With three decades under their belt, the four abundantly-talented Vermonters known as Phish will make their long-overdue and highly-anticipated (for many, but not all) return to the Fairgrounds in the (forecasted) idyllic weather this Saturday afternoon. Eighteen years after many rabid fans upset residents of the surrounding Bayou St. John / Mid-City areas following their ’96 set by running afoul, the quartet returns with a considerably more experienced, mature and equally loyal fan base champing at the bit to see what’s to unfold as the band headlines the Acura Stage to kick off another year as a touring force.
2013 was a banner year for Phish as they celebrated their 30th anniversary with much-praised summer and fall runs and an instant classic New Year’s Eve celebration at Madison Square Garden, where the band played their second set from atop an old bus in the middle of the storied arena (with hockey stick microphones to boot … taboot).
Although, along with The Meters, Phish missed out on the increasingly meaningless Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nod during their first year of eligibility, in 2013, all other signs point to the band continuing to sustain and grow their massive fan base and grow stronger as a creative force while entering their fourth decade of operation. Despite constant widespread popularity spanning 30 years, this kind of “normative” (for most legendary rock bands) mainstream recognition doled out by such cloistered organizations as Rock Hall and GRAMMY voters has long since eluded the band. Given this fact (and zero radio hits to boast), in their 30th year, last summer’s tour still managed to gross $18 million over 20 shows (ho hum, right?). No small feat for a band that, in some circles, isn’t quite a normal household name. And at the end of the day, whoever said that Phish, their phans and ever-evolving legacy were even remotely normal?
Although on-stage collaborations with Phish have been few and far between over the past five years (or the “3.0” era, save a lengthy sit-in by Bruce Springsteen at Bonnaroo in 2009 and a few other noteworthy guests spots), if there’s one we could somewhat realistically hope to see, it would be with one or more members of The Meters. Over the past couple of years, Page McConnell (keys/piano/vocals) has linked up with 3/4 of The Meters for a handful of shows billed as “The Metermen with Page McConnell,” and the quartet has plans for a pair of very special late-night (and very sold out) shows at Republic. Sit-in or no, a nod to the host city is to be expected, however small (the 1996 Phish Jazz Fest show included a “When The Saints Go Marching In” tease during the set’s opener). Additionally, if you pay close enough attention, perhaps you’ll even catch a subtle shoutout to nearby Baton Rouge, as in their 2013 tune “Wombat.” But I digress…
As eclectic as the Fest itself, during the set, hardcore phans and newcomers alike can expect to see this uncategorizable band take forays into rock and roll (perhaps “AC DC Bag”, “Chalkdust Torture” and/or “Carini”), jazz (maybe “Magilla” or the mega longshot “Flat Fee“), bluegrass (see “Nellie Kane” and “My Sweet One”), funk (see “The Moma Dance”), epic, classical-leaning compositions (see “Guyute”, “You Enjoy Myself” and “The Divided Sky”), reggae (see “Makisupa Policeman” and “Windora Bug”) and/or perhaps one of the downright weird, only-Phish-would-come-up-with-this tunes (see “Lengthwise”, “Icculus” and “Meatstick”).
That’s a big part of the enjoyment and anticipation surrounding a Phish show — the setlist speculation begins days, weeks, and, in this case, more than a month before the band is set to take the stage. At the end of the day, your guess is as good as mine (probably better) as to what they’ll play. Phish almost never repeats the same song in successive nights; the set lists are completely fresh and spontaneous each time out, and there’s no telling what to expect come Saturday, when 18 years to the day since they left the stage, this fabulous foursome makes its return at the 45th anniversary of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
It’s been a long time coming and I, for one, cannot wait until Phish’s 2014 officially kicks off right here in New Orleans.
See you at the Phest (in the broad daylight)!
Check out NolaVie’s “Jazz Fest 45” playlist featuring 45 songs from 45 different artists playing this year’s 45th Annual Jazz Fest below. Also, check back each week for the next of seven installments of this “Why You Should See ________ at Jazz Fest” feature!