Rocky Mountain High: The Untold Story of Phish’s Archival Release, Colorado ’88 (Relix Revisited)
Like any young band, Phish was still working out its kinks and used the empty Roma to try out some of its most complicated material: the big band opus “Flat Fee,” the King Crimson-inspired “Dave’s Energy Guide” (which was stuffed into Talking Heads’ “Cities”) and the future setlist staple “Split Open and Melt.”
“What marked our existence at that point was that Trey was writing stuff that none of us could play,” Fishman says bluntly. “His conceptual ideas were way ahead of our actual skills and, as time went on, that gap closed. I don’t think you can ever say we were playing below what we are capable of, but towards the end, we just tried to cook a simple meal.
“Our weakness at the time was our inability to play something simply and gracefully,” Fishman continues. “We worked our whole career to improve that, the best example being [1993’s] ‘Axilla.’ Trey came to me with the drum part and I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ The idea was to get over this mental masturbation and really play these simple songs with feeling.”
After playing to an empty room for three nights, Lynch and others convinced the group to try their luck elsewhere. “They said, ‘If you guys go across the street to the Fly Me to the Moon Saloon, everyone will see you’,” McConnell relates, referencing the cover of Colorado ’88. “So, we carried our gear directly across the street and the shows were packed.” Fishman continues: “They ran out of liquor and beer both nights and then we picked up our instruments and went back to playing to ten people at The Roma. That’s how bad the strike was.”
Perhaps Fishman’s most infamous Colorado memory isn’t what he played, but why he didn’t play. “It was the only time a member of Phish failed to make a gig,” the drummer says. “I went to Ajax Mountain with my friends and we tried to come down an alternate route and ended up running into about one thousand feet of sheer cliff. The only way to get out was to go back up the mountain and down the way we came. By the time I got to the gig I had already missed two sets.”
In Fishman’s absence Anastasio sat behind the kit and the group offered a “jazz odyssey” based around Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage.” While the results were at times less than stellar, the group overcame its follies through humor. “I came waltzing in with a handful of flowers and a head full of acid and Trey told this story about me while I played high as a kite,” Fishman laughs, before pausing to look at the unopened copy of Colorado ’88 resting on his shelf. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard a recording where I was on acid before.”
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