Unlike the band's announcement that it would take a break in 2000, the impending split looks to be permanent. "For the sake of clarity, I should say that this is not like the hiatus," singer/guitarist Trey Anastasio said in a statement, "which was our last attempt to revitalize ourselves. We're done."
That hiatus was the first sign that all was not hunky dory with the beloved jam band, which formed in Burlington, Vermont, in 1983. The four members of the group -- Anastasio, drummer Jon Fishman, keyboardist Page McConnell and bassist Mike Gordon -- held a closed-door meeting after a show in Mountain View, California, in October 2000. Anastasio had previously expressed his concern that the band's productions had grown to a size that overshadowed the music and in an interview with Rolling Stone, he expressed his wish not to become like the Grateful Dead, a group with a forced commitment to touring due to overhead and a staff of crew members who depended on the group for its livelihood.
"We sat there and smoked some pot, drank champagne and cried," Fishman said after that gig. "It really felt like the end."
It turned out not to be the end for the group, which reunited after almost 700 days apart. In the interim, the four members threw themselves into pursuits with other recording lineups. Phish broke their hiatus with Round Room a studio album released in the winter 2003 followed by three sets at New York City's Madison Square Garden to ring in 2003.
A second post-hiatus studio album, Undermind, was announced for a June release and a series of tour dates, capped by Coventry, seemed to suggest all was right with the band. Anastasio's statement says that the group met last Friday to discuss its future. "We talked openly about the strong feelings I've been having that Phish has run its course," he said, "and that we should end it now while it's still on a high note. It quickly became apparent that the other guys' feelings, while not all the same as mine, were similar in many ways. We don't want to become caricatures of ourselves, or worse yet, a nostalgia act. We realized that after almost twenty-one years together, we were faced with the opportunity to graciously step away in unison, as a group, united in our friendship and our feelings of gratitude."
Phish fans won't likely offer enthusiastic support for the decision. The hiatus sent a wave of panic among a constituency that often based its seasons around Phish tours. The group's grassroots success -- it started in Fishman's dorm room at the University of Vermont -- was built upon its long, improvisational live sets. The band recorded studio albums regularly, starting with 1988's Junta (Undermind is their eighth studio album), but it was the their concerts that built a cultural phenomenon.
No future plans were announced, though each member has ensembles that he has recorded and toured with over the past four years.
"It's been an amazing and incredible journey," Anastasio said. "We thank you all for the love and support that you've shown us."