Why Does A Vegan Love Phish?

24 07 2013

(I’m not totally a vegan – I’ll eat free pastries and wedding cake, in moderation.)

Rising Senior Summer in Boulder is swimming splendidly: I’m working customer service for my hypnotherapist neighbor and setting my own hours at decent pay, jumping in the creek at 17th street and swimming round the eddies (it’s no ocean, but satisfies my freshwater fix and cools the day off right well), meditating, practicing ta’i chi, hiking, biking, poetry writing and reading and seeing and music playing with acoustic strung electric drum noise too, reading about embodied spirituality (especially dug Spacious Body), and sharing the personal social and the social personal with great and exciting friends and strangers. Sometimes, it’s talking with some one I don’t know that can brighten my day more than anything else.

I’m also following the news closer than I do the rest of the year. My #1 News Source: www.phish.net. Every show this band plays, every song, transition, song, rain delay, stage-crowd banter, set 1, set 2, encore, and incessant phan reviews, I am following with rapt attention, anticipation, excitement, and joy. And as I am packing a backpack to take with me as I ride with two phriendly craigslisters 18 hours away to see two Phish shows at the Gorge in Washington, there’s one curious statement that punctuates my near addictive obsession with a pause and a question: They’re just a phucking band.

I write this to help you and me understand conceptually what I know bodily and emotionally: I love Phish. I love dancing at their incredibly high energy shows and laughing at their absurd antics, everything from the intentionally bizarre timing of some songs’ composed sections to covering the entire floor of Madison Square Garden with grass last New Year’s Eve to stage a “Runaway Golf Cart Marathon” and play golf-related songs after midnight, i.e. Fly Like An Eagle, Iron Man, DriverSand, etc. Their lyrics are bizarre, and while not as timeless as Bob Dylan’s or Robert Hunter’s lyrics for The Grateful Dead, Phish’s uniqueness is what keeps me interested and in adoration.

Individually, all 4 members of the band are phenomenal musicians. Collectively, they play together like The Borg but with feeling. They listen to each other, know each other, support, challenge, and intensify one another’s playing. It’s truly an honor and a delight to see 4 individuals so completely in tune with each other that they can all enter into 20 minute improvisations and sound so fluid, coherent, intentional and effective. To me, every moment of a Phish show sounds complete, and when those moments are strung together in a way never done before (as every show and setlist is different), the effect reaches much furthur than one great musical moment – it reaches into the realms of relationship, where time and exploration combine in a field of intimate empathy and trust. Listening to and seeing Phish, I witness Musical Love take place. Feeling the band’s rhythm, chords, notes, pedal effects (and the light show by Chris Kuroda, the unofficial 5th member of the band), I feel that Love myself.

There are many bands that inspire similar feelings in their fans. I connect to Phish’s style, cool and hot, their happy, catchy, quirky, melodic, and ridiculously fun songs, the breadth of their abilities and genres of music played. It’s worth noting that Phish plays a lot of major chords. Their entire attitude exudes joy (the name of their last studio album). What I love and have learned the most from this band, though, is that when they are jamming, if a jam gets funky, they play funky; if it gets dark, they play dark; if it gets heavy, they play heavy; if it gets happy, they play happy; and if it gets awkward, they play awkward. Whatever arises as they play, they play with it, and they keep smiling all the while. The first rule of improvisation is “Never say ‘No’,” and Phish’s playing lives this rule, and it is beautiful to witness: complete acceptance of the music they make. And when I accept them, I accept what seems to be an infinite expanse of possibility. And that’s heavenly elating.

I think one reason I love meeting strangers is the excitement of the new blending of energies. Phish has been playing some of the same songs for 30 years, and even now, their playing is fresh, ever-new, with beginner’s minds, with curiosity and expertise at the same time. Every show, the newness of every moment is as apparent as a child’s awe at the world. To remember the newness, to live in the newness, with all the potential we’ve ever dreamed the world might have: this is why I follow Phish.

Phish’s playfulness, in all senses of the word, is one of their strongest aspects to me. To illustrate this, here is a video from last summer’s tour of Trey playing his guitar with a lightsaber someone in the audience gave him. Background – earlier in the show, Trey asked drummer Jon Fishman (“Fish”) to tuck in the muumuu he wears every show; Fishman complied. After changing lyrics throughout the show (from “Run like an antelope out of control” to “Tuck in your dress man, you’re out of control!”, and from “Split open and melt” to “Split open and tuck”), the band invited anyone else wearing a muumuu to come on stage if they would also tuck while Fishman sang the tune “Lenghtwise.” As can be seen, the band did not think the audience’s tucking was adequate. After (and through) this spontaneous, utter childlike silliness, Phish played their song Maze. Let yourself enjoy why not.

You might also be interested in these articles: A brief interview with a former Onion writer about his conversion to the bliss of Phish, and a slightly aggressive explanation of why Phish deserves their alternative phame.

If you’ve never really listened to Phish, here’s one version of the first Phish song I remember singing without listening to at the same time, a song I love even more today. This song has some of everything – fun composed parts, reggae, happy, dark and scary (just for a little), patient and shredding jamming, and a blissful ending you can feel good about.

I hope you enjoy whatever you enjoy 🙂

I also hope it includes some art 😉




2 responses

12 08 2013

Addendum: I’ve figured out another very obvious reason why I like Phish more than any other jam band – they are the weirdest. And that weirdness gives them more freedom than any conventional, acceptable… anything!

1 10 2013

Here’s an amazing collection of videos. They’re posted for Trey’s birthday, but they’re all whole band efforts (or non-efforts): http://www.jambase.com/articles/119537/happy-49th-birthday-trey-anastasio-big-red-on-fire

And also, you can just search Phish on Youtube and watch whatever comes up. Every song and every show is different. You might connect with some more than others.

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