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Phish is an American rock and roll band noted for their musical improvisation, extended jams, blending of musical genres, and dedicated fan base. Formed at the University of Vermont in 1983 (with the current line-up solidifying in 1985), the band's four members--Trey Anastasio (guitars, lead vocals), Mike Gordon (bass, vocals), Jon Fishman (drums, percussion, vacuum, vocals), and Page McConnell (keyboards, vocals)--performed together for nearly 20 years before going on hiatus in August 2004. They reunited in March 2009 for a series of three consecutive concerts played in the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia, and have since resumed performing regularly.
Phish's music blends elements of a wide variety of genres, including including funk, progressive rock, psychedelic rock, folk, country, jazz, blues, bluegrass and pop. Although the band has received little radio play or mainstream exposure, Phish has developed a large and dedicated following by word of mouth, the exchange of live recordings, and selling over 8 million albums and DVDs in the United States.Rolling Stone stated that the band helped to "...spawn a new wave of bands oriented around group improvisation and super-extended grooves". They remain a very popular and successful touring act.
Formation and The White Tape: 1983-1986:
Phish was formed at the University of Vermont in 1983 by guitarists Trey Anastasio and Jeff Holdsworth, bassist Mike Gordon and drummer Jon Fishman. For their first gig, at Harris-Millis Cafeteria at the University of Vermont on Dec. 2, 1983, the band was billed as "Blackwood Convention". ("Blackwood convention" is a term from the card game contract bridge.) The band was joined by percussionist Marc Daubert in the fall of 1984, a time during which they promoted themselves as playing Grateful Dead songs. Daubert left the band early in 1985, and Page McConnell then joined the group on keyboards and made his debut on May 3, 1985, at a show at Wilks/Davis/Wing Dormitory on Redstone Campus at the University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont. Holdsworth left the group after graduating in 1986, solidifying the band's lineup of "Trey, Page, Mike, and Fish"--the lineup to this day.
Following a prank at UVM with his friend and former bandmate Steve Pollak--also known as "The Dude of Life"--Anastasio decided to leave the college. With the encouragement of McConnell (who received $50 for each transferee), Anastasio and Fishman relocated in mid-1986 to Goddard College, a small school in the hills of Plainfield, Vermont. Phish distributed at least six different experimental self-titled cassettes during this era, including The White Tape. This first studio recording was circulated in two variations: the first, mixed in a dorm room as late as 1985, received a higher distribution than the second studio remix of the original four tracks, circa 1987. The older version officially released under the title 'Phish' in August 1998.
The band's identity with its "hometown" of Burlington, Vermont, is evident in their actions. By 1985, the group had encountered Burlington, Vermont, luthier Paul Languedoc, who would eventually design four guitars for Anastasio and two basses for Gordon. In October 1986, he began working as their sound engineer. Since then, Languedoc has built exclusively for the two, and his designs and traditional wood choices have given Phish a unique instrumental identity. Also during the late 1980s, Phish played regularly at Nectar's restaurant and bar in Burlington. In 1992 the album "A Picture of Nectar", named as a tribute to the owner, featured a large orange with Nectar's photo superimposed subtly within the orange.
The Man Who Stepped into Yesterday and Junta: 1987-1989:
As his senior project, Anastasio penned The Man Who Stepped into Yesterday, a nine-song concept album that would become Phish's second studio experiment. Recorded between 1987 and 1988, it was submitted in July of that year, accompanied by a written thesis. Elements of the story--known as Gamehendge--grew to include an additional eight songs. The band performed the suite in concert on five different occasions: in 1988, 1991, 1993, and twice in 1994 without replicating the song list.
Beginning in the spring of 1988, members of the band began practicing in earnest, sometimes locking themselves in a room and jamming for hours on end. One such jam took place at Anastasio's apartment, with a second at Paul Languedoc's house in August 1989. They called these jam sessions "Oh Kee Pa Ceremonies", saying the name was chosen by Anastasio after seeing the films A Man Called Horse and Modern Primitives, which depict fictional and misappropriated versions of a Mandan Indian ceremony. The product of one of these jam sessions was included in the band's first mass-released recording, a double album called Junta, later that year.
On January 26, 1989, Phish played the Paradise Rock Club in Boston. The owners of the club had never heard of Phish and refused to book them, so the band rented the club for the night. The show sold out due to the caravan of fans that had traveled to see the band.
Lawn Boy and A Picture of Nectar: 1990-1992:
By late 1990, Phish's concerts were becoming more and more intricate, often making a consistent effort to involve the audience in the performance. In a special "secret language", the audience would react in a certain manner based on a particular musical cue from the band. For instance, if Anastasio "teased" a motif from The Simpsons theme song, the audience would yell, "D'oh!" in imitation of Homer Simpson (help·info). In 1992, Phish introduced a collaboration between audience and band called the "Big Ball Jam" in which each band member would throw a large beach ball into the audience and play a note each time his ball was hit. In so doing, the audience was helping to create an original composition.
In an experiment known as "The Rotation Jam", each member would switch instruments with the musician on his left. On occasion, a performance of "You Enjoy Myself" involved Gordon and Anastasio performing synchronized maneuvers, jumping on mini-trampolines while simultaneously playing their instruments.
Phish, along with Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, and The Beatles, was one of the first bands to have a Usenet newsgroup, rec.music.phish, which launched in 1991. Aware of the band's growing popularity, Elektra Records signed them that year. The following year A Picture of Nectar was complete: their first major studio release, enjoying far more extensive production than either 1988's Junta or 1990's Lawn Boy. These albums were eventually re-released on Elektra, as well.
The first annual H.O.R.D.E. festival in 1992 provided Phish with their first national tour of major amphitheaters. The lineup, among others, included Phish, Blues Traveler, The Spin Doctors, and Widespread Panic. That summer, the band toured Europe with the Violent Femmes and later toured Europe and the U.S. with Carlos Santana.
Rift, Hoist and Billy Breathes: 1993-1996:
Phish began headlining major amphitheaters in the summer of 1993. That year, the group released Rift packaged as a concept album and with heavy promotion from Elektra including artwork by David Welker. In 1994, the band released Hoist. To promote the album, the band made their only video for MTV, "Down With Disease", airing in June of that year. Foreshadowing their future tradition of festivals, Phish coupled camping with their Summer tour finale at Sugarbush North in Warren, Vermont in July 1994, that show eventually being released as Live Phish Volume 2. On Halloween of that year, the group promised to don a fan-selected "musical costume" by playing an entire album from another band. After an extensive mail-based poll, Phish performed The Beatles' The White Album--as the second of their three sets at the Glens Falls Civic Center in upstate New York. For their 1994 New Years Run, Phish played the Civic Centers in Philadelphia and Providence as well as sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden and Boston Garden, which were their debuts at each venue. Following the death of Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia in the summer of 1995 and the appearance of "Down With Disease" on Beavis and Butthead, the band experienced a surge in the growth of their fan base and an increased awareness in popular culture.
In their tradition of playing a well-known album by another band for Halloween, Phish contracted a full horn section for their performance of The Who's Quadrophenia in 1995. Their first live album--A Live One--which was released during the summer of 1995, became Phish's first RIAA certified gold album in November 1995.
Phish retreated to their Vermont recording studio and recorded hours and hours of improvisations, sometimes overlaying them on one another, and included some of the result on the second half of Billy Breathes, which they released in the fall of 1996. Alongside traditional rock-based crescendos, the album has more acoustic guitar than their previous records, and was regarded by the band and some fans as their crowning studio achievement. The album's first single, "Free", peaked at No. 24 on the Billboard Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart and No. 11 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks chart, becoming the band's most successful chart single of their career.
Story of the Ghost and Farmhouse: 1997-2000:
By 1997, their improvisational ventures were developing into a new funk-inspired jamming style. Vermont-based ice cream conglomerate Ben & Jerry's launched "Phish Food" that year and proceeds from the flavor are donated to the Lake Champlain Initiative. Part of Phish's new non-profit foundation, The WaterWheel Foundation was also composed of two other now-defunct branches: The Touring Branch and the Vermont Giving Program.
To celebrate the new millennium, Phish hosted a 2-day outdoor festival at the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation, in Big Cypress, FL. The highlight of this festival began when Phish took the stage at 11:35 p.m. on December 31, 1999, and continued to play until sunrise on January 1, 2000, approximately 8 hours later. This concert has been referred to as a peak musical experience by the band.
2000 saw no Halloween show, no summer festival and no new full-band compositions: May's Farmhouse contained material dating from 1997 and original material from Anastasio's 1999 solo acoustic/electric club tour. That summer, the band announced that they would take their first "extended time-out" following their upcoming fall tour. During the tour's last concert on October 7, 2000, at the Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View, California, they played a regular show and left without saying a word as The Beatles' "Let It Be" played over the sound system.
Round Room, Undermind and break-up: 2001-2004:
Over two years after the hiatus began, Phish announced that they were getting back on the road with a New Year's Eve 2002 concert at Madison Square Garden. They also recorded Round Room in only three days. In their return concert, McConnell's brother was introduced as actor Tom Hanks. The impostor sang a line of the song "Wilson", prompting several media outlets to report that the actor had "jammed with Phish".
At the end of the 2003 summer tour, Phish held their first summer festival in four years, returning to Limestone for It. The festival drew crowds of over 60,000 fans, once again making Limestone one of the largest cities in Maine for a weekend. In November - December, the band celebrated its 20th anniversary with a four-show mini-tour of shows in New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.
In order to avoid the exhaustion and pitfalls of previous years' high-paced touring, Phish played sporadically after the reunion, with tours lasting about two weeks. After an April 2004 run of shows in Las Vegas, Anastasio announced on the band's website that the band was breaking up after a small summer tour.
Their final album (at the time), Undermind, was released in late spring. In the summer of 2004, the band jammed with rapper Jay-Z at one show, shot a video called "Live in Brooklyn" for broadcast in movie theaters, and performed a seven-song set atop the marquee of the Ed Sullivan Theater during the Late Show with David Letterman to fans who had gathered on the street, a move reminiscent of The Beatles' final performance on the rooftop of the Apple building in London.
Their final show of 2004--Coventry--was named for the town in Vermont that hosted the event. 100,000 people were expected to attend. After a week of rain that prompted fears of a sinking stage, Gordon announced on local radio that no more cars would be allowed in, though only about 20,000 people had arrived. Many concert-goers parked their vehicles on roadsides and hiked to the site; an estimated 65,000 attended the emotional finale.
Reemergence, Joy and Fuego: 2008-2014:
Phish received the Jammys Lifetime Achievement Award on May 7, 2008 in The Theater at Madison Square Garden. After performing three songs together at the September 2008 wedding of their former tour-road manager, Phish announced that they would perform three reunion shows on March 6, 7, and 8, 2009, at the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia. Following the reunion weekend, the band played thirteen shows of a summer tour, including an inaugural concert at Fenway Park and headlining Bonnaroo 2009 in June with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Beastie Boys, and Nine Inch Nails. During their first set of the second day, Phish was joined by Springsteen on guitar for "Mustang Sally", "Bobby Jean", and "Glory Days". Twelve additional dates in July and August were announced as a Late Summer Tour, including four nights at Red Rocks, two nights at The Gorge, a stop in Chicago, and several nights in the Northeast.
Phish's fourteenth studio album, Joy, produced by Steve Lillywhite, was released September 8, 2009. A single from the album, "Time Turns Elastic", was released on iTunes in late May. The band announced a "save-the-date" for a three-day festival on October 30 & 31 and November 1. Phish.com contained an animated map of the United States, and individual states were slowly removed from the map, leaving California. Confirming several rumors, the band announced that Festival 8 would take place in Indio, California. Footage from Festival 8 was released in April 2010 as a 3D movie titled "Phish 3D". In the late spring and summer of 2010, the band completed a two-legged, 29-show tour. The August Alpine Valley shows have been released as a DVD and CD. Phish made their Hollywood Bowl debut and headlined the Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in August. They played a show in Essex Junction, Vermont on September 14, and the more than $1.2 million in proceeds were donated to Vermont flood victim relief in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.
In June 2012, Phish headlined Bonnaroo 2012 with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Radiohead. Phish also performed for the first time ever a show in Oklahoma at the Zoo Amphitheater in August. For the fourth consecutive year, Phish has performed a set of sold-out New Year's shows at New York City's Madison Square Garden, which culminated with a three-set show to ring in 2013. Phish went back on tour in the summer of 2013 to celebrate their 30th-year anniversary which graced fan favorite venues such as Saratoga Performing Arts Center, PNC Bank Arts Center, Gorge Amphitheater Merriweather Post while also stopping at new destinations such as Darling's Waterfront Pavilion and FirstMerit Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island. The band also announced a fall tour for the first time since 2010, including stops at Hampton Coliseum. The band recently completed a new album known as "Fuego." Phish debuted 12 potential tracks from their 2014 album, which was introduced as "Wingsuit," the working title of the album, during the second of three sets on October 31, 2013.
Big Eyed Phish (Dave Mathews Tribute)