The Phish Conversion

I write this as an open letter to anyone trying to convert a dear friend of theirs into a Phish fan.

Most of you have probably quickly discovered that it isn’t an easy task to get your best friends to even like the band you love. Playing even the most impressive and complete jams of the latest Phish tour does nothing more than get their foot tapping in your car as they are forced to listen to the grooves you enjoy. It might work for the moment but it won’t make them dive deep into Phish’s endless archives.

Two Sundays ago I brought my friend to his first Phish show. I visited him in his new North/South Carolina home, 25 minutes out of Charlotte, with a special emphasis on the Sunday night Phish show. He wanted to catch Phish in Worcester back in June, but couldn’t get a floor seat before they were sold out. I am pretty sure I offered him a free and/or severely discounted ticket in 2010 that he scoffed at…but we can forgive those rejections, right?

My friend knew nothing in Phish’s deep and seemingly never ending catalog of songs but Weekapaug Groove (out of love) and Simple (out of hate). As a bass player, he has always appreciated Mike Gordon’s playing on Weekapaug Groove. As a person, he has always disliked the lyrics of Simple (skyscrapers, etc). As a Phish fan, I convinced him that the bass playing and musicianship he respected could coexist with the Phish lyrics that are often nothing more than an extra layer of fun added to a show.

We rolled into the Verizon Wireless Ampitheatre a couple hours early on Sunday. My friend immediately took in the atmosphere of a Phish lot before a concert. In the 10 shows I’ve seen I’ve never desired to really embed myself in the scene. But a quick walk through the lot was imperative on that day. I taught my friend some slang, including the word wook, which he abused until we spotted Momma Wook with dreads down to her ankles. Then he realized.

As I wrote in the days before the concert I was hoping for a show that would impress a first-timer. My friend certainly got that. AC/DC Bag, Moma Dance and Heavy Things provided a nice launching pad for the band’s first set, a collection of easy, funky songs that let someone new to the band see what they’ve got to work with. And it paid off, because once the band exploded into a run of Bathtub Gin, Fluffhead and Alumni Blues, it was easy for anyone, experienced or not, to see where the night was headed.

Some funny banter that ended the first set allowed my friend, the first-timer, a glimpse into the personalities of the four, as even Mike Gordon spouted something out, a rare piece of Gordo banter. Closing the set with David Bowie, my friend seemed hooked and eager to get setbreak over with. I pumped him up for the second set, telling him how in this era of Phish the second set carries all the heavy hitters, and while it wasn’t the best set of the year, that night’s surely impressed.

Opening with a cover of Talking Heads’ Crosseyed and Painless, a song I’ve been dying to hear, I knew it was on and that he’d witness some pretty quality jamming. This one didn’t get “out there” like it did a week before in San Francisco, but like the opening of the first set, it let him see what the band is able to do when they are firing on all cylinders.

My friend had been asking me the names of every song the entire night. When we got to McGrupp and the Watchful Hosemasters, all I could do was laugh as I tried to seriously tell him that was the name of the song. I explained Trey’s Gamehendge universe on the drive home that night.

And then…Mike’s Song. I blurted to him telling he’d be getting Weekapaug Groove, the one song he knew and loved, in his first show. Imagine that luck? The Mike’s Groove was the highlight of the set. I condemned Trey bouncing into Bouncing Around the Room but he more than made up for it by dropping Tweezer into the groove, the jam of the night and a rare placement.

On went the Groove…my friend wildly impressed with Gordon’s bass playing, telling me about it in a more technical way than I, a non-musician, could ever understand. He went into more detail about his playing and exactly why it’s so impressive, but I’ve already forgotten the reasons.

But perhaps the most surprising part of the entire night was how much he loved the band’s rare encore of Big Black Furry Creature From Mars. Another silly name, another silly song, but he was singing the tune the whole night home. A rocking Tweeprise sent us home and into the lot, where we were greeted with a legit fireworks display. Yeah, it was a Phish show in the south alright. The guy wearing suspenders, no t-shirt and a cowboy hat inside the venue had already given that away.

Phish isn’t easy to get into. It took me, and plenty others, a few tries to get into the band. And even though I loved listening to live shows before I saw my first show in 2010, I didn’t “get” it until those Hartford concerts that made me truly understand why the band was special.

The night of Phish was a success. I was glad to have taken in my 10th Phish show at a place I’d never been before and was glad my friend was impressed with a band he used to make fun of. I don’t see him becoming an obsessed fan like myself, but at least he understands, respects and has a new-found liking for the band. That’s all that matters.

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