Those reunion rumors weren’t just cut bait: Four years after disbanding, the time seems right to Phish.
The Vermont-bred foursome on Wednesday announced three concert dates next March in Hampton, Va., a longtime favorite venue for the band and its fiercely loyal fans. Other 2009 dates will be announced later, according to a notice posted on the band’s Web site.
Ambrosia Healy, a spokeswoman for the band, confirmed in a news release the dates of March 6, March 7 and March 8, 2009, at the Hampton Coliseum. She said band members weren’t available for interviews Wednesday.
After a more than 20-year run that saw its audience build from a few people in Burlington, Vt., bars to a Grateful Dead-like cult following, Phish called it quits in 2004. Though their fans continued to pack stadiums around the country that year, it was clear that fatigue and personal problems began to subtly erode the band’s intricate and demanding live sound.
But in recent months, its members began to muse about a renewed appetite for the music, causing their well-connected fans to buzz that the reunion was all but a done deal.
“Sometimes you hear bands say `We’re breaking up’ and a year or two later, they come back,” said Jammy Awards co-founder Peter Shapiro, who brought the foursome together last May at the awards ceremony in New York. They did not perform at the appearance.
“By the time they come back, it’ll be almost five years,” he continued. “That’s a fair amount of time for them to do what they needed to do, on an individual level. And probably it was enough time to realize they needed to get back together as a group. They got the itch.”
In August 2004, the band said an emotional goodbye with a two-day festival at Newport State Airport in Coventry, Vt. But even that performance ended on a sloppy note: A freakish rainstorm caused many fans to be turned away and trapped the cars of many others in a morass of mud. Those who got in watched the band break down in tears in the middle of some songs and muddle haplessly through others.
But odds are that Trey Anastasio, Page McConnell, Mike Gordon and Jon Fishman will put that all behind them come March. The Hampton Coliseum, where Phish has played a dozen times, is the site of some of their most revered performances, including the one captured on “Hampton Comes Alive,” a six-CD set, in 1998.
Phish, which got its start at the University of Vermont in 1983, is known for its amorphous blend of rock, jazz, bluegrass and other styles. Like the Grateful Dead, most songs from their vast catalog include sprawling improvisational passages – with one song often morphing into another – and no two shows are ever the same.
Also like the Grateful Dead, much of its following is steeped in the communal ideals of the 1960s, including life on the road, psychedelic art and, of course, drugs.
The group has released 11 studio albums, and announced Wednesday the Nov. 18 release of “At The Roxy,” an eight-CD box set chronicling a three-night 1993 stand in Atlanta.
Since their last gig together, members have pursued solo projects – and Anastasio has endured some tribulations. The guitarist was arrested during a 2006 traffic stop in upstate New York for possessing painkillers without a prescription; he ultimately pleaded guilty, and later spent two days in jail for missing a court-mandated counseling session.
Whether his band will command the allegiance it once did remains to be seen. Word of the reunion lit up message boards a day in advance of the announcement, and hotel rooms in Hampton, Va., were said to be selling out quickly.
“The fans are much more excited than I expected they’d be,” said Ellis Godard, 37, of Moorpark, Calif., who runs the fan Web site phish.net. “The fan base – the people who used to tour with them – is older. They have kids and jobs. But all the people who said they didn’t care are absolutely nuts. The fan frenzy is much bigger than I expected.”