It's great to be a Phan during the golden age of Phish. There is just a certain power and richness to the music, the band, and the community right now.
Some of us saw the band at frat houses in the '80s, made it to 350 shows between '93 and '98, and/or tasted the cheesecake at Big Cypress. Others among us will be attending our first shows when Trey Anastasio and the band play their New Year's Run in Miami.
Regardless, the golden age referred to above is equally accessible to all. It has everything to do with the way you relate to the legendary days of yore and the glorious Phish of now.
On the one hand, the past is completely irrelevant, because Phish is an improvisational jam band that's always playing in the present. Surrendering to the flow means living note to note and remaining ever-curious, rather than passing judgment. On the other hand, history can enrich the experience of the current moment. By reflecting on the band's miraculous rise throughout the '80s and '90s, its peak at Big Cypress in '99, the muddy death in Coventry in 2004, and the luminous rebirth in Hampton in 2009, one can more fully appreciate the celebratory and meaningful quality of Phish 3.0.
It could have ended tragically. Instead, Phish emerged from the darkness and entered its third cycle of being. Here are a few reasons why the band is better now than ever.
1. "Backwards Down the Numberline"
The history is long, and the familiarity is deep. We've all been through a lot together -- the band members and the community. Longevity breeds gratitude and just the right kind of sadness. So some of the notes you'll hear in Miami will be sweeter than they could be if they weren't so well-seasoned by time. Listen for these heady vibes in "Backwards Down the Numberline," the 3.0 theme song.
Having been through the blender of burnout, this mature band seems to be taking appropriate care to keep its operation healthy and sustainable. The guys play sober. And as many of us know, there is a beautiful simplicity to the sober mind.
Out of this simplicity arises a pure sort of joy. Can you see the glow in Trey's eyes? When Phish takes the stage, we're invited into that tender delight ourselves. This deep into the journey, the smiles from the band radiate wisdom that comes only with age. They want us to be happy, and they can say so very plainly and sincerely.
4. Your Trip Is Short!
We all know this isn't going to last forever. As we age and the band ages, a sense of mortality becomes more and more a part of the shared experience. Of course, a wonderful sense of humor pervades all aspects of the Phish world, but even in the silliest moments, death is winking at us. In fact, that's what enlivens those moments. So it's a blessing to be aging together, enjoying the "Show of Life."
5. Wash Uffizi Drive Me to Firenze
Listen, Phish is actually no better or worse than at any other point in its history. The feeling, the story, the flavor is continuously shifting. Phish is so beautiful because there has been such poetry displayed in its evolution. Some people say Bob Dylan sounds like shit these days, and others believe his growl is a rare treasure. This writer is in the latter camp. Phish doesn't growl, but it smiles, and it invites us to smile with it.
It can be interesting to discuss now versus then, but if it detracts from enjoyment, the topic should be abandoned. The way to engage with Phish is to enjoy the whole thing -- the awesome totality of the past and present. As any true Phan might say: "Boy! Man! God! Shit!"
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Phish: New Year's Run 2015. Wednesday, December 31, to Saturday, January 3. American Airlines Arena, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. The shows start at 7:30 p.m., and tickets cost $75 to $250 plus fees via ticketmaster.com. All ages. Call 786-777-1000, or visit aaarena.com.