An Open Letter to Music Critics Who Hate on Phish

If you want me or any other critic worth their salt to take you seriously, then you can’t rely on the same tired ad hominem tropes that have been trotted out for twenty years by folks who are attempting to justify their frustration over something being successful that they don’t like. I love vitriol, and when it is practiced by folks like The Onion, it can elevate our discourse. But you are quite literally copy-pasting an OJ Simpson “the glove doesn’t fit” joke twenty years after it was first made. How on Earth can you find that funny or clever?

Here’s the thing you don’t understand: there are plenty of valid and salient ways to criticize Phish or any other band. I could spend days poking fun at the sniveling hipsters you find at Wilco, Yo La Tengo or xx shows. Talk about low-hanging fruit. But why? Would it be funny, clever, or original? Or would it put me in line with 12-year-old Facebook bully working out self esteem issues on an effeminate classmate? If that’s what you want to do, if that’s the level you want to be on, then you are “entitled to your own opinion.” But I fail to see how someone who claims to enjoy music would want to communicate about music with all the substance of Sean Hannity.

If you want me to take anything you have to say about music seriously, then first and foremost take a fucking class in logic. Not everything we say or do has to be logical, but if you are going to shit on something then you can’t rely on fallacious arguments. Second, read Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind.  Third: read this and this. Fourth: grow up. Part of being an adult is understanding the difference between you and others. Others are different from you, and they don’t like the same shit as you do.

And that right there, buckeroo, is what bothers you so much about Phish. They became wildly successful in the absence of radio play and massive marketing budgets. They are the most successful independent musicians of all time. They are the culmination of the indie movement, and you don’t like them. But instead of dealing with the fact, you whine like a toddler who has dropped his ice cream. Instead of getting on with your life, you broadcast your personal frustrations by insulting people you don’t know. Surely, you’re joking. Surely, you are trolling for hits. You can’t expect us to take you seriously, can you?

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44 Responses

  1. I don’t hate Phish, but it is entertaining to read about them and why they suck. I have only drank their coolaid one time (first night of Alpine 2011). I was told this was the show of the tour. Didn’t do a whole lot for me. Lyrically, they are a joke. The crowd-nothing special. The scene-tame and boring. The musicians-solid. The lights-quite nice.

    I guess my biggest beef with Phish is that they’re not the Grateful Dead. Was able to see them 40+ times and avoided Phish because I knew I would be disappointed. The Dead were serious about their craft. Phish-not so much. That’s where they lost me.

    Side note-I loved seeing Trey solo. Serious, focused, charming, and a wizard on the guitar.

    1. Phish is “not serious about their craft”. Dude, that’s the most idiotic comment I’ve read on the web in 2013. Phish has practiced more in the last year that the Dead did in the last 20 years before Jerry died. And I love the Grateful Dead too and saw them 38-40 times. But an attitude like yours is what kept me from getting into Phish until 2000 to my everlasting regret.

    2. Phish is very often lyrically silly, more about the sound of the word as another instrument than depth of meaning, but there are some choice nuggets out there (Sand, Dirt, and It’s Ice spring to mind). As for your “serious” comment, SpainKiller already made a solid point (though I’ve seen FAR more idiotic comments already in this short year), but if the members of Phish bothered reading comments like this, they’d be pretty insulted and aghast at your cavalier ignorance. It’s not the one that I had scrawled on a piece of paper for the longest time, but here is another JKG quote I just found about the concept of being serious: “We take it as seriously as we can, but we realize the need for us to be able to not take it seriously at all at the same time.” (

      Open your mind.

    3. You’re an absolute failure at using the human brain to form thoughts. I saw the Dead 30 times, and they didn’t give a FUCK about their craft at that point…Jerry slobbering drool all over his guitar while he flubbed and failed his way through bum notes and tired chords on songs he clearly hadn’t practiced in ages. And this went on for YEARS buddy. Phish lived, breathed, and drank music and has worked SO HARD on their craft that they’ve developed their own universe. It’s really hard to argue with someone who is just simply incorrect.

    4. I had some of the similar feelings of Stephen for years. I saw Phish first in 1994, then at the Maine festivals, then a couple of other times in 1999. I just was not getting the whole thing. But unlike Stephen, thank god, I kept my mind open and am now just nuts for this band. The shows I saw in 09 and 10 were great. 2 Trey band shows a total blast!

      The summer 2012 and NYE run are all I have been listening to. The level of musicianship and especially the quality of their equipment (road and recording gear) are without parallel.

      I did see the Dead 70 times and your comment on the “taking it seriously” comparison is total BS. Phish puts in a huge effort into their craft and into their entire operation. Phish is in an amazing space right now. I think it is unfair to say they peaked in the 90s – I think they are peaking now.

      I think when you are the same age as they are – which I am – you need to believe that that is possible.

      1. I agree that they’re sort of riding another peak, the summer tour was bananas, and I love what they’re doing right now… but if you listen to 93-95 heavily, they’re just not pulling off that kinda stuff consistently like they were then.

          1. you most certainly will… i suggest, they release a show or two a day, in order. they are the best tape trading site out there IMO, have an incredible selection of GD boots, among tons of other gems, and a great community. right now they are on spring 93, a great, great time. there is also the phish spreadsheet (google ‘phish spreadsheet’ should bring it up) for all of the circulating dates, but I am just not a huge fan of it since it’s only one source on there, and it’s not lossless. even with my just alright soundsystem, the lossless stuff sounds a lot better. if you’re listening on laptop speakers or something, it probably doesn’t matter, but HD space is cheap now in comparison to the old days.

          2. Thanks for that – I have used that site. Are all those Phish recordings sbd? I get so spoiled with the quality of what they release now! If I were to hit a top 20 of that 93-95 era, what would you suggest? Is there some list of people’s faves somewhere?

            PS – Hey Stephen: NYE West GA tickets were going for $600 so they must be doing something right!

    5. Phish has NEVER tried, or WANTED to be the Grateful Dead, nor are they anything like the Grateful Dead. I grew up listening to the Dead, my parents followed them around in the early-mid 70’s, so my entire life I was exposed to them. I somehow had this same notion that they were a Grateful Dead ripoff. That idea is so far from the truth. Not only is their music, technically/style speaking completely different from the Dead, so is their approach. You say you don’t take their music seriously, which makes no sense. I’ve never seen or heard a band that takes their music more serious than the guys in Phish. The Grateful Dead were the LAST band to take their music seriously, for them it was just what they did. By the mid 80’s, the Dead were more concerned with their Legacy than the actual music.

      Not to mention, count up how many BAD shows Phish has played in their tenure. Compare that to The Grateful Dead, and the fact that they have played dozens of terrible shows, sometimes for weeks on end. Sometimes they simply showed up on stage, because they had a concert. If a true Grateful Dead fan, especially one who claims to have been to 40+ shows cannot agree on that, well then they are just plain ignorant. Of course no one wants to remember the negative, but there is an abundance of it and if you want to take the time to bash Phish and somehow compare, two incomparable bands you better be willing to uncover the WHOLE Grateful Dead, and not just the highlights.

      I love Phish and I LOVE The Grateful Dead, some for the same reasons, some for different reasons, but it is unfair to glorify the Dead without telling the whole story.

      Some people cannot get past Phish’s silly/goofiness and interprets it as them not being serious, which is so far off the mark. Someone who really loves and believes in what they are doing can take something that is “supposed to be” serious and have fun with it.

      It is a sad day when people believe you cannot be serious and have fun at the same time.

    6. Once I stopped trying to see Phish through my Deadhead expectations, I loved them. And it was then that saw their similarities to the Dead, and differences, in some honest ways, rather then being frustrated that they were not how I thought “it” should be.

  2. Honestly, I think hiddentrack is a little above the perpetuation of a social media flamewar. The content on this site holds enough rebuttal against the inflammatory tirade of a scandalous fool.

  3. Stephen, so many problems with your general mentality about this band.

    First off, Phish is not the Grateful Dead, certainly. The comparison makes sense to those of us who love both bands, but it’s no wonder it didn’t do much for you. You don’t go to a Phish show to see the Grateful Dead. I’m not sure why you thought this would work out in your favor. Sounds like you had a self-fulfilling prophecy, and besides, if you have seen GD 40+ times, I’m going to wager you saw them in or around the 92-95 era, when they were about 10-15 years past their last peak. Sure there are nuggets in there, but on the other hand, Phish was absolutely killing it in the mid nineties, most would agree this was their peak. So you’re now seeing a band 15 years past their peak.

    Second, I have no idea how in the world you think that Phish doesn’t take their craft seriously. As the article states, these guys were as indie as indie gets, much like how GD built their fame (since you seem fond of the comparison).

    Third, there is an element of Phish that older GD fans who come into the scene just don’t seem to get. Yes there are jokes. GD fans seem to forget the guys on stage were pranksters, what will all the heavy prose and serious subject matter of the lyrics. Phish’ deranged, comical side seems to baffle people like you. It’s not that they don’t take their craft seriously at all, you’re completely misinterpreting that side of Phish.

    Lastly, Trey solo might be fun, but Phish is greater than the sum of its parts. I’ve never met one person who is familiar with both Phish and Trey solo stuff who disagrees with that. Seems like you went to Phish expecting it to suck, then went to Trey hoping it would be better… and that’s what happened.

  4. I’m pretty fucking sure Phish does not think they’re the Dead. Moron. Also, if you can’t appreciate the raw talent those 4 men have with their instruments then I feel so sorry for you.

  5. I for one hate the comparison of Phish to Grateful Dead.. yes they are two of the biggest jam bands, that’s where the comparison ends. They are completely different musical entities.. Grateful Dead jams from mainly a folk and blues base whereas Phish is more funk/rock/prog at it’s core. It always upsets me when people try to compare them to each other especially when trying to argue which one is better than the other.. I find them both very enjoyable.

    1. I hear you- it’s not the comparison that is invalid though. There are plenty of things in common between the two. The comparison is only stupid and bothersome when people approach it from the angle of only liking or being familiar with the one band, or they use comparisons to somehow denigrate one or the other. Going about it all wrong.

  6. I prefer to call him Ann Couture because its someone without talent that promotes themselves only through negative context.
    It’s fine to have an opinion that I don’t agree with, I mean Mariah Carey has sold more records than The Beatles.

  7. To drop a quote from Trey in Bittersweet Motel – “We are not the grateful dead.” I believe he then goes off on a bit of an angry tirade about “critics hating hit because they dont get it or dont want to get it” – can you say…. BINGO? Or Yahtzee!

  8. This lyrics criticism is getting just about as old as the drug references and GD comparisons.

    here’s the deal..if you MUST use the GD comparison and say that the “goofy” lyrics bother you, i’ll explain why they don’t bother a lot of us with a small analogy.

    Whitman was a great poet…but i still love reading a Shel Silverstein.

    There are nuggets of profoundness in the world of whimsical phish lyrics, as their are in Silversteins work. A snooty person who is generally unfamiliar with the work may simply not “get” it.

    “you won’t find moments in a box”
    “There are times when i wander”

    “you may as well keep your belly full, for the time will come when you’ll rely on the layer of fat that separates you from the rebid dog and the common fly”

    sorry if you can’t get it…really sorry.

  9. At this point in my life, I usually give an eye-roll to people who hate on Phish when I tell them I’m a fan. Hating on Phish – or, in the converse, telling everyone you met that you’re the bigger fan – was something I saw a lot of in the 90s. Now, jumping on the band or its fans is something people do when they don’t have an open mind or they just want to stake out an extreme position on it just to let everyone know that they’re really smart and a knowledgeable music critic. If you don’t like it, fine, say it’s not for you. But don’t tell me how much you hate them or that they suck. Because, first, I don’t care if you hate them and, second, they don’t suck. Just ask the 80,000 people that went through the turnstiles at the Garden in December.

  10. What type of idiot takes any music critic seriously about anything? This is the 21st century. You are as useless and obsolete as Major Record labels.

  11. I saw the Dead many times, I saw Zappa 12 times, I saw The Who, Led Zeppelin, Genesis before Phil Collins opened his mouth, Jethro Tull several times, all in the 1970s. This year highlights were Umphreys McGee for the 15th or so time, moe. Railroad Earth, String Cheese Incident and Pish for about the 10th time. Phish is still the best band alive today and my second favorite band of all time. As Frank Zappa said, “music is the best” Maybe go to Phish and next time listen to the music that is hapening right then, (if attention span is short start about 5 minutes in on each song) instead of comparing it to something you expect. I hate it when I hear anything I expect.

  12. “They are the most successful independent musicians of all time. They are the culmination of the indie movement”

    If you want me to take you seriously as a critic or music blogger, you’d back up conclusory statements like this, you’d avoid the gratuitous
    use of profanity, and you’d avoid the very insulting tone you are whining about, buckeroo….

    just sayin….

  13. Thanks for writing this, that article was the most poorly written schlock I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s like come on do some research at the very least, if he wanted to take apart phish for their lyrics there are PLENTY of better places to look than “stealing time from the faulty plan”

  14. Sean Hannity???…. Christ, he’s the more respected radio personality. Horrible comparison. Ever heard of Glenn Beck??

  15. As a phish fan, I don’t give a phuck what anyone has to say about them. You just open yourself up to a whole lot of negativity when you post something like this.

    I love them and that’s it.

  16. Hey guys, it’s the Biebs here. I have to say that Phish is the best band out there right now. They have been a great inspiration to me, especially when it comes to showmanship.

    I will be looking to explore my musical interests as I enter my 20’s, so please feel free to check me out sometime.


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