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    Phish Biography

    LIKE the Grateful Dead before them, Phish has established an impressive reputation of tireless touring, dazzling improvisation, and innovative rock and roll. And with the demise of the Dead following the death of Jerry Garcia, the Vermont-based quartet is the reigning "jam" band in the land, boasting one of the most devoted followings in all of rock.

    Assembled on the University of Vermont's Redstone campus by guitarists Trey Anastasio III and Jeff Holdsworth in 1983, Phish had ambitious musical intentions from the start. Anastasio had gained extensive experience in high school with two bands, Red Tide and Space Antelope; the latter included a friend named Steve Pollack (who remains a Phish crony and is now known to fans as the "Dude of Life"). Intent on pursuing a complicated, improvisational musical style, Holdsworth and Anastasio recruited talented, self-taught freshman drummer Jon Fishman and formally trained bass player Mike Gordon.

    The band's first gig took place at an R.O.T.C. dance, though both their song selection and their wardrobe were laughably out of step with the crowd, and they were quickly replaced by a radio. In time, the band graduated to playing club dates in their hometown of Burlington. In 1984, they added percussionist Marc Daubert, but he left a year or so later, making room for keyboardist Page McConnell.

    In 1985, McConnell convinced Fishman and Anastasio to leave U.V.M. for the more liberal Godard College, where they continued their studies and refined their challenging sound. They continued as a five-piece until Holdsworth left in 1986 (he reportedly found God), leaving a hole in the second-guitar slot that pushed Anastasio's playing to new prominence. In 1988, Phish recorded and self-released their first album, Junta, to sell at their concerts. The next year, they wrote and recorded a second album, Lawn Boy, for Rough Trade affiliate Absolute à Go Go Records, but Rough Trade went bankrupt prior to the album's release and the band couldn't afford to put it out themselves. While making records was a struggle for the group, playing gigs was not. In 1991, Phish became the first band without a recording contract ever to sell out two consecutive nights at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. In light of that achievement, Elektra signed the outfit, released their third album, Picture of Nectar, and re-issued both Junta and Lawn Boy. Phish's career was now in full swing.

    It didn't take long for Phish to develop a dual reputation: one as a stunning live act, the other as a mediocre band on record. In 1992, they joined the nascent H.O.R.D.E. tour organized by fellow jam band Blues Traveler, and solidified their onstage standing, even performing one memorable night with Carlos Santana. The following year, the band released a more cohesive, but still diffuse record in Rift, which was met by indifferent reviews. Still, their audience was growing. Phish sold out sports arenas like Madison Square Garden and the Worcester Centrum with relative ease, yet, like the Grateful Dead before them, album sales did not reflect the band's popularity. In 1994, Phish tried to make an "accessible" album in Hoist, and even accompanied it with a video ("Down With Disease"), their first. Fans of the band cried "sellout" while MTV said "no thanks."

    Back on the road, all was forgiven as Phish mounted two highly successful tours in 1994. Part of the reason for the fanatical devotion of its fans is another cue taken from the Grateful Dead: Phish condones audience taping of their concerts. With the group varying set lists wildly from night to night, fans are enticed to see multiple shows and to trade tapes of one concert for another. One particular 1994 gig had Phish collectors scrambling for such recordings: on Halloween night in Glens Falls, New York, Phish performed the Beatles' White Album in its entirety. Thus began a tradition of Halloween night cover albums (or musical costumes, as the band calls them) that has continued ever since. In 1995, the group played the whole of the Who's Quadrophenia in Chicago, and in Atlanta a year later, the Talking Heads' Remain in Light was covered.

    After taking five well-deserved months off at the start of 1995, Phish issued A Live One that summer, a two-CD live album culled from the previous year's tour. The ensuing trek set an all-time record for Phish ticket sales, grossing over $27 million. Guitarist Anastasio also released a solo project, Surrender to the Air, an entirely improvised performance featuring some impressive players, including members of Sun Ra's band and ace New York session guitarist Marc Ribot.

    In 1996, Phish finally released an album that met expectations, Billy Breathes. Critics praised its creativity, as the record merged Phish's eclectic influences with accessible pop smarts. It remains to be seen whether Billy Breathes will change the band's less-than-desirable sales track record, but never let it be said that Phish doesn't have friends in high places. In early 1997, ice cream mavens Ben & Jerry honored the group with its own flavor, Phish Food, a tantalizing combination of milk-chocolate ice cream, caramel, marshmallow swirls, and fish-shaped dark-chocolate chips. The band donates its portion of the ice cream's sales to the WaterWheel foundation, a non-profit organization responsible for the clean up effort at Lake Champlain in Vermont.

    Not surprisingly, Phish spent much of 1997 on the road, increasing its already significant cache of adoring fans. In addition to a Lake Champlain benefit concert in March, the band toured Europe and North America over the summer, finishing with a two-day blowout at Limestone, Maine—an event that attracted 60-70,000 fans and pumped a whopping $25 million into the local economy. After taking a couple of months off, the jam band returned to performing in November with an appearance on Late Night With Conan O'Brien and a tour that kept it on the road until the end of the year, ending with a New Year's Eve concert at New York's Madison Square Garden.

    Four months later, Phish was back to doing what it does best: touring. A few East Coast dates in early April warmed them up for their annual summer tour of Europe and North America, capped by the 60,000-Phishhead-strong Lemonwheel extravaganza in mid-August. The lads then had a couple of months to gear up for the October release of their latest album, The Story of the Ghost.

    In fact, October turned out to be a busy month for the extended jam band. In keeping with its charitable philosophy, Phish played two benefit shows in October: Willie Nelson's Farm Aid (featuring John Mellencamp, Hootie & the Blowfish, Wilco, and more) in Tinley Park, Ill., on Oct. 3; and Neil Young's annual Bridge School benefit (with R.E.M., Sarah McLachlan, and Barenaked Ladies, among others) on Oct. 17-18 in Mountain View, Ca. The night of the new album's release on Oct. 27, the band appeared on Late Night with David Letterman. Phish's fall tour kicked off Oct. 29 at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, and a after a year off, a Halloween night gig in Las Vegas saw the band once again donning a musical costume, the Velvet Underground's Loaded. But an even bigger surprise came two nights later in West Valley, Utah, when Phish went to the costume closet again and pulled out Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety in the second set. The night closed on an even stranger note, with a first-time cover of Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." Phish will wrap 1998 in traditional fashion with a four-night stand at Madison Square Garden, culminating in what is sure to be yet another special set list on New Year's Eve.

    Phish Bio from Discogs

    Phish is an American rock band noted for their musical improvisation, extended jams, blending of musical genres, and dedicated fan base. Formed at the University of Vermont in 1983 (with the current line-up solidifying in 1986), the band's four members—Trey Anastasio (guitars, lead vocals), Mike Gordon (bass, vocals), Jon Fishman (drums, percussion, vocals), and Page McConnell (keyboards, vocals)—performed together for over 20 years before going on hiatus in August 2004. They reunited in March 2009 for Phish in Hampton, a series of three consecutive concerts played in the Hampton Coliseum in Hampton, Virginia, and have since resumed performing regularly.

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