Phish fizzles out
NEW YORK: Phish, the enormously popular jam band that experimented with myriad musical genres and whose legions of dedicated fans made them a younger version of ‘The Grateful Dead’, announced that they are breaking up. The surprise announcement came as the band prepared to release a new album, ‘Undermind’, on June 15. They will still embark on a summer tour June 17 at Coney Island in New York City. Band leader Trey Anastasio made the announcement on www.phish.com.
“Last Friday night, I got together with Mike, Page and Fish to talk openly about the strong feelings I’ve been having that Phish has run its course and that we should end it now while it’s still on a high note,” he wrote. “We all love and respect Phish and the Phish audience far too much to stand by and allow it to drag on beyond the point of vibrancy and health.” In Phish-land, the news hit hard. Dean Budnick, senior editor of the music magazine Relix and editor of jambands.com, said he had gotten about 100 e-mails in two hours “just expressing grief on some level.”“There’s a lot of kids out there who are so excited about having that adventure with this band who feel very stymied,” he said. The quartet, which includes Anastasio, Jon Fishman, Mike Gordon and Page McConnell, was formed in 1983. The band drew thousands of fans to their concerts with marathon performances and long, experimental jams that melded every type of music, from bluegrass to electronica.
Peter Shapiro, executive producer of the Jammy Awards, which celebrates the jam band music scene, said the band struck a chord with people who appreciated the band’s experimental nature. “I think in a time when so much of music is about four-and-half minute songs, a radio single, a video, and a choreographed concert, people found it really refreshing to have a band that would play different songs every night of the tour, that would release albums without a radio single on it,” he said.
Some shows drew up to 80,000 fans, and for many of them, the band became the centre of their universe. Much like the fans of the Grateful Dead before them, fans — known as Phish-heads — would follow the band from show to show. Phish’s encouragement of taping their concerts also endeared them to audiences. Phish went on a two-year hiatus in 2000. In the interim, band members delved into different solo projects. Anastasio has released three solo albums, including his latest, 2004’s ‘Seis De Mayo’, while Gordon released his solo debut,
‘Inside In’, last year.
Phish ended their hiatus with a series of shows at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. The first was on New Year’s Eve 2002. Anastasio called that hiatus an attempt to revitalise themselves. But he said that was no longer an option. “We don’t want to become caricatures of ourselves, or worse yet, a nostalgia act,” he said. “By the end of the meeting, we realised that after almost 21 years together we were faced with the opportunity to graciously step away in unison, as a group, united in our friendship and our feelings of gratitude.” Budnick, who grew up attending Phish concerts, said recently that he noticed, the band wasn’t as tight as it had been in the past. “They’re just a little bit sloppier. Things that had been so important to the group, like real precise, intricate passages, there were little slip-ups here and there,” he said.
He also said that after reinventing themselves over the years by experimenting with jazz, a cappella arrangements and other music genres and styles, the group may have run its course.
“I think to some degree, they really had exhausted some element of that,” Budnick said. Phish will end their tour in Coventry, Vermont, in a two-day festival August 14-15 at Newport State Airport. “We are proud and thrilled that it will be in our home state of Vermont,” Anastasio said. “It’s been an amazing and incredible journey. We thank you all for the love and support that you’ve shown us.”