Look, Phish fans can be a critical bunch. Last week’s Tale of Mental Tangle column, brutally titled “Is Trey The Weak Link?” can attest to that. I can’t imagine any other performer, especially one that draws the devotion that Phish does, being subjected to that sort of critical ire. Everyone says they want their friends to tell them the truth, but no one really means that, especially if they’ve got friends who go for the jugular.
I was in the pro-Trey camp, principally because I always seem to have a good time. If the question is, “how is Phish doing these days?”, I answer soundly in the affirmative. I’m even willing to pitch my tent in the “best it’s ever been” camp.
Sure, there’s plenty of doubters who can invoke a whale call here or an aborted segue there and say, “but see, what about this?!?” If I can dissuade them from that sort of thing, they usually just whip out any seminal show from the late nineties and say, “well, you can’t tell me this is being topped…” The answer to that one’s probably no. Does that mean that the Phish that we’ve got right now is somehow worse? Not at all.
The reason I can’t get too down about things, and why I’m relentlessly optimistic, is because when I think about how Phish is “doing” right now, I think about the whole thing.
It’s not this version of Mike’s or that version of Melt. It has nothing to do if the jams are turning to type II or if it’s the Saturday night special four nights a week. To me, Phish isn’t just four dudes staring at their feet and tearing the roof of the place. Phish is the whole thing. It’s us. It’s the roar of the crowd and the prattle of the message board. It’s re-living old shows and dissecting jams to no end. Most importantly though, it’s that moment when it all happens.
That moment, the indescribable moment of the now, is the best it’s ever been. Face it folks, we have Phish and they’re trying and we are too. Now the band has come back, and while some might debate whether the magic is happening as frequently as this day ten, fifteen or twenty years ago, I think answer is yes. Not because the shows sound the same, or because they sound different: but because we’re bringing our A-game.
If you asked Phish if they were the most special band in the world, what do you think they’d say? I think they’d say no. I think they’d point to their heroes, and be generally dismissive to the entire notion. They take pride in what they do, sure, but I don’t think they put themselves on the same pedestal we put them on.
But what about us?
Do you think if they were asked if we were the most amazing fans on the planet, what do you think they’d say? I think they’d go to the mat. They’d point to the tapes spreading from coast to coast in the early days, to fans walking into Coventry at the end, to everything in between and they’d be right every time. Phish is an incredible band, but when it comes to “a Phish show”, they’re only half the equation. It can’t be discounted what we bring to the table. They may be the fuse, but we’re the explosion.
Our side of Phish is doing better than it ever has. Sure, some of us have gotten older, and a few of us may even have gotten wiser (don’t hold me to that). The younger phans, who didn’t get to see the first couple go rounds, are bringing the heat too: there’s been no shortage of energy out there. While we may debate the relative merits of this show and that, anyone who saw a show during the Fall knows that this band and this fan-base are moving in the right direction.
This Phish is the best Phish because of all we’ve been through. We’ve got a shared history, and Phish 3.0 is the next chapter in it. You can compare it to previous incarnations, but this one sounds different. This one is grateful. The band is glad to have us, and we them. You can hear it. It might not fit into the certain definitions that we’ve set forth, but this incarnation of Phish has a happiness you can’t find on any old tape.
The energy that is given from the band to us and back again has a joy that wasn’t there before. It may not translate into four song second sets or ambient jams, but it does color everything with a little bit of extra emphasis that says: live in the moment, because this may be gone. Belt this one out at the top of your lungs, because this is the only one that matters.
We’ve got a full summer slate ahead of us and as long as you and I bring our A-game, it won’t matter if Trey’s the weakest link. We’ve got this covered.