It’s been nearly five long years since the four members of the jam band deity Phish ended a triumphant 20-year run with their disappointing Coventry festival, breaking up to leave the legion of Phisheads with empty summer calendars. Since the band reunited earlier this year and embarked on the current summer tour, the Phish community has rallied big time, selling out every show from coast to coast. Unfortunately the closest the band came to Cleveland is Pittsburgh’s Post Gazette Pavilion, which saw over 20,000 phans descend on the amphitheater this past Thursday, June 18.
Not much has changed in the five years the band has been off the road. Sure, the faces look a bit more worn, and the band does seem to possess a new sense of purpose, but other than that you could close your eyes and think you’re back on Summer ’99 tour. And that’s part of where the band lost me. From the opening note of phan favorite “Golgi Apparatus” the crowd erupted as if this were the coming of the messiah, high-fiving and hugging each other with such enthusiasm that it was actually distracting. I struggled to reconnect with the music, even as the buoyant ditty of “Bouncing Round the Room,” once one of my favorite Phish songs, floated through the amphitheater.
It was as if the band was trapped in a time warp and stuck on the same note, painfully jamming through songs like “Divided Sky” and the second set opener “Down with Disease.” Had the band rededicated itself to bringing a new element to the music the concert might have seemed more meaningful, but instead it was a very indulgent retread from four lonely musicians. I’m sure the majority of the amphitheater will disagree, gushing how exciting the second set closer of “You Enjoy Myself” was, or how entertaining drummer John Fishman was during the encore on Pink Floyd’s “Bike,” while guitarist Trey Anastasio took over on drums. But perhaps the better explanation is that Phish had a time and place, and that moment has passed, and now they are just as guilty as the Rolling Stones or Fleetwood Mac of making a money grab at the ticket turnstile. Regardless though, Phish’s phans are a dedicated bunch and more than happy to continue following the band wherever it may go. — Aaron Mendelsohn