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Looking back at Phish tour announcements
TABoose resurrected a dusty device from the Phish toolbox
The recently-concluded satisfyingly epic mini joint tour between Trey Anastasio Band and Goose produced plenty of musical moments worthy of examination, but right from the start it did something new and different for one of Trey’s side projects: a formal, if brief, tour announcement video.
This announcement video, while clever and cute with its chocolate and peanut butter aesthetic that would permeate the entire tour, was less of a real tour announcement video and more of an advertisement, however. Phish used to do longer tour announcement videos on a relatively regular basis - they were frequent features of the early 3.0 era. Perhaps Phish (the band, not the drummer) thought they needed to rekindle enthusiasm amongst their fanbase, or perhaps they did it to rekindle their own. At any rate, even the first of these - which is relatively simply and straightforward - was twice as long as the TABoose announcement.
This one wasn’t particularly creative, with just a brief sky-writing gimmick over the opening of Punch You In The Eye, but it would offer hints of things to come. The next year they kicked it up a notch, still finding a creative way to write ‘Phish Summer Tour 2010’, but now with synchronized swimmers and everyone’s favorite dummer, Jon Fishman, getting in on the fun:
Apparently they realized that including Fishman was a winning formula, because in 2011 he became the primary focus, a trend that would continue. For 2011, an anonymous traveler moves from a dusty caravan town through an even dustier desert to finally arrive at a glorious oasis.
The anonymous traveler is Jon Fishman.
The oasis is summer tour.
Although not particularly subtle or creative, this video - unlike the first two - at least has an actual storyline beyond just revealing dates in a creative way. It’s not going to win any awards, but it moves the technique in a new direction. For 2012, they continued in that vein, featuring Jon Fishman in a training video:
This video is even longer, and one suspects Fishman had more influence in its creation, since it seems to reflect more of his personality and zany sense of humor. After he seemingly emerges from a winter hibernation like a bear, he’s shown repairing his infamous donut dress while eating a donut from it, getting an indoor tan, eating a lot of protein drinks, and jogging a lot. If this seems like an homage to Rocky, it surely is, but it’s a uniquely Phish version of it, since Fishman is seen jogging on rural Vermont roads rather than running up those infamous steps. A Rocky homage is also particularly appropriate for a video starring Fishman, since he’s a native of Philadelphia.
The next year, things got weird, even for Fishman.
Things got dark.
Any time a video begins with ‘Burlington. Shit.’, you know it’s not going to be a happy-go-lucky fun time:
This video felt like a tour announcement version of a dark, funky Carini or Tweezer jam, plumbing the depths of a deeply tortured soul of a man who doesn’t know what to do with himself. Fishman may have just worn himself out with that one, because it turned out to be the last of the truly epic summer tour announcement videos. They still did one more in 2015, but it returned to the format of the very first summer tour announcement from 2009: No Fishman, no storyline, and shorter, just a gimmicky reveal of the dates.
Phish being Phish, of course they haven’t just done video announcements for the summer tour itself. Before that initial summer tour announcement in 2009, they’d done a video announcement for their Hampton dates in March, their first post-hiatus shows:
They also did a special announcement video in 2009 when they added a few dates to summer tour, which is worth watching just to hear Tweezer being played on the Fenway Park organ:
There have been other announcement videos sprinkled in amongst these - Mike Gordon did one for his own tour, for instance - but since 2014 they haven’t really returned to it until the TABoose announcement. There was a notable exception, during the height of the pandemic in 2020, when Phish was offering their phans the livestream Dinner And A Movie series. They did an extensive, and quite hilarious, mini-documentary video announcing that they would be re-airing the 12.31.1995 Madison Square Garden concert, and challenging the audience to a chess rematch:
This video is hilarious on multiple levels. The narration is brilliant, with lines like, ‘No single band in the ‘90s was playing better chess against their audience’. Each member of the band had funny lines and moments, and equating chess to jamming with Phish entering Type II chess is clever. A few particular highlights are Fishman speaking to the chess pieces, Trey playing multiple games using his dishwasher, and Mike Gordon facing off against his cat.
Like the Beacon Jams, though, this was probably a one-off; the band hasn’t done any more announcement videos of that sort since they’ve returned to the road in 2021. It might have seemed like an ideal moment to do one, announcing the first post-pandemic tour, but there wasn’t really anything to announce; most of the dates were simply rescheduled from 2020.
The end of the era of tour announcement videos is probably reflective of a number of factors. For one, it must take a lot of time to make them, even if in the end the longest of them are still less than five minutes. That takes time away from band rehearsal, writing, composing, and planning, all of which the various members of Phish have put a lot of time in to in recent years. Trey Anastasio, Mike Gordon, and Page McConnell have all released their new albums of their own lately; moreover, it’s easy to forget now, but Sigma Oasis was a surprise new album released by the band in April 2020, at the height of the pandemic. Plus, they had to write, record, produce, and plan the 2021 Halloween show, which featured an entire albums’ worth of new material.
So, it’s no surprise that these type of announcement videos have gone by the wayside, even before the pandemic. If there’s ever another special tour like TABoose, or a new side project like Ghosts of the Forest, we might see a new one, but it’s unlikely to again become a regular feature - and that’s just fine by me. While they were both fun and entertaining, some were far superior to others; a few of them probably weren’t worth whatever time, money, and resources it took to make them. As a phan, I’d much rather have the band be putting their efforts towards music, rather than clever videos, no matter how good they are - the best video isn’t worth detracting their attention from any live performance, even an uninspiring one.