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Phish, by most respects, is a jam band, but to label them is difficult because their song choices range across multiple musical styles. One song might have the rhythm of reggae as in “Ya Mar,” and the next, an acapella version of Lynryd Skynryd’s “Freebird," to experimental with Fishman playing a vacuum to the tune of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” followed by “Rocky Top," a bluegrass jam.
During the early '90s, Phish emerged as heirs to the Grateful Dead's throne. Although their music was somewhat similar to the Dead's sound -- an eclectic, free-form rock & roll encompassing elements of folk, jazz, country, bluegrass, and pop -- the group adhered more to jazz-derived improvisation than folk tradition. Moreover, they sported a looser, goofier attitude; after all, their drummer regularly played a vacuum during their concerts. However, Phish's main claim as the inheritors to the Dead's legacy was their approach to their musical career. The band didn't concentrate on albums, dedicating themselves instead to live improvisation. Within a few years of their 1988 debut, Phish had become an institution in certain sections of America, particularly college campuses and other liberal locales.
Guitarist/vocalist Trey Anastasio, drummer Jon Fishman, and guitarist Jeff Holdsworth formed the band in late 1983 while attending the University of Vermont. After meeting and jamming in their dormitory, the trio posted flyers across campus to recruit a bassist. Mike Gordon answered the advertisement and he was soon added to the original lineup. Phish began practicing regularly and soon assembled a demo tape; by the fall of 1984, they'd also begun performing off-campus concerts. At this stage in their career, the band was augmented by percussionist Marc Daubert and, occasionally, a vocalist called the Dude of Life. Keyboardist Page McConnell soon joined the group, too, having previously booked Phish to play Goddard College's Springfest in 1985. Shortly after McConnell's arrival, Holdsworth left the group, and both Anastasio and Fishman transferred to Goddard College during the fall of 1986.
Beyond the eclectic variety of their songs is how long they can last, with some jams lasting as long as 20 minutes and songs weaving in and out of each other. They have released fourteen studio albums, but the albums only give a taste of their creative prowess. To actually experience Phish, their live shows are the way to go. The band has props, a wonderful light shows by Chris Kuroda, they get the audience involved and during songs like “Harry Hood," often times a glow stick war breaks out.
That their live shows are wonderfully entertaining and full of energy, it’s no wonder that the Phish following has become similar to that of the Grateful Dead, where many concert goers travel from city to city following the band on all of their tour dates. A traveling circus atmosphere often times means the shows are one big dance party with the band creating a funky vibe to keep everyone loose and having a good time.
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