Thursday , May 30 2024

Phinal Phish

I mean, damn.

This review of the phinal Phish weekend is either the most pretentious noodling hippieshit nonsense I’ve ever read, or I’ve been Helen Keller for the last 20 years.

    About 20 years ago, Trey Anastasio left Burlington with his dog Marley and moved into a sparse West Charleston cabin, without electricity and running water. His intent was to siphon his gift for composition into the creation of a “unique and forward thinking style of music,” something where one could boogie on through pinballing shifts in rhythmic and harmonic variation.

    It was an exercise in isolation as much as creation. When he came back down to Burlington, where bandmates Page McConnell, Mike Gordon and Jon Fishman were making ends meet and living in a cramped apartment, he brought a series of songs to play for them, including the roller-coaster “David Bowie” and the ambitious “The Curtain With.” It was a small, intimate listening session, enough to establish a sound in defiance of a rock age largely constructed around vapid pandering and nostalgic imitation.

    Two decades later, closing their final, intensely emotional show, Phish played “The Curtain With” a stones throw from where it was conceived, this time to a crowd of more than 60,000, many of whom had left their cars on the side of the highway, shouldered their camping gear and walked up to 12 miles to the mud-soaked concert site.

    ….The Phish listening community is a strange, chaotic amalgam of the most informed, accepting, ferociously critical and devout fans in music. They shouldered the absence of any significant radio or TV exposure, creating one of the most significant rock success stories of the past two decades. A constant though often misguided mirror in which the band has been able to view itself, they have been afforded an almost unprecedented amount of empowerment in the sphere of the band’s music. But at the final festival August 14-15, the community, facing abrupt nullification, had no choice but to revert to the duties of basic listening and enjoyment that had suited it best all along.

    ….Those of us who feel something more than one band slipping away want to believe all those cliches about music. We want to feel that the medium, shorn of its pretenses, its economic implications, possesses a sense of revolution. We want to feel the reverence of that potent medium, strong enough to draw 60,000 people to nowhere to stand up all night long. And thanks to a small quartet with the same sense of organic energy and soul as the home state in which it played its final show, our belief in these possibilities is bolstered — and the belief is all.

If you say so. I am loath to poke fun at: a) such an easy target, b) someone so obviously passionate and emotionally sincere; but I feel like I am reading a translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls – I mostly don’t know what the hell he is talking about.

I neither love nor hate Phish, I have several of their CDs and they have always struck me as a hodgepodge of interesting ideas, random goofiness, undeveloped ideas, more goofiness, and an aw-chucks artistic seriousness expressed through an oblique approach to music-making I find, in the final analysis, off-putting. With neither the songs, the personality, nor the earthy rootsyness of the Grateful Dead – Phish’s iconic analog – the Vermonters leave me mostly cold; no, not cold, cool, because they are not without their charms, even if I don’t find those charms very sustained.

And then there is the regional angle: the Phish experience is very New England and I am not, nor have I ever been, a New Englander.

But of course the test of Phish fandom is the live experience, and I have never had that experience and apparently never will; thus, I will give our effusive friend, Bret, the benefit of the doubt and wish the erstwhile Phishies and their chopfallen phans well.

About Eric Olsen

Career media professional and serial entrepreneur Eric Olsen flung himself into the paranormal world in 2012, creating the America's Most Haunted brand and co-authoring the award-winning America's Most Haunted book, published by Berkley/Penguin in Sept, 2014. Olsen is co-host of the nationally syndicated broadcast and Internet radio talk show After Hours AM; his entertaining and informative America's Most Haunted website and social media outlets are must-reads: Twitter@amhaunted,, Pinterest America's Most Haunted. Olsen is also guitarist/singer for popular and wildly eclectic Cleveland cover band The Props.

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