The Phish Companion: A Guide to the Band and Their Music, Second Edition
While watching the web simulcast of the 9/2/11 Coloradofirst set, I started noticing the now infamous trend appearing: every song began with “S.” “Oh my god,” I wondered out loud to myself, “are they really going to do this?” I immediately began concocting a potential second set off the top of my head: Sand, Slave, Seven Below. But what else? So I leapt up from my chair, went over to my bookshelf, and grabbed ‘The Phish Bible,’ what I affectionately call my copy of the Mockingbird Foundation’s Phish Companion: A Guide to the Band and Their Music, 2nd edition.
I quickly flipped to the song histories section, an easy enough task thanks to the convenient headers on this 900+ page book. Thumbing through the S-titled songs, I quickly figured out what was left on the board if Phish chose to go through with this concept. Sabotage—would they?? How long had it been since they last played that? Was it the version from Hampton ’98? Again, a simple enough fact to research, as each song history includes all known versions, gap since last played, position in the set, and the preceding and following songs—a format that Phish Heads are familiar with through years of using the incomparable ZZYZX Phish Stats. While I was in this section, I figured I’d check to see when the last “Sparks” was too, since that must have been a monumental bustout (and it was, 11/29/96 was the last time played before 9/2/11).
The Phish Companion contains much raw data that is easily accessible through a variety of online sources that most phans use, a fact that bears noting since that was certainly not the case even in 2004 when the 2nd edition came out. True, if you’re sitting in the pavilion at Deer Creek and wondering when was the last time Phish played “Gumbo,” it’s much easier to use a smartphone app than to lug around a three pound book. But it’s the extras on top of the comprehensive setlists and song histories that really make this book a must-have for any phan.
There are interviews with heavy hitters from the Phish world, including Kevin Shapiro, Tom Marshall, Paul Languedoc, Chris Kuroda, and many others, as well as charming remembrances from the band’s music teachers. A large show review section reaches all the way back to 1988. Each tour gets its own summary ‘capsule’, an excellent overview of the sound, new songs, and disappeared songs. Other goodies abound, like a compilation of thoughts on the hiatus, a chronology and discography, band members biographies, side show setlists, venue summaries, and even a taping list, which is perhaps a nod to this book’s spiritual predecessor, DeadBase, which began as a taper’s guide. The editors left no stone unturned, including even the setlists of Shapiro’s ‘From the Archives’ radio broadcasts.
In the ‘post-spreadsheet’ world, when almost every concert is downloadable at the click of a button, it can be difficult to know which show to choose for the most tripped out Bowie, or the funkiest Antelope, or the best YEM vocal jam, information that used to be passed down through the network of tape trading and which shows were in heavier circulation. In that respect, the jamming charts for the ‘big’ songs —the YEMs, Tweezers,Bowies, Antelopes, Mike’s Songs, Rebas, etc… are particularly useful, providing anyone from the greenest newb to the most jaded vet with a guide for choosing standout versions and shows.
What the book lacks is more than compensated for by its successes, but there are a few nitpicky areas which could be improved. The introductions to the song histories, ranging from one paragraph to a few pages, are a heterogeneous bunch, with seemingly no unifying style. They range from well-researched historical information for cover songs (Peaches en Regalia, pg. 203) to tangential references to random lyrical cues (Mound, pg. 189, or Piper, pg. 205) to a seemingly out-of-place but incredibly informative musical analysis (Jeff Goldberg’s standout Stash, pp. 258-59). Why the editors decided to include only one write up using rather complicated music theoretical language is anyone’s guess; one would hope to see either an entire section devoted to theory, or none at all (my future book project, years from completion, will attempt to fill this lacuna in the Phish literature).
Due to publication date, the last setlists in this edition are from Vegas 2004, one tour short of a complete history of Phish’s pre-breakup life. Of course, the vast extensiveness of this book may be daunting for some, as any attempt to “read the book” will ultimately be akin to reading a dictionary. It’s best used as a reference source, which does undermine the many prose sections of the book that deserve to be read on their own: the interviews, show reviews, festival reviews, and much of the last few hundred pages, which includes Dwayne Boyd’s lovely ‘Ride, Fishman, Ride,’ a story about Fishman’s generous spirit towards a disabled fan, buried deep on pg. 892, less than ten pages from the back cover.
But of course, those are the tiniest of complaints for a book that is a necessity for anyone remotely interested in the band’s long and storied history. If ever there were a real Helping Phriendly Book, this is it, and it’s only fitting that we have it courtesy of the Mockingbird.
Pick up a copy of either edition of The Phish Companion here