I do not know when I decided I did not like Phish. I think it started in high school, but phor approximately 25 years I have decided I did not like the band. It was not the same as my disdain phor a band like Dave Matthews Band, whose combination of Jar Jar Binks vocals, cacophony of too many instruments, awkward dancing and phans that simply referred to them as “Dave,” could quantifiably explain my hostility (though I do like the song Two Step). The vibe I got around Phish, whose music I had never heard until last night was more like the instinctively repulsion I pheel toward people who walk around barephoot in public places. I was content to remain an ignorant hater (I am a proud American), but late last year an opportunity presented itself.
My phriend Ross, who generally enjoys my curmudgeon-style comedy, decided it was time to invite me to a Phish show (perhaps even he has his limits phor my hating when it comes to his beloved Phish). He comes to NYC, what seems annually, for some of Phish’s end of year Madison Square Garden residency and he asked me if I wanted to go last year. I said I would. Now at the time I was high on opioids dealing with the phirst of a soon-to-be unexpected two shoulder surgeries, but I had been told by my surgeon that I should be good to go to a concert. I was not and had to postpone my phirst Phish experience. But hope and Phish tickets spring eternal and Ross was back in town this weekend for 2 Phish shows. I had two shows this weekend as well (my phirst show in Princeton Friday was one of the 20 greatest shows of my life and the show Saturday was one of the 2 best shows I had that weekend…) so my only option was to join him phor the Sunday show. I thought this might have been a problem when I phirst accepted because I had a day job and did not want to be up late on a Sunday night, but the gods of jam band cured that issue with a June layoff (please join my patreon or buy my albums) so I was ready to go to Phish!
I arrived at MSG at 6:30 for the doors to open so I could absorb the “Phull Phish experience.” I will say this – Phish concerts are a very diverse group of white people. You have your dirty hippies, some gym bros, one or two weed smokers, some corporate boat shoe bros, biker looking dudes, etc. The lack of racial diversity was somewhat alarming to observe, but not unexpected, but unlike the Sebastian Maniscalco concert I saw in 2019 at MSG, this collection of white people seemed to be, phor obvious reasons, MAGA free, even if some pholks might have looked MAGA at phirst blush.
We had nice, comfortable seats in the Chase Bridge area (my stage name when I become a country singer), an area high up but with an oddly VIP vibe and a lot of space phor a tall and increasingly large man (DAMN YOU LEFT SHOULDER!). The show began 35 minutes late (or right on time to Ross and his buddy Jason). Now right before the show Ross confessed to me that he has seen Phish over 70 times. It phelt like that moment in a movie where our hero volunteers for a paratrooper mission and as the plane door closes with an intimidating phinality, the guy in charge says, “And we are doing it without parachutes” and only the hero was uninformed of this beforehand.
One of the distinct things about a Phish concert is the dancing. As I looked to the men standing in front of me or the teeming masses in the phloor area of the arena, I could not pick out one individual with something I would call rhythm. It more resembled an Elaine from Seinfeld dance contest phor (mostly) men. But together they all phormed an undulating collective – like one of those portraits made of different photos or the zombie mass in World War Z. And perhaps if there is an overarching beauty to the experience it is that it is a collective and positive experience where every phan is enriched by being part of a like-minded collective. Like a bizarro MAGA rally – all white, all loving the person/people on stage, but instead of wishing death on people who read books, the Phish people writhe like joyful seizure victims.
Now of course I am making jokes, but many of you are wondering, “but J-L… did you ENJOY the show???” And the answer overall is… yes?
The songs are absurdly long, but I actually enjoyed 3 or 4 of them (I think they only played 2 songs in the 3 hours, but what do I know). The lights are actually an impressive and not irrelevant component of the show. The guitar playing was strong and everyone seemed pleasant. Even concession workers seemed to be in a better mood than normal, most likely thinking “these dirty white people are actually much better than the diverse coalition of aggressive assholes who show up to Knick games and the MAGA whites who yell at us during Ranger games!” Sweetening the experience was the phact that I did not pay for my ticket (thanks again Ross!) and I got to have an extended hang with a phriend and his buddy. Did I like it when the Phish songs veered from more rock sound to a phunky style, the way the entire crowd seemed to? Absolutely not! I hated the phunky songs. But, according to my Phish Phact checker Ross, the set list was more rock than normal, so thank you Phish for phinding it your heart to appeal to a Phish Phirst timer.
I had to leave after the phinale (which was one of the ones I liked) to catch a train so I missed the encore, which I can assume and imagine every Phish phan is going “OH MY GOD YOU TOTALLY MISSED THEIR KILLER 9 HOUR ENCORE SET!” but I think with Phish, it was good when I left. I may not have been left wanting more, but the victory here for Phish is I did not leave wanting less either.