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Thursday, April 12

Counter Point - Why Phish is better than ever, and 2012 will go down in history as the best yet!

I like to consider myself a grand Phish fan, someone who has followed the band for most of my life, seen numerous shows and been witness to the evolution of one of the greatest rock bands of all time.  I have reviewed shows, broken down hundreds of set-lists and interviewed members of the band, even followed them cross country and and sea just to get a glimpse of what I consider to be one of the greatest experiences in life today, a live Phish show.  I try to understand this band and herein I will out lay I what I believe that to be.  What I sometimes don't understand is the Phish fan, even myself!  But that's for later. First let's talk the here and now, plus we've got to talk Summer 2012 with all four boys together and touring strong.
Phish is a band in constant evolution.  I have learned to embrace and actually look forward to their unpredictability because it is just that which keeps me coming back for more; tour after tour, year after year.  I love how any given show can have a shining star, whereas some shows the vibe is clearly centered around the magical and almost prodigal playing of Page McConnell, we haven't nick-named him “Chairman of the Boards” without reason. Point. Then the Mike shows, centered round blue-grass themed, bass bomb dropping songs, some of my favorite shows, especially in recent memory.  Jon, to me doesn't have shows per se -but rather ebbs and flows as any good drummer should, shinning brighter on some nights, but always setting the bar high.  And yes if we are lucky enough we will get a naked Henrietta run round the stage to the theme of “Hold Your Head Up”, or a wicked bust-out in the form of “Fifty Ways To Leave Your Lover" and afterward, whilst leaving the show one looks at their buddy and notes, “Damn, Fishman was on fire tonight!”  It the Trey shows that are mainstays.  Just as Jerry was Papa Bear to the Grateful Dead,  Trey Anastasio is the no doubt “front man” to a band of equally talented musicians.  His presence onstage shows that he carries the weight and privilege that allows him to single-handedley bring the band down, break them apart, or drive them to the next level.  Mike noted once to me that even though they never go by a predetermined set-list they have come to a place in the band's growth where Trey picks the songs....why I asked? Mike said simply because he (Trey) was and is better at it.  So each man has their place and their shows where they shine, each fan has their favorite, and this too can change on any given day.  
But where are they as a band? First off we know that they are older now, so are we.  Age is one of those certainties in life. Keeping in mind, stagnation isn't.  The fact that these four mad scientists met long ago, before some (now) fans were even born, and formed friendships while building the band we've grown to love adds so much to their allure.  We also know that they, probably like a lot of us, have settled down in their lives.  Some of us have chosen to have families, get those dreaded (no pun attended) 9 to 5 jobs, and build families of our own.  Yet as long as they tour, we tour with them...Just not as much, and this is true on both sides of the monitors.  As Phish has formed with-out-a-doubt fame, they have also been afforded the ability to tour less and spend more time on personal projects and with their families.  I love this, because I feel the same way about my life, yet I haven't found fame, I've found a stable life, with the babies, homework, large family holidays and PTA meetings.  I'm sure the band shares some of my sentiment.  Musically they have never been better.  That statement I will stand behind with steadfast tenacity.  As I stated earlier Phish is a band in evolution.  This is why we love them.  Their sense of humor cheers us up, the waiting game for tour-dates and mad near insane speculation before their release is some of the funnest and craziest band-fan intercourse in generations. We love to feel strung along by this band.  Whether or not this is their intent, they have our attention, fully.  The less touring is no surprise to me and should not be a surprise to anyone.  Trey was quoted over 8 months ago that 2012 would be a light year show wise.  
Where they are musically is something one can only truly surmise in hindsight.  And aside from a few years where most would agree they weren't on top of their game they have always moved in a positive direction.  Their growth has never been and never will be linear, if you expect this from Phish, then you should pick another band to follow.  Just as their tours don't go from NY to California without deviations and segues, their growth doesn't either.  Most would agree the expectation for the NYE run was high, and most would agree they did not impress.  They were good shows though. It just wasn't the best run in a batch of thousands of shows.  
Whoopidty Doo!  Point.  Also hindsight is more than 20/20 with this band, as we have always looked back on the past as better.  If you were living the year that was 1997 you would talk about how epic and more intimate 1995 was.  If it was 1995 one would remark on the epic jams of 1993 and 1994.  Now we look back on the band, meanwhile enjoying the “3.0” era and some naysayer's feel that Phish is for lack of a better word, without growth, lacking creativity, and just settling in to a place of fading comfortability.  I do not feel this way.  I believe they will continue to surprise us with new direction and new material.  Knowing that Trey has wrote with the help of lyricist Marshall 80% of Phish's song repertoire.  Phish needs TAB, as a lot of these Phish songs start of as Trey solo projects, or rather Trey/Tom projects.  The new songs they introduced to us last year, notably “Steam”, “No Quarter” and the amazing place “BDTNL” and “Golden Age” have become unpredictable jam vehicles were all, and will remain great memories of 2011.  It will also be the year of request signs.  As fans we took this fad to a frenzied level and it is my belief, and personal hope this won't continue from the point where it got.  But it was fun, and showed how close this band is to their fans, no matter how big they get.  
What is to come in 2012 is a big mystery to me.  I love the plaid shirts Trey and Gordo sport, also diggin' on Mike's scarf's and new haircut.  They are hipster's up there on stage.  Good for them, though I do miss the old Lonney Toones tee's Trey used to sport.  The venues they choose to play really raised my eyebrows.  As a fan I believe I scrutinize details like this more than the band ever does, but it is no coincidence that they are hitting up new venues for over 8 shows.  Point.  This displays their desire to reach out and go to their fans.  The indoor shows in August are a HUGE departure from years past, and will undoubtedly leave a mark on a Summer Tour yet to begin.  We all can agree indoor vs. outdoor shows have a very different feel.  Beginning the year in a famous Phish haunt in Worcester should lay the groundwork for a terrific 2 set show in Bonnaroo.  The Atlantic City shows at Bader will be special, but don't be fooled my friends...this is no Phish Festival.  The 4th O' July New York run has amazing written all over it, from the quaint and storied Jones Beach to the spacious and famed SPAC.  The Midwest run should be the “Corn Fed Rib-eye” of the run.  As for the big-bang to the the 1st leg, it will be the well known, yet never old Deer Creek>Alpine Valley.  Interestingly enough occurring at the same time the SCI will be hosting their newly annual Electric Forest Festival.  I believe there are enough fans to go around.  The 2nd leg, will be amazing.  From Long Beach to Commerce City.  There has never been a bad “Dirty South” tour, and with the new venues, old stops like B'Ham, and new States like Oklahoma, this to me will be the “Pulled Pork” of leg 2.  The big-bang, gotta say is San Francisco.  It's just way too cool that they are playing right in the middle of the City, literally a 5 minute walk to Market Street and the famous skyscrapers that make up that famous skyline we all know so well.  But let's not forget Dick's....last year left us all a bit speechless, so as  a fan I am glad they've decided to honor this Labor Day Weekend Tradition.
In summary, I am excited to see my favorite band continue to reach out and grow.  2012 will be another great year filled with surprises and bust-outs and memories galore.  For a band in constant evolution, we as fans must either keep up or leave it to the winds.  I can't quite tour like I'm 20 anymore, but when I do get a chance to see them this Summer I am sure the shows will be some of my favorites yet.  And I hope the same is true for you as well.  Point! 
Sammy Martin
Phish and The Dead
All Photos: Michael Stein

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