I feel fortunate that I am able to fully enjoy Phish’s music in two different ways. I feel that most people fit into one category of fan or the other–I have found that people are rarely able to fully submerge themselves into both kinds of full enjoyment.
There is the analytical, statistic crunching fan that collects as many recordings of shows as possible–he is has good listening skills and is good at comparing any given song version to other versions of the song quickly with dates and descriptions to back their opinion up. These are the fans that are attracted to some of the popular Phish internet message boards (probably close to 1/2 of the message board population) and are quick to criticize Phish, especially 3.0 shows. These are the people that can sit together and have greatly in depth conversations about Phish songs, Phish eras, Phish stats–anything. They are the people that make normal people wonder what the heck they are missing if people can follow a band so closely. They are the people that write about Phish like this site, Mr. Miner (although not always very critical), ZZYZX, Phish Net, etc. They are the people that put together the recordings for everyone to listen to–they do most of the work in trying to explain the intensity of Phish’s music to civilians and try to get their friends who don’t understand into it. However, too often it seems this type of fan has trouble really letting loose at shows. Sometimes while at a show they look at it as if they are listening to it in their car, analyzing the whole thing–taking the pleasure out of seeing Phish live. If Trey flubs or an unwanted Prince Caspian emerges in a second set they often will become discouraged with the show or turn to their friend to make a smart comment. These too often (but not always) are the guys you will see on rail, standing as straight as a rail (maybe bobbing their head). I firmly believe that the rail and GA pit should be reserved for people that want to rage their brains out–nothing makes me more frustrated than seeing people standing there, taking up prime space, looking like an apathetic statue.
I have been this type of fan ever since I got into Phish. I got into Phish when i was in 6th grade, I was too young to see them–my parents wouldn’t let me until high school. All I could do was trade tapes and listen to the shows as closely as possible. It was good for me, it gave me a strong base of what Phish was all about, it gave me the ability to listen for differences between their songs, it gave me a sense of the statistics involved. Because I am this way, it gives me great pleasure writing for this web site–I am proud of my more in depth articles–it allows me to use my analytical background and mix it with Phish research to churn out fun and interesting stories (at least I think). I am often critical about 3.0 Phish, I dislike a lot of post-hiatus Phish and have trouble keeping myself from comparing everything now to mid/late-ninety’s Phish. Yes, I am often a Phish snob, day-to-day.
The second type of fan is the one that lives for the live experience. They certainly have their share of live recordings, but they might be far less organized about it and might not have as extensive of a collection. I am not referring to the “wooks” or “tour rats” people often talk about–those people I don’t consider real Phish fans at all, but rather a cancer to the community we are a part of–the people I am talking about are the ones that you will see in Phish tour shirts out on a weekend night, travel far for concerts and see as many as they can in a row. They will put off work or other obligations if need be, it’s their drug (probably among others). They are usually very considerate within the venue and are often a delight to talk to or be next to during a show. They are the ones that will get down, rage or take up the aisle for room to move.
It took me a couple years of seeing Phish to completely let loose, but I am officially this type of fan now, too. While I am appear straight-edge during the day-to-day work week–shaved, collared shirts, ironed pants and nice shoes–I completely lose my mind at Phish concerts. I often joke with my friends because my coworkers or other non-Phish friendly acquaintances would have no clue what I am like during the vacation days I use (since they are often used for Phish). I rage Phish shows harder than almost anyone I know. I am anything but stationary at concerts and have intense feelings of joy that I find difficult finding anywhere else in life, no matter what song they are playing (I do have trouble with TTE, though).
I feel like I have the best of both worlds–I have the necessary levels of skepticism and criticism that when I listen to shows again for either entertainment or reviewing purposes I can write about them properly without fluffing anything that doesn’t deserve it. I have the full ability to put that behind me when I am in the show. I hold the knowledge I have of Phish statistics and history to know exactly what is going on during the show at the same time. There are some songs I often skip when listening on my computer or in my car–Prince Caspian, Theme from the Bottom, When the Circus Comes to Town, Limb by Limb, among some others–but I can find complete bliss in when I see live. The analytical side produces great conversations on lot about what Phish has just played or what Phish might play–but when the lights go down that all flutters away and I tune out the rest of the world. There is nothing more amazing feeling than letting the music literally flow right through your body (I know that’s cliched, but it’s true), allowing you to stop caring what other people think, not being afraid to look like a psychopathic dancaholic reaching for the sky and not being able to stop smiling.
There is nothing I love more than attending a Phish concert, even if I am going to bash that very concert the next day in a show review. I want anyone reading this to strive to be the type of fan that you are not, it is then you will completely enjoy everything Phish has to offer. If you are a constantly blissful road warrior fan, try to become more analytical, knowledgeable and critical in the non-tour season. If you are a rigid, by the numbers fan that finds it hard to enjoy improvisation that isn’t from 1995-1997 or break out of your day-to-day mode because of what others may think of you, try to just let yourself go and look like an idiot in the show–don’t pay attention to what your friends are doing in the show, don’t look for Trey flubbing PYITE, save the critiquing for after the show. If I were a militant analytical fan, I wouldn’t have had that great of a time at Deer Creek last year. The music isn’t anything special–I only listened to the recording once–but since I was completely open to being at the live concert, it was one of the best Phish experiences I have had in a long time. The energy, the fun of the storm (since I was in the pavilion), the mixture of the friends I had beside me–everything came together for a great experience. I remember dancing harder than I had in years to the Tweezer > 2001–even though it was somewhat bland upon relistening.
I am more excited for the string of concerts I am seeing in a week than I have been about anything in a long time. Will Trey kill some jams? Probably. Will some songs that should contain more improvisation be shorter than I’d normally like? Probably. Will I care while I am at the show? Probably not.
See you in Telluride, phans. I’ll be on rail for at least the first night–come say hi and rage with me.