I mean, I do. You don’t go to Plattsburgh and the Went and spend one New Year’s under a giant udder ball at MSG and another with a choir singing “Bohemian Rhapsody” in Boston without being intrigued by recent happenings. Trey’s gone through a rough patch, but after appearing with Jon, Mike, and Page to accept a lifetime achievement Jammy Award, the rumor mill’s gone frothy. Trey’s on the record saying he’d “give his left nut to play ’You Enjoy Myself’ five times in a row everyday” and boy, man, let’s keep the nutsacks out of this. But let’s pull the other guys in.

Page recently said to phish.com that a reunion is something he “thinks about a lot” and “considers seriously” and that he’s “closer with them now than I’ve ever been,” and that they plan to meet and talk shop later this year. And now Mike’s telling Rolling Stone they’ve all had some dinners, and even started talks with Steve Lillywhite, who did great work on Billy Breathes. Fishman hasn’t weigh in yet, he’s probably too busy up in Burlington hitting on young girls.

Yeah the shows weren’t known for their focus, and our collective ADHD may intrude on the band’s appeal, but I’m sure a reunion would go over well. I was mulling this reunion post as I tried to wake up this morning, because I always wake up in sleep-state brain activity about the day’s posts (not true), and somehow it occurred to me that Phish’s discographic trajectory parallels, uh, Metallica’s. And even though I’m totally awake now and realize the analogy fails on multiple levels, it’s fun so I’m going to spit it out now…

 

Phish’s first widespread album release was Junta in 1989; Metallica’s was Kill ’Em All six years before that. Both records introduced the bands as great jerk-off material for guitar nerds (guilty) while also introducing some of the bands’ hallmark characteristics: for Metallica it was a shredding Hammett, endless riffs, an eschewing of mainstream-rock song structures, and juvenile lyrics about death; for Phish it was a shredding Anastasio, endless arpeggios, an eschewing mainstream-rock song structures, and juvenile lyrics about nonsense. I just blew your mind. Let me do it some more: for such guitar centric bands, it’s worth noting that both lost founding members who were also guitarists (see: Dave Mustaine, Jeff Holdsworth).

Next both bands entered their “classic period,” wherein those basic building blocks were stretched and stewed to a boil. Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets saw Metallica take their love of deep, classically minded arrangements and push them to places faster and more conceptual; Rift is Phish’s big concept piece (aside from the Gamehendge fable), about a relationship mid-rift. Things get plenty stretched, here, and both bands’ clear virtuoso abilities breed obsessive fans who grow their hair long and don’t shower enough.

Next: the mainstream acceptance phase. …And Justice For All birthed “One,” and with the kiss of MTV for its video, on their fourth album Metallica finally had its taste of crossover success (while, admittedly, still mostly on their own terms as …And Justice For All will still scare the shit out of your mom). For Phish it was the fifth LP, Hoist, that brought some MTV play with “Down With Disease” (also FM liked the Alison Krauss-guesting “If If Could” and sometimes also “Julius”).

These brushes with larger exposure tasted good after all those years, and for the follow-up records, the studio is a changed place. Metallica wants a bigger release, so they go to a go-to commercial hard rock guy, Bob Rock (he of Mötley Crüe’s Dr. Feelgood, among many others). Phish wants similar things, so they go to a go-to FM rock guy, Steve Lillywhite (he of Dave Matthews Band’s Under The Table And Dreaming, among many others). The world greets Metallica and Billy Breathes, and the world greets very radio friendly song structures from Metallica and Phish.

In certain senses, both are highwater marks for the bands. Metallica explodes, releasing a cavalcade of MTV and radio dominating hard rock singles, whatever you think of the art (I don’t think much of it). Phish does not explode, but they certainly release their finest studio effort (Junta being their finest writing), Lillywhite bringing the right tones to the band’s time in the barn, reining in the endless jam in just the right ways. (“Billy Breathes” is a great example.) Although in different ways, it’s fair to say neither band has so effectively utilized the studio before.

Next stage: nosedive.

Farmhouse is really just an afterthought to Phish’s discog, a batch of songs that had seen time at various shows set to tape to justify one more trek to feed Phish’s bloated tour machine. None of the songs show the Zappa-worshipping prog elements that made the band’s most ambitious stuff so gripping to obsessive fans; instead, like much of Hoist and even Billy Breathes, we’re talking verse-chorus-verse-bridge songs, with sections for interminable improv jams that really just offer Trey licks and little band dynamics. For Metallica, it was Load and St. Anger and I think the less said about those the better.

So here we are in 2008. I just transcribed my morning’s dream into Stereogum, Metallica is getting ready to release Death Magnetic, and Phish is talking about doing another record with Steve Lillywhite. There’s little to know about the direction Phish will take things in the studio, but Metallica’s made it abundantly clear — they are going back to the “classic period.” Obviously I’ve taken some contextual liberties here in the name of discussion and framing, but maybe, just maybe, Phish will keep mirroring Metallica for one more stop. Go back to the extended passages, back to Junta and A Picture Of Nectar, and Rift … back to the “classic period.” People will come watch it either way. Just don’t expect many VWs to tour with you (see: $4 a gallon). As for the whole metalhead/hippie intersect? Obviously I’m crazy. Crazy like a Bonnaroo.

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Comments (57)
  1. Brad  |   Posted on Jun 27th, 2008 0

    Nope.

  2. dude  |   Posted on Jun 27th, 2008 0

    time to break out those hash brownies i put in the freezer back in 2000.

  3. upstate vegan  |   Posted on Jun 27th, 2008 0

    Actually that parallel is quite accurate. Great job!

    “I saw you, with a ticket stub in your hand” or is it “I saw you, with a chicken sub in your hand”?

  4. upstate vegan  |   Posted on Jun 27th, 2008 0

    Nice parallel, makes total sense. I met Mike Gordon at a festival a couple of years ago and was kind of douche. Just sayin.

    ” I saw you, with a ticket stub in your hand”

  5. The Spilken8r  |   Posted on Jun 27th, 2008 0

    If Phish’s discography was somehow magically turned on its head and they magically had started with Undermine and ended with Junta, they would go down as the greatest rock band ever. Just sayin’.

    • Sammy  |   Posted on Jun 30th, 2008 0

      I have said this many times before… such a good point.

      I was about as big a Phish fan as someone could be, starting listening to them heavily back in the early nineties. I have been to about 45 shows. I am NOT a hippy, and I never was a hippy. I always thought hippies were annoying, and didn’t really listen to the music. They were always just looking for drugs and burritos.

      I bought FarmHouse, thought it was okay pop, listened to it a few times and then tossed it aside forever, never even bothered with anything after that. Trey was always my least favorite one, I thought Page was the best. That move about them, Bittersweet Hotel only confirmed that notion.

      Not so sure anything good would come from a reunion, maybe some good shows, but musically they are probably exhausted. I don’t really want anymore semi-country, alt rock.

    • while the spilken8r’s comment is way funny, it also makes me contemplate the impossible.

      i mean, how many artists have been able to consistently progress and evolve for a period of say, 15 or 20 or 30 years? i can think of a few: paul simon (with a minor setback in the early 80′s), david byrne (pretty flawless record), david bowie, i’m sure there are others. who else?

      here’s the kicker: these aren’t bands! they are artists, songwriters, solo musicians, frontmen. one of the reasons these guys have been able to consistently push themselves and the envelope (and to be successful commerically and critically taboot) may well lie in the absence of other (permanent) band members. being able to rotate musicians, replace session players, or just fire that annoying bassist is the saving grace of a solo artist.

      take away those three or four guys/gals who you’re basically stuck in a room with for 20 years and the chances for longevity and succes increase exponentially.

  6. Derek  |   Posted on Jun 27th, 2008 0

    I am so excited for Phish to come back, Metallica’s new album, not so much.

    Phish is one of my very favorite bands, yet I never got to see them (just a couple years too young)…

  7. Mr. F  |   Posted on Jun 27th, 2008 0

    Absolutely. Not. At all.

    My concern for all things dirty hippies is less than nil.

  8. About time you guys gave Phish some love! They has paved the way for today’s jam and experimental music, as well as today’s festival circuit. All of you tight-panted hipsters need to do your homework!

  9. Brian  |   Posted on Jun 27th, 2008 0

    Phish is easily one of the most overrated bands EVER. I could care less that they are coming back.

    • “I could care less”, sounds like it might be more appropriate to say “I couldn’t care less”.

      Me personally, I’m stoked. Can’t wait.

  10. Phish > 98% of bands discussed on this website. Are those bands good, sometimes great? Yep. But is Phish one of the greatest bands of the past few decades? Yep. Keep an open mind people. Give them a few listens and you’ll find a lot to love.

  11. The difference between Metallica and Phish is that Metallica’s 80′s albums are classics, while (before reading this post) I couldn’t even name a Phish album if there was money on it. But then again i’m Australian and Phish have sold a total of about 7 albums over here.

  12. While I would love to see a Phish comeback, I fear for the worst. They came back from the hiatus playing like shit (only a handful of shows from those 2-3 years really stand out). Trey went his solo way and wrote shit. I fear he’s writing more pop these days and nothing really worthwhile. I’m looking to Page and Mike for leadership. The 2 of them kind of kept quiet and to themselves while part of Phish, yet they’re the ones making the best music right now. I would love to see the band play their songs rather than a whole slew of Trey songs.

    I don’t need more Junta, Nectar, or Rift. I want something completely new from the band. The younger generation who grew up listening to their older brothers listen to Phish may want YEM at every show, but those of us who grew up listening to Phish want something more from the band. I can tell you this… if Phish comes back playing the same stuff they were playing pre- and post-hiatus, they won’t go anywhere and will certainly not be worth the $60 ticket prices I’m sure they’ll be charging. The reason the hiatus didn’t help the band is that they went back to their old ways. They can NOT do that again or else they’ll play for a couple years and we’ll be right back where we were in summer 2004.

    The band has the talent and ability to come back as something different, while remaining familiar to all of us. YEM and the old Phish tunes should be the occasional treat, not the norm.

    And @Eggs… Phish may have brought jambands to the forefront in the ’90s, but they most certainly did not pave the way for jambands and festivals. The bands of the late ’60s and early ’70s (most notably, the Grateful Dead) were the ones to do that.

  13. “Phish heads, phish heads. Silly silly Phish heads” Remember that song? Pre-2000, Yes. Post 2000, poop. That’s all I have to say.

  14. i don’t know why everybody’s frontin’
    listen to any live version of chalkdust torture and it will change your life

  15. Phish is an incredible music experience live. I was a relatively early fan circa 1991 when I had the pleasure of seeing the band blow the roof off 1st Av in Minneapolis. I followed the band on and off throughout the rest off their run seeing around 85 shows. I tried to never miss the festivals they put on (nobody does it better). These guys just communicate so effortlessly on stage, the light show and the crowd (some insufferable wooks and most just people into a pretty diverse range of music). What I expect to see in this comment section is a lot of – who cares and they suck. I have no problem with that. The smaller Phish can stay, the better. When you say, “I hate Phish.” that means you won’t be buying the seats I want when they get back together. I will just say you are missing out on an excellent experience. I keep coming back for more because every show is different and every show has the potential of becoming an instant classic. If and when the guys come back try catching them, if you are open and are into having a good time you will love it. The people watching alone is worth the price of admission. If you are still unsure check out Junta or to get a taste of the live set – phishows.com has loads of great sounding bootlegs.

    Jerry Garcia once said Deadheads are kinda like people who like black licorice. Not everybody likes black licorice, but people who like black licorice, *really* like black licorice!”

  16. mark  |   Posted on Jun 28th, 2008 0

    i’m just thrilled that trey seems to be happy and healthy again.

    i love phish. they are a total original…funny/fun, challenging/ridiculous, and at times, wonderfully transcendent and completely life-affirming.

    and even if you don’t like the music, you’d have to respect the band’s dedication. events like the went and lemonwheel and big cypress were a big inspiration for the bonnaroos of today. phish went to amazing lengths to entertain their fans, i’m not sure any other band can really compare. so to paraphrase kanye, say what you want about phish BUT DON’T SAY THEY DIDN’T GIVE THEIR ALL!!!!! hahaha

    (fuck kanye)

  17. barry  |   Posted on Jun 28th, 2008 0

    Isn’t it supposed to happen in Michigan? They’re all booked at the same festival or something. If it happens, it will probably just be the one time deal. I would go see them again, no doubt, but my days of touring are over. Not just gas prices, not just being old, but it became less and less worth it. I’ll catch the New England show and enjoy the hell out of it. Just no post-hiatus songs. Yich

  18. This is one of the best pieces I’ve read on this blog as of late. I am a disgruntled former fan of both bands and would love to see a return to the classic period (not holding out hope). I got into Metallica somewhere around 8th grade, and then somewhere around 10th grade when I discovered marijuana Phish made themselves the greatest band on the planet in my dorito-stuffed little brain. Hadn’t really seen the connection until now. Insightful stuff, amigo.

  19. Matt  |   Posted on Jun 28th, 2008 0

    I used to go to Phish shows, and I think it would be fitting for their hiatus to have coincided with the Bush administration. To me Phish music was about dreaming of a better world, but eating mushrooms and listening to Fluffhead just doesn’t feel appropriate when the world is seems to be sliding backwards.

  20. vermonter  |   Posted on Jun 28th, 2008 0

    yikes. as a resident of Burlington VT I’m kind of afraid of what might happen if Phish got back together here. chaos would consume the streets.

    okay band, though.

  21. wilceaux  |   Posted on Jun 28th, 2008 0

    Overrated? By whom?
    I always thought a band had to sell a lot of records and have a lot of hits to be “overrated”. Maybe not.
    If anything, they are underrated.

    • christian  |   Posted on Jun 30th, 2008 0

      A band doesn’t have to sell any records to be overrated. That doesn’t make any sense.

      By whom? By every person on here who is talking about Phish being one of the best bands in decades, or saying they paved the way for festivals.

      To me, Phish is noodly drug-induced bull shit. Just because you are good at an instrument doesn’t make you a good songwriter. Go ahead and have fun at a show, I wont try to stop you, but I will agree that they are overrated.

  22. I awaiting the new metaillica album. it has been along time coming. I not really a big fan of phish, but everyone has a different music taste. http://www.lifeninemusic.com

  23. I awaiting the new Metallica album, but Phish is not one of my favorites. I guess it is personal preference.

  24. GoNY  |   Posted on Jun 28th, 2008 0

    Nonsense. Eggs has it right. Good point by Spilken8r.

    No matter what, though, this is fantastic news.

  25. steve  |   Posted on Jun 28th, 2008 0

    Two of my least favorite bands side by side… I think I just had a shitgasm.

  26. Todd Newstrom  |   Posted on Jun 28th, 2008 0

    hell yeah what a great live show…does anyone remember?

  27. They should come back, their “final” show in VT was pretty much rained out, they stopped allowing people in etc. But is now the right time? Will they headline other festivals or continue to create their own?

  28. amrit, i love it!

    the phish < --> metallica convergence can easily be taken a few steps further by exploring phish’s all too often overlooked metal side. songs like ‘big black furry creature from mars’ were metal-inflected odes to the g(l)ory days of minor threat and bad brains. ‘split open and melt’, easily my favorite tune they do, at least in the early to mid 90′s could be a raging torrent of thrashy chordings and punky chaos. we’re not talking guitar solos people! we’re talking full-on art damage. it’s beautiful stuff, definitely what everyone here is talking about when they’re invoking the communication.

    i’m actually pleasantly surprised to read all the love here on the ‘gum, i had really thought this news would be met with more skepticism/ennui. but then again, i didn’t know the editor-in-chief would come with some serious nerdery (making me look pleasantly casual!). awesome theory!

    i have to dovetail with RunawayJim and Eggs here in saying that no, phish did not pave anyone’s way for audience interaction, sound collage, noise rock or mutant hybridization. but they did do it on a massive scale AND had a blast doing it (at least for a good ten years or so). it’s funny to read about band’s today doing things like audience interaction (akron family passing out toy instruments to the crowd, girl talk’s frenzys) and remembering when phish passed out boxes of mac and cheese for the crowd to collectively shake during ‘possum.’ and who could forget the secret language! nothing in the world made being a D&D dork cooler than cool.

  29. Andy  |   Posted on Jun 29th, 2008 0

    > Phish’s first widespread album release was Junta in 1989…

    “Billy Breathes” is Phish’s first “Widespread” album

  30. Greg  |   Posted on Jun 29th, 2008 0

    Ugh, enough with the Phish bashing. Yeah, they’re totally out of style by now, but 1. they’re by far the best at their type of music; and 2. I’d guess that about 75% of people who listen to indie rock now went through a Phish phase at some point.

  31. andrew  |   Posted on Jun 30th, 2008 0

    No mention of Story of a Ghost?! By far their best album, the songs of which are the backbone of their dark, funky era of 97 – 98.The parallels work when you “accidentally” leave out albums. jk But Story of a Ghost still plays, go back and drop “Ghost” on an unsuspecting friend, they’ll be asking you “what it this, its great” at the end.

  32. Rumor around these parts (MI) is that Phish may reunite @ Rothbury.
    http://www.rothbury.com

  33. Ha– never thought the comment section on this post would be so positive.

    Say what you will about them be overrated/underrated, Phish taught a lot of people (myself included, and obviously amrit and more people on this blog than would admit it publically) how to listen to music.

    Before we were able to talk about Dave Sitek’s production or Fleet Foxes’ harmonies or Dave Longstreth’s voice, we cut our teeth comparing Phish jams and whether Trey’s playing went downhill after ’96 or how Mike’s Modulus purchase changed the entire band’s sound.

    We learned dynamics, tension, interplay– all the tools we use now to argue that Fuck Buttons is actually music.

    Anyways, I wish Phish the best. I’ve moved on musically, but you never forget that first love…

    • a roach, that was so articulate, so humble and totally spot on. i almost fucking cried!

      the very idea of forever moving forward, a pursuit of something that challenges your preconceived notion of what music is/can be, this is something i learned as i grew up with phish playing in the room.

      guess that’s why i lost interest in 2000, things had petered out and it seemed the band was coasting. but it’s hard to lose that reference point, an arm forever pointing backwards as new sounds enter the picture. i’ve always struggled in selling that idea of reference (particularly to my wife).

      hey roach, wanna write a book?

  34. You know whats funny Kevin, we probably went to a lot of the same shows. I grew up in Lancaster, OH– so caught all the Polaris (R.I.P.) gigs pre-hiatus.

    Anyways, thanks Amrit for the great post. I wish there were more of us that would proudly own up to the role Phish played in our musical development.

    • ah polaris, site of a handful of the finer late 90′s early 00′s gigs. to be a tour closer, too! with a two-night stand!

      sneaking into that place (climb a ten-foot fence, drunk on olde english, jump down and grab a girl walking by whispering, “walk with me like everything’s cool” as other jumper gets nabbed by a cop on horseback) was a defining moment in my drunkalog.

      too bad the ‘have mercy’ never materialized, or an auspicious show would’ve become historic.

      roach, my wife is from lancaster! we might know each other: give a holler at the email address.

  35. dannygutters  |   Posted on Jul 1st, 2008 0

    comparing phish to anything by looking at their studio albums is less than half the story at best. When they are on phish is amazing, they had a level of tightness and mastery of technique that’ve never seen with any other band live. And the trey solo projects are super in their own right. People hate on phish because of the crowd, so whatever. At the end of the day, they are just 4 musically talented dudes who know their instruments. When beach house is the highest grosing live act ever then they
    can talk.

  36. john  |   Posted on Jul 1st, 2008 0

    Hipsters < Phish

  37. eric finkelstein  |   Posted on Jul 1st, 2008 0

    Wow. Its fine to see people hating. People have always hated Phish, but dont call them overrated and dont call them unpopular. You are only showing your ignorance, or should I just assume that stereogum’s audience are ignorant indie rockers stuck listening to bands out of omaha and brooklyn. Phish wasnt for everyone, they were experimental, loose, and catered to music lovers who wanted escapism through improvisation. Hate on Phish, you hate on Jazz, Afro-rhythm, the Talking Heads and so many other musical genres that Phish incorporated. I’ll be old, but I’ll see them, wary of a likely letdown.

  38. Johnny Kashola  |   Posted on Jul 2nd, 2008 0

    METALLICA SUCKS.
    THEY SHOULD NEVER BE COMPARED TO PHISH.

  39. scott bauer  |   Posted on Jul 3rd, 2008 0

    “Fishman hasn’t weigh in yet, he’s probably too busy up in Burlington hitting on young girls.”
    Kind of a cheap shot, don’t you think?

  40. Ryan Beanstalk  |   Posted on Jul 3rd, 2008 0

    Everyone is, of course, welcome to like Phish or not, but I must say they are probably the band with the highest percentage of haters who’ve never heard a note of their music.

  41. Let me just say that I loooooove Phish and that I’d probably give up pot for a Phish reunion, although a Phsh reunion and pot go hand in hand.

    Anywho I think it would be really groovy if they got back together for another show so that the youngins like me who adore them bt didn’t get to see them live could finally experience that magic of a Phish concert :) O and those of you who just assume that Phish sucks just because “hippies” listen to them, you should take a listen to all the layers of Phish’s music because every one of their records are different.

    Don’t hate on Phish, they make life better…

  42. who could care!? I went to their first “last” show ever in the “IT Tour”. It was billed as their last time playing (at least for years). But Trey’s oxycotton addiction proved that wrong, the next year they had another “last tour ever”. Half the people couldn’t even get in because of bad planning. Addictions are addicted to money and is this time around any different?

  43. marley manteca  |   Posted on Jul 5th, 2008 0

    hey brah, if you were a real fish fan, you would know that henrietta moved to maine two years ago.

  44. Clark  |   Posted on Jul 7th, 2008 0

    Trey Anastasio, Jon Fishman and Mike Gordon (all members of the jam band Phish with the exception of Page McConnell) performed Chalkdust Torture and a Beatles cover song somewhere in Michigan over the holiday weekend.

  45. Thanks for the post

  46. christie  |   Posted on Aug 29th, 2008 0

    As a ?late bloomer? myself into the realm of Phish, I sympathize with the younger crowd of Phish fans out there that never got the experience of seeing Phish play in person. I was a product of older brothers trying to force me into the Phish phenomenon when I was way too young to appreciate it, and understand what they were trying to do, thus rejected it and went back to my mainstream pop. It wasn?t until several years later (subsequently, a bit too late) that I realized I had missed the boat.
    Now, in my mid-twenties I totally dig Phish and would ?give my left nut? (I?m a chick?but you get the reference, I?m sure) to travel back in time to see them in their heyday. Every night I listen to ?Gone Phishin? (an hour of previous live Phish shows on Sirius Radio?s ?Jam On? station).
    Anyway, the point that I?m trying to make here is, as much as I love Phish, a reunion scares the shit out of me. Albeit, I would not pass up the opportunity to see them, and if and when a reunion tour does materialize, I will be there, skeptical, yet hopeful.

  47. The Dude of Life  |   Posted on Sep 16th, 2008 0

    Hell yeah! SUMMER TOUR 2009?!?
    Its looking more and more like a serious possibility…..

    I gotta agree with Runaway Jim, that if (& when) Phish reunite they need to redefine themselves by playing new songs with that old Phish sound. Lets just hope that Mike Gordon and Page lead the way, musically Trey needs to be contained.

    I wonder what the first song they play will be?? Any thoughts?

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