Phish: Getting It Clearly Through Alternative Paths (Relix Revisited)
With the second leg of Phish tour set to kick off tomorrow, we revisit this Relix feature from June 1992.
Relix, June 1992
This spring marks one of the most extensive tours in Phish’s history. With the February release of Picture of Nectar, on Elektra Records, this four-piece band from Vermont is receiving more attention than they’ve been accustomed to in nearly a decade of playing together. And they’re ready for it. Their steady ascent through the ranks of the music business has prepared them for the consequences of their highly original and provocative music.
In 1984, at Goddard College in Vermont, the band had “only two fans, Amy and Brian,” according to Trey Anastasio—guitarist, vocalist and composer of much of the band’s material. By New Year’s Eve 1991, Phish was celebrating their success, which included a recently signed long-term contract with Elektra, with a sold-out show at the 3,800 seat New Auditorium in Worcester, Mass.
In an interview conducted the day after the first show of the tour, Trey spoke about the fact that the band has debuted six new songs—written and arranged while the band was “on vacation” after New Year’s. [Ed note 2010: the debuts included “Maze,” “My Friend,” “Mound,” “NICU,” “Sleeping Monkey” and the first performance of the newly recast “Rift.”] Hearing a new Phish song—convoluted chords and rapid-fire lyrics—is a challenging task for the audience as well as the band. “You’ll probably hear three more [new songs] tonight,” Trey said. [Ed note 2010: Indeed! Debuts that night were “The Horse,” “Silent in the Morning”, and Weigh, as well as first covers of Jimmie Dale Gimore’s “My Mind’s Got a Mind of its Own” and Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rosie.”] “We like contrast and change. That’s why we came out with ten new songs after a short vacation. We don’t like to stay settled in one place.”
This restless, creative dynamic of flexible parameters guides the band as much as they guide it. “For me,” Trey said, “it’s been very exciting, musically, the whole time. The feeling of pushing the limits [of the music] is the most exciting feeling you can have—that’s what our goal is. But once you’ve done that, to just recreate that level isn’t going to be as exciting as it was to push to the new level. You’ve got to try to move forward in some different direction. Constant change is what’s exciting.”
With an ever-changing history of ten years already behind them, has Phish evolved in ways similar to what Trey might have expected?
“It’s totally unpredictable,” Trey said. “We do have short-term goals that have nothing to do with Phish. When we’re home on vacation I work on my playing, chord comping and blues playing. I work on one area of songwriting and then another. Phish is where all this stuff comes together.”
Invariably, Phish explores and redefines its parameters through performance, sometimes subtly, sometimes like a glowing spaceship. There are times when the experience of Phish seems to be happening of its own accord. Songs seem to be rewritten onstage; an innovation in lighting design has an unforeseen effect on the performance. “In that sense, it comes together,” Trey said. “On the other hand, we work so hard. We practice all the time; our crew is working their butts off when we’re home. Paul Languedoc [sound technician] was working ten hours a day over this whole vacation to get the sound system up to where it is now.”
Beth Hart shares the opening track from her latest album, Bang Bang Boom Boom, live at Relix.
Jamie Lidell sets up in the Relix boiler room and delivers a tune from his 2005 album Multiply
Duane Trucks is happy to announce his new project, King Lincoln. Watch them perform “Coffee” live and acoustic at Relix’s Online-Video Coordinator’s loft in Williamsburg.
Here’s another song from Crystal Bowersox’s new record All That For This, live at Relix.
WYATT share a song in the famed Relix boiler room.
Goodnight, Texas share a song from their latest studio album, A Long Life of Living, live at Relix.
Warren Haynes performs a solo, acoustic version of “Railroad Boy” and explains how he adapted the traditional Celtic song for Gov’t Mule, backstage at the Hangout Music Festival.
Australia’s Alpine recently made their NYC debut at the Relix office with this song from their new album A is for Alpine.
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.
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