In a world hyper-focused on the rank, weight, and impact of every new release, Phish are a righteous enigma. They’ve mastered the art of inexhaustible content by cultivating a fan base that doesn’t wonder what/when new songs are coming, but how many variations and combinations of classic jams could possibly be fused into their endlessly entertaining live shows.
The storied 36 year-old jam band met one of the most legendary ballparks in the world this Independence Day weekend, playing Fenway Park for a sold-out crowd of cultist fans traveling from all over New England and beyond. As much as Phish fans are constantly living in the now, this was a historic weekend for both the band and the park, seeing the two join forces for the first time in over a decade.
In this musical community of ripped tie-dye tank tops, scattered plumes of smoke, and collectively free spirits, there is no need to waste time and energy with an opener. The closest Phish comes to a opening act is the mini-society of pop-up shops that emerged early-morning outside the ballpark walls, selling everything from venue-specific fan art, to jewelry, to nitrous-filled balloons. Realistically, all Phish fans need to warm-up is each-other’s company.
From the moment Phish took the stage, it was clear they weren’t just performing a concert; They were propagating a culture of infectious joy. The crowd was exceptionally mobile, dancing with each other as if to shake off some tangled mess of stress from their unbound bodies. The songs themselves were extremely easy to vibe to, following a consistent pattern of addictive verses, choruses, and subsequently improvised riffs that were just as long as the songs’ structured portions before them. Outside of their witty, often conversational lyrics, neither lead singer Trey Anastasio nor the entire Phish collective said a single word to the crowd. There was no need to acquaint themselves with tens of thousands of nomadic worshipers who already called them by their first names.
Countless examples could explain what keeps Phish fans coming back for dozens, or many cases, hundreds of live shows. Songs like “Runaway Jim” and “Ocelot” saw people fluidly spreading-out through spacious aisles and through each others supposedly assigned seats to dance to the jam rock/jazz fusion in uncharacteristic and freeing ways. Other songs like “Free” and “Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S.” had the entire stadium singing along in unison as a collective chorus-belting machine. Additional instrumental masterpieces like “The Squirming Coil” saw the audience cheering in recurrent awe at pianist Page McConnell’s ungodly skills within his fortress of keyboards.
But the song that perhaps best represented what is means to be a Phishhead was their uniquely somber track “Brian and Robert”. Ironically this song speaks to everything that Phish fans aren’t. The crowd sat back and listened to the slow, melancholy instrumentals as Anastasio sang “If children playing all around you is noise, not pleasant sound, and you’d be lost on the playground: This one is for you.” He didn’t stop there, continuing to call out solitary, miserable souls as he sang “Slip past strangers in the street. There’s no one that you care to meet. Longing for your TV seat. This one is for you.”
In reality, Fenway showed that Phish fans stand for the exact opposite of everything “Brian and Robert” amusingly promotes. To a Phish fan, the world is their playground, providing a space to be singularly special and collectively supportive. Phish shows are a place to embrace strangers as your own kin, forgetting what social evils separate you beyond the venue walls. Above all, being a Phish fan is about having fun and enjoying the extraordinary, existential value of great music, good people, and your own priceless self.
Below is a playlist featuring every track performed by Phish during their Friday trip to Fenway Park. Keep in mind that the real set was separated by an intermission as the entire jam-packed playlist is close to 3 hours long.
Favorite Live Tracks: Say It To Me S.A.N.T.O.S., Fuego, The Squirming Coil, Free, Runaway Jim