Carrie Brownstein’s NPR blog Monitor Mix spent a week dissecting the enigma that is Phish. A band as she puts it that “occupies a unique space in music: It is extremely popular with a large group of people, yet simultaneously misunderstood, judged and dismissed by another — particularly self-identified music snobs, indie rockers and a whole slew of other folks… Phish has never had a radio hit for non-fans to use as fodder or evidence.” Much of her premise is that many critics and music lovers alike approach Phish with a negative bias and don’t give them a fair chance. Yet, it seems ever so slightly (at least amongst mainstream outlets) the band is getting more respect.
Upon their return after five years broken up, Phish didn’t release an album, but rather went right back to what their best at: extensive touring. And the mainstream media has covered the band’s return absent the usual snarkiness and snide comments that used to be consistently found in any piece written about the band in an effort to mock and discredit the achievements they were forced to cover.
After Bonnaroo, the coverage the band received from the mainstream media illustrated how far they’ve come out of the shadows and into the fabric of American culture. Here are two posts from the New York Times site that may seem innocuous enough, but that’s the point, Phish’s Bonnaroo performances were covered right along side Bruce Springsteen and the two were treated as peers, not as a superstar and the ugly step-child. RollingStone and Billboard reported similarly.
The announcement of the three-day Halloween weekend Festival 8 also provides examples of a more accepting media. Take for instance this article posted on MTV’s site. There’s no mention of the Grateful Dead, no mention of drug using fans, no adjectives like “alternative” or “cult.” Nope, it is simply a report about an announcement covered like any other band would be covered. And this is MTV people, not exactly Phish’s best friend in the past. (Idolator also covered the MTV story, again providing straight and accurate coverage) Even The Huffington Post ran a piece on the announcement, evidencing both mainstream awareness and acceptance.
So, am I saying that Phish has finally gotten the recognition it deserves? Not by a long shot. But in the era of bands getting back together (The Police, Genesis, Jane’s Addiction, Rage Against the Machine, Tool, The Pixies etc. etc.) it is nice to see that they are getting a fair(er) shake this time around and being credited for creating a unique and successful footprint on the music industry. Phish is great band that got back together to do what it does best – put on killer performances night in and night out for the people that pay to see them play – with no other adjectives or caveats necessary.