«1» Trick or Treat
Trey Anastasio is beat. Wiped out. Slumped against a wall backstage at the Omni, an enormo-dome in downtown Atlanta where Phish have just played to 17,000 worshipful fans. The nimble-fingered guitarist and bandleader is chatting amiably with well-wishers who file past to tell him what a great show it was. But Anastasio is distracted. For one thing, he’s wielding a 7-iron, swinging the club now and then as if he were lining up a tee shot. Moreover, he is visibly trembling. It isn’t surprising that Anastasio is running so high on nervous energy –– after all, every time he and his band mates plug in, their fans expect an oracle.
But if Phish-heads expect a lot, the band demands even more. Take this Halloween concert. Without an opening act, Phish played for more than four hours to a sold-out, costumed crowd while hundreds of ticketless hopefuls paced the plaza outside. Sandwiched between two typically lengthy sets of original music –– including cuts from Phish’s seventh and latest release, Billy Breathes –– came the band’s third annual Halloween rite of performing another group’s album in its entirety. For the first two years, Phish let their fans choose the music, and the group obliged by mastering the Beatles’ White Album one year and the Who’s double-disc rock opera Quadrophenia the next. This time, Phish made the pick themselves, opting for Talking Heads’ Afro-beat classic Remain in Light. For those who consider that an off-the-wall choice from a group routinely lumped with H.O.R.D.E. bands and the Grateful Dead – well, that shows how little you know about Phish.
“It was a really influential record for me,” Anastasio says of the Talking Heads album. “I practically learned how to play guitar listening to that record.” Likewise, keyboardist Page McConnell and bass player Mike Gordon both covered songs from Remain in Light in their pre-Phish, New Wave-era bands. And the album has been a longtime favorite of drummer Jon Fishman’s because, he says, “Rhythmically, it’s almost like all the instruments are drums –– even the background vocals.”
Bolstered by a two-man horn section and a percussionist on loan from Santana, Phish shook the almighty voodoo right out of Remain in Light,setting up a densely textured hailstorm of crosscutting rhythms. The group cut a particularly wicked groove on “Cross-eyed and Painless” and “The Great Curve,” during which the normally rooted-to-one-spot Anastasio paced circles around the stage, an elated prisoner of the music. Phish managed not only to replicate the music but, in some ways, to claim it as their own.
The mood is upbeat after the show, with Phish proclaiming it their most satisfying Halloween venture by far. Even so, there’s a subtle undercurrent of tension surrounding the band. You might call it growing pains. Since the 1994 release of Hoist,a relatively accessible disc that Anastasio describes as Phish’s first attempt to make a conventional rock album, the group’s popularity has snowballed. While Phish’s first three albums didn’t even register on the Billboard 200 –– and their forth, Rift, stalled at No. 51 –– both Hoist and 1995’s A Live One have been certified gold (signifying sales of 500,000 copies); the latter album even cracked the Top 20. In October, Billy Breathes actually entered the Top 200 at No. 7.
But chart numbers hardly explain the thrust of Phish’s achievements. On the concert front, the band has become the left-field success story of the ’90s. Back in 1992, Phish closed their summer tour with a special concert on a horse farm in Maine, playing to 4,000 die-hard fans; by contrast, the band ended its ’96 summer tour with the Clifford Ball, a special two-day concert on a former Air Force base in upstate New York that sold a whopping 135,000 tickets. It was the highest-attended concert event in North America last year. According to the concert trade magazine Pollstar, Phish placed 18th among 1996’s top-grossing tours. That’s all the more impressive considering that it was a light touring year for the band, which performed only 53 domestic shows. Moreover, Phish’s average ticket prices are much lower than those of the acts ahead of them on the list. These days, Phish reign on the outdoor-amphitheater circuit, with tens of thousands of Phish-heads tagging along from one sold-out show to another. The real issue for the band now is the loss of control that inevitably occurs when you enter Class 5 rapids after a long stretch of happily paddling more navigable currents.
From Day 1, Phish have deliberately plotted their fate, evolving at a steady and uncompromising pace. Lately, however, the band’s career is all but out of the members’ hands as their audience multiplies, lured to the Phish camp by the bait of a musical and social environment that –– since the death of Jerry Garcia and the demise of the Grateful Dead –– can be found nowhere else. At a Phish show, you’re likely to see first-generation Phish-heads alongside musk-drenched, dreadlocked, tie-died Deadhead émigrés, plus a growing army of neophytes that has latched onto Phish as the next big thing. Mastering the band’s arcane world –– and its repertoire of 250 songs –– has created a burgeoning subculture. But what was once a secret society is a secret no longer, as the group has finally found itself showing up on the media radar.
Although the ups and downs fall particularly hard on the band’s frontman –– dubbed Trey “Leadership Qualities” Anastasio in the Halloween “Phishbill” –– all the members were feeling the heat in the days leading up to this performance. Cynthia Brown, who runs the band’s merchandising arm, says the Halloween show “is the most high-stress event of the year for these guys, by far.” Now, in its aftermath, the members of Phish are decompressing. They’ve even got a few days off to rest and regroup. How, I ask the golf-club-wielding Anastasio, will they be spending their downtime?
They’re going fishing, he says. Deep-sea fishing. Off the Georgia coast.
«2» Deconstructing the Blob
LAST SPRING, Phish attempted to let some of the air out of the balloon. When it came time to record Billy Breathes, they unplugged the telephones and hibernated in a rustic barn turned studio next to a babbling brook in upstate New York. “The idea was to scale back and start from ground zero,” Anastasio explains. “With some of the other albums, I felt there were too many grandiose ideas. We were writing a lot of good music, but we tried to do too much. This time, all we wanted to do was get together and hang out. We didn’t have any plans. We weren’t talking much to anyone in the management company. It was just like, ‘We’re going into a barn –– leave us alone.’ ”
Anastasio nods along to the list of adjectives I use to describe the record: calmer, subtler, more Zen, less busy. “Like there was nothing left to prove?” he asks, then answers his own question. “At the end of our fall ’95 tour, there was this incredible feeling of having hit the wall on a certain level. It was like an era was coming to an end. We realized that we had to downsize, despite the fact that we were growing in terms of numbers of people who were coming to see the band. We’d spread ourselves too thin. So we started cutting back.”
The project began with what Phish call the blob. The engineer cued up a reel of tape, and the band members picked straws to see who’d play the first note. Page McConnell drew the long straw and started the process by hitting a single note on the vibraphone. From there, Anastasio tapped a steel drum, Fishman played something on the piano, and Gordon plucked a bass note. “We went around in a circle,” says McConnell, “playing one note at a time for about two weeks.” Gradually, the band built up a blob of music whose free-wheeling, democratic construction set the tone once the group moved to actual songs.
A case could be made that Billy Breathes is Phish’s American Beauty. Like that introspective, folk-sounding Grateful Dead album, Billy Breathes is less of a showcase for jaw-dropping instrumental acumen and tricky arrangements than a collection of songs that liberate Phish from the daunting task of forever endeavoring to top themselves. It is a listener-friendly entree for those just getting acquainted with the group and an absorbing side trip for die-hards who follow Phish around every bend in the road. The album is casually experimental –– eclectic but not inaccessible, understated in tone but also intriguing in texture.
Songs such as “Free” and “Prince Caspian,” longtime staples of Phish’s concerts that were extensively reworked in the studio have a subtly anthemic ring to them, both philosophically and musically. Billy Breathes begs to be played at low volume late at night –– which is exactly when it was recorded. Given that Phish are a jam band, the disc is a marvel of concision, with 13 songs clocking in at under 50 minutes. It moves the band a step further toward forging an identity in the studio as distinctive as the one it has devised onstage.
Anastasio’s boundless will to create is the locomotive that drives Phish to the outer limits, but his attitude is shared by the other band members, who espouse a power-of-positive-thinking philosophy that would be cloying if it wasn’t so genuine. “We always have the attitude that each moment is the most important thing we’ve ever done,” explains Gordon, “so we try to make it work and assume that it can work, that there’s always that potential.”
“It works most of the time,” says Anastasio. “For us, the key is just putting ourselves in the right state of mind and realizing what a great thing it is. That kind of opens everything up.” Apparently, the rural setting for the Billy Breathes sessions was just the place to nurture that state of mind. “The album felt to me like what I had always ever really wanted,” says Anastasio, “which was to hang out, stay up and record when the sun was coming up with those three guys in a barn in the woods. The whole thing was like stepping backward or forward or something.”
« 3 » The Family That Plays Together Stays Together
REWIND TO the spring of 1995 and the city of Burlington, Vt., which is when and where I first hook up with Phish. In many ways, the band reflects its milieu. Vermont endures as a bastion of Old Guard liberalism where signs of “progress” that are foregone conclusions elsewhere –– urban sprawl, environmental ruin, a handgun in every household, a Wal-Mart in every neck of what used to be the woods –– still meet principled resistance. Burlington, with a modest population of 137,000, is Vermont’s largest city. It hugs the eastern shore of Lake Champlain and is home to the University of Vermont, where Phish came together, in 1983.
The nucleus of the group formed on the UVM campus when Anastasio befriended Fishman. “The first time Trey saw me, I was walking past the library,” Fishman recalls with a convulsive chuckle. “He and a friend were having a conversation about who looked like they belonged there and who didn’t. I came walking by, and they both fell down laughing. They pegged me from a hundred yards in a crowd of people, going, ‘He doesn’t look like he belongs here.’ ”
A few days later, Fishman was drumming up a storm in his dorm room when the door flew open. It was Anastasio, who exclaimed: “Oh, my God! It’s you! You’re the one playing drums up here? I’ll be right back.” He returned with another guitarist, Jeff Holdsworth, and the three of them jammed.
“As soon as I heard [Anastasio] play guitar, then after I heard some of the songs he’d written,” Fishman recalls, “I was like, ‘This is it. I’ll play drums to this guy’s music.’ I could see immediately that he thought in a really original way and was into writing his own stuff.”
Gordon answered a sign that Anastasio had posted looking for a bass player. McConnell joined the band in 1985, and persuaded Anastasio and Fishman to transfer to nearby Goddard College, whose self-directed curriculum better suited them. McConnell studied jazz piano with a mentor who lived in Burlington. Anastasio was tutored off-campus in composition by Vermont composer Ernie Stires and wrote the musical fable Gamehendge for his Goddard senior thesis. Fishman penned a how-to drum manual titled The Obstacle Course. All three graduated from Goddard, but Gordon remained at UVM, where he earned a degree in film. In the sense that their higher education actually got put to good use, the members of Phish are probably the ultimate college band.
In 1986, the group’s fifth member, singer and guitarist Holdsworth, bailed out and subsequently found the Lord. He eventually paid a return visit to Burlington, sporting a tweed suit and short haircut, and attempted to convert his erstwhile band mates. But by then, Phish were pursuing a higher calling of their own. As Fishman puts it, “We all have a certain desire to honor the roots and traditions of music, but there’s also this persistent desire to find out what else we can do rather than the common forms, the things you always hear.”
From the mid- to late ’80s, Phish were regulars at Nectar’s, a local restaurant-cum-music club. “For five years we had Nectar’s and other places around town to play in from 9 until 2 in the morning,” recalls Fishman. “Basically, the crowd was our guinea pig.”
“We really took things out at Nectar’s,” adds Anastasio. “We did Gamehendge there, and we did a lot of songs where people would come onstage and do weird things. Eventually it started getting packed, which is why we had to stop playing there, but for a long time, it wasn’t.”
Phish developed a close rapport with one another and their audience early on, and that hasn’t changed. Even today, the band members frequently mingle with fans before and after shows. Gordon has been known to pedal his bike through the crowds or drop into the Phish chat room on America Online. Up until 1995, he personally answered nearly every piece of fan mail sent to the band. Gordon worries that his habit of making himself available is ego-driven, but it seems quite the opposite. “I think I’m overcompensating for having been unpopular in junior high,” he says.
Gordon, like Anastasio, comes from a background in which one parent was creative and the other successful in the business world. Gordon’s mother, Marjorie Minkin, is an abstract painter who, until recently, designed Phish’s stage backdrops: big splashes of iridescent color on clear plastic. His father, Robert, founded the New England-based Store 24 chain of convenience stores. Anastasio’s mom, Dina, is the author of 50 children’s books and was once the editor of Sesame Street magazine. Anastasio and his mother have written children’s songs together, some of which were recorded for kid’s albums. One of them, “No Dogs Allowed,” wound up in Phish’s repertoire. Anastasio’s father, Ernest, is executive vice president of the Educational Testing Service, which produces the Scholastic Aptitude Test.
“I can really see how [Gordon and Anastasio] took good characteristics from each of their parents,” Phish manager John Paluska says. “They’re both very driven and organized and focused, and at the same time they’ve got a real free spirit and creative side.”
McConnell and Fishman both come from medical backgrounds. McConnell’s father, Jack, made his mark as a physician and researcher, helping to develop Tylenol as well as a commercial application of magnetic resonance imaging. McConnell’s parents are musical, too –– Jack plays banjo, and his wife, Mary Ellen, plays mandolin. Fishman’s father, Len, is an orthodontist in Syracuse, N.Y.; Fishman’s mother, Mimi, is one of Phish’s biggest fans, taking to the road with the zeal of a tie-dyed-in-the-wool Phish-head.
McConnell and Anastasio are the married Phish, and Anastasio and his wife, Sue, have a 1-year-old daughter. At one point, I catch up with him just as he returns from a walk with her. “We were hiking through the woods, and my dog chased a porcupine up a tree,” Anastasio recounts enthusiastically.
«4» Including Your Own Hey
WE ARE gathered in May 1995 at Phish’s rehearsal studio, a building reached via a labyrinth of dirt roads north of Burlington in the direction of Mount Mansfield. I’ve been invited to sit in on a practice session in which the band is rehearsing the fine art of improvisation. The only ones in the room are four Phish, a disinterested cat and a captivated journalist.
The group is working on a song called “Taste,” a radically retooled version of which appears on Billy Breathes. In rehearsal, the song is a complicated piece of music in which the band members play asymmetrical parts in different meters. They know what they’re aiming for, but so far, they can’t quite nail it.
“Get the hell out of my hey hole,” Anastasio barks at Fishman. What’s this? A band spat? Bad vibes in Ben & Jerry country? And what the hell is a hey hole?
According to Anastasio, one of Phish’s self-devised communication exercises is something called Including Your Own Hey. The idea is that to improve the band’s collective improvisation, the members must learn to listen to one another. They do this by conjuring riffs and patterns from thin air, varying and embellishing them until they’re locked in and individually announcing their arrival with the word hey. When they’ve each “included their own hey,” it’s onto another round. A variation on the process is Get Out of My Hey Hole, in which the cardinal rule is that one band member’s note cannot sustain over anyone else’s.
“Mimicry is the lowest, most basic level of communication,” explains Anastasio. “These are anti-mimicry exercises: listening to each other, hearing each other, staying out of each other’s way.” The band goes at it for hours on end. “This is what we spend our time doing,” Anastasio says. “This is our job.” After a while, the tangent is abandoned, but it serves to demonstrate Phish’s internal creativity, which is greater than their thirst for external acclaim.
For Phish, bigger is not necessarily better. When their label, Elektra Records, asked if they would make a few in-studio appearances at key radio stations to promote their 1995 double-disc concert album, A Live One, Phish politely declined. According to Gordon, “Our manager told the record company: ‘You’re right, we probably would sell more records. But we don’t want to do that, so we’ll just have to sell less records.’ “
“We had a meeting where we talked about the fact that this is our career and we’re going to enjoy every minute of it,” says Anastasio. “If it’s not something we enjoy, we’re not going to do it. Because how big do you need to get? We’re big enough.”
Anastasio pauses, knifing an apple in half with a decisive snap. “I think we’ve really had that attitude since we quit our day jobs,” he says. “We were just so content at that point. We didn’t even talk that much about getting signed to a record label.”
“If anything,” Gordon adds dryly, “the talk was, we didn’t want to.”
As Phish become more popular on their own uncompromising terms, they continue to push the music even further. “I think people like us because they don’t get that experience with other bands,” says McConnell. “If we’re really confident we’re going somewhere, they’re right there with us.”
The band members have a description for the state of musical synchronicity that they aim for in concert: hooking up. When Phish are not happy with a show, Gordon says, “we find that the biggest problem is that one or several of us are in our own worlds and not trying to hook up. So ‘hooking up’ ends up being the biggest phrase backstage: ‘Are we hooking up?’ And what else really matters? Nothing else matters.”
“Losing inhibitions is what everybody’s trying to do,” says Anastasio.
Gordon: “If anything, it’s an awareness. It’s like being really aware without being analytical.”
Anastasio: “To get to the feeling where you couldn’t play a wrong note if you tried.”
Gordon: “Because right and wrong isn’t even the issue.”
Anastasio: “Right and wrong doesn’t matter. It’s just flowing through you. You’re just kind of a vehicle. It’s almost like Zen breathing or something. You can get to that state, and once you’re in it, it just rolls along.”
«5» Peace Dividend in Plattsburgh
THIS IS surreal. After two years of following Phish from Burlington to Red Rocks, in Colorado, to Manhattan’s Madison Square Garden, I am piloting a rented Chevy along an endless runway on a deserted Air Force base south of Plattsburgh, N.Y. The base was decommissioned about a year ago, and with its closing went 3,000 jobs. Normally, there is nothing but ghostly quietude out here. On this mid-August 1996 weekend, however, the Plattsburgh Air Force Base has sprung to life again. There are no planes in sight, but a tie-dyed multitude is flying high to the music of Phish at their one-band rock festival, the Clifford Ball.
On the first day of the show, upward of 70,000 Phish-heads have encamped on Plattsburgh AFB, and it’s a sight that would give the military brass serious pause. Cars and vans are parked in endless, orderly rows on the runway, while acres of green-domed tents have been pitched on the broad, grassy strip between the concrete and trees. The assembled Phish-heads are relaxed and peaceable souls whose demeanor as much as the band’s music and the peripheral entertainment sets the tone for the weekend.
It’s a good thing the collective karma is in working order, because the Clifford Ball is, at the moment, the ninth-largest city in New York state. It is like a mini-Woodstock. The concert’s dates of Aug. 16-17 even coincide with those of the original Woodstock, held in 1969. The Clifford Ball is an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord of Phish –– three sets a day, some lasting as long as 90 minutes.
As if all that playing wasn’t demanding enough –– a total of roughly nine hours onstage and not a song repeated – –Phish go the extra mile by performing an unannounced jam at 4 a.m. Saturday. They play through amps on a flatbed truck –– lit with Christmas lights and Tiki Torches –– that rolls slowly past the campground. Aroused from slumber, astonished Phish-heads bolt out of their tents and join the Pied Piper-like procession. This is the musical highlight of the Clifford Ball for Gordon, who feels that he’s approached his goal of “bridging the gap between playing music and dreaming.” For his part, Anastasio feels that the after-hours improv is the best that Phish have ever played.
The festival was named for a real-life Clifford Ball, a pioneer in the delivery of airmail in the late 1920s. While passing through the Pittsburgh airport one day, the members of Phish noticed a commemorative plaque describing Ball as A BEACON OF LIGHT IN THE WORLD OF FLIGHT. Ever since, they’d wanted to call some big event the Clifford Ball. As befits a festival held on an Air Force base and named after an aviation pioneer, planes and flight are a recurring motif. Prop planes trail banners whose messages tend to be comic nonsequiturs: RUNNING LOW ON FUEL – NO JOKE; HOPELESS HAS EXCEPTIONS; and EVAN DANDO. Evan Dando? “Evan’s a great guy,” Anastasio says and chuckles. It seems that Phish befriended the Lemonheads leader when both were recording in Woodstock last spring. “We put the sign up in case he was coming to the show and needed to look up at the sky to see how to get here,” Anastasio says.
Phish have also arranged for flybys of F-14s, biplanes and stunt planes. An awesome fireworks display paints the night sky as Friday’s final set winds down. The only musical act besides Phish is the Clifford Ball Philharmonic, an ensemble formed for the occasion from regional orchestras, which plays soothing, impressionistic works on Saturday afternoon. While the orchestra cools the crowd with Debussy’s “Nocturnes,” a glider accompanies the musicians with an aerial ballet.
Then there’s Clifford Ball Radio, a completely licensed FM station that’s on the air during the festival and then ceases to exist. Its DJs play everything from trip-hop to Iggy Pop and conduct off-the-wall interviews with characters like Fred, a retired dairy farmer. (Question: “Which is better: Jersey milk or Holstein milk?”) Anastasio drops by to DJ a segment, cueing up his favorite Pavement discs. Every time Phish hit the stage, their performances are simulcast.
Backstage, there’s a help-yourself cart with half a dozen flavors of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. And sitting right there are Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield in the flesh. Like Phish, the dessert-making duo launched themselves in Burlington, and they see similarities between the two enterprises. “We’re using business as a force for social change and to help take care of people who aren’t being taken care of,” says the affable Cohen. “That’s the same vibe I sense from Phish.”
“The music’s great,” adds Greenfield, “and in terms of vibe, there’s a real sense of a community, caring for one another. When I look at the people here, I see myself 25 years ago.”
When Phish perform, the expressions on the members’ faces fall somewhere between concentration and rapture. At the Clifford Ball, they don’t miss a trick. On Friday they launch into “The Divided Sky,” one of their more evocative compositions, as a setting sun colors half the sky a rosy orange and the other a darkening indigo. Later that night, they dust off a note-perfect version of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars?” – a timely nod to NASA’s headline-making revelations about Martian meteorites.
About a quarter mile back from the stage stands Ball Square, a cluster of small wooden buildings that functions as the town center. It’s a mixture of mock storefronts and real vendors, the latter including a stall where pizzas are baked in a clay oven. The four-walled fake stores include Ball General Store, Ball Barber (SMOOTH, STYLISH SHAVES AND HAIRCUTS), Ball Diner, Ball Museum and Observatory, Ball Post Office and 420 Ball, a house whose number is the universal stoner code for the time to light up.
I’m jotting notes outside Ball General Store when some friendly voices beckon me inside. A dozen or so Phish-heads are sitting cross-legged on the store’s grass floor, laughing, toking, chatting and swapping road stories. There’s Angela from Ohio, a giggly camp follower who’s been chasing Phish and the Dead remnants’ Furthur Festival all summer. After the Clifford Ball, she’ll head to upstate Vermont for another counter-culture fest before returning home. She has no idea how she’ll get to her next stop, where she’ll stay or what she’ll do for money. Instead, she chirpily recalls awakening in her tent at the Clifford Ball the previous morning: “I woke up, and there was a cricket on my face. I said, ‘Hey, how ya doin’?’ What a great way to wake up!”
Market forces are at work in Ball General Store, though not in a way that Republicans would approve of. A fellow named Tom stumbles to the door, offering a bowl of pot for a dollar so he can buy a slab of pizza. He is handed two wadded singles, and his bowl makes the rounds. Then he changes his mind about the pizza and gets stoned (or more stoned). The talk turns to Phish minutiae. The relative merits of different performances are debated. Suddenly someone asks, “Did you see Venus hanging over the stage last night?” Then Phish take the stage again, and the room clears.
The Clifford Ball represents a career peak for Phish. More than numbers, the festival is a triumph of imagination and logistics, driven by a desire to attend to Phish fans that’s almost antiquarian in its indifference to the bottom line. The idea was to give all who came an experience that money couldn’t buy. The reality is that the band members emerge as agog as the audience.
“I was riding around the parking lot and campground in a golf cart, and everyone was so peaceful and relaxed and having a good time,” marvels keyboardist McConnell. “Then I drove out to where they were letting cars in the gates, and I was blown away. There must have been a 2-mile-long string of headlights at 1 in the morning! It was impressive to walk onstage for the first time, but that line of cars waiting to get in was freaky.”
The only thing missing from the Clifford Ball, in fact, is a media presence commensurate with the size of the event. “Nobody from MTV News was there, and it was the biggest North American concert of the year,” says Anastasio after the festival is over. “It was definitely groundbreaking. And regardless of the music, there was a real story: that in an age of corporate sponsorship, this completely home-grown thing happened that was different from any other concert.
“It felt like so much more than a big concert with 70,000 people,” Anastasio continues. “To me, it felt like some kind of exciting new thing. It was such a good feeling, but a realistic one and not a naive one like, ‘We’re gonna smash the gates, and it’s all free.’ It was like, ‘On a certain level, we can exist in the world we live in, but we can also forge our own way.’ “
“We gave a dinner to pay tribute to all the people who helped put the thing together,” says Gordon. “Trey made a speech, and it was a little bit tear-jerking. He said it was the pinnacle of everything we’d been working toward as a band. When it was all said and done, what I liked most was the absence of hype and the fact that we treated the audience like human beings.”
As for the future, Anastasio is pondering Phish’s next big event: “So now I’m thinking, ‘Where else can we do it?’ I have this vision of us someday doing a tour where we play the first three nights on the edge of the Grand Canyon. The second site is in the Arctic Circle. The third is on an island you can only get to by boat. And the last show is at the abandoned Air Force base in Plattsburgh.
“I think there are solutions to all the logistical problems –– any kind of problem –– if you sit down and think about it long enough,” he adds. “So many people are just naysayers. Take Plattsburgh. As soon as we started saying, ‘We’re going to do this concert in Plattsburgh….’ ‘Plattsburgh?! That’s nearly in Canada. Nobody’s gonna go there. There’s nothing there; it’s this tiny little town. What are you, crazy? Let’s do it at Randalls Island, then we’ll rake in the big bucks.’ That’s the general attitude: Get the money. You have to get away from that. It’s like the new album, where we had to lock ourselves in a barn for six weeks and not tell anyone what we were doing.”
With that, Anastasio summarizes the Phish philosophy: “Shut yourself off from the world and just don’t listen to all the people who are going to tell you what you can’t do. Then just do it.”