Phish reunited: better than before

Phish and crew bustle about Shoreline Amphitheater’s backstage area, a sprawling patio where memories linger of raging parties from bygone tours.

A little maturity has make the rock star’s life easier for members of recently-reunited Phish.

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Phish and crew bustle about Shoreline Amphitheater’s backstage area, a sprawling patio where memories linger of raging parties from bygone tours.

Hours before a recent show, the scene is markedly different. Voices and footfalls carry across the expanse of empty picnic tables. A baby stroller clatters across wooden planks. Finally, a ruckus kicks up: The clip-clop of a Ping-Pong game between Trey Anastasio and his teenage daughter.

“Fifteen-love,” says the Phish guitarist.

To understand why the touring jamband juggernaut broke up for nearly four years — only to resurface with a stunning depth of clarity in live performance, its strongest album yet and an ambitious festival slated for this weekend — measure this family centred serenity against the colossal travelling party they left behind.

“We used to have a lot of people hanging around, and it was a crazy scene backstage — crazy,” Anastasio says later, between sips of tea. “I remember being here, a number of times, and you couldn’t get through. There were literally hundreds of people, all the time. Everywhere.”

The scene was a symptom of a lifestyle the members of Phish knew they couldn’t sustain. So, after 20 years on the road together, they staged a farewell blowout in Coventry, Vt., in 2004, their seventh massive festival.

It began with a freakish downpour and ended with the emotionally shattered band struggling to say goodbye. More than four years after the split, Phish roared back to life in March with an electrifying three-night reunion stint in Hampton, Va., followed up with a summer tour chock full of bootleg-worthy shows.

Their new album, Joy, released last month, was critically lauded for its musical and lyrical maturity and refreshed, live-show inspired sound. And today, Phish completes its comeback victory lap with the kickoff of Festival 8, a three-night marathon of sets in Indio, Calif., on the same grounds where the Coachella music festival is held.

A fall tour will follow.

While it would seem Phish back at full blast could risk relapse into old habits, the band agreed on a number of changes that have made their rebirth possible. For one, the number of dates the band plays has been scaled back; for another, the members have kept their pact to put families first, even on the road.

That means lots of kids backstage — seven in the Phish family so far, most of them on tour — and not so much the hundreds of hangers-on who had snowballed out of control through the years. As Anastasio likes to point out, there were 3,500 people on the guest list at their “farewell” show in 2004. At the reunion show this year, there were 10 — “and seven of them were under the age of 13.”

“It’s just a very nice vibe,” says bassist Mike Gordon. “And the music has been feeling really good as a result. I had no idea whether removing the party element would make it sterile or something — but the opposite happened, where it feels like we have extra consciousness left over to jam harder. It feels like a great era — it’s the beginning of the rest, like we’re in it for the long haul again.”

For his part, keyboardist Page McConnell says he’d always figured that Phish would take up the cause anew, and spent his off-time well to that end: Serious study of classical piano and a solo album built extra muscle behind his chops, giving the band more balance through which to hear complex interplay in the middle register.

Working with a vocal coach has also borne fruit for Anastasio and Gordon: On Joy, the quirky, isn’t-this-silly singing style has been all but abandoned. It’s probably no coincidence that Billy Breathes, another vocally strong and widely cherished Phish studio recording from 1996, was also produced by Steve Lillywhite.

“I told them, ‘Look — this record is your first in a few years, you’re all in a good space . . . you just need to be you,”’ he recalls. “I really felt like this was a new band. They were very relaxed, and I think one of the reasons was, they have these memories of the Billy Breathes sessions, of me just coming in and taking a great weight off their shoulders.”

Perhaps the most pressure for Phish will be pulling off their Halloween “costume” surprise, a tradition of covering a classic album by another artist on Halloween night (Anastasio was understandably cagey about his choice — but Thriller was notably still in the running, according to a process-of-elimination interactive on the band’s website).

Whatever they decide to do, Anastasio says, it’ll be more fun than the last time.

Just Posted

Legalizing cannabis cost estimate for Red Deer just under $400k

Although the province of Alberta has announced $11.2 million for cannabis legalization,… Continue reading

WATCH: Every square tells a story: Edmonton expert is exploring Red Deer’s quilting history

Community members can bring in family heirloom quilts for documentation

Red Deer-area dads going through divorce are invited to Man Up

Support group formed to focus on positive activities, networking

WATCH: Two weeks away from Canadian Finals Rodeo in Red Deer

In just two weeks, Ponoka’s Shayna Weir will compete with the best… Continue reading

PHOTO: Say goodbye to City Hall Park flowers

A sure sign that winter is on its way is when City… Continue reading

PHOTO: Chew On This! campaign draws attention to national poverty

Lunch bags were being handed out in front of The Hub downtown… Continue reading

Wickenheiser, Pegula reflect NHL’s trend toward diversity

BUFFALO, N.Y. — With a laugh, Kim Pegula’s competitive nature kicked in… Continue reading

Harry and Meghan bring rain to drought-stricken Outback town

DUBBO, Australia — The Duke and Duchess of Sussex were jokingly thanked… Continue reading

TV Review: A Roseanne Barr-less ‘The Conners’ is a triumph

NEW YORK — Can there be a “Roseanne” without Roseanne? The answer… Continue reading

Canadian manufacturing sales fell 0.4 per cent in August: Statistics Canada

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says manufacturing sales fell 0.4 per cent to… Continue reading

Brian Mulroney joins board of directors of New York-based pot company

NEW YORK — Former prime minister Brian Mulroney is joining the board… Continue reading

Canadians waking up to legalized cannabis: ‘My new dealer is the prime minister’

ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — Canadians across the country woke up to legalized… Continue reading

Most Read