A State of the Phish Union cannot be complete without some discussion of the phans. The true union at a Phish show isn’t between Trey, Mike, Page and Fish but between the band and the audience. It’s hard to describe, but if you’ve been to a show, you know it’s the truth.
So what is the state of the phans? Simply put: the phans are doing as well as they ever have. We can debate the relative merits of Phish in 2000 and Phish in 2003 and, of course, we do. While it’s open to debate when Phish was at their best, in 2011 the phans are better off than at any other time in the band’s history.
The technological advances in recent years make being a phan great. In some ways, Phish 3.0 meshes perfectly with Twitter, bittorrent and blogs just the same way that Phish 1.0 meshed with newsgroups, listservs and websites. These innovations alone make present day the best time ever to be a Phish phan. While we used to relay on an unofficial network of tapers to distribute the shows and a dog eared copy of the Pharmer’s Almanac to settle debates, these days all that information exists online for anyone to access anytime they please.
If you want to hear the shows, you can do so and within moments of the house lights coming up. Now included in the cost of your ticket, the soundboards the band doles out make it a nearly effortless experience stockpiling great sounding copies of the shows you saw. If hearing last night’s show doesn’t do it for you, you can go to the spreadsheet for a definitively great sounding audience from nearly every show available. Think about that. That’s what I was going for with my tape collection in college, but never got anywhere near completion. Now it’s permanently archived for perpetuity. Need to know how Reba evolved through the years? Now you have the resources at your fingertips to hear every version, or at least enough versions that you’ll be hearing whistling in your ears long after you’ve logged off.
It’s not just audio that lives forever online, either. Videotapes used to be hard to come by, but these days thanks to folks like MKDevo and DuaneBase, the web has it all. Videos on YouTube that blow away the quality of an VHS bootlegs that used to circulate back in the day. The most awful cell-phone shot show still trumps my 7th gen Woodbury Ski and Racket Club tape. There’s not enough tracking in the world for that sort of thing.
If you’re the obsessive sort, like I am, there’s more than enough Phish based media to consume. There’s new blogs everyday, each giving a refreshing new take on the Phish experience. Personally, I enjoy reading every review of every show I can find. Every phan’s experience is different and I love reading everything I can get my hands on. Hitting the net the morning after a show I didn’t make it too feels a lot like reading the sports section the day after a big game. I love to hear about the music, but also getting to read about various different experiences people had. As we all know, sometimes the adventure’s in the show, and sometimes it’s in the getting there.
Most of all, remember what it was like to be a phan in 2006? Yeah. Not good. Many of us gave up on ever getting the opportunity to feel that feeling again, and moved on. Many of us replaced those shows with other bands, but deep down inside we knew what we were missing. Simply having the band back makes all the difference. It’s a brave new Phish, and the world is a better place now that they’re back. Sure, people can kvetch about this and that, but just having the band back on the road is a thing of beauty. Tour starts this weekend. Don’t tell me that doesn’t make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
While there are some who feel like Phish 3.0 has never reached their full potential, I respectfully disagree. The only Phish show worth thinking about is the next one, and right now the band is poised to sweep across the country all summer long dropping memorable moments at every turn. Some folks have lamented that the band lacks the hunger that it has had in years past. While that may be true, present is an unrestrained joy and enthusiasm that was lost during the band’s rapid ascent to the top of the music game. Though the passing of the years has affected the band’s sound in various ways, a constant stays the same: there is nothing like a Phish show.
Face it phans, in 2011 with the return of the band, new tunes, and an explosion of new Phish-based online media, we have it good.