Rock Notes: For Phish fans, New
Year's Eve is a guaranteed party
By Steve Morse Globe Staff, 12/20/96
The hardest FleetCenter ticket to get this time of year is
not to a Celtics or Bruins game, but to Phish's two shows
Dec. 30 and 31. Phish fans go crazy for the band's puckish
wit on New Year's Eve. Once, at the Boston Garden, the band
came down from the rafters in scuba diving gear while a
giant clam opened on stage at the stroke of midnight.
Another year the group climbed into a model of a jumbo hot
dog and took a ride over the Garden crowd, playing "Auld
Lang Syne" while balloons and Ping- Pong balls dropped from
``Yup, we think up all of this stuff,'' says drummer Jon
Fishman from the band's Burlington, Vt., office. ``It starts
with some funny idea and grows into total ridiculousness.
Then we look at our budget to see if we can do it.
``We've got this year's gag all set,'' adds Fishman,
without revealing the nature of it. ``Nothing will ever beat
the hot dog, so we don't have to worry about outdoing
ourselves. But I like this year's idea. It may even be as
good as the hot dog.
``But it's really mostly about playing well,''
Fishman says of the shows. ``And on New Year's Eve, we get
to play an extra set. So if the gag works, great, but we
still get to play more music. And I'm just glad that people
want to come to our party.''
Phish frenzy is running extra high this year
because Phish has enjoyed its first hit single, ``Free,''
which comes after years of building a word-of-mouth,
improv-rock concert image a la the Grateful Dead.
``Normally we've been banned by radio, but I
guess this time they like the song,'' says Fishman,
laughing. ``I haven't heard it much because I don't listen
to radio much, but the song has kept us in the public eye.
And it's a song I actually like. I like the playing and the
riff.'' ``Free'' has an airy, trancelike feel as Fishman,
Trey Anastasio, Page McConnell and Mike Gordon deliver a
simple, hooky riff that's quite different from some of their
complex jazz-rock. ``We did 40 takes of `Free' in the
studio,'' says Fishman, a fact that seems shocking given
the simplicity of it. ``We ended up taking a combination
of two takes - the front half of the first take and the back
half of the fifth take.''
Phish's latest album, ``Billy Breathes,'' isn't
doing as well as the single, yet it's the group's best
studio effort so far.It resonates with chiming electric
guitar tracks and more-than-usual acoustic tunes. And Phish
learned a valuable lesson making it, because the group
brought in co producer Steve Lillywhite (who has worked with
U2) to edit the tapes.
``We didn't have to go hacking and cutting and
editing,'' says Fishman. ``As far as I'm concerned, if I
don't have to listen to playbacks of all the tapes, then
I'll play 100 ersions of a song. I'll play them standing on
my head as long as I don't have to listen to them all
With the aid of a coproducer, Phish was able to
focus on the music more, rather than being ``control
freaks'' in the studio. And they learned to do fewer and
fewer takes, but make them count more. ``We didn't know how
to conduct ourselves in the studio in the past,'' says
Fishman. ``It's so different from the stage. On stage
we've been musicians and nothing else. But in the studio
we were trying to be the producers, engineers and
everything else. We'd be too stressed out.''
For the next album, Phish will record in spurts
between live gigs. ``Otherwise you get bogged down and it's
like being in Camp David negotiating with yourself,'' he
Phish will tour Europe this winter and the.
States in the summer. However, plans for another Clifford
Ball festival (named for the father of air mail) are up in
the air. The festival drew 70,000 people to a Plattsburgh,
N.Y., airbase last summer, but despite good relations with
townofficials, Phish can't get the air base back because it
has a new tenant.
``We're now looking to Colorado for another
Clifford Ball. You can only do one of those a year,'' says
Fishman. The band will mix in some amphitheater gigs,but
also hopes to play ``abandoned facilities whether they're
indoors or outdoors, as long as people can camp earby.
``And we also have the fantasy of playing on
the edge of the Grand Canyon some day,'' Fishman says.
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