The first biography of the undisputed king of modern jambands.
Founded in 1983 in Burlington, Vt., Phish spent years honing their chops and developing explosive live performances, which differed completely from night to night, before they entered the national radar in the early ’90s. Former Rolling Stone contributor Puterbaugh (co-author: Rhino’s Psychedelic Trip, 2000, etc.), who has covered Phish on and off since 1995, is quick to note the importance of the band to the live-music landscape of the past 25 years. “I firmly believe that they are one of the great American bands,” he writes, “and not just jam bands.” The author begins with a well-executed framing chapter that traces the band’s legendary festivals, from Ian’s Farm in 1987, to the forward-thinking Clifford Ball in 1996, to the disastrous mudfest at Coventry in 2004. In chronological fashion, Puterbaugh follows the band’s progress from a high-energy bar band to a consistently entertaining arena band that drew more than 80,000 fans to the swamps of Florida for Big Cypress in 1999-2000. He also discusses the many changes in the band’s playing over the years, focusing on how the group’s dynamic jamming has evolved as they have ventured into larger arenas and outdoor amphitheaters. The author ably sketches each band member’s distinct personality—from the alpha-dog exuberance of guitarist and de facto frontman Trey Anastasio to the quirky genius of bassist Mike Gordon—and digs up many intriguing stories behind the band’s storied career. Puterbaugh doesn’t shy from the negative events in the band’s history—including Anastasio’s arrest for narcotics in 2006—but his respect and admiration for his subjects is clear. The portrait that emerges shows a uniquely gifted collection of omnivorous musicians who understand the necessity of group collaboration and the near-infinite possibilities of the stage. Also included is an illuminating 2009 interview with Anastasio, conducted amid the band’s triumphant return, and a full list of Phish’s studio recordings and official live releases.
An even-keeled evaluation of an important American band—a must for Phishheads, even though they probably know most of the stories already.