Phish: Back on The Train Part Two (Relix Revisited)
Last month we presented part one of a conversation with Mike Gordon that took place shortly after Phish performed its reunion shows in March 2009. Here is the second half of that interview which served as our June 2009 cover story.
Following many months of fan anticipation that occasionally bordered on full-fledged mania, Phish finally delivered its first public performance in over four and a half years on March 6. Starting things off with “Fluffhead,” the group manifested a renewed commitment to dig in and deliver the most complex compositions of its early years, while harkening back to that era by revisiting its original stage configuration, bringing out the trampolines and even giving Jon Fishman some quality vacuum time. During the three nights at Hampton Coliseum, the band members also drew on the personal and musical development that they had experienced since Phish’s “Final” shows in August 2004. In so doing, the group delivered extended performances marked by the length of its setlists if not always by the depth of its improvisation. Nonetheless, Phish certainly fulfilled the promise that bassist Mike Gordon explains the band wished to offer its audience: “We wanted to come back and be able to say, ‘We’re really aiming to deliver here. We’re going to give you a lot, we’re not going to skimp.’”
A few weeks after these shows, on an early April morning before resuming work with producer Steve Lillywhite on Phish’s forthcoming studio recording, Gordon took some time to reflect on the series of events that led the group back to the stage. Prompted by photos from the Hampton performances, Gordon offered his own mental snapshots of the three nights. The bassist shared details regarding the return of particular songs to the rotation, while delving into the debuts of others (such as the title track to 2004’s Undermind, which Gordon explains, “I really like, it’s a fun groove—but because we broke up right when we made that album, those songs just didn’t get as much time.”). Gordon also muses on the band members’ changing roles as they enter their 40s, attempting to strike a balance with family, solo careers and the seemingly self-animated entity that is Phish.
Can you take us through that initial rehearsal when the four of you finally performed together again? What was the first song you played?
First, we went through a list of 700 songs we had covered, including little teases, in order to pick what we wanted to play at Hampton, going around in a circle. And we wanted to play long sets, so we put together a list of 75 songs. With Trey thinking and working on setlist ideas, it ended up very different from how we first sketched it. [Ed note: 84 were played over the three days]
But after we sat there for what seemed like hours doing that, we ended up jamming a little bit. We didn’t have our own gear and it was difficult to dial in the sound even just in the practice studio with the four of us. But then we played “Back On The Train” and all of a sudden were all playing in that way where we’re just subconsciously weaving in and out of each others’ lines, leaving holes in the rhythm for the other people to fill. And that was an incredible feeling. I was like, “Ohhh yeah, this band has a real subconscious chemistry and it’s good to be back.”
I had to get used to the dynamic again because with my own band I get to do a lot of the writing and a lot of the decision-making. So going back to the quiet mode I get in with Phish was a little bit of culture shock. But other than that, the chemistry and the relating and jamming was comfortable from the get-go.
We then jumped pretty quickly into some songs that we’re saving for the new album. We didn’t know how many of the new songs we’d play and ended up not really doing many of the really new ones.
Was there any precipitating factor or moment that led to the band’s reunion?
There’s no one moment, but there were landmark moments. A couple of these moments might have been when we had dinners together. Trey’s a good cook and one time he made us a midnight dinner in Vermont. That was the first time we had gotten together since the break up, maybe a year and a half after it. Then we had another dinner, and the dinners felt good and the conversation was like jamming onstage. One night at this little restaurant, Trey was talking about how when we sat there, Fish might have been the talkative one; I was the one who didn’t say much and then had a funny comment every once in a while—everyone had their roles and we were sort of riffing off each other. So maybe that was the moment.
There were a lot of good reasons to try and it was more a question of why weren’t we doing it. We broke up because we needed a break after [playing] since we were 18 years old, and people needed to get healthy. There were other reasons too, having to do with ironing out some business stuff and some personality stuff—although we’ve always gotten along, so it was very subtle. More than anything, it was people’s schedules. I knew that with me, I really needed to do my solo album and put together a band and start touring and really jump-start my solo career, so it can be an ongoing thing. That was really important to me. And there were some people who might have wanted to do it sooner, but I just said, “I can’t.” So it was timing. Timing is everything.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
Dame shares a song from her new EP Preventions of Heartbreak.
Golden Bloom stopped by Relix to perform a tune from their latest EP No Day Like Today.
The Chapin Sisters share an tune from their new album A Date With the Everly Brothers.
Minneapolis-based Night Moves share a song from their record, Colored Emotions, live at Relix.
Cloud Cult share a song from their latest album live at Relix.
The Giving Tree Band enjoy a spring day on the Relix rooftop, while performing a classic Grateful Dead tune.
Canadian singer-songwriter Hayden performs a duet with his sister-in-law Lou Canon. The song appears on Us Alone his first record on Broken Social Scene’s Arts & Crafts Productions.
The Milk Carton Kids share the first song from their new album, The Ash & Clay.
Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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