After dozens of concerts together, Phish and I are calling it quits
By MIKE ALBERICI For the Monitor
February 08, 2009
Once upon a time there was a band called Phish that just wouldn't go
away. In March, Phish will make a triumphant comeback, playing a
three-night stand in Hampton, Va. The announcement that Phish was
reuniting, after five years of retirement, thrilled its fan base. But
I find the sudden resurrection bittersweet, another kink in a long
but tempestuous relationship with the band.
Phish has always been one of my favorite bands. I started listening
in the late 1980s and was stunned by its musical style. As a jam
band, Phish seemed to borrow a lot of style from the Grateful Dead,
but in a self-depreciating, sardonic and witty way the band turned
the music inside out. While the Grateful Dead simply grooved along in
common time, as Jerry Garcia noodled over the same old major scale,
Phish took its music into another atmosphere altogether, using
longer, more extended forms, Baroque-style counterpoint and highly
technical instrumental proficiency.
It was never the music that let me down over the years. I'm still
bewildered by the tunes. Phish's style only expanded and stayed true.
Yet somehow the whole scene went wrong in the most capitalistic way.
In the 1980s, Phish was a small group out of Burlington, Vt. It had a
local following and played at clubs throughout the Northeast. For
years Phish flew under the radar, never releasing a chart-topping
album. Ignored by radio stations, Phish's fans (myself included)
followed the band religiously. For Phish-heads it was never about the
studio album; the live performance was the pinnacle of the band's
Gradually word got out, and Phish began playing bigger venues. All
was fine for a while. Then Jerry Garcia died and everything changed.
When the Grateful Dead broke up in 1995, almost overnight Phish went
from an unknown underground band to the ultimate underground band.
Legions of Dead fans, now without a musical outlet, switched teams
and began following Phish.
The band was thrust into the public spotlight, playing huge arenas
and enormous weekend festivals drawing 60,000 fans. I had seen the
band about 25 times by now, and the influx of new fans made my head
spin. Suddenly the stands were filled with drunken frat boys and
trust-fund brats more interested in finding the right chemicals in
the parking lot than enjoying the music. Getting tickets became next
I did see Phish once again in 1996, and the scene had changed
dramatically. Although the music was great that night, I was so
turned off by the crowd that I gave up on seeing the band live
anymore. The thrill was gone.
The first cracks in the band's armor started to show in 2000 when
Phish announced that it was taking an extended hiatus. We knew the
band would be back, but this hinted at some elemental flaw in the
personal makeup of the band. It was like the Beatles, but without Yoko.
For two years Phish did not play together. Then in 2002 the band was
suddenly back. The hype was overwhelming. The reunion tour sold out
in minutes, spawning a secondary ticket market, driven in part by
eBay, with prices soaring in the stratosphere.
At this point I was ready to give up. As a longtime fan I felt
betrayed, shut-out, passed over and out-bid. The little band I once
loved had become a corporate monster, a slave to Ticketmaster. My
need to see Phish live was still there, but the circus surrounding
the band was oppressing. I stopped trying to even get tickets to the shows.
In 2004, bandleader Trey Anastasio announced that Phish was breaking
up for good. "For the sake of clarity, I should say that this is not
like the hiatus . . . We're done," he said.
Those words drove the final nail in the coffin. Twenty years of a
simmering love-hate relationship was finally coming to an end. His
announcement inspired me to try one last time to get tickets to see a
show on Phish's final leg. This would be a last attempt to make
amends and say a proper goodbye. The ticket gods were forgiving. I
scored two excellent seats for the final show at Mansfield, Mass.
I went to the show with trepidation, knowing this would be the final
time I would ever seen this musical dynasty together. Phish did not
disappoint, playing a set that cranked the dynamic threshold into
overdrive with lights, sound and atmosphere. I left happy to have
been a part of such a fantastic musical entity. We had set things to
rights. It was over, and my life could now go on without them.
Now Phish is back after a five-year leave of absence. My life has
moved forward. But Phish returns. Tickets for the three-night stand
in Virginia sold out in four minutes and were listed on eBay only a
moment or two later. Anastasio's words, "We're done," were false. Our
emotional goodbyes in 2004 were only for naught.
I feel as if I'm just being strung along, addicted to a drug sold by
a ruthless dealer who holds the goods just slightly out of reach,
gradually raising the price while decreasing supply. Phish, I'm done.
Your name is a symbol of fishing itself: toss the bait, wait for the
nibble, then set the hook deep. Reel, reel, reel! Repeat. Like an old
psycho girlfriend who keeps coming back to haunt me, you keep
surfacing at just the wrong moments in my life.
Phish, it's over. We can't go on. I tried to get tickets for your
2009 tour, but it was an effort in futility. Servers crashed due to
overload. Cosmic debris clogged the system. There really wasn't ever
a chance was there? You called it quits before, now it's my turn to
end it gracefully. I loved you up until the point of our first
goodbye, but our relationship has become a toxic dependency that I
can no longer continue. I can't take another inevitable abandonment
by you. Don't expect to see me at a show anytime soon.
Oh hell, does anyone have an extra ticket?
(Mike Alberici of Concord is a music teacher in Hopkinton.)