This post is a response to Analyze Phish, a podcast in which Harris Wittles tries to convince his friend Scott Aukerman that Phish is a great band, which they are. Scott proves to be a hard man to persuade, and the podcast stretches hilarious on through 3 or 4 years. But was Scott really hard to persuade? Or was Harris just not doing it right? The show opened the door for Phish heads around the world to ask themselves the question: “If I was the host, what songs would I pick? What information would I provide?” So here is my own version of that. I’m not feeling very confident that I could convert you to the Phish fold, but at the very least, I’ll have a chance to write about a band that has always been like a close friend, and the reasons why I love them.
Phish is a live band. While they’ve released tons of studio material, they are at their best experienced raw and live. And no, you do not need to be stoned to enjoy them! So here is a live track from 1993, when they first started gaining popularity.
The early 1990’s is a great place to start with Phish. I chose “Rift” as my first song because it demonstrates all the aspects I love about them. Phish’s vocals, which Aukerman frequently rails on, are best when shared by the entire band. This song is sung by Page McConnell, the keyboardist, and Trey Anastasio, the guitarist. The whole band chimes in occasionally with harmonies. The song also features a nice mix of tight composition and loose improvisation. The musical break in the middle starts with a composed, energetic guitar solo, followed by an improvised piano solo ( Paige’s playing is amazing ), and finishes off with a blazing fast guitar riff!
In this tune, the improvisation starts the groove, and the song segues into a great instrumental melody. It’s “The Landlady” from 1991.
And of course you’ll need a signature, long-form jam. Here is a perky “Split Open and Melt” from 1993.
I’d be remiss if I did not include a song featuring The Giant Country Horns, a frequent collaborator during this era. Here they are with “Gumbo” in 1991.
Phish also has a deep love for bluegrass and American roots music. Here is a ripping fast “Uncle Penn” from 1994, originally written by Bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe.
And finally, a Bluegrass version of the prog-rock “Foreplay/Longtime” originated by Boston. I love the crowd’s energy once they realize what they are hearing!
I hoped you enjoyed Phish from the early 1990’s. I tried to pick tunes that best represented this era, when the band was first starting to emerge as musically relevant. In the next article we’ll look at the late 1990’s when the band hit super stardom.
And to be honest, to fully appreciate Phish, you should listen to one of their concerts in its entirety. Here are a few choice shows on Spotify: