"Phishful Thinking -band doesn't sound like the tie-dye group" by J.D.
Considine (Baltimore Sun)
Thanks to Pink:email@example.com for posting this on rec.music.phish
" If all you know about Phish is what you read in newspapers and
magazines, odds are that you think this is the band that will become the
next Grateful Dead.
According to the media, the signs are all there: The long,
improvisation, heavy performances. The devoted, eager to travel fans. The
scent of patchouli in the air. The guitar player with a beard. The
imposing venues (they'll be at Madison Square Garden on New Year's Eve)
Put 'em all together, they spell G-R-A-T-E-F-U-L-D-E-A-D.
That used to bother Trey Anastasio, the guitar player with a
beard. "When we first came into the awareness of the media, it would
always be (the Dead) or Zappa they'd compare us to," he says, over the
phone from a tour stop in Orlando. "All of these bands I love, you know?
But I got very sensitive about it."
Why? Because if you pay attention to the music, Phish doesn't
sound or play like the Dead at all Anastasio and his bandmates have a
different sound, a different musical orientation, and a different way of
playing together - all of which seems obvious from where the band stands.
"With the crowd and everything, there are a lot of similarities,"
he allows. "I think that is a niche - the whole going on on tour and
having an adventure and all. There are a lot of kids that are on tour
with us now."
Like the Dead, Phish attracts fans who come to the shows, whether
or not they have tickets. In June, 30,000 fans showed up for a Phish
concert at Waterloo Villagein Byram Township, even though all 18,000
tickets were sold out ahead of time. Traffic was clogged for miles, and
in a freak accident, a 20 year oldwho was riding on top of a car fell
off, suffered a head injury, and died.
Officials considered banning subsequent rock concerts at Waterloo
Village, but eventually settled for a less severe measure, forcing
promoters to develop better crowd-control plans.
After the death of the Grateful Dead's Jerry Garcia, and the
subsequent cancellation of the Dead's fall tour, some observers have
reported a swelling in Phish's following. But Anastaio said he hasn't
seen any real evidence that Deadheads are turning to Phish for their live
"The numbers of poeple who see us have not changed dramatically,"
he says. "An old friend saw us when we did three nights at the Fox
Theatre in Atlanta and said that she noticed an older element to the
crowd. Her impression was that it had to do with the whole Grateful Dead
thing." But that's as close to concrete evidence that Anastasio has found.
Deadheads or not, he and his bandmates like the idea of having
fans who follow Phish around.
"It keeps you on your toes," he says."You've got to play
different songs every night, and you know they're paying attention to
every single little thing you do. You don't get lazy then. You've got to
Not that Phish is ever inclined to be lazy or stop moving. On
fact, Phish may be the hardest-working band in rock and roll right now -
and that has nothing to do with the amount of touring they do, either.
Where Phish's work ethic is most obvious isn't on stage, but in
what Anastasio describes as "many years of practicing and playing
different kinds of music."
Why such an emphasis on woodshedding? Anastasio chalks it up to
having had good teachers, guys like jazz guitarist Ted Dunbar.
"He talked so much about a simple concept, but one people kind of
forget: if you really want to have a great time when you're onstage, you
should be looking at practice time as something that's going to give you
(that)," he says. "As opposed to practice time being, 'Oh, I'm going to
practice this thing that's going to impress people."
As a result, the members of Phish devote their practice time to
what Anastasio describes as "training ourselves to open up different
avenues. So we do listening excercises and stuff. We also practice songs
with structure. We used to do a lot of classical things - atonal fugues
and a lot of written-out music."
Considering that Phish concerts rarely incl;ude atonal fugues,
you might wonder why they bother.
But for Phish, knowing how an atonal fugue should sound - or how
jazz improvisation works, or the intricasies of barbershop quartet
harmony or what bluegrass bands in the 40's did differently from bands in
the 50's - makes it that much easier to get up on stage and improvise
"You learn so much by doing that, that then you can free yourself
to go where you want to go," Anastasio says. "The channels in your brain
have been opened by playing by playing through all the music that so many
great people before you have written."