Phish is an American rock band that formed in Burlington, Vermont in 1983. The band is known for musical improvisation, extended jams, blending of genres, and a dedicated fan base. The band consists of guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, drummer Jon Fishman, and keyboardist Page McConnell, all of whom perform vocals, with Anastasio being the primary lead vocalist.
|Origin||Burlington, Vermont, U.S.|
|Associated acts||Giant Country Horns, Tom Marshall, The Dude of Life|
The band was formed by Anastasio, Gordon, Fishman and guitarist Jeff Holdsworth, who were joined by McConnell in 1985. Holdsworth departed the band in 1986, and the quartet lineup has remained in place since then. Their lineup stable, Phish performed together for 15 years before beginning a two-year hiatus in October 2000. The band regrouped in late 2002, but disbanded in August 2004 after a farewell performance at their Coventry Festival in Vermont. They reunited in March 2009 for a series of three consecutive concerts at Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia, and have since resumed performing regularly.
Phish's music blends elements of a wide variety of genres, including funk, progressive rock, psychedelic rock, folk, country, jazz, blues, bluegrass, and pop. The band was part of a movement of improvisational rock groups, inspired by the Grateful Dead and colloquially known as "jam bands", which gained considerable popularity as touring concert acts in the 1990s.
Phish has developed a large and dedicated following by word of mouth, the exchange of live recordings, and selling over 8 million albums and DVDs in the United States. In 1998, Rolling Stone described Phish as "the most important band of the '90s." The magazine later wrote that the band helped to "spawn a new wave of bands oriented around group improvisation and extended instrumental grooves".
Formation and The White Tape: 1983–1986
Phish was formed at the University of Vermont (UVM) in 1983 by guitarists Trey Anastasio and Jeff Holdsworth, bassist Mike Gordon, and drummer Jon Fishman. Anastasio and Fishman had met that October, after Anastasio overheard Fishman playing drums in his dormitory room, and asked if he and Holdsworth could jam with him. Gordon met the trio shortly thereafter, after he answered a want-ad for a bass guitarist that Anastasio had posted around the university.
The new group performed their first concert at Harris Millis Cafeteria at the University of Vermont on December 2, 1983, where they played a set of classic rock covers, including two songs by the Grateful Dead. The band performed one more concert in 1983, and then did not perform again for nearly a year, stemming from Anastasio's suspension from the university following a prank he had pulled with a friend.
Anastasio returned to his hometown of Princeton, New Jersey following the prank, and briefly attended Mercer County Community College. While there, he reconnected with his childhood friend Tom Marshall, and the pair began a songwriting collaboration and recorded material that would appear on the Bivouac Jaun demo tape. Marshall and Anastasio have subsequently composed the majority of Phish's original songs throughout their career. Anastasio returned to Burlington in late 1984, and resumed performing with Gordon, Holdsworth and Fishman; The quartet eventually named themselves Phish, and they played their first concert under that name on October 23 of that year. The band was named both after Fishman, whose nickname is "Fish," and phshhhh, an onomatopoeia of the sound of a brush on a snare drum. Anastasio designed the band's logo, which featured the group's name inside a stylized fish.
Keyboardist Page McConnell met Phish in early 1985, when he arranged for them to play a spring concert at Goddard College, the small university he attended in Plainfield, Vermont. He began performing with the band as a guest shortly thereafter, and made his live debut during the third set of their May 3, 1985 concert at UVM's Redstone Campus. In the summer of 1985, Phish went on a short hiatus while Anastasio and Fishman vacationed in Europe; During this time, McConnell offered to join the band permanently, and moved to Burlington to learn their repertoire from Gordon. McConnell officially joined Phish as a full-time band member in September 1985.
Phish performed with a five-piece lineup for about six months after McConnell joined, a period which ended when Holdsworth quit the group in March 1986 following a religious conversion. Holdsworth's departure from the band solidified its "Trey, Page, Mike, and Fish" lineup, which remains in place to this day.
With the encouragement of McConnell (who received $50 for each transferee), Anastasio and Fishman relocated in mid-1986 to Goddard College. Phish distributed at least six different experimental self-titled cassettes during this era, including The White Tape. This first studio recording was circulated in two variations: the first, mixed in a dorm room as late as 1985, received a higher distribution than the second studio remix of the original four tracks, c. 1987. The older version was officially released under the title Phish in August 1998.
Jesse Jarnow's book Heads: A Biography of Psychedelic America details much of the band's early years at Goddard College, including their early relationship with fellow Goddard students Richard "Nancy" Wright and Jim Pollock. Pollock and Wright were musical collaborators who made experimental recordings on multi-track cassettes, and had been introduced to Phish through McConnell, who co-hosted a radio program on WGDR with Pollock. Phish adopted a number of Nancy's songs into their own set, including "Halley's Comet", "I Didn't Know", and "Dear Mrs. Reagan", the latter song being written by Nancy and Pollock. In Heads, Jarnow argues that Wright and his music were highly influential to Phish's early style and experimental sound. Wright amicably ended his association with Phish in 1989, but Pollock has continued to collaborate with Phish over the years, designing some of their album covers and concert posters.
The band's actions demonstrate an identity with their "hometown" of Burlington, Vermont. By 1985, the group had encountered Burlington luthier Paul Languedoc, who would eventually design four guitars for Anastasio and two basses for Gordon. In October 1986, he began working as their sound engineer. Since then, Languedoc has built exclusively for the two, and his designs and traditional wood choices have given Phish a unique instrumental identity. During the late 1980s, Phish began to play regularly at Nectar's bar and restaurant in downtown Burlington, and performed dozens of concerts across multiple residencies through March 1989. The band's 1992 album A Picture of Nectar was named in honor of the bar's owner, Nectar Rorris, and its cover features his face superimposed onto an orange.
The Man Who Stepped into Yesterday and Junta: 1987–1989
As his senior project, Anastasio penned The Man Who Stepped into Yesterday, a nine-song progressive rock concept album that would become Phish's second studio experiment. Recorded between 1987 and 1988, it was submitted in July of that year, accompanied by a written thesis. The song cycle that developed from the project – known as Gamehendge – grew to include an additional eight songs. The band performed the suite in concert on five different occasions: in 1988, 1991, 1993, and twice in 1994 without replicating the song list. The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday has never received an official release, but a bootleg tape has circulated for decades, and songs such as "Wilson" and "The Lizards" remain concert staples for the band.
Beginning in the spring of 1988, members of the band began practicing in earnest, sometimes locking themselves in a room and jamming for hours on end. One such jam took place at Anastasio's apartment, with a second at Paul Languedoc's house in August 1989. They called these jam sessions "Oh Kee Pa Ceremonies", saying the name was chosen by Anastasio after seeing the films A Man Called Horse and Modern Primitives, which depict fictional versions of a Mandan Native American ceremony.
In July 1988, the band performed their first concerts outside of the northeastern United States, when they embarked on a seven-date tour in Colorado. These shows are excerpted on their 2006 live compilation Colorado '88.
On January 26, 1989, Phish played the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. The owners of the club had never heard of Phish and refused to book them, so the band rented the club for the night. The show sold out due to the caravan of fans that had traveled to see the band. The concert was Phish's breakthrough on the northeastern regional music circuit, and the band began to book concerts at other large rock clubs, theaters, and small auditoriums throughout the area, such as the Somerville Theatre, Worcester Memorial Auditorium and The Wetlands Preserve.
That spring, the band self-released their debut full-length studio album, Junta, and sold copies on cassette tape at their concerts. The album includes a studio recording of the epic "You Enjoy Myself", which is considered to be the band's signature song. Later in 1989, the band hired Chris Kuroda as their lighting director. Kuroda subsequently became well known for his artistic light shows at the group's concerts.
Lawn Boy and A Picture of Nectar: 1990–1992
By late 1990, Phish's concerts were becoming more and more intricate, often making a consistent effort to involve the audience in the performance. In a special "secret language", the audience would react in a certain manner based on a particular musical cue from the band. For instance, if Anastasio "teased" a motif from The Simpsons theme song, the audience would yell, "D'oh!" in imitation of
The band released their second album, Lawn Boy, in September 1990 on Absolute A Go Go, a small independent label that had a distribution deal with the larger Rough Trade Records. The album had been recorded the previous year, after the band had won studio time at engineer Dan Archer's Archer Studios when they came in first place at an April 1989 battle of the bands competition in Burlington.
Phish, along with Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, and the Beatles, was one of the first bands to have a Usenet newsgroup, rec.music.phish, which launched in 1991. Aware of the band's growing popularity, Elektra Records signed them that year after they were recommended to the record label by A&R representative Sue Drew.
In the summer of 1991, the band embarked on a 14-date tour of the eastern United States accompanied by a three-piece horn section dubbed the Giant Country Horns. In August of that year, Phish played an outdoor concert at their friend Amy Skelton's horse farm in Auburn, Maine that acted as a prototype for their later all-day festival events.
In 1992, the band released their third studio album, A Picture of Nectar, their first release for Elektra. Subsequently, the label also reissued the band's first two albums. Later in 1992, Phish participated in the first annual H.O.R.D.E. festival, which provided them with their first national tour of major amphitheaters. The lineup, among others, included Phish, Blues Traveler, the Spin Doctors, and Widespread Panic. That summer, the band toured Europe with the Violent Femmes and later toured Europe and the U.S. with Santana. Throughout the latter tour, Carlos Santana regularly invited some or all of the members of Phish to jam with his band during their headlining performances.
The band ended 1992 with a New Year's Eve performance at the Matthews Arena in Boston, Massachusetts, a performance that was simulcast throughout the Boston area by radio station WBCN. The concert was filled with several new "secret language" cues they had taught their audience in order to deliberately confuse radio listeners.
Rift, Hoist, A Live One and Billy Breathes: 1993–1996
Phish began headlining major amphitheaters in the summer of 1993. That year, the group released their fourth album, Rift, a concept album which featured a cover painted by David Welker that referenced almost all of the songs on the record. The album was the band's first to appear on the Billboard 200 album chart, debuting at #51 in February 1993.
In March 1994, the band released their fifth studio album Hoist. To promote the album, Gordon directed the band's only official music video, for its first single "Down with Disease". The clip gained some MTV airplay starting in June of that year. The song became a minor hit on rock radio in the United States, and became the band's first song to appear on a Billboard music chart when it peaked at #33 on the magazine's Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks chart that summer. To further promote Hoist, the band released an experimental short-subject documentary called Tracking, also directed by Gordon, which depicted the recording sessions for the album.
Foreshadowing their future tradition of festivals, Phish coupled camping with their 1994 summer tour finale at Sugarbush North in Warren, Vermont, that show eventually being released as Live Phish Volume 2. On Halloween of that year, the group promised to don a fan-selected "musical costume" by playing an entire album from another band. After an extensive mail-based poll, Phish performed the Beatles' White Album as the second of their three sets at the Glens Falls Civic Center in upstate New York. The "musical costume" concept subsequently became a recurring part of Phish's tours, with the band playing a different album whenever they had a concert scheduled for Halloween night.
In October 1994, Crimes of the Mind, the debut album by Anastasio's friend and collaborator Steve "The Dude of Life" Pollak, was released by Elektra Records; The album, which had been recorded in 1991, was billed to "The Dude of Life and Phish" and features all four members of Phish acting as Pollak's backing band.
On December 30, 1994, the band made their first appearance on national network television when they performed "Chalk Dust Torture" on Late Night with David Letterman. The band would go on to appear on the program seven more times before David Letterman's retirement as host in 2015. For their 1994 New Years Run, Phish played the Civic Centers in Philadelphia and Providence as well as sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden and Boston Garden, which marked their debut performances at both venues. For the December 31 show at the Boston Garden, the band rode around the arena in a float shaped like a hot dog. The stunt was reprised at their 1999 New Year's Eve concert before the hot dog was donated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Following the death of Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia in the summer of 1995 and the appearance of "Down with Disease" on Beavis and Butt-Head, the band experienced a surge in the growth of their fan base and an increased awareness in popular culture.
In their tradition of playing a well-known album by another band for Halloween, Phish contracted a full horn section for their performance of The Who's Quadrophenia in 1995. Their first live album, A Live One, was released during the summer of 1995 and featured selections from various concerts from their 1994 winter tour. A Live One became Phish's first RIAA-certified gold album in November 1995. In 1997, A Live One became the band's first Platinum album, certified for sales of 1 million copies in the United States, and remains their best selling album to date.
In the fall of 1995, the band challenged its audience to two games of travelling chess. Each show on the tour featured a pair of moves. The band took its turn either at the beginning of or during the first set. The audience was invited to gather at the Greenpeace table in the venue's lobby during the setbreak to determine its move. Two games were played on the tour. The audience conceded the first game on November 15 in Florida, and the band conceded the second game at its New Year's Eve concert at Madison Square Garden. These were the only two games that were played, which left the final score tied at 1-1. The band's concerts from 1995 are held in high regard by their fans, with Parke Puterbaugh noting in Phish: The Biography that the year "Ended with what many fans consider Phish's greatest tour (fall 1995), greatest month of touring (December 1995) and one of their greatest single shows (New Year's Eve)."
Following an appearance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in April 1996, The band spent the summer of that year opening for Santana on their European tour. In August 1996, the band held their first festival, The Clifford Ball, at the decommissioned Plattsburgh Air Force Base on the New York side of Lake Champlain. The festival attracted 70,000 attendees, making it both Phish's biggest concert crowd to that point and the largest single concert by attendance in the United States in 1996.
Phish retreated to their Vermont recording studio and recorded hours and hours of improvisations, sometimes overlaying them on one another, and included some of the result on the second half of their sixth studio album Billy Breathes, which they released in the fall of 1996. Alongside traditional rock-based crescendos, the album has more acoustic guitar than their previous records, and was regarded by the band and some fans as their crowning studio achievement. The album's first single, "Free", peaked at No. 24 on the Billboard Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart and No. 11 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, and was their most successful song on both charts.
The Story of the Ghost, The Siket Disc, and Farmhouse: 1997–2000
By 1997, Phish's concert improvisational ventures were developing into a new funk-inspired jamming style. Vermont-based ice cream conglomerate Ben & Jerry's launched "Phish Food" that year. The band officially licensed their name for use with the product, the only time they have ever allowed a third-party company to do so, and were directly involved with the creation of the flavor. Proceeds from the flavor are donated to the band's non-profit charity The WaterWheel Foundation, which raises funds for the preservation of Vermont's Lake Champlain. On August 8, 1997, Phish webcast one of their concerts live over the internet for the first time.
On August 16 and 17, 1997, Phish held their second festival, The Great Went, over two days at the Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine, near the Canada–United States border. A version of the song "Bathtub Gin", that was performed on the festival's second night, is considered to be one of the best improvisational live performances of the band's career. In October 1997, the band released their second live album Slip Stitch and Pass, which featured selections from their March 1997 concert at the Markthalle Hamburg in Hamburg, Germany.
Following the Great Went, the band embarked on a fall tour that was dubbed by fans as the "Phish Destroys America" tour after a 1970s kung fu-inspired poster for the opening date in Las Vegas. The 21-date tour is considered one of the group's most popular and acclaimed tours, and several concerts were later officially released on live album sets such as Live Phish Volume 11 in 2002.
In April 1998, the band embarked on the Island Tour - a four night tour with two shows at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York on Long Island and another two at the Providence Civic Center in Providence, Rhode Island. The four concerts are highly regarded by fans due to the band's exploration of a jazz-funk musical style they had been playing for the previous year, which Anastasio dubbed "cowfunk". The band performed the tour in the middle of studio sessions for their seventh album, and were inspired by the quality of their performances to further incorporate the cowfunk style into subsequent sessions. The resulting album, The Story of the Ghost, was released in October 1998. The album's first single "Birds of a Feather", which had been premiered on the Island Tour, became a #14 hit on Billboard's Adult Alternative Songs chart. To promote The Story of the Ghost, Phish performed several songs from the album on the public television music show Sessions at West 54th in October 1998, and were interviewed for the program by its host David Byrne of Talking Heads.
In the summer of 1998, The band held Lemonwheel, their second festival at Loring Air Force Base in Maine. The two-day event attracted 60,000 attendees. The band played another summer festival in 1999, called Camp Oswego and held at the Oswego County Airport in Volney, New York. Unlike other Phish festivals, Camp Oswego featured a prominent second stage of additional performers aside from Phish, including Del McCoury, The Slip and Ozomatli.
In July 1999, the band released an album of improvisational instrumentals titled The Siket Disc. The band followed that release with Hampton Comes Alive, a six-disc box set released in November 1999, which contained the entirety of their performances on November 21 and 22, 1998 at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia. The set marked the first time that complete recordings of Phish concerts were officially released by Elektra Records.
To celebrate the new millennium, Phish hosted a two-day outdoor festival at the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in Florida in December 1999. The festival's climactic New Year's Eve concert, referred to by fans as simply "The Show," started at 11:35 p.m. on December 31, 1999, and continued through to sunrise on January 1, 2000, approximately eight hours later. This concert has been referred to as a peak musical experience by the band. The band's performance of the song "Heavy Things" at the festival was broadcast live as part of ABC's 2000 Today millennium coverage, giving the band their biggest television audience up to that point. 75,000 people attended the sold-out two-day festival. In 2017, Rolling Stone named the Big Cypress festival one of the "50 Greatest Concerts of the Last 50 Years."
2000 saw no Halloween show, no summer festival and no new full-band compositions: May's Farmhouse contained material dating from 1997 and original material from Anastasio's 1999 solo acoustic/electric club tour. "Heavy Things", which was released as the album's first single, became the band's only song to appear on a mainstream pop radio format, reaching #29 on Billboard's Adult Top 40 chart that July. The song also became the band's biggest hit to date on the Adult Alternative Songs chart, reaching #2 there. In June 2000, the band embarked on a seven-date headlining tour of Japan. In July, they taped an appearance on the PBS music show Austin City Limits, which was aired in October.
In the summer of 2000, the band announced that they would take their first "extended time-out" following their upcoming fall tour. Anastasio officially announced the impending hiatus to the band's fans during their September 30 concert at the Thomas & Mack Center in Paradise, Nevada. During the tour's last concert on October 7, at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California, the band made no reference to the hiatus, and left the stage without saying a word following their encore performance of "You Enjoy Myself", as The Beatles' "Let It Be" played over the venue's sound system.
Bittersweet Motel, a documentary film about the band directed by Todd Phillips, was released in August 2000, shortly before the hiatus began. The documentary captures the band's 1997 and 1998 tours, the Great Went festival and the recording of The Story of the Ghost. Phish were nominated in two categories at the 43rd Annual Grammy Awards in 2001: Best Boxed Recording Package for Hampton Comes Alive and Best Instrumental Rock Performance for "First Tube" from Farmhouse.
During Phish's hiatus, Elektra Records continued to issue archival releases of the band's concerts on compact disc. Between September 2001 and May 2003, the label released 20 entries in the Live Phish Series. These multi-disc sets featured complete soundboard recordings of concerts that were particularly popular with the band and their fanbase, similar to the Grateful Dead's Dick's Picks archival series. In November 2002, the label released the band's first concert DVD, Phish: Live in Vegas, which featured the entirety of the September 2000 concert at which Anastasio announced the hiatus.
The band's members explored a variety of side-projects during the hiatus period. In November 2000, Anastasio and Phish lyricist Tom Marshall released the album Trampled by Lambs and Pecked by the Dove, which contained demo recordings of songs that appeared on The Story of the Ghost and Farmhouse. Anastasio also formed the supergroup Oysterhead with Les Claypool of Primus and Stewart Copeland of The Police, which released its only album The Grand Pecking Order in October 2001. McConnell formed the jazz fusion trio Vida Blue, while Gordon recorded the album Clone with folk guitarist Leo Kottke in 2002, and later embarked on a solo career. In 2001, Gordon released his first feature-length film as a director, the psychedelic comedy Outside Out, in which he portrayed the lead singer of a fictional country-rock group called Ramble Dove. Fishman recorded an album with his blues rock side-project Pork Tornado in 2002.
In April 2002, Phish guest starred on the episode "Weekend at Burnsie's" of the animated series The Simpsons. The episode marked the band's first appearance together, albeit as animated characters, since the hiatus began. Phish provided their own voices for the episode and performed a snippet of "Run Like an Antelope".
Round Room, Undermind and break-up: 2002–2004
Over two years after the hiatus began, Phish announced that they were getting back on the road with a New Year's Eve 2002 concert at Madison Square Garden. They also recorded Round Room in only four days and released it on December 10. The band had initially planned to record the new album live at the Madison Square Garden concert, but instead felt that demos they had recorded of the material were strong enough to merit release as a studio album. Four days after the release of Round Room, the band made their only appearance as a musical guest on Saturday Night Live, where they debuted the song "46 Days" and appeared in two comedy sketches. During their return concert on December 31, McConnell's brother was introduced as actor Tom Hanks. The impostor sang a line of the song "Wilson", prompting some media outlets to report that the actor had appeared at the concert. In order to avoid the exhaustion and pitfalls of previous years' high-paced touring, Phish played sporadically after the reunion, with tours lasting about two weeks.
At the end of the 2003 summer tour, Phish returned to Limestone, Maine for It, their first festival since Big Cypress. The event drew crowds of over 60,000 fans, once again making Limestone one of the largest cities in Maine for a weekend. Highlights from the festival were released on a DVD set, also called It, in October 2004.
In November and December 2003, the band celebrated its 20th anniversary with a four-show mini-tour of shows in New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. The December 1 show featured a guest appearance by former member Jeff Holdsworth, who sat in with the band on five songs, including his compositions "Possum" and "Camel Walk".
On May 25, 2004, Anastasio announced on the band's website that the band was breaking up after their summer tour. He wrote that he had met with the other members earlier that month to discuss 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." By the end of the meeting, he said, "We realized that after almost twenty-one 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."
Their final album (at the time), Undermind, was released in late spring. In the summer of 2004, the band jammed with rapper Jay-Z at one show, shot the concert film Phish: Live in Brooklyn for broadcast in movie theaters, and performed a seven-song set atop the marquee of the Ed Sullivan Theater during the Late Show with David Letterman to fans who had gathered on the street.
The 2004 tour finished with the band's seventh summer festival, which was billed as their final performance. The Coventry festival was named for the town in Vermont that hosted the event, which was held at the nearby Newport State Airport. 100,000 people were expected to attend. After a week of rain that prompted fears of a sinking stage, Gordon announced on local radio that no more cars would be allowed in, though only about 20,000 people had arrived. Many concert-goers parked their vehicles on roadsides and hiked to the site; an estimated 65,000 attended the emotional finale. The band performed what was at the time their final concert on August 15, 2004, the festival's second night. The concert ended with a final encore of the song "The Curtain (With)".
After Coventry, the members of the band admitted they were disappointed with their performance at the festival; In the official book Phish: The Biography, Anastasio expressed that "Coventry itself was a nightmare. It was emotional, but it was not like we were at our finest. I certainly wasn't".
Post-disbandment and interim: 2004–2008
Following the break-up, the band's members remained in amicable communication with one another. Gordon, Anastasio and McConnell all recorded solo albums. McConnell's 2007 debut solo album Page McConnell features all four members of Phish, but the band does not appear together on any of the tracks. Anastasio and McConnell also appeared on Gordon's 2008 album The Green Sparrow, while Gordon and Fishman appeared on Anastasio's 2006 album Bar 17.
Anastasio continued his solo career with his own band, and released his fourth solo album Shine in 2005. He reunited with Oysterhead for a one-off performance at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in June 2006. Gordon played with Leo Kottke and the Benevento/Russo Duo. At Rothbury in 2008, he played with his newest project, Ramble Dove, which is the name of the country outfit he fronted in his film Outside Out, and also joined Grateful Dead drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann along with Steve Kimock and Jen Durkin as the Rhythm Devils. Anastasio and Gordon toured as a four-piece with the Benevento/Russo Duo in the summer of 2006. Fishman performed occasional shows with the Everyone Orchestra, The Village and the Yonder Mountain String Band.
In 2005, Phish formed their own record label, JEMP Records, to release archival CD and DVD sets. The label's first release was Phish: New Year's Eve 1995 – Live at Madison Square Garden, which was released in conjunction with Rhino Records in December 2005. The album was named the 42nd greatest live album of all time by Rolling Stone in April 2015. The label subsequently released several other archival live box sets, including Colorado '88 (2006), Vegas 96 (2007), At the Roxy (2008) and The Clifford Ball (2009).
In December 2006, Anastasio was arrested in Whitehall, New York for drug possession and driving while intoxicated, and was sentenced to 14 months in a drug court program. In 2007, while Anastasio was undergoing rehabilitation, the other members of Phish surprised him on his birthday with an instrumental recording they had made for him to play along with on guitar. During his rehabilitation, Anastasio said he "spent 24 hours a day thinking about nothing but Phish" and began discussing a reunion with the other members of the band.
Phish received the Jammys Lifetime Achievement Award on May 7, 2008, in The Theater at Madison Square Garden. All four members attended the ceremony and gave a speech, and both McConnell and Anastasio performed, although not together.
In response to a June 2008 rumor that Phish had reunited to record a new album, McConnell wrote a letter on the band's website updating fans on the current relations between the band's members. McConnell wrote that while the members remained friends, they were currently busy with other projects and the reunion rumors were premature. He added, "Later this year we hope to spend some time together and take a look at what possible futures we might enjoy." That September, the band played three songs at the wedding of their former tour manager Brad Sands. Later in 2008, the band reconvened at The Barn, Anastasio's farmhouse studio in Burlington, Vermont, for jamming sessions and rehearsals.
Reunion and Joy: 2008–2011
On October 1, 2008, the band announced on their website that they had officially reunited, and would play their first shows in five years in March 2009 at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia. The three reunion concerts were held on March 6, 7, and 8, 2009, with "Fluffhead" being the first song the band played onstage at the first show. Approximately 14,000 people attended the concerts over the course of three days, and the band made the shows available for free download on their LivePhish website for a limited time, in order to accommodate fans who were unable to attend.
Following the reunion weekend, the band played thirteen shows of a summer tour, including an inaugural concert at Fenway Park and headlining Bonnaroo 2009 in June with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Beastie Boys, and Nine Inch Nails. During their first set of the second day, Phish was joined by Springsteen on guitar for "Mustang Sally", "Bobby Jean", and "Glory Days". Twelve additional dates in July and August were announced as a Late Summer Tour, including four nights at Red Rocks, two nights at The Gorge, a stop in Chicago, and several nights in the Northeast. When the band decided to reunite, the members agreed to limit their touring schedule, and they have typically performed about 50 concerts a year since.
Phish's fourteenth studio album, Joy, produced by Steve Lillywhite, was released September 8, 2009. A single from the album, "Time Turns Elastic", was released on iTunes in late May. The band announced a "save-the-date" for a three-day festival on October 30 & 31 and November 1. Phish.com contained an animated map of the United States, and individual states were slowly removed from the map, leaving California. Confirming several rumors, the band announced that Festival 8 would take place in Indio, California. Footage from Festival 8 was released in April 2010 as a 3D movie titled Phish 3D. In the late spring and summer of 2010, the band completed a two-legged, 29-show tour. The August Alpine Valley shows have been released as a DVD and CD. Phish made their Hollywood Bowl debut and headlined the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in August. They played a show in Essex Junction, Vermont, on September 14, and the more than $1.2 million in proceeds were donated to Vermont flood victim relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.
In March 2010, Anastasio inducted Genesis, one of his favorite bands, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at the museum's annual ceremony in New York City. In addition to Anastasio's speech, Phish performed the Genesis songs "Watcher of the Skies" and "No Reply at All" at the event. Phish toured in the summer and fall of 2010, and their August 10 concert at the Utica Memorial Auditorium was released on the DVD/CD box-set Live in Utica the following May.
Phish's ninth festival, Super Ball IX, took place at the Watkins Glen International race track in Watkins Glen, New York on July 1–3, 2011. It was the first concert to take place at Watkins Glen International since Summer Jam at Watkins Glen in 1973.
Fuego and Big Boat: 2012–2016
In June 2012, Phish headlined Bonnaroo 2012 with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Radiohead. Phish also performed for the first time ever a show in Oklahoma at the Zoo Amphitheater in August. For the fourth consecutive year, Phish performed a set of sold-out New Year's shows at New York City's Madison Square Garden, which culminated with a three-set show to ring in 2013. Phish went back on tour in the summer of 2013 to celebrate their 30th anniversary, which graced fan favorite venues such as Saratoga Performing Arts Center, PNC Bank Arts Center, The Gorge Amphitheatre, and Merriweather Post Pavilion, while also stopping at new destinations such as Darling's Waterfront Pavilion and FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island in Chicago. The band also announced a fall tour for the first time since 2010, including stops at Hampton Coliseum. During their 2013 Halloween concert at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the band played twelve new songs from their upcoming album, which at the time had the working title Wingsuit and would later be renamed Fuego. Phish ended 2013 with a New Year's Eve concert that also celebrated their 30th anniversary, as they had played their first concert in December 1983. The concert featured a nine-minute montage film celebrating the band's career, and the band performed an entire set in the middle of the arena from atop an equipment truck.
Phish released Fuego, their first studio album in five years, on June 24, 2014. The album peaked at number 7 on the Billboard 200 album chart, and became their highest charting album since Billy Breathes reached the same position in 1996. That June, the band embarked on a 25-show tour including stops that wound a path from Massachusetts to the Midwest, and from the Mid-Atlantic to Georgia. For the third consecutive year, Phish played a three-night run of shows at Saratoga Performing Arts Center over the 4th of July holiday. Phish also made their first visit to Randall's Island in New York City. August 2014 ended with three performances at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, firmly establishing the annual Colorado pilgrimage as a Labor Day tradition for Phish fans. This tradition was upheld with three-night runs over the holiday in following years, bringing the total number of shows at this venue to 18 as of September 4, 2016. The 2014 fall tour included stops in Oregon, Washington, and California, and ended in Las Vegas, Nevada, where Phish once again debuted new music on Halloween. The October 31, 2014, performance at MGM Grand Las Vegas featured a second set consisting of ten original songs inspired by a 1964 novelty record from Walt Disney Studios, Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House. 2014 ended with a three-set show on New Year's Eve in Miami, Florida, followed by three more nights of performances to ring in 2015.
2015 included a coast-to-coast summer tour, including the aforementioned "Labor Day Run" at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Colorado. Although there was no fall tour, Phish's 10th festival, Magnaball, was announced at the same time. The band returned to Madison Square Garden for a series of four shows, including a three-set performance on New Year's Eve. Two weeks later, Phish performed their first shows in Mexico as part of a three-night, all-inclusive resort package at Barceló Maya Beach in Riviera Maya. During the final night's performance, the band announced from the stage that they planned to record a new album following the shows in Mexico. According to comments from Fishman, the recording was completed by the following March.
The 2016 summer tour was announced on February 5, 2016, including Phish's first visit to Wrigley Field in Chicago and two headlining sets at the Lockn' Festival. A fall tour in the southeastern U.S. followed, concluding with a four-night run over Halloween in Las Vegas at MGM Grand Arena, where the band played The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars as an homage to David Bowie. Separately, the band played a four-night run at Madison Square Garden for New Year's Eve.
Phish's sixteenth studio album, Big Boat, was released on October 7, 2016, on JEMP Records.
The Baker's Dozen and Kasvot Växt: 2017–present
Phish played a 13-night concert residency at New York City's Madison Square Garden from July 21 to August 6, 2017, each show featuring unique set lists, none of which repeated a single song. Named "The Baker's Dozen", each concert featured a loose theme with performances of unique cover songs and a special doughnut served each night to the audience by Federal Donuts of Philadelphia.
These shows brought the band's total performances at the Garden to 52 since they first played there in December 1994. In December 2017, the band returned to the Garden for a run of shows around New Year's Eve, which brought the total to 56; Phish played 17 concerts in total at the Garden in 2017.
In 2018, Phish announced a 24-date summer tour with multi-night runs at The Gorge Amphitheatre, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Harveys Lake Tahoe, The Forum in Inglewood, California, and three nights at their 11th festival called Curveball in August. However, the entire Curveball festival was canceled by New York Department of Health officials, one day before it was scheduled to begin, due to water quality issues from flooding in the Watkins Glen, New York area. Ticketholders were given both a full refund and free livestreams of all three nights of Phish's annual summer tour-ending run at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado, which was held two weeks later.
The band began their 14-date fall tour on October 16, which includes a three-night run at the Hampton Coliseum in Virginia and a Halloween concert at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. At the Halloween concert, the band performed a set of all-new original material that they promoted as a "cover" of í rokk by Kasvot Växt, a fictional 1980s Scandinavian progressive rock band they had created. Phish released the Kasvot Växt set as a standalone live release on Spotify on November 10, 2018. All four concerts in the 2018 Halloween run were livestreamed in 4K resolution, which marked the first time that a major musical act had ever offered a 4K livestreaming option.
In December 2018, Phish performed a four night run at Madison Square Garden for New Year's Eve, which brought the number of shows they have played at the venue to 60. The New Year's Eve show on December 31 featured acrobats performing synchronized aerial stunts above the audience while the band played the song "Mercury" before the midnight countdown; Anastasio and Gordon were also lifted in the air a short time later, during a performance of "Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.".
In February 2019, Phish played three concerts at Barceló Maya Beach in Riviera Maya, Mexico, which marked their third run of shows in the country. That April, Anastasio released Ghosts of the Forest, the debut album by his musical project of the same name, which also featured Fishman on drums. Between Me and My Mind, a documentary film directed by Steven Cantor about Anastasio's life, his Ghosts of the Forest side-project and Phish's 2017 New Year's Eve concert, was screened the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2019. The premiere was accompanied by a short set by Anastasio's solo band, with McConnell sitting in on two songs. In June 2019, SiriusXM launched Phish Radio, a satellite radio station dedicated to the band's music.
Phish's 2019 summer tour began on June 11, and included multi-night runs at Chaifetz Arena, Fenway Park, Alpine Valley Music Theatre and Saratoga Performing Arts Center, among other venues. The band also performed three headlining sets at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in June 2019. During the course of the tour, the band began adding Ghosts of the Forest material to their concert repertoire, which culminated in a 35-minute version of the song "Ruby Waves" at their second Alpine Valley show in July, their longest jam since their 2009 reunion. In fall 2019, the band embarked on a short fall tour which included their first Rhode Island concerts in nine years and their first show at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York in 16 years. In December 2019, Phish will perform a four-date New Year's run at Madison Square Garden, culminating in their thirteenth New Year's Eve concert at the arena, while also bringing their number of performances at the Garden to 64.
Musical style and influences
The music of Phish is "oriented around group improvisation and super-extended grooves" that draw on a range of rock-oriented influences, including psychedelic rock, progressive rock, jazz fusion, funk, reggae, hard rock, alternative rock, post-punk and various "acoustic" genres, such as folk and bluegrass. Some Phish songs use different vocal approaches, such as a cappella (unaccompanied) sections of barbershop quartet-style vocal harmonies.
Some of their original compositions tend towards a psychedelic rock fusion, with more progressive, jazz and funk elements than the Grateful Dead and other earlier jam bands. Their more ambitious, epic compositions (such as "You Enjoy Myself" and "Guyute") are often said to resemble classical music in a rock setting, much like the music of one of their heroes, Frank Zappa.
In the 1990s, Phish were often compared to the Grateful Dead, a comparison that the band members often resisted or distanced themselves from. In November 1995, Anastasio told the Baltimore Sun "When we first came into the awareness of the media, it would always be the Dead or Zappa they'd compare us to. All of these bands I love, you know? But I got very sensitive about it." Early in their career, Phish would occasionally cover Grateful Dead songs in concert, but the band stopped doing so by the late 1980s. In Phish: The Biography, Parke Puterbaugh observed "The bottom line is while it's impossible to imagine Phish without the Grateful Dead as forebears, many other musicians figured as influences upon them. Some of them - such as Carlos Santana and Frank Zappa - were arguably at least as significant as the Grateful Dead. In reality, the media certainly overplayed the Grateful Dead connection and Phish probably underplayed it, at least in their first decade." Anastasio has also cited progressive rock artists such as King Crimson and Genesis as significant influences on Phish's early material; In a 2019 New York Times interview, he observed, "If you listen to the first couple of Phish albums, they don’t sound anything like the Grateful Dead. I was more interested in Yes."
In the 1997 official biography The Phish Book, Anastasio coined the term "cow-funk" to describe the band's late 1990s funk and jazz-funk-influenced playing style, observing that "What we’re doing now is really more about groove than funk. Good funk, real funk, is not played by four white guys from Vermont."
Apart from Frank Zappa and the Grateful Dead, Phish's musical influences include The Allman Brothers Band, The Beatles, Captain Beefheart, David Bowie, Miles Davis, Brian Eno, Genesis, Gong, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Elton John, King Crimson, Little Feat, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Max Creek, Pat Metheny, The Meters, Bill Monroe, Premiata Forneria Marconi, Prince, The Rolling Stones, Santana, Talking Heads and The Velvet Underground.
The driving force behind Phish is the popularity of their concerts and the fan culture surrounding the event. Each a production unto itself, the band is known to consistently change set lists and details, as well as the addition of their own antics to ensure that no two shows are ever the same. With fans flocking to venues hours before they open, the concert is the centerpiece of an event that includes a temporary community in the parking lot, complete with "Shakedown Street": at times a garment district, art district, food court, or pharmacy. For many, one concert is simply a prelude to the next as the community follows the band around the country. Their image and fan devotion could be compared to that of the Grateful Dead.
Phish concerts typically feature two sets, with an intermission in between. During concerts, songs often segue into one another, or produce improvisational jams that can last 10 minutes or more depending on the song. Several regularly performed songs in Phish's repertoire have never appeared on one of their studio albums; Those include "Possum", "Mike's Song", "I Am Hydrogen", "Weekapaug Groove", "Harry Hood", "Runaway Jim", "Suzy Greenberg", "AC/DC Bag" and "The Lizards", all of which date to 1990 or earlier and have been played by Phish over 300 times in concert.
Because Phish's reputation is so grounded in their live performances, concert recordings are commonly traded commodities. Official soundboard recordings can be purchased through the Live Phish website. Legal field recordings produced by tapers with boom microphones from the audience in compliance with Phish's tape trading policy are frequently traded on any number of music message boards. Although technically not allowed, live videos of Phish shows are also traded by fans and are tolerated as long as they are for non-profit, personal use. Phish fans have been noted for their extensive collections of fan-taped concert recordings; owning recordings of entire tours and years is widespread.
Fans recordings are generally sourced from the officially designated tapers' section at each show, by fans with devoted sound recording rigs. Tickets for the tapers' section are acquired separately from regular audience tickets, and directly from the band's website, instead of the venue or a service like Ticketmaster. However, tapers are also required to purchase a general admission ticket for concerts. The band disallowed tapers from patching directly into Paul Languedoc's soundboard in 1990, after a fan unplugged some of his equipment during a concert that June.
In 2014, the band launched their own on-demand streaming service, LivePhish+. The platform features hundreds of soundboard recordings of the band's concerts for streaming, including all of their shows from 2002 onwards, as well as all of their studio albums.
Phish have hosted 10 festivals; the first was The Clifford Ball in Plattsburgh, New York, in 1996; the most recent was Magnaball in 2015. Each festival has attracted upwards of 30,000 fans. Only one festival (Camp Oswego) featured performances by bands other than Phish.
In other media and popular culture
The band's music began appearing in the Rock Band video game series in 2009. Their song "Wilson" (December 30, 1994 at Madison Square Garden, New York, NY as released on A Live One), appeared in Rock Band's Bonnaroo song pack, along with other songs by artists playing at the Bonnaroo Festival that year. A Phish "Live Track Pack" for Guitar Hero World Tour became available on June 25, 2009. Recordings of "Sample in a Jar" (December 1, 1994 at Salem Armory, Salem, Oregon), "Down With Disease" (December 1, 1995 at Hersheypark Arena, Hershey, Pennsylvania) and "Chalk Dust Torture" (November 16, 1994, Hill Auditorium, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, as released on A Live One) have been released, compatible with Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii. On August 19, 2010, it was confirmed that "Llama" would be a playable song in Rock Band 3, released on October 26, 2010.
Seattle Seahawks fans began mimicking Phish's song "Wilson" by chanting the song's opening line when quarterback Russell Wilson took the field during games. The new tradition started after Anastasio made the suggestion at shows in Seattle. NFL Films made a short documentary on the cultural phenomenon. New York Mets catcher Wilson Ramos also uses the song as his walk-up music.
The band has two flavors of Ben & Jerry's ice cream named after them - Phish Food, introduced in 1997, and It's Ice...Cream, a limited edition flavor named after their song "It's Ice", which was available in 2018 and 2019. Phish's portion of the proceeds from these flavors are donated to the Waterwheel Foundation, the band's non-profit organization that supports causes such as clean water, land conservation, urban gardening, and more.
Several books on Phish have been published, including two official publications: The Phish Book, a 1998 coffee table book credited to the band members and journalist Richard Gehr which focused on the band's activities during 1996 and 1997, and Phish: The Biography, a semi-official biographical book written by music journalist and Phish fan Parke Puterbaugh, was published in 2009 and was based on interviews with the four band members, their friends and crew. An installment of the 33⅓ book series on A Live One, written by Walter Holland, was published in 2015.
- Studio albums
- Live albums
- A Live One (1995)
- Slip Stitch and Pass (1997)
- Hampton Comes Alive (1999)
- Live Phish Series (Volumes 1-20; Island Tour) (2001-2003; 2005)
- New Year's Eve 1995: Live at Madison Square Garden (2005)
- Live in Brooklyn (2006)
- Colorado '88 (2006)
- Vegas 96 (2007)
- At the Roxy (2008)
- Hampton/Winston-Salem '97 (2011)
- Chicago '94 (2012)
- Ventura (2013)
- Niagara Falls (2013)
- Amsterdam (2015)
- St. Louis '93 (2017)
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