April 9, 2009

Despite his avowed ardor for Phish, Scott Towler has never once had to “jibboo.”

How did I keep quiet for so long. I mean, Trey, Mike, Page. FISH. Phish! The first band I got high to. The band that fried my synapses during the infamous “Moby Dick” set at Deer Creek in 2000? The band whose, 7/11/91 Battery Park, VT show made me a lifelong devotee. The band whose Sessions at W. 54th, changed my life even more than the discovery that Arnold on Diff’rent Strokes was adopted: how I dressed, who I hung out with,  the music I played, what drugs to split open and melt. And yet, despite providing the soundtrack to the first quarter of my life, things just don’t feel the same.

Granted, Phish is responsible for creating an underground movement only matched by the Dead, and sure, they’ve managed to put out over 25 studio records while still remaining relatively under the mainstream media radar. In fact, they’ve really only garnered widespread attention since their reunion announcement became one of the biggest rock stories of 2009. Ostensibly, I should be doing backflips and bong rips right now. Or am I doing them already and you just can’t see me (go to my YouTube channel for that).

The last time I saw Phish, I was sitting in a movie theater in St. Louis, Missouri. And it wasn’t the Todd Phillips directed Bittersweet Motel. The show was “Coventry,” a 3 day festival in Vermont, that was too far away, too remote, and in too small of a city for hundreds of thousands of people to attend–so like most, I didn’t. Instead, I decided to see simulcast of the show at my local cineplex. It was all part of Phish’s effort to have Coventry broadcasted to as many people as possible.

By that point in 2004, the band was famous enough to fill 20-plus movie theaters nationwide for three consecutive days. Think about that: how many other rock bands can you think of that could do that? Only the best of the best: U2, Metallica, Puddle of Mud.  Aside from the Stones, I can’t think of another group capable of pulling that off. So we ate our pot brownies, chewed some psilocibyn, and took in a double feature.

The theater was pretty relaxed about everything–they let us throw our glow sticks and drink beers. Most sat. Some danced in the aisles, but at a movie theater, it’s like, “you’re dancing in the aisle, really?” Essentially, it was an adult’s version of a Phish show. But I was still a kid.

Sure, the shows were good. A lot of die hard fans will say that Trey was too wasted on pills, or that the band wasn’t at its peak. Granted, they’d been touring for 16 years at that point, so they were probably tired. I’d be too. But the music was good. It always was. That was something you could rely on as a fan. If you paid your money and bought your ticket, you’d see an outstanding night of free-form improvisational “white-hyper-funk.” Every show I had seen, starting with Big Cypress NYE ’99 to Deer Creek, June ’04 had been superb.

That was what kept drawing me back: the ever-evolving experience that came with this band. The people, the parking lots, shakedown street, the dirtiest of the dirty hippies, and the preppiest of the prepsters in america. I’m still convinced that a Phish lot is where the first hipster was truly born. Call it un-divine intervention The point is that the place was a cultural experience unto itself.

So when I first heard that Phish was doing three nights at the legendary Hampton Coliseum last month, my head was spinning. This was potentially it: the last ‘hurrah’ for fans. Because things didn’t end correctly. And every break up needs break-up sex. So they took a break, they came back, and they were doing one last thank you for all the years of dedication. The problem, however, was that in their five year hiatus, their fan base had doubled, if not tripled. Tickets became impossible to get, even before they went on sale. Phish’s own ticket lottery had lower odds than the actual state lottery of Vermont*. Suffice it to say, I didn’t get tickets.

Luckily, a few days later, they announced the first leg of their summer tour, and I scored tickets to the show at the historic Fox Theatre in St. Louis, Missouri.**  Fittingly, the Fox is the only indoor venue on the tour, and a former movie theater to boot. It’s also in my hometown, and oddly, a place where I’d never seen the band. So this homecoming, would seem like the final chapter in a 27 year long saga for me.

Perhaps that’s what makes me feel differently. It’s hard to say how I’ll feel when I see them. After hearing the recordings of the Hampton shows, I wasn’t completely blown away. Sure, they were back with a vengeance, playing tunes that spanned their entire career, but they lacked some of the technical proficiency of the past. Their jams were shorter, sometimes taking on sterile and emotionless undertones, and the crowds seemed less engaged than I imagined they’d be.

But it was never about just the music. For me, it was about finding myself. And now, I have. I know who I am today, and I turned out just fine. So while a part of me can’t wait to see the band from the big screen, another knows that seeing them in person one last time might tarnish the memories I continue to hold dearly. It’s a bittersweet thing–to hold on to remnants of a memory, that might just be better kept as such. Even if Phish haven’t changed, I have. I suppose time tells all–in the form of a three-hour guitar solo.

*This may or may not be true. LIKE THE BIBLE.

*Easily the hottest ticket on the tour, a single seat is selling for $600 on stubhub.com. After coming up short in both the Phish-based lottery and Ticketmaster’s public ticket sale, TWICE (both legs of the tour), I had given up hope. It was then that my hippie-partner-in-crime scored 2 seats from a Rabbi of all people. I’ve since converted. Happy Pesach.

Download:

MP3: Phish-“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” (3/7/09 @ Hampton) (Left-Click)
MP3: Phish-“Split Open and Melt” (3/6/09 @ Hampton) (Left-Click)

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