My friend Jordan just returned from a string of shows on the band's Summer 2012 tour, including a spirited July 4 date in Wantagh, New York. He wanted me to hear the state of Phish, and that was easy to do: When you buy a ticket, Phish includes a free download of the show, redeemable at its www.LivePhish.com site.
It's a great value-added feature, and I have a hunch it's helped the band transform new or casual fans into dedicated followers. The site offers a massive catalog of live performances that can be purchased and downloaded in several audio formats, at reasonable rates. Sure, some of these same shows are gettable free, via illegal sites, but there is something nice about hearing the soundboard recording, with minimal noise.(It's also nice to know that a band with a massive rep for great live shows has found a way to monetize that after the tickets have been sold...)
I've always respected the band, though I haven't followed them as closely since they reformed in 2008. So I was curious to hear what this most revered of jam bands sounds like right now -- or, at the least, a few weeks ago. We started at the beginning of the evening -- a nice slow ramp-up, with a few rarities and everything played with gusto. Then Jordan skipped ahead to "David Bowie." Yow! It was like being ported back to the band in its late '90s heyday, when Trey Anastasio's guitar solos would build and crest for challenging minutes on end, and every tune was a journey. What impressed me the most was the level of execution: On that tune and really everything I heard from the show, the musicians tore into some profoundly complex material. They didn't just make it sound easy. They made it thrilling.