Why We Come Back

8.19.2012 - Bill Graham Civic Auditorium (Ken Scelfo)

8.19.2012 – BGCA (Ken Scelfo)

This essay was written in collaboration with Zachary Cohen and Andy Greenberg, the guys from Please Me Have No Regrets.com. These guys have been waxing philosophic on all things Phish in long form over on their site for about a year now. This is cross-posted on their site as well.


Why do we return, like moths to the flame, to Phish? What is it about the Phish experience that so attracts us, that underpins our fascination, our obsession, dare we say our addiction to this band? Do we even know why we keep coming back?

Fans are always primed to cite their most obvious, though not incorrect, reasons: for the music and adventure, to see friends and for the sense of belonging, for the community. But beyond these recreational pursuits, something larger looms, something more purposeful.

The common thread that binds all Phish fans together is a desire for the transcendence of self and a communion with the collective unconscious. For when we attend Phish concerts, our own sense of importance shrinks as we join a force far greater than ourselves. And though people may scoff at the word “religion,” if understood to mean simply the spiritual journey that like-minded brethren seek, our devotion to Phish approaches that of the pilgrim.

In their live concerts, Phish offers the promise that at any moment, anything can happen. And when they are at their best, “anything” often does. We come back to Phish because of this Freedom. Enmeshed in their live experience, this feeling returns us to a child-like state where our world is fresh and new and we are freed from the worries, obligations, responsibilities and ethical / moral compromises of our day to day selves. And like Peter Pan refusing to grow up, we crave to experience this “not knowing,” so that we may be able see the world anew, with fresh eyes and ears.

The energy manifested at Phish shows, both internal and conjoined, is unlike any secular experience. And this is never more true than during a free-form improvisational excursion. When Phish breaks free of their own constraints, casting aside rhythm, tempo and the harmonic structures of their songs, they untether both themselves and the audience from terra firma. It is then, when venturing into unchartered waters, that we are able to perceive the universal magic of pure ideation. During these moments, we are reminded that raw creation is the single most powerful force in the universe. Seeing, feeling, hearing, experiencing and most importantly, being a part of that process provides us with a net energy gain. This energy buffets us, providing ballast to our bodies and souls.

Shamanism and Spectacle

The four members of Phish—Trey, Mike, Page, and Fish—are modern-day Shamans who guide us on this spiritual journey. They function as vessels able to tap into and share sacred information that remains unavailable to all of us in the quotidian rhythms of our day to day lives. Our very purpose as human beings can be divined through Phish, whether we know it or not.

And this is why we keep coming back.

Though it may seem foreign to us to envision dancing, music, light, sound, even intoxicants, as tools for the elevation of the spirit, countless cultures throughout the ages have depended on these very practices; To strengthen themselves, connect with deities and promote the overall health of their communities.

The Phish show is a spectacle that serves as a breeding ground for the creation and sustaining of this energy we’ve described. We attend a show, and like Alice down the rabbit hole, or Neo opting for the blue pill, we enter a world unaccountable to the natural laws of time and space. We become frozen, arrested. We are beholden to nothing but the music, ourselves, and those around us. Phish concerts heighten our senses, attuning us to foreign, though strangely familiar, wavelengths. We hear music that has never existed and that is also strangely ancient and true.

Upon leaving a Phish concert, we are often flabbergasted to realize that the rest of the world has continued to spin, blissfully unaware of what we just experienced. And just as a deep-sea diver surfaces and has to adjust to a new pressure environment, we too must normalize after a Phish concert. Often enough it is in this between time, this interstitial, that we are most lucid and receptive to the lessons that have been bestowed upon us. This is also true after individual improvisations. All of sudden, lyrics that we long ago memorized and melodies that serve as the soundtrack of our lives take on new import and meaning. They are somehow truer and more real.

The Dissolution of the Self

The most difficult task for any musician is to play without thinking. When Phish achieves this and transcends their egos they kick open the door to a world of mammoth insights. As listeners experiencing this, we instinctually respond by sublimating our own egos so that we may fully appreciate the band’s illustrations of “What We Are;” Of what an authentic experience truly is. As the energy rises, the listener taps into harmonic, atomic truths, transcending the self in the process. It is in this moment that we feel part of something bigger than the mechanized social behemoth, with its impositions of order and bureaucracy, unnatural restrictions on our freedom. Unmoored by these limitations we are free to commune with the cosmos.

The promise of any Phish concert is that any moment anything is possible, a clear symbol and parallel with the true freedoms and fundamental nature of the universe. We are here after all, and there is nothing more marvelous to behold than existence. Music imitates G-d and / or the creation of the Universe; The relative stability of harmonic intervals mimics that of the electron orbiting the nucleus of an atom. Phish has become so familiar with their harmonic terrain that in their purest creations they function like G-d or whatever force initiated our world.

Our purest fantasies are those where we are free to create purely, like a child at play; So as we watch and participate in Phish’s creation acts we play out this fantasy of creation alongside them, alongside one another. At their best Phish are able to explain the deepest secrets of the universe by transmitting a signal that we spontaneously comprehend down through to our pores, to our very particles, the basis of our existence.

This is why we come back.

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522 Responses to “Why We Come Back”

  1. wolfmansfather Says:

    and i still have an extra spac3 balc that im looking to trade for good bane – about as good/easy a trade as it gets. mclane.george at gmail

  2. Lycanthropist Says:

    Golden Age > Twist sounded pretty stellar to me

  3. mayhem Says:

    Man though this SF set is sick too. If someone had told Trey to play Waves like they were supposed to when they play Rocky Top…

  4. RoosterPizza Says:

    After listening to set 2, all I knowis that this summer is bringing a much different approach. 2012 was the peak of the first three years of 3.0, and it sure seems to me we are on a different, dare I say, 2.0 type path. Really bummed that RnR got cut off.

  5. mayhem Says:

    I’m not sure it’s a different approach rooster. It was just the first show. Expectations got out of hand I guess, so…

    Either way, Trey if you’re reading I owe you one. SPAC will get the special treatment!

  6. plord Says:

    Hey all. Interesting show, good kind of interesting. I think you could take those same performances and put them in a slightly different order and nobody would say one bad word about this show, but the chosen contour was a little too shifty.

    I like the new lineup and light rig. In the first frame Trey was clearly enjoying listening to everyone, playing with more legato style and leaving tons of room for everyone else to flesh things out over the course of some patient builds.

    Listen to Fishman on that Jim jam. He was LOCKED. I liked the patient Stash too but for me the dirty Wolfman’s was the 1st frame highlight. Funny how agreeable Silent is when you skip the Horse before it.

    Mike was dialed in tight and way up in the mix most of the night, sounded awesome and played with intent.

    Golden Age jam was very sweet, more patience on display in the Twist too. Then a bit of a lull…

    Thought for sure the RnR was going to go deeper but they started the jam too fast. 2001 foreshadowed early and delivered. Pretty hot 16 minute Antelope closer taboot. Pretty Hood, but curfewed; they ended it at exactly 11:29 and a half local time.

    Hung with Ren and his wife, saw Jdub and family and Sumodie beforehand. BB represent 🙂

  7. plord Says:

    And hey, Trey botched the Rift but came back to nail the Theme build. So there’s that!

  8. mayhem Says:

    Nice! Nailing the theme build is a big step

  9. mayhem Says:

    You can feel good!

  10. Berkeley Head Says:

    How was the show?!? Spinning it now, and this is must be the place… where I get the real… thoughts… about it all. I’ve glanced at the comments, but haven’t happened upon a consensus. Bored ears out there, or lofty expectations, or is everybody at the show…? Damn it! As i look at it, the Stash and Wolfman’s catch my eye in the 1st for opposite reasons from Twist and R&R in the 2nd. BUT… my ear knows nothing other than the benign Possum and rather tight Jim, and in any event, I’m already better than I was yesterday and not as good as I will be tomorrow (Friday)

  11. sumodie Says:

    Plord, well said.

    Awesome gen adm field venue with terrific sound all the way back. Loved the light rig, tho hard to judge for most other tour stops since this was a large stand alone stage (ie not a summer shed)

    Band sounded fresh and really attentive to each other. Plenty of interesting segments strewn throughout the first frame even tho nothing sent me too far out there. Weekapaug & Wolfman’s were my set one faves

    Golden Age was IT for me. Of course I thought it would set the tone for a stronger set 2, but wasn’t to be. Antelope rarely excites me anymore but this one was quite good. And Hood felt good, nice way to end a beautiful evening with good friends.

    We didnt get a scorching tour opener, yet there was a good amount of freshness on display that leaves me excited for SPAC & beyond.

    Hey, remember what I said about the state cops? They were having a field day on the interstate. Otherwise a very chill hassle free vibe

  12. Sumodie Says:

    Possum as tour opener had me laughing. Perfect. Nowadays I can handle a Possum at every show as long as it’s set one

  13. voopa Says:

    My experience from the couch was similar to sumo’s, except w/shittier sound and dropouts. Enjoyed Stash and WB, and Weekapaug sounded great on playback just now (paid $10 for 256K mp3s, half way through set II now. Support the band folks). Heard Antelope via stream but it dropped during Hood, may have to skip there now.

    I dug the energy and communication throughout…there was some slop, but fuck, do you know 1,000 songs? We are also apparently entering L’âge d’or de la baleine. Looking forward to my shows, and the webcasts.

  14. voopa Says:

    I’m selling short Mike’s. It was good if but short, just like 2001. Both are worth a listen if you have a spare 10 min.

  15. MiA Says:

    It took me a long time to get back in the train…

  16. ElJefe Says:

    The set list looks like they read some of the boards… Possum>Jim Mike>the horse Hilarious. Second set Ocelot heh heh.. Can’t wait to listen

  17. MiA Says:

    Seemed like a smaller lighting rig? No circles anymore.


  18. RoosterPizza Says:

    Guitar switch, switchup on stage, and slow, open jamming. Not sure what that has to do with expectations? Didn’t sound like the standard 3.0 sound to me, that’s for sure. No other Golden Age or RnR in 3.0 sounded anything like either one of those, and they both happened in the same set. My two cents.

  19. SillyWilly Says:

    crawling into my girlfriends bed after we celebrated her birthday with a 55 mile loop on the JMT.

    first shower since friday. looked at the hike like it was tour training. got too many fuckin blisters on my feet but they should be calloused up nicely by chicago. perfect for dance floors across the country.

    sweated the wook out.

    i may end up looking more like a wook, but Ill actually be less of a wook. better to feel fair and look wook than to feel wook and look fair.

    listened to the show on the way back from Bishop. I really liked Golden age and the end of rock and roll. There was a number line and ocelot where our extended rock and roll>2001 should be.

    i found a lot to be excited about on the whole. Page seemed to be building off Trey and they found some nice little textures together throughout the show. a more prominent and funky/spacey Page bodes well for the future.

  20. 4thDimension Says:

    Fantastic venue and sound. Music feels slowed down, in a good way. All of the groove pieces — wolfmans, mikes, GA — were super choice and when page switched to his rhodes in GA, things got very special. #line was played well but this song needs to be an encore or bust. Cool antelope too. #line was a tough decision in a pivotal slot and the 2nd set could never quite caputre us after that. Very pretty Jim and lots of creative intent in stash and weekapaug. Ocelot felt derivative to the st louis version but not as good IMO

  21. 4thDimension Says:

    Some of the comments from streamers are pretty silly … Sounds at venue as good as I’ve heard in 3.0

  22. ElJefe Says:

    Wait Mikes didn’t even get Horse’d it got Silente’d…even funnier..

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