as they play with heart and show us that they care again. We don’t expect another “Y.E.M.” or “Reba”, but would love for our performer to love it every time they play it. That was something that I always noticed. They loved and caressed their songs. Maybe not in “Llama”, but certainly in “Reba” and “Harry Hood”.
So what does Phish coming back mean? I don’t know. I think that it means different things to different people. To me it’s seeing old friends that I’ve shared inside jokes and grown with. Guys that can make me smile just hitting a particular note or giving a goofy grin that says “we are not just happy to be playing for you again, we’re ecstatic.” We need them like they need us and it WILL be different than it was before. They’re older, wiser. They know the pitfalls and can recognize the mistakes before they’re made. Of course they are human, but we’ll be there for them again and again, because this is Phish. This is our band and 2009 is theirs.