On June 28, 1995 I attended my first Phish concert — it was Jones Beach, New York, and I was excited as I could be. I was there with a friend of the family and I had been anticipating the show for months, listening to live performances that I had acquired thanks to people I met on the Usenet channel rec.music.phish — well before the founding of discussion groups on web sites, people were talking about Vermont’s finest jam band in a text heavy way. I used to mail blank cassette tapes to people around the country and they would mail the cassettes back, with live recordings of Phish copied onto them. I also regularly would trade tapes — I would copy a tape and send it to someone, and they would reciprocate.
At this first show I attended, I had with me an envelope with my home address printed neatly. It was stamped correctly and inside were two blank Maxell XLII cassette tapes. (At the time, it was an extremely high quality blank cassette for the money it cost.) I approached someone in the taper section of the amphitheater and asked them if they would kindly please make a copy for me and send them to me. This, believe it or not, was not an unusual practice in the 1990’s at Phish shows. Weeks passed. Months passed — and I never got back the tapes.
Meanwhile, I had somehow gotten a copy of the show on cassette — along with many others that had been played that tour. Over the years, I gradually went from trading tapes of Phish to finding high quality WAV files of the shows and then burning them on CD. I still clung tightly to the cassettes, as they were far more useful in my car at the time.
The next step in my Phish listening voyage came in the form of peer-to-peer web sites such as etree, which specializes in bands that permit live recording of their concerts. I would find shows I liked, download them, and then add them to iTunes — and therefore be able to listen to them on my (now sadly perished) iPod. I ended up downloading far more than I ever listened to because the quantity of music performed was greater than my ability to intake it — especially when I only had forty five minutes to listen to it on the way to work and forty five minutes on the way back, five days a week.
Finally — and this is by far my favorite step in the evolution of listening to Phish — the Phish On Demand app for the iPhone. Fundamentally, this is basically the same as being able to choose any show from the band’s history and right there and then being able to listen to it. It meant that within a day or so of the band playing an entirely new album live on stage as their Halloween costume, I was able to listen to it without having to wait weeks for someone to mail a cassette to me, or even the hours it used to take to download the high quality WAV files.
The app has many high points and a couple of things I would love to see improved. It has a stellar search function which allows you to search for just about anything in the database — song name, city, etc — and then jump right to a particular performance of a song. You can also go directly to a year or a tour to see shows performed in those time periods.
The app is not perfect, however. I have noticed, for example, that if I hit the “next” button to go to the next song a few too many times and too quickly, it will not grok — the song that it displays will be correct, but the song that it actually plays will be not the same.
Furthermore, the talent behind this app needs to do something to allow offline access! I would love it if I could select a particular song or a show and save it for offline listening — I don’t always have a good signal, particularly when I am on the train underground! I hope future updates of the app will bring such a feature — it would make an already fantastic app even better.