Thursday, October 28, 2010

Phish Concert in Manchester, NH

I went to a Phish show in Manchester the other night. Phish is an American jam band which is one of my favorite groups, period. A lot of people don't really know Phish's music, because they didn't really have any "top 40" singles. However, their talent as musicians, either individually or as a group, is pretty incredible.

[Click on any of these photos to see them in higher quality].

Phish is a four-piece, led by singer/guitarist Trey Anastasio. They all met at the University of Vermont in the early 1980's, and formed the band then. Although there were a few personnel changes at the start, the current lineup (including pianist Page McConnell, bassist Mike Gordon, and drummer Jon Fishman) solidified in 1985. They toured extensively from the late 1980's to 2004, when they broke up for a number of years, returning to the stage in 2009.

It's hard to describe their music as being a particular style, since they incorporate rock, jazz, funk, folk, bluegrass, reggae, country, blues, and classical elements into their performances. So it's probably best to just think of them as a jam band. They have often been compared to the Grateful Dead, and with good reason. Not only in their style kind of similar, their fan base is also very similar. It's like a big community. One guy that I was talking to for the first half of the show said that it was his sixtieth Phish concert. Incidentally, he was also pretty impressed with our proximity to the band, and said that he had never seen them from that close (we were standing together in the front row).

The last time that I saw Phish before this show was in 1996, in Portland (Maine). That was an amazing show, the second-best concert that I've ever been to in my life. So this one needed to be pretty impressive to compete. I wasn't disappointed - the first set was pretty decent, but the second set was stellar. The funny thing though is that when I listened to a recording of the concert afterwards (more on this in a minute), the recording sounded a lot better than it did live at the concert. Great miking job on the part of the recording engineers. Maybe part of the problem for me (for the first set) was that I was so close to the stage that the sound wasn't distributed properly, because I was sort of "behind" the speakers. I wandered around a bit during the second set, to hear the sound from different parts of the arena.

One of the best things about the band is their tape trading policy. Fans are actually permitted and encouraged to share recordings of their shows. In the early days, fans would bring cassette recorders with boom mikes into each concert, and trade tapes around at subsequent shows. Now, Phish has taken it a step further and every ticket-holder can get a free recording of the concert, posted on their website, usually within a few hours after the show is over. Amazing. And brilliant, since this policy has undoubtedly increased their popularity. It's also a great way of giving fans more insight into the band, since every show is basically different. They don't perform the same songs in the same order, night after night. It was entertaining to see them talking back and forth between songs, trying to decide what they'd play next. They also have a huge repertoire, and there were times where I was amused to see them trying to figure out the words to a song before they started playing it. I think that this concert was a pretty eclectic one compared to many. I haven't studied the set lists, but I'm guessing there were songs in the first set that they hadn't played live since at least 2004.

Anyway, speaking of live recordings, I highly recommend that you check out their website for live music: You can download tons of old concert recordings in great quality, for very nominal prices. And the quality of the recordings on the site is pretty sweet.

The entire trip was great. We were impressed with the large $2 draughts at Murphy's Taproom before the show (especially the Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale, which isn't available in Canada). The "Shakedown Street" fan community bazaar before the show offered clothing, drinks, and art galleries. And the concert lasted for almost four hours with intermissions - a full three hours of performance time.

Here's a video clip of the opening track (a cover of "After Midnight" by JJ Cale, and made famous by Clapton):

YouTube link:

Now I've got the urge to go to another show soon. Perhaps Madison Square Gardens for New Year's?