How do you explain the success of Phish, a band with little to no airplay that formed a generation ago?
Hooks are secondary to sonic exploration, but Phish, who will perform Friday at Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek, sells a ridiculous amount of tickets at venues of all sizes.
We turned to Debbie Speer, associate news editor of Pollstar, the trade publication for the concert industry, to explain why Phish is such an anomaly.
“There is no group out there like Phish,” Speer says calling from her Sacramento office. “I’m not a Phishhead. I can’t name one of their songs. I wasn’t a Deadhead but I could name their songs. What Phish has been able to accomplish is fascinating. Let’s look at their tour history. They did two runs at Madison Square Garden (in 2017). Within six months, they did 17 shows at Madison Square Garden. They sold the shows out. That’s almost $21 million in box office.”
So how can Phish accomplish such a feat? First off, there’s ticket price.
“The cost to go to a Phish show is not insane,”Speer says. “Their ticket prices typically range from $54 to $74, which is unheard of for a band on their level.”
Every Phish show is different, which has great appeal for fans. And each show is about audience participation. There are certain rituals for Phish fans. When “phans,” or followers of the band, speak of the Phish experience, it borders on religious. There is call and response at shows and objects are waved during certain songs, which brings a “Rocky Horror Picture Show” type of vibe to the event.
The jams can be endless. It’s not uncommon for Phish to jam on for 30 minutes without interruption. The band’s musical risks and runs are the stuff of legend. In 1997, in Worcester, Phish played a near 59-minute version of “Runaway Jim” the tale of a pup that pilfers a car.
There has essentially been no turnover among its members. Keyboardist Page McConnell joined the band in 1985 when Phish was still in its early stages. Vocalist-guitarist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon and drummer Jon Fishman formed the act while attending the University of Vermont in 1983. There is ample opportunity for side projects but why leave a gig in which your faithful fan base is so fervent?
Phish, which always offers two sets each show, defies the rules of the industry yet is a fascinating success story in a fractured music industry.
Steven Hyden, who penned the rock book, “Twilight of the Gods: A Journey to the End of Classic Rock,” gives props to Phish for being able to offer completely fresh set lists.
“To do a baker’s dozen of shows like Phish did at Madison Square Garden last year with no repeated songs is incredible,” Hyden says while calling from his Madison, Wisc., home. “Who else does that or can do that? I wish more bands operated like Phish, since they are about live music first. I liken Phish more to a baseball team than a rock band. You check in with them quite a bit to see how they’re doing. You want them to win but it’s more about the experience.”
When: 7 p.m. Aug. 10
Where: Coastal Credit Union Music Park at Walnut Creek, 3801 Rock Quarry Road, Raleigh
Tickets: $45 and $75
Info: 919-719-5500 or walnutcreekamphitheatre.com