So. Phish broke up. I actually had no idea until Shannon mentioned it in comments, and at first it didn’t really hit me. As far as I’m concerned, they never really came off of their 2001 hiatus. Their last show I saw was 09-24-2000 at the Target Center, which was fairly lousy. I never checked out Round Room because people were saying nasty things about it. I felt that Phish had run their course, and I was okay with that.
Then I thought about it. A world without Phish. My life without Phish. In 1999 when my enthusiasm was at its peak, such a thought would have been unfathomable. So much of my youth is so closely intertwined with the band that I can’t even make sense of my past without them.
My first live Phish show (actually, my first live concert ever) was 10-25-95 at the St. Paul Civic Center. I liked their song Bouncing Around The Room that was playing on the radio and I had heard that they were coming to town, so I called up my friend Willie and asked him if he wanted to go to a concert. He said yeah, so I got tickets and picked up A Live One and listened to the first disc over and over again, because I was convinced that they would play exactly what was on their latest CD, because that’s what bands do, right?
Well. They opened with Ya Mar, which fazed me for five seconds until I started completely digging it. I knew I was hooked right then and there. At set break I signed up for the Schvice and bought an eggplant t-shirt. During second set a guy sat right next to us in the aisle smoking pot, and I thought that was the absolute neatest thing. This show is so ALIVE! My shirt smelled like marijuana and I didn’t wash it for months, with the that fear it would lose that concert appeal. Years later, an actor at the Minnesota Renaissance Festival would rail me for wearing a faded pink shirt.
Throughout high school I played in a number of combos that played Phish covers, or attempted to play Phish covers, or were composed of musicians that worshipped Phish but didn’t play Phish covers. I remember sitting in Chris Hubach’s basement and listening to Junta at the first rehearsal for Pamplemousse. We weren’t really called Pamplemousse then; after numerous attempts we finally admitted that no one knew how to spell it. At Pamplemousse’s first gig at the Depot Coffee House, we played Gumbo. It was an ambitious undertaking for a high school jazz combo, what with lyrics and individual horn lines and everything.
Matt played trombone. David played keyboards. Together, the three of us started accumulating and trading Phish tapes with other fans. Matt and Dave had never heard Phish before, and they got way deeper into trading than I did, having been a spoiled rotten brat with my first Phish experience at the young age of 15. That summer the three of us caught their first (and my second) show on 06-30-99 at the Sandstone Amphitheatre in Bonner Springs, Kansas.
Before leaving Minnesota we got into a stiff argument over what time we should head for Kansas the next morning. We resolved it by leaving that very night, and we pulled up in front of Matt’s uncle’s house in Missouri at 3:00 in the morning. We slept in their living room until noon, and then ate Frosted Flakes while watching Blues Clues. We whittled away the rest of the day tooling around rural Missouri, buying fireworks and throwing pennies at toll booths.
Bonner Springs was an outdoor concert and it rained hard. Really hard. I was wearing sandals, but Matt and Dave were wearing shoes that got so totally soaked that the drive home was going to be miserable if we didn’t do something. The morning after the show we went to a Walgreen’s where Matt and Dave walked in barefoot and bought $5 pastel flip-flops.
The concert itself wasn’t anything special, but it was our first experience road tripping and it made an excellent dry-run for our next Phish show later that summer. In July we left for Wisconsin to see 07-24-99 at Alpine Valley, which was an absolutely amazing show.
Back in the Twin Cities we saw a few more shows at the Target Center, but those all kind of blend together. I know 10-02-99 was a great show, with an encore of While My Guitar Gently Weeps and everything. It wasn’t until the summer of 2000 that Dave, Matt and I went big, hitting up three Phish shows in a row: 07-08-00 at Alpine Valley, 07-10-00 at Deer Creek in Noblesville, Indiana, and finally 07-11-00 at Deer Creek. The last show at Deer Creek was the best Phish concert I’ve ever seen, with a vacuum solo, Chalkdust Torture ‘Reprise’, Hold Your Head Up, every song segueing into Moby Dick, etc. We also sold grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to drunk college students, made friends with a couple of carneys and saw a cowboy statue come to life at a KOA Kampground.
Other stuff pops in there, too. On 7-21-01 , during a hot summer of working as essay graders, Dave, Matt and I hit up Trey Anastasio (with his solo tour band and Jon Medeski!) at Alpine Valley, and we spent the night at Greta and Tyler’s new house in Madison. We saw lots of interesting things on that road trip, including a road called Cannibal Crest, the Nutting Doctor, Mr. Yuk stickers on everything, and a giant water tower with a happy face painted on it.
After the last song of the encore we literally ran out of the venue, as last time at Alpine Valley we got caught in a traffic jam for three hours and we had no desire to repeat that. As we were hoofin’ it back to the car we ran into two guys stumbling around the lot looking for whippets. We asked them if they had been at the concert, when was freakin’ RAD, and they said, “Nah, we weren’t in that Mexican fiesta!” We were the first car out of the lot.
When you tell me that Phish is breaking up, you’re not telling me that my favorite band is evaporating back into the ether. When you tell me that Phish is breaking up, you’re not telling me that they had a good run and they’re leaving on a high note. No, when you tell me that Phish is breaking up, you’re telling me that a chapter of my life is coming to a close. I have so many memories wrapped up in listening to that band, in seeing that band, in touring with that band, that the thought of them leaving is absolutely painful.
Phish was always one of those constants in my life. No matter what the world, Phish would always be in Kansas in June, in Wisconsin in July, in Minneapolis in September. Like the rising and setting of the sun these were all things I could count on. Their tours always started and ended with the phases of the moon. Even when I wasn’t eagerly holding tickets to an upcoming show, it was comforting just to know that Phish was touring. They were like the soothing hum of the city. You don’t notice it while it’s there, not until it’s gone, but when it leaves it wrenches open a hole in your gut.
Alas, all things come to pass, and I’m glad that Phish mutually chose to close it earlier rather than later. Nevertheless, 21 years of anything isn’t a bad run by any means. Thanks for everything, Phish. To everyone on the crew I send my best, and I wish you luck on whatever endeavors await you.
And thanks for the kind postcard. Though the need for roadies may fade, the passion for music lives on.