Four years after hanging an “out to lunch” sign on their front door, jam band godheads Phish have announced that they’re reuniting for a series of shows at the Hampton Coliseum in Virginia next March, with further touring also in the works. Doubtless there are many for whom this news registers as little more than a non-Zeppelin ripple in the sea of reunion rumors, but for Phishheads, this is huge — and not just because they won’t have to fake it at Disco Biscuits concerts anymore. Instead, their world has been reborn.
Is this a good thing?
I won’t pretend I was anything more than a Phish dilettante, but there was a time in my life when I religiously bought the studio albums, scoured the internet for live shows, and made sure I saw Trey, Page, Fish, and Mike whenever they came to town. But I never traded tapes or joined the great tie-dyed hordes and followed the band on tour. Frankly, I was never 100% sold on the music, either. I was way more into Phish ballads like “Prince Caspian” and “Wading in the Velvet Sea” than labyrinthine epics like “You Enjoy Myself” or “Tweezer.” (For context, this is akin to a Metallica fan preferring Lars and Co.’s slow jams to their headbangers.) Also, I came to Phish in the late ’90s, when they were entering their “funk era,” which can be encapsulated by the following syllogism: White jam bands from Vermont are not funky; Phish are a white jam band from Vermont; therefore, Phish are not funky.
The thing I really dug about the band, and the reason I’m glad they’re coming back, is that being a Phish fan meant being part of a community. You got to speak in code (“The 2/4/93 ‘Hood’ is great, but the jam from the Great Went is even better”), pore over setlists, trade “Phish Tales,” and, of course, go to concerts, twirl, and with some biochemical prompting, say things like, “Dude, Trey’s guitar sounds like a million alien violins.” (Trust me on that last one.) When the band went away, Phishheads turned into Deadheads, archaeologists, experts on a dead civilization.
Now Phish are back. And you can be sure tapers are stocking up on cassettes, calendars are being cleared, and there will be a run on balloons and nitrous oxide. As far as we know, the group’s return might be short-lived, but there will be moments, deep into “Simple” or “Cavern” or “Weekapaug Groove,” when the music, and the world it created, will feel poised on the edge of forever. Enjoy them while they last.
Now Watch This: Phish, “Prince Caspian” (07.31.99)