Phish are the most popular band in the jam band scene. They play their instruments with virtuosic intensity and are recession proof. They’re one of those bands that nobody on the outside understands, and their fans like it that way. Phish make those perpetual two- left footed people get up and dance, like nobody but twenty thousand total strangers are watching. They make people feel really, really good.
Their tour stop in Philly, in many ways, was standard groove and granola fare. Every generation will have its whirling dervish youth nation, twirling on a hillside to blandly sung psychedelic jams with a funk whip topping, but Phish is different. Their fans are culled from many walks of life. The Phish family could be partly comprised post-Deadhead refugees falling right into place with a different band, but a familiar scent and scene. However, these faces were young, organically and chemically conscious folk and this crowd was perched atop the tip of bliss from opener to encore. One of the qualities that makes them a jambase standout is the surprise factor.
Phish can move effortlessly from a perilously funky groove,as they did roaming through a massive cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie on Reggae Woman” and straight into the swampy thump of their song “Gumbo”. The band fearlessly weaves through the jaunty hop of crowd favorite “Reba” and then rolls right into a never before played, and bulls-eyed take on Led Zeppelin’s “The Rover”. Their catalog is immense, and they fear no genre. Guitarist/singer Trey Anastasio seems to be able to handle any style, with appropriate noodling yet his sound is certainly his own. Drummer John Fishman is a percussive marksman, never missing a swing or groove, leaving tempos ebbing and flowing in his wake.
The raucous and laid back “Timber Ho” sent the crowd into a critical mass of floaty fun under the diving arcs of giant beach balls and a back-lit night sky. There were people pushing babies in sweaty strollers, singing along and refusing to grow older as “Down With Disease” broke open the second set. For some revelers, the acquisition of a personal quadrant of space to dance sent waves of released joy through their undulating extremities. It was if they had discovered a cure for boredom and wanted to share it with anyone.
Dancing is one of life’s simplest joys. To explore movement, very personal movement as an interpretation to how a body is guided by a song, go no further than a Phish show. The dancing throughout the venue on songs like “Harry Hood” and “You Enjoy Myself” was sometimes instinctive, sensually manic and very necessary.
There will always be a need for music that allows people to not only let loose, but to completely set themselves free. Phish fans seem to be reborn, in the rhythm of every song.