For all of the psychedelic madness and insanely heavy music produced by Phish, the four band members never lost their sense of humor. Possessing an incredible duality of serious musicianship and lyrical on-stage absurdity, they never took themselves too seriously. Grounded in a humble perspective coming from over a decade of grassroots touring to make it, Phish never let their success get to their heads- at least not on stage or in public. Always maintaining a certain gaiety to their shows, the band fostered a community feel of amusement and silliness around their entire scene.
Throughout their two decades of touring, these four loons from Vermont that started all this, somehow never lost their looniness. Almost as silly as the day they began, Phish was always in it for a good time. Can you believe that Fishman still ran around in a dress twenty years later? That’s not an act- that’s in his blood. From day one, Phish was about having fun. From mushroom-induced Oh Kee Pah Ceremonies in college to antics, comical lyrics, and onstage banter throughout their career, a thread of pure unadulterated fun ran remained consistent. Often worked right into the sinister mind-fucking, the humor of Phish always reminded you to not take yourself so seriously.
Examples of this spirit abounded. Take the “secret language” back in 1992, when the band gave musical cues to the crowd to, literally, do something at that moment. From yelling Homer Simpson’s “D’oh!” to falling down and pretending to die, these commands could provide subtle humor directly within the heat of the moment. This language was woven through intros and jams throughout their career. I remember being at Deer Creek once, and Trey gave the “fall down and die” signal. After doing it, and getting up, I watched the uninformed peoples’ utter dismay and confusion at what just happened- it was pure comedy. Trey described, and laughed, at this phenomenon in one of his language explanations in a ’92 show- it was like the band was getting us in on their jokes! Collectively, we would mess with the people who were just coming to shows for the first few times. Nothing mean, just fun. Classic Phishiness.
Then you had Jon Fishman. One of the most amazing drummers around, the guy pranced around in a dress and goggles for his twenty years, belting out songs that sounded as good as you or me in the shower. With a career total of well over 100,000 stage laps ran, a Fishman song placed deep in the second set always provided comic relief to a show that was challenging your grip on reality. If you were teetering, these interludes almost forced you to laugh with the sheer absurdity of the spectacle coming right after a huge jam. After a while I grew tired of Fishman songs- I thought they shot musical momentum directly between the eyes- but the band never got sick of it! Certainly providing laugh-out-loud humor for most all in attendance, Fishman continued hamming it up until the end. At some point I gotta’ say, more power to him.
Then there were all the festivals, designed largely by the band themselves. It was Phish’s idea to revolutionize the concert experience by hosting us for an entire weekend, and providing interactive entertaining activities for all, covering the concert grounds. They created those festivals in their own spirit; the same spirit in which they created their music, and shared that spirit with whoever wanted to come. With such generosity, Phish was like the Salvation Army for Fun. Anyone could come and take as much fun away as they wanted, no questions asked. Not many bands are so proactive in providing entertainment and comedy for their fan base. Usually, its just the good ol’ rock and roll.
Let’s not forget the Gamehendge mythology. No, not the serious Grateful Dead-type mythology about muses, ladies with fans, and cryptical envelopments, but lizards, and multibeasts, Tela and Icculus. Colonel Forbin stepped into another reality where he needed to help the lizards find a book of life’s secrets to restore order and seize power back from the evil King Wilson. Read-Icculus! Yes, we all know the story- but come on! It’s second nature to us at this point, and we don’t even think twice when they play songs about such fairy tale magic, it’s just Phish. But the very essence of Trey’s senior thesis is more silly, then sacred. Not that there isn’t a moral to the story, but you understand. The juxtaposition of such serious musical composition and childhood story-telling is what makes Gamehendge so unique, and in the end, so Phishy.
You also had the other songs, the ones written by Trey and Tom in their early years. The songs, themselves, were fun, and often straight up ridiculous. Think of the lyrics to these songs: Reba, Gumbo, YEM, Harry Hood, Contact, Run Like An Antelope, Cavern, Tweezer, David Bowie, Ghost, BBFCFM- I could go on. Notice how almost all the songs I listed were significant jam vehicles, and the same juxtaposition of musical depth and lyrical humor emerges. It was like Phish wanted to balance out their monster jams with some fun and comedy to provide a well-rounded experience. It is certainly one part of why they appealed to so many people, and not just the niche fan bases of today’s “jam bands.”
Throughout the majestic and incredibly accomplished musical career of the band, the members of Phish kept it real. Whether Mike was talking to fans in the parking lot, or Trey was telling jokes and making himself laugh on stage, Phish was always synonymous with fun. Whether Page was serenading us about smelling colors and Fishman was imitating Prince or Syd Barrett, or the band performed a Rotation or Big Ball Jam, no show went by without some laughs. Reflecting who the guys are as people and what their goals were when they got into this, the world they created was more fun than Mr. Wonka’s- it was candy for the mind. Phish’s ability to reflect all aspects of the human experience within there hours was always astounding, and regardless of how deep the band dove on any given night, even when they brought you down the darkest alley, there was a Meatstick or a Mockingbird right around the corner.
DOWNLOAD OF THE DAY: 12.7.95 Niagara Falls, NY << LINK!
Not exactly a diamond in the rough, this one is a fan favorite from the classic month of December ’95. With a first set that had a great Slave and a then-rare Guyute, the set was full of classic Phish songs. Yet, as usual, the true psychedelia was left for set two. Opening with as nasty of a Split as you’ll ever hear, and with huge versions of Fog That Surrounds and Reba, the set was already great before ending with a fierce Mike’s> Weekapaug. If you don’t have this one, grab it now! I’m off to Nashville to check out Trey’s new orchestral piece!
I: The Old Home Place, The Curtain-> AC/DC Bag, Demand, Rift, Slave to the Traffic Light, Guyute, Bouncing Around the Room, Possum, Hello My Baby
II: Split Open and Melt, Strange Design, Fog That Surrounds, Reba, Julius, Sleeping Monkey, Sparkle, Mike’s Song-> Weekapaug Groove*, Amazing Grace
E: Uncle Pen
*Unfinished, spiraling into a space jam (with digital delay loop)