Arrow-right Camera

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Tuesday, February 18, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Clear Day 34° Clear
News >  Features

Phish Fry Grateful Dead-Like Band Has Following That Responds To Lack Of Variety And Monotonous Solos

Phish Saturday, Oct. 7, at the Opera House

The phenomenon is more impressive than the band.

Hundreds of people were milling around outside the Opera House before the show, many holding signs that said, “I Need a Miracle” (as in, a ticket). The parking lots were jammed with buses and VW vans and vehicles from all over the Northwest.

I overheard someone say, “This doesn’t look like Spokane. It looks like … Eugene!”

Phish inspires a devotion that borders on worship, which is why I am probably not going to be loved for what I am about to say.

The band’s not that good.

Obviously, I’m the wrong reviewer for this show. This band has been endlessly compared to the Grateful Dead, and I always thought the Grateful Dead was the most boring band in America. I take it back. They’re the second most boring band in America.

Like the Dead, Phish specializes in long, drawn-out jams. That’s not a crime in itself, but the musicians don’t jam with each other - guitarist Trey Anastasio jams with himself. Occasionally, keyboardist Page McConnell will take a refreshing turn, and even rarer, bassist Mike Gordon will take one. But 90 percent of Phish’s music consists of Anastasio heading off on some formless guitar journey by himself.

Anastasio is an accomplished player, no doubt about that. He demonstrated his virtuosity several times throughout the evening, especially a jazz-inflected instrumental right before the barbershop quartet number (more about that later).

However, after an hour or two of Trey’s solos, some monotonous patterns emerged. For one thing, he noodles around endlessly on scales that don’t exist in nature or in no scale at all. On the opposite end of the spectrum, he sometimes spends way too much time playing the same three notes over and over again. Sometimes, he even hammers away on one note for numerous bars. Then he’ll climb the ladder to the big Wagnerian finish which this band seems to specialize in.

That’s what surprised me most about this band - its predilection for bombastic Yes-like climaxes. Actually, the real hero of this band is not Anastasio, but house-dress-wearing drummer Jon Fishman, who expertly keeps the music moving, flowing and building over the course of these epic-length songs.

The band almost won me over toward the end. It’s hard to dislike a band that gathers at the front of the stage with a pitch pipe, and sings a genuine barbershop version of “Sweet Adeline.” Their covers of Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein” and Hendrix’s “Let Me Stand Next to Your Fire,” were also strong.

Or maybe the secondhand marijuana smoke was just kicking in. On sober reflection, I came to the conclusion that Phish is a phenomenon best left to the fanatics, or, as they would cutely spell it on the, the phanatics.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter

Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.

You have been successfully subscribed!
There was a problem subscribing you to the newsletter. Double check your email and try again, or email