Phish Say Pharewell to Phans

Monday Magazine | August 3, 2004
In the late ’80s, while the music industry was recovering from the spikes of New Wave, a life force was developing, in the shadows of a green mountain, that would grow to spawn a new sound: the divided sky opened up and then there was Phish. Twenty-two years of evolution has seen Phish—Trey Anistasio (guitar), Mike Gordon (bass), Page McConnel (keys) and Jon Fishman (drums)—develop from their abstract muddy depths to lead an ever-growing phlock down the middle of Shakedown Street, that was gratefully paved by the Dead. Alas, the band has decided to put the beautiful beast to rest and make this summer’s tour a final farewell to their faithful phans.

Undermind (Electra), their recently released 12th studio effort, is nautical miles beyond initial attempts made in the studio by a group usually known for running like an antelope out of control. Producer-du-jour Tchad Blake took on the daunting task of recording, mixing and producing the 14 tracks that will stand as a final testament to the band’s recording accomplishments. And with Undermind, he’s managed to reel them into a tighter sound than ’02s Round Room, with more disciplined rhythms and graceful melodic structure. All four members contribute lyrically to the disc’s repeating themes of a desire for intimacy and direction, but none speak more clearly to fans than this line from the track “Crowd Control”: “the time has come for changes / do something or I will.” The ubiquitous DVD included with the album documents life in the studio and presents personal interviews that provide us with insights behind the music, filling it out as a complete package for all time—whether phans like it or not.

Meanwhile, undeniable in his efforts to express himself as a solo artist, Anistasio has released two discs this year alone. The first Trey Anistasio Live at the Warfield (Electra) captures him trading licks with guitar guru Carlos Santana at a 2003 concert recorded at San Francisco’s infamous theatre; however, it’s Seis de Mayo (Electra) that allows Anistasio to truly open up as a musician and composer. For years, phans have enjoyed songs like “All Things Reconsidered,” “The Inlaw Josey Wales” and the epic “Gyute” in their electronic state—but may not recognize them as they are here, orchestrated with violins, cellos and bassoons; arranged such, the pieces take on a new life, full of emotion and an energy that allows the music to truly soar. Infused with so many genres of music (from bluegrass to gospel, classical to deeply rocked-out jams), Anistasio bounces around the room with a truly fluidic style and shows no signs of slowing down.

Finally, filmmaker Todd Phillips was recruited to capture Phish’s tour of Europe in 1998 and the two-day concert extravaganza The Great Went, producing the critically acclaimed Bittersweet Motel. Last summer Grammy-winning producer-director Mary Wharton made a second feature-length documentary covering the band’s IT festival, held in Limestone, Maine, in 2003; the resulting film—IT: A Phish Concert Special—can be seen locally at midnight Saturday, August 7 on Seattle’s KCTS.

After over 1,500 shows, Trey, Fish, Mike, and Page are finally going to sleep with the phishes. This grand voyage together will culminate in their home state of Vermont on August 14-15 with two days of mirth and music at the already sold-out Coventry festival, which will draw close to 100,000 phans. Was it for this their life they sought? Maybe so, maybe not . . . but I hope this happens once again.

Monday Magazine

Founded in 1975 to provide a critical voice in Victoria's political and cultural communities, Monday Magazine continues to shake British Columbia's conservative capital city with tell-it- like-it-is features and reviews. Targeting educated, active adults and Victoria's growing youth market, Monday...
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